President Warren G. Harding: 5 Horrendous Scandals that plagued his Presidency
Warren G. Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) served as America’s 29th president from March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923, having defeated the Democrats in a huge landslide victory. His promise of “return to normalcy” was later marred by a myriad of scandals in his administration. All of those damning revelations came to the public’s view after President Warren G. Harding’s death in August 1923. They effectively nudged him into the unenviable list of worst U.S. Presidents of all time.
Here is our pick of the top 8 scandals that plagued President Warren G. Harding’s term in the White House:
Fast Facts about Warren G. Harding
Born: Warren Gamaliel Harding
Date and place of Birth: November 2, 1865 in Corsica (now Blooming Grove), Ohio, U.S.
Date and place of Death: August 2, 1923 at San Francisco, California U.S.
Cause of Death: Stroke
Father: George Tryon Harding (1843-1928)
Mother: Phoebe Elizabeth (1843-1910)
Spouses: Florence Kling
Children: Elizabeth Ann Blaesing (from an affair with Nan Britton)
Education: Ohio Central College
Political Party: Republican
Elected Public Offices: 29th President of the U.S. (1921-1923); U.S. Senator (Ohio) (1915-1921); Lieutenant Governor of Ohio (1904-1906); Ohio State Senator (1900-1904)
Presidency: March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923
Predecessor: Woodrow Wilson
Successor: Calvin Coolidge
Known for: the Washington Naval Conference of 1921/22; Teapot Dome Scandal
Scandal #1 – Teapot Dome
Undoubtedly the greatest scandal to hit the Harding administration was the Teapot Dome scandal. This scandal emerged after Harding’s passing. The corruption is reasoned to have taken place in oil reserves set aside for the U.S. Navy in emergency situations.
Harding ordered that the management of the reserve be transferred from the Navy Department to the Department of Interior which was by then headed by Albert B. Fall.
When hearings began in October 1923, it was revealed that the Sectary of Interior Albert B. Fall received bribes of up to the tune of $400,000 from Doheny and Harry Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company for a shady deal related to the oil reserve. In the end, Mr. Fall and his accomplice Colonel Thomas W. Miller (a former Delaware congressman) were found guilty in 1929 and 1927 respectively. Fall was imprisoned in 1931.
Scandal #2 – The Veterans’ Bureau scandal
In January, 1923, President Harding’s personal physician Charles E. Sawyer informed the president about Charles R. Forbes’ corrupt activities in government. Who was Charles R. Forbes? Forbes was a trusted member of Harding’s administration. He served as the director of the Veterans’ Bureau. Wanting to rip the country off, Forbes took to selling the nation’s stockpile of drugs to private firms.
Fearing for his impending demise, he unceremoniously fled the country. Many believe that President Harding willingly gave Forbes ample time to orchestrate his escape. Luckily justice was served when Forbes was prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison upon his return.
Scandal #3 – Corruption at the Justice Department
The Department of Justice (DOJ) during Harding’s presidency was headed by a very corrupt Attorney General by the name Harry Daugherty. Prior to taking up the office, Daugherty was a very well-known political adviser and lobbyist in Columbus, Ohio. He supported and managed many of Harding’s political campaigns, even claiming at one point that he was the one who encouraged Harding to run for the White House. Thus Daugherty, along with his confidant Jess Smith, was very close to President Harding.
Daugherty betrayed President Harding’s trust by allowing a series of corrupt officials run the Justice Department amok. The President asked Daugherty to dismiss them, including Jess Smith, from the DOJ. In May, 1923, Smith, drowning in a series of corruption charges, took his own life.
After Harding’s death, the Senate initiated an investigation into the DOJ and the affairs of Daugherty. The Senate committee, which was led by Democratic Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, indicated that witnesses had mentioned Daugherty in those corrupt schemes of the DOJ. Daugherty vehemently refused cooperating with investigators. The fall out was too much for Harding’s successor President Calvin Coolidge to handle; hence, Coolidge asked Daugherty to step aside.
Scandal #4 – Inflated construction and land costs for U.S. Veterans hospitals
Another corruption scandal that rocked the Veterans’ Bureau during Harding’s presidency came in the form of inflated construction costs. At the center of it all was Mr. Forbes and his associate Charles F. Cramer, the Bureau’s chief counsel. The two men shared their loot among private contractors such as Charles F. Hurley and Elias Mortimer.
They orchestrated this by inflating construction and land costs of a project designed to build hospitals for our nation’s veterans from World War I. Some costs were inflated by up to 30% per bed.
When news of this reached President Harding, the president forced Forbes to submit is his resignation. Forbes complied and reigned on February 15, 1923, only for him to briefly evade prosecution by fleeing the country.
Scandal #5 – President Warren G. Harding’s Extramarital Scandal
In a book titled, The President’s Daughter, the publisher Nan Britton alleged that President Harding had an affair with her. The product of that affair was her child Elizabeth Ann Blaesing. Initially, the family of Harding came out to deny Britton’s allegations, stating that the deceased president was infertile. However, Britton retorted by saying that Harding took to paying child support of $500 per month for Elizabeth. She was largely vindicated when in 2015 a DNA test carried out by Ancestry.com showed that Warren G. Harding was indeed the father of Britton’s daughter Elizabeth.
Correspondences and letters that came out in 1960s also gave credence to another affair of President Harding. The lady was Carrie Fulton Phillips of Marion. It is believed that the affair lasted for about 15 years.