Warren G. Harding's love for Carrie Fulton Phillips produced love letters that are finally being released after being held for 50 years. Jim Robenalt/The Western Reserve Historical Society

Warren G. Harding’s love for Carrie Fulton Phillips produced love letters that are finally being released after being held for 50 years.
Jim Robenalt/The Western Reserve Historical Society

“He was looking at protecting the younger generation at the time,” Richard Harding, the president’s grandnephew, says of his father’s lawsuit. But the family is now prepared to break that seal. On July 29, the Library of Congress will make the original letters available to the public for the first time. “We’ve honored the trust,” Harding says, “and it’s time to release them.” [New York Times]

WARREN G. HARDING had a great love affair and we’re now learning just how ardent it was and the details are wondrous. It seems fitting that his love letters to his mistress of 15 years will be released just before Romance Awareness Month, which is celebrated in August. This is the stuff of the best bodice ripping romance, complete with allegations of espionage, a scandalous modern woman, cuckolded husband, and a payoff to the mistress at the end.

Harding’s affair lasted ight up until his passion for power snuffed it out. The Republican National Committee, according to historians, paid off Carrie Fulton Phillips off with a trip (that included her cuckolded husband). Harding provided his own payment for her silence and their secret remained safe for well over half a century.

The correspondence is intimate and frank “” and perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president. Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish. In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions. (While Phillips’s notes and some drafts of her letters have been preserved, her actual replies were not.) The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry and devising nicknames, like Mrs. Pouterson, for Phillips. [New York Times]

If only the Kennedy family was so forthcoming and confident that history’s greatest value is shedding a transparent gaze on the people who are part our nation’s story.

Just imagine if Edward Kennedy had been encouraged to tell the truth in his memoir. What might we learn if people were less interested in hagiography than history? What might we learn about John F. Kennedy, Robert, even Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, if there wasn’t such a tight grip on the image of mere mortals that are far more interesting when showed in their entirety?

Written on January 28, 1912, the lust leaps off the page.

I love your poise
Of perfect thighs
When they hold me
in paradise . . .

I love the rose
Your garden grows
Love seashell pink
That over it glows

I love to suck
Your breath away
I love to cling “”
There long to stay . . .

I love you garb’d
But naked more
Love your beauty
To thus adore . . .

I love you when
You open eyes
And mouth and arms
And cradling thighs . . .

If I had you today, I’d kiss and
fondle you into my arms and
hold you there until you said,
“˜Warren, oh, Warren,’ in a
benediction of blissful joy. . . . I
rather like that encore
discovered in Montreal.
Did you?

It was, however, a love that flourished in secret, where adultery breathes best. Once Harding’s prospects of the presidency were clear, he wanted little part in what lit up his loins earlier.

Carrie Fulton Phillips demanded remuneration for the humiliation of learning her love’s true light was ambition.

Feb. 2, 1920

Your proposal to destroy me, and yourself in doing so, will only add to the ill we have already done. It doesn’t seem like you to think of such a fatal course. I can’t believe your purpose is to destroy me for paying the tribute so freely uttered and so often shown. . . .

Now to specific things. I can’t secure you the larger competence you have frequently mentioned. No use to talk about it. I can pay with life or reputation, but I can’t command such a sum! To avoid disgrace in the public eye, to escape ruin in the eyes of those who have trusted me in public life “” where I have never betrayed “” I will, if you demand it as the price, retire at the end of my term and never come back to [Marion, Ohio] to reside. . . . I’ll pay this price to save my own disgrace and your own self-destruction to destroy me. That is one proposal, complete, final, and covers all.

Here is another. If you think I can be more helpful by having a public position and influence, probably a situation to do some things worthwhile for myself and you and yours, I will pay you $5,000 per year, in March each year, so long as I am in that public service. It is not big, but it will add to your comfort and make you independent to a reasonable degree. It is most within my capacity. I wish it might be more, but we can only do that which is in his power. Destroy me, and I have no capacity, while the object of your dislike is capable of going on in her own account. . . .

Don’t make me fool the public or my friends. If I must quit to pay the penalty, let me start at once on the plans which make it the least difficult. I can’t just quit and be a yellow quitter, but I can plan and work it out in a fairly seemly way, so that no one knows but ourselves. Can’t you send me a night letter, @ 143 Senate Offices. No fast telegram. In a night letter you can say: “We are writing. Go ahead with program with our best wishes. Think it will be fine.” I’ll construe that to mean go ahead, and do the best I can.

A debt of gratitude for what will be disclosed on July 29 goes to Jim Robenalt, an Ohio lawyer and author of The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War. Espionage? The story by Robenalt is that Carrie Fulton Phillips may have been a German spy as WWI broke out, which could have harmed Harding’s chances to win the presidency in 1920. Harding, according to the Times, described Phillips as “impudent,” after all she was a suffragist, and having “an egotism in proving her capacity to discuss foreign affairs.” But no concrete evidence of spying for the Germans has yet been unearthed, though people remain on the case to unearth the truth.

In the end, she may have offered no greater threat to the nation than that posed by any “modern woman.” A modern woman who liked to climb Mount Jerry.

Jim Robenalt/The Western Reserve Historical Society

Jim Robenalt/The Western Reserve Historical Society


TM NOTE: The New York Times on the letters printed today: Robenalt came across the letters at the Western Reserve Historical Society “” they were preserved on microfilm “” and began to transcribe and annotate them. (The letters reproduced here are drawn from those transcriptions, with Robenalt’s permission, and photographs of the microfilm.)