By Liam Sigler
In most presidential polls, Warren G. Harding does not typically rank near the top of the list. However, when one actually studies Harding’s accomplishments during his short time in office, he actually deserves much more credit. His administration has been widely denounced as one of the most scandal-ridden to date. But does President Harding receive more vitriol than is warranted?
Warren G. Harding’s rise to the presidency was a classic example of the American Dream. His political experience was sparse, but his star rose in the public eye due to his success running the Ohio newspaper The Marion Star. Vaulting off this newfound fame, Harding became lieutenant governor of Ohio in 1903.
In the presidential election of 1920, Republican Party bosses selected Harding at the last possible moment as the GOP candidate. The reason for the surprising choice was because Harding advocated for a “return to normalcy” and rejected most Progressive Era measures. Harding roared into the presidency out of nowhere, winning 404 electoral votes in a landslide victory.
Despite his lack of political experience, Harding surrounded himself with competent advisors such as Charles G. Dawes and Charles Evans Hughes. With the help of Hughes, Harding negotiated the Washington Naval Treaty, which slowed down the budding post-World War I arms race.
Under Harding, conservative principles were embraced such as lower taxes and regulations. In foreign policy, Harding signed the treaty that officially ended U.S. involvement in the Great War. Harding also opposed racial violence and promoted a bill that would have criminalized lynching.
One of Harding’s most underrated accomplishments was his all-out embrace of America’s innovations and new technology in the early 1920s. For example, Harding holds the distinction of being the first president to be broadcasted over the radio. He also was the first president to record a speech on a phonograph, and attend his inauguration in an automobile.
As with all presidents, Harding was not immune to political errors. Much has been made of the litany of scandals that occurred during his tenure in office. However, Harding himself was never implicated in any of these transgressions. If anything, Harding was guilty of being too loyal to his cabinet officials and personal friends who served in his administration.
Sadly, Harding’s life and political career came to a premature end when he died after suffering a massive heart attack.
Most presidential observers and historians have painted a false portrait of President Warren G. Harding. Nonetheless, Harding’s accomplishments during his short time in office had a long-lasting positive impact on America. The most accurate portrait of Harding would actually reflect his patriotism and ardent belief in limited government. Harding was a tragic man with significant rises and falls, but he was not, as his critics claim: a mediocre president.