The Duchess Puts Her Foot Down

President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding
President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding

I have a little ritual when I go to Greenfield. I go to the Raven Bookstore and buy a book and then go to Greenfield Coffee and sit and read a little bit of it. Then, of course, I take it home and become absorbed in it.

The latest book is The Teapot Dome Scandal by Laton McCartney, and I really have to say, much as I try to avoid this phrase, this is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand American politics. It shows how much of our government was and is and ever shall be up for sale to the highest bidder — how, in the 1920s, a few hundred thousand dollars to a cabinet member like the Secretary of the Interior (millions today) could yield hundreds of millions (billions today) in corporate profits.

This is a first-rate work of scholarship, because McCartney draws on a wide and disparate body of evidence, sifts through it all, and presents it in a way that tells the real story, and the real story of the Harding administration is the murder of Jake Hamon.

Hamon, to make a long story short, is an Oklahoma oil man who decides to buy the Republican Party convention, nominate an unknown, elect him president, become Secretary of the Interior, grant leases to the oil reserves assigned to the US Navy in case of war, and make millions.

Buying the GOP convention is a breeze; so is getting the unknown, Warren G. Harding, elected, especially since Harding has a bunch of handpicked racketeers, headed by his attorney general, Harry Daugherty, later known as the Ohio Gang.

But Hamon run into a stiff-arm by the Duchess, Mrs. Warren G. Harding, who tells her husband in no uncertain terms that Jake Hamon cannot be Secretary of the Interior unless he dumps his mistress and goes back to his wife.

Now Harding is a lifelong adulterer, and tens of thousands have been spent shutting up his previous amours and keeping his mistress and their son out of the public eye, but Mrs. Harding is a driving force in his campaign — she’s much smarter than he is — and on this she will not budge.

Jake breaks the news to his mistress Clara, and she murders him. And things just get funnier and funnier after that. Harding dies in office, of course, and Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge have to wait a whole week to move into the White House because Mrs. Harding is busy burning documents.

Another funny part is this indomitable crusader who keeps trying to inform the American public about Harding’s African-American ancestry — the original birther! Daugherty’s FBI agents burn all his books, but he keep surfacing again and again.

And the funniest part of all is that Clara, the mistress, gets off scot-free and ends up marrying a Hollywood mogul.