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Who is Warren Harding?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Warren Harding was the 29th President of the United States. He served for just over two years and was the sixth president to die in office. Though brief, the presidential career of Warren Harding was plagued with scandal, and he is often considered the worst president in American history.

Warren Harding was born near modern day Blooming Grove, Ohio on 2 November 1865, the oldest of eight children. Harding's father was a teacher and his mother was a midwife. During Harding's teenage years, the family moved to Caledonia, Ohio, where his father became the owner of a local newspaper, The Argus. Warren Harding became interested in journalism and worked on the Union Register during his years at Ohio Central College in Iberia, Ohio.

After graduation, Warren Harding moved to Marion, Ohio and went in with two friends to buy the Marion Daily Star. Under their control, the editorial section of the Daily Star supported the Republican platform. Though Harding met with opposition from those who controlled local politics in Marion, the Daily Star became one of the country's most successful newspapers under his ownership.

Warren Harding married Florence Kling, an older divorcee with a young son, in 1891. Florence's father was Harding's professional nemesis and disowned his daughter after the marriage. With Florence's help, the Daily Star became even more successful than before.

Warren Harding began his political career in the Ohio State Senate in 1899. In four years, he was elected to the post of lieutenant governor, which he held for two years before returning to private life. In 1914, Harding reentered politics when he was elected to the United States Senate. He unexpectedly became the Republican candidate in the 1920 election, in part due to his political connections. His opponent was Democratic Ohio Governor James M. Cox. Harding's platform was a "Return to Normalcy." He had the public support of celebrities from Broadway, Hollywood, and the business world.

The 1920 presidential election was the first in which women were allowed to vote. Harding, who had publicly supported women's suffrage, won in a landslide, with 60.36% of the popular vote. During his term as president, Warren Harding formally ended World War I, signing peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary, and established the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, now the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Warren Harding came under criticism for appointing his friends to high-ranking government positions. The actions of this so-called "Ohio Gang" in office were rife with corruption. Most notoriously, Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall became the first presidential Cabinet member to go to prison as a result of the Teapot Dome scandal. In exchange for leases of oil reserves, Fall had been accepting illegal no-interest personal loans and bribes. Others in Harding's cabinet were convicted of taking bribes and engaging in fraud, and two committed suicide.

In addition to political scandal, Warren Harding's career suffered from personal scandals. He had a longstanding affair with the wife of his friend, Carrie Fulton Phillips, who successfully blackmailed the Republican Party. In addition, Nan Britton claimed to have had an affair with Harding resulting in an illegitimate daughter, but her claims have never been proven.

Warren Harding died just 27 months into his term during a speaking tour of the country. He developed pneumonia in San Francisco, California and died a week later, on 2 August 1923. The cause of death was reported as apoplexy, but some suspected it was the result of a plot. Warren Harding was succeeded by his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

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