Monday, July 28, 2014


I just saw a short news article about a new book that is coming out about President Warren G. Harding. While he has long held the hotly-contested title of Worst President Ever, this book is about his love letters to his mistress. Apparently she was not only his mistress to whom he hand wrote these passionate, explicit letters that sometimes were 40 pages long, she was also a German spy who tried to blackmail him. She also holds the distinction of being the only woman to blackmail a political party, a story I have yet to research.

Carrie Fulton Phillips died in 1960 and although Harding implored her to burn the letters, she stored them. Some were given to an author, some were not discovered until after her death. There was a long legal battle between the families resulting in an agreement that the letters (most of them) would be sealed for 100 years from Harding's death (2023). About 1,000 of them are to be released tomorrow, but they have been examined by the author of the new book previously.

Meanwhile, where was Mrs. Harding? She had a kidney condition and was severely ill for many years.

There were two things that ended the affair--Phillips tried to blackmail him and he voted for war in his role as a Senator. I guess that would do it, even in the most passionate of affairs. Anyway, the affair was over before he assumed the White House in 1921.

Harding apparently deserves his ranking at the very low end of the Presidential scale. His administration's scandals include the Teapot Dome scandal and he is rumored to have lost the entire White House china service in a poker game with the boys. He was preceded by Wilson, succeeded upon his death in mid-term by Cal Coolidge, himself no star. It was the Roaring Twenties, the economy was soaring after WWI and the corruption of the White House did little to interrupt the flow.

Harding was from the conservative wing of the Republican party, but sponsored no-nonsense legislation that created the first Federal Budget and sponsored legislation, some of which was unsuccessful, supporting the interests of labor, women and minorities, especially black Americans. Not your typical Republican...actually, not your typical American of the time.

Among his unpopular stances was described in a statement he made to Congress in which he said that the United States did not have the right or the obligation to impose a democracy on any other country, that they should decide their own form of government. We should maybe listen to that today?

While I may have latched onto that statement as a thoughtful pronouncement, his written and spoken efforts were not always appreciated. For instance, H.L. Mencken said,

"He writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights."

At his inauguration, which was a simple affair, he said, "Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it." Boy, that sounds very much like a quote that is always assumed to be original to the 35th President 40 years later. The latter quote is certainly more poetic with its "Ask not..." structure, but seems like it is the same sentiment.

Anyway, for all you guys out there who are looking for love letter ideas, a new book is on its way.

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