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Teapot Dome’s Impact on American Politics

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Teapot Dome’s Impact on American Politics

Evan Hammond


American Society*3060

Mark Sholdice

March 26, 2014

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During the presidency of Warren G. Harding there were many scandals that shook American public opinion. These scandals brought the Harding administration a disastrous reputation. One of the most devastating scandals of the Harding Administration was, the Teapot Dome Scandal. Teapot Dome was set up as a navy oil reserve and was meant to be conserved and only used during times of crisis. The Teapot Dome Scandal began as Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leased two navy oil reserves to Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny in exchange for substantial returns. As written by David Stratton in, Tempest Over Teapot Dome: The story of Albert B. Fall,

“This monumental scandal resulted from Secretary Fall’s separate leasing agreements with two petroleum magnates, Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny, for the drilling of Teapot Dome Naval Oil Reserve in Wyoming and Elk Hills Naval Oil Reserve in California, both set aside for the navy’s exclusive use only in case of emergency.”

In this quote Stratton is able to show just how the Teapot Dome Scandal was able to begin and who the major players were in the devastating scandal. What Stratton does not explain is to what extent Harding was involved in the scandal. Niall Palmer notes in, The Twenties in America: Politics and History, that “This action, which appeared to be a simple reallocation of administrative responsibilities was approved by Harding.” Palmer notes that although Harding was not directly involved in the center of the scandal, he was still responsible. Harding approved the transfer and appointed Fall as Secretary of the Interior. The devastating scandal made

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a major impact on American politics throughout the twentieth century. The impacts of the scandal varied, producing both positive and negative outcomes. On one hand the scandal contributed to a revitalization in conservation, and secured re-election for Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Well, on the other hand the scandal produced many negatives, one being corruption in the among prominent figures in American politics.

Conservation has always been discussed when a new administration comes into the White House. Conservation is the careful use of natural resources to prevent any loss or waste of resources. The fathers of conservation, Roosevelt and his forestry chief, Gifford Pinchot created millions of acres of national parks, forests, and reserves, so that the future would be stable for years to come. As stated before, conservation policies began when Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House and carried on until Woodrow Wilson passed the presidency to Harding. As noted by J. Leonard Bates in, The Origins of Teapot Dome: Progressives, Parties, and Petroleum, 1909-1921,

“Conservation was a bipartisan policy. It first had flourished in the era of Theodore Roosevelt, under Taft, came major withdrawals of petroleum land. Taft’s administration added the naval reserves in California, and Woodrow Wilson added Teapot Dome. Opposition to the new policies came primarily from the west.”

Not only does Bate’s state that Roosevelt started the conservation movement which was carried through until Wilson, but he also states that that opposition to conservation came from the west, the home of Fall. The announcement that Harding had picked Fall as Secretary of the

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Interior, frightened many conservationists as they knew what Fall could do in the position he was given. Although Harding did choose and anti-conservationist as Secretary of the Interior, Laton McCartney does note in, The Teapot Dome Scandal, that

“At the outset of his campaign, Harding had sent out a reassuring message to conservationists that harmony of relationship between conservation and development which fittingly appraises our national resources and makes them available to developing America for today, and still hold conserving thought for America tomorrow.”

McCartney shows here that Harding did try to reassure conservationists. On the other hand, Bates shows how Harding completely reversed the conservation policies made before him. Bates notes, “In 1921-22 the Harding administration sharply modified conservation policies associated with the Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson administrations. Some it reversed.” With Fall as Secretary of the Interior this caused a brief end to conservation, but in the end would spark a re-vitalization of conservation within politics under the Coolidge administration.

Once Fall was appointed as Secretary of the Interior he began his plan of action. A plan that went against what the three past presidents had put in place. Fall’s plan differed from his predecessor, Pinchot, a man know as the father of conservation. As stated by McCartney, Fall’s plan was to “Add the naval oil reserves at Teapot and Elk Hills, California...Open up Alaska’s vast resources-primarily timber, oil, and coal-to development; and make national parks and

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Indian reservations accessible to mining, cattle, and oil interests.” This plan of action carried out by Fall can clearly be seen as misuse of his authority. To carry out his plan Fall needed to gain control of the reserves managed by the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. Bates shows in his book that this gaining of the oil reserves was easily done as Fall and Denby held similar standards when it came to conservation. Both Fall and Denby were tired of what they saw as unsuccessful programs. Fall’s plan was the beginning of the Teapot Dome Scandal. As stated earlier, Fall gave leases to two major oil magnates in exchange for cash, even though these were supposed to be conserved until use was necessary. This action, although devastating, was picked back up when Coolidge came into office and was re-elected



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