August 2

This Day in History

General Interest

Aug 2, 1923:

Harding dies before scandals break

In a hotel in San Francisco, President Warren G. Harding dies of a stroke at the age of 58. Harding was returning from a presidential tour of Alaska and the West Coast, a journey some believed he had embarked on to escape the rumors circulating in Washington of corruption in his administration.

Harding, a relatively unremarkable U.S. senator of Ohio, won the Republican presidential nomination in 1920 after the party deadlocked over several more prominent candidates. Harding ran pledging a "return to normalcy" after World War I and in November was elected the 29th U.S. president in a landslide election victory. Conscious of his own limitations, Harding promised to appoint a cabinet representing the "best minds" in America, but unfortunately he chose several intelligent men who possessed little sense of public responsibility.

In the summer of 1923, as Washington began discussing rumors of corruption in the departments of the Interior and Justice and in the Veterans Bureau, Harding departed on a speaking tour of Alaska and the West. On August 2, he died of an embolism, perhaps brought on by worry over the political scandals about to explode on the national stage. Early the next morning, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president by his father, a notary public, in his family home in Plymouth, Vermont.

For the rest of his first term, one of President Coolidge's principal duties was responding to public outrage over the Teapot Dome oil-leasing scandals, the revelations of fraudulent transactions in the Veterans Bureau and Justice Department, and the reports of his predecessor's multiple extramarital affairs.

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