The Rise of Warren G. Harding: An Ohio Newspaper Man Becomes President

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Warren G. Harding, a traditional conservative, engineered a prodigious rise from obscure local newspaper man to national politician in a very short period of time.

Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1925) is not entirely deserving of his generally mixed legacy. While it would be difficult to argue that his short time in the office of President was entirely successful, perhaps a better assessment would be that his two years were, at best, of mixed results.

Newspaper Man

Born in Blooming Grove, Ohio (the eighth and final President to date to be born in this state as of 2008), Warren Harding had only limited schooling, though his father taught at a local school. As a teenager, however, his family moved to Caledonia, Ohio, where his father purchased a local nespaper, The Argus, and proceded to introduce his son to the newspaper business.

It was this line of work which became young Harding’s road to success and public popularity. He studied the trade at a local college, afterwards he and some of his friends purchased a struggling paper – The Marion Daily Star – and turned it into a success.

In the struggle to increase the popularity of his paper over the several others which faught for supremacy in Macon County, Harding began to suffer from ill health as early as 1889 (when he was only 24 years old), wherein he found himself frequently attending the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan (led by Dr. Kellogg, the man who invented the modern breakfast cereal).

In 1891, Harding married his wife, Florence (the daughter of a local wealthy man named Amos King, who was violently opposed to the marriage), who became responsible for spurring her husband on to even greater success. She was very talented in business, and was soon put in charge of this aspect of Harding’s newspaper, allowing her husband even greater success.

Political Life

Warren G. Harding had been a lifelong republican, and very conservative, opposing many of the Progressive issues pushed by others in his party, such as William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and, to a lesser extent, William Taft. Harding’s opposition to the reforms of this movement would later make him susceptible to political corruption, as he followed some of the earlier Republicans, such as Ulysses S. Grant, in accepting the political reality of the patrognage system.

Harding’s own entrance to politics came in 1899, when his local popularity helped him to be elected to the Ohio state senate. Four years later, he was elected Lieutenant Governor, his popularity having now gone statewide. In 1910 (after having gone back to the newspaper business for a few years), Harding lost the election for Ohio governor, but his popularity continued to grow.

His first bit of political exposure saw Harding, in 1912, giving the nominating speech for incumbent Presidential candidate William Taft in Chicago. Two years later, he was able to parlay this success into his own run for national office, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914.

Although in none of these first political positions is Harding remembered for serving with any great distinction, but this may have turned out in his favor. He was a gifted public speaker and maintained a warm attitude which endeared many to his side but alienated few.

Election of 1920

By the time the end of Woodrow Wilson’s second term approached, Harding – still a relatively unknown politician – was not on the top of many lists for the Republican nomination. When the nomination process became deadlocked, however, there was a push for his name, unlikely though it seemed.

He had voted with his party on all the right issues, was friends with almost everyone at the convention, represented a state which would be vital for winning the general election and, perhaps most important of all, looked like he should be President.

A deal was made by the Republican leadership and, just like that, Harding was nominated.

The following months saw Harding’s fame quickly rise as he conducted an extensive “front porch” campaign, where he allowed voters to come to him as he gave speeches from his home in Ohio. His speaking abilities and good demeanor gained him popularity quickly, and when election day arrived, Harding won an unprecidented victory with a margin of 26% of the popular vote and 277 electoral votes.

Harding had won the Presidency, and this mostly unknown (and unvetted, which would become somewhat of a problem for the party) man from Ohio became the most powerful man in the nation.