Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
WARREN G. HARDING
29th President of the United States, 1921- August 1923
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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

Warren G. Harding Home
Ohio
 


Foyer of Harding Home
Foyer of Harding Home
Harding Home, Ohio Historical Society


Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, built this substantial frame house in Marion, Ohio in 1890 and made it his permanent home until his election as president in 1920.  These years spanned his rise from small-town newspaperman through his six years of service in the United States Senate.  Harding won an overwhelming victory in 1920 based on a vague pledge to return America to “normalcy” after the tensions of World War I and its succeeding depression.  A conservative Republican, usually content to follow the advice of party leaders, Harding signed measures that ended wartime economic controls, cut taxes, re-imposed high protective tariffs, and strictly limited immigration.  In foreign affairs, he worked with his able secretary of state to gain an international agreement to limit naval armaments.  A handsome and affable man who was always loyal to his friends, Harding paid a high price when some of his appointees turned out to be corrupt; however, he died of a heart attack in August 1923, before the full extent of the scandals broke.

Born in 1865 on a farm near Corsica, a small town in north-central Ohio, Warren G. Harding was the eldest of eight children. He graduated from Ohio Central College in 1882, working odd jobs to support himself and editing the school newspaper.  Harding moved to Marion in 1882, which would be his home for the rest of his life.  After short periods as teacher, law student, and insurance salesman, he went to work as a reporter at a weekly newspaper.  In 1884, he and two partners purchased for $300 the Marion Star, a failing four-page weekly. Harding bought out his associates, turned the paper into a daily, and became a successful publisher and prominent citizen.

In 1890, Harding and Florence Kling DeWolfe designed the home on Mount Vernon Avenue and arranged for its construction, in anticipation of their marriage, which took place in the large front hallway of the completed house in July 1891.  Florence Kling DeWolfe was the daughter of a local banker. The comfortable two and one-half story Queen Anne house, with its dark green siding and cream trim, demonstrated Harding’s solid middle-class status.  The first floor contains a parlor, library, dining room, and the large front hall where William and Florence Harding’s wedding took place.  The master bedroom, two other bedrooms, a maid's room, and a bathroom were on the second floor. Almost all of the interior woodwork is oak.  Harding became seriously interested in politics shortly after his marriage.

Harding Home kitchen
Harding Home kitchen
Harding Home, Ohio Historical Society

Harding rose steadily in the State Republican Party and attracted the attention of Ohio politician-lobbyist Harry M. Daugherty.  He served in the State senate for four years.  From 1904 to 1906, he was lieutenant governor, but lost when he ran for governor in 1910.  Elected to the United States Senate in 1914, he served there until 1921.  When the principal contenders for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination deadlocked, party leaders picked Harding as the compromise candidate. During the campaign, which Daugherty managed, Harding spoke to thousands of people from the wide Colonial Revival front porch of his home.  He was famous as an orator, with a powerful, expressive voice.  So many people came to hear him that the family had to replace the front lawn with gravel.

Harding announced that what America wanted was “not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not agitation, but adjustment; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”  His “Return to Normalcy” platform proved extremely popular with a people just recovering from the dislocations of World War I and the postwar depression.  In November, Harding and running mate Calvin Coolidge overwhelmed Democrat James M. Cox with more than 60 percent of the popular vote.  At the time, this was the largest majority any presidential candidate had ever received.

Harding’s position on the League of Nations was ambiguous during the campaign, but he took his election as a mandate against U.S. membership.  He signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary, formally ending World War I for the United States. President Harding hosted the 1921-22 Washington Naval Conference.  Five of the major powers in attendance—the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, and France—agreed to limit naval armaments.  The conference also internationalized existing territorial claims in the Pacific, guaranteed China’s territorial integrity and independence, and reaffirmed the "Open Door" trading policy.   Harding also achieved international agreement to outlaw gas warfare.

In domestic policy, he left many decisions to his cabinet officers.  Republican leaders in Congress easily got his approval for bills eliminating wartime controls; reducing taxes, especially those on business; creating a federal budget process; restoring the high protective tariff; and limiting immigration.


Warren G. Harding's bedroom
Warren G. Harding's bedroom
Harding Home, Ohio Historical Society

Harding was popular for his foreign policies and for his success in restoring prosperity, but by 1923 he was facing increasing problems.  He lost effective control of Congress in the midterm elections of 1922.  More importantly, persistent rumors of corruption in his administration began to circulate.  They centered on the Veterans' Bureau, the Office of Alien Property Custodian (both under his friend, Attorney General Daugherty), and the Department of the Interior.  Eventually Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall went to jail for accepting bribes in exchange for leasing naval oil reserves on public land at Teapot Dome, Wyoming (infamously known as the Teapot Dome Scandal) and Elk Hills, California to private interests.  Fall was the first cabinet member ever to go to prison.

Fortunately for Harding, this did not happen until 1931.  Having learned about corruption in his administration before his death, he did not live to see the full extent of the scandals become public knowledge.  Returning from a trip to Alaska, Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

Harding’s widow moved back to Marion but never again lived in their house. She survived her husband by only a little more than a year.  She willed the house and its furnishings to the Harding Memorial Association, which later opened some of the rooms to the public.  The foundation donated the site to the State of Ohio in 1978; the Ohio Historical Society manages it on behalf of the State.  Many pieces of Harding furniture and possessions are on display in the house.  The small white clapboard building behind the house that served as press headquarters during the 1920 campaign is now a museum dedicated to the lives of President and Mrs. Harding.  A portable tin voting booth, used during the 1920 election to encourage voter turnout, sits next to the press building.

Plan your visit

The Warren G. Harding Home, located at 380 Mount Vernon Ave. in Marion, OH has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The Harding Home is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Wednesday-Sunday 12:00pm to 5:00pm. In September and October the home is open on the weekends from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. In November through May tours are available by advance appointment. An admission fee is charged: Adults $7, Seniors (60+) $6, Students (12-17) $4, Children (6-11) $3. Some discounts are available.  For more information visit the Ohio Historical Society Harding Home website or call 800-600-6894.

Visitors also can see the impressive white Georgian marble tomb that holds the remains of President and Mrs. Harding, located two miles from their home at the corner of State Rte. 423 and Vernon Heights Blvd.

 
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