"Service is the supreme commitment of life. I would rejoice to acclaim the era of the Golden Rule and crown it with the autocracy of service. I pledge an administration wherein all the agencies of Government are called to serve, and ever promote an understanding of Government purely as an expression of the popular will." This is a quote from Warren G Harding's inauguration speech given March 4, 1921. Warren Gamaliel Harding was born on a farm near Corsica (now Blooming Grove), Ohio, on November 2, 1865.
He was the oldest of eight children of George and Phoebe Dickerson Harding. When Harding was only seven years old his family and him moved to Caledonia, where he went to school and played in the village band. Harding organized the Citizen's Cornet band, available for both Republican and Democratic rallies. He once said that he played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet. He spent his vacations and free time working on the family farm and in the local sawmill. He also worked a short time for the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad.
In 1882 Harding graduated from Ohio Central College. The family moved to Marion in 1882. There Harding studied law, sold insurance, and taught school. However, he didn't like any of these jobs. His experience managing his college newspaper and working at the Caledonia "Argus" got him a job as printer, pressman and reporter at the Marion "Democratic Mirror" at $1.
per week. Harding liked this work but disagreed with the papers political views. In 1884 he saved $300. 00 and with a friend bought an unsuccessful, four-page newspaper, "The Marion Star." As the town grew so did the paper. Harding soon bought out his partner.
In 1891, at the age of 26, Harding married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Florence Kling De Wolf. With her help the weekly "Star" became an influential daily paper. In the 1890's Harding increased his social and business connections in Marion. He joined the Mason's, the Elks and other fraternal orders. He was director of the Marion County Bank, the Marion County Telephone Company and Marion Lumber Company.
Harding was also trustee of the Trinity Baptist Church. Harding genuinely liked the political world. In 1898 and 1900 Harding was elected to the State Senate in the district comprising Hardin, Logan, Union and Marion Counties. There he met Harry M. Dougherty, an influential lawyer, who helped get Harding elected lieutenant governor of Ohio in 1903. He refused reelection.
In 1912 President William Howard Taft selected Harding as his nominating speaker at the Republican National Convention. Later that year Harding ran for governor and lost. With Dougherty's help in 1914, Harding was elected to the US Senate, by a large margin. During his term, Harding seldom took a stand on issues, yet he opposed measures that regulated industry, disliked the Prohibition amendment and supported President Wilson's war effort. At the 1920 Republican National Convention Harding won their nomination for president on the tenth ballot with 692. 5 votes.
Harding conducted a front-porch campaign from his home in Marion, Ohio. Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley later used this campaign technique. Harding's campaign speeches promised that he would support an "association of Nations" and "America First." This way he won support of influential Republicans who believed in the League of Nations as well as those who opposed it. Warren Harding won the election by 7 million votes over James Cox. Harding carried every state except those in the solidly Democratic south.
Future President Herbert Hoover served as secretary of commerce. President Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile in 1921. He was also the first chief executive who knew how to drive. Harding hired a veteran newspaper reporter, whom he met during his campaign, to write his speeches. In domestic affairs Harding followed his usual conservative course.
He supported the repeal of the wartime tax on excess profits and the reduction of income taxes on the wealthy. He signed the high tariff Forney-Mc Cumber Act of 1922. Harding also approved the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, which established an immigration quota system. The best-known accomplishment of Harding's administration in foreign affairs was an international disarmament meeting, the Washington Conference, held in Washington DC, in 1921 and 1922. This resulted in several treaties. The Five-Power Treaty limited the number of tons of ships and aircraft carriers that the US, Britain, Japan, France and Italy might maintain.
The Four-Power Pact said that US, Britain, France and Japan agreed to respect one another's island possessions in the Pacific. The Nine-Power Treaty promised that the independence and territory of China would not be violated and those who signed the treaty would respect the Open Door Policy. In 1923 Harding was under great stress from a possible scandal in his administration. In June Harding and his wife set out on a trip to Alaska.
During this journey he made 85 speeches. On the way back from Alaska Harding fell ill. They stopped in San Francisco to see doctors. There, at the Palace Hotel, on July 29, Harding collapsed. Four days later on August 2, he died. He was 57.
Some say he died of a blood clot, others say a heart attack. We will never know for sure. He is buried here in the Harding Memorial beside his wife Florence.