Gamaliel Harding was born November 2, 1865 in Corsic
Ohio, the eldest of eight children. Both his parents
were doctors—an unusual distinction for Phoebe Harding,
who was granted a medical license based upon her
experience as a midwife and in assisting her husband,
George Harding. Warren cherished his childhood memories
that painted a wholesome and perfect picture book
boyhood. An upbringing filled with farm chores, swimming
in the local creek, and playing in the village band were
the basis of his down-home appeal later in life. Like so
many small-town boys in
post-Civil War Ohio, Harding, along with his five
younger siblings (four sisters and a brother) attended a
one room schoolhouse where he learned to read, write,
and spell from the McGuffey's Readers. At age fourteen,
he entered Ohio Central College, from which he graduated
with a B.S. degree in 1882, having achieved some
distinction for editing the campus newspaper.
For the next ten years, Harding's business prospered, in part due to Florence Harding's keen business eye, but principally to Harding's good-natured manner. His paper became a favorite with Ohio politicians of both parties because of his evenhanded reporting. He never ran a critical story if he could avoid it. His employees also loved and respected him for his willingness to share company profits with them. In his entire career, he never fired a single employee. In 1899, Harding won the first of two terms to the Ohio State Senate, serving as majority leader before his bid for the lieutenant governorship in 1903. After leaving office in 1905, he returned to his newspaper for five years, venturing again into state politics in a losing bid for governor in 1910.
In 1914, Harding won the Ohio Republican primary for senator and beat Attorney General Timothy Hogan in the general election. Harding's supporters viciously attacked Hogan for being a Catholic intent on delivering Ohio to the pope. The religion issue dominated the election and gave Harding an overwhelming victory, though he never personally mentioned religion in his speeches. Still, the dirty election campaign was a smudged mark on his political record that never set easy with him.
Harding's undistinguished senate career made him few enemies and many friends. Always the "good fellow," he missed more sessions than he attended—being absent for key debates on the prohibition and suffrage amendments to the U.S. Constitution. An Ohio admirer, Harry Daugherty, began to promote Harding for the 1920 Republican nomination because, he later explained, "He looked like a President." Thus a group of Senators, taking control of the 1920 Republican Convention when the principal candidates deadlocked, turned to Harding. He won the Presidential election by an unprecedented landslide of 60 percent of the popular vote.
Republicans in Congress easily got the President's signature on their bills. They eliminated wartime controls and slashed taxes, established a Federal budget system, restored the high protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon immigration. By 1923 the postwar depression seemed to be giving way to a new surge of prosperity, and newspapers hailed Harding as a wise statesman carrying out his campaign promise--"Less government in business and more business in government."
Behind the facade, not all of Harding's Administration was so impressive. Word began to reach the President that some of his friends were using their official positions for their own enrichment. Alarmed, he complained, "My...friends...they're the ones that keep me walking the floors nights!" Looking wan and depressed, Harding journeyed westward in the summer of 1923, taking with him his upright Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. "If you knew of a great scandal in our administration," he asked Hoover, "would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?" Hoover urged publishing it, but Harding feared the political repercussions. He did not live to find out how the public would react to the scandals of his administration. In August of 1923, he died in San Francisco of a heart attack.