tv American History TV CSPAN October 11, 2014 12:00pm-1:36pm EDT
recently kept under seal by the library of congress. when his family insisted on keeping the letters sealed and how the family continues to view their impact on warren harding's chief of the library's manuscript division. have astage with me, we ,istinguished trial attorney the author of two books, one about his grandfather and his grandfather. a real magician, not just a magician in parliament. but he was the chairman of the ohio democratic party during the harding era.
and then the book on warren harding, published in 2009. we also have karen who is an archivist, who prepared the harding papers for reader use on july 29. she graduated from brown. excellent historian and a first-rate person. we have dr. richard harding, the grand-nephew of president harding. he was the president of the american psychiatric association. i shouldn't make that mistake.
i don't need to apologize for that. very brief description of the harding papers, which is probably unnecessary, given the publicity they have received. but there are about 1,000 -- the papers. they are approximately 1,000 pages of correspondence between warren harding and carrie phillips who was the wife of one of harding's good friends in marion, ohio. there was a love affair between the two from 1905 to 1920. the collection, however, only has letters between 1910 and 1920. most of the vast majority of the letters -- all of them probably -- i don't know if there are any
carrie letters in there. >> there are a few. >> the vast majority of the letters written by harding and retained by carrie phillips, she said she had written a volume number of letters and pages were lines, as she once reminded him, but very few of her letters survive. the phillips' collection is mainly notes and memoranda. how did the library of congress get this collection? we got it in the following way. in 1963, francis russell, whose book is probably the most widely read -- >> unfortunately that is true. >> he turned up in marion, ohio,
looking for some information about harding. and he was steered to a local lawyer, who was the guardian of carrie phillips. she had been in 1956, had to be put in a nursing home. she was not a ward of the state. we discovered that recently, thanks to the papers that i'll mention in a minute. but the lawyer actually in carrie's death in 1960, kept the correspondence. was that illegal? how would you characterize that? >> he was the lawyer representing the estate and i would say probably unethical,
but not illegal. he should have told the daughter of carrie phillips that he had the papers in his basement. >> russell was put in contact with the lawyer and got limited access -- i'm summarizing a very complicated story. and russell spread the word and it got into the press -- got a it got into the press -- got a hold of it. in 1964, there was a front-paged article in 1964 about the harding letters. harding's nephew, the father of richard, brought a lawsuit right away for infringement of copyright. the copyright interests were owned by the owner, warren
harding. the suit went on and lasted for about seven years until 1951, when there was a resolution. the hardings bought the papers from carrie phillips' hires and in 1972 donated them to the library of congress. a higher court had sealed the letters just more or less after the "new york times" article in 1964. they sealed them on july 29, 1964. so we've had them since 1972. there was a 50 year embargo on them and that will expire a week from today. more to the story, russell -- francis russell entered into a kind of partnership or devil's rgain with an archivist at the historical society and he made several microfilmed copies of the letters. we tried to track one of them down -- karen did. and the institution that was
alleged to be holding it, did not have it. it's not clear how many copies he made. >> made about seven or eight copies. >> and we know where one of them is -- one of them turned up in his own personal papers that he donated to the western reserve historical society. and jim learned about this in 2004 and found this trove of letters and wrote the book. he at some point mounted -- transcribed all the letters which is an effort and mounted them and some of the images on a web site that he maintains. and these are the images that you have seen in the newspapers
or late-night talk shows even. our own collection here -- the security of that collection has never been compromised. no one has ever seen it except staff members who had a chance to perhaps look at them. i never have. they're in our vault in our manuscript division that also contains security-classified material. what we're going to do is a -- a week from now, we have scanned the papers and going to put them up online. they are scanned at 400 dpi and will be a much better product than any kind of microfilm that is still kicking around.
and there is material in there that are not in the microfilm. these will be online. as a bonus, we were fortunate enough to receive a collection, collateral collection from the members of four great-grandsons of carrie phillips. it's the collection of information about some of the litigation that went on and some harding letters to the phillip'' family, to phillips' granddaughter, and carrie's daughter isabel. not a large collection but interesting things in there. that also will be put online on the 29th. so i think we're very happy to have the opportunity to do this.
both of these collections. the library, as you know or may not know, we are the presidential library in the united states. these other people are just third rate. [laughter] >> we have the major collections of george washington, thomas jefferson, james madison, andrew jackson, abraham lincoln, theodore roosevelt and woodrow wilson. we are not partisans and never tried to defend the reputations of people whose papers we have. we always want to make sure the factual information we dispense about papers are correct. so we have done digging around harding as well. and i didn't know much about harding when it started.
i was trained as a diplomatic historian and i knew about the 1921 conference. but other than that, well, harding, i went with the flow and thought the guy was sort of a -- so, you know, this existed. but we've -- in attempting to working on this collection, there is misinformation about harding and indeed everybody connected with him, his wife, carrie phillips. it's unbelievable and the question is, what's wrong, what's wrong with the picture, why didn't the historians correct this stuff? we have been trying. and we have a nice collection
out on the table of some of the things that we have found from our own collections about harding. so i'm going to -- i think some of this is really important and let karen, who found most of this stuff, briefly describe it and then we'll go on. >> welcome. jim said a few words about the display. i hope you had a chance to look at it. there is a handout with anes a and item list on it. take some time to look at that. after hearing about the cuss -- custodial history of the letters, i would like you to contemplate the home of the contemplate the home of the harding-phillips' correspondence, hidden in a box
in a closet for 35 years. carrie phillips never sold the letters, never published a book and as far as we know she never showed the letters to anyone. she has been accused of black mail but it's unclear if she cashed in. so the letters remained hidden. it's like so much about harding, so many things hidden away. harding died 2 1/2 years into his presidency. his wife died 16 months after that. they had no children. shortly after his death, the teapot dome scandal put a cloud over the administration. no one is to speak for harding. all of his papers have been left in marion, ohio, where they were closed and took 40 years for those papers to open for research. his legacy was like an empty room, echo chamber for rumor, and gossip.
the harding story was built on hear say. this is the organizing principle of the harding display out there. there are so many rumors about harding that we searched our collections. the best example of an absolute fabry occasion is the supposedly mysterious death of harding, a death to have been suicide or a murderous poisoning by his wife. notions of those were cemented into the public mind in a 1930 book "the strange death of president harding" created the story of florence poisoning her husband. the book was revealed to be a hoax. it is still to this day in print. on display are items from the manuscript division. boon was a white house physician to harding, coolidge and one of the doctors in attendance when
harding died. he had higblood pressure and heart disease. there is no doubt that he died of natural causes. there's a small section in the display dedicated to the popular believe that he was a poor writer and mangled the english language. a diary criticizes his speeches and ohio accent. one person's trash is another person's treasure. he was a very popular public speaker and did not invent the word normalcy. another section deals with the rumor that he was part african-american. the rumor behind the p whispering campaign of 1920. we have included two presidential campaign possible terse, one printed by someone from cleveland supporting harding. the other, a republican party poster with a harding family tree intended to silence the
whisperers and demonstrate the whiteness of the harding line. the head of the section of the manuscript division pointed out a strange manuscript in the papers and asked me to try to figure out what it was and why was it in evelyn mack clain's papers. she owned the hope diamond and married a wealthy man who owned the "washington post." evelyn was at the top of the washington social world, good friends with roosevelt and florence mcdonald. i pulled out the box and i found that strange manuscript, pages pulled from this raceist 1922 book. the professor claimed that harding had black ancestry.
they are edited and extra pages inserted. who was editing this book. i found the printer's plate in a file. why wol such things be in evelyn walsh mclean's papers? she sent me a handwriting sample. the handwriting belongs to chancellor. the pieces began to fall in place and the old rumors about this book appear to be true. government confiscation of books in ohio, transported back to d.c. for destruction at the mclean estate. evelyn kept something. even though there are few copies of this book, it is the original print source for many of the rumors about harding and the only print source before 1964 that mentions the affair with carrie phillips.
the first part of the display is devoted to carrie fulton phillips. many publish sources claim that harding had multiple affairs, there is only one verified relationship, the 15-year relationship with phillips. a lengthy and complicated affair. the items displayed are part of a gift from the great-grandsons of phillips or documents found at the national archives. we have good photographs of carrie phillips and her daughter. also from that collection is a set of letters from harding to her husband demonstrating the relationship between the two families. the 1964 personal account written by carrie's daughter describes a difficult relationship with her mother and
her shock upon learning in 1964 of her mother's affair in -- harding. they lived in germany from 1911-1914. she had a pro-german standpoint. she was opposed to world war i. you may have read "the harding affair." it is a story of romance, politics and world war i. in the end, he concluded that carrie phillips may have been an actual paid spy for the german government. it was this question that led jim hudson and asked me to visit national archives. >> we know that he reported on her in september of 1917 to the justice department and that report went out to intelligence. for me the most astonishing documents is 1917 exchange
between the head of military intelligence with then senator harding. carrie phillips had reportedly called senator harding her friend and so the spotlight was on harding. how well did he know these women and could he testify to their loyalty? harding responded with a three-page handwritten letter, isabel is golden. carrie, she is intelligent and proud in the expression of her opinions and in his words,
quote, very openness of it would seem to establish the innocuous seem to establish the innocuous character. in other words, if she was a spy, why would she talk this way. even though it seems it would be a dangerous liability, he never backed away from her. now it's time for me to back away. >> two more important tasks before we begin a conversation, we have a statement from the family, the donors of this excellent collection that karen and i have talked about. and they asked me to read it. and then dr. richard harding will also make a presentation. here's a statement from the family regarding the public release of the harding-phillip'' collection by the library of congress. phillips is our ancestor and have history judge her on fact and not theory or untruths.
we ask historical scholars to be nizant of the extent of misinformation, distortion and speculation paraded as facts man.ounding this wo a prime example of this is the theory that not only carrie but her daughter isabel were involved in espionage under the direction of the german government. to our knowledge there is no proof of this. further, this subject was investigated and researched by two united states government agencies finding no evidence of collusion, two women vocal in expressing their pro-german sentiment. another popularly held yet false notion there are no descendents of carrie phillips. these are four great-grandsons. and a further area of concern to us is the portrayal of how
carrie handled these letters during her lifetime. after the death of president harding, when there was no alleged payoffs being made, carrie kept her collection of letters concealed protecting the legacy of this president. only after she lost control of these letters that they came to light. while the correspondence might have shown him to cast him in a negative light in getting her way, this less than perfect woman never did, intending to take the letters to her grave. this stands in testimony to her feelings for this man. while we were not equated with carrie, in our youth, we knew her daughter, isabel and can assure any and all she was a woman of grace and honor. she was married to a man she adored and claimed no knowledge of her mother's fair until she was confronted with the
misappropriated letters from her mother's estate. to her warren harding was a close family friend and the revellings of this affair, was crushing. she was ill with a respiratory condition, that would cut her life short and through this she persevered. isabel, in coordination with the harding family sought to gain possession of her mother's documents to prevent their untimely publication so the originals could be transferred to the hardings with the understanding that they would be sealed until well after the death of all involved. if the decision was isabel's alone, she would have burned the letters. one might ask what the motivation of her action was. despite common knowledge to the contrary, the tie between harding and the fill is' family
was strong until his death in 1923. a letter alluded to by karen, which states that carrie phillips, her husband and her mother visited, took an automobile trip to the white house in 1922 and visited harding. if the decision -- she honored his memory by working with his family on the disposition of the documents so they might do the most good and least harm. knowing this body of papers would be made public, isabel passed on correspondence, documents and personal notes related to the subject. we as a family have remaped silent. upon this milestone it is appropriate to share these documents passed down to us to be known as the collection so a more accurate historical record can be achieved.
we would like to thank the team of professionals for their work on this collection of important correspondence and to provide complete and balanced information. the research and investigation in this subject has been extremely thorough and has brought more collarity for this story. respectfully. that is the statement from the four great-grandsons. and now, dr. richard harding will have the podium for as long as he wishes. [laughter] >> it will be 45 minutes. [laughter] >> and then time's up. >> we can all leave after 10 minutes. >> i'm richard harding, grand-nephew of warren harding and grandson of george harding, the only brother of the
president who survived into adulthood. george's oldest son was my father, george, iii. and george was in the middle of the heart of the 1964 harding affair papers covers -- controversy. joining me today are my two brothers, george and warren and other family members. we are delighted to be here. it is with some ambivolence but with a sense of history that we are present. father, along my with his siblings, acquired the papers, had them sealed and entrusted them to the library of congress. the current generations of hardings have honored that trust.
to our collective knowledge no individual has seen or had access to the original letters except for staff members, as was mentioned earlier. i was asked to talk just a little bit about the family background. so if you i will indulge me for so if you i will indulge me for just a minute. warren harding's parents were ohio frontier farmers as the country came out of the civil war in 1865. his father's claim to fame that as a soldier for the army of the potomac, he went to the white house and shook the hand of abraham lincoln. 55 years later, he would return as the father of the 29th president. he and his wife were successful farmers, but they wanted more for their growing family, and so both, both went to cleveland mom homeopathic medical
school and graduated and began a career in medicine. their younger son, my grandfather went to the university of michigan medical school and followed in their footsteps. warren, however, finished college, taught for a year and then got into the newspaper business and took on the "marion star" and made a great success of it in prosperous marion, ohio. my father and his siblings, warren, ii, ruth, charles and mary, had a special relationship with uncle warren. i don't think i ever heard anything but uncle warren and aunt florence. he filled the void because of my
grandfather who had rhumatic fever and had mitro valve problems. he taught my the his nieces and nevada fuse and present and supportive when their father was very ill, which he was frequently. now on his death, president harding left $10,000 to each neice and nephew. figure out how much that would be now. that would be quite a bit. and they used that for their education, not a model-tford. four of the five of those nieces and nephews graduated from medical school and the fifth from nursing school. this gift and its careful use enabled the family to continue its careful direction for the next several generations. let me make one point clear.
we are not here to deny facts. what happened between two consenting adults over a 15-year period over 100 years ago is not for our family to judge. the negative ripple effects of their relationship has been keenly felt. but processed along with the many positive attributes of our ancestor. why did my father seal the records for 50 years? there are times like now that i wish he had teeled them for 75 years. [laughter] >> but, with only an educated guess, let me surmise my father and his siblings did not carefully study the letters. it is likely they felt they were protecting their beloved uncle and close family members who knew him. and as you can remember, it had
been a rough time the last couple of decades. it goes without saying that the harding family has always considered the letters private documents. with long a tradition of medical practice and public service, we firmly believe that private matters even for the rich and famous, should remain private. however, as a person interested in history i have understanding of the uniqueness of high governmental leaders, correspondence and possible significance to historical scholars, especially when the correspondence includes discussion with a close friend of the issues of the day and the issues that resulted. in 1963, president kennedy was assassinated. with the help of the brother and
attorney general. the kennedy papers were retained, sealed and placed in the kennedy library for a 50-year period. many of that material remains sealed still. my father used this precedent in 1964 and finally in 1972, as mr. hudson was saying and chose the library of congress. and felt that this was the proper place for presidential material where it could best be housed and preserved. now, my father was a devout, no-nonsense person, he understand that a president's letters are different from those of a regular citizen. think of this, 1964, he had hoped that in the calm, cool political air of 2014 --
that there could be a careful review of the letters by historical scholars. he, of course, in 1964 had no idea or could not even imagine that the internet was coming. he would not have believed in 2014, any person in the world would be able to read the letters at their leisure in their office or at home. family has some frustration that now, most articles and inquiries so far have focused more on the phrases rather than the meaningful historical content of these letters. so we are here. symposium will focus on a small part of warren harding's life and we were pleased to have some of the positive things corrected that were brought up just a few minutes ago. the accomplishments in his life,
the washington naval disarmament conference, the fact that he was an early leader in civil rights. that he proposed anti-linching laws. only president to do that for ecause it wasb poison for them to get in fights with southern democrats. the fact that -- he re-established the preliminary of the first amendment after the first world war and he balanced the budget. pretty impressive. now he made the hard choices that presidents must make. and we feel that instead, we are talking about oftentimes or reading about in newspaper articles the good man's mistakes which seem all too common in 20th century political leaders.
we feel we have done the right thing having fulfilled the trust set up 50 years ago. and history will tell us if we were wise to do so. now, i challenge you -- i see there are a number of scholars and historians in the audience. a collection of private letters from a key senator and future president to his confidencee during a critical period in american history does not come along often. it is our hope and your responsibility to not be distracted by the sexually-ex plicit prose that fills these letters but use the information to reassess the measure of the man. warren harding doesn't need protection. he needs honest, hard-working and fair historians to tell the story as they see it.
thank you. [applause] >> i'm going to read an appraisal of president harding by his physician while he was in the white house, admiral joel boone and then have a conversation. he was a man who won a medal of honor as a marine corps physician in france and he was then the presidential doctor for harding, coolidge, hoover and f.d.r. and this letter was written in 1959 about harding. he says, i wonder how well he knew late president harding. he was writing a friend. i didn't know him until his
second month in office. from then, i knew him as one of his physicians. i saw him frequently. lived in the white house for four months, september-december during a very serious illness of mrs. harding. accompanied them to florida. was a member of the presidential party on a transcontinental tour aska in the summer of 1923. was in attendance of one of the physicians when he was desperately ill in san francisco up until the time of his death. his regular physicians were a reserve naval medical officer -- reserve army officer and naval medical officer. no one gets to know a person as well as his or her physician does. nor does anyone become intimate or have personal contact with him as his physician.
from personal acquaintance i didn't see any sordid side. i know of a gentleman, kindly, patriotic and maybe harding, informed on government. he had been a state senator and lieutenant governor of ohio, united states state before the election to the presidency. one who loved his fellow men and one who didn't find any satisfaction of speaking ill of anyone. these are a few of his characteristics. never had a more cooperative or appreciative patient in my long career in my practice of medicine, which is now approaching its 50th year. i ask jim and karen -- i believe karen who has actually read every word -- >> i read every
word. i didn't have the whole collection. >> but i want to ask them not about harding's political career which had some very attractive features, but what was the man's character? what sort of character was he? >> well, good afternoon, everyone. this is one of the great stories of the 20th century that is now coming to light. and my hope is that people will look differently at warren harding. we have seen all the things on the internet and john oliver reading some of these letters. it is astonishing, younger people are saying he is their hero. we don't write letters this way anymore.
over 10 years and you really do get a sense of his character. you get to know him from reading these letters. this woman to me appears to have been the love of his life and had both good times and bad times. they fought over the first world war. that's very significant and i'll tell you why later. let me give you one example of -- give an idea of his character. when florence harding was very sick, carrie phillips was in berlin and he was writing her about what was going on and he was taking care of his wife florence, eating dinner by himself. and this dog showed up at the back door, who had been hit by a car twice, he said. was partially blind. had three legs only. and he took pity on this little
dog and asked him in to have dinner with him. and he would share some stuff with him. and he eventually then after doing that for several days found out the dog showed up every day at that time right on the spot, he said. he fed the dog and later the dog stopped coming and he found out from a neighbor that he died and he said i grew to like this little guy and what he was and what he was about. you compare warren harding's love for animals. he did not hunt. he was not a hunter and did not believe in that. teddy roosevelt liked to go to africa and slaughter everything in his path. these are the sorts of details that give you a feeling for the person and some idea of what their character is. beyond this great love affair and beyond this fantastic event of the first world war brewing in the background. these little intimate details really describe him.
and richard, that may be something that you see as similar trait in your family, love of animals and so forth. >> i would expand on his love for his nieces and nevada fuse -- nephews. he and florence were childless and he took them on and their father was very ill. would go into congestive failure and nearly died multiple times. turn blue all of a sudden and there was no treatment, of course, and he would come and one night he stayed up all night with his younger brother who was dying and kept saying every time that he would wake up enough to get a little bit toll drink, he kept saying, deacon, he had nicknames for just about everyone, he said deacon, i'll take care of the children.
don't worry about the children. i'll take care of them and that kind of a supportive person. and was uncle warren to the family. and i guess that's all i have to say. >> what's your impression of -- >> thinking about something that comes out based on the relationship with carrie phillips and seen the letters of his loyalty, extreme loyalty, it al danger for him to continue the relationship with her. she was pushing him away often, especially after 1914 and during iod. time per and ask him about the loyalty, she wasn't being very friendly to him, but he was very loyal and i guess that's a
characteristic that some people considered to have caused him problems, too much loyalty to officials and see sometimes the quality that is very good but can trip you up. >> he writes to carrie phillips and this is in january of 1917, before the war breaks out, he says you might not wear yourself out. brother's illness was due to his overwork and he had a desperately narrow escape. he is better and i'm so relieved.
it has taken a load off my mind. i knew his merits and usefulness and family of four children. he must live for them. of course, i would have been a real brother, but i could not take his place. it is so good that he is getting better. i could go and little would matter. so you get into this deep love that he had for his family that comes out in these letters, too. >> read jim's book and i would like to ask about the character question. did harding -- he was from a very religious family, wasn't he? his sister was a missionary. >> right. >> and the family was rather devout, i suppose. i didn't detect kind of moral him being boat therled personally by the morality of some of these actions. i wouldn't ask you to assess his soul, but it seemed like it didn't -- there were no dark nights of soul or woe is me. is that present at all?
what is your take on that? >> the family can speak to this, but his mother became a seventh day adventist. and she became very religious, which is one of the reasons all these people in medicine, they are health-oriented. most famous institution is battle creek san tarium with dr. kellogg. they have a real strain of that in their family that comes from the mother.
warren was old enough that he had been raised a baptist. everyone else in the family did. one of the sisters, in 1905, went to burma as a medical missionary. so very interesting. what is interesting, when he gets to the war and you read these letters around the decision to go to war or not, and he is under enormous strain. his lover does not want to go to war. he knows if he votes for war that ohio is filled with german-americans who are mostly republicans and could be political suicide and decides to do so any way. ow he silently h he talks about how he silently goes over to pray before the senate is open. they always have the chaplain of the senate come out and pray and he tried to get guidance and he did pray. but he did not wear religion on his sleeve but he felt it. >> you don't detect any great sense of guilt in these letters. >> there's a sense of guilt. >> well disguised. -- disguised.
jim phillips was a good friend of his, carrie's husband. and he did have pangs of guilt. he wrote about it. jim at some point found out about it so did florence. but it's one of these stories that you know, you look at these people and you see both of them seemed to have had difficulties. harding's difficulties was that florence was so sick that they were not intimate. carrie was a sexual outlet and you will see that in spades. and that's fine. people should look at him as a real human being. i said before if our ancestors did not have sexual fantasies, none of us would be here today. [laughter] >> to me, that's great. and richard, tell this story, he just met patrick kennedy last week and what did he say to you,
richard? >> well -- kennedy and harding are the two senators to go straight from the senate to the presidency, the latest being barack obama. >> well, in so many words we were having dinner in a group setting for a meeting that we were at and i leaned over to him and said, patrick, we have a lot in common. and he said what is that? and he said, warren harding? and i said yeah. >> he said here's -- he's my hero. and i thought he was pulling my leg -- he said he's my hero. he said he has passion. most people don't have passion. he said and that's so important to me and he was bringing that up as being better than the passionless that he was comparing people to.
>> there's a letter in this collection dated 1916 written by a lawyer and appears that both couples went to this lawyer to talk about the situation. you can read it and draw your own conclusions. but i think two couples did confront this situation and he was too far along in politics to get divorced and i don't think he wanted to get divorced. it was a truly complex and very nuanced relationship. >> the matter of passion, though, that was one of the -- way he charged some of his political critics. great cause. >> i was a just asked about that this morning and i did ra program with carl. >> i didn't see it. >> the fact is, he had his own
opinions about what we should be doing. tell me one thing what we thought about when we went to war. it was very different than the second world war. everybody had blood on their hands, the germans, the french, the russians. and we were staying neutral. wilson tries to get a peace. it doesn't work. unrestricted submarine war fair -- warfare starts up. and wilson decides and doesn't decide that, that this is going to be a war about democracy. going to make the world safe for democracy. what it means is, we are going to tell the german government to have a democratic form of government. why? that was his conceit. and he said this when he asked
to go to war after the czar dropped out and abdicated and there was a fledgeling democracy in russia which wilson supported. both of those democracies, the german russian democracies led into chaos and disaster. in germany, it gives rise to hitler and in russia, lenin. and warren harding gets up and says, i'm voting for war but only to protect us. it is not for us to tell another government, another sovereign people what form of government they should have. and he writes a letter to teddy roosevelt and teddy was with him on this. we should not force democracy on the world, especially places where they're not ready for it. does that something like something that is a modern theme?
here's my point, we get so lost in the myth of warren harding, enjoy it as it is, but we lose this essential message that he gave us 100 years ago that we are seeing played out in iraq. the real issue do we have the right to force other people to take on democracy. he said no. he said we should defend ourselves vigorously. america first and we should be an example to the world but not change them by force. that played out in germany, in russia, played out in vietnam and played out in iraq. we are having a similar problem in afghanistan. this is a big theme that comes out of these letters and something for people to really focus on and extremely relevant today. >> you take the position had it not been for carrie phillips that he might have been elected
president in 1916 and would not have had any ex trava began za? -- would not have any extravanza or wilsonian idealism? >> as was said before. my family was on the democratic side, my family helped woodrow wilson and f.d.r. we had in my basement pictures of f.d.r. and big win of woodrow wilson. as i got into this and i had all the myths of harding in my head, that harding become president in 1916 and he had a good chance to do so, the world would have been very different. i think. it's dangerous to do what ifs. but the fact of the matter is, he would have gone in and had he tried, win the nomination instead of hughes who was a lackluster candidate, later harding's secretary of state that did the washington naval conference. and still woodrow wilson almost did not beat him. and one of the big differences
was ohio, ohio went for wilson by 90,000 votes and that was 24 electoral votes at that time. it would have been a landslide the other way for harding. also a newspaper man running -- running in 1920. had harding been president in 1916, that he would have had a different question about whether we would have gotten involved in the war and what the peace treaty would have looked like and what it would have looked like. good what-if question. >> you think carrie had to do with his decision not to run? >> i think she threatened him. she wanted him out of public life and he writes and went over to baltimore and made the thing
that made it impossible going after what she called his mad pursuit of honors. i think she definitely threatened him. if you do this -- i don't know what. perhaps she would disclose the letters. he was thought of as a real potential candidate, because ohio had had president after president since after the civil war almost in a row, all republicans, so he was definitely a presidential timber at that point and four years later won by a landslide. i think the world changed because of this relationship. it was a world-changing relationship. >> the relationship between harding and phillips? >> yes, exactly. >> that's a rather striking point. >> the thing that you all find when you look at the letters, they are difficult to read, and
hard time dating them. he writes easter, well, what easter. well, march 12, which march 12. and took me five years to date these things to be able to write my book. and it makes a big difference what year and takes a lot of work. parallel correspondence that he is involved in and i got most of the dates right. but it's an incredible trove for american history and for people could be looking at and studying. 3> let's talk about florence >> let's talk about florence harding. one reviewer of the book called her one of the most vilified first ladies in american history. what does she look like in this correspondence? >> i can answer that. but richard, why don't you start with your family's recollections? >> i'm not an expert on
florence. but the family felt very positively and lovingly about aunt florence. she was a good aunt. she cared about the nieces and nephews. my father one time was in washington and had a picture taken standing on the parade platform. on the front page of the "washington post" with a girl, and he was a young 17-year-old, and there was a girl standing next to him, and he was the nephew of the president. of course, the next morning, there they were on the front page. florence called him in and said, george harding, who is this woman you were with? her question was, will she go as far as you are going? [laughter] she wanted to know what was going on. she was a wonderfully warm person at times, but she could
also be short at times and quick. somebody asked her if she had done something to the letters after the death. she was flippant, "i burned them all." she had not, but she would backhand those kinds of questions sometimes being irritated with the question. but overall, she was felt to be a very warm and loving aunt by the family. >> karen, do you have any reactions about florence? >> thinking about the display and rumors of harding, you could have done one on florence as well. one of the rumors being florence poisoned her husband. her public relations were probably not the best. not true, just in case you were still wondering. not true. there is a wonderful biography by katherine sibley in 2009, if anybody is interested in florence, that corrects a lot of
misunderstanding about her and how she was quite a path breaker for the first lady. in the letters themselves, there seems to be an agreement between the two of them. warren harding rarely mentions her because it makes carrie very angry. they don't talk about her very much. the sense of loyalty i mentioned before may also extend to florence. he goes on to say i felt patronizingly, that is her german diatribes, due to an egotism, including a capacity to
discuss foreign affairs. women were not supposed to do this. >> and she is a very interesting study of a woman. she was five years older than hardy. her father was one of the big businessmen in town. harding really did not like him and he writes about him when he dies in 1913, that he never felt anything for him except unhappiness. she was a strong-willed woman. been married and divorced before she married warren harding. she had a son.
her first husband was a not call it. the sun was also. the two of them had to take care of him. she had a complicated relationship with war harding. it was more of a business-type relationship in some sense. he prospered with her in terms of his business and his political career. she had a lot of good insights and she was a strong woman. harding drawn to such strong women. i think the answer is that his mother was a very strong woman and dominant person in that family, too. so a very compensated story. >> let's talk about kerry phillips.
he said she was a brilliant woman of intellectual superiority. have thoughts about an german diatribes due to egotism, including a capacity to discuss foreign affairs. >> can you show a picture? >> maybe it is not patronizing because he is trying to call the dogs off. he does not want military intelligence investigating her anymore. it might also be to him as well. >> i will show you what i got from the microphone. the letters were discovered in 1950. we have also talked about that. this is the difficult handwriting you will see in the problems of dating.
this relationship started in 1905. that picture is the first thing in the collection. that is the picture warren harding from 1910. on the back, he wrote a love note to her. this picture is from the tate collection. they began their relationship in 1905. she goes to berlin and becomes very enamored with the city. this is what it would have looked like when she lived there. think about an independent woman. this is a letter harding wrote to her. you can see it is in berlin. you see the words, they had a code they came up with to
correspond in public letters. matrix underlined meant he loved her more than anything in the world. that was berlin again. she was there. he runs for senator in 1914 thinking he had lost her. he believed their relationship was at an end. she teases him with jealousy of people he might be hanging out with. this is the first time senators are elected by people of their state. before that, they were appointed by state legislatures. this is the picture of him with woodrow wilson. wilson having had his stroke. this is 1913 when she is in berlin.
that is her daughter isabel who is also a character in on these things. they love relationship is dominant in these letters. a date that they celebrated banana research, august 23. they traveled europe together in 1909. this is the interior of that. they went to europe and went around europe for a couple of months together. this is the back of that. in 1910, he ran for governor and lost badly. but this is the back of the photograph. my darling, there is no words at my command sufficient to state my full of -- my full loaf of you. forives you a bit of a feel
kerry phillips. very independent-minded. i do believe that she became so pro-german that she did get involved in espionage, as do some of the people who are watching her. - >> would did you think of her? >> obviously very bright. the stuff that is in there that she wrote that is mostly notes, when she is about to write a harder to reade than the harding letters. like you and i, if you were writing notes and then you write a letter, it is a bad scrawl and it is not complete sentences. but she writes when she is angry and upset about something. so when you read the letters, you get the impression she is always angry and upset.
but as time progresses, i think she does get more angry. you can imagine an affair that and then young realize he is never going to leave. you can see where she would start getting angry and upset. obviously very bright and quite knowledgeable. you start reading to her -- reading her objections to world war i. and you are, like, yeah, that is a good point. outspoken and from other sources you can see that she was .ecklessly outspoken knowing the espinosa laws and the sedition laws, for the things that she was saying, you could say that -- the espionage laws and the sedition laws, for the things issue essay, you
could say that would put her in jail. but she was reckless in which he she had she thought some protection or she did not care anymore. it is hard to tell. luckily, they were around thing up multi-socialists. so she did not have to go to jail. affectedy have harding's thoughts about free speech when she was in the presidency. he is the one who commuted the and had of eugene debs him to the white house right after he was released from prison. he commuted the sentences of various -- so there may be that phillipsoo, that kerry relationship at on the president. >> you have been in the public eye a little more than i have
obviously. --s probably time to ask recently hope there will be questions from the audience. my colleagues will try to answer them. if you raise your hand, we will try to repeat it. although in the back. two people. -- all the way in the back. two people. whenere was kerry phillips he was in germany. >> he went to visit them over the summer in 1913. then came back. he had a nice low mustache. came over and helped him unpack. in some of these letters, where we have military authorities
floored kerry phillips thinking she was involved in espionage, he is described by the local .eople as a tool of his wife i thought, well, who isn't. [laughter] guy -- it is unfortunate that we don't know mower -- know more about this family. carrie, we only see her as in reflection. she traveled a lot during the war,, too. she was rarely home. >> i want to add about what florence and jim knew. it is really not clear. wants to look into it, i think that is still kind of an open question. it just seems so strange. maybe they knew a little something but not everything. if they knew everything, i can't figure out how cordial relationships would have
is --ued hearing harding continued. harding is sending him christmas gifts, a box of cigars and it seems too weird to me that, if they knew at all, how could they still be that from me with one another. it is one of those mysteries. what's another one in the back. >>, peer. you have a question? >> ima diplomatic historian i am taken by the forces of the u.s. the united knowing states senator was affiliated in some form or fashion with a person who is supposedly a highly potential spy for the not beingded up
prosecuted not being investigated until something actually came to pass. that was a hell of a time. there was a lot of stuff going on. people being rolled up. i am just curious about the evidence you can bring to bear on that. >> i will tell you the evidence. written to the attorney general of the united states, thomas watts, wilson's saying thateral, senator harding appears to be having an affair with mrs. phillips and that there are all these allegations about her being a spy. it goes all the way to the attorney general and the head of what was called the bureau of investigations, this is pre-j edgar hoover, a guy named of the lasky writes and says we think that we can get jim phillips based on what he said to undercover agents in cincinnati that was very pro-german and -- we are in the wrong
war and the germans are going to beat us, etc. wilson bit off more than he could chew. he spoke to these ever tender -- of -- these undercover agents. you talk about pure free speech, mmo goes all the way to the attorney general. they know about this. the authorities know about it from the local people who have told them about it. even talk about senator harding being caught in a compromising position with mrs. phillips in a local town. so they very much know about it, but they walked very gingerly. my question was, when i wrote my book, why did they not use it in the 1920 campaign when they knew about it? the democrats clearly know about it and they did not use it. you can read my book and find out what my answers on that. [laughter] went to the attorney general. this is not something that was whittled down.
>> there is a difference between guilty of the sedition laws and being a paid spy. if we had to live under them today, we would all object. >> at me read you one thing. it was a group that arose after we got into the war called the american protective league. it was 250,000 businessmen across the country in every city being deputized by the attorney general of the united states, given badges that said american protective league. these people spy on their neighbors, were people violating the neutrality act, pro this or that. there was a chief of the american protective league and a lieutenant in little marion, ohio. that tells you how pervasive this was. he wrote a letter in 1918 to the chief of the protective league in washington, d.c., charles fry.
he says the captain of the merchants division in our organization was detailed on the case. we are now convinced these parties are german spies and are receiving money from the german government. we believe this to be an extremist serious case and one that demands the services of the strongest secret service detectives to wind it up. that is february of 1918. he warns her in these letters that she is about to be arrested. he is so desperate about it he writes jim phillips a separate letter saying i've written her, we have got to do something about this. she subsides. the war ends and people are through worrying about spies and
so forth. it goes away. definitely, the records are there that these people thought that. there were affidavits they got from people that carrie had said i am in with the german government and don't care who knows about it. is it true? read the evidence and take a look. >> i respectfully disagree because as you may have seen in the "new york times" article, i have been reading some of the german language sources, especially a book a great expert on german intelligence during the first world war and he also wrote a book about the german ambassador. he points out, he was reading all the dispatches of the subordinates. there is no mention whatsoever of carrie phillips. if the germans had actually
placed a spy in warren harding's bedroom, would they not have been congratulating themselves and informing berlin of this? to me, it is simply -- we don't know. there may be some place and an archive in some obscure place in germany that survived the second world war where you might have a list of people who were getting some money. but until that list is discovered, i am a skeptic. secondly, these people in the bureau of investigation in the american protective league were wretched. they were simply inept, ill-informed. i have a guy, one of our staff
members has written an article about the treatment of mennonites during the first world war. are you here? can you talk a little bit about that, about the information they developed on mennonites, the bureau of american protective league and the bureau of information? these people are totally unreliable. >> mennonites were pacifists with the german background by and large. they spoke the german language and lived in the midwest, ohio and further west of the plains states. there were all sorts of reasons to be suspicious of them. but the point of the article was the bureau of investigation reports sound very much like the reports i have seen that karen found at the national archives about the phillipses. they pick up on comments from neighbors. it was not uncommon generally in small towns for people to be suspicious of the woman next to them wrapping bandages.
if she was german-american, she may be putting glass in the bandages, that kind of thing. the point was there was a tremendous amount of misinformation with mennonites being described confusedly as being descended from scottish missionaries in the midwest, being involved in the bolshevik movement in the becoming soviet union, kidnapping chinese missionaries in china. just a melange of mistakes and misinformation leading to dire results in some cases. >> remember, the mennonites were 16th century dissenters. to have had someone following them around believing they were scottish missionaries in the 19th century is staggering.
>> and a dire threat. that is a relatively minor case. if one was a socialist at that point, circumstances would have been much worse. >> the point is the information these people were reporting, respectfully disagreeing, most of it is based on local gossip and rumor. we know the people in marion thought carrie was a german spy. >> this is a picture of the american protective league. it says organized with the approval and operating under the direction of the united states department of justice bureau of investigation. i agree with you they were a dangerous organization. they ran roughshod over a lot of people. let me tell you one other fact important to them in their thoughts about why they thought carrie was involved.
this is not going all the way back. lieutenant picard is the guy isabel was engaged to. he was on the uss new york. they discovered the engagement. his first cousin is a woman who became a german baroness. a month after warren harding is confronted by military intelligence about carrie and isabel, this woman is caught in a bed with an officer half her age down in georgia outside camp oglethorpe. she has in her purse a code telling her when ships were going to leave. what the germans were interested in was how quickly the united states is going to mobilize and get in the war. that relationship led to an article "love trysts of women spies." the guy says i know that name because i have been looking at letters between lieutenant picard and isabel phillips.
she is engaged him. it is the same family. that is what caused them to conclude there was some relationship here. the baroness was arrested for espionage, charged with espionage. she went to a perimeter hearing before a magistrate. he found probable cause she should be tried for espionage. she was never tried. that is one of the mysteries. why did that happen? i have some theories about that. that is what set them on fire and made them focus closely on carrie and isabelle because isabel was engaged to lieutenant picard, and this guy's first cousin had been arrested outside of camp. >> this discussion is probably going nowhere, the disagreement.
how about some other questions? over here. marvin. the handsome man who is going to be standing up here has an interesting story. this is one of our former very good specialists. >> this story is lighter than what you have been hearing about spies and so forth. many of you remember a time when the president left some semen on a blue dress. i had a reporter come in and ask me if we had any examples of other presidents having affairs of one sort or another. i might have mentioned president wilson and his love affair during the middle of the war with his second wife. the letters in that collection are racy, but that has been published.
do you know about the relationship between ms. phillips and warren harding? he said, what is that about? i said there are letters with warren harding's mistress in our collection. he said, can i see them? i said i'm sorry, you have to wait until 2014. he went back to "the times" with that story. about a week later, i got a call from someone at the "new york times." i know we can't read the letters, but can we photograph them? [laughter] so i said, not really because that is the same thing. [laughter] she said, can we see the containers they are in? i said sure. we made an appointment for about nine or 10 days later. we set up our conference room. three photographers came down to washington.
they were staying at the mayflower hotel. they came in and i went into our safe vault and got the two or three boxes of the phillips-harding correspondence down. i took it out and put it on the shelf. i brought out these empty boxes. the photographers spent three hours photographing these containers that had the correspondence in them. nothing ever came of it, but i thought it was a wonderful story when we talk about government waste. [laughter] >> we can take a few more and then wrap up. in the middle. madam? >> no. >> i have read all of the material published.
you can go to the library on harding, it is about this big compared to the washington and lincoln material so i am probably misguided on a lot of things. but one of the things i recall reading about is the promise some authors say harding made to nan britton about "she won't last long." was that ever a theme in the letters that there was an expectation that florence would pass on because of her continuing illnesses, that this was a promise for carrie to continue to think there is the possibility of something in the future because of the ill health of florence? >> there is suggestion in a letter that she is not going to last multiple times.
there are multiple times she is on her deathbed. but i don't see a direct, "we have to wait for her to die and things will work out." i don't see that at all. just the opposite. who could leave someone in this shape? i would never do that. it is more that sort of discussion. last question. >> i find these letters fascinating because in the day of internet, we no longer have correspondence. it vanishes into thin air. i am curious how many letters were there. i know there were lots of papers and each letter might have contained 10 or 20 pages. >> or more, up to 40. >> i know people sneak around texting. how did they get these letters? do you have the envelopes? how did they address them to each other or get them to each other?
>> we also have a lot of envelopes that don't have letters. you can tell there are blank spots where they were probably writing the letter did not get saved. we have extra envelopes. >> there are about 106 letters all together. some are 40 pages long. some are written on senate stationery as he is in these great debates about the war. he wrote a public letter, so the first five pages would be breezy, what is going on. he would mail that. she could show that to jim. the last 15 pages were the love letters. he did a lot of that and envelopes within envelopes. they definitely went back and forth on all of this. >> one more over here. >> i wanted to ask dr. harding what it says to all of us that here is someone capable of passionate love, what does that offer to all of us?
>> i am sorry. i missed the quote. >> the quote is from the letter that was on the screen. he was writing about his mad, tender, devoted, eager, passion, jealous, reverent, wistful, hungry, happy love from someone we know only of photographs of a politician. what does that say of us? are we all descended from people capable of that, these people in old photographs? [laughter] you are a psychologist. >> only us lucky ones. [laughter] [applause]
i think one of the things you have to keep in mind is this is a newspaperman who wrote for a living. people always say he was a crummy writer and talker, all the stuff that has been handed down. but he was articulate. he wrote well. love letters generally tend to be immature, adolescent even. but that would be typical of almost everybody in writing a love letter. it is not easy to write a mature love letter. [laughter] he was articulate. i would have preferred he not write quite so many. i have lots of feelings about things. it is what i would expect from someone passionately in love, and he was. it was probably the love of his life. it is said to me as a family member because i through my father love my aunt florence, who was a wonderful person.
but the relationship was different. it was more of a business relationship between warren and florence. they understood each other. they probably knew about what was going on, but they worked together and their love held. he would not have left her for nothing, in my opinion. whereas this other person had a different relationship, and i wish it could have been one person that got both ends of that but that is not the way it worked out. i'm sure in you all's family it has been that one person. congratulations. [laughter] >> that is a great way to end. thank you. [applause]
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their research interests at one of the world's largest libraries. up next, we speak with one of their 2014 follows. >> joining us on american history tv is stephen dick, a former chief historian. >> astrobiology is a search for life in the universe. that involves the search for origin of life here and elsewhere, the future of life, the implications if we find life. it is a very interdisciplinary subject. >> that is what brought you to the kluge center? >> we look particularly at the humanistic aspect of astrobiology, which is brought in itself. i looking at the impact on society if we find life. >> what is your thinking on how human beings would respond to discovering intelligent life in the universe?