The 29th president carried on a long-running affair with a suspected German spy

By Nate Jones
July 08, 2014 02:35 PM

Turns out, Warren G. Harding had more in common with Warren G. than anyone ever realized.

The 29th president of the United States, long considered one of the worst – if not the worst – men to hold America’s highest office, has been revealed to have carried on a salacious correspondence with his mistress in a selection of love letters just released by the New York Times.

The letters, which detail Harding’s years-long affair with his one time neighbor Carrie Fulton Phillips, were discovered by historian Francis Russell during the 1960s, but Harding’s descendants were able to delay the president’s posthumous embarrassment by donating the letters to the Library of Congress, which promised to keep them sealed for 50 years.

Harding and Phillips began their affair in 1905, when the future president was editing a newspaper in Ohio, and she was the wife of his good friend. Fitting his literary background, Harding’s letters reveal a man driven to lustful poetry. As he wrote in a 1912 letter: “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 grows.”

Phillips’s replies have been lost to history, but certain highlights of their time together can be gleaned from Harding’s feverish reminiscences.

“I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that 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,” he wrote in 1913. “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?”

The pair’s liaisons continued after Harding was elected to the Senate in 1914, months before the outbreak of World War I. Both events would create a rift in the relationship, as Phillips became a vocal supporter of Germany, often attempting to convince her lover of the rightness of the German cause. Contemporaries even suspected her of being a German spy, though evidence is scarce.

Coincidentally, Harding’s letters reveal that he named his penis “Jerry,” a nickname it shared with an anti-German slur that originated during the war.

As he wrote in 1918, “Wish I could take you to Mount Jerry. Wonderful spot. Not in the geographies but a heavenly place, and I have seen some passing views there and reveled in them.”

Harding broke off the affair before his election to the presidency in 1920, but Phillips blackmailed him, threatening to release the letters unless Harding paid $25,000, as well as a small stipend. With the help of the Republican National Committee, Harding bought her silence.

Phillips was far from Harding’s only love affair. While president, he had sex with a White House staffer, and was known to have fathered numerous illegitimate children.

Though Harding told Phillips to burn the letters, she kept them for the rest of her life. (All the more reason to delete your sexts! If you don’t, who knows?) As Harding and James Joyce learned, you might well end up becoming a laughingstock to the wisecracking teenagers of 100 years from now.

Want more stories like this?

Sign up for our newsletter and other special offers:

sign me up

Thank you for signing up!