American Presidents CHAT

Welcome to the Chat with Dr. Robert Rupp, Associate Professor of History at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and producer of video documentaries on President Warren G. Harding. This Online Chat took place LIVE on September 20, 1999.

C-SPAN Moderator: C-SPAN is happy to welcome our online chat guest, Dr. Robert Rupp, associate professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College and also producer of video documentaries on President Warren G. Harding. Before we begin with our questions, Dr. Rupp, would you please tell us how you developed an intererst tearersin Pres. Harding?

Robert Rupp: My interest began in 1960's when I used the recently opened papers when I was at Ohio Weselyan. Later when I taught at OSU-Marion I made a documentary.
Robert Rupp: For the documentary I used eyewitnesses as well as newsreel footage to make The Front Porch President: Warren G. Harding which was shown on PBS.

C-SPAN Moderator: As we wait for your first question, Dr. Rupp, how long did your first documentary take to produce?

Robert Rupp: The first one took about 18 months from start to finish and was financed in part by an Ohio Humanities grant and produced by W-OSU. Later we made a video-Marion Remembers: Warren G. Harding which focused on his realtionship with this small town-in terms of his successful Front Porch campaign and later the readction to his funeral in 1923.

jae: Much has been made of a possible relationship between Harding and the KKK. What do you make of this?

Robert Rupp: True fabridcation-as talked about on C-SPAN today there was a rumor floated by KKK that he was a member. He was not-and in fact was the first president to call for fair treatment of Afican-Americans when he spoke on southern soil. Also remember Afican Americans were a key voting block for the Republican party at this time. Also he had special day set aside during his campaign when a group from Indiana came to visit.

Maddog: I read a book called called the Shadow of Blooming Grove. Mrs Harding was depicted as a real tyrant in it. Called the Dutchess behind her back. Yet on the show she looked like a saint.

Robert Rupp: She was part of both-and called Dutchess to her face. She had a difficult life which at one time found her with a child abandoned by her husband and shunned by her father and living in a small town-and ended up in the White House.

Pittsburgh: Is anyone working on a comprehensive biography of Harding? Why has so little been written about him?

Robert Rupp: No one at this time. The key is bad reputation-why spend time to do it.

John Bosio: Did Harding pander to the fears of One Worldism.

Robert Rupp: Yes-as to the acceptance speech-he was referring to his fight over the League of Nations-an organization which he opposed. Yet during the campaign he waffled on the issue saying he liked the idea but not the organizatino as proposed.

C-SPAN Moderator: What is One Worldism?

Robert Rupp: In my opinion it refers to one world government-or a form of such organization.

benjamin: I was surprised to learn today that Harding was a drinker in the White House...especially during prohibition. Is there any evidence that he encourage bootlegging?

Robert Rupp: No evidence of encouragement. In terms of personal habits he was a drinker who was able to keep both sides of this difficult issue happy. There is evidence he drank in private but in early 1923 for health and other reasons he went on the wagon.

vern687 Did his experience as a reporter and publisher have any impact on how he handled the press as president?

Robert Rupp: Tremendous-as a reporter and editor he knew about deadlines and always cooperated with the pres. They in return liked him. Testimony of his ability is the press house in back o his house-bought from Sears-Roebuck-the first of its kind for a candidate.

Pittsburgh: Harding is always portrayed as corrupt. Was he personally involved in corrupt practices or did he just surround himself with nefarious people? This of course refers to his professional life, not his personal life.

Robert Rupp: Harding was not corrupt- in terms of money-in fact he lost money in the stockmarket while president. Some of his appointments made money however-as Will Rogers said of him-he was a man betrayed by his friends-not a bad epitaph said Rogers who noted that many including Hoover backed away from Harding after he died.

John Bosio: How did Coolidge avoid the scandal sinking him?

Robert Rupp: Ironicallly after the worst public scandal in decades, Coolidge was overwhelmingly elected in 1924. The scandal did not hurt the Republicans-because of Coolidge not being involed and of his reputation-and also an excellent economy. Dead presidents did not cast shadows in this case. The scandals destroyed Harding but not his party.

C-SPAN Moderator: Would you tell us a bit more about the documentaries you've produced? If we wanted to, how could we see them?

Robert Rupp: Front Porch President is available through Encyclopedia Britannica. Marion Remembers; Warren G. Harding is available by contacting me Dept. of History. West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, WV 26201. I am presently working on a script on all the Front Porch Ohio campaigns-a technique which G.W. Bush has revived for us.

presidentsfan: Is Harding under-rated? Do you think he deserves this reputation?

Robert Rupp: When you are rated dead last-anything is an improvement. Perhaps the slogan might be Buchannon (Pa) was worst
Robert Rupp: The key is the double whammy after his death of personal and public scandal. Prof. Robert Murray says that a president's reputation is like concrete-settled in a few years. Certainly that may be part of the legacy of JFK who continues to rate high despite so me new information.

presidentsfan: Harding died in San Francisco. Did people come out to see his funeral train as it traveled back to Washington?

Robert Rupp: In a tremendous outpouring of grief hundred of thousands watfched his train as it crossed the nation. When he died Harding was called in the press the most beloved president since Lincoln. The rapid fall from public esteem is amazing. By the time his tomb was finished President Hoover who owed his political start to Harding was reluctant to dedicate the tomb and waited until the end of his administration.

C-SPAN Moderator: What would you say is the most notable element of the Harding presidency? Good or Bad?

Robert Rupp: The bad we know-first cabinet member to go to prison, etc.
Robert Rupp: The good-included cutting taxes, balancing budget, enacting Bureau of Budget and Naval Disarmennt Conference. The best was economic recovery which like all presidents he was only partially responsible for-but if they are blamed for bad times-they should get credit for good times.

benjamin: Harding formally ended World War I, why didn't he make a bigger deal of it?

Robert Rupp: Because it was all over except for the legality of treaty signing. One aspect he has not recieved much credit was the humanitarian aid to a devasted Europe-especially a defeated Germany. Harding's Papers have a section of thanks from various cities. Ironically the effort was directed in part by his Secreaty of Commerce-and future president Herbert Hoover.

benjamin: How personally did Harding take the suicide of his cabinet members? Were they his friends?

Robert Rupp: No cabinet member committed suicide. A friend of the Attorney General did commit suicide in Harding's former house in Washington.

John Bosio: Was Harding an isolationist and for disarming the military?

Robert Rupp: An isolationist yes-if defined as not wanting to join the League of Nations. He did propose membership in the World Court. He also voted for entry into the war in 1917...
Robert Rupp: He did not want to disarm the military but did propose with Secretary Hughes a conference on Naval Disarment-which according to the wags sunk more ships than the preivious war. The treaty the first of its kind was signed by major countries.

eva: How old was Harding when he passed away? Where did he die?

Robert Rupp: 57 years old and he died in hotel in San Francisco.

John Bosio: What imprint did Harding have on the Roaring 20's ethos?

Robert Rupp: According to many, he symbolized the lower ethics of the era especiallly when contrasted to the other 1920's president Coolidge....
Robert Rupp: Yet in many ways in was in tune with the times-he invited sports heros, movie stars and celebreties to the White House. He also effectively used media-all trends we associate with the time period.

Prez: How would you rate Harding the President to todays Presidents ?

Robert Rupp: Certainly not as the last. We have overlooked many of the accomplishments of his adminstration in our rush to stereotype him....
Robert Rupp: The cabinet is illustrative of his reputation. It contained one felon (Albert Fall) and one future president (Hoover) and at the time was called a strong cabinet by the press who saw the appointment of such men as Mellon and Hughes....
Robert Rupp: Harding's cabinet selection also reflected his honest view of himself-as not up totally for the job-he would appoint strong cabinet to help.

C-SPAN Moderator: Today we know when the President vacations, plays golf, etc. What did Pres. Harding do for fun while he was President?

Robert Rupp: He, like Wilson, loved golf. In Ohio he would go to Sicoto Country club in Columbus-in fact he was ther on election day. In Washington he was an avid golfer. In fact one clue to his poor health in 1923 was his alledgedly inablity to paly nine ho les.

eva: How old was W. Harding when he was elected to office?

Robert Rupp: 55 years old. He was elected on his birthday.

John Bosio: What was the impact of the industrialists (Ford) on him?

Robert Rupp: The political impact is unclear as to policies. But Harding had a close social relationship with Ford and Firestone to the point of going camping with them and their wives when he was president....

Prez: Would Harding have been relected if he did not die ?

Robert Rupp: In fact their is a play written. According to press, it was a certain thing given both the state of the economy and the apparent public approval. We do not know the impact of Teapot Dome would have had, but we do know he enjoyed large base of support..

jae: Back to the prohibition issue. Is there any evidence that Harding directed the FBI to go after the big bootleggers, i.e. Al Capone? I'm interested to know whether there was a policy to police prohibition?

Robert Rupp: He directed enforcement though it apparently was not a top priority of him or of many in the nation at this time. Many liked the law but not the strict enforcement of this noble experiment.

John Bosio: How did he come to pardon labor leader Eugene Debs?

Robert Rupp: It was Christmas and Harding was concilator-he had helped earlier to lower the public passion of Red Scare. It was typical that he first interviewed Debs who in 1920 had recieved almost million votes

C-SPAN Moderator: C-SPAN would like to thank Dr. Rupp for participating in our online chat, and thanks to all of you for asking questions.

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