DNA testing has reportedly settled one of the longest running scandals in presidential history: Warren Harding’s fathering of a daughter with mistress Nan Brittan. The Harding family and supporters long trashed Brittan for her account of a long affair and child, but the testing of the grandchildren of Brittan has confirmed her account.
It turns out that Warren G. Harding was not only a uniquely poor excuse for a president (according to historians in various polls) but a uniquely poor excuse for a person. While popular before his death in office, Harding is now viewed as the worst president by many historians and regularly listed among the worse failures. Various scandals like Teapot Dome undermined that legacy, but it was not until after his death that his affairs came to light.
He was of course married to Florence Mabel Harding (left). However, he had an extramarital affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips of Marion (right), which lasted about fifteen years until 1920. Despite letters clearly showing the existence of the affair, Hardings family and supporters fought to destroy or bury the letters to protect his reputation. There was a lawsuit over the letters which eventually were handed over to the Library of Congress.
Harding later had the affair with Nan Britton, the daughter of one of his best friends. What is truly astonishing is that her father, Dr. Britton, had told Harding that his young daughter had a crush on him. Harding met with her and said that he discouraged her. He was still having an affair with Phillips at the time. Later however he began an affair with his friend’s daughter. After she graduated from high school, she went to New York and began the affair with Harding while working as a secretary. She would later write the first tell-all book entitled The President’s Daughter after she was left with nothing to support herself or her daughter. This included an account of making love in a coat closet with the president.
Britton said that Harding promised to support her but that the First Lady saw to it that she received nothing. The blame on Florence Harding however missed the point. Harding took no steps to support his mistress (or his daughter) after his serial adulterous relationships. The family and friends of Harding attacked Britton — even claiming that Harding was sterile and could not produce children. Like the earlier affair, the Britton affair resulted in its own lawsuit — a defamation lawsuit (Britton v. Klunk) where she alleged defamation over the claims that she made up the affair. She lost due to the lack of evidence to support her account. That evidence now exists in the form of DNA with a 99.9 percent certainty.
Elizabeth Ann Blaesing died in 2005. Her mother Britton died in 1991. However, Britton’s grandson, James Blaesing, 65, is still living and fought to vindicate his grandmother and mother. He has succeeded against the determined efforts of the Hardings and their supporters.
James Blaesing insists that this is a “true love, especially on her side, and I know he felt the same way. And he got trapped.” I hope that that is true but I am less generous toward Blaesing’s new found grandfather. While taking care in every other aspect of his life, Harding did nothing to ensure the future for his mistress or their child. He also had an adulterous affair with his best friend’s daughter after a long affair with another woman. That does not offer one much faith in Harding as a person or a president.