Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding, Senator from Ohio, was elected President in 1920. Harding’s greatest assets were the fact that he was extremely handsome and that “[H]e was the friendliest man who ever had entered the White House.” However, he had disastrous liabilities: he was a “fuzzy” thinker, was ill informed, was unable to think through complex policy questions, and was dependent on friends and advisors, “The Ohio Gang”, who were more than willing to take advantage. (Allen, VI, 1)

The comments of H.L. Mencken, well known, critical observer of the 1920s political and social scene about Harding are accurate. Mencken stated that Harding “…writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.” (Streissguth, p. 101)

Journalist William Allen White described Harding as “densely ignorant. At best he was a poor dub, who had made his reputation running with the political machine in Ohio, making Memorial Day addresses for the Elks, addressing service clubs – the Rotarians, Kiwanians, or the Lions- uttering resounding platitudes and saying nothing because he knew nothing.” (Moore, p. 119)

Scandals beset the Harding Administration. “[T]he Harding Administration was responsible in its short two years and five months for more concentrated robbery and rascality than any other in the whole history of the Federal Government.” (Allen, VI, 5)

The Teapot Dome Scandal was the most notorious of the Harding administration criminalities. Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, was responsible for managing the national naval oil reserves, which were stored at Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hills, California. Instead of allowing the reserves to sit idly by, the Interior Department engaged in a plan to raise money by leasing the reserves to private operators. Concerned about the possibility that neighboring landowners were siphoning oil from the reserves, Fall decided that the government would lease without competitive bidding the reserves to private operators who were responsible for maintaining sufficient oil storage for possible naval needs. The reserves were leased to the Mammoth Oil Company and the Pan-American Company, which, it turned out, paid Secretary Fall substantial sums of money as bribes. (Allen, VI, 3) Before Fall was convicted of bribery and sentenced to jail, Fall resigned from his position as Secretary of the Interior under suspicion because of a congressional investigation into the oil leasing situation. Incredibly, President Harding, who was incapable of believing that one of friends would betray him, offered Fall an appointment to the Supreme Court. Fall turned the offer down in favor of more lucrative job with Sinclair Oil Company, one of the oil companies involved in the scandal. (Streissguth, p. 88)

Another related major ethical failure during the Harding Administration involved The Continental Trading Company, Ltd. Scheme. Individuals who were associated with the oil companies that controlled the Naval Reserves concocted a plan to skim profits on the sale of oil to enrich themselves to the tune of several million dollars. Significant amounts of the proceeds wound up in the hands of Secretary Fall and the Republican National Committee. (Id.)

Then, there was the fleecing of the Veteran’s Bureau by Charles R. Forbes, a friend of President Harding. After World War I, the Veteran’s Bureau, which had the largest budget of any agency of the federal government (Streissguth, p. 89), launched a large project of building hospitals for those disabled in the war. The hospital project was under Forbes’ supervision. Forbes ran the Bureau as if it were a private, for-profit business. (Id.) Letting contracts for the construction, staffing and supplying of these hospitals was the perfect opportunity for Forbes to enrich himself through illegal means. It was estimated that over two hundred million dollars went misspent in kickbacks and flagrant waste. For example, The Veteran’s Bureau purchased enough floor wax and floor cleaner to last for a hundred years. (Allen, VI, 5) These extra supplies were diverted to black markets to the enrichment of Forbes and his flunkies. (Streissguth, p. 90)

Harding died unexpectedly of a heart attack on August 2, 1923 in the middle of his term on an extended trip to the West Coast and Alaska. Many speculate on the cause of his death, with explanations ranging from being poisoned by his wife, who uncovered his extra marital affairs and out of wedlock child, to disappointment and a broken heart caused by the failures of his supposed friends. (Allen, VII, 8)

“Warren Harding” – written and sung by Al Stewart. Stewart writes in the liner notes of the album Past, Present and Future: “Warren Harding was President of the USA from 1920 to 1923, and my song contrasts his decline and fall, with the rise of an immigrant bootlegger.” https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=songs+about+Warren+Harding&view=detail&mid=7A6F27F677DF68D7C8157A6F27F677DF68D7C815&FORM=VIRE

I’m leaving my home in Europe behind
Heading out for a new state of mind
New York town is calling to me
Dollar an hour from the company

Warren Gameliel Harding
Alone in the White House, watching the sun
Come up on the morning of 1921
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to

I’ve got no shoes upon my feet
I’ve been all day with nothing to eat
It sure gets hard down here in the street
But I know where I’m going to be

Warren Gameliel Harding
Playing cards in a smoke-filled room
Winning and losing, filling the time
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to

Don’t go down to the docks tonight
The cops are nosing around for the site
We moved the booze just before daylight
They won’t find it now, it’ll be alright

Warren Gameliel Harding
In Alaska running out of days
Leaving the ladies, God moves in strange ways
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to

Don’t leave me here on such a lonely day
Don’t leave me here on such a lonely day

“The January Cold” – written and sung by Richard Meyer (1984), is set generally in the Twenties, but its primary focus is on the Harding scandals.   https://youtu.be/sHD_Nlr3bxA

The year was 1921 Woodrow Wilson was not well–
He was beaten by the aftermath of the war to end all wars.
And handsome Warren Harding stood in the January cold

And swore to restore America’s God-given heart and soul.

Harding was an average man whose friends played him for a fool
They abused the nation and the man to keep their pockets full
Our consecrated president with a child by an affair
Assured me and the country with a wife whose name was Clare.

How the flappers danced
How the movies flashed
How the strength of business boomed before the market crashed–
And how the modern world was born
In the aftermath of war
While the ballyhoo went on and on before the market hit the floor.

Late peace was made with Germany and we marched and celebrated
For Lindbergh’s flight and Prohibition we toasted and we hated
Our government in Washington by, of, and for the people
Isolated and disarmed the country that seemed to have saved the world.

I worked the naval oil reserves in Wyoming’s Teapot Dome
When the Secretary of the Interior sold the navy down the road
From the oil fields to Canada where corporate deals were made
For secret loans and gifts before the Congress learned the game.

[Repeat chorus]

So how did free America take to the selling of its oil
And the butchering of offices by appointed criminals?
They called the senate committee’s scandal mongers malicious and unclean
Bolsheviks and partisans with truths the “country did not need”.

The Harding I remember our hail-fellow-well-met
Confused by native faith in friends and naive unworldliness
Died poisoned in Alaska as the scandals came to fame
Some said it was his wife’s revenge or mercy for his name.

[Repeat chorus]

“The Warren Harding Song”, performed by Electric Needle Room, written by Matt Beat, presents another point of view of President Harding. It is pretty factual and somewhat sympathetic. (The accompanying video has a series of pictures of the man as Senator and President, https://youtu.be/ZMOg0XPUqE0 It is one of a series of songs about some of our presidents by the same author and group. See below a song about Coolidge.) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHtE7NbaKReeVStWAF-UmA5ml–OhP7qh )

Flip-flopper as a Senator,

Missed votes 40 percent of the time,

Did his best not to offend anyone,

Let colleagues make up his mind for him,

Rose in politics as a newspaper man,

He probably thought “make as many friends as you can”,

Warren G. Harding (repeat four times),

Compromiser, mediator, Where’s the love, Don’t be a hater, He was nonconfrontational, He wanted all to get along, along, along,

Had extramarital affairs,

The occasional nervous breakdown,

Presidential campaign from his front porch,

Republicans though he might say something dumb,

The Ohio Gang got him in much trouble,

The Teapot Dome Scandal he did not know about,

To escape the controversy he took a western journey, but that ended badly.

Compromiser, mediator, Where’s the love, Don’t be a hater, He was nonconfrontational, He wanted all to get along, along, along,

Compromiser, mediator, Where’s the love, Don’t be a hater, He was nonconfrontational, He wanted all to get along, along, along