How Some Were Burned…


Still not explained, however, is the fate of many of the original letters from which the approximately 5,500 pages of typed copies were made for Doubleday, Page. When Dr. Sawyer turned over those copies to the Society he stated that the originals from which they were reproduced no longer existed in the Harding papers. He was also uncertain as to when and why the copies were made, although examination of the Association’s records and the copies themselves reveals that they were prepared for the publisher in 1925. Some of the originals have been located in the Harding papers now held by the Society, but an estimated half of them seem to be missing.

Other mysteries shroud the story of the Harding sources, most of them known only through rumor and hearsay. Some day, perhaps, scholars will have access to the Carrie Phillips correspondence, and will demonstrate its importance in understanding Harding’s life. Time may eventually bring to light—if they exist—a group of Harding letters addressed to Nan Britton, another Marion girl and Carrie’s successor in Harding’s affections; that correspondence is alleged to be stored in the files of a New York attorney.

Or there is the thesis of a brilliant and introspective English student who came to Ohio shortly after the President’s death. With quiet persistence he is supposed to have amassed a wealth of detailed information, much of it in sworn affidavits. He went back to England, wrote his thesis, but never submitted it because he was afraid of the controversy it would stimulate. Later on he lost interest in history and turned to the ministry. When he was questioned about the thesis and the affidavits, he said he had destroyed them. Responsible persons will talk about such rumors, but not for publication.

The greatest mystery of all, however, is subjective: What great personal magnetism did Warren Harding possess that engendered such blind loyalty? And how could those who felt it have turned so mistakenly to the one course—suppression—guaranteed to do his reputation the most harm?

Where the lives of important men are concerned, suppression hides small facts only to breed larger fabrications. Had the Harding papers been released in 1925 or 1926, scholars would soon have been busily at work. With such a large body of material available, there would not have been the atmosphere of mystery and silence in which other voices flourished—the probing Professor Chancellor; Nan Britton with her book, The President’s Daughter; Gaston B. Means with his sensational volume, The Strange Death of President Harding. Biographers like William Allen White and Samuel Hopkins Adams would have been less prone to accept rumor and legend (for some parts of the story there was nothing else), and generations of tabloid scandal writers would have turned to other topics.

It is fire, the fire of burning letters, that brings headlines. In death as in life, what hurt Warren Harding as much as he did himself was the folly of his friends.