Partner Jess Smith, buried together
1509 H St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Washington Cemetery, 1741 Washington Ave, Washington Court House, OH 43160
Harry Micajah Daugherty (January 26, 1860 – October 21, 1941) was an American politician. A key Ohio Republican political insider, Daugherty is best remembered for his service as Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.
Despite his status as a key political leader of the Ohio Republican Party from the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th Century, Daugherty was himself only briefly a statewide elected politician, serving just two terms in the Ohio General Assembly, working closely during the last two years with Governor William McKinley. Although he sought national office several times, Daugherty was thwarted in his effort to obtain the nomination of his party and was never elected to office again.
Daugherty remained an influential figure behind the election of several Congressmen and U.S. Senators. In 1920 he was the campaign manager for Warren G. Harding for President of the United States at the Republican National Convention. Following Harding's successful election Daugherty was named Attorney General of the United States. In this capacity, Daugherty was instrumental in winning Presidential pardons for jailed anti-war dissidents such as Eugene V. Debs.
Twice the subject of federal corruption investigations, in 1924 Daugherty was forced to resign his post as Attorney General by the late Harding's Presidential successor, Calvin Coolidge.
Having achieved power Warren Harding gathered around him a group of political cronies, including factional friends from the Ohio Republican establishment like Daugherty and others of like mind from other states, a group known colloquially as the "Ohio Gang." Critics such as Harding's Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover viewed the clique with thinly-disguised disgust:
"[Harding] had another side which was not good. His political associates had been men of the type of Albert B. Fall, whom he appointed Secretary of the Interior; Daugherty, whom he appointed Attorney General; Forbes, whom he appointed Director of the Veterans' Bureau; Thomas W. Miller, whom he appointed Alien Property Custodian, and Jesse Smith who had office room in the Department of Justice.
He enjoyed the company of these men and his old Ohio associates in and out of the government. Weekly White House poker parties were his greatest relaxation. The stakes were not large, but the play lasted most of the night.... I had lived too long on the frontiers of the world to have strong emotions against people playing poker for money if they liked it, but it irked me to see it in the White House."
Several of Harding's Ohio Gang associates lost no time enriching themselves at the public expense. Soon rumblings began to be heard over possible malfeasance in various government departments, including Daugherty's Department of Justice.
Then on April 14, 1922, the Wall Street Journal broke a sensational story about a secret bribery scheme involving oil company kickbacks to government officials in exchange for the granting of extraordinarily favorable oil extraction leases via single-bid contracts. The next day Wyoming Democratic Senator John B. Kendrick introduced a resolution which set in motion the Senate investigation that would ultimately expose this so-called Teapot Dome scandal, involving an illegal financial relationship between Fall, Harding's Secretary of the Interior, and a subsidiary of the Sinclair Consolidated Oil Corporation.
Daugherty was accused by opponents of the administration of having been complicit in the Teapot Dome affair by failing to intervene after he had learned of the malfeasance. A pair of special prosecutors — Republican Assistant Attorney General Owen J. Roberts and former Democratic Senator Atlee Pomerene — were appointed to conduct a more thorough investigation of the matter.
After taking testimony on the matter the pair cleared Daugherty of wrongdoing, their final report indicating that the Attorney General had neither been aware of the fraudulent oil contracts nor had he taken any bribes related to the affair. This very specific absolution did not mean that all was on the level at the Justice Department, however. In July 1923, just as Harding was preparing to leave on a working cruise to Alaska, Daugherty's personal assistant, Jess Smith, suddenly committed suicide. Although as a pious Quaker, Hoover was never part of the President's inner circle, he was abruptly added to the traveling party on this cruise by a "nervous and distraught" Harding, who apparently sought his counsel.
Hoover later recalled:
"One day after lunch when we were a few days out, Harding asked me to come to his cabin. He plumped at me the question: 'If you knew of a great scandal in our administration, would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?' My natural reply was 'Publish it, and at least get credit for integrity on your side.' He remarked that this method might be politically dangerous. I asked for more particulars. He said that he had received some rumors of irregularities, centering around Smith, in connection with cases in the Department of Justice. He had followed the matter up and finally sent for Smith. After a painful session he told Smith that he would be arrested in the morning. Smith went home, burned all his papers, and committed suicide. Harding gave me no information about what Smith had been up to. I asked what Daugherty's relations to the affair were. He abruptly dried up and never raised the question again."
Returning from his Alaskan trip Harding suffered the first heart attack in what would prove to be the beginning of his terminal last days, finally dying in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.
Harding's death did nothing to quell the tide of emerging scandals revolving around his Ohio clique, with the news dominated by the story of Teapot Dome bribery and allegations of wrongdoing in the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, the Veterans' Bureau, and the Office of the Attorney General. While new President Calvin Coolidge initially resisted calls to sack Daugherty, Hoover and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes prevailed upon him to eliminate a man whom they considered to be a corrupt official. In his memoirs Hoover remembered:
"Coolidge was loath to believe that such things were possible. He greatly delayed the removal of Daugherty from the Cabinet. From this man's long-time character, he should never have been in any government.... Coolidge had a high sense of justice and asserted that he had no definite knowledge of wrongdoings by Daugherty and could not remove him on rumors. We urged that Daugherty had lost the confidence of the whole country and himself should be willing to retire for the good of public service."
On March 28, 1924 Coolidge acquiesced, demanding and receiving a letter of resignation from Daugherty. Daugherty was quickly replaced as Attorney General by Harlan Fiske Stone, dean of the Columbia Law School.
In 1926, Daugherty was indicted on charges that he improperly received funds in the sale of American Metal Company assets seized during World War I. The indictment came down one year after his assistant Jess Smith, Republican political boss John T. King of Connecticut, and former Alien Property Custodian Thomas W. Miller were charged with the same misconduct. Daugherty's case went to trial twice, with the first jury deadlocking with 7-5 in favor of conviction. He was acquitted after a single juror remained unconvinced of his guilt in the second trial.
Daugherty returned to practicing law until his retirement in 1932, and that year published, with ghostwriter Thomas Dixon, The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy about his time in the Harding administration. In the book he claimed that Albert B. Fall had become Secretary of the Interior by forging Daugherty's signature, and that his close friend, Jess Smith, had killed himself because of diabetes, not a guilty conscience.
Spending many of his final years in Florida and Mackinac Island, Michigan, Daugherty planned to write more books to clear his reputation, but in October 1940, he suffered two heart attacks and was stricken with pneumonia. Bedridden and blind in one eye during this last year, he died peacefully in his sleep with his son and daughter at his side on October 12, 1941.
Daugherty was buried at Washington Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio. Some of his papers, consisting primarily of correspondence between him and President Warren Harding, are housed at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus.
Daugherty is portrayed by Christopher McDonald on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Like the real life Daugherty, the character is portrayed as Warren G. Harding's 1920 campaign manager and later as his Attorney General. He also faces corruption charges and his relationship with Jess Smith and Gaston Means is also shown. Daugherty is also portrayed by Barry Sullivan in the 1979 NBC Mini-Series "Backstairs at the White House".