With so many scandals and potential scandals swirling around the current administration and the hopeful occupant of a future one, I was not prepared for the final word on a long simmering one from Warren G. Harding. Yet there it is: finally, after being rumored and argued about for nearly 90 years, the truth about Warren G. Harding’s alleged love child is out. The New York Times reports that DNA tests confirmed, for the first time, that Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, the daughter of Nan Britton, Harding’s secretary and secret lover while he was a U.S. Senator from Ohio and during the three years (1921-23) he was in the White House, was indeed fathered by the 29th President.
Britton had written a much-maligned tell-all book in 1928, detailing her adulterous relationship with Harding that continued right up to his election as President in 1920. Harding, who had died in office in 1923, was not well regarded by posterity and historians at the time (or now), but his honor was still defended furiously in court and out of it: Elizabeth, born in 1919, died in 2005 with her paternity still unsettled and furiously denied by Harding’s family. Britton would not have had to write the book that caused her to be maligned like some are attacking Bill Cosby’s accusers today if Harding hadn’t betrayed her and their daughter, for though she said that he had promised to provide for them, there was no mention of Nan and Elizabeth in Harding’s will. Of course, he hadn’t expected to drop dead at 59, but then, who does? He had an obligation to make sure his daughter was well-provided for, and botched it.
Over time, Britton’s claims had come to be regarded as unproven but plausible, even her juicy tale about Warren banging her in a White House closet. After all, it is a matter of record that another Harding mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, was blackmailing both Harding and the Republican Party to keep that adulterous relationship out of the newspapers.
That’s right: Harding had illicit sexual relationships all over the place. He is the still-reigning champion of White House carnal scummery, though John Fitzgerald Kennedy is just a newly discovered sex toy’s best-selling memoir or two away from taking the crown. Amazing, isn’t it? Bill Clinton is no better (worse?) than third in this icky competition, though he was the only one who was publicly, uh, exposed. Unlike Clinton, Harding and Kennedy would have been impeached and convicted if their affairs had come to light while they were President. Luckily for both of them, in that respect, neither lived through their first term in office. Their continuous White House slap-and-tickle sessions were indefensibly reckless and irresponsible, not to mention dishonest and betrayals of their respective wives, but by all accounts, neither could exert sufficient self control to stop.
Another result of the DNA tests revealed today was an end to the rumors that Warren G. Harding was black. Those speculations had dogged him since childhood, and in fact may have indirectly made him President. His family’s poor-side-town origins along with his thick lips and (some thought) African features caused young Warren to be ostracized. The Harding family, some biographers determined, were rejected as not fitting into either the white or the black community in Blooming Grove, Ohio. Warren, it has been speculated, compensated as an adult by seeking membership in every fraternal and community organization he could find. The contacts and friends he made in these groups ultimately formed the foundation of his political career.
Plus it was a great way to meet chicks.
In this year’s President’s Day retrospective, I concluded the Harding segment by writing, “So perhaps Warren G. Harding was the first black President…and the best one so far.” That possibility is apparently no more. Barack Obama’s one positive achievement that no one can dispute is safe for ever.