The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War

Overview

Warren Harding fell in love with his beautiful neighbor, Carrie Phillips, in the summer of 1905, almost a decade before he was elected a United States Senator and fifteen years before he became the 29th President of the United States. When the two lovers started their long-term and torrid affair, neither of them could have foreseen that their relationship would play out against one of the greatest wars in world history—the First World War. Harding would become a Senator with the power to vote for war; Mrs. ...

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The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War

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Overview

Warren Harding fell in love with his beautiful neighbor, Carrie Phillips, in the summer of 1905, almost a decade before he was elected a United States Senator and fifteen years before he became the 29th President of the United States. When the two lovers started their long-term and torrid affair, neither of them could have foreseen that their relationship would play out against one of the greatest wars in world history—the First World War. Harding would become a Senator with the power to vote for war; Mrs. Phillips and her daughter would become German agents, spying on a U. S. training camp on Long Island in the hopes of gauging for the Germans the pace of mobilization of the U. S. Army for entry into the battlefields in France.

Based on over 800 pages of correspondence discovered in the 1960s but under seal ever since in the Library of Congress, The Harding Affair will tell the unknown stories of Harding as a powerful Senator and his personal and political life, including his complicated romance with Mrs. Phillips. The book will also explore the reasons for the entry of the United States into the European conflict and explain why so many Americans at the time supported Germany, even after the U. S. became involved in the spring of 1917.

James David Robenalt's comprehensive study of the letters is set in a narrative that weaves in a real-life spy story with the story of Harding's not accidental rise to the presidency.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Intimate, revealing — and sometimes downright embarrassing — the newly revealed love letters at the heart of The Harding Affair provide an altogether fresh look at a future American President hopelessly in love with a woman not his wife."

—Geoffrey C. Ward, author of A First-Class Temperament and The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945

“A crackling history by Greater Cleveland lawyer James David Robenalt gives Ohioans a peek, five years early, at court-sealed love letters that Warren G. Harding, the last Ohioan elected president, sent to his long-time mistress, Marion neighbor Carrie Phillips. Considering that they deal with a presidency that ended 86 years ago, that's saying a lot… Hard to put down.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Warren Harding has always been ranked as one of the worst U.S. presidents. But [this] book might just boost his image. Readers will see a tender, human side of Harding and also learn about his opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's nation-building efforts abroad after World War I — an issue that still resonates. If he had assumed the presidency in 1917 instead of 1921… [it may have] led to an outcome that would have drastically changed the course of the 20th century.” –The Columbus Dispatch

Publishers Weekly
Warren Harding's philandering while in the White House has already been documented, but Cleveland litigator Robenalt reveals an earlier, perhaps more unwise love affair by the Ohio politician and then U.S. senator. More than 100 love letters reveal Harding's jealous affair with Carrie Phillips—an alleged German spy—between 1905 and 1917. As Harding's political career rose, so too did his proximity to America's eventual Great War adversaries as Phillips's extended family was tried for espionage and suspicions alighted on her. This dangerous liaison illuminates a public figure at his most intimate, human and vulnerable, jealously begging for fidelity from his mistress even as he debated in letters her vocal pro-German stance and publicly addressed the nation to decry Germany's “contempt for neutral rights and horrifying disregard of the rights of humanity.” The richness of previously sealed, highly personal correspondence compensates for Robenalt's abrupt meandering between the history of Harding's affair and that of the espionage trial of Phillips's in-law, Baroness Iona Zollner. However, Robenalt fails to frame the Harding affair as one with political or historical repercussions. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Warren G. Harding was unlucky in marriage, love, and his political friends. His wife was a semi-invalid, other women left love letters, and one published a book about his illegitimate daughter. His closest political friends were crooks. Robenalt, a lawyer from Harding's home state of Ohio, has done yeoman service in unraveling a treasure trove of 900 Harding letters and journal entries, often written in secret code. The picture that emerges is of a love-starved politician with a wife who may have driven him into the arms of other women. Such seems to be the case as illustrated in the letters here, newly revealed, to his most passionate love, Carrie Phillips, the wife of an Ohio neighbor, and a woman who seemingly became an agent of the German government during World War I. Her pro-German views led Harding to break his 13-year relationship with her and finally drove him to paying the equivalent of hush money. VERDICT Although Robenalt reveals more about Harding as a human being, he will not likely change the minds of historians in their low ranking of him as President. The book would have benefited from photographs of the subjects, most especially the women! It is hoped that the type size will increase in the finished book or older readers may give up trying to access it. Recommended for large presidential collections.—William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ. Shreveport
Kirkus Reviews
An Ohio lawyer pores over reams of salacious correspondence to reveal fascinating new information, overlooked by earlier biographers, about Warren G. Harding's long-running romance with a pro-German freethinker. Unlike many of those previous biographers, Robenalt intends to rehabilitate his fellow Ohioan. The author has digested decades of Harding's letters to Mrs. Carrie Phillips, a neighbor in their hometown of Marion, Ohio, who lived for long periods in Germany, to reveal not only that Harding was a terrific writer, but also that he acted honorably within the circumstances both toward his lover and his wife. Robenalt's other revelation, that Phillips was a German spy, is not as persuasive. Her fraternization during World War I with the Pickhardt family of German-American millionaires alerted the newly formed American Protective League in Marion and earned her surveillance, but the author admits that nothing was proved. During the 13 years Harding and Phillips carried on their clandestine romance, his wife Florence remained mostly an invalid; she and the town probably knew what was going on, Robenalt concludes. The lovers corresponded extensively from 1905 until around 1918, when Senator Harding became a serious presidential contender. Then Phillips began to extort money from him, and their relationship cooled. Alternating chapters present the 1917 court case of Baroness Iona Zollner, daughter of Wilhelm Pickhardt and wife of a German army officer, who was arrested in a compromising situation "abetting the enemy in a time of war." The case reveals the extent of anti-German hysteria then sweeping the country. Robenalt's narrative is somewhat erratic, but his grasp of the period is solid.By quoting at length from Harding's letters, he offers important insight into the passionate character of his subject. May not hold the attention of the general reader, but provides valuable documentation for presidential scholars. First printing of 40,000
From the Publisher
"Intimate, revealing — and sometimes downright embarrassing — the newly revealed love letters at the heart of The Harding Affair provide an altogether fresh look at a future American President hopelessly in love with a woman not his wife."

—Geoffrey C. Ward, author of A First-Class Temperament and The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945

“A crackling history by Greater Cleveland lawyer James David Robenalt gives Ohioans a peek, five years early, at court-sealed love letters that Warren G. Harding, the last Ohioan elected president, sent to his long-time mistress, Marion neighbor Carrie Phillips. Considering that they deal with a presidency that ended 86 years ago, that's saying a lot… Hard to put down.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Warren Harding has always been ranked as one of the worst U.S. presidents. But [this] book might just boost his image. Readers will see a tender, human side of Harding and also learn about his opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's nation-building efforts abroad after World War I — an issue that still resonates. If he had assumed the presidency in 1917 instead of 1921… [it may have] led to an outcome that would have drastically changed the course of the 20th century.” –The Columbus Dispatch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230106956
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James David Robenalt is a partner in Thomson Hine LLP, a law firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born and raised not far from Harding’s hometown in western Ohio, and comes from a family of leading Ohio Democrats.

John W. Dean is a former Nixon White House counsel and the author of nine other books, including Pure Goldwater, Worse than Watergate, Conservatives without Conscience, and Broken Government. He has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, MSNBC, Salon, and many other publications. He also writes a biweekly column for FindLaw.com. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by J.W.Dean * Prologue * ‘Twas a Search in Vain'

• Espionage in Chattanooga: The Baroness

• The American Protective League and Love Tricks of Women Spies * 'The Sweetest, Dearest Little Brother You Ever Saw'

• Saturday, December 22, 1917, an Espionage Hearing Begins

• Carrie

• Baron Curt Loeffelholz von Colberg * 'It Flames Like the Fire and Consumes'

• Christmas Eve, 1910

• A German Cavalry Officer Named Zollner * 'Constant'

• The Code

• 'I Got The Fever'

• 'Fate Timed That Marvelous Coincidence' * 'Fragment Written Sunday', January 28, 1912, Manhattan Hotel Stationery * 'I’d Rather Be a Licked Warrior and Survive, Than a Healthy Coward'

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