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President Warren Harding's Birthday
November 2

By Sarah Lane
Nov 2, 2004, 08:43 PST


Warren Harding 1865-1923

Warren Harding, our 29th President from 1921-1923, once gambled away the White House china in a card game. While running for office he said, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration...” While Warren Harding may have been a man of many, many words, he had a problem standing behind them. He was thought to be wishy-washy with very few enemies because he never took a definitive stand on any particular issue.

Harding was a descendant from English Puritan Richard Harding and came from a family of pioneers. He was born on November 2, 1865 near Marion, Ohio, now the hamlet of Blooming Grove. His father was George Tyron Harding II, a Civil War veteran, farmer, horse trader, and rural doctor. His mother was Phoebe Elizabeth Dickerson Harding, who practiced midwifery and was very religious. He married Florence “Flossie” Kling De Wolfe who was a divorcee.

Harding himself was quite an interesting president. He had a nagging conscience and was honest, but overly trusting. His lack of vision, goals, and an agenda while in office tampered his potential. Harding entered Ohio Central College at age 14, and graduated in 1882. He taught school for one term, tried reading law, sold insurance, and pulled a stint as a reporter. His most successful venture was when he purchased the Marion Star, a daily newspaper in Marion County, Ohio. As publisher and editor, Harding turned it into one of Ohio’s most successful small-town papers because people responded to his even-handed reporting. Harding was the first newspaper publisher elected to president.

There were numerous firsts for Harding while he was president. He was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile and to own a radio and speak over the radio airwaves. He was also the first president to visit Alaska and Canada and the first born after the Civil War. Sadly, he was also the first president to be survived by his father. He was a Baptist and Trustee of the Trinity Baptist Church. He also organized the Marion Ohio People’s Band (he played the helicon at the time) which won first prize in the Ohio State Tournament. Seeing as how he managed to gamble away the White House china, he had a weakness for Poker as well.

Harding had an engaging speaking voice and used it to his benefit to serve in the Ohio State Senate from 1900-1904, as Lieutenant Governor of Ohio from 1904-1906, and as United States Senator from 1915-1921. He introduced an amendment to the draft bill that would have allowed Theodore Roosevelt to raise and command volunteers as he had done in the Spanish-American War. For this Roosevelt remained permanently grateful.

Harding’s campaign promise was ‘Less government in business and more business in government’ and he meant what he said. He won the presidential election with 60% of the popular vote because of post-war reaction against President Wilson's international politics. Harding’s salary as president was $75,000 a year but once he was in office, he admitted to his friends that the job was beyond him.

Harding was hesitant about asserting power over his office and he received little cooperation from Congress. Harding's appointed ‘friends’ known as the ‘Ohio Gang’ began using their official positions for their own enrichment. They were later charged with defrauding the government and some even went to jail. While in office, the Republicans and Harding repealed the wartime excess profits tax, reduced railroad rates, promoted agricultural interests, created the department of public welfare, eliminated wartime controls, lowered taxes, established a Federal budget, restored the high protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon immigration.

By mid-term however, his popularity began to suffer. With the collapse of the war boom came wage cuts, higher unemployment rates, growing farm distress, and the urban resentment of prohibition. As a result, and with a failing heart, Harding set out west in the summer of 1923 on a ‘Voyage of Understanding.’ He traveled with Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, and his wife to meet citizens and explain his policies. Hoover advised him to go public with the scandals of his administration, but Harding feared the political repercussions. As it turned out Harding never made it back home.

There is much speculation as to what caused his death. Some say thrombosis, the blocking of a coronary artery of the heart. Some said he became ill with ptomaine (food) poisoning and had a stroke. Others said he died in his sleep. Still others said he simply collapsed and died suddenly. There were even rumors that ‘Flossie’ his wife poisoned him to save him from scandal. Regardless, after his death his reputation suffered greatly as more and more scandals came to light. His name was further blackened by his mistress Nan Britton’s book, which created rumors that Harding committed suicide or was murdered.

Harding died on August 2, 1923, in San Francisco and his wife followed a year later perishing from kidney disease in 1924. Although he may not have had the greatest impact on our nation, Warren Harding remains an interesting historical and political figure and an example of what happens when a small town guy with a simple countenance takes over a position in which his heart was not inclined to support.

  White House Online,, Robert S. Summers & The Internet Public Library, Francis Russell & Grolier, American

The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden book The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden book

"This lavishly illustrated volume recounts the evolution of the presidency, from the age of George Washington until today. Drawing from the vast collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, it provides a revealing glimpse of the culture, particularly the material culture, of the presidency. Paperback, 208 pages, 19 B&W photos, 306 color photos, 9.5 x 11.5"

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