President Watch: So that son of a bitch Warren G. Harding really did it!
"Come 'n' get it, baby"? Don't believe your judgmental eyes. NYT reporter Peter Baker assures us that Warren G. Harding, who apparently had the ladies throwing themselves at him, "was seen by women of the time as attractive." Okay, noted. (Maybe when he was younger?)
Our Noah just seems to find these things. Or maybe they find him, I don't know. Either way, among his pass-alongs this week was this:
DNA Is Said to Solve a Mystery of Warren Harding’s Love LifeNoah has some observations to share, but we'll come to those later. Meanwhile, here I've been, blithely unaware that there's been all this controversy raging. Didn't everyone else also assume that ol' Warren G. done it? It seems not.
By PETER BAKER | Aug. 12, 2015
WASHINGTON — She was denounced as a “degenerate” and a “pervert,” accused of lying for money and shamed for waging a “diabolical” campaign of falsehoods against the president’s family that tore away at his legacy.
Long before Lucy Mercer, Kay Summersby or Monica Lewinsky, there was Nan Britton, who scandalized a nation with stories of carnal adventures in a White House coat closet and endured a ferocious backlash for publicly claiming that she bore the love child of President Warren G. Harding.
Now nearly a century later, according to genealogists, new genetic tests confirm for the first time that Ms. Britton’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was indeed Harding’s biological child. The tests have solved one of the enduring mysteries of presidential history and offer new insights into the secret life of America’s 29th president. At the least, they demonstrate how the march of technology is increasingly rewriting the nation’s history books. . . .
The revelation has also roiled two families that have circled each other warily for 90 years, struggling with issues of rumor, truth and fidelity. Even now, members of the president’s family remain divided over the matter, with some still skeptical after a lifetime of denial and unhappy about cousins who chose to pursue the question. Some descendants of Ms. Britton remain resentful that it has taken this long for evidence to come out and for her credibility to be validated."The Nan Britton affair," Peter Baker explains, "was the sensation of its age, a product of the jazz-playing, gin-soaked Roaring Twenties and a pivotal moment in the evolution of the modern White House."
“It’s sort of Shakespearean and operatic,” said Dr. Peter Harding, a grandnephew of the president and one of those who instigated the DNA testing that confirmed the relationship to Ms. Britton’s offspring. “This story hangs over the whole presidential history because it was an unsolved mystery.”
It was not the first time a president was accused of an extracurricular love life, but never before had a self-proclaimed presidential mistress gone public with a popular tell-all book. The ensuing furor played out in newspapers, courtrooms and living rooms across the country.WGH grand-nephew Peter Harding, 72, a physician in Big Sur, California, says he grew up buying the family's version. (“My father said this couldn’t have happened because President Harding had mumps as a kid and was infertile and the family really vilified Nan Britton.") But when he found a copy of The President’s Daughter, the book Nan Britton wrote (more about it later), among his father’s stuff and read it, belongings, "he concluded that the man described in it resembled the writer of the letters to Ms. Phillips, an expressive romantic who doted on women."
While some historians dismissed Ms. Britton’s account, it remained part of popular lore. Pundits raised it as an analog after revelations of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Ms. Lewinsky. HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” made it a subplot a few years ago. The Library of Congress effectively recalled it last year when it released Harding’s love letters with another mistress, Carrie Phillips.
Ms. Britton, who was 31 years younger than Harding, had a harder time proving her relationship when she revealed it after his death because she had destroyed her own letters with him at his request and because his family insisted he was sterile.
He enlisted his cousin Abigail Harding, a retired high school biology teacher in Worthington, Ohio, and they enlisted James Blaesing, whose mother was the disputed Harding offspring. And they turned to AncestryDNA ("a division of Ancestry.com, the genealogical website"), and its testing "found that Mr. Blaesing was a second cousin to Peter and Abigail Harding, meaning that Elizabeth Ann Blaesing had to be President Harding’s daughter."
Not subject to dispute, apparently, is that Nan Britton, who was from Marion, Ohio, where WGH was a newspaper publisher, had a 6½-year affair with him
She was consumed with Harding, who was married but had no children and was seen by women of the time as attractive. Ms. Britton hung pictures of Harding on her bedroom wall and sought his help finding a job. Harding agreed to meet her in New York. In July 1917, at age 20, she “became Mr. Harding’s bride,” as she put it, during a New York hotel room assignation.Which left Nan Britton and her family in a pretty horrible darkness that still enshrouds them. Grandson James Blaesing says that her relationship with Harding "was a love story and her family always believed her."
For six and a half years they maintained their affair, meeting wherever possible, including in Harding’s Senate office, where Ms. Britton wrote that they conceived Elizabeth Ann, born in October 1919. Harding never met his daughter but provided financial support. He and Ms. Britton continued their relationship after he became president, repairing to “a small closet in the anteroom” in the West Wing where, she wrote, they “made love.”
Ms. Britton was devastated when he died in office in 1923 at the age of 57 and more so when she discovered there was no provision to support their daughter. In need of money and shut out by Harding’s family, she wrote “The President’s Daughter” in 1927, inciting a fierce backlash from his supporters.
“She loved him until the day she died,” he said. “When she talked about him, she would get the biggest smile on her face. She just loved this guy. He was everything.”
Mr. Blaesing said the family lived with scorn for decades. They were followed, their house was broken into and items were stolen to try to prove the relationship was a lie. “I went through this growing up in school,” said Mr. Blaesing, 65, now a construction contractor in Portland, Ore. “They belittled him and her.”
The tests, he said, finally vindicate his grandmother. “I wanted to prove who she was and prove everyone wrong,” he said.
NOAH WAS ALSO STRUCK BY THIS BUSINESS OF WGH
BEING "SEEN BY WOMEN OF THE TIME AS ATTRACTIVE"
"Judging from the photo of 'The Hard One,' " he says,
I guess women of the day ate a lot of strange mushrooms. Rudolph Valentino he wasn't!"Not to cheapen [Nan's} love for the man," Noah says, "but she may have really just been an obsessed groupie. Clearly, she had stalker attributes. She was 20. He was 50. What's a guy to do? The job has a lot of stress." Noah points out that Warren G. "was a republican the first time republicans went crazy."
Maybe it was just the fact that many women are attracted by power and status, all wrapped up in a nice suit. We've always heard about what goes on in the Senate cloak room, but all Harding had was a coat closet.
Planting the seeds of economic disaster and nurturing them isn't easy. Cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy of the day was a fight. So was fighting to reduce veterans' benefits (Sound familiar?)."Who knows?" says Noah. "Harding may have even had some sort of sense that his time on Earth would be short."
Spiritualism was all the rage in his time. Maybe he'd received a message from beyond and decided to go for the gusto. We've always heard about what goes on in the Senate cloak room, but all Harding had was a coat closet, so, let's have a little sympathy for the man!"I give him credit, though," Noah says. "He was no Bill Cosby!" He also can't help flashing ahead in time to a more recent president's misadventures with a young woman.
I'm struck by the fact that Harding's mistress had no absolute proof and paid dearly for it, as did the love child. Fast-forward 75 years or so and wonder how Monica Lewinsky's life could have been made even worse than she made it by those who would have destroyed her credibility had she not kept that dress.