Warren G. Harding: Failures & Scandals

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  • 0:00 The Scandals of Warren…
  • 1:09 Harding and Prohibition
  • 1:43 The Veterans' Bureau
  • 2:34 Teapot Dome
  • 3:17 Personal Affairs
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Warren G. Harding is an American president who is rarely remembered for the policies he supported. Instead, we often remember him for the numerous scandals under his administration. In this lesson, we'll look at some and consider their impact on his legacy.

The Scandals of Warren G. Harding

In 1918, World War I ended, and the American people were tired. They were tired of war, they were tired of all the changes that had come to their society in the last few years, and they were tired of the federal government steadily growing in power. So when Republican presidential candidate Warren G. Harding promised them a ''return to normalcy'', they listened. Harding was easily elected as the 29th President of the United States and held that position from 1921 to 1923, when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

Harding kept his promise to return America back to its pre-war, pre-progressive state. The government stopped regulating business, decentralized, and stopped engaging in as many reform programs. Of course, Harding returned the pre-progressive normalcy of extreme corruption and scandal to the Oval Office. Harding's presidency was short but impactful and is remembered for the number of scandals it produced. He had promised a return to pre-war conditions and apparently, the return of corruption was part of that.

Harding and Prohibition

To understand Harding's attitudes about government power and corruption, there's no better place to start than with Prohibition. In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was formally added to the US Constitution. It went into effect in January of 1920, before Harding was elected. Harding never seemed too concerned with the law. Throughout his presidency, he was known for hosting large poker tournaments amongst friends and political allies, where liquor was served readily and in great quantities. Bootleggers kept the White House supplied with high-quality, smuggled alcohol, and the president was rarely far from his drink.

The Veterans' Bureau

Harding's corruption was also evident in his appointing political friends to important positions of power. In 1921, the Veterans' Bureau was founded to help former soldiers of WWI. Harding appointed a political ally, Charles Forbes, as the head of the bureau. Forbes used the opportunity to sell government contracts to build veterans' hospitals to companies that overcharged the government. The leftover money was pocketed by Forbes and the company owners. Forbes used this money to buy cheap land, then sell it at an outrageous price to the government as the sites for these new hospitals.

Harding and the rest of the government seemed unconcerned with Forbes' actions. After all, he was stealing taxpayer money, not theirs. Eventually, the scandal came to light and Forbes was imprisoned, but it's estimated that he personally contributed to hundreds of millions of dollars of the national debt through his schemes.

Teapot Dome

Perhaps the largest corruption scandal to occur under Harding's watch, however, occurred out in Wyoming. Teapot Dome was a federal oil reserve, which had been set aside for the exclusive use of the U.S. Navy. The person in charge of all such holdings was the Secretary of the Interior. Harding appointed a man to the position named Albert Fall.

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