Harding, Warren G.

Harding, Warren G. (Gamaliel)

(1865–1923) twenth-ninth U.S. president; born in Corsica (now Blooming Grove), Ohio. After three years at Ohio Central College, he went to work for a Marion, Ohio, newspaper, then bought the Marion Star (1884); as its editor he became prominent in the local Republican party. He served two terms in the state senate (1899–1903) and one term as lieutenant governor (1903–05). Known mainly for his old-fashioned oratory and his genial compliance with the Republican machine, he was elected to a term in the U.S. Senate (1915–21), where his record was distinguished only by his adherence to conservative Republican policies. Back-room politics—engineered by his longtime Ohio mentor, Harry M. Daughtery—secured him the presidential nomination and a confusing campaign gained him a victory in November 1920. Having promised war-weary Americans a "return to normalcy," he proved as lax and shallow as his previous record indicated. Although not personally corrupt, he allowed corruption to permeate his administration; he left most initiatives to Congress and his cabinet while he played poker with his "Ohio gang" in the White House. As a Senate investigation into what proved to be the Teapot Dome scandal began, he went on a tour to Alaska; there he received a coded message informing him of the corruption about to be exposed; en route home, in San Francisco, he became mysteriously ill, allegedly from food poisoning, and suddenly died. The best that historians have been able to say of Harding as president is that he was a man who was in over his head.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.