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tv   QA Author Ryan Walters on President Warren G. Hardings Scandals and...  CSPAN  February 20, 2022 11:00pm-12:01am EST

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i won't go anywhere, i will just stay right behind these black gates. >> presidential recordings. ♪ susan: ryan walters, a new book, "the jazz age president." you are asking americans to take a new look on warren g. harding. why? ryan: he is one of the most maligned presidents in american history. the reason for that is, he has
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finished last in more presidential rankings than any other president. he and james buchanan are connect. harding has come up a few notches in recent years. what has been said is in the realm of myth, there are a lot of myths and falsehoods. outright lies. when you look at his true record and what he actually accomplished, it's actually quite impressive. susan: c-span is an organization that has done service. i wanted to put the results of our survey on the screen. harding has common -- come in at number 37 of the 44 who were ranks. his highest scores are in areas like public persuasion, relations with congress, equal justice for all, international relations, economic management. do those track? ryan: he had a good record in a
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lot of those areas. relations with congress was good because republicans had large majorities in the house and senate, harding was a republican. his foreign policy was good, and he does not get a lot of credit for that, when you look at things he did like calling the washington disarming conference, ending world war i. repairing relations with mexico. his economic record -- he began the process that led to the roaring 20's, the greatest decade of economic growth we have ever had. coolidge gets more credit. it was harding that started that process. susan: why did you as a historian get interested in this task? ryan: when you look at the rankings, a lot of that comes down to your worldview.
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what you believe, your political views, philosophical views. harding was a conservative. in america first conservative, laissez-faire economics. if you believe in those things, you are to like warren harding. if you liked fdr, you are not going to like harding. reading little things in grad school, the idea for this book i started in grad school. i went back and found my original notes when i had sketched the book. i wanted to -- a few people have written good things about him, and i wanted to dig deeper. look at primary sources. what did he say in his letters, his speeches. what did people who knew him say about him. it is far different then what others have said about him. susan: harding's papers do not become available until 1964.
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why did it take so long for them to become public? did you use them, what did you find? ryan: luckily, there are historians that went through his letters. he died in 1923, his wife found a lot of them. we have some important ones. a lot of his political letters. that is what i was interested in mainly. not his personal life, this is not a full biography. i talk about his background. i was able to use that book and go through his letters. they were not released until 1964, not sure what the problem was. that is when people began to look into the letters, and say wait a minute -- one of the myths where he was dumb, not a smart man. when you read his letters, you don't get that at all. someone who grasp the issues, understood the game of politics.
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susan: in the early pages of your book, you note similarity to donald trump. where do the similarities start and end? ryan: in their political viewpoints. harding was trump before trump in a lot of ways, particularly in how they view the world, how they looked at politics. america first conservative. america first foreign. did not want to see world wars. his trade policy and trump's mirror each other. he believed in using tariffs. their policy viewpoints are very close. of course, liberals and people that don't like harding say they were both womanizers. i reviewed some myths on harding's supposedly nice and. as far as personality, trump is pretty combative. he defends himself on twitter
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and on interviews. harding was not like that. he did not have a combative personality. humble, kind man. had a good relationship with the press. he was a journalist. he was on of the first to have press conferences in his house. he built a cottage behind the house for the press so they could have a place to rest. he had a much better relationship with the press them president trump. susan: before the personal part of the story, dna evidence proved he had an out of wedlock child. did that contribute to the downfall of his reputation after he died? ryan: sure. her book came out in 1927. a lot of publicists take a look at it and would not touch it.
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she had to self publish that book. she made the accusation that her daughter was harding's child. she made a lot of other outlandish claims that she would go to the white house along, they spend time together in the white house. i refute that by using primary sources by people who were in the white house, the chief usher. those guys all said nobody came in there to see harding at any time. there were no women or parties at the white house. we did note the dna that he did have a child with her, he had a couple of extramarital affairs. not as president. susan: throughout your book, there are quotations from two people. alice roosevelt longworth and william allen white. who were they, and what were their contributions to the public's view?
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ryan: william allen white was a newspaper guy from kansas. he was not a harding guy at all. he wrote a lot of books, wrote a book about coolidge. had a negative view of harding. alice roosevelt longworth was theodore roosevelt's first daughter. his wife died in childbirth. on valentine's day in the 1880's. she was very outspoken, she knew the harding's well. in her memoir, she called harding a slob. she was there in the white house, she knew him well. she did refute some of the myths. the myth that harding's wife once poisoned him. she felt that was pretty ridiculous. they did contribute to a lot of that, because people look at
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those memoirs where people had a negative view, and that carried on for 100 years. susan: about his death, there were conspiracy theories about what happened to him. how did he die? ryan: he was on the west coast. he went to alaska. harding was the first president to visit alaska, nailed in a final spike to the alaska railroad. was coming back down the west coast, got to seattle, gave a speech. he was becoming ill. one of his doctors said he had possibly ingested some bad seafood, stomach ailment. he had some other speeches important, they cancel those. the train went on to san francisco and they brought in another doctor who was a heart specialist, he said this wasn't a stomach issue, he had a mild heart attack. they put him in a hotel room so he could rest and recuperate,
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and he had a stroke on august the second 1923. his wife was reading the newspaper to him and he died suddenly of a stroke. susan: if warren harding were to stand before either of us today, describe what we would see. ryan: harding was a humble man. he was a kind man. most people would like warren harding. the stories i put in the book, again, kind, benevolent, generous, humble. even when he was president, he didn't like his friends to call him mr. president. call me warren, let's go out and play golf. people in town, people who work for him at the newspaper, they called him warren or sometimes wg. he had that kind of relationship with people. one report is the new york times went to marion to look at his background, a guy named charles thompson talks to different
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people, and found out harding was very generous and helps people all the time. people down on their luck, buying presents at christmas. people said he was the kindest man i ever knew. thompson said, i never found the same story twice. everyone had a different story to tell about his generosity. he was a humble small town, american god. he was an academic or some kind of snobbish guy. he was somebody most people would like. even his enemies, people who hated him would concede he was a con man. susan: one historian has a different view is richard norton smith, who we have worked with a lot over the years. two of the advisors on our president survey. we have a clip. [video clip]
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>> no american president sets out to fail. some are victims of events or changes in culture to which they cannot adapt. some, like franklin pierce or warren harding are weak men, simply overwhelmed by the job itself. their experience should put us on guard, i think. against the short-term experience -- expedience of the dark horse candidate, usually a second rateer chosen by a convention. harding, whose cabinet included jail bound embarrassments. beware of presidents who profess ambitions before taking office. in harding's case, not to be the best president, but the best-loved president. susan: ryan walters, our conversation continues.
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right now i wanted to deal with wanting to be like. ultimately, was his affability, his personality a detriment to him? ryan: probably so. that is probably a fair assessment. if i had to do any criticism, he was very trusting of people. he could not believe people would do the things they would do. that is probably not the best attribute for our president. i think you need to be skeptical. he appointed good people to office, also some bad ones. i think it broke his heart. go back to alice roosevelt longworth, she wrote that. he found out about a scandal on the westward swing. it changed his mood, people who were there talked about how his mood changed. she always thought he died of a broken heart. the people had betrayed him.
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he was a kind, warm man, but he trusted people, he wanted to be loved. that is not going to work when you are president. susan: let's set the stage for the presidency. you described 1919, the year before the election as one of the worst years in u.s. history. ryan: 1919 was horrific. most people don't know a lot about it. coming out of world war i at the end of 1918, 1919, there are a series of terrorist bombings. anarchist groups, bolshevik groups are setting off bombs around the country. one target was the attorney general of the united states. these things were going on, there were labor strikes. some major strikes in seattle in seattle -- thousands of workers went out on strike. the racial violence was horrific during the summer.
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it's usually referred to as the red summer of 1919. dozens of african-americans were lynched in different parts of the country. not necessarily just talking about the south, but other parts as well. some of the worst racial violence that year was in chicago of all places. that kind of think is going on. i go into a lot of detail of that in the book. that moves into 1920, the economy collapses. it was a trying time. for people saying harding did not come into office with a lot of problems to solve, i don't know where they get this. he did a lot of good things to straighten that up. susan: he threw his hat into the ring december 16, 1919. why? ryan: he agonized over it for a while. people were trying to push him to do it.
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a lot of people have tried to say he was the pick from the beginning because woody's -- because he was an easy-going candidate, mold and push him in the direction. i found evidence that is not true at all. he said at one time, i think i would make as good a president as anybody. when he got into office he found out it was a tough job. he made statements that this is a tough job, i should not be here, and people have taken that and said bad things about him. it's a tough job. president trump said it's tougher than i thought it would be. the job is not easy for anybody. there were some pretty good candidates. the convention cannot agree on anybody, and they turned to harding, supposedly in this smoke-filled room. susan: before he decided to seek
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the presidency, what has been his claim to fame in the united states senate? ryan: that is one of the midsize tackle that he was a backbencher. the democrats control the senate when he was there for the first four years. when you are a minority, there is not a lot you can do. republicans regained the majority in 1918. he was on the foreign relations committee chaired by henry cabot lodge. he was a very valued member of that. he was instrumental in helping stop the treaty of versailles, particularly the united states getting into the league of nations. when the debate started in the senate, the main speech was given to warren harding. he was given the number one speech, the first speech against the league of nations. he went with lodge and others down to the white house to try and talk to president wilson about making changes to the treaty, changes to the league of
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nations. harding was instrumental in stopping the league of nations. susan: woodrow wilson had his stroke and was incapacitated in the white house. i am wondering how the public was viewing woodrow wilson going into the 1920 election. ryan: not very well. wilson had the stroke, and that was something they had from the public. he was incapacitated for eight or nine months, and his wife was running the country. a lot of people said she was the first female president, because in a lot of ways she was. it was kept secret. with the media then, it was a lot easier to do that. he wanted the nomination for a third term. he thought he might get it. the convention was in san francisco, he waited by the phone, but they ultimately nominated james coxe.
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wilson wanted the league of nations put on the ballot. the senate had voted it down twice. the result in the 1920 election was harding got 60% of the popular vote. this was before polling. there was no way to know, look at the results of the electorate. susan: you say blackstone group 404 was the deal for warren harding, it's a myth. if it's a myth, what is the real story? ryan: this is before the supremacy of the presidential primary. you have to run in the primaries, that's how you gain the delegates. i think it's a tragedy.
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so much of it is now on television, they don't want a bunch of floor fights. in those days, you had a few primaries, and you only gained a few delegates. everything was done in the convention. to that point, every nominee was chosen in some manner like that. party leaders got together and tried to keep from having a brokered convention, but who is the best candidate? one of the senators at the meeting refutes a lot of that so-called handpicked guy, he said we talked about harding, and b thought he would be a good candidate, but it didn't matter because the delegates still had to nominate him. it was a delegate that had to do it. it didn't matter what a bunch of senators wanted to do. evidence for that is they wanted
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to pick a more liberal guy would be more of a balanced ticket. the convention delegates would not have it at all, they rose up and started shouting the name coolidge to the point that coolidge won the vice presidential nomination pretty easily. the delegates were running that convention, they chose harding, chose coolidge. they were wanting to push the party in an america first direction. susan: where was the convention held that year? ryan: chicago. susan: was rowan harding at the convention? ryan: he was at the convention. this is before television. you don't have all of the fanfare you do today. people watching the coming and going, a lot of that was done by the newspapers and things like that. you don't have the big televised convention speeches and things like that.
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this is when radio was first getting started. as a matter of fact, the first radio broadcast was in november of that year. the very first radio broadcast in the world in this country was announcing harding and coolidge had won the election. harding was the first president to install a radio in the white house. susan: we have a recording of warren harding at the capitol in july. it's a bit hard to hear, let's give it a try. [audio clip] >> i believe in private government. individual -- it was the intent of the founding fathers to give this republic a dependable and popular government. it was designed to make
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political parties effective agencies through which hopes and aspirations and convictions -- susan: he talks about the importance of party government, not personal government, not dictatorial government. explain his view of the presidency and his governing philosophy. ryan: when he won the nomination, he was there because they brought him in that same room and asked him, is there anything in your background that might hurt your candidacy. he told them no. he wanted to make sure they had a good platform, and he went out and said we need to put the platform of exactly what we intended, we need to tell the people exactly what we are going to do and not treat them. let's not cheat the people and deceive them. tell them what we're going to do, put it out there.
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get in office and actually do it. he didn't have a you as this activist, woodrow wilson, later fdr, where the government transforms the country and puts a new policy and programs. he actually said, the world needs to be reminded that not every problem can be cured by legislation. the government can do and fix everything people want fix. his philosophy was more in line of what the founding fathers wanted for the presidency, not an activist that is going to change things, someone who is going to administer the executive branch of the government. susan: while fdr traveled widely for the campaign, warren harding famously ran the front porch campaign. what was his strategy? ryan: he modeled it on william mckinley, another ohio president. harding did a little bit of traveling and speaking, but not
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much. his home in ohio is still there, the famous front porch. you can see pictures and videos. throngs of people coming, and he would give speeches from that porch. if you are ambitious, the office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office. he knew how to run a campaign like that. the other thing is, i don't think they needed to run a good campaign. the country was in a mess, particularly economically. they just had to keep from making mistakes. they were pretty confident they were going to win. susan: the 1920 election was the first time women have the right to vote. how did that impact the results? ryan: i think it impacted them pretty well.
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harding was the first president to get 60% of the vote. a lot of women voted for harding, it's pretty obvious. they could see the shape the country was in. 1919, pretty awful events. then you going to 1920, the economy essentially collapses. unemployment goes up to 12%. industrial production fell 95%. that is pretty horrific. a lot of women were concerned about the direction of the country, concerned about their children and grandchildren. harding's campaign slogan was return to normalcy. that is exactly what people wanted to hear. that is the direction they wanted the country to go in. it was a perfect marketing campaign. susan: two symbolic moves as he took office. he canceled the inaugural ball's, and he opened the white house to visitors. what was the public reaction? ryan: remember, wilson had
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closed down. the country was almost in a depressed type of mood. that was one symbolic thing he wanted to do, we are not going to have a party. that's not a good look, when the country is in the shape it is in. i agree with. opening the white house, letting people come in, some people asked the first lady, if all these people are going to come in, is that what you want? she said it is their house. invite the public in. this is a different time, they would never do that today with the threats against the president, secret service, but it was a different era. that shows the kind of man harding was. he was a kind, benevolent guy. he was not going to go out, he was not aristocratic or arrogant
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in any way. susan: presidential inaugurations were still in march? he called for a special session of congress to begin in april. what was his goal? ryan: the economy was the number one goal. had to straighten out the economy. spending was through the roof because of world war i, taxes were through the roof. the top tax rate was 70%. he said we have to cut spending and cut taxes. another thing he asked for was an emergency tariff. the economies in europe were in terrible shape, and they began dumping cheap products onto the american market. they wanted to put up an emergency tariff to stop european dumping, particular the british and others. he had a lot of goals, but he knew we had to get control of the economy before he got anything else. the economy collapses into a
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major depression than the rest of the problems don't matter. susan: from a foreign policy perspective, why would the president not have wanted to aid european economies and recovery from the war by allowing them to export goods? ryan: harding is america first. he wants to prosper the american people first. remember, european governments owed united states $10 billion. that was one way they wanted to pay it back, sell a bunch of stuff in our market. essentially use our money to pay their loans. harding's position was, we are not going to do that and destroy our industry. we need these jobs for americans. unemployment is 4% to about 12%. he said we have to stop this. allowing them to dump into our
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market is not a way to do that. they can pay their loans back on their own, which most those loans were never paid back. finland paid theirs back. i always tell my students, have a soft spot for finland. everybody else to felted. susan: tell me about the economic team. if you look at the ledger of good appointments and bad, people give credit to the economic team he put together. ryan: first and foremost was the secretary of the treasury. a lot of conservatives in congress were happy with that pig. mellon was one of the richest men in america, the famous family. he was a great secretary of the treasury. harding brought coolidge into the operation of the government. up until coolidge, vice presidents were generally forgotten. people hated the job. harding brought coolidge in,
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they had discussions before the inauguration about who to pay, coolidge was in the cabinet meetings, one of the first vice presidents to be invited. they passed a budget. the u.s. government did not have a budget before warren harding. most people don't know that. there was no comprehensive budget likely do now. -- like we do now. he named charles dall to that team, he was instrumental in cutting wasteful spending. they cut spending 50%. as economic team was very good. he had herbert hoover as secretary of commerce, he was instrumental in helping in trade and things like that. susan: one of the interesting historical footnotes that you mentioned in the book is is a former senator, he had senate floor privileges. he was able to nominate his cabinet right on the senate floor.
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what was the impact of that? ryan: it was an ingenious move. i have never heard of any other president -- even as a former senator, you always have floor privileges. he walks down to the floor and said here's my cabinet. we have problems in the country, i need them confirmed. they approved every single one of them unanimously right there on the spot. including the secretary of the interior. susan: what was the party breakdown of the senate at that point? ryan: he had full control of the house and senate by white majorities. he could do a lot of what he wanted to do. that is always important for the president, to have control of congress. he gets good marks for working with congress. a lot of that was his
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personality, he was not like woodrow wilson. woodrow wilson's attitude was i'm going to dictate what i want, that is what he tried to do with the league of nations. he said it one point the senate must take his medicine. he had good relations because he had been in the senate. susan: why was herbert hoover a controversial that? -- pick? ryan: he was not a philosophical conservative. a lot of people in the senate did not like hoover at all. he did a lot in world war i, he was a great administrator. harding wanted him in the cabinet. hoover chose commerce. the senate started pushing back
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when they started finding out that is who he wanted to name, because they thought he was too much of a progressive or liberal. hoover was an engineer. mellon said he is too much of an engineer, he likes to try and engineer the economy. there was a lot of pushback. they were not going to confirm hoover. but the senate, full of conservatives, they liked the mellon peg. they were ecstatic about mellon. this is an example i used that harding was not pliable, not there to do the bidding of the senate or party officials. he got tired of this pushback on hoover. he wrote a note that he sent to senate leaders and it was very short and to the point. it's had mellon and hoover or no mellon. if you don't give me hoover, i am not going to give you mellon. that is not what somebody who is
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pliable -- that is not the action that they would take. his position was i'm getting who i want in my cabinet. susan: why did he want hoover so much? ryan: he had a lot of faith in hoover. hoover was one of the smartest presidents we have ever had. his presidency was a disaster as we found out, but hoover was a mining engineer. he made a lot of money around the world mining gold, had retired of the time he was 40 years old with plenty of money. he had done a lot to show relief efforts. they did a lot to save the food supply. the population during world war i so we could feed our troops into the population in europe.
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he was well thought of, but a lot of very conservative republicans did not want him in the cabinet because they thought he was too liberal. susan: the four-part economic plan that the team put together, cut spending, tariffs, reduce regulation, slash taxes, you write they signed tax cut legislation into law by thanksgiving of the first year. what did it do to rates? ryan: rates had gone through the roof. the income tax to not become a law until 1913. the 16th amendment was ratified later that fall, wilson puts in the first income tax. it wasn't high at all. you had to make almost $100,000 a year to make it -- to pay. if you are a rockefeller, you might pay 7%. by the time we get to world war i, that top rate is 70%. by 1920, there was no effort by
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the wilson administration to cut it at all. when mellon came in and said we have to cut taxes, that was one of the first things they tackle. mellon wanted to cut it way down immediately to 25%. they were unable to do it. you do see the reduction down to 25%, but that takes place over the entirely of the 1920's. about every two years they cut taxes. that way, they don't get into a deficit. we never had a deficit in the 1920's. they cut taxes and spending and let the economy catch up. not in one fell swoop. that way you did not have a deficit at all. you had a surplus every year and pay down one third of the national debt. susan: deposit that his policies created the roaring 20's. what responsibility did they
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bear for the depression? ryan: that is something that a lot of historians think, that harding and coolidge and hoover, they throw them altogether. harding and coolidge were nothing like hoover. hoover was closer to fdr and his philosophy of government. the laissez-faire policies of harding and coolidge led to the roaring 20's. what they say is, if you give them credit for that is, you have to give him credit for the crash. no i don't. hoover came in in 1929 when the stock market crash, he is the one that started reversing policies, not fdr. hoover raised taxes to 63%, hoover insisted on that she began to spend money to try and fight the depression. this idea that hoover said we
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needed to let the economy blow itself out is not true at all. he was a progressive. some of fdr's aides said we got some of our best ideas from hoover. he is the one that reversed it. you have to give a lot of credit to the federal reserve. the federal reserve took a third of the money out of the circulation in four years. the tax increases, money out of circulation, governments are taking in a lot of what is remaining in circulation in taxes and spending. fdr triples taxes and doubled spending. i tell people today, imagine if the federal reserve pulled one third of money out of circulation and we doubled spending and triples taxes. what do you think is going to happen? it's going to plunge into a depression. it lasted throughout the 1930's. on the eve of world war ii, it
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was 19%. the new deal clearly failed and i don't know my -- don't know why they want to give the credit to harding. susan: let's talk about foreign policy. he put charles evans hughes in the state department. what did he bring to the table? ryan: he was an excellent choice for secretary of state. one of the best we have had. he was a supreme court justice, he was governor of new york. he was the 1916 republican presidential nominee. very close to defeating woodrow wilson that year. he was a superb choice, then who would. this is something harding does not take credit for, foreign policy. everyone looks at scandals. his foreign policy was very good. coming out of world war i, we ended world war i.
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we still had troops in the rhineland region, he withdrew those troops. we had the debt problems, the money that european governments own, he called a debt commission to try and solve some of those issues. we had terrible relations with latin america, mexico, the caribbean. we occupied a lot of places in the caribbean. he withdrew troops from the caribbean. he repaired relations with mexico, the president of mexico was happy because wilson had poisoned those relations. he straightened a lot of those up. a lot of leaders were happy to see harding. the big thing he did was call the washington disarming conference. the washington naval conference. the first we have ever been a part of. in those days, the big nasty weapons were not air-powered
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nuclear weapons, it was naval forces. part of the reason for world war i was the naval race between germany and britain. harding called this conference and they reduced those weapons. reduced our fleets, britain reduce their fleet. there were some treaties that were struck between nations. they banned the use of poison gas on the battlefield. harding was nominated twice for the nobel peace prize based on that conference. he has a lot of accomplishments that most people don't stop to look at. susan: one important one was the burgeoning of the soviet union. you talk about the massive famine that was happening in that region of the world. what is different foreign policy possibly have the outcome of
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nipping the soviet union? ryan: probably not. we actually had troops involved in that. bolsheviks were prevalent, and i don't know there is any way to know. a lot of people had surmised that if we stayed out of world war i altogether, it would have changed the entire history of the world. we kept the balance in favor of the allied powers. if we stayed out, it probably changes everything, possibly including russia. the entire reason that vladimir lenin was even in russia was because the germans took him back to stir up trouble, because germany was fighting a war on two fronts. if we stayed out of the, i don't think we would have the soviet union. we certainly would not have had in nazi germany. there is a lot to be said. it's a very interesting thesis. there was a bad famine, and the u.s. government did send a lot of food to the soviet union to
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help with that. harding is not a monster. he's trying to help people. it's not necessarily an aspect of america first, he thought it was the right thing to do. susan: scandals that every high school student studies. the veterans bureau. the justice department, teapot dome. let's start with the veterans bureau. you describe it as greed run amok. what happened? ryan: he had met forbes a few years before in hawaii. he thought it would be -- a lot of wounded people, veterans coming back from world war i. we had to take care of them. a lot of the spending in the federal budget -- the budget was only $715 million. when harding got in office, it
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was $6 billion. he cut it down to $3 billion. you can see it is still $3 billion, but a lot of that was taken care of veterans. war continues to cost long after the conflict is over. they were building a series of veterans hospitals and supplying them with medical supplies. charles forbes was skimming off the top. they were overcharging the government for supplies and construction, and stealing from wounded veterans as despicable as that is. to the tune of about $2 million. one story we have, harding confronted orbs in the white house according to one new york times reporter. harding was violently confronting forbes, had him by the throat, called him a double crosser. susan: did he fire him? ryan: he was fired, prosecutor.
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forbes went to prison. susan: what responsibility does harding bear in the scandal? ryan: the attorney for the veterans bureau committed suicide over this. the first of two suicides. he bears responsibility. a president is always responsible for who he selects for office. he is accountable for that. you have to say that, there is no question. susan: the appointed an attorney general, doherty, who was indicted, tried twice and took the fifth. what is the story there. ryan: they say in harding's administration had all the people from ohio. there a few people involved in the scandals were actually from ohio.
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most people he appointed from ohio were clean. the teapot dome scandal did not have anything to do with ohio. harry doherty was the attorney general, he has been called a handler. that is not exactly true. jesse smith was also from ohio. they were running a scam in the justice department where they were selling government duties. you can buy a pardon, liquor license. you can do things like that. good old-fashioned corruption. jesse smith was the main one involved in that. these two guys lives together in a house on h street in washington. they also rented another house known as the little green house on k street, that is where all the wheeling and dealing took place.
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according to secret service, harding never went to the little green house. he went to the h street house a few times, but not the house where the shenanigans were taking place. harding confronted jesse smith. he said we found out what was going on. he said you are going to be arrested in the morning, get your affairs in order. smith went home, burned his papers and killed himself. susan: before he died, did harding confront doherty? ryan: not to my knowledge. when he died he was on his westward tour, that is when he found out about teapot dome. susan: teapot dome needs a bit more explanation. what were the details? ryan: it is probably the coolest
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name to scandal. -- named scandal. the navy had oil reserves set aside in california and wyoming. these were oil reserves for use exclusively by the navy if we get into a war or some kind of emergency. naval ships ran on petroleum, not nuclear powered like they are today. they needed that in reserves. strictly under the control of the navy. harding's interior secretary was a man named albert fall. they knew each other from the senate. he appointed him secretary of the interior. when he became secretary, he convinced the navy secretary to transfer the naval oil reserves to the interior department. the interior department controls a national forest and national parks.
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the excuse was, the oil reserves should be under the interior department. when he got control, albert fall lease them to oil companies. harry sinclair got teapot dome, edward doheny got california. that is the scandal. fall got a lot of money in bribes. good old-fashioned bribery. teapot dome is rather rinky-dink compared to watergate and some other scandals in our history. that was the extent of it. harding found out about it when he started his westward tour. in kansas, albert fall's wife went to seek harding. we don't know exactly what was said, but that is what she came to tell him. when he came out of the meeting, his mood had soured. herbert hoover was on that trip.
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hoover writes about it in his memoirs. harding met with hoover and said, we have another scandal, what should i do? should i publicize this? hoover said put it out there, let's publicize it, at least get credit for doing that. i think the reason he asked hoover that question is because he already had two suicides, particularly jesse smith. he is probably afraid, who else is going to shoot themselves? that is probably the plan. it's unfair to criticize harding a lot for teapot dome, aside for appointing albert fall, because he died in 1923, before he could do anything about it. obviously, he was going to put it out there and have fall prosecutor, fall was prosecuted, the first u.s. cabinet officer to go to prison. susan: we did not talk about harding's approach to
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prohibition. the chief law enforcement officer of the united states. how did he handle the approach to liquor? ryan: harding liked to drink alcohol. he stopped as president. the whole country was against prohibition. a lot of people knew it was going to come to an end. harvey wasn't enforcing prohibition much at all. as a matter of fact, that is one of the reasons president kennedy's father made a lot of money, was no liquor operator in the country stopped doing what they were doing. i like continue to make liquor -- a lot continued to make liquor. as far as harding, harding was still having a drink here and there, but he stopped drinking as president. there were notion that he can with women. a lot of that stuff stopped during his presidency. susan: if i have the scorecard
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right, two of his cabinet secretaries went to prison, two people in his administration committed suicide, and his attorney general was indicted and took the fifth, tried twice. we said earlier that the buck stops with any president of the united states. why should this not trump all of the good you suggested he had accomplished? ryan: you have to look at it in terms of how presidents handle the scandals. a lot of presidents cover them up, grant had far more scandals in his administration. grants did not do anything about it. when people got caught and resigned, in most cases grant would make a remark like i except his resignation with great regret. rather than doing anything about it. harding was trying to do something about it. if you look at albert fall, the
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secretary of the interior, he was confirmed in his job by the u.s. senate by a unanimous vote. if harding fails to recognize character flaws, so did the senate. you have to blame them as well. nobody raised any objection to alcohol being secretary of the interior. you can blame harding, but you also have to blame the senate. harding is responsible for who he chooses in his cabinet and government. that is the reason he is not going to be on mount rushmore. but if you look at what he did to turn the country around economically, domestic politics, civil rights record, equal rights for black americans, calling for an anti-lynching law. going to birmingham, alabama and speaking to a segregated audience and saying black thing
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to have equal rights. african-americans need full equality. that's a courageous thing to do. pardon political prisoners. he did what he could to heal the country from the wounds of world war i. i think that outweighs the scandals. at this people went to jail and were prosecuted. susan: as we close out, three minutes left. and all of this research and reading, what was the most surprising thing or the most interesting thing you found out about warren harding that you did not know? ryan: one of the interesting things is digging into his personality, the kind of guy he was. i enjoyed that part of the book. charles thompson, the new york times going to marion and talking to people. finding out what i kind man he was. this was a man who loved children. who loved animals.
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he had a dog that died and he wrote an obituary for the dog. he called out people who were abusive to animals, people who love animals would love warren harding. . susan: in the conclusion of your book, you write the likelihood of full rehabilitation of harding's reputation is remote. why? ryan: he has come up, as you mentioned in the latest poll, he is up to number 37. i don't think you will ever crawl up. i am hoping to bump them up a few notches. i think some stuff will stick to him. history departments throughout the country are more than 90% liberal, progressive persuasion.
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i don't think you will ever see that change. people like me and others, we are in the extreme minority. i am just hoping to do my part to show harding was a much better president we give him credit for. there are some good things he did, some things people should take a second look at. he had courageous stands, and it's a record that should be admired. susan: what kind of reception has your argument got so far? ryan: the book has just come out. so far, good. a lot of people have ready, my editor wrote me a note and said you convinced me. i have had a lot of reception that has been good. nothing negative, but i can assure you that is coming pretty soon. susan: ryan walters, the book is called "the jazz age president." thank you so much for bringing your argument to c-span. appreciate the time. ryan: thank you so much, i appreciate it. ♪
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