Ohio History Journal

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The "New" Harding and American

Foreign Policy: Warren G. Harding,

Hiram W. Johnson, and

Pragmatic Diplomacy


The historiographical rehabilitation of Warren G. Harding has

produced a revisionist portrait of a President with "moderate talent and

moderate views" who used "persuasion, compromise and conciliation"

to achieve a modicum of success in domestic and foreign affairs.1

Although historians are divided over the extent and long-range

importance of Harding's accomplishments, there is an emerging

consensus that he possessed some positive political traits. Recent

scholarship has shown that the Harding Administration initiated

domestic and foreign policies which created a workable coalition for the

Republican party. Harding's confident, independent, and assertive

political style during the readjustment in American politics from 1921 to

1923 smoothed the way for "normalcy." A recent Harding biography

concluded that the Republican party's "broad-based, party unifying

approach to foreign affairs" was a key factor in his election to the

presidency.2 As an active participant in foreign affairs, Harding also

used diplomatic issues to outmaneuver his isolationist critics. In

particular Harding prevented the sixteen irreconcilable United States

senators, who had blocked American entrance into the League of

Nations and thwarted ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, from

unduly influencing Republican foreign policy.

The relationship between Harding and the irreconcilable bloc

provides an excellent example of Harding's political leadership.

Historians have overemphasized the idea that the fragmented or

makeshift irreconcilable coalition disintegrated in the aftermath of the

Dr. DeWitt is Associate Professor of History at Ohlone College, Fremont, California.


1. Robert D. Accinelli, "Was There a 'New' Harding? Warren G. Harding and the

World Court Issue, 1920-1923," Ohio History, LXXXIV (Autumn 1975), 168-81; Robert

K. Murray, The Politics of Normalcy: Governmental Theory and Practice in the

Harding-Coolidge Era (New York, 1973), 55.

2. Randolph C. Downes, The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-1920 (Columbus,

1970), 563.