The Extremely Corrupt Presidency of Warren G. Harding
The remarkably corrupt American Presidency of Warren G. Harding
The First Moves
In 1921 Warren G. Harding became President of the United States. His first acts were positive. He calmed the 1919-1920 spy scare and had released and pardoned his opponent, Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who had been imprisoned by Woodrow Wilson for opposing the draft.
President Harding wanted the establishment of the Bureau of Veterans Affairs (later organized as the Department of Veterans Affairs)and created the Bureau of the Budget, becoming the first president to take a role in federal expenditures.
In April 1921, speaking before a joint session of Congress, he called for peacemaking with Germany and Austria, emergency tariffs, new immigration laws, regulation of radio and trans-cable communications, retrenchment in government, tax reduction, repeal of wartime excess profits tax, reduction of railroad rates, promotion of agricultural interests, a national budget system, a merchant marine and a department of public welfare.
He called for the abolition of lynching but not wishing to upset members of his own party nor the Democrats did nothing to stop it.
Harding was the first president to take questions from reporters. He'd have the questions put into a pool and call a press conference where he would answer them.
As a newspaper man, he understood deadlines, so timed his press conferences so reporters could meet them.
Sounds good doesn't it? If I omitted the name of the President one would assume I was speaking of one of the top ten instead of one of the bottom five.
Let's take a closer look.
Affairs and More Affairs
Warren Harding engaged in a large number extramarital affairs, making Bill Clinton look like a celibate.
Nan Britton wrote The President’s Daughter in 1927, documenting her affair with Harding and the alleged child (Elizabeth Ann). Harding apparently never met Elizabeth Ann, but paid very large sums of child support.
Further, Harding and Britton, continued their affair while he was President, using a closet adjacent to the Oval Office for privacy.
Warren Harding also had a 15-year relationship with the wife of his friend James Phillips. So intense was this affair that when Harding wouldn’t leave his wife, Mrs. Phillips left her husband and moved to Berlin with her daughter.
When the United States seemed likely to enter World War I, she returned to the U.S. and the affair reignited.
Harding did not disclose his affairs to the Republican Party. He was so discrete that virtually no one knew. When the information came out it was too late to find another candidate, so the Republicans were stuck.
To reduce the likelihood of scandal, the Republican National Committee sent Phillips on a trip to Japan and paid over $50,000 as well as monthly payments. She became the first (and as far as we know) only person to have successfully extorted money from a major political party in the United States.
This scandal pales beside some of the others.
The “Teapot Dome Affair” was the mother of all scandals.
Jurisdiction over naval oil reserves were transferred to the Department of the Interior. Secretary Albert B. Fall leased Teapot Dome to oil interests in exchange for a bribe.
Fall did spend time in a federal prison. The incident also resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Navy, Edwin N. Denby, who was transferred to the reserves.
Besides this area of corruption, there was the fact that Prohibition was in effect.
Alcoholic beverages were illegal. Just as illegal as marijuana is today; and law enforcement went after those who smuggled liquor into America with greater force than police today go after marijuana.
However, President Harding was a heavy drinker. Each evening at about five p.m. he went across the road to drink and play cards. He drank every day.
This was only part of the corruption. Attorney General Daugherty was charged with receiving payments from prohibition violators. So bald faced in his corruption, it was not until the Presidency of Calvin Coolidge (Harding’s successor) he was forced to resign.
It is believed that John Kennedy's father was one of the major bribers of Daugherty which is why he became so rich and was never charged for rum running when he was one of the major players.
The End of Harding's Presidency
In the summer of 1923, after only twenty months in office, Harding was visiting Alaska when he received a coded message from Washington D.C. and collapsed.
Not only was the corruption within his administration worse then even he had thought, but revelation was imminent.
On his way back to D.C. he became gravely ill in California and died on August 2, 1923.
The official cause of death was listed as a stroke.
Many believed Harding’s wife, fed up with his affairs, poisoned him. She refused to allow an autopsy, and would not permit a death mask to be made.
Harding himself best summoned up his presidency by stating:
“I am not fit for this office and should never have been here“.