Warren G. Harding: A Short Profile In Courage by B. Craig Grafton

“Yes, yes I know Harry,” he answered into the phone. “I know what you advise. I know that you don’t think it’s the wise thing for me to do. Yes, yes yes I got all that.”

He quit speaking and listened to Harry ramble on and on why he shouldn't do what he was about to do. Not once did his attorney general offer a reason for doing it. He only gave reasons for not doing it.

“You’re repeating yourself Harry. We’ve been all over that,” he answered again for the umpteenth time. “Like I said before I’m going to run it by the Duchess and see what she has to say about it.” He never did anything without running it by the Duchess, his wife as he fondly and fearfully called her. He was going to run it by her because she expected him to do so and if he didn’t, he’d be in big trouble. But he had already made up his mind as to what he was going to do anyway. Running it by the Duchess was just a formality now as far as he was concerned.

“Yes I know that she agrees with you but I’m still going to run it by her.”

He heard the door to his office, the oval office, open. In she charged.

“Speak of the devil she just walked in. I’ll call you back in a little bit Harry. Bye,” he said in a whispered voice and hung up the phone.

“Well Warren,” she screeched flouncing over to him already in one of her patented hissy fits, “You’re going to do it after all aren’t you?”

Warren shuffled some papers on his desk, cleared his throat in a loud harrumphing manner, mustered up his courage and answered, looking her directly in the eye, “Yes Florence I’m going to do it.”

“Well I and your attorney general strongly advise against it. The man was convicted under the law and the Supreme Court upheld it. He’s guilty in everyone’s book but yours. It wouldn’t be a popular thing to do. People wouldn’t like it Warren.”

“Well it wasn’t a popular thing to do when I made that speech in Birmingham was it? But it was the right thing to do and you were for that. In fact you encouraged me, no told me, to do it.”

“That was different. Those lynchings have to be stopped and the south can’t go on denying negroes their right to vote. You did a brave thing to make that speech Warren. I admit those weren’t popular things to say in the South but who cares what the South thinks. They didn’t vote for you anyway.”

“Well someone cared. Because of that speech I couldn’t get the anti-lynching law or my biracial commission through Congress could I? And that damn Mississippi senator saying if what I said was true then there’s nothing to stop a black man from becoming president someday. Scaring his voters to death. That speech just made things worse.”

“That's’ over and done with. None of that was your fault anyway. It was those Southern Democrats who filibustered and blocked all that. Besides the NAACP praised you for that speech. You did the right thing there Warren and I’m proud of you for that.”

“And I’m doing the right thing here too. Come hell or high water.”

“Warren this matter with Debs is different. It’s not the right thing to do like the Birmingham speech. These two things aren’t the same. Debs is a socialist. Being a socialist isn’t all that popular a thing in this country, north or south. You know that.”

“Well it wasn’t popular in the north and south when I vetoed the veterans bonus bill was it? And you were for that.”

“You know the country didn’t have the money for that silly bonus congress tried to ram down your throat. You knew that if would be a dangerous precedent if congress started giving people money every time they asked for it. Besides I’m the business person in the family and I did the numbers and showed you it couldn’t work.”

He would have vetoed that bill anyway with or without her consent. But he kept quiet.

“Did the numbers and pulled your newspaper out of the financial doldrums for you didn’t I? Don’t forget that.”

Here we go again, he said to himself. She never lets me forget that.

“Yes dear and I appreciate it,” he thanked her meekly as was expected of him.

Warren was a newspaperman by trade. Started a successful paper in Ohio but when he married the Duchess, she took it over. Increased the number of advertising clients as well as circulation while cutting expenses at the same time. He ran the writing of the paper, she ran the business aspects of it. That was the start of their wonderful partnership and they had been business partners ever since. All the way to this business of being President of the United States.

“Made you President didn’t I?”

She never lets me forget that either he said to himself. Her constant favorite harp being, “Well Warren I got you the Presidency. Now what are you going to do with it?” Her way of letting him know who the real president was here.

President Warren G. Harding sat himself upright in his chair and straightened his back bone.

“Florence I don’t care what you say I’m going to do it. That Espionage Act of Wilson’s goes way too far. Why as I’ve said before I’ve heard worse utterances in Congress than the ones that Debs made. Hd didn’t do any overt act. Got ten years for basically exercising his right to free speech. That’s ridiculous. As for being unpopular, why the man got almost a million votes for president while being in prison. I’d say that he was a tad bit popular.”

“It’s a dead issue now Warren. Let it go. People want to forget the War. People want to move on with their lives. Get back to normal like you promised them during the campaign.”

“For God’s sake Florence, it’s Christmas Eve God Damn it. An injustice has been done to this man. It must be corrected.”

“Well just remember dear when you do as I tell you to, things work out for the best for you. When you make your own decisions, things go poorly for you.” With that said she huffed out of the room with the same panache as she had huffed in.

President Warren G. Harding got on the phone to his Attorney General Harry Daugherty.

“Draw up the papers to let him out Harry, now, today, Christmas Eve. I’m commuting his sentence. Make it clear that I’m commuting his sentence and not pardoning him.”

“That’s a courageous thing to do Mr. President.”

“Commuting his sentence is not a courageous thing to do Harry. It’s the right thing to do.”

“I didn’t mean it’s courageous to commute Debs’ sentence. I meant it’s courageous of you standing up to the Duchess like that.”

President Warren G. Harding commuted the sentence of Eugene V. Debs on Christmas Eve 1921. It took even more courage for him to welcome Debs to the Duchess’s White House on the 26th.