Warren G. Harding: Biography, Presidency, Accomplishments, & Foreign Policy

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding (born – November 2, 1865; died – August 2, 1923) was the President of the United States from 1921-1923. This biography of Warren G. Harding provides detailed information about his childhood, political life, achievements, works & timeline.

Warren G. Harding’s Family, Childhood and Education

Harding grew up on a farm in Ohio in a family of eight children. His parents were Tryon Harding (a physician) and Phoebe Dickerson Harding (a licensed midwife). His early education was quite shaky. Regardless, he proceeded to study at Ohio Central College for three years.

He engaged in a number of jobs (i.e. teaching and insurance agent) after college, before finally becoming the owner of a newspaper called the Marion Star in Marion, Ohio.

Harding’s Career before the presidency

In 1891, he tied the knot with Florence Kling De Wolfe, a daughter of an influential banker in the state. Florence was also a music tutor to one of Harding’s sisters called Charity.

It has been stated that his wife, who was five years older than him, turned the fortunes of Harding’s newspaper business around. However, one cannot discount Harding’s exceptionally good looks, charm and hard work in the newspaper’s success. With this, his reputation in the community got elevated.

It was also around this time that Harding started getting into the political circles of the Republican Party. His immaculate clothes and well-mannered nature helped him advance in those circles. Starting around the age of 22, Harding began to represent Marion County at the Republican State Convention.

Ohio State Senator (1900-1904): Although he lost a bid to become an auditor in Marion County’s office in 1895, Harding continued to pursue his political ambitions. Supported by U.S. Senators Joseph B. Foraker and  Mark Hanna, he strolled to victory at the state level, winning a two-year term in the Ohio State Senate.

His calm and respectful demeanor was much appreciated by his district and Republicans in the state. During this time, he also fervently supported William McKinley’s presidential bid. And when it was time to campaign for his own presidential bid, he even chose to use McKinley’s front porch campaign technique.

Lieutenant governor (1903-1904): Again supported by Foraker and Hanna, Harding secured massive win in his bid to become the lieutenant governor of Ohio. While in that office, he developed many personal networks with people in high places.

In 1910, Harding’s quest to become governor of Ohio was met by a loss to Democrat and incumbent governor Judson Harmon. Some have attributed Harding’s loss to the friction between then-U.S. President William Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt.

U.S. Senator (1915-1921): At the primary, Harding defeated longtime political ally and friend Foraker to clinch the Republican Party ticket for the Senatorial election. Harding faced off Democrat Timothy Hogan at the general election. Relying on his oratory prowess, Harding defeated Hogan by a large margin (over 100,000 votes).

As senator, he supported women’s suffrage. He also backed the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment on Prohibition. In 1917, he voted in favor of the U.S. going to war against Germany and the Central Powers during World War I (WWI). He did however oppose Article X of the League Covenant that established the League of Nations. Owing to this opposition to Article X, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, preventing the U.S. from joining the League of Nations.

Warren G. Harding’s Presidency

U.S. Presidents

Warren G. Harding presidency (1921-1923)

By 1920, the Republicans had successfully patched things up between the Progressives and the Conservative. Theodore Roosevelt was tipped to win the Republican Party ticket for the 1920 presidential election. However, the former president died.

With no outright candidate able to secure majority at the 1920 Republican Convention, Harding was chosen as the compromise candidate. His running mate was Calvin Coolidge, a Massachusetts governor.

Harding and his campaign team relied heavily on front porch campaign, using his Marion home to deliver carefully scripted speeches to his supporters. Harding promised to return the country to a state of normalcy. This endeared him to the American public who by then were still reeling from the end of WWI.

Come November, 1920, Harding and Coolidge won in a landslide victory, defeating Democratic Party candidate Cox and his running mate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harding won about 60% of the popular vote – the largest victory up to that point.

Events during Harding’s Presidency

Warren G. Harding was sworn into office on March 4, 1921 as the nation’s 29th president. Largely a conservative, Harding was not in favor of government involving itself too much in businesses. His administration did not want the government to compete with businesses.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Harding had appointed some fantastically corrupt politicians into his cabinet. He did indeed have some cabinet members and secretaries that were qualified and honorable, for example Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. However, it was the unethical ones (called the “Ohio Gang”) that tarnished his presidency forever. Examples of such men were Attorney General Harry Daugherty, Comptroller of the Currency Daniel R. Crissinger, and Secretary of Interior Albert B. Fall. Those two men were huge disappointments to not just President Harding but to the entire nation.

Did you know: President Harding predominantly conservative administration introduced protective tariffs, lowered taxes on income (the Mellon tax cuts – named after Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon) and businesses, and imposed immigration controls on people coming from southern and eastern Europe?

Accomplishments

In terms of foreign policy, Harding maintained his strong opposition toward the U.S. involvement in the League of Nations. The president did however send observers to a number of meetings organized by the League of Nations in Geneva.

Harding and his Secretary of State Hughes worked with their British counterparts to reduce the interest rates on war debts owed to the U.S.

When famine ravaged through Russia in 1921, Harding sent considerable amount of aid to the Russians.

He used many of those economic policies to tackle the postwar economic problems faced by the nation. For example, the emergency tariff passed by Congress in May 1921 increased the tariffs on agricultural goods from abroad. Harding also tasked the director of Bureau of the Budget to bring down government’s expenditures.

Perhaps Harding’s greatest achievement in the White House came during the Washington Naval Disarmament Conference in 1921/22. The conference was aimed at halting the arms race that had skyrocketed after WWI. Participants of the conference – including Great Britain, Japan and a host of other European nations – came to an agreement to reduce their stockpile of weapons and arms.

Other accomplishments of President Warren G. Harden are:

  • He signed the Federal Highway Act of 1921, allowing the U.S. spend about $162 million on the highway.
  • Harding resolved labor disputes and strikes- the April 1922 strike by coal miners and the July 1922 strike by railroad workers
  • He and his Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover successfully compelled the steel mills to accept the eight-hour day for its workers.
  • He supported fair and racially unbiased literacy tests for voting rights. He also vehemently opposed lynching by supporting the anti-lynching bill sponsored by Congressman Leonidas Dyer.
  • President Harding appointed four justices to the nation’s highest court – the U.S. Supreme Court. The four men were former President William Howard Taft, George Sutherland, Pierce Butler and Edward Terry Sanford.
  • As part of his effort to bring the nation back to normalcy, he released prisoners that opposed the U.S. involvement in World War I. For example, he pardoned Socialist and vocal opponent of WWI Eugene Debs who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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How President Warren G. Harding died

Dubbed the “Voyage of Understanding, President Warren G. Harding embarked on an extensive trip through in 1923. The trip also saw him visit some regions in Canada, becoming the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country. He and his family ultimately settled in Alaska for a brief summer vacation.

Did you know that Harding was the first U.S. president to visit Alaska?

Upon his return to the U.S., the president started complaining of a mild abdominal pain. His physicians attended to him, downplaying the severity of the illness. However, a few days later, on August 2, 1923, President Harding suffered a stroke (cardiac arrest) and died at the age of 57. Harding was survived by his wife Florence and his father George Tryon Harding (1843-1928).

President Warren G. Harding’s body was laid in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda. His remains were taken to Marion and buried at Marion Cemetery in Marion, Ohio.

Historical Significance and Legacy

Prior to his death, Harding was seen in a very positive light by the public. Outside America, he was revered as a well-spoken man of peace who sacrificed for his nation. However, upon the emergence of the numerous corrupt deals during his tenure, his reputation tanked with many describing as the worst president in the history of the United States. He was described as an extremely weak president who allowed his cabinet to do as they pleased. And even when his attention was brought to the corrupt dealings of some cabinet members, President Harding refused acting.

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