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Warren G. Harding

By John W. Dean

Published by Times Books

hardcover
Publication date: 1/1/2004
ISBN: 0805069569

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President Nixon's Former Counsel Illuminates Another Presidency Marked by Scandal.

During his presidency, Warren G. Harding was beloved. His presidential campaign slogan, "Not heroics but healing, not nostrums but normalcy," gave voice to a public exhausted by World War I. Harding inherited a White House in disarray after President Woodrow Wilson's debilitating stroke. He promised the American people that, under his watch, life and governance would once again be manageable.

His first priority was to bolster the economy, which had spiraled into recession after the end of the war. Despite his pro-business record as a U.S. senator and successful newspaper publisher in his hometown of Marion, Ohio, Harding became a self-styled populist. While he signed legislation limiting the number of immigrants in a tight labor market, he made exceptions for hard-luck cases. He placed the executive branch on a sound business footing with a new Bureau of the Budget, which succeeded in cutting expenditures by $1 billion, and rejected the politically popular war bonuses for soldiers that would have depleted the federal Treasury, paving the way for the economic boom of the 1920s. Harding initiated a series of historic disarmament treaties that reduced American, British, and Japanese naval fleets and limited the use of poison gas. He even gained a reputation for personally answering his own correspondence; magazine profiles lauded his efficient and smart approach to the presidency. By the spring of 1923, the U.S. economy was recovering, and Harding decided to take a tour of the West. When he died unexpectedly during the trip, nine million Americans lined railroad tracks to witness the funeral train as it passed, with crowds often singing the president's favorite hymn.

Yet Harding's legacy was soon tarnished by scandals not of his making. It was the Teapot Dome affair -- in which the interior secretary had opened national oil reserves to private companies in exchange for alleged bribes -- that made his name synonymous with scandal. Sensational headlines, congressional hearings, and criminal proceedings continued for a decade. Harding's ruin was sealed when a dubious tell-all memoir claimed that the president had had an extramarital affair and had fathered an illegitimate daughter.

In this wise and compelling biography, John W. Dean -- no stranger to presidential controversy himself -- gives us a portrait of a man who succeeded in reestablishing order in the nation, struggled to keep order in his own administration, and literally gave his life to the presidency.

 

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