This Day In History: The Future President Warren Harding Is Born (1865)

On this day in 1865,  the future President Warren Harding was born in Corsica, Ohio. Harding was a small-town newspaper man who liked golf, poker, and the ladies. Things changed for Harding in 1891 when he married a strong and driven woman, Florence Mabel De Wolfe.  She was to be an influential figure in his life and was to persuade him to enter politics. Harding was an impressive looking man and this and a certain charisma helped him to become elected to the state legislature. Florence was the driving force behind this. Harding was a rather easy going guy and was happiest on the golf course. However, Florence persuaded or made him enter politics. Despite her undoubted influence over him, Harding had many extramarital affairs.  Harding was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1915, but this was marred by the death of his eldest son from TB.  Harding was not a particularly brilliant Senator but his good looks and his easy manner made him popular with the public.  Harding’s rapid rise to political prominence was astonishing, despite his lack of experience and it culminated in his election to the presidency in 1920. He became the 29th President of the United States.

Harding was fortunate in that he took up office as a Post-War economic downturn subsided and the economy began to boom. It was an exciting time in America and the country was full of optimism because of new technologies such as the car, which was changing people’s lives. Harding, during his term in office was a strong advocate of these new technologies and he saw it as his duty to promote them. In 1922 he became the first President to speak on the radio.  The broadcast was historic and it allowed the President to address the public in a new way. Harding also recorded his speeches on phonographs. He was very aware of the potential of the new technologies and how they could bring the President closer to the public.

Harding is best remembered because of a scandal. In fact his Presidency was tainted with several controversies. The best known of the scandals that marked the Harding Presidency was the Teapot Dome Scandal. In 1922 his secretary of state was accused of leasing Federal land to oil companies in return for illegal payments. In total there were some half-a million dollars in bribes paid to the Secretary and he was later convicted and sent to jail.  Harding was widely believed to have benefitted from the bribes and he spent much of his last year in office battling charges of corruption.

Harding in the center with former President Taft on the left

Harding was never popular. However he was socially progressive and he tried to make the lives of African-Americans and women better. He was an advocate of women’s rights and supported their right to vote. He also tried to pass legislation that outlawed lynching’s in America. They were very common and every year many African-Americans were lynched by white mobs.

The controversy over the Teapot Scandal began to take its toll on Harding. He had always been a strong and physically fit man but the pressure of the scandal was simply too much. On the 2nd of August 1923 Harding had a massive heart attack while on a nationwide tour. He died in San Francisco at the age of 57. His Vice-President Calvin Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States.

Harding’s funeral cortege