The Teapot Dome Scandal
Laton McCartney

This page:

The Teapot Dome Scandal



index pages:

The Teapot Dome Scandal
How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House
and Tried to Steal the Country

Copyright © 2008 by Laton McCartney

Harding 2
Breakfast of Champions
The 1919 Volstead Act, which led to Prohibition, was received enthusiastically by Chicago’s lawless elements. Chicago soon boasted ten thousand speakeasies and served as the headquarters of a bootlegging and rum-running cartel whose reach extended all the way to southern Florida.
In fact, the general boasted he was his own man, a candidate unencumbered by ties to special interest groups and what he called “shady business.” Such posturing was to be expected from a presidential candidate, of course, but some of the higher-ups in the GOP ranks were beginning to think Wood actually meant what he was saying.

Note (Hal’s):
General Leonard Wood, an early favorite for the Republican nomination at the Chicago convention in 1920.

— end note

A Star of a Fellow

On his way out the door, he told the president he was praying for him.

“Which way?” Wilson asked, meaning was Fall entreating the Lord to save him or summon him.



The Front Porch Campaign
Since Jimmy Cox, Harding’s opponent, was divorced, Florence would be the first woman in U.S. history to vote for her husband as president.
And unlike some of his 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.
As a speech maker, Harding could go on for hours. “The bloviator,” he called himself with some pride. But his stentorian orations often lacked any real substance. Said Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo: “[Harding’s] speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over a landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it off triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.”



Trouble Ahead

As a rancher, mine owner, and onetime prospector, Fall espoused the approach to natural resources that had long been prevalent on the western frontier: First come, first served. Take what you want, all you want. If there was nothing left for the next guy, tough. “I don’t know how succeeding generations will do it—maybe they will use the energy of the sun or the sea wave—but they will live better than we do,” he told one critic of his policies. “I stand for opening up every resource.”

Note (Hal’s):
Interior Secretary and former New Mexico Senator Albert Fall.

— end note

The Ohio Gang

Traditionally, the Ohio Gang has been depicted as a group of disparate crooks who came to Washington to capitalize on Harding’s presidency. It was much more—a complex criminal enterprise that was run like a well-organized, well-coordinated business.

Daugherty kept the prime scams for himself. To an attorney general with a larcenous bent, the Volstead Act of 1919, which banned the sale or use of intoxicating liquor, was a godsend. The act had one major loophole: It stipulated that booze could still be sold if the seller received a permit indicating that it was to be used for medicinal purposes. These permits could be issued solely by the Justice Department. Using Smith as his front man, Daugherty began selling permits at $1.50 to $2.00 per case to bootleggers such as Cincinnati’s George Remus.

Note (Hal’s):
Attorney General Harry Daugherty.

— end note



A Dog’s Breakfast
At one point, the two young Democrats thought about establishing an office and possibly entering politics in Fargo, only to discover that the region was predominantly Republican. Democrats need not apply. One afternoon while the brothers were having lunch outside of town, both gazed down at the Red River. “Tom, isn’t that river flowing north?” John asked. Somewhat surprised at the revelation, Tom agreed. “Tom,” John continued, “let’s go on. I don’t feel right about a place where rivers run north and Irishmen vote the Republican ticket.”

Note (Hal’s):
Thomas James Walsh, later the Montana Senator driving the Teapot Dome investigations, and his brother John.

— end note

The Best-Laid Plans

In June, Fall interceded on behalf of the oil companies, designating millions of acres of the Navajo Reservation as public lands, which meant that the petroleum interests suddenly had carte blanche to drill there. It also meant that royalties from any drilling in areas designated by the interior secretary would accrue to the states where the drilling took place—mainly New Mexico and Arizona—as well as to the federal government. This was good for cash-strapped western states, good for Uncle Sam, bad for the Navajo. The Navajo, in fact, wouldn’t receive a penny for oil drawn from land that had been set aside for them by presidential order.

Even though the Indian policy reform movement was gaining momentum at the time, Fall’s shenanigans with Navajo land probably wouldn’t have drawn much attention had he not appointed a greedy reservation agent who overthrew the tribal council and established himself as the resident dictator. In this exalted role, he sold off as much land as possible, including one especially promising drilling site, Rattlesnake Dome. This went for $1,000 to a friend, who promptly resold it to one of the oil companies for $3 million.

The Investigation 36
The Conspiracy

As his testimony continued, Hays’s memory faltered. His responses seemed to meander on endlessly, were difficult to follow and confusing. Which was Hays’s intent, obfuscation being one of his special talents. [...] Hays’s answers were largely unintelligible, on occasion reverting to inspired gibberish.

Note (Hal’s):
Former Republican National Committee chair and Postmaster General Will Hays. This is the same Hays who was head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America.

— end note



text checked (see note) May 2009

top of page