U.S. President Warren G. Harding Early Life and Physical Description

About the U.S. President Warren G. Harding, early life and career before the presidency, history and biography, physical description.

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29th President

WARREN GAMALIEL HARDING

On the Way to the White House: As a senator, Harding's record was undistinguished, but his conservative stance pleased leaders of the business community. In 1920 his friend Harry Daugherty persuaded him to run for president. Entering three Republican primaries, Harding did so badly that his candidacy became something of a joke. Nevertheless, the confident Daugherty assured reporters that the convention would be deadlocked and that a group of weary chieftains gathered in a "smoke-filled room somewhere" would select Harding as a compromise candidate. (Daugherty's original phrase "smoke-filled room" was his most lasting contribution to the American political tradition.) This bold prophecy proved uncannily accurate. Near midnight on a hot June night in Chicago, with the convention in recess after several indecisive ballots, Harding was summoned to meet with party leaders in a suite in the Hotel Blackstone. The 15 Republican king-makers, who had been discussing their problem for several hours, asked Harding if there was anything in either his past or present that might embarrass the party if he were chosen as the presidential nominee. Harding asked for time to consider an answer, and after 10 minutes he came back to announce that he was clean. The convention then went on to nominate him for president on the 10th ballot, with Calvin Coolidge, governor of Massachusetts, as his running mate.

His Person: A well-built six-footer, Harding had the face and bearing of a matinee idol. His white hair and blue eyes complemented his smooth, dark complexion. With his massive black eyebrows, firm, full mouth, and finely chiseled Roman nose, it was said that Harding was the only senator who could wear a toga and not look ridiculous. He dressed with dignity and great care and loved to use his clarion voice for pompous political oratory, which he himself called "bloviating."

One of the most persistent rumors about Harding alleged that he was actually part Negro. For more than a generation, Ohio neighbors had looked down on the Hardings because of suspicions of mixed ancestry, and at the time of Warren's marriage, his furious father-in-law publicly called him "a nigger." In 1920 several observers pointed to Harding's swarthy complexion as evidence that his blood was "tainted," and a racist professor at a small college in Ohio published a celebrated pamphlet proving the senator's "African" ancestry and asserting that his candidacy was part of a Negro plot to take over the country. When asked about the rumors by a friendly reporter, Harding replied, "How do I know, Jim? One of my ancestors may have jumped the fence." Historians have been unable to add much to Harding's uncertain reply.

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