Legal History

Harding's love letters to mistress, held under seal, to be released; lawyer had steamy details


Library of Congress image
of Warren G. Harding.

Held under court seal for the last 50 years, love letters from President Warren Harding to his mistress will be released on the Internet this month.

The Harding family donated the letters to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that they stay under seal until July 29, 2014, the Washington Post reports.

Harding was married, but not yet the president, when he wrote the letters to Carrie Fulton Phillips, who was married to one of his friends. “There are no words, at my command, sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you,” he wrote in one letter on the back of his photograph. “A mad, tender, devoted, ardent, eager, passion-wild, jealous … hungry … love.”

An Ohio probate judge sealed the letters in 1964 in a lawsuit filed by Harding’s nephew, George Harding, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The suit ended when George Harding purchased the letters from Phillips’ daughter and donated them to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that they remain secret until July 29, 2014.

Despite the seal, a lawyer researching Harding learned of microfilm copies of the letters at Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society and included many of them in a little-known book, the Post says. The book is The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War, and the author is Ohio lawyer James David Robenalt. An online bio identifies Robenalt as a partner for Thompson Hine.

A foreword (PDF) to the book says an archivist microfilmed the letters and one set was not turned over to the Library of Congress.

Robenalt told the Washington Post that when he first read the love letters he felt like a voyeur. The relationship between Phillips and Harding “was troubled and problematic,” Robenalt said. “But boy, oh boy, was it steamy.”

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