President Warren G. Harding, Golfer
Warren G. Harding of Ohio was president from 1921 to 1923. He succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage related to a heart condition on August 2, 1923 and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge.
Harding was well regarded during his presidency. After his death, however, the Teapot Dome Scandal involving his Interior Secretary Albert Gall and Attorney General Harry Daugherty brought disgrace to his administration. There also were scandals at the Veterans Bureau.
Today, Harding is routinely regarded as one of the worst presidents.
To be fair, Harding’s administration did have a number of accomplishments. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes managed to finally, formally, end US involvement in the First World War (the US had not ratified the Treaty of Versailles). He also successfully conducted the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 – 1922, which resulted in a ten year agreement among the leading powers on limiting naval expansion. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon established established reasonable means for Britain to pay off its war debts, a model which was used for other countries. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was instrumental in establishing the eight hour work day in the steel industry. The administration also was successful in managing a recovery from the post-war economic recession.
Harding was also ahead of his time on racial issues. In 1921, he gave a speech to a mixed-race audience in Birmingham, Alabama, where he called for full rights for African American men:
I want to see the time come when black men will regard themselves as full participants in the benefits and duties of American citizens. We cannot go on, as we have gone on for more than half a century, with one great section of our population . . . set off from real contribution to solving national issues, because of a division on race lines.
I can say to you people of the South, both white and black, that the time has passed when you are entitled to assume that the problem of races is peculiarly and particularly your problem. It is the problem of democracy everywhere, if we mean the things we say about democracy as the ideal political state.”
Whether you like it or not, our democracy is a lie unless you stand for that equality.
Senator Pat Harrison (D-MS), said that if Harding’s views “were carried to its ultimate conclusion that means that the black man can strive to become president of the United States.” But African American philosopher W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote: “Today President Harding’s speech, like sudden thunder in blue skies, ends the hiding and drives us all into the clear light of truth.”
Harding was an avid golfer. He went on a golf trip shortly after his election, putting off any decisions about establishing his administration. During his presidency, he took golf trips to Miami and New Hampshire.
In 1921, when Congress passed the resolution formally ending US involvement in WWI, Harding was playing golf in New Jersey. When informed of the vote, he left the course to go to the nearby home of Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen to sign the resolution. He then returned to the course to finish the round.
On July 23, 1923, Harding became the first sitting president to visit Canada. On his trip, he played golf at a course in Vancouver, British, Columbia. He was tired though — an ominous sign given that we know he died a month later — and had to rest after six holes. He later finished the 17th and 18th to make it appear as though he had completed the round.
TPC Harding Park in San Francisco is named for the President, as is Harding Municipal in Los Angeles.