SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

August 4, 2014

Harding – OH’s “gem”

Harding’s letters to lover reveal positive traits as well as affair


FILE PHOTO   Before leaving for the White House to become the 29th president in 1921, Harding speaks from his front porch in Marion, Ohio, near where he was born.

   WASHING-TON — In the years after President Warren G. Harding’s death, most of his papers disappeared. As the story goes, his wife, Florence, burned them all.   With a dearth of source material, rumor flourished.  

Harding, people wrote, had affairs, including with a woman who wrote a tell-all 1927 memoir professing to have borne his love child. Harding, they whispered, had committed suicide. Harding, they murmured, had been poisoned by his wife.

   “Basically, there was no one to speak for Harding,” said Library of Congress archivist Karen Linn Femia.   Most of Harding’s papers were closed for 40 years by the Harding Memorial Association before they were opened for research in 1964.  

  Still, misinformation marred his reputation. History remembers Harding primarily as the president linked to the Teapot Dome scandal, in which Harding’s interior secretary was convicted of accepting bribes and illegal loans in exchange for leasing public oil fields to cronies.  

  Harding’s attorney general and his Veterans Bureau director had scandals of their own. Nobody linked Harding directly to them, but after the president died from a reported heart attack, few were willing to put their political capital behind a man who could not defend himself.  

  •   What Harding had done during his two years in office was largely forgotten, including establishing the country’s first formal budgeting process, which cut the government budget in half in two years.  
  •   He also helped the nation emerge from a postwar economic decline, championed the eight-hour workday and backed anti-lynching laws.  

  Now, it’s possible that the very thing that Harding’s family hoped to keep a secret might be a key to restoring his legacy.

   About 1,000 pages of letters between Harding and a lover, Carrie Fulton Phillips, were released to the public last week, and they reveal a man with intense ardor, but also with more intelligence and thoughtfulness than many in the public have perceived.  

  The letters don’t span Harding’s presidency — he and Phillips cut off their affair before then — but they do cover some of the Republican’s tenure as a U.S. senator.   The letters — occasionally steamy, with Harding writing of Phillips’ “thrilling lips … your matchless breasts … your incomparable embrace” — also include important historical context that counters Harding’s reputation as a lightweight.  

  “It is astonishing, the amount of misinformation about Harding,” said James Hutson, the Library of Congress’ manuscript-division chief.  

  The letters show a senator who faced enormous pressure   — from both his lover and his German-American constituents back home in Ohio — to oppose the United States’ entry into World War I, but who stared down those foes and voted for declaring war anyway.  

   And they shine a light on Harding as a person.   Ohio lawyer and historian James D. Robenalt, author of The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage during the Great War, said Harding wrote to Phillips about his affection for a partially blind, three-legged dog that would show up at his back door.   “These are the sorts of details that give you a feeling for the person,” Robenalt said.  

   It’s this sort of information that provides some relief to Richard Harding, the president’s grand-nephew.   His family remembers Harding as Uncle Warren, the man who taught his nieces and nephews to ride bikes and throw baseballs, and who left $10,000 to each niece and nephew for their education.   The family does not deny Harding’s long love affair with Phillips but is a bit squeamish about the occasionally explicit letters being put in the public domain.   “It is our hope and your responsibility to not be distracted by the sexually explicit prose that fills parts of these letters, but instead to use all the information in them to reassess the measure of the man,” Richard Harding said.  

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS   The letters between Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, show how passionate the two were for each other.


   What the letters do reflect is an incredibly passionate romance between Phillips and Harding, whose wife, Florence, was ill with kidney disease. “This woman appears to be the love of his life,” Robenalt said of Phillips.   But that love had repercussions. Harding’s political ambitions might have been tempered by the affair.   Robenalt said Harding could have been elected president as early as 1916. Instead, Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, who lost to Woodrow Wilson and later served as Harding’s secretary of state.  

    Robenalt said that Harding’s love affair — and Phillips’ disapproval of his political aspirations — might have deterred a 1916 campaign for the White House. “The world changed because of this relationship,” he said.   And had the affair been exposed, it could have been devastating for Harding, not just because of his infidelity, but also because of Phillips’ deep — and vocal — sympathy for Germany during World War I.   The two fought bitterly over Harding’s April 1917 Senate vote to enter World War I.  

  •   “You say … that I ‘have helped to betray my country,’” Harding wrote in a letter believed to have been written shortly after that vote. (Harding rarely dated his letters.)   “It does not lessen my ordinarily high regard for your opinion to reply that I have voted in the best conscience and highest sense of duty which I am capable of feeling. … A vote is an inalterable record — no dodging, no escape. … If it is a blunder, if it is a betrayal, I shall have to pay.”  

Warren G. Harding

   Born: Nov. 2, 1865, near Marion, Ohio  
   • Died: Aug. 2, 1923, San Francisco  
   • Pre-politics: Publisher of The Marion Star  
   • Wife: Florence Kling De Wolfe  


A Republican, he served in the Ohio Senate and as lieutenant governor. In 1914, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which he found “a very pleasant place.”  

An Ohio admirer, Harry Daugherty, began to promote Harding for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination because, he later explained, “he looked like a president.” Harding won the election with 60 percent of the popular vote, a landslide that was unprecedented at the time.

To see the collection, go to  .


(My Comment:

This all happened before I was born and look how long it took for the truth to come out.  Imagine how this man must have suffered, and some of the things which he endured.   That he managed to perform according to the principles he embraced which obviously equates to the highest good.    I am happy to be aware of these truths. . .it kinda helps offset the ugliness we see in Washington these days [and you know what I’m talking about – – our Congress full of nasty brats who never grew up, yet, feel entitled to all the goodies].

Give me passionate ardor,  commitment and purposeful thinking any-day over others who merely go thru the motions, and in the process, leave huge vacuous spaces all over the place where some right action was needed.  Yeah, this man,  Ohio’s President Harding was A GEM.      .  .   .   in my opinion,   Jan)



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