Warren Harding may have shouldered most of the blame, but in the biggest scandal of the 1920s, it’s clear a lot of well-connected people were drinking from the teapot.
Now that the first senatorial hearings on the Teapot Dome Naval Oil Reserve affair have been completed, and now that all the star witnesses have shed their full if not their final rays upon the subject, it becomes possible for the first time to tell in assured detail and in coherent sequence the total story of the policy and behavior of the United States Government in the management of its naval oil estate, called the Teapot Dome, in Wyoming.
The first character in the story is President Roosevelt. He gave support and prestige to the policy of the conservation of oil in the ground for the use of the government at some future time when the customary commercial supplies of oil might be insufficient and when some great impending national emergency might demand a governmentally reserved and controlled abundant source of fuel for our fighting ships.
The second character in the story is President Wilson. Out of the Federal public domain in Wyoming he set aside for exclusively naval purposes a reserve called commonly the Teapot Dome and called technically Naval Oil Reserve Number Three.
The third character is Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. He stood resolutely on the rights of the United States Government in Naval Oil Reserve Number Three and also in all of our other naval oil reserves, totaling five; and he refused to budge from those rights, when attacked by private citizens urging private claims upon naval oil reserve lands. Under him the policy of the Navy Department was to resist private claims by every possible resource of administrative action in the government departments and by every possible resource of legal defense in the courts. Under him, at one time, when a certain other member of the Cabinet proposed to make a surrender of naval oil land to a private claimant without a fight, President Wilson told that other Cabinet member that any such behavior on his part would mean his resignation.
The stage thus having been set and the preliminary dialogue having thus been delivered, the fourth and final great character of the play was ready to make his entrance. This character is Albert B. Fall. Mr. Fall, as a Senator of the United States, had evidenced a great interest in conservation. His interest in it was that he disapproved of it. It was his view that the public domain of the United States should go as rapidly as possible into private hands.
Mr. Fall’s first feat as Secretary of the Interior was to provide the State Department and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate with the oil-exploitation motives and arguments which led to the ratification of our $25,000,000 treaty with Colombia. Mr. Fall, as a Senator of the United States, had taken the position that the United States owed nothing to Colombia for any alleged violation of the national rights of Colombia in the matter of the setting up of the Republic of Panama in the days of President Roosevelt. Mr. Fall, as a Senator of the United States, had sided with the memory of Theodore Roosevelt against the claim of Colombia. As Secretary of the Interior, however, he perceived before him a divided duty. On the one hand there was the memory of Theodore Roosevelt which he had defended. On the other hand there was the opportunity on behalf of American oil interests to get from Colombia a new and open era of oil concessions. Mr. Fall chose oil.