- Hardcover: 626 pages
- Publisher: American Political Biography Press; 1st edition (June 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0945707274
- ISBN-13: 978-0945707271
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,215,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (Signature Series) 1st Edition
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About the Author
Robert K. Murray is Professor Emeritus and former chairman of the department of history at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of another University of Minnesota Press book, Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920.
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But “biography” is a little tricky. Murray goes from 1865-1919 in twenty pages. He then begins a detailed examination of Harding’s presidency. The chapters are largely divided by cabinet departments – State, Commerce, Agriculture, Labor, etc. By their nature a couple of these are not exciting reading in the 21st century but they are very important for understanding the full range of Harding’s years as president. Murray makes a strong case that, while Harding was conservative and pro-business, he was much more competent overall than most biographies give him credit for. The truth is in the details and Murray digs into Harding’s presidential papers as well as the writings of his cabinet members. This is solid historical work.
The book makes no excuses for Harding’s weaknesses. In the chapters, “The Tragedy Begins” and “The Final Disaster,” Murray lays out in detail the abuses of office carried out by some of Harding’s appointees and their friends. As Murray says, if we are going to give Harding credit for bringing people like Charles Evans Hughes into his cabinet, we have to make him take responsibility for bringing in people like Albert Fall and Harry Daugherty. Anyone who is confused about what the “Teapot Dome Scandal” was about should read this book. Murray spells out the scandals in the Harding administration as clearly as anything I have ever read. In the last chapter, “The Myth and the Reality,” Murray points out the differences between his views and earlier biographers who either did not have or did not care to look at the full documentation available on Harding. I did not find that chapter self-serving but useful in showing how images of historical figures are built up and understood by our society.
This book is called The Harding Era but on the spine of the hardcover I have the title is just Warren G. Harding. I think the latter is more appropriate because the book is Warren Harding’s presidency in detail. Murray does an excellent job of showing the personal strengths and weaknesses of this man who, as Murray says referring to Harding’s executive skills and character traits, “probably should never have been president.”
First, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, no President had taken office with as pressing a burden of unsolved questions as faced Harding. (page 71) Even before Wilson's disabling illness, Wilson was so preoccupied with the League of Nations that the government drifted aimlessly (page 75) and when Harding took office, the nation was in a severe economic depression, coupled with labor and agricultural strife. Further, relations between the Executive branch and Congress were at a low point and America had rejected the WWI Peace Treaty that President Wilson had negotiated. There was much urgent work to be done.
Harding promoted conciliation and harmony, while avoiding obstruction and strife. (page 11) He had the best relationship with the press of any president in history (page 114) and was generally popular with the public.
According to State Department historian Graham H. Stuart, "The Harding-Hughes regime made a far better record in diplomatic appointments than the Wilson-Bryan administration." (page 135) and the Harding administration efforts toward Central and South America represented a new and welcome diplomatic approach. (344) Harding also worked well with the Civil Service Commission and its members respected him as one who attempted to retain and expand the merit system. Harding's record on Civil Service was infinitely superior to that of Woodrow Wilson. (page 302)
During Harding's tenure in office, a remarkable economic recovery took place. The Coolidge boom that followed was one of Harding's most important legacies to his successor. (383) Harding established the popular political platform which Coolidge generally adopted.
The Harding Administration had many achievements - peace treaties, the establishment of the Budget Bureau, the Washington Arms Control Conference, agricultural legislation, economy in government, debt reduction, and the economic recovery - but, according to Murray, the total was more important than any of the parts. The Harding administration acted as a cushion against the friction and the acrimony of the Wilson days and eased the transition of the nation to a prosperous peacetime existence. The period of 1921-23 was one of crisis and readjustment; they were years of tremendous economic and social change. Harding was able to secure a general consensus during this period that facilitated national progress rather than blocked by it. (533)
As for his shortcomings, Murray states that Harding's biggest failing was his lack of punitive action against the men who brought scandal to his administration. By his inaction he forfeited whatever chance he had to maintain the integrity of his position and salvage a favorable image of himself and his administration. (page 536)
Harding was not a great president, but, according to Murray, in concrete accomplishments, the Harding administration was superior to a sizable portion of those in the nation's history. (pages 536-537)
It is truly too bad that his successes have been so overshadowed by the scandals that arose after his death. Harding detractors always rush to point out this aspect of his administration. If the allegations of African-American blood in his lineage (an issue that was truly anathema during that era) does not succeed in pushing back his successes, detractors immediately turn to the rumors of his extra marital activities.
Considered the "Mother of Presidents", Ohio proved to be the birthplace of presidents who died or were assassinated in office including William Henry Harrison, James Garfield, William McKinley, and now Warren Harding. Had Harding lived to run for a second term, one wonders if the landscape of the nation would be different than it is today as a result of his policies.
Well done biography that is worth the read!