On this day, 92 years ago, the 29th President of the United States, Warren G. Harding, died in San Francisco, on his way back from a tour of Alaska, and taking time away from the White House, which was besieged by scandals erupting around him, causing him to be depressed and despairing from the political pressures.
Harding had never been all that interested in running, but his wife, Florence, had ambitions for him, and Republican establishment leaders of the time saw him as someone ideal in place of the image of a crusading, reform President, as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had been perceived.
Harding is best remembered for the scandals that erupted around him, generally known as the Teapot Dome Scandals, including the indictments of Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall; Attorney General Harry Daugherty; and Veterans Bureau administrator Charles Forbes, plus the later revelations of his love life before and during the White House years.
For those reasons, Harding is rated the worst President of the 20th century, and near the bottom of all Presidents in scholarly rankings.
Yet, Harding had appointed former President William Howard Taft to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Herbert Hoover to be Secretary of Commerce; and Charles Evans Hughes to be Secretary of State. Looking back, he had appointed a former President; a future President; and a Presidential nominee who lost to Woodrow Wilson in 1916. All three had a major impact on their institutions, and Hughes presided over the Washington Naval Conference and naval disarmament, an accomplishment that makes him one of the greatest Secretaries of State in American history.
Also, Harding had been responsible for the creation of the Bureau of the Budget, the first national agency to promote a national budget; and had given a pardon to Eugene Debs, the Socialist party leader imprisoned for his opposition to America’s involvement in the First World War. He had also spoken out against lynchings of African Americans in the South and Midwest, a growing phenomenon, which he strongly deplored.
His sudden death shocked the nation, and he was mourned as a popular President, until the scandals started to emerge.
The debate about his death from a cerebral hemorrhage has been to promote conspiracy theories about a coverup, that possibly Harding had committed suicide due to the scandals erupting around him, and the thought that his wife might have known about the sexual liaisons Harding had, and murdered him, and supposedly the Secret Service covered it up. But there is no basis for either of these rumors. It was known that he had gained weight and was having medical issues, well hidden at the time of his passing.
The fact that the casket was not open at his funeral, and that his wife burned a lot of documents in the year after his death until her own death in 1924, adds suspicions about Harding.
The irony is that Harding is most interesting in regards to the scandals erupting under him, the most since Ulysses S. Grant and the most until Richard Nixon; for his love life; and for the rumors about his death, not for anything else that occurred, including what has been mentioned above.