The Extramarital Affair of Warren Harding

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It was in 1963 when a box of previously undisclosed love letters surfaced on a lawyer’s kitchen table. The letters exhibited the extramarital love affair between Warren Harding, who would become the twenty-ninth president of the United States and Carrie Phillips, a staunch, pro-Germany, suspected spy. Spanning the years 1905 through 1920, the approximately 900 saved pages of the letters detail the strong emotional attachment and feelings of Warren Harding for Carrie Phillips.

This book, The Harding Affair, is definitely a uniquely interesting historical look into the personal and intimate adulterous affair of a former U.S. president. The letters are a self-portrait of Warren Harding; he pours out his deep feelings, his love and his passion for Carrie Phillips.

Through the author’s meticulous analysis and documentation of the evidence within the letters, the author effectively weaves together his political historical knowledge of the world situation related to the world war and the extramarital affair, thus adding a new dimension to the knowledge base surrounding the life of Warren Harding and his relationship with Carrie Phillips.

Warren Harding and Carrie Philips romantic relationship began in 1905. Both were married, the two families lived close to each other in the same Ohio city and the two families were friendly with each other. Over the years the couples took several vacation trips together, one of them being a two-month trip to Europe in 1909.

The letters reveal an extremely passionate Harding:

*You are as physically beautiful as you are noble in character.

*It was so grand to begin the day with glorious kisses and caresses…I hurt with the insatiate longing until I feel there will never be any relief until I take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts.

*My Darling: There are no words…sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you…

*…nobody ever wrote a page more aflame with love…There is no limit to the love and ardor you are capable of inspiring.

*You are the dearest goddess to love and worship that ever was or could be…

It seems likely the most emotionally romantic and memorable sexual experience for Harding took place in Montreal as the old year, 1911, passed and the New Year dawned. A year later, Harding referenced his emotional and sinuous feelings when he described „the climax of their lovemaking.“ He referred to that love experience several times over the years. ‚“…on the New Year’s beginning, when the bells rang the chorus while our hearts sang the rapture without words and we greeted the New Year from the hallowed heights of heaven…Fate times that marvelous coincidence….I count it to be one of the best remembered moments of my existence.“‚

Through the years, Harding’s personal life and his romantic relationship with Carrie became increasingly complicated and strained as Harding became more involved in politics, becoming an elected senator and then President of the U. S., at a time when the world was at war. A part of the complication involved the friction that developed because Carrie abhorred the political arena. The war issue, in particular, was especially wrought with friction mainly because of Carrie’s pro-German leaning.

During this time period there were approximately 20 million German Americans and many had deep pro-Germany feelings. The author paints a vivid picture of the fear within the hearts of people during the war years; people were suspicious of their German neighbors. Vigilante groups such as the APL, the American Protective League, organized and were active in hundreds of cities questioning and arresting people whom they suspected of being disloyal; members listened in on telephone conversations and intercepted mail.

Just as America was preparing to finally enter the war after remaining neutral, Carrie, along with many other German Americans, was investigated and placed under surveillance. The previously rumored extramarital affair between Harding and Carrie spread and became conversation gossip.

At some point in the later years of the relationship, Carrie asked Harding for money; she had been living beyond her means. Harding agreed and began to supplement Carrie’s income, obviously realizing his life, and in particular his political life, would be ruined if Carrie betrayed him by divulging the extramarital relationship through the letters she had saved. At one point, she asked him for $10,000. In 1920, Harding offered to pay Carrie $5,000 each year he continued in politics if she returned all the letters he wrote to her. Apparently they reached an agreement. The last letter he wrote to her was in 1920.

As the author so accurately and succinctly states, „Few figures in history have left such a rich record of ecstasy in a romantic relationship.“

This book is a captivating page turner and a must-read for anyone interested in history and, in particular, anyone interested in the lives of former United States presidents. The author brings a part of history to life through his descriptively detailed account. The reader is left with the desire to read the entire collection of letters.

The Harding Affair by James David Robenalt, lawyer Palgrave MacMillan, 2009, 396 pages

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