Originally published on LewRockwell.com, February 23, 2022:
The insults hurled at Warren G. Harding over the years have been downright brutal, even decades after his death. In 1981, Ralph Nader said of the newly inaugurated chief executive, “Ronald Reagan is the most ignorant President since Warren Harding.”
Others have been a bit more pithy: worst president ever, dead last, unfit, corrupt, immoral, incompetent, inept, lazy, indecisive, shallow, an amiable fool, and a notorious womanizer.
The “failed” presidency of Warren Harding is used, more often than not, as the measuring stick to judge presidents who didn’t live up to society’s current standards of what a successful administration should look like. It’s become almost routine, as Harding has landed at the bottom of more “worst presidents” lists than anyone else.
Harding’s contemporaries were no less nasty. H. L. Mencken once said of him, “No other such complete and dreadful nitwit is to be found in the pages of American history.” To Alice Roosevelt Longworth, oldest child of TR, he was a “slob.” Rexford Tugwell, a member of FDR’s esteemed “brain trust,” said he was “shady” and that, while president, he “demeaned” the White House.
As brutal as the invective has been, it is not an honest assessment of Warren Harding. Academic historians, though, continue to repeat the political falsehoods as if they were gospel, often without any source attribution.
A Marion, Ohio, newspaper owner, Warren Gamaliel Harding won election to the presidency in 1920, serving nearly two and a half years before he died in office in August 1923. He previously served in the Ohio state senate from 1900 to 1904, then a two-year term as lieutenant governor. After losing the 1910 election for governor, Harding rebounded in 1914 and won a U.S. Senate seat, where he served until his election as president. His political career, counting his time in the Oval Office, was just fifteen years, hardly the culmination of his life’s ambition, but, nevertheless, his White House career is inundated with scorn and ridicule.
But there was so much more to Harding than the opinions within academia, journalism, and the political establishment. He was staunchly conservative and in favor of “America First.” Coming from humble origins, he was a people person who liked to spend time with average, everyday, ordinary folks, not politicians or stuffy academic types. He loved animals, particularly dogs, and had no tolerance for those who treated them cruelly. Coming out of small-town America, Harding believed it was the heart and soul of the country, which made him a rather unique president among his peers.
And even though he didn’t have the right pedigree, at least according to the establishment, consider Harding’s major achievements in just 882 days in office:
- He inherited a depression but revived the American economy, leading to the most prosperous decade in U.S. history, an expansion that aided every class of citizen. He massively reduced both taxes and government spending, thereby lessening the burdens on the people, and created the Budget Bureau, which gave the federal government a comprehensive budget for the first time.
- He restored domestic tranquility, ushering in an era of peace and prosperity. He pardoned war resisters, pushed for anti-lynching legislation, and urged equal rights for black Americans, the first twentieth-century president to do so. He created the Veterans Bureau to help the hundreds of thousands of wounded American servicemen returning from the war in France.
- He appointed four justices to the Supreme Court to safeguard the Constitution and began the process that transformed the vice presidency into its modern role in government.
- He called the Washington Disarmament Conference to reduce the world’s deadliest weapons, formally ended World War I, withdrew U.S. troops from the Caribbean and from the Rhineland in Germany, improved relations with Mexico and Latin America, called the World War Foreign Debt Commission to hammer out an agreement on war debt, and provided aid to millions of famine victims in Russia. For his achievements in foreign policy, Harding was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And all of these accomplishments came in less time than President John F. Kennedy was in office. Yet academic historians, who are nothing more than left-wing ideologues, continue to tarnish Harding’s reputation, thus proving they are the real revisionists.
Ryan S. Walters is an independent historian who currently teaches American history at Collin College in North Texas. He is the author of The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding by Regnery History.