WASHINGTON, DC (RNN) – Find a comfortable chair and turn up the slow jams: the Library of Congress has released nearly 1,000 pages of love letters written to the mistress of the 29th president, Warren G. Harding.
Harding’s mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, was a family friend and married to a Harding friend. The letters depict a unhappily married man in love, and certainly lusting, over his friend's wife.
The New York Times likened the letters to Anthony Wiener text messages and John Edwards’ infidelity – but with “Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions.”
"Honestly, I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief until 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," Harding wrote on Sept. 15, 1913.
Many of the letters were written between 1910-1920 while Harding served on the U.S. Senate, but the affair began in 1905 when Harding served as Ohio’s lieutenant governor.
Some of the handwritten letters were even written on U.S. Senate stationary, and contained clippings of love-related newspaper articles and poetry Harding sent to Phillips. The letters also include his feelings on politics at the time, the vote of the U.S. entering World War I (and Phillip's pro-German "attitude" on the war), his frigid relationship with his wife, Florence Mabel Kling DeWolfe Harding.
One love letter lasted 41 pages.
The letters are covered in secret love code, with Harding calling Phillips “Mrs. Pouterson,” and the president even having a nickname for his private parts.
The affair ended just after Harding won the Republican nomination for president in 1920. Phillips and her husband reportedly threatened to release the letters and make their affair public, but the Republican National Convention paid the couple off with a trip to Asia and several thousand dollars in cash in September 1920 during the presidential race, historians said.
"We have blundered. We will not talk about the blame. I accept my full share of it. We did blunder. I give you the most tribute that a man can. There was no cheating. We both understood. We were both married. No lies were told. We felt the sense of family obligations. Happily there has been no irreparable damage," Harding wrote to Phillips on Feb. 2, 1920.
Harding had told Phillips to burn their correspondences in one letter, but she did not, and were found by a court-appointed lawyer in a box at her Marion, OH home in 1960. The lawyer made the letters available to a Harding biographer in 1963, but he could not use them after the threat of a lawsuit by Harding’s nephew, Dr. George Harding, in 1964, who purchased them from Phillips’ heirs.
It was George Harding that donated the letters to the Library of Congress under the condition that the letters be sealed for 50 years, thanks to an Ohio judge.
The letters had been locked in the Library’s manuscripts division since 1972, until they were released in full on Tuesday.
While some of her drafts remain, most of Phillips’s replies to Harding do not.
Harding died in August 1923 of a heart attack in San Francisco, only serving two years of his presidential term. Harding won his presidency by 60 percent of the vote in 1920, preaching "a return to normalcy" after America's "Reform Era" of the early 1900s.
Though his affair with Phillips wasn't a complete secret, it wasn't the biggest scandal of his presidency: the criminal activity of many of his cabinet members, some of them long-time friends and the Teapot Dome Scandal, marred his two years as president. It also, allegedly, wasn't his only affair.
Historically, Harding is regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, despite many of the scandals surfacing after his death.
To read the collection in full, click on the Library of Congress collection here.
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