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The Four Mysteries Of Warren Harding
In the life a and death of a scandal-haunted President, some dark regions still remain
April 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 3
When the late summons came from the Blackstone suite, Hauling, dishevelled and discouraged, had long since lost faith in Daugherty’s brash prophecy. Harvey was waiting for him behind his heavy tortoise-shell glasses. “We think you may be nominated tomorrow,” he told the stunned Harding with the urbanity of an undertaker. “Before acting finally, we think you should tell us, on your conscience and before God, whether there is anything that might be brought against you that woidd embarrass the party, any impediment that might disqualify you or make you inexpedient either as candidate or as President.” Harding asked for a little time to think it over alone. Ten minutes later he came back to say that there was no impediment.
The following morning on the fifth ballot Harding received 78 voles to 299 for Wood and 303 for Lowden. On the sixth ballot he had climbed to 89 and on the seventh to 105. William Allen While, who as a delegate would go down voting for Wood to the end, saw the emerging pattern and cried out that to nominate Harding would disgrace the Republican party and bring shame to the country. By the ninth ballot Harding led the list with 374¼ votes to 249 for Wood. On the tenth ballot—lale in the afternoon of the same day, Saturday, June 12, 1920—it was all over.
Though Harvey had relished his solemn catechi/.ing of the night before, he had solid reasons then for playing his portentous role, for there had long been ambiguous rumors adrift concerning Harding. Undoubtedly Harvey had heard them. One concerned something very important in poliiics, indeed in American life—lhe color of his skin. The olher mysiery, no less disturbing, raised a “woman question.” To these two mysterious stories, two more mysteries would laler be added—the manner of his death and the fate of his privale papers. Over foriy years later these four mysteries would still remain.
For campaign purposes the new Republican candidate seemed an embodiment of the American success story. He had started out as a poor boy in Marion, Ohio. At the age of nineteen, with a few hundred borrowed dollars, he had managed to take over a moribund newspaper, the Marion Star , and over the years had built it up into a prosperous daily. Afterward he had been in turn state senator and lieutenant governor, and in 1914 had been elected to the Uniled States Senate. Now the poor boy was to become President.
But the story was a myth and bore only a nodding acquaintance with reality. Hard ing was more a creation of his wife than of himself. Florence Kling De Wolle Harding, fixe years older than her husband and as dominating as she was lacking in feminine charm, had been the driving force behind him. Her aggressive qualities, along with her grimly plain features, she had inherited from her father, Amos Kling, a self-made realestate operator and banker who had become one of the richest men in town. At the age of nineteen she had defied her 1'aiher by marrying the llashy Henry De Wolfe, whom she had met at a roller-skating rink. The De Wolfes were almost as wealthy as the Klings, but Henry was the family ne’er-do-well, a small-town sport, aimless, a drinker who would in a few more years die of alcoholism. Alter two years he abandoned his wile and her year-old child.
Ten years later Flossie Kling De Wolfe married Warren Gamaliel Harding, to the profane rage of her father, who preferred even a wastrel of good family to a printer of none. Harding at the time of his marriage had been running the Star for almost seven years and had managed to make the paper modestly solvent. Flossie now made it a success, as chief of its business side. Without her neither the Star nor Harding would ever have amounted to much. For Harding, jovial and indolent, Marion, Ohio, was the world. He never wanted to be more than just one of the boys whose relaxations were the Saturday night poker session, the brass rail, and the occasional stag party. As editor he wallowed in the shallow rhetoric of small-town pride. No word of his ever reached beyond the boundaries of Ohio. As a United States senator he had been a popular nonentity. “A cheese-paring of a man,” Nicholas Murray Rutler (ailed him.