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BLOG: Warren Harding, America's greatest president?

Tom Jackson • May 15, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Warren Harding, a native of Marion, Ohio, who was the country's leader 1921 to 1923, usually is not considered a great president.

Harding is often associated by historians with the Teapot Dome scandal and other scandals. His secretary of the interior eventually became the first cabinet member to go to prison (for accepting bribes for valuable oil leases.)

 But Gene Healy makes a case for Harding in "The Cult of the Presidency," a delightful book I'm currently reading. (The ebook is currently free and available here.)

Healy writes that Harding's administration was marked by peace, prosperity and respect for civil liberties and draws a contrast between Harding and his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson:

"By 1924, federal spending had been cut nearly in half, leading to large government surpluses. And Harding’s good nature and liberal instincts led him to overrule his political advisers and pardon 25 nonviolent protesters that Wilson had locked up, including Eugene Debs. 'I want him to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife,’ Harding said.

Healy's book also refers to a study by two Ohio University economists, Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, which ranked the presidents according to whether they increased or lowered government spending as a percentage of the gross national product. According to how they tweaked their rankings, the pair ranked Harding either No. 1 or No. 3 among all U.S. presidents.

Their essay was published as part of a book, "Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom," edited by John Denson. It's available here as a free PDF.

Harding was, according to Wikipedia, the first newspaper publisher to be elected president. The reporter who sits next to me used to work at Harding's newspaper, the Marion Star.

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