Sometimes it takes more than one post to work through a thought, I guess. This has been the case with President Harding and me.
During my research I came across some interesting quotes concerning Warren G. Harding. They made me think not so much about Harding’s character but how presidents are elected and how ‘we the people’ buy into myths. Different biographies I reviewed made me think about the state of the nation after the horrors of World War I and a country that was about to undergo huge shifts in society.
In his book The Available Man (1965) by Andrew Sinclair he contends that “Warren G. Harding became the most notorious president in American history because the myths that had formed him were not adequate to meet with the power and responsibility of the president during the First World War.”
Sinclair clarifies his point further:
“These myths, which formed Harding and in which he mostly believed made himthe available man [for] the Republican party…. There were myths of the Country Boy, of the Self Made Man, of the Presidential State, of the Political Innocent of the Guardian Senate, of America First, of the Reluctant Candidate, of the Dark Horse, of the Smoke-Filled Room, of the Solemn Referendum, and of the Best Minds."
Another biographer, Francis Russell (The Shadow of Blooming Grove, 1968), details other scandals in presidential history and wonders why scandal hit Harding and his reputation in history so hard. Russell theorizes the reason is because the scandals during the Harding administration tended to go on and on over a long period of time. The Teapot Dome trial lasted for several years. Albert Fall did not begin his prison sentence until 1931-----eight years after Harding’s death. Democrats were happy to bring up the scandal in election after election for many years thereafter and who can blame them. On Harding’s 100th birthday love letters he wrote to another man’s wife were conveniently discovered.
Russell further reports Harding’s support of the World Court and his work with the Disarmament Conference could not hold up under such questions as was he a mulatto? Was he a member of the Ku Klux Klan? Did he have an illegitimate child? Was he murdered? What was in the papers burned after his death?
Harding became president at a pivotal time in history. He was a man who having been born in 1865 was still influenced by the Civil War and Reconstruction through his youth yet he became president in the Twentieth Century after the most technologically advanced and horror-filled war in human history up to that time . Russell states that scandal or no scandal Harding deserves to be remembered “not so much for himself,…but because he came at a dividing point in history, where men moved forward and looked back.