Ohio History

So President Harding Had An Illegitimate Child After All?

hardingI recently posted an entry about Warren G. Harding, Ohio’s last (and possibly most dismal) presidential offering, and in the post I discussed Nan Britton. Britton was a young woman from Harding’s hometown who was infatuated with the president (their affair actually started when Harding was a Senator in D.C.). After Harding’s death, Britton wrote The President’s Daughter, in which she alleged Harding fathered her child, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing.

Of course, in a typical move in American politics she was vilified. Her allegation was dismissed as an attempt to scandalize the dead president’s name, but, a recent New York Times article reports Britton’s version of the story is probably true. The Times said,

…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.

Britton’s grandson, James Blaesing, 65, a construction contractor in Portland, Ore., said the tests finally vindicate his grandmother Nan.

“She loved him (Harding) 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.”

Britton was one of two women, Harding had an affair with — the other was Carrie Phillips. Harding and Phillips, who was married to a family friend, continued their affair for 15 years.

In 2014, the somewhat racy love letters Harding sent to Phillips were released to the public.

Categories: Ohio History, Presidents From Ohio | Tags: , , ,

President Warren Harding — A Lady’s Man?

I don’t know much about Americanism, but it’s a damn good word with which to carry an electionWarren Hardingharding

There is a reason few people can recall anything Ohio native and 29th president of the United States, Warren Harding did — he didn’t do much.

One of his greatest accomplishment came after he died — landing at the top of the Worst U.S. presidents list.

He has remained near the top ever since.

Born in a Small Town

The son of two doctors, Warren Gamaliel Harding, born in Corsica, Ohio, served as president from 1921-1923. At the age of 14 Harding was admitted to Ohio Central College and upon graduation his first business ventures were teacher and insurance salesman. In 1882, he and a couple of friends bought a small newspaper in Marion, Ohio and he spent the next decade or so managing and growing the paper.

It would be nine years later, when he married Florence Kling de Wolfe, a wealthy divorcée five years his senior — that Harding’s success would rally take off. De Wolfe, who had a keen business sense and plenty of money — started by helping the paper continue its successful run.

Political Career

In 1898, seven years after marrying de Wolfe, Harding entered politics at her bidding. He was elected twice to the Ohio legislature and became lieutenant governor in 1903, Even though two years later he returned home to his newspaper business, his political career had launched because, “Harding did favors for city bosses who, in turn, helped him advance in Ohio politics.”

In 1914 Harding became a member of Congress — elected as the Senator from Ohio. It is here we first get a hint of his work ethic with regards to the legislative process. Although he held strong views while in Congress, he didn’t back those views up with action since he “missed two-thirds of the votes held during his tenure as senator.”

Regardless, in 1920, political insider and close friend Harry Daugherty started pushing the idea of Harding for the Republican nomination for president. According to Daugherty, Harding was a great candidate because Harding had no significant political enemies, held the ‘right’ position on all the issues — and what may be the first instance in the 21st century of image over substance for a candidate — Harding ‘looked like a president,’ Daugherty said.

Running for Office

Harding’s campaign slogan, “return to normalcy,” hardly seems capable of inspiring voters to put him in office — but they did by an overwhelming majority. He carried 37 states and 60 percent of the vote.

He pulled this off despite the fact that he was not the first choice for the Republican Party that year — former president Theodore Roosevelt was. But when Roosevelt’s health declined drastically in 1918 (he died in 1919), the party made a strategic move — similar in design to the Democrats — by backing the little-known dark horse candidate from the electoral-vote-rich state of Ohio. The Democrats ran Ohio governor James Cox and Vice President candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But the 1920 election, like today, was about spending power and getting the message out. With a 4-1 spending advantage over the Democrat candidate, Harding easily won.

So What Did He Do

One would think if elected and chosen by that many Americans, Harding would settle down and get to work on an agenda to bolster the post-war America. But that wasn’t the case. Aside from promoting political cronies to high-level positions, his only other accomplishments were cutting the income tax for the wealthy and raising tariffs — both high up on the Republican ‘to do list’ at the time.

While president, Harding deferred most decisions to Congress and confided to close friends and political allies that he wasn’t prepared for the role of president. Taking a page from his senatorial past — when his inactivity was reflected in his voting record — Harding assigned ‘the best man’ to the various roles of government. It would lead to several scandals including the Tea Dome scandal where government contracts were doled out to friends in return for guaranteed loans. His friend Daugherty would be indicted twice and eventually forced to resign his appointment of Attorney General during Calvin Coolidge’s administration.

But He Loves The Ladies

Harding was a ladies’ man. His first extra-marital affair began in his hometown of Marion when a local department store owner and wife lost a child. It was 1904 — the department store owner was a close friend of Harding, and Harding felt compelled to comfort the man’s strawberry-blonde wife during their time of grief. Harding would comfort Carrie Phillips, nine years his junior, for the next 15 years.

Then, in 1917, Harding discovered Nan Briton another Marion resident. Briton, who was 31 years younger than Harding, was infatuated with the good-looking politician. After her graduation from secretary school she requested a letter of reference from Harding. After the pair’s cordial meeting in May, Harding and Briton took it to the next level and by July were intimate.

Briton’s relationship with Harding would continue while he was Senator and they allegedly conceived a child inside a closet of the Capitol building. In 1919, Briton gave birth to a girl which she claimed was Harding’s child. (the official record says Harding has no children).

Both affairs proved expensive to Harding.

Harding reportedly paid the Phillips (Carrie’s husband learned of the 15-year affair when it ended in 1919) $20,000, plus $2,000 a month while he was president and a free trip to the Orient. But, the jilted lover, Carrie, had the last laugh. When she died in 1963, love letters from Harding were found in her estate. The often bawdy letters were released to the public in 2014.

Harding’s Anti-Climatic Death

Allegations of an illegitimate child coupled with the pressures from the Tea Dome scandal is probably what did him in. Harding died in a San Francisco hotel in 1923 where, most historians believe, he died of a heart attack. But even his death was tainted. Some theorize the heart attack was caused by a doctor’s faulty use of purgatives and after his death a book surfaced saying Harding was murdered.

Trivia

During a poker game, Harding once gambled away a White House china set dating back to Benjamin Harrison’s presidency.

Quote

“I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my god-damned friends, White, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!” — Warren G. Harding.


Ohio’s Presidential Legacy

Read more from the series:

Categories: American History, Ohio History | Tags: , ,

‘The Real Lincoln’ Explores Man Behind The Myth

LINCOLNWriting a book critiquing United States president Abraham Lincoln is a somewhat precarious venture. Lincoln, referred to as Honest Abe or the Great Emancipator, is so highly revered that he has taken on mythological qualities. I remember first finding holes in the official Lincoln story while researching my family tree and reading newspaper articles from Lincoln’s era. Who he was — and who is he now — is vastly different. Author Thomas J. DiLorenzo thoroughly explores documentation from Lincoln’s political era and punches holes in some of the commonly held beliefs about the 16th president.

The book starts off by addressing Lincoln’s racial beliefs. DiLorenzo provides quotes from various times in Lincoln’s life that show Lincoln did not believe in racial equality. Lincoln himself admitted that the Emancipation Proclamation was simply a military maneuver. His goal — and hope — was that the proclamation would spark a slave uprising in the South. According to Lincoln’s own Secretary of State, William Seward,

We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.

Lincoln’s goal throughout his presidency was to deport every black person, free or enslaved. Based on his own words, Lincoln was never opposed to slavery, he was opposed to the extension of slavery into the western states.

One of his biggest affronts to freedom, though, was crushing the first amendment right of free speech immediately after he was inaugurated. Lincoln sent federal troops to shut down numerous newspapers that voiced opposition to the war. He arrested — and held without charged — individuals who opposed the war or supported peaceful succession. One of the men arrested in this manner was Francis Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key — who, of course, wrote The Star Spangled Banner. Howard wrote a book about his experience: Fourteen Months In American Bastiles.

Deporting a U.S. Congressman

Another interesting story the author brings to light concerns a duly elected Congressman from Ohio — Clement L. Vallandigham. As the author reports,

At 2:30 a.m. on the morning of May 4, 1863, armed Federal soldiers under the command of General Ambrose Burnside knocked down the doors of the Dayton, Ohio home Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham and arrested him without a civil warrant; then they threw him into a military prison in Cincinnati, Ohio. Congressman Vallandigham was subsequently deported by Lincoln to the Southern states, and he moved to Canada.

Vallandigham “crime” was making a speech in response to Lincoln’s State of the Union Address in which he criticized the president for his unconstitutional usurpation of power. For this he was declared a “traitor” by Lincoln and imprisoned without trial.

Right of Succession

Another compelling part of the book is a section on why the war was fought. Of course, mainstream history repeats the ‘save the Union’ aspect of the War, but what has been lost to history is the Founding Father’s support of a state’s right to leave the Union. The author writes,

In fact, when the Constitution was ratified, Virginia, New York and Rhode Island explicitly reserved the right to secede at some future point. Even when the Civil War began, northern support for a peaceful succession of the Southern states was prevalent.

Revising History?

One fair warning, if you believe any attack on Lincoln’s character is revisionist history, you will not enjoy the book. In the 10 chapters the author addresses such issues as civilians being attacked and killed by northern armies as a sanctioned method of war, suppression of free elections in the north and Lincoln’s career as a lobbyist for the railroad companies (I always thought it was odd the country built railroads during the War). Lincoln’s ties with the railroad led to him to approving ‘internal improvement subsidies’ something every president before him (that dealt with it) vetoed as unconstitutional.

The book paints Lincoln as a dictator attempting to centralize power (in the Federal government). Whether or not that was Lincoln’s ultimate goal it was one of the outcomes of the Civil War. States’ rights and state sovereignty were never restored to their pre-war level.

How It Rates

Rated: 5 out of 5. If you are interested in Civil War history and want a clearer understanding of Lincoln’s political life — including how Henry Clay and the Whigs’ American System heavily influenced Lincoln’s political motives — this is an excellent, relatively short read. This book is also a treasure trove of additional scholarly and non-scholarly book titles about Lincoln and the Civil War.


Learn More

One story lost to history is how a group of Confederate soldiers and their families left the country and started a colony in Brazil after the Civil War ended. Descendants of those families still exist in Brazil to this day. Read about it here.

Categories: American History, Civil War History, Ohio History, Politics | Tags: