Back To CourseUS History: Middle School
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Rita has taught elementary and middle school and has a master's degree in reading education.
Every president of the United States has had a unique way of governing. Warren G. Harding stands out as a president who saw his role as more ceremonial than political. In the end, this hurt his career and left him with a tarnished reputation. In fact, it may have even cost him his life if the rumors that his wife poisoned him are true!
Warren Harding came from the small town of Corsica, Ohio. He was the son of two doctors and experienced an idyllic childhood with his parents and seven siblings, spending enjoyable days on the farm and swimming in nearby creeks. After graduating from college in 1882, he moved to Marion, Ohio, and worked as a newspaper reporter. In 1884, along with a few friends, he purchased and helped turn around the Marion Star, a newspaper that was on its way to bankruptcy.
He married Florence Kling De Wolfe in 1891. Florence Harding was a sharp businesswoman, and she helped manage the business aspects of the Marion Star. She was a big factor in its prosperity. Prosperity is a successful, thriving condition. She was also a huge supporter of Harding's political career and was one of the first to encourage him to become involved in politics.
Warren Harding started his political career in the United States Senate in 1914. He was a senator for two terms and was generally well-liked, especially due to the fact that he consistently remained neutral and rarely took a strong stance on any issue. This popularity led to Harding's nomination for president at the 1920 Republican National Convention.
His campaign slogan was 'A Return to Normalcy.' He vowed to get the country back to where it was before its involvement in World War I and Woodrow Wilson's presidency full of progressive reforms. Calvin Coolidge, governor of Massachusetts, was selected as his vice president. Harding conducted a campaign from the front porch of his home in Marion, and his front lawn had to be replaced with gravel due to the thousands of people who traveled to hear him speak there.
This strong following was a positive indicator of the election's future result favoring Harding. Indeed, Harding and Coolidge beat the Democratic presidential candidate James Cox, the governor of Ohio, and his running mate, Franklin Roosevelt, a former assistant secretary of the Navy who later went on to become the nation's 32nd president years later, in a landslide election. They obtained 60% of the popular vote and 404 electoral votes (compared to just 127 for the Democrats), winning 37 states. To put this in perspective, Harding beat out Cox by seven million votes!
This was the largest landslide in election history so far and was also a notable election due to the fact that it was the first presidential election that allowed women to vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920. Some say Harding's attractive looks cannot be ruled out as another major factor in his popularity due to this.
Warren Harding admitted to friends that he was in over his head as president of the United States and is not often looked back on as a motivational president. He did have some major accomplishments during his presidency, however. He signed the first child welfare program and dealt with striking mining and railroad workers in the 1921 Blair Mountain Miner War and Great Railroad Strike of 1922. He also cut the unemployment rate in half with higher tariffs and lower taxes.
He attempted to decrease violence towards African Americans by advocating an anti-lynching bill. He also established some important bureaus - the Veterans Bureau for veteran's medical and job needs and the Bureau of the Budget. One major foreign policy accomplishment of Harding's was the signing of a new peace treaty with Germany and Austria after World War I.
Unfortunately, most of these accomplishments were overshadowed by scandal for Harding. He gave some friends and political supporters powerful jobs in his administration, and many of them abused their power in unlawful ways. The best example of this is the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Oil-rich lands in Wyoming were leased to companies in return for personal loans to members of his administration. In 1923, rumors of this corruption began to surface. Harding and his wife took a trip to Alaska to speak to people and hopefully save his reputation. On his way back, he became sick with what he thought to be food poisoning. His train rushed to California, but his condition got worse.
On August 2, 1923, Harding had what was thought to be a huge heart attack and died. Some people believe that it was not actually a heart attack that killed him but that he was poisoned by his wife to prevent him from the corruption charges that were likely to come against him. She did not allow an autopsy on the body, which supported these theories.
Warren G. Harding is known to have seen the role of president as mainly ceremonial and, thus, did not have many political accomplishments during his term as president. However, he did have some important civil rights contributions and helped the country begin to prosper in the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the corruption that surrounded his presidency ultimately overshadowed his accomplishments. However, historians still feel that even without being tainted by corruption, he still did not accomplish nearly as much as he should have during his time as the president.
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Back To CourseUS History: Middle School
22 chapters | 210 lessons