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Warren Harding

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Warren Harding, Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th President of the United States (1921-23). A Republican from Ohio, Harding was an influential self-made newspaper publisher. He served in the Ohio Senate (1899-1903), as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio (1904-06) and as a U.S. Senator (1915-21). He was also the first incumbent United States Senator and the first newspaper publisher to be elected President.

His conservativism, affable manner, and “make no enemies” campaign strategy made Harding the compromise choice at the 1920 Republican National Convention. During his presidential campaign, in the aftermath of World War I, he promised a return of the nation to “normalcy”. This “America first” campaign encouraged industrialization and a strong economy independent of foreign influence. Harding departed from the progressive movement that had dominated Congress since President Theodore Roosevelt. In the 1920 election, he and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, defeated Democrat and fellow Ohioan James M. Cox in the largest presidential popular vote landslide in American history (60.36% to 34.19%) since popular vote totals were first recorded in 1824.

President Harding rewarded friends and political contributors, referred to as the Ohio Gang, with financially powerful positions. Scandals and corruption, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, eventually pervaded his administration; one of his own cabinet and several of his appointees were eventually tried, convicted, and sent to prison for bribery or defrauding the federal government. Harding did however make some notably positive appointments to his cabinet.

In foreign affairs, Harding spurned the League of Nations, and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany and Austria, formally ending World War I. He also strongly promoted world Naval disarmament at the 1921-22 Washington Naval Conference, and urged U.S. participation in a proposed International Court. Domestically, Harding signed the first child welfare program in the United States and dealt with striking workers in the mining and railroad industries. Also, the Veterans Bureau was cleaned up by Harding in March, 1923. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped by half during Harding’s administration. In August 1923, President Harding suddenly collapsed and died during a stop in California on a return trip from Alaska. He was succeeded by Vice President Calvin Coolidge.

Polls of historians and scholars have consistently ranked Harding as one of the worst Presidents. His presidency has been evaluated in terms of presidential record and accomplishments in addition to the administration scandals. The most recent Presidential rankings have had various low results for President Harding. However, in 1998, journalist Carl S. Anthony stated Harding was a “modern figure” who embraced technology and culture; sensitive to the plights of minorities, women, and labor. President Harding contended with racial problems on a national level, rather than sectional, and openly advocated African American political, educational, and economic equality while in the Solid South.

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