Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Blogger: Jewell Fenzi on the notorious Tea Pot Dome scandal.

Original 1924 campaign poster for Democrats John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan, running for president and vice president vs. Republicans Calvin Coolidge and Charles G. Dawes, trying to capitalize on the great scandal.

Dear Ken - Your photo of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding en route to Harding's inauguration in March 1921 (click here to see it) reminded me of a piece of memorabilia from the 1924 presidential campaign in the archives of the Woman's National Democratic Club:  a teapot, to exploit the Teapot Dome scandal that largely came to light after Harding's untimely death in 1923.

By the 1920s, it was clear that petroleum was becoming increasingly important to the national economy and security of the nation. President Harding had signed an executive order to create a reserve system to keep the oil under government jurisdictions. However, the management of these reserves began with a turf battle between the Secretary of the Navy and the Interior Department.  Albert Fall, Harding's Interior Secretary, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for huge bribes to help support his extensive land holdings.  

The scandal broke in 1924, creating huge public embarrassment just in time for the next national election.  Even so, the teapot, with its request to "Hang me in the window or Hang me on the wall," did not signal victory for Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis that year.  At the Democratic National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden, Davis won the nomination as a compromise on the 103rd ballot, the longest balloting in U. S. political history.  Also in 1924, for the first time, radio played a major role in an election:  Voters, disgusted by broadcasts of fighting and raucous behavior by the Democratic delegates, returned Calvin Coolidge to the White House. (Click here for full 1924 election results.) 

Jewell Fenzi is chair of the Museum Committee at the Woman's National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

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