Ohio History Journal

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Among the many controversial facets involving the life of the twenty-ninth

president of the United States, few have prompted more conjecture and

analysis than the choosing of his cabinet. The fact that one of his selections

achieved the distinction of being the only cabinet officer to go to jail, that

another resigned under a cloud of suspicion, and still a third narrowly missed

criminal conviction, places Warren Gamaliel Harding in a unique position

as a cabinet-maker.

With this record it is little wonder that Harding's skill as a judge of men

has been consistently downgraded both by historians and popular writers.

Early observers, such as William Allen White, Frederick Lewis Allen, Mark

Sullivan, and Samuel Hopkins Adams, all agreed that the Harding cabinet

was a crazy quilt of both good and bad, with the bad far outweighing the

good.1 Later writers, such as Frederick L. Paxson and Andrew Sinclair, soften

the emphasis somewhat but basically arrive at the same conclusion.2 Thus,

despite the recognized excellence of certain cabinet choices, the poor selections

have captured the lion's share of popular and scholarly attention and have

brought down upon the whole selection process a verdict of failure.

But this verdict is based largely on the later scandals and not on the actual

process of cabinet-making itself. Lost to view is Harding's personal wrestling

with the alternative choices, the demands of the contemporary political situa-

tion, and his own commitment to certain goals and principles. Until these

factors are fully examined, the verdict of failure is at best incomplete and

at worst erroneous.