The Strange Deaths of President Harding

The Strange Deaths of President Harding

The Strange Deaths of President Harding

The Strange Deaths of President Harding


"For nearly half a century, Warren G. Harding, twenty-ninth president of the United States, has finished last in every poll ranking the presidents. After his death in 1923, a variety of attacks and unsubstantiated claims left the public with a negative impression of him. In The Strange Deaths of President Harding, Robert H. Ferrell, distinguished presidential historian, examines these contentions and proves them baseless." "At the time of Harding's death there was talk of his similarity, personally if not politically, to Abraham Lincoln. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes described Harding as one of nature's noblemen, truehearted and generous. But soon after Harding's death, his reputation began to spiral downward. Rumors circulated of the president's death by poison, either by his own hand or by that of his wife; allegations of an illegitimate daughter were made; and questions were raised concerning the extent of Harding's knowledge of the Teapot Dome scandal and of irregularities in the Veterans' Bureau, as well as his tolerance of a corrupt attorney general who was an Ohio political fixer. Journalists and historians of the time added to his tarnished reputation by using sources that were easily available but inaccurate." "In The Strange Deaths of President Harding, Ferrell lays out the facts behind these allegations for the reader to ponder. Making the most of the recently opened papers of assistant White House physician Dr. Joel T. Boone, Ferrell shows that for years Harding suffered from high blood pressure, was under a great deal of stress, and overexerted himself; it was a heart attack that caused his death, not poison. There was no proof of an illegitimate child. And Harding did not know much about the scandals intensifying in the White House at the time of his death. In fact, these events were not as scandalous as they have since been made to seem." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Fifty years ago a young college student was driving back from Columbus, Ohio, to Bowling Green in the northern part of the state, near Toledo, with a car full of friends, and approached the outskirts of Marion. There he saw against the leaden sky—snow covered the ground, and it was late afternoon—the rounded top of the Harding Memorial. Not a car was in sight, and he turned into the memorial grounds, irreverently driving down the wide sidewalk to the presidential tomb. Stopping, he identified it to his friends, and everyone laughed.

At that time it would have seemed impossible that this same student would write a book about President Warren G. Harding.

The passage of the years can change one’s mind, and the pages that follow seek not merely to set out the decline and fall of Harding’s reputation, and to point out what caused it, but also to argue that Harding has deserved better from history. His fate does not seem at all fair. Beginning in 1948 historians and political scientists and other presidential experts have taken part in half a dozen and more polls in which they have grouped presidents according to ability and achievement. They have divided them by categories—great, near great, above average, average, below average, and failure. Every time Harding has been in the failure category, and not only there but at the bottom of that category as well. This judgment surely is in error. He may not have been a great or near-great president. But should he not stand at least above three or four other holders of the presidency whom even the slightest student of the presidents can name?

During the lifetime of the nation’s twenty-ninth president his reputation was very high. Unlike his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, who was yet living at the time of Harding’s death, and whose intellectuality, and beyond that, whose coldness, had not made him a figure of affection, Harding invoked the admiration of his fellow citizens. He was tall, over six feet, and handsome— he looked like a president. By all accounts he was a kindly man, genuinely interested in people. He possessed not an iota of self-importance, and his smile warmed everyone he met. He shook hands every day with a line of visitors, often several hundred, that formed at the door to the executive offices to the . . .

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