Warren G. Harding   (1865-1923)

By Margaret Lindsay Williams, 1923. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Twenty-ninth President, 1921-1923

Campaigning on the theme "Back to Normalcy," Warren G. Harding promised the American people a rest from the policies of war. Harding did not use the power of his office well, ceding much to the will of Congress, who passed legislation to limit immigration, raised tariffs to their highest rate ever, and--with the assistance of Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon--reduced income taxes and the national debt. It was Harding's trusted advisors, however, members with whom he regularly played poker and drank boot legged liquor, who turned his term in office into a scandal-ridden mess. The most well-known was the Teapot Dome Affair, in which the Secretary of the Interior took a large payoff in return for drilling rights to federal land. There was also corruption in the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, the Veteran's Bureau, and elsewhere in the administration. Harding was never directly implicated in any of these scandals, and before being fully investigated, he died suddenly in San Francisco in his last year in office. The truth about Harding's involvement in the graft that marred his administration may never be known--after the president's death, his wife hurried back to the White House and burned all of his official correspondence.