President Warren G. Harding’s Steamy Love Letters

If you know some­thing about Amer­i­can his­to­ry, you know that War­ren G. Hard­ing (1865–1923) will nev­er appear on Mount Rush­more. He died dur­ing his unpop­u­lar first term in office, tar­nished by the Teapot Dome scan­dal and rev­e­la­tions of an extra­mar­i­tal affair. Hard­ing once appar­ent­ly said, “I am not fit for this office and should nev­er have been here.” And his­to­ri­ans tend to agree. Con­sis­tent­ly polls rank­ing the per­for­mance of Amer­i­can pres­i­dents put him at the bot­tom of the list.

His­to­ry might, how­ev­er, look more kind­ly upon Hard­ing’s love let­ters, the byprod­uct of his wom­an­iz­ing ways. Before tak­ing office, Hard­ing fathered a love child with Nan Brit­ton, a woman 31 years his junior. He also car­ried on a 15-year affair with Car­rie Ful­ton Phillips, a friend’s wife, to whom he start­ed writ­ing let­ters in 1910. And what let­ters they were. Here’s one from Jan­u­ary 28, 1912:

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?

And anoth­er from Sep­tem­ber 15, 1913, which John Oliv­er play­ful­ly mocks above:

Hon­est­ly, I hurt with the insa­tiate long­ing, until I feel that there will nev­er be any relief untilI take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pil­low­ing breasts. Oh, Car­rie! I want the solace you only can give. It is awful to hunger so and be so whol­ly denied.… Wouldn’t you like to hear me ask if we only dared and answer, “We dare,” while souls rejoic­ing sang the sweet­est of cho­rus­es in the music room? Wouldn’t you like to get sop­ping wet out on Supe­ri­or — not the lake — for the joy of fevered fondling and melt­ing kiss­es? Wouldn’t you like to make the sus­pect­ed occu­pant of the next room jeal­ous of the joys he could not know, as we did in morn­ing com­mu­nion at Rich­mond?

Oh, Car­rie mine! You can see I have yield­ed and writ­ten myself into wild desire. I could beg. And Jer­ry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worth­while in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of oth­er fond things he sug­gests, but I spare you. You must not be annoyed. He is so utter­ly devot­ed that he only exists to give you all. I fear you would find a fierce enthu­si­ast today.

Orig­i­nal­ly unearthed by his­to­ri­an Fran­cis Rus­sell in 1964, the let­ters were donat­ed to the Library of Con­gress, where they remained under seal until 2014. You can find scans of the orig­i­nal War­ren G. Hard­ing-Car­rie Ful­ton Phillips Cor­re­spon­dence on the LOC web­site. (The LOC also pro­duced an infor­ma­tive video on the exchange.) Read tran­scrip­tions of the best let­ters at The New York Times.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce’s “Dirty Let­ters” to His Wife (1909)

Dear Immanuel — Kant Gives Love Advice to a Heart­bro­ken Young Woman (1791)

Ernest Hemingway’s “Love Let­ter” to His “Dear­est Kraut,” Mar­lene Diet­rich (1955)

Read Beethoven’s Lengthy Love Let­ter to His Mys­te­ri­ous “Immor­tal Beloved” (1812)

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