Harding’s Love Letters

“I am not fit for this office and should never have been here,” President Warren Harding once conceded.

Harding served from 1921 to 1923 before he died in office. Perhaps his most memorable achievement was coming in last in popular polls ranking presidents, his administration was ineffectual and corrupt, culminating in the Teapot Dome scandal. On the personal front, he was far from a paragon of virtue.

In 1905, Harding was editing a newspaper in Marion, Ohio. One of his best friends was James Phillips, who owned a dry-goods store. In August of 1905, Harding began an affair with James’s wife – Carrie Fulton Phillips – an affair that would last more than 15 years.

Carrie Phillips kept all the correspondence between her and Harding – more than 1000 pages! Following her death, in 1964 the historian Francis Russell gained access to the letters, but the Harding family sued to halt their publication. A settlement was reached in which the Harding family donated them to the Library of Congress, but they remained sealed for 50 years.

50 years later, on July 29, 2014, the Library of Congress made the letters available to the public. They make for some pretty steamy reading:

“I love you more than all the world and have no hope of reward on earth or hereafter, so precious as that in your dear arms, in your thrilling lips, in your matchless breasts, in your incomparable embrace.”

They also shed some light on the rapidly evolving political landscape of the period; I strongly recommend you read the New York Times Magazine article on the subject.

Harding was long suspected of additional affairs; notably one with Nan Britton. Here you can see a personal letter from Harding, on White House stationery, on her behalf – rare documentation of their relationship.

 

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