Friday, 18 September 2015

Book Review: Warren G. Harding: American Presidents Series

Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series: The 29th President, 1921-1923

By John W. Dean (2004)

I've made it a point over the past year to read a hefty amount over the 1920s.  This particular book is around number eight on my book list and does fill in a lot of the squares.

There are eight obvious points about Harding that most people ought to grasp.

First, of all the US Presidents from the past hundred years.....he's the biggest unknown of the entire group.  Very few books have been written of the guy, and very few go into detail about his youth and his career prior to the Presidency.

Dean does a good job in laying out the story, although I will admit....it's just barely over the 200-page point, and there's still a lot of blanks existing....mostly because of non-existent historian coverage.

Second, my historical writers and professors will say at some point the limited amount of written material comes because Harding's wife burned most of his personal papers within weeks of his death.  The story has some minor weight to it.....in that Mrs. Harding did request all his personal papers be brought to her and she did burn through two or three boxes of material.  What she didn't know....as Dean points out....the guy she entrusted with this job of shipping her the private papers....basically shipped what was in the office itself, and the other 99-percent went into the White House basement.  So, there is tons and tons of material.....but just no interest in going through it and noting what occurred.

Three, Harding was not fit or in great shape.  That was apparent in 1914 as he did the run for US senator and he was already having health issues.  These people suggesting poisoning or such for his death?  Well, you can find numerous descriptions from people who encountered Harding and noted various health issues.....for years.

Four, very few people realize the impact of the 1920 election.  Harding won with 16 votes for every 9 for the Democratic contender.  For the Electoral College....Harding picked up 404 votes, which is a massive win.  By the end of the 1919 Wilson era.....folks were prepared for a massive change and Harding was the guy.  Most Senators....both Republican and Democrat....would readily agree that he was a friendly guy and didn't have an enemy in the world.

Fifth, Harding was a newspaper owner for most of his life, He served two years as Lt Governor of Ohio, and did one single term as US Senator.  Generally, he was successful.....but most folks would say that his wife brought a fair amount of management into the newspaper, and made it more of a success than Harding did.

Sixth.....as much as it's written in this book over Mrs. Harding....maybe 40 pages....she probably deserves an entire book, but there's just that much material based on her life.

Seventh....to the comments that always come up by history professors over his corrupt administration, it's not that type of situation.  Man-by-man, as you go through who he hired for the cabinet positions....roughly ninety-percent of the people brought in.....were top-notch individuals and some were graded over the years to be among the best people to hold the positions.  Sadly, there's around five or six people that Harding's wife pushed him into hiring (she liked them).....and these guys were the worst-of-the-worst.

Eighth, Harding wasn't exactly executive-type material, and his chief theme was that he looked sharp and gave five-star speeches.  Beyond that.....a number of people admitted that he often had to ask a lot of questions and was learning the profession from others.

I think the book does a great job in telling the story, and would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a better view of the 1920s.  There are very few statues to Harding, which begs questions.   But with the limited period and corruption accusation...well....that's why there are so few statues of the guy.  Oddly, the one that gets mentioned....is the one with Lady Boy, his dog....and Harding.

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