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The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country - Laton McCartney ”Warren Harding seemingly exemplified the Middle American values held near and dear. It is not simply a coincidence that seven U.S. presidents before Harding had hailed from Ohio. He was also strikingly handsome, usually impeccably tailored, had a vibrant speaking voice that reached the rear seats of the biggest auditoriums, and was as amiable as a Labrador retriever. But Harding had a long history of pursuing every comely female who came his way. And unlike some of similarly inclined successors in the White House, Harding didn’t view these liaisons simply as “slam, bam, thank you, ma’am” affairs. Harding would assiduously court each of his mistresses, write them gushing love letters, leaving a paper trail, and juggle multiple affairs concurrently.”

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding was content to be a senator from Ohio, chasing women, drinking too much, and playing poker into the wee hours of the morning, but a man by the name of Harry Micajah Daugherty decided that Harding would make the perfect Republican president. He fit the profile perfectly. He looked presidential, and he was weak and easily controlled. If this sounds similar to a recent Republican president that is because the Daugherty play book very likely was handed down to Karl Rove.

Vintage Teapot Dome Postcard

The idea for exploiting the Navy oil reserves in Wyoming called the Teapot Dome Reserve originated with an Oklahoma oilman by the name of Jake Hamon. He borrowed a million dollars against assets and paid for Harding’s election campaign including all the numerous bribes that has to grease the wheel of any successful presidential campaign. All he wanted was a cabinet position the department of the interior. Unfortunately for Hamon fate threw a monkey wrench into his plans. Ten years earlier he’d left his wife for a nineteen year old shop girl named Clara. He’d paid his nephew $10,000 to marry Clara so that he could check into hotels with her without questions being asked. The problem was that his estranged wife was related to Florence Harding, wife of the soon to be inaugurated president. She insisted that for Hamon to hold a cabinet position he must reunite with his wife and leave that floozy in Oklahoma.

I had a good laugh over this.

Florence was well aware of her own husband’s philandering ways. His long-term twenty-three year old mistress, Nan Britton, and her baby daughter Elizabeth Ann whom Harding had fathered was one of the worst kept secrets in politics. An angry husband, the first of many, showed up at his campaign headquarters demanding compensation for Warren’s affair with his wife the first day Harding received the nomination. Hamon’s slush fund of money came in handy.

Well when Clara found out that Hamon was jilting her to go to Washington she shot him. Hamon died, but the idea of Teapot Dome did not die with him. Senator Albert Fall from New Mexico had money concerns, in fact he was on the verge of bankruptcy, which was especially galling after a life of public service. When he was tapped for the Interior position it wasn’t so much an issue of whether he would support the Hamon idea, but more about how much money he could gain from helping to swing the deal. Control of Teapot Dome still rested with the Navy and as it turned out after some persuasion Secretary of the Navy Edwin C. Denby transferred control of the reserves over to the Interior. Fall leased the reserves to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil. It wasn’t illegal, maybe immoral, for Fall to give those no bid leases over to Sinclair, but the accompanying bribes were decidedly against the law. Harding, as expected, went along with the scheme. His part of the deal was the sale of his newspaper for five times what it was worth.

Senator Thomas J. Walsh

Fall’s expanded lifestyle tipped investigators and Senator Thomas J. Walsh from Montana, a Democrat, was tapped to investigate. Fall was in the pool with sharks and as one example of how rich people become really, really rich let me relate a bit of testimony from A. E. Humphreys.

Humphreys related the details of the transaction nearly three years early at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York. Humphreys had sold 33,333,333 barrels of oil to Continental. At the meeting were Continental’s four owner-partners, Harry M. Blackmer, chairman of the board of Midwest Refining Company; James O’Neil, president of Prairie Oil and Gas Company; Colonel Robert W. Stewart, chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana; and Harry Sinclair. These men purchased Humphreys’s oil at $1.50 a barrel, then promptly resold it to their own oil companies at $1.75 per barrel, creating a one-day profit of just over $8 million. A little more than $3 million of this sum had been converted into Liberty bonds and divided among the four Continental partners: Sinclair, Blackmer, O’Neil and Stewart.

Harry F. Sinclair who started out a soda jerk in his father's store and ended up a rich oilman jerk.

So in other words four of the top leading oilmen in the United States had used a dummy company to defraud their own shareholders out of millions of dollars. Any questions about why we need regulations in this country?

Let the lying begin.

Several witnesses come down with Harding of the arteries referring to the suspicious suicides and deaths including Warren G. Harding who suddenly died at age 57 from a stroke on vacation in San Francisco. Of course that might have just been one too many dips in the pool with a nubile female. There was serious speculation that he may have been murdered by his wife or by a member of the Teapot Dome investigation. His wife spent a week burning what can only be speculated were compromising papers before she would allow the new president Calvin Coolidge to take up residence in the White House. Other witnesses take extended vacations in Europe and go on safari in Africa. It doesn’t take Walsh long to realize that he is onto something now it was only a matter of pulling the right threads.

Secretary of Interior Albert Fall, the perfect fall guy.

The hapless, unhealthy Albert Fall turns out to be...well...the fall guy. He becomes the first presidential cabinet member to go to jail for his actions while in office. Other members of the scandal receive short sentences and slaps on the wrist. Laton McCartney lays out all the evidence, gives us background on all the characters, and paints a picture of a corruption that starts with a premeditated presidential election of an Ohio senator that was not only compromised, but willingly complicit in whatever dirty dealings his supporters were intent on perpetrating. I'll end with a blurb from Jon Meacham, author of Franklin and Winston.

"A terrific tale about a scandal that resonates nearly a century on, at a time when many people are still wondering about the connections between Big Oil and politicians at the highest levels."