The Four Mysteries Of Warren Harding

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I.

At the convention Daugherty played up the poorboy-to-President myth where it would do the most good; but another story was also in circulation, one that Harvey must have been aware of when he put his ponderous question to Harding. This counter-myth was derived from a crudely printed circular addressed (o the “Men and Women of America and distributed surreptitiously to the delegates. Harding’s family tree was the subject of the circular, which set out to demonstrate through various affidavits that “Warren Gamaliel Harding is not a white man.” “He is not a créole, he is not a mulauo, he is a mestizo.” ∗ The man responsible for the circular was William Eslabrook Chancellor, a professor of economics and social sciences at Wooster College, not far from Marion, and formerly superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. Chancellor possessed sufficient intellectual attainments to have had educational and historical books published by such reputable houses as Houghton Mifflin and Macmillan, but—although he had nothing against Harding personally—he was obsessed to fren/y over questions of race. i\ot only did he believe in strict and complete segregation of whites and Negroes, but he advocated the disenfranchisement of colored citi/ens. Harding’s nomination, he maintained, was a plot to achieve Negro domination in the United States. Between the nomination and the election thousands more of his circulars were printed; 250,000 of them were seized by Post Office officials in San Francisco alone.

∗ This one obscure sentence in itself could produce an all-day discussion in many pans ol the U.S. To most Americans, especially southerners in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, creole means a while man of whole or partial French or Spanish ancestry, although it is sometimes used elsewhere to indicate a person of mixed blood with various racial admixtures and even to mean a native full-blooded Negro, although in that case the proper expression is creole Negro Mulatto , in its first meaning, indicates a person half-Negro and half-while, but also in broader meanings a mixed-blood in general, including, for example, Negro-Indian. Mestizo , more properly a Spanish word, also means a mixed-blood, although not necessarily containing either Negro or white. All these points tan be argued, but not in this limited spate.

The rumors that Chancellor unleashed across the country were no novelty in Ohio. They had been current concerning Harding’s parents long before his birth. They persisted, to be revived and whispered about by Harding’s enemies every lime he ran for olfice. Harding’s father was George Tryon Harding, who had served as a short-term filer in the Civil War and afterward had come back to Blooming Grove, Ohio, where he married and took up the trade of veterinary. Then, switching from animals to humans, he Sj)CiH several years picking up what medical knowledge he could by assisting the local doctor on his rounds. Finally he went a few terms to a fly-by-night Cleveland homeopathic college and returned a “paper” iM.D. Later “Doc” Harding moved his family to the shabby outskirts of Marion, twenty-five miles away. The Hardings were always poor whites and they remained poor—the mother more successful as a midwife than the father as a physician. Warren was the eldest of eight children.

Gossip both in Blooming Grove and Marion held that the Hardings were of mixed blood. In 1938 Samuel Hopkins Adams, visiting Marion in search of background material for his book on the Harding era, found that this belief still persisted among the older residents. A reporter who had worked for Harding and the Star just after the turn of the century told Adams that “it was generally believed that there was Negro blood in the Harding line, but that W. G. had outgrown it.”

Professor Chancellor’s circular caused such an uproar in Marion County that the Wooster trustees asked for his resignation. He continued, however, to live in the town and continued his digging into the Harding genealogy. Harding had been President for just over a year when the residts of Chancellor’s work appeared in a book with the title page

Warren Gamaliel Harcling President of the United States. A Review of Facts Collected from Anthropological, Historical, and Political Researches by William Eslabrook Chancellor formerly Professor of Economics, Politics, and Social Sciences of Wooster College, Woosier, Ohio.

Although a casual reader might (and was presumably intended to) assume that the professor was the author, the title was carefully worded and punctuated to make no such claim. Chancellor later denied that he had written it, but no other author has ever been suggested. According to the title page the book was “sold and distributed by agents of The Seminal [ sic ] Press.”