Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews

The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-

1920. By RANDOLPH C. DOWNES. (Columbus:

Ohio State University Press, 1970. x + 734p.;

notes, bibliography, and index. $17.50.)


At long last the historiography of Warren

Gamaliel Harding has reached the point

where two thorough and scholarly books

have appeared. The statement refers to The

Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-1920,

by Randolph C. Downes, and The Harding

Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administra-

tion, by Robert K. Murray.

The road to this most recent and perhaps

final stage of Harding historiography has

been a rugged one. First there were the jour-

nalists--William Allen White, Samuel Hop-

kins Adams, Frederick Lewis Allen, and

Mark Sullivan--who placed the Marion man

into the mold of the 1920's emphasizing sex

and scandal. Strangely, scholars of the

1930's and 1940's, noting in their reviews that

the foregoing writers were not professional

historians, still basically repeated the jour-

nalistic emphases and inadequately handled

political and administrative history; and

even after the Harding Papers were made

available to researchers in April 1964, writ-

ers such as Andrew Sinclair and Francis

Russell again repeated the old approaches.

Downes and Murray, on the other hand, have

taken advantage of the new Harding Papers

and other affiliated sources and have pro-

duced a new historiography.

Ever since Murray's book appeared in

1969, reviewers have favorably noted its

unique place in Harding historiography. In

the 1970 summer issue of the Wisconsin

Magazine of History, Kenneth J. Grieb has

correctly estimated that "this comprehensive

study of the Harding Administration is a

major revisionist work whose potential im-

pact on the interpretation of the era should

render it one of the most important Ameri-

can history books of the year" (p.305). The

Downes volume, released only n December

1970, has still to be widely evaluated.

The scope of The Rise of Warren Gama-

liel Harding, 1865-1920 is impressively com-

plete, covering in its 734 pages, ancestry,

early years, ownership and editorship of the

Marion Star, boosterism in city affairs, state

senatorship, lieutenant governorship, the

contest for governor in 1910, election to the

United States Senate in 1914, keynoter and

other roles in the National Republican Con-

vention of 1916, views on the First World

War, the Wilson administration and the

League of Nations, and finally the campaign

for and election to the presidency in 1920.

On nearly all of these major subjects Downes

intrbduces new data and considerably alters

commonly accepted views of Harding's life

and career derived from early studies. Thus

Samuel Hopkins Adams' picture of the lazy

boy who quit a farm chore job in the first

hour is replaced by that of an overworked

youth who may have hurt his health by his


The young man's editorship of the Star

is shown to have been far more than an ex-

change of billingsgate with rival editors. As

for the Amos Kling episode, formerly sen-

sationalized as an angry father-in-law refus-

ing to reconcile his daughter's marriage to

"W.G." because of his "Negro blood," the

quarrel is shown to have been a clash of

ideas between Kling, a real estate dealer and

the wealthiest man in town, who wanted to

keep Marion a village of gracious homes,

and Harding, the young editor-booster, fight-

ing for new industry to put the place on the

map. In his revision of the old view of the

Kling-Harding enmity, the author presents

a discerning sociological account of booster-

ism in action and the transformation of

Marion from a mainly rural to a growing

urban community.

Downes' extended efforts to destroy the

old myth of Harding's desire to be president,

however, may result in the creation of a new

one overstressing the Marion man's unwill-

ingness to become the Chief Executive. Im-

pressive as the author's case for the Ohio

Senator's reluctance to run for the presi-

dency may be, it must be balanced by letters

exchanged between Harding and Harry M.

Daugherty in January and February 1919.