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Warren Harding: Damaged

2017-09-11

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[00:05.32]
  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • Today we are talking about Warren Harding.
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  • He was the 29th president of the United States.
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  • Harding was very different from the 28th president, Woodrow Wilson.
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  • Wilson supported change; Harding promised “a return to normalcy.”
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  • Wilson took steps to protect American workers; Harding often worked to protect business owners.
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  • Wilson was slow in supporting voting rights for women, and in accepting African-American people as equal to whites.
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  • Harding supported women’s suffrage and civil rights for African-Americans.
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  • Yet both men were popular during their years in office.
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  • Today, however, historians usually think of Wilson as one of America’s best presidents.
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  • But Harding is remembered as one of the worst.
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  • Warren Harding was the eighth president from the state of Ohio.
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  • His parents were both doctors.
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  • Harding spoke about having a happy childhood, growing up on a farm with his brothers and sisters.
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  • Some of his favorite early activities were performing in a band.
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  • Later, Harding – along with two friends – bought a newspaper.
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  • The paper became successful for several reasons.
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  • Harding was kind to his employees and shared the company’s profits with them.
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  • He also tried not to publish stories that criticized politics or politicians from any party.
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  • Finally, he married a woman who had an excellent head for business.
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  • Florence Kling Harding led the newspaper’s circulation department.
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  • She also helped to direct her husband’s political career.
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  • In time, Warren Harding became a state senator, a lieutenant governor of Ohio, and then a member of the U.S. Senate.
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  • He especially liked being a senator – and many of the other lawmakers liked him.
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  • One reason is because Harding rarely took a controversial position on any issue.
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  • Instead, he accepted most of the ideas of the Republican Party.
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  • He was also good-looking and had an excellent speaking voice.
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  • These qualities helped earn him the Republican presidential nomination in 1920.
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  • A few months later, he easily won the national election.
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  • President Harding took office shortly after World War I ended.
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  • He promised to make Americans feel calm again, and also improve the nation’s prosperity.
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  • Two of Harding’s goals were to support business and to limit immigration.
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  • He succeeded on both issues. His administration reduced taxes for big businesses and wealthy people.
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  • It also increased tariffs -- taxes on foreign imports.
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  • And the Harding administration put in place new rules on immigration.
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  • The rules made it easier for immigrants from northern Europe to enter the country,
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  • but harder for immigrants from Russia, eastern and central Europe.
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  • Harding also took steps to improve the effectiveness of the federal government.
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  • But his administration is remembered mostly for its problems.
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  • At the beginning of his term, Harding reportedly told friends that the job of being president was too much for him.
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  • He appeared to want to do well, and he worked hard.
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  • But he turned over most of the responsibility to his friends in the cabinet.
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  • A few were very able. But some were dishonest.
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  • They abused their positions to gain wealth for themselves and their families.
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  • One of the most famous examples of corruption during Harding’s administration is known as the Teapot Dome Scandal.
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  • The name “Teapot Dome” comes from a rock in the state of Wyoming.
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  • The rock looked like a teapot. Scientists correctly believed that oil could be found in the ground underneath it.
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  • At the time, the U.S. navy depended on oil to fuel its ships.
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  • So, the federal government claimed the land in case the navy needed to use the oil in an emergency.
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  • But a cabinet official who was a friend of Harding took control of the land.
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  • He gave a private company permission to search for oil on it in exchange for a large amount of money.
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  • Some lawmakers became suspicious. So they opened an investigation.
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  • In time, lawyers proved the act of corruption.
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  • Harding’s friend was the first person to be found guilty of a crime while serving as a cabinet official.
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  • But President Harding did not live to see his friend go to jail.
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  • The investigation was just beginning when Harding took a trip to the West Coast to campaign for his policies.
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  • Some say that Harding was also trying to escape the problems in his administration.
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  • He reportedly told one reporter that worrying about what his friends were doing kept him awake at nights.
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  • During the trip, Harding showed signs of not being in good health. Doctors thought he could have food poisoning or pneumonia.
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  • He was taken to a hotel in San Francisco, California.
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  • For a day, he appeared to be feeling better.
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  • He was sitting up in bed.
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  • And then suddenly, his body shook and collapsed. He died instantly.
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  • Reports at the time differed on the cause of Harding’s death.
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  • Some even said that his wife poisoned the president to protect him from being punished for the wrongdoing in his administration.
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  • But most historians think that he had long suffered from heart failure, and was struck by a heart attack. He was 57.
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  • Millions of Americans mourned over Warren Harding’s death.
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  • They stood beside railroad tracks as his body traveled from California back to Washington, DC.
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  • The following year, Florence Harding also died.
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  • She and her husband are buried together under a grand memorial in their hometown in Ohio.
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  • But in the years after his death, Harding’s public image worsened.
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  • More corruption scandals in his administration came to light.
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  • And some historians have criticized him for not having a clear idea about how he wanted to lead the country.
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  • In 1927, a woman published a book saying she had a long, but secret relationship with Harding, both before and during his presidency.
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  • She also said he was the father of her daughter.
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  • Genetic testing has confirmed her claim.
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  • More than 30 years after her book was published, a lawyer discovered love letters from Harding to a different woman.
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  • They confirmed that he had a long romantic affair with the wife of one of his friends.
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  • Harding had also been married at the time.
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  • These reports, as well as the corruption during his administration, damaged Harding’s public image.
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  • But he also seemed to know that he would not be remembered as one of the best occupants of the White House.
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  • Instead, he tried to be likable and modest.
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  • He called himself “a man of limited talents” who was “not fit for the office” of president.
  • [10:11.62]
  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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