Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews

The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and

His Administration. By ROBERT K. MURRAY.

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press, 1969. ix + 626p.; illustrations, bibli-

ographical essay, and index. $13.50.)


In the dialectic of history, the hitherto

almost unanimous judgment against Warren

Harding--as expressed, for instance, by Wil-

liam Allen White, Frederick Lewis Allen,

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Arthur Schles-

inger, Jr., and Allan Nevins--had to generate

sooner or later a rebuttal. The opening of

the Harding Papers to scholars in 1964 has

begun to spawn Harding books, most notably

Andrew Sinclair's The Available Man

and this one by Murray. Sinclair's is closer

to the traditional interpretation; Harding

was available but unqualified. But Murray's

is a comprehensive defense of the entire

Harding administration.

Nominated in 1920 not by the bosses or

the Interests but by an almost leaderless Re-

publican national convention, Harding was

"under the circumstances the strongest pos-

sible candidate," Professor Murray writes.

Harding, rather than the Best Minds (or

worst) surrounding him, was "the dominant

figure" throughout the campaign, and after

the election was on the whole successful in

putting together an "independent-minded,

first-class cabinet." As President, he was an

innovator; many beginnings that Donald

McCoy in The Quiet President attributes to

Coolidge Murray credits rather to his prede-

cessor. The Harding administration among

other things sponsored most of the agricul-

tural legislation usually attributed to the con-

gressional Farm Bloc, experimented with

"pump-priming" to meet the challenge of

postwar unemployment, and promoted a

Latin-American policy that was "a decided

improvement over the past." (It also created

the Bureau of the Budget; and Charles G.

Dawes, the first Budget Director, amazingly

testified that "on fiscal matters Harding's

mind was 'quick as lightning.' ") Regressive

in certain areas, notably toward labor, tariff,

and war debts, the administration triumphant-

ly solved the two major problems of its day

--liquidating the war and restoring prosperity.

Sometimes Murray's case is overstated. His

quotations from a presidential address at

Birmingham, Alabama, in 1921 make Hard-

ing sound far more enlightened on the race

question than do the passages from the same

speech cited in E. David Cronon's study of

Marcus Garvey, for example. But the book

is not a case of what Murray himself faults

as "historical revisionism for revision's sake,"

and many a reader is going to work through

these pages in a mood that mingles incredu-

lity with a growing respect.

Indeed, this study exploits many of the his-

torical guild's most cherished assumptions.

Murray deals with the "Ohio gang," for ex-

ample, in much the same way that historians

have often dealt with Tammany, by sharply

distinguishing between private internal cor-

ruption and public constructive policy. Simi-

larly, the author echoes the familiar treat-

ment of "idealism" and "self-interest" in for-

eign policy by praising Harding and Hughes

for turning from the doctrinaire moralism of

Wilson to a view of the world that took sober

account of the national interest. Finally, Mur-

ray concludes that "by all standards of politi-

cal compromise the Harding administration

was a success," in that it got its program es-

sentially intact through a recalcitrant Con-

gress; and have not historians been inclined

to test presidents--FDR as against Hoover,

for instance--by their pragmatic ability to

deliver the goods?


Northern Illinois University


Poles in American History and Tradition. By

JOSEPH A. WYTRWAL. (Detroit: Endurance

Press, 1969. x + 485p.; bibliography and in-

dex. $6.75.)

The author of this work is a foremost student

of the Poles and their institutions in the

United States. His earlier book, America's

Polish Heritage (Detroit, 1961), was discussed

by the present reviewer in this journal, Vol-

ume 71 (1962), p.68. The present study sup-

plements the earlier one, although there is

some duplication as well as amplification;

each volume contains a chapter on Polish

immigrants, 1608-1776. The earlier work

emphasized the retention by Poles in the

United States of their distinctive ethnic char-

acter and properly gave extensive attention