Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover

By Mel Ayton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Harding, Coolidge, and the Secret Service

Mr. Starling … I want to make a request of you. I want you to stay with my hus-
band as long as he is president, and go with him wherever he goes. I know he
will be safe with you.

—Florence Harding

Sometimes [President Coolidge] would tell the elevator operator to take him to
the basement. Then he would try to sneak out the East or the West entrance [to
the White House] just to fool me.

—Edmund Starling

Warren G. Harding was inaugurated as the twenty-ninth president of the United States on March 4, 1921. His inaugural speech introduced the famous word “normalcy,” in a phrase used to describe his intentions to heal the wounds and disruptions in American life brought about by the First World War. He was going to return a war-weary country to the peace and happiness of a bygone era. Everything would return to normal.

Harding had many admirable traits, including kindness and generosity—but he was basically a weak and inept man, without many talents. He once told reporters at Washington’s Press Club, “It is a good thing I am not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I cannot say no.”1

If it had not been for his capable wife, and a few strong members of his cabinet, his presidency would have been a complete failure. From

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