Warren G Harding

29th president - 1921-1923

 

Usually cited as the worst of all US presidents – at least until the Bush era – Harding was oddly likeable in his ineptitude. A former newspaper publisher, he was nominated by the Republicans as a compromise choice and campaigned with the promise that he would return the US to "normalcy". He won with an unprecedented 60 per cent of the popular vote.

The tone of his presidency was set by another of his campaign slogans: "Less government in business and more business in government". Following the conservative agenda of those who had nominated him, he approved legislation that eliminated wartime controls, slashed taxes, established a Federal budget system, restored the high protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon immigration. He did, however, disappoint the 31 Republicans who had signed a manifesto assuring voters that a vote for Harding was a vote for the League of Nations. In April 1921, he declared against American membership, thereby ensuring its ultimate failure.

Good-looking, charming and out of his depth, Harding happily let Congress set his agenda, and remained popular for most of his presidency. His most pressing problem was that he had surrounded himself with cronies who used their position to enrich themselves. As his term progressed, the scandals mounted up. Two of his friends committed suicide, while his Secretary of the Interior was found to have been selling national oil reserves for personal gain. Lesser officials were caught out in scams ranging from accepting bribes to skimming proceeds from the sale of war surplus goods. The scandal could have brought Harding's administration to its knees, had he not died of a heart attack in 1923 before much of it had become public knowledge.

In his own words

"I am a man of limited talents from a small town; I don't seem to grasp that I am president."



"I don't know what to do or where to turn in this taxation matter. Somewhere, there must be a book that tells all about it, where I could go to straighten it out in my mind. But I don't know where the book is, and maybe I couldn't read it if I found it."



"I am not fit for the office and should never have been here."

In others' words

"He was not a man with either the experience or the intellectual quality that the position needed." Herbert Hoover



Minutiae

In a 1962 poll of 75 historians conducted by Arthur M Schlesinger Sr, Harding was ranked worst of all the 31 US presidents to date.



He had at least two extra-marital affairs. One of them, with the wife of his friend James Phillips, eventually resulted in the Republican National Committee making a monthly payment to Mr and Mrs Phillips in return for their silence. The other, with a so-called "niece" 30 years younger than him, was sometimes pursued in a large cupboard near the president's White House office – and resulted in a daughter whom Harding never saw.



He was a keen poker player, who once gambled away on a single hand an entire set of White House china dating back to the presidency of Benjamin Harrison.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest private landlord ba...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncpd Cmsion: SThree: Are you looking for a job th...

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Are you someone that "makes th...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn