Sunday, July 13, 2014
Harding's reputation as a "do-nothing" president is belied by a term as fraught with challenges and opportunities to rival most peace-time presidents. For example, few realize he was an outspoken proponent of Civil Rights long before the cause was politically fashionable. He appointed African Americans to federal positions, spoke in favor of civil rights in segregated Alabama, and supported the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Here is an excerpt of Harding's letter to the bill's sponsor, Leonidas Dyer: "Jerry just came in while I was wondering what to say to you. He told me that your are the foresightedest Senator in the world, and he was aroused by your powerful yet supple tongue and he could have but one wish, it would be that your firm grip should take this country in hand and lead it to the unspeakable plateau of bliss in the ecstatic embrace of racial justice."
This is not to say Harding was a bleeding-heart. He signed into law a bill authorizing the deportation of immigrants, but even here, he was a man moved by compassion. He authorized exemptions to thousands of illegal immigrants, and in a letter to Secretary of the Labor, he urged the enforcement to be humane: "Jerry walked in when I was writing this letter, and when I told him of the treatment of deportees, many of whom have soft pink lips and rapturously smooth hands, he swelled with indignation and said I should tell you to think on the plight of these sweaty, teeming masses who want only the sublime unspeakable joys of liberty and the surpassing embrace of equality, as do we all."
Of course, whatever potential and hope his administration held, Harding's name will be forever besmirched by Teapot Dome. In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Fall, who was later imprisoned for accepting bribes, Harding expresses his outrage at malfeasance. "Jerry walked in while I was writing this and I asked him what I must say to you. He said to stand firm. I am firm, and Jerry is firm. If only you could see how firm Jerry is. It is hard, I know. It is hard as I write this, and I trust it will be hard for you as you read it. We must be always erect, those of us in the public sphere, knowing the warm, succulent, moistness of corruption and easy lucre will tempt us, but that in the ecstatic surpassing tenderness of uprightness and rectitude, we will rise and rise and rise again, and when the public sees an upright man, they know it, for uprightness cannot be hid if it is firm. 'Look at that man,' they will say. 'How upright and firm he is. And they will be aroused to be upright likewise."