November 2nd, 2019


Presidents and Impeachment: The Trial of Andrew Johnson

On February 24, 1868, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson by a vote of 126 to 47. As mentioned in the last entry in this series, impeachment is the process of forwarding a formal charge that the President has been guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors". Once a President is impeached, Articles of Impeachment are drafted, setting out what it is alleged that the President has done wrong, forming the basis for his trial in the senate. In Johnson's case, the Articles of Impeachment charged Johnson with the following:

1. Dismissing Edwin Stanton from office of Secretary of War after the Senate had voted not to concur with his dismissal and had ordered him reinstated.
2. Appointing Lorenzo Thomas as intertim Secretary of War, despite the lack of vacancy in the office, since the dismissal of Stanton had been invalid.
3. Appointing Thomas without the required advice and consent of the Senate.
4. Conspiring, with Thomas and "other persons to the House of Representatives unknown," to unlawfully prevent Stanton from continuing in office.
5. Conspiring to unlawfully curtail faithful execution of the Tenure of Office Act.
6. Conspiring to "seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War."
7. Conspiring to "seize, take, and possess the property of the United States in the Department of War" with specific intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
8. Issuing to Thomas the authority of the office of Secretary of War with unlawful intent to "control the disbursements of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the Department of War."
9. Issuing to Major General William H. Emory orders with unlawful intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
10. Making three speeches with intent to sow disrespect for the Congress among the citizens of the United States.


Johnson was in trouble almost from the moment that he assumed the Presidency following the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Johnson was a former Democrat who had left the party to run on a ticket with Lincoln in 1864, so he was despised by Democrats. He was a southerner who had remained in the union during the Civil War, so he was hated by southerners and mistrusted by Democrats. He was neither an abolitionist nor in favor of any real rights for former slaves, so Radical Republicans disliked him. He came into office without any real friends. On top of that, he had gotten very drunk on the day of his inauguration as Vice-President and may people considered him a drunk and a lightweight. On the day that Lincoln was assassinated and at attempt was made on the life of Secretary of State William Seward, the man assigned to kill Johnson had chickened out. Many people suspected that Johnson was spared because he was in on the conspiracy to kill Lincoln.

On February 22, 1866, Washington's Birthday, Johnson gave a speech in which he criticized Radical Republicans, calling them "men still opposed to the Union". When asked by the crowd to name these men, Johnson named Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and accused them of plotting his assassination. Although strongly urged by Moderates to sign the Civil Rights Bill, Johnson vetoed it on March 27. In his veto message, he objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when 11 out of 36 states were unrepresented in the Congress. He said that the bill discriminated in favor of African-Americans and against whites. Congress overrode his veto.

Congress also proposed the Fourteenth Amendment. It was sent for ratification by state legislatures even though Johnson opposed it. The amendment was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution. It extended citizenship to every person born in the United States (except Native Americans on reservations) and it penalized states that did not give the vote to freedmen. It also created new federal civil rights that could be protected by federal courts. It also forbade repayment of Confederate war debts and it disqualified many former Confederates from office. Both houses passed the Freedmen's Bureau Act a second time, and again Johnson vetoed it, but this time, the veto was overridden. Johnson's home state of Tennessee ratified the Fourteenth Amendment despite the President's opposition. When Tennessee did so, Congress immediately seated its proposed delegation, embarrassing Johnson.

Efforts at compromise failed, and a political war ensued between the Republicans (who united against a common enemy) and Johnson and his few allies in the Democratic Party. Johnson called a convention of the National Union Party. Johnson hoped to use the discarded party to unite his supporters and win election to a full-term in 1868. In the mid-term election of 1866; Southern states were not allowed to vote. Johnson campaigned vigorously, undertaking a public speaking tour, known as the "Swing Around the Circle". The trip, including speeches in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus. It was a political disaster. Johnson gave rambling speeches in which he compared himself to Christ, and in which he engaged in arguments with hecklers. Republicans won the mid-terms in a landslide, increasing their large majority in Congress. Johnson blamed the Democrats for failing to support his National Union movement.

Despite the Republican victory in November 1866, Johnson still considered himself in a strong position to win the presidency in 1868. The Fourteenth Amendment had been rejected in Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. The amendment required ratification by three-quarters of the states to become part of the Constitution. Johnson saw its defeat as the key to his victory in 1868. But when congress reconvened in December 1866, it admitted Nebraska to the Union over a veto, and the Republicans gained two senators, and a state that promptly ratified the amendment. Johnson's veto of a bill for statehood for Colorado Territory was sustained because enough senators agreed that a district with a population of 30,000 did not deserve statehood.

In January 1867, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens introduced legislation to dissolve the Southern state governments and reconstitute them into five military districts, under martial law. The states would be required to hold constitutional conventions at which African-Americans could vote or become delegates but former Confederates could not. Johnson and the Southerners attempted a compromise, without the disqualification of former Confederates, and for limited black suffrage, but the deal fell through. Johnson vetoed the bill on March 2, 1867 and Congress overruled him the same day.

Also on March 2, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over the President's veto. During the "Swing Around the Circle" tour, Johnson had said that he planned to fire Cabinet secretaries who did not agree with his policies. This bill required Senate approval for the firing of Cabinet members during the tenure of the president who appointed them and for one month afterwards. Some senators doubted that this was constitutional or that applied to Johnson, whose Cabinet officers were Lincoln holdovers.

Johnson had difficulty working with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who, in combination with General Ulysses Grant, worked to undermine Johnson's Southern policy. Congress met in March 1867, and the House Committee on the Judiciary considered whether there were grounds for Johnson to be impeached. This committee examined Johnson's bank accounts, and summoned members of the Cabinet to testify. It also investigated whether the President had impeded the prosecution of Jefferson Davis. In fact Johnson was eager to have Davis tried. A bipartisan majority of the committee voted down impeachment charges and the committee adjourned on June 3.

In June, Johnson and Stanton battled over the question of whether the military officers placed in command of the South could override the civil authorities. The President had Attorney General Henry Stanbery issue an opinion backing his position that they could not. Stanton would not commit to follow this opinion. When Congress reconvened in July, it passed a Reconstruction Act against Johnson's position, waited for his veto, and then overruled it. In addition to clarifying the powers of the generals, the legislation also deprived the President of control over the Army in the South.

With Congress in recess until November, Johnson decided to fire Stanton and relieve one of the military commanders, General Philip Sheridan of his command. On August 5, the President demanded Stanton's resignation, but the secretary refused to quit. Johnson then suspended him pending the next meeting of Congress as permitted under the Tenure of Office Act. Ulysses Grant agreed to serve as temporary replacement while continuing to lead the Army. Grant followed Johnson's order transferring Sheridan and Daniel Sickles, but he did so under protest.

The 1867 elections generally went Democratic and the Democrats took control of the Ohio General Assembly, allowing them to defeat for re-election one of Johnson's strongest opponents, Senator Benjamin Wade. Voters in Ohio, Connecticut, and Minnesota turned down propositions to grant African-Americans the vote. Despite this, Congress met in November, and the Judiciary Committee passed a resolution of impeachment against Johnson. After debate about whether anything the President had done was a high crime or misdemeanor, the standard under the Constitution, the resolution was defeated by the House of Representatives on December 7, 1867, by a vote of 57 in favor to 108 opposed.

Johnson notified Congress of Stanton's suspension and Grant's interim appointment. In January 1868, the Senate voted to reinstate Stanton, contending that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act. Grant stepped aside over Johnson's objection. Johnson then dismissed Stanton and appointed Lorenzo Thomas to replace him. But Stanton refused to leave his office, and on February 24, 1868, the House impeached the President for intentionally violating the Tenure of Office Act, by a vote of 128 to 47. The House subsequently adopted eleven articles of impeachment, for the most part alleging that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act, and had questioned the legitimacy of Congress.

A trial began in the Senate on March 13, 1868, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who had also been Abraham Lincoln's Treasury Secretary.

On the first day, Johnson's defense committee asked for forty days to collect evidence and witnesses since the prosecution had had a longer amount of time to do so, but only ten days were granted. The proceedings began on March 23. Senator Garrett Davis argued that because not all states were represented in the Senate the trial could not be held and that it should therefore be adjourned. The motion was voted down. After the charges against the President were made, Henry Stanberry asked for another thirty days to assemble evidence and summon witnesses, saying that in the ten days previously granted there had only been enough time to prepare the President's reply. Senator (and former Union General) John A. Logan argued that the trial should begin immediately and that Stanberry was only trying to stall for time. The request was turned down in a vote 41 to 12. However, the Senate voted the next day to give the defense six more days to prepare evidence.

The trial commenced again on March 30. Benjamin F. Butler opened for the prosecution with a three hour speech reviewing historical impeachment trials, going back to King John of England. For days Butler spoke out against Johnson's violations of the Tenure of Office Act and further charged that the President had issued orders directly to Army officers without sending them through General Grant. The defense argued that Johnson had not violated the Tenure of Office Act because President Abraham Lincoln did not reappoint Stanton Secretary of War at the beginning of his second term in 1865 and that he was therefore a leftover appointment from the 1860 cabinet, which removed his protection by the Tenure of Office Act. The prosecution called several witnesses in the course of the proceedings until April 9, when they rested their case.

Benjamin R. Curtis called attention to the fact that after the House passed the Tenure of Office Act, the Senate had amended it, meaning that it had to go back to a Senate-House conference committee to resolve the differences. He followed up by quoting the minutes of those meetings, which revealed that while the House members made no notes about the fact, their sole purpose was to keep Stanton in office, and the Senate had disagreed. The defense then called their first witness, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. He did not provide adequate information in the defense's cause and Butler made attempts to use his information to the prosecution's advantage. The next witness was General William T. Sherman, whose testimony benefited the prosecution.

At the conclusion of the evidence, three votes were taken and on all three occasions, thirty-five Senators voted "guilty" and nineteen "not guilty". As the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority for conviction in impeachment trials, Johnson was acquitted. Just one changed vote to guilty would have sufficed for a "guilty" verdict.


Seven Republican senators were concerned that the proceedings were unfair and defied their party by voting against conviction. After the trial, there were widespread reports that Republican senators had been bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal. In subsequent inquiries, there was evidence that some acquittal votes were acquired by promises of patronage jobs and cash bribes.

Subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court held the Tenure of Office Act to be invalid, supporting the notion that this was not a proper ground to seek Johnson's removal from office. Historian Eric Foner argues that violations of the Tenure of Office Act were of secondary importance in the impeachment. Rather, he argues that Johnson wanted to use his position as commander in chief of the military to undermine the Reconstruction Act of 1867. The Tenure of Office Act was beside the point, Johnson's real crime was being out of step with a nation undergoing profound social change.

Happy Birthday Warren Harding

Some people consider Warren Harding to be one of the worst presidents ever. I disagree. True, a lot of "scandals" happened on his watch, not because he was personally dishonest, but because he trusted men who were. And sure, he loved the ladies a little too much, and went offside so much that he made Bill Clinton look like a monk. But Harding still ranks high in my estimation because in the 1920s, he ventured into Alabama into the heart of the deep south, and told southerners that they had to stop being so racist. That took a lot of courage and a lot of principle, and if only for that reason alone, I like Harding. The fact that he visited Canada just before his death also was pretty cool too.


It's Warren Harding's birthday today. He was born on November 2, 1865, 154 years ago on this day.

Warren Gamaliel Harding was born in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He was the eldest of eight children born to Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr. and Phoebe Elizabeth (Dickerson) Harding. His mother was a midwife who later obtained her medical license. His father was usually in debt. He owned a farm and also acquired a medical degree and started a small practice. It was rumored in Blooming Grove that one of Harding's great-grandmothers might have been African American, but this rumor has never been substantiated. Harding's family moved to Caledonia, Ohio, where his father acquired The Argus, a local weekly newspaper. It was at The Argus where, from the age of 10, Harding learned the basics of the journalism business. Harding attended college at Ohio Central College. He became an accomplished public speaker in college, and graduated in 1882 at the age of 17 with a Bachelor of Science degree. As a youngster, Harding had become an accomplished cornet player and played in various bands.

On July 8, 1891, Harding married Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of Amos Kling, Harding's nemesis in the newspaper business. Florence was a divorcée, five years Harding's senior, and the mother of a young son, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe. She had been disowned by her father, because of her first marriage to an alcoholic.

Harding was elected to the Ohio State Senate in 1899, despite Amos Kling's financing of a primary opponent. In early 1903 Harding announced his campaign for Governor of Ohio. He later withdrew from the contest and was awarded the position of Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, a post he occupied from 1904 to 1906. Harding sought the 1909 gubernatorial nomination of the GOP, but could not defeat the Democrats.

In 1912, Harding gave the nominating speech for incumbent President William Howard Taft at the embattled Republican National Convention in Chicago. Harding was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming Ohio's first senator elected by popular vote. When Harding took his seay, both houses were controlled by the Democrats, and Woodrow Wilson, a progressive Democrat, was in the White House. He joined with 39 other senators in opposition to Wilson's proposed League of Nations. He was popular and acquired many very close friends in the chamber. Harding served as Chairman of the 1916 Republican Convention as well as Keynote Speaker.

At the 1920 GOP convention, no candidate was able to obtain a majority after nine ballots. Republican Senators and other leaders met in Room 404 of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago and after a nightlong session, tentatively concluded Harding was the best possible compromise candidate. This particular meeting came to be known as the "smoke filled room". Before Harding received the formal nod, Harding was asked if he knew, "before God," whether anything in his life would be an impediment. After mulling the question over for some minutes, Harding replied no, despite his alleged adulterous affairs. The next day, when Harding was nominated on the tenth ballot.

In the 1920 election, Harding ran against Democratic Ohio Governor James M. Cox, whose running mate was Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harding ran on a promise to "Return to Normalcy", a term he popularized, and healing for the nation after World War I. This was the first modern campaign to use the power of Hollywood and Broadway stars, who travelled to Marion for photo opportunities with Harding and his wife. Al Jolson, Lillian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford as well as business icons like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone all lent their support to the campaign. The 1920 election was the first in which women could vote nationwide. It was also the first presidential election covered on the radio. Harding received 60% of the national vote, the highest percentage ever recorded up to that time, and 404 electoral votes. Cox received 34% of the national vote and 127 electoral votes. Campaigning from a federal prison, Socialist Eugene V. Debs received 3% of the national vote. The Presidential election results of 1920, for the first time in U.S. history, were announced live by radio.

In his inaugural speech Harding declared, "Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it." Harding's administration has been critically viewed due to multiple scandals, but his accomplishments included income tax and federal spending reductions, economic policies that reduced "stagflation", a reduction of unemployment by 10%, and a bold foreign policy that created peace with Germany, Japan, and Central America. One of Harding's earliest decisions as President was the appointment of former President William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position Taft had always coveted, even more than the Presidency.

Harding pushed for the establishment of the Bureau of Veterans Affairs (later organized as the Department of Veterans Affairs). He argued for peacemaking with Germany and Austria, emergency tariffs, new immigration laws, regulation of radio and trans-cable communications, retrenchment in government, tax reduction, repeal of wartime excess profits tax, reduction of railroad rates, promotion of agricultural interests, a national budget system, an enlarged merchant marine, and a department of public welfare. He also called for measures to end lynching of African-Americans.

According to biographers, Harding got along better with the press than any other previous President, being a former newspaperman. Reporters admired his frankness, candor, and his confessed limitations. He took the press behind the scenes and showed them the inner circle of the presidency. Harding, in November 1921, also implemented a policy of taking written questions from reporters during a press conference.

On December 23, 1921 Harding released an election opponent, socialist leader Eugene Debs, from prison. Debs, a forceful World War I antiwar activist, had been convicted under sedition charges brought by the Wilson administration for his opposition to the draft during World War I. Despite many political differences between the two candidates Harding commuted Debs' sentence to time served. Harding granted a general amnesty to 23 prisoners, alleged anarchists and socialists.


On April 12, Harding called a joint session of Congress in which he urged Congress to create a Bureau of the Budget, cut expenditures, and revise federal tax laws. Harding urged increased protectionist tariffs, lower taxes, and agriculture legislation to help farmers. In the speech, Harding advocated aviation technology for civil and military purposes, development and regulation of radio technology, and passage of a federal anti-lynching law to protect African Americans. Harding called for peace between all former enemy nations from World War I and the funding and liquidation of war debts.

Harding signed the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, considered one of his greatest domestic and enduring achievements. Harding got authorization from Congress for the country's first formal budgeting process—establishing of the Bureau of the Budget. The law created the presidential budget director, who was directly responsible to the President rather than to the Secretary of Treasury. The law also stipulated that the President must submit a budget annually to the U.S. Congress. All presidents since have had to submit an annual budget to Congress. Harding appointed Charles Dawes, known for being an effective financier, as the first director of the Bureau of the Budget. Dawes reduced government spending by $1.5 billion his first year as director, a 25% reduction, along with another 25% reduction the following year. In effect, the Government budget was nearly cut in half in just two years. Harding believed the federal government should be fiscally managed in a way similar to private sector businesses. He had campaigned on the slogan, "Less government in business and more business in government." Federal spending declined from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $5 billion in 1921 and $3.3 billion in 1922. Tax rates, meanwhile, were slashed—for every income group. And over the course of the 1920s, the national debt was reduced by one third.

On August 9, 1921, Harding signed legislation known as the Sweet Bill, which established the Veterans Bureau as a new agency. After World War I, 300,000 wounded veterans were in need of hospitalization, medical care, and job training.

Harding spearheaded a monumental global conference, held in Washington, D.C., to limit the armaments of world powers, including the U.S., Japan, Great Britain, France, Italy, China, Belgium, Netherlands and Portugal. Harding's Secretary of State, Charles E. Hughes, assumed a primary role in the conference and made the pivotal proposal—the U.S would reduce its number of warships by 30 if Great Britain decommissioned 19, and Japan 17 ships. Starting on November 6, 1921 and ending February 6, 1922, world leaders met to control a naval arms race and to bring stability to East Asia. The conference enabled the great powers to potentially limit their large naval deployment and avoid conflict in the Pacific. The conference produced six treaties and twelve resolutions among the participating nations, which ranged from limiting the size or "tonnage" of naval ships to custom tariffs. The treaties easily passed the Senate. Harding stunned the capital when he sent to the Senate a message supporting the participation of the U.S. in the proposed Permanent Court of International Justice. This was not favorably received by Harding's colleagues

In an age of severe racial intolerance during the 1920s, Harding spoke out against racial animosity. In a speech on October 26, 1921, given in segregated Birmingham, Alabama Harding advocated civil rights for African Americans. He was the first President to openly advocate political, educational, and economic equality for African-Americans during the 20th century. Harding went further and viewed the race problem as a national and international issue. He named some African Americans to federal positions, such as Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, Louisiana, whom he named comptroller of customs. Harding supported Congressman Leonidas Dyer's federal anti-lynching bill, known as the Dyer Bill, which passed the House of Representatives on January 26, 1922. The bill was defeated in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster. Harding had previously spoken out publicly against lynching on October 21, 1921. Up to that time, Congress had not debated a civil rights bill since the 1890 Federal Elections Bill.

On November 21, 1921, Harding signed the Sheppard–Towner Maternity Act, the first major federal government social welfare program in the U.S. The law funded almost 3,000 child and health centers throughout the U.S. Medical doctors were spurred to offer preventative health care measures in addition to treating ill children. Doctors were required to help healthy pregnant women and prevent healthy children from getting sick. Child welfare workers were sent out to make sure that parents were taking care of their children. Many minority groups, particularly African American, Native American, and foreign-born women, resented the law and the welfare workers who visited their homes and intruded into their family's lives.Although the law remained in effect only eight years, it set the trend for New Deal social programs during the Great Depression.

Harding appointed prominent Jewish leader, Rabbi Joseph S. Kornfeld, and Catholic leader, Father Joseph M. Dennig, to foreign diplomatic positions. In an unpublished letter, Harding advocated the establishment and funding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Harding's physical health began to decline in the fall of 1922. Harding was suffering from coronary disease. By early 1923, Harding had trouble sleeping, looked tired, and could barely get through nine holes of golf. Harding wanted to run for a second term. He gave up drinking. Harding, along with his personal physician Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, believed getting away from Washington would help relieve the stresses of being President. By July 1923, criticism of the Harding Administration was increasing. Prior to his leaving Washington, the President reported chest pains that radiated down his left arm.

In June of 1923 Harding boarded a naval transport ship, the USS Henderson, and voyaged to Alaska. Rumors of corruption in his administration were beginning to circulate in Washington. While in Alaska, Harding was profoundly shocked by a long message he received detailing illegal activities previously unknown to him. Harding arrived in Alaska on the Henderson on July 7, 1923. Harding and his presidential party first visited a number of places in Alaska, including Metlakatla, Ketchikan (July 8), and Wrangell (July 9). They continued on to Juneau (July 10), Skagway, and Glacier Bay (July 11). The President then cruised to Seward (July 13). They then proceeded to travel by Presidential railway car and automobile. Harding visited Snow River on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage (July 13), Chickaloon, Wasilla and Willow (July 14). He continued his Alaska journey through Montana Station, Curry (July 14) Cantwell, McKinley Park and Nenana (July 15). On July 15, 1923, Harding drove in the golden spike on the north side of the steel Mears Memorial Bridge that completed the Alaska Railroad. The trip continued to Fairbanks (July 15) where it was decided (July 16) that the President and his wife would return to Seward (July 17) via the railroad. They spent a restful day at Seward (July 18). From there they took the Henderson to Valdez (July 19), Cordova (July 20), and Sitka (July 22). While in Sitka, Harding visited and shook hands with Alaskan Native Tlingit elder chief Katlean outside in a crowd of people.

On July 26, 1923, having departed Alaska on the Henderson, Harding toured Vancouver, British Columbia as the first sitting American President ever to visit Canada. Harding became exhausted while playing golf at the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, and complained of nausea and upper abdominal pain. His doctor, Charles E. Sawyer, believed Harding's illness was a severe case of food poisoning. Nevertheless, Dr. Joel T. Boone also examined the President and noticed an enlargement of his heart. Harding's pulse and breathing rate were rapid. The President was given digitalis. Harding met with British Columbia Premier John Oliver and Mayor of Vancouver Charles Tisdall at the Hotel Vancouver. Harding spoke in front of 50,000 people at Stanley Park with his voice projected by microphones. Harding inspected The Vancouver Regiment honor guard accompanied by Canadian Brig. Gen. V.W. Odlum. There is a monument to President Harding in Vancouver's Stanley Park.

Coming into Seattle, Washington, Harding's transport ship, the Henderson, accidentally rammed into the USS Zeilin, a U.S. naval destroyer, in the fog. Harding was not harmed in the incident. In Seattle, Harding greeted children and led 50,000 Boy Scouts in the Pledge of Allegiance. Harding gave his final speech to a large crowd of 25,000 people at the University of Washington stadium in Seattle. Harding then traveled by train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Harding's scheduled speech in Portland was canceled.

The President's train continued south to San Francisco. Arriving at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia. Harding, severely exhausted, ordered that his planned speech be issued through the national press in order to communicate with the public. The President was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness. On Thursday, the President's health appeared to improve, so his doctors went to dinner. Harding's pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel's presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923.


Harding was succeeded as President by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who was sworn in while vacationing at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, by his father, a Vermont notary public. Harding's body was taken from the Palace Hotel directly to the train depot. The funeral train made a four-day journey eastward across the country—the first such procession since Lincoln's funeral train. Millions lined the tracks in cities and towns across the country to pay their respects. Harding's casket was placed in the East Room of the White House pending a state funeral, which was held on August 8, 1923, at the United States Capitol. Harding was entombed at the Marion Cemetery, Marion, Ohio, on August 10, 1923. Following Mrs. Harding's death on November 21, 1924 (from renal failure), she was buried next to her husband. Their remains were re-interred December 20, 1927, at the newly completed Harding Memorial in Marion, dedicated by President Herbert Hoover on June 16, 1931.

Harding's sudden death led to theories that he had been poisoned or committed suicide. Rumors of poisoning were fueled, in part, by a book called The Strange Death of President Harding, in which the author (convicted criminal and detective Gaston Means, who had once been hired by Mrs. Harding to investigate Warren Harding and his mistress) suggested that Mrs. Harding had poisoned her husband. Mrs. Harding's refusal to allow an autopsy on her husband only added to the speculation. According to the physicians attending Harding, however, the symptoms prior to his death all pointed to congestive heart failure. Immediately after Harding's death, Mrs. Harding returned to Washington, D.C., and stayed in the White House briefly with the Coolidges. For a month, former First Lady Harding gathered and burned President Harding's correspondence and documents, both official and unofficial. Upon her return to Marion, Mrs. Harding hired a number of secretaries to collect and burn Harding's personal papers. According to Mrs. Harding, she took these actions to protect her husband's legacy.

Happy Birthday James K. Polk

November 2nd is the birthday of two of my favorite Presidents. One is James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, and probably the most effective one term president. Polk was born on November 2, 1795 (224 years ago today).

James Knox Polk was born in a farmhouse (possibly a log cabin) in what is now Pineville, North Carolina in Mecklenburg County, just outside of Charlotte. His father was Samuel Polk, a slaveholder, successful farmer and surveyor. His mother, Jane Polk (née Knox), was a descendant of a brother of the Scottish religious reformer John Knox. She named her firstborn after her father James Knox. Jane remained a devout Presbyterian her entire life, while Samuel rejected Presbyterianism. When the parents took James to church to be baptized, Samuel refused to declare his belief in Christianity, and the minister refused to baptize baby James.

In 1803, most of Polk's relatives moved to the Duck River area in what is now Maury County, Middle Tennessee. Polk's family followed in 1806. The family grew prosperous, and Samuel Polk did well in land speculation. He also became a county judge. In 1812 James was taken to see Dr. Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, who operated on the 17 year old future president to remove urinary stones. James Polk was awake during the operation with nothing but brandy available for anesthetic. While the surgery was successful, speculation is that it may have left Polk sterile.

In January 1816, Polk was admitted into the University of North Carolina. He graduated with honors in May 1818. After graduation, James Polk traveled to Nashville to study law under the famous Nashville trial attorney Felix Grundy. On September 20, 1819, Polk was elected clerk for the Tennessee State Senate and was reelected in 1821. Polk was admitted to the bar in June 1820 and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge. Polk's practice was a successful one.

In 1822 Polk joined the Tennessee militia as a captain in the cavalry regiment of the 5th Brigade. He was later appointed a colonel on the staff of Governor William Carroll, and was afterwards often referred to or addressed by his military title. Polk's oratory earned him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump." In 1823 Polk was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1823. He added his support to those who also supported Andrew Jackson for President.

Polk courted Sarah Childress, and they married on January 1, 1824 in Murfreesboro. Polk was then 28, and Sarah was 20 years old. Some say that Andrew Jackson had a hand in the match-making. The Polks had no children. During Polk's political career, Sarah assisted her husband with his speeches, gave him advice on policy matters and played an active role in his campaigns.

In 1825, Polk ran for the United States House of Representatives for the Tennessee's 6th congressional district. He won the election and took his seat in Congress. Polk made his first major speech on March 13, 1826, in which he said that the Electoral College should be abolished and that the President should be elected by the popular vote. In 1827 Polk was reelected to Congress. In 1828, when Andrew Jackson ran for President and won, Polk was one of Jackson's biggest supporters. Polk continued to be reelected in the House. In June 1834, Polk ran against fellow Tennessean John Bell for Speaker, and, after ten ballots, Bell won. However, in 1835, Polk ran against Bell for Speaker again and won. The two major issues during Polk's time as speaker were slavery and the economy. As speaker, Polk issued the gag rule on petitions from abolitionists. Polk is the only president to have served as Speaker of the House.

Polk left Congress in 1839, Polk to run for Governor of Tennessee. He defeated the incumbent Whig in a close election. He lost his bid for reelection to James C. Jones, in 1841, by 3,243 votes. He challenged Jones in 1843, but was defeated again, this time by a slightly greater margin of 3,833 votes.

In 1844, Polk hoped to be nominated for vice president at the Democratic convention, which began on May 27, 1844. The leading contender for the presidential nomination was former President Martin Van Buren. Van Buren won a simple majority on the convention's first ballot but did not attain the two-thirds supermajority required for nomination. When it became clear after another six ballots that Van Buren would not win the required majority, Polk emerged as a "dark horse" candidate. After an indecisive eighth ballot, the convention unanimously nominated Polk. When advised of his nomination, Polk replied: "It has been well observed that the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined. I have never sought it, nor should I feel at liberty to decline it, if conferred upon me by the voluntary suffrages of my fellow citizens." Polk promised to serve only one term if elected, hoping that his rival Democrats would unite behind him with the knowledge that another candidate would be chosen in four years.

Polk's Whig opponent in the 1844 presidential election was Henry Clay of Kentucky. The annexation of Texas, which was at the forefront during the Democratic Convention, again dominated the campaign. Polk was a strong proponent of immediate annexation, while Clay seemed more equivocal and vacillating. Another issue related to westward expansion into the Oregon Country, then under the joint occupation of the United States and the United Kingdom. The Democrats had championed the cause of expansion, while Clay hedged his position.

In the election, Polk and his running mate, George M. Dallas, won in the South and West, while Clay drew support in the Northeast. He won New York, where Clay lost votes to the antislavery Liberty Party candidate James G. Birney. Also contributing to Polk's victory was the support of new immigrant voters, who opposed the Whigs' policies. Polk won the popular vote by a margin of about 39,000 out of 2.6 million, and took the Electoral College with 170 votes to Clay's 105. Polk won 15 states, while Clay won 11.

When he took office on March 4, 1845, Polk, at 49, became the youngest man at the time to assume the presidency. According to historian James Bancroft (but disputed by others), Polk set four goals for his administration:

1. Reestablish the Independent Treasury System.
2. Reduce tariffs.
3. Acquire some or all of Oregon Country.
4. Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico.

Pledged to serve only one term, he accomplished all these objectives in just four years. By linking acquisition of new lands in Oregon with no slavery and Texas with slavery, he hoped to satisfy both North and South. During his presidency James K. Polk was called "Young Hickory", an allusion to his mentor Andrew Jackson ("old Hickory").

In 1846, Congress approved the Walker Tariff which represented a substantial reduction of the high Whig-backed Tariff of 1842. Also in 1846, Polk approved a law restoring the Independent Treasury System, under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions. Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill in 1846 to provide $500,000 to improve rivers and harbors, but Polk vetoed the bill. It would have provided for federally funded internal improvements on small harbors. Polk believed that this was unconstitutional because the bill unfairly favored particular areas, including ports which had no foreign trade. Polk believed that these problems were local and not national. Polk feared that passing the Rivers and Harbors Bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home districts.

During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized Polk as an instrument of the "Slave Power". Polk argued for extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, which would prohibit the expansion of slavery above 36° 30' west of Missouri, but allow it below that line if approved by eligible voters in the territory. Polk was a slaveholder for his entire life.

Polk strongly supported expansion. He supported the annexation of Texas and also wanted to acquire the Oregon Country (present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia) as well. Polk put heavy pressure on Britain to resolve the Oregon boundary dispute. Although the Democratic platform asserted a claim to the entire region, Polk was willing to compromise. When the British again refused to accept the 49th parallel boundary proposal, Polk broke off negotiations and returned to the Democratic platform "All Oregon" demand (which called for all of Oregon up to the 54-40 line that marked the southern boundary of Russian Alaska). Polk compromised with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 divided the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel, the original American proposal. The treaty was approved by the Senate. By settling for the 49th parallel, Polk angered many midwestern Democrats. The portion of Oregon territory acquired by the United States later formed the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of the states of Montana and Wyoming.

After the Texas annexation, Polk turned his attention to California, hoping to acquire the territory from Mexico before any European nation did. In 1845, he sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to purchase California and New Mexico for $24–30 million. The Mexicans refused to receive Slidell. In January 1846, to increase pressure on Mexico to negotiate, Polk sent troops under General Zachary Taylor into the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande—territory that was claimed by both the U.S. and Mexico. Taylor crossed the Rio Grande and briefly occupied Matamoros. When Polk received word that Mexican forces had crossed the Rio Grande area and killed eleven American soldiers. Polk, in a message to Congress on May 11, 1846, stated that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil." Some Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, challenged Polk's version of events, but Congress overwhelmingly approved the declaration of war. In the House, antislavery Whigs led by John Quincy Adams voted against the war.

By the summer of 1846, American forces under General Stephen W. Kearny captured New Mexico. Captain John C. Frémont led settlers in northern California to overthrow the Mexican garrison in Sonoma. General Zachary Taylor, at the same time, was having success on the Rio Grande, although Polk did not reinforce his troops there. The United States also negotiated a secret arrangement with Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican general and dictator who had been overthrown in 1844. Santa Anna agreed that, if given safe passage into Mexico, he would attempt to persuade those in power to sell California and New Mexico to the United States. Once he reached Mexico, however, he reneged on his agreement, declared himself President, and tried to drive the American invaders back. Santa Anna's efforts were in vain, as Generals Taylor and Winfield Scott destroyed all resistance. Scott captured Mexico City in September 1847, and Taylor won a series of victories in northern Mexico. Even after these battles, Mexico did not surrender until 1848, when it agreed to peace terms set out by Polk. Polk sent diplomat Nicholas Trist to negotiate with the Mexicans. Trist successfully negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which Polk agreed to ratify. The treaty added 1.2 million square miles of territory to the United States. Mexico's size was cut in half, while that of the United States increased by a third. California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming were all included in the Mexican Cession. The treaty also recognized the annexation of Texas and acknowledged American control over the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico, in turn, received $15 million. The war claimed 20,000 American lives and over 50,000 Mexican ones.

In the 1848 election, however, the Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor, a war hero. The strain of managing the war effort caused a decline in Polk's health toward the end of his presidency. Polk left on March 4, 1849, appearing quite exhausted. He lost weight and had deep lines on his face and dark circles under his eyes. He is believed to have contracted cholera in New Orleans, Louisiana, on a goodwill tour of the South after leaving the White House. Polk died at his new home, Polk Place, in Nashville, Tennessee, at 3:15 pm on June 15, 1849, three months after leaving office. He was buried on the grounds of Polk Place. Polk's last words have been reported to be: "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you," referring to First Lady Sarah Polk. She lived at Polk Place for over forty years after his death. She died on August 14, 1891. Polk was also survived by his mother, Jane Knox Polk, who died on January 11, 1852.

Polk had the shortest retirement of all Presidents at 103 days. He was the youngest former president to die in retirement at the age of 53. He and his wife are buried in a tomb on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. In the fall of 2014, when I was in Nashville, I paid them a visit.