Free Union of Hughes and Harding

After President Warren G. Harding publicly contradicted his Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes on an issue related to Japan, rumors swirled of bad blood between the two men:

Why should Mr. Harding interpret the pact one way when Mr. Hughes had more than once interpreted it the other way, unless the president wished to rebuke the overweening ambition of his secretary?

Clinton Gilbert, author of 1921’s The Mirrors of Washington, disputed the idea.

Mr. Harding’s administration is not a personal government. There is room in it for a Cabinet officer who achieves more prominence than the president… They must get the treaties through the Senate by mutual applause. They must stand hand in hand before the country when it votes next fall.

It’s hard to claim that Hughes was “more prominent than the president,” although he had additionally previously been both a Supreme Court justice and the 1916 Republican presidential nominee.

Yet Hughes was never fired nor did he ever resign for interpersonal reasons, and indeed served out the remainder of Harding’s short-lived presidency until Harding’s death from a heart attack in August 1923. Hughes continued to serve under Calvin Coolidge through the remainder of Harding’s would-be first term.

If you want to see actually bad blood between a president and a Secretary of State, it’s hard to beat Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson:

Free Union of Hughes and Harding

Published: Sunday, January 22, 1922


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