Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding would only live to see two Christmas seasons after being elected the 29th President of the United States. President and Mrs. Harding were able to escape the stresses of Washington D.C. and their political and social obligations their first Christmas in the white house by traveling to North Carolina during the holidays.
President Harding passed away suddenly several months after celebrating what was to be his second and last Presidential Christmas in 1922. President Harding was saddened that he could not spend the holidays with his friends and family back in Ohio as he would have hoped. His wife, Florence, had collapsed from kidney failure the September prior and was still confined to a wheelchair. The President sent a gift to his sister, Abigail, a former school teacher of one of Harding’s several known mistresses. Accompanying the gift was a Presidential Christmas card of sorts, a handwritten note on White House stationery. Dated December 23, 1922, the letter read:
Dear Sister Abigail,
Enclosed find a little Christmas gift, a token of a brother’s loving regard. I shall think of you at Xmas time, and I shall have a real regret that I can not celebrate in the atmosphere of home and amid the surroundings of family and friends. My love and good wishes to you. Yours affectionately, Warren G. Harding
In addition, President Harding sent a Christmas gift of $250.00 to his mistress, his sister’s former student. His mistress purchased a diamond and sapphire bracelet with the money she received. Unfortunately, Harding’s marital indiscretions were not his only shortcomings, many of which did not come to light until after he passed away.
Warren G. Harding was the eldest of eight children born to Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr. and Phoebe Elizabeth (Dickerson) Harding. Harding’s mother was a midwife who later obtained her medical license, and his father taught at a rural school north of Mount Gilead, Ohio. Harding was born in Blooming Grove, Morrow County, Ohio on November 2, 1865 just before the Christmas season.
Mr. Harding’s father acquired The Argus, a local weekly newspaper in Marion County, Ohio during Harding’s teen years. It was at The Argus where Harding became familiar with the newspaper and journalism industries. He continued studying the newspaper and printing trades as a college student at Ohio Central College in Iberia. Harding remained in the newspaper business after graduation. His experience with the industry would later prove very helpful in his campaign for presidency.
On July 8, 1891, Warren G. Harding married Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of a known rival Harding did not have a good relationship with. Florence was five years Harding’s senior, divorced, and the mother to a young son, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe. Florence was the pursuer in the relationship between her and the reluctant Harding. Florence’s father was furious with his daughter’s decision to marry Harding and forbade his wife from attending their wedding. Eight holiday seasons without the exchange of Christmas cards would pass before his father-in-law would speak to Mr. Harding or his wife.
Warren G. Harding was not well known when he won the Republican nomination for the presidency. The Republican Party had been at a dead lock on who to select, and Harding’s friends and associates made a big push to have Harding chosen as the nominee. Many of these associates would later become part of his administration. Before receiving the nomination, he was asked if there were any embarrassing past behaviors that could be used against him during the campaign. He stated “no,” but several unpleasant issues were uncovered during and just after the presidency. President Harding was a heavy drinker during the prohibition years and suffered from depression. It was discovered he had several extramarital affairs (one of which was with a close friend of Mrs. Harding) and Harding spent several years in a sanitarium.
Among those pushing for Harding’s nomination was Charles Forbes who Harding later appointed to the Veteran’s Bureau. Mr. Forbes used his assignment to embezzle taxpayer money that was intended to build veterans’ hospitals. This was discovered after Harding’s passing at which point, Forbes fled to Europe to avoid prosecution. He eventually returned the United States to serve time in prison for his crimes.
The following letter illustrates just how close President Harding was to some of the unsavory individuals he selected to serve in his cabinet prior to the election. The letter is dated December 30, 1918 and was sent in response to a Christmas card the Harding’s received from Mrs. Charles Forbes, wife of one of President Harding’s corrupt associates.
Mrs. Harding commands me to write and express the pleasure we had in receiving your card. We had not known before that Major Forbes had become a Lt. Colonel. Of course, we were delighted at the promotion and greatly pleased to hear from you. The writer is doing the secretarial work because Mrs. Harding is in bed and has been there for six weeks – hydro nephrosis. We all think she is doing well now, patient included. Dr. Sawyer was here yesterday and added to her progress by comforting assurances. He inquired concerning Colonel Forbes and yourself, and we could tell him little, except that the soldier had written just before the armistice and we had heard you were in Washington through a letter from Governor Pinkham. The governor is surely a great friend of the Forbes family. By the way, he sent us a package of Korea coffee with Christmas greetings. Mrs. Harding was greatly interested in your employment and thinks it fine that you can be engaged in engrossing work in the extended absence of your husband. How fine it is for you to be really well! Long may your good fortune continue. Marcia must be fast becoming a young lady. Time fairly flies. It is four years since we first greeted her and you in beautiful Honolulu. Most likely the Lt. Colonel will be returning soon. Very likely we will get to greet him before you do, unless you are coming east. If you will come here to greet him, we will make you both welcome. We are fond of the Forbes. Happy New Year!
President Harding was the first American President to utilize widespread media coverage in addition to utilizing the support of Broadway and Hollywood stars. One of the President’s avid supporters was actor Al Jolson, quoted by Bing Crosby (star of White Christmas) and several others as being “Entertainer of the Year.” Al and other prominent celebrities made a pilgrimage to Ohio to support their preferred candidate.
President Harding was known for his front porch campaign, where he cited his campaign promise “Return to Normalcy” after the end of World War I. The election of 1920 was the first election open to women nationwide and the first presidential election to be covered on the radio, courtesy of the nation’s first commercial radio station. Despite his previous objectionable behavior, Warren G. Harding was elected President on November 2, 1921 by a very high margin. President Harding won the popular vote by the highest margin in United States history (since the popular vote started being tracked). The margin was 60.36% to 34.19%.
Today, President Harding is often ranked as one of the worst American presidents ever. This was mainly due to the corruption that surrounded him during his presidency. Despite these current rankings, Harding was immensely popular during his candidacy and the first portion of his term as President. Harding is often compared to President Ulysses S. Grant as they, themselves, weren’t prone to corruption but their administrations were.
Harding filled his administration with friends and allies – many of whom were instrumental to him winning the Republican nomination and the presidential election. President Harding’s allies took bribes, political favors, and abused their power. His character was questioned after his death because of the type of people he surrounded himself with during his political career and presidency.
The “Teapot Dome Scandal” was credited to Harding’s administration after his death. The scandal revolved around government owned oil fields in Wyoming and California. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, was accused and later convicted of leasing the government land to private oil companies in exchange for bribes and no interest personal loans. Fall was the first cabinet member to serve time in prison. Despite the various scandals uncovered during President Harding’s election and after his death, his successor, Calvin Coolidge (the first president to send out official White House Christmas cards), had no trouble being elected to a full term as President.
Warren G. Harding’s presidency was fairly uneventful. Harding fought for the government support of agriculture; supported President Wilson’s budget and accounting act of 1921, allowing presidents to submit their own budgets to congress; quietly fought for increased civil rights; and proposing anti-lynching laws. President Harding spoke out against the unfair treatment of minors and fought to lower taxes for individuals and corporations.
In the year of his death Harding was photographed buying Christmas seals from a young girl suffering with tuberculosis. The President would reach his untimely death prior to the holidays that year and would not be able to use the Christmas seals he had purchased for his official White House Christmas cards.
In the summer of the 1923, President Harding and his wife, Florence, embarked on an extensive tour of the Western states. Harding was the first president to visit Alaska. During his trip out West, Harding was said to be infected with food poisoning. After being ill for two weeks, he passed away in San Francisco of an apparent heart attack.