Warren Gamaliel Harding, Twenty-ninth President (1921-1923)
Warren G. Harding, circa 1923, Oil on canvas by Margaret Lindsay Williams
The first two decades of the twentieth century had been marked by American involvement in a world war and a host of progressive reforms in the country's economic and social institutions. By 1920, voters wanted a rest from all this change and ferment and were ready for a brand of White House leadership that did not threaten the status quo. In that year's Republican presidential candidate, Warren Harding, they found what they wanted. A convivial onetime newspaper editor, Harding made "normalcy" the keynote of his campaign, and although the meaning of the newly coined term was uncertain, it at least promised no unsettling changes.
While short on reform, Harding's administration did not lack for scandals. A trusting individual, he appointed cronies to his administration who proved all too ready to use their offices for private gain. Harding, however, escaped having to face the corrupt behavior of his appointees. Just as stories of their wrongdoing were coming to light, he collapsed and died.
The dignified presidential bearing of this portrait belies the fact that Harding remained forever insecure about his ability to lead. The picture was the work of British artist Margaret Williams, who had been commissioned to paint Harding for the English Speaking Union.