If George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are the saints in America's civil religion, then the 29th president, Warren G. Harding, is our sinner.
Prior to the Nixon administration, the Harding scandals were the most infamous of the 20th century. Harding is consistently judged a failure, ranked dead last among his peers.
Historian Phillip G. Payne offers the first significant reinterpretation of this controversial presidency in a discussion of his book Dead Last: The Public Memory of Warren G. Harding's Scandalous Legacy on Thursday, November 21, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Rather than merely offering a list of the Harding administration's scandals -- the most notorious of which was the Teapot Dome affair -- Payne examines their context and continued meaning.
He looks at Harding's importance as a Midwestern small-town booster, his rumored black ancestry, the role of various biographers in shaping his early image, the tension between public memory and academic history, and his status as an icon of presidential failure in contemporary political debates.
Harding was a popular president and widely mourned when he died in office in 1923, but with his death began his fall from political grace. In Dead Last, Payne explores how Harding's name became synonymous with corruption, cronyism, and incompetence and how it is used to this day as an example of what a president should not be.
Payne is an associate professor of history at St. Bonaventure University in western New York, where he teaches courses in U.S. and public history. He was manager of the Harding Home in Marion, Ohio.
Payne's presentation is part of the 2013 Hail to the Chiefs Series on the American Presidency co-presented by the Kansas City Public Library and the Truman Library Institute and made possible by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Legacy
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP at kclibrary.org  or call 816.701.3407.