The Ohio Historical Society got some attention this past month on the national stage, when the Harding Home and Memorial site in Marion was featured on a February 19th CBS Sunday Morning news segment, along with a number of images from the Ohio Memory digital collection. Contributor Mo Rocca highlighted three of America’s “least remembered” presidents–the ones who “are not on anybody’s short list of greats,” according to the show’s website. The subjects were William Henry Harrison (he of the 31-day presidency), John Tyler, who was president beginning in 1841 and still has a living grandson, and Warren G. Harding himself, now often remembered for the scandals that came to light after his death in office.
The segments on our Ohio presidents (Harrison and Harding) each focus largely on the campaigns of these two men, which is certainly a relevant topic in this election year. Harrison is credited with the first campaign slogan–“Tippecanoe and Tyler too”–as well as a proliferation of campaign songs, memorabilia and mudslinging. It was this last aspect that helped get Harrison elected, actually. A negative editorial that painted him as a “crotchety old soldier drinking hard cider in a log cabin” was spun to create a public persona that Americans embraced and later elected. The above print titled “Old Tippecanoe has come out in the West, In all the wide borders his steed is the best!” is an example of this characterization; it’s meant to depict Harrison’s log cabin on the Ohio River in North Bend, Ohio. A barrel of hard cider is seen by the cabin, a flag with “Harrison & Tyler” is flying above and Harrison is in front greeting a wounded soldier. The segment on Harrison can be viewed here, or you can take a look around Ohio Memory and explore some Harrison-related images and objects like the campaign snuffbox seen below.
Warren G. Harding’s presidential campaign was equally notable thanks to his use of the “front porch” campaign style, which followed in the tradition of former presidents James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley. Harding’s run for the 1920 presidency operated from the front porch of his Victorian home in Marion, Ohio, where people from Ohio and beyond would flock to hear him speak. Over 600,000 visitors all told made the pilgrimage to the Harding Home in 1920. Imagine the logistics of this type of campaign today! He was also novel in his use of celebrities (everyone from Al Jolson to Henry Ford), who would make “front porch” appearances to demonstrate their support. One other note: the 1920 election was the first in which women helped to choose the president, thanks to the ratification of the 19th amendment on August 18th of that year. Florence Harding was the first First Lady to be able to cast a ballot for her husband.
The CBS news segment also delves into the scandals surrounding Harding’s presidency, many of which resulted from untrustworthy friends that he appointed to federal office. Though his presidency was already hitting rough waters around the time of the “Teapot Dome” scandal, much of the cabinet’s corruption only came to light after Harding’s death in office while on his way home from the first presidential visit to the territory of Alaska.
There are a great selection of Harding images in Ohio Memory, and to see some of them in action, take a look at the CBS Sunday Morning video here. Some great newsreel footage appears in the video that comes from our OHS collections, too. Check it out and let us know what you think!
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!