For nearly half a century, Warren G. Harding, twenty-ninth president of the United States, has finished last in every poll ranking the presidents. After his death in 1923, a variety of attacks and unsubstantiated claims left the public with a negative impression of him. In The Strange Deaths of President Harding, Robert H. Ferrell, distinguished presidential historian, examines these contentions and proves them baseless. At the time of Harding's death there was talk of his similarity, personally if not politically, to Abraham Lincoln. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes described Harding as one of nature's noblemen, truehearted and generous. But soon after Harding's death, his reputation began to spiral downward.
Rumors circulated of the president's death by poison, either by his own hand or by that of his wife; allegations of an illegitimate daughter were made; and questions were raised concerning the extent of Harding's knowledge of the Teapot Dome scandal and of irregularities in the Veterans' Bureau, as well as his tolerance of a corrupt attorney general who was an Ohio political fixer. Journalists and historians of the time added to his tarnished reputation by using sources that were easily available but inaccurate. In The Strange Deaths of President Harding, Ferrell lays out the facts behind these allegations for the reader to ponder.
Making the most of the recently opened papers of assistant White House physician Dr. Joel T. Boone, Ferrell shows that for years Harding suffered from high blood pressure, was under a great deal of stress, and overexerted himself; it was a heart attack that caused his death, not poison. There was no proof of an illegitimate child. And Harding did not know much about the scandals intensifying in the White House at the time of his death. In fact, these events were not as scandalous as they have since been made to seem.