president harding's stellar cabinet -- 2/04/21

Today's encore selection -- from Warren G. Harding by John W. Dean. Though history has not treated him kindly, President Warren G. Harding proposed an all-star roster of cabinet secretaries before his inauguration, including industrial and banking titan Andrew Mellon, and had that entire slate confirmed by the Senate within an hour after his inauguration:

"Well before his inauguration, Harding arranged for the names of his cabinet to be quietly submitted to the Senate. Republican Sen­ate leader [Henry Cabot] Lodge cleared all the names with all the committees before Harding's swearing-in, so that after his inauguration address he could personally submit his cabinet to the Senate and have it approved. This plan was known to only a handful in the Senate. ...

"When Harding dropped by the Senate chamber less than an hour after his inauguration address, it was a dramatic moment. Former members of the Senate are given the special privilege of returning to the Senate floor, at any time, so Harding needed no permission (as had Woodrow Wilson) when he visited the Senate chamber. With Vice President Calvin Coolidge in his new seat as the presiding officer of the Senate, in an executive session (closed to the public and press) Harding read the list of his cabinet nomi­nees. Knowing the reaction it would cause when he named Albert Fall as secretary of interior, he named Fall first, which brought Fall's colleagues to their feet. Fall was the first (and last) cabinet officer to be confirmed by instant acclamation of the Senate. The new president then continued: secretary of state -- Charles E. Hughes, secretary of the Treasury -- Andrew W. Mellon, secretary of war -- John W. Weeks, attorney general -- Harry M. Daugherty, postmaster general -- Will H. Hays, secretary of the navy -- Edwin N. Denby, secretary of agriculture -- Henry C. Wallace, secretary of commerce -- Herbert C. Hoover, and secretary of labor -- James J. Davis. The entire cabinet was confirmed without objection in record time, less than ten minutes.


President Harding's original cabinet, 1921

"It was a carefully crafted, well-built cabinet, composed of dis­tinguished, self-made men of independent public standing. It was a cabinet with a future president (Hoover), a future chief justice (Hughes), and a future felon (Fall). With the exception of Fall, none of Harding's appointees had ties to the public constituency served by their departments nor a preexisting relationship with the bureaucracy within those departments. In short, none was a specialist. Presidents who fill cabinet posts with such men (and later women) -- persons with the recognized skills of the 'general­ist executive' -- as Harding did, are typically given high marks. In Harding's case that did not happen. History has focused on Fall [because of his later malfeasance]. Yet at the time Harding's cabinet was announced, Fall was highly praised, as were all but Daugherty. After Harding's death, his able team was labeled by many as mere 'deodorizers.' But not even Madame Marcia could have foretold the fate that later came to pass with Albert Fall, a bad apple Harding's detractors have used to suggest a wider rot than in truth existed. Appraising Harding's cabinet when it was formed, the New York Times spoke of its 'high caliber' and 'a guarantee of success,' and the Atlantic Monthly, assessing the cabinet after its first two years, found that 'No presi­dential cabinet during the past half-century has been better bal­anced, or has included within its membership a wider range of political experience.' It was not a cabinet of a weak or inept president, and no president before or after Harding has done any better at cabinet making."


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author:

John W. Dean

title:

Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series: The 29th President, 1921-1923

publisher:

Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC

date:

Copyright 2004 by John W. Dean

pages:

92-94
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