When Harding became president, he brought many friends into his administration and his time in office was marked by many scandals. Officials under Harding were implicated or convicted of bribery, fraud, conspiracy, and other forms of wrongdoing. As Harding said, “I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends … they're the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights.”
There is no evidence that Harding was ever personally involved in these scandals.
Harding fought against unfair treatment of African Americans. He spoke out against lynchings and ordered the White House and the District of Columbia to desegregate. His actions in support of better treatment for blacks were part of what caused a rumor to circulate claiming that Harding was part black. Historians do not believe that he was.
Teapot Dome Scandal
The most significant scandal of Harding's presidency was the Teapot Dome scandal. Harding's secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, secretly sold the right to tap into oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, to a private company in exchange for some cattle and $308,000. He also sold the rights to other national oil reserves. In the end he was caught and sentenced to one year in jail.
Ending World War I
During his time in the Senate, Harding had not supported the League of Nations. His opposition meant that America would never join the League, especially once he became president. Without ratifying the Treaty of Paris, World War I was not officially at an end. To rectify this situation, a joint resolution was passed, which Harding signed, officially ending the state of war between Germany and the United States.
During the Harding administration, America entered into numerous treaties with foreign nations. Three of the major treaties were the Five Power Treaty, the Four Power Treaty, and the Nine Power Treaty.
Five Power Treaty: The United States, Great Britain, France, the USSR, and Italy agreed to halt battleship production for ten years and developed tonnage ratios between the nations.
Four Power Treaty: The United States, Great Britain, France, and Japan discussed the need for the four nations to respect each other's Pacific possessions and not seek further expansion.
Nine Power Treaty: The United States, Great Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Belgium, China, the Netherlands, and Portugal made the Open Door Policy official while respecting the sovereignty of China.
Harding pardoned Socialist Eugene V. Debs. Debs was an important figure in American politics through the early twentieth century. He actually ran for the presidency five times, including once while he was in jail. During World War I, Debs spoke out against American involvement in the war. In 1918, he was sent to jail for ten years because of his antiwar demonstrations. Harding pardoned Debs in 1921 and actually met with him in the White House.
Death in Office
In June, 1923, Harding and his wife set out on a “voyage of understanding” across America. He visited Alaska and made his way to San Francisco. On the way he got very sick and developed pneumonia. On August 2, 1923, Harding died of what naval physicians determined was a heart attack. However, an autopsy was never performed. His early death probably saved him from impeachment over the many scandals of his administration.