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DNA Reveals US President Even Worse Than We Thought

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Sorta transcript:

At the start of the 1920s, Warren G. Harding was one of the most popular US presidents who had ever served. He signed peace treaties with Germany and Austria, he established the first ever child welfare program, he lowered taxes, he cut unemployment in half, he established the Veteran’s Bureau, and he even advocated for an anti-lynching bill that was ultimately not passed because we come from many generations of racist assholes who couldn’t even agree to not allow random black people to be murdered by mobs.

Then he had a massive heart attack in office, and the nation mourned. Then eventually the public found out that his entire presidency had been chock-full of corruption, mostly involving all his pals he put in prestigious positions, like director of the aforementioned Veteran’s Bureau. Now he’s often regarded as one of the worst presidents of all time.

In addition to his political scandals, Harding was also known for being a lady’s man. He was married before becoming president, and in fact his wife, Florence Kling, was a badass who was a big part of his success in both business and politics.

But that wasn’t enough for Harding, so he also had a mistress named Carrie Fulton Phillips, who we know about because of the many love letters they exchanged. Some historians, like Francis Russell, thought of Philips as Harding’s one true love.

This is despite the fact that just after Harding died, another woman named Nan Britton wrote an entire book about their affair, called The President’s Daughter since it resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Ann Blaesing. Britton pointed out that Harding financially supported her daughter for the years leading up to his death, and that she was only going public because once he died there were no preparations made to continue helping her.

A lot of people at the time believed Britton, but a lot of other people, particularly Harding’s surviving family, ripped her to shreds in the media, villifying her and implying that she was a lying whore who was just out for money. For decades, she and her family were abused about the claim, including during a court trial during which she attempted to sue someone for defamation.

Britton died in 1990 still claiming that she was telling the truth. And thanks to one of Harding’s own “legitimate” grand-nephews, we now know with 100% certainty that she was. Dr. Peter Harding compared his own DNA to that of Britton’s surviving grandson, and found that they are in fact second cousins.

Some of Harding’s family members are still skeptical, which is incredible to me. Harding is already known, fairly or not, as one of the worst presidents of all time. There’s really no danger to someone coming along and stealing the glory of being related to Warren G. Harding. And does it really matter to you, 100 years later, if he had an affair? And not even “an affair,” but “another affair”?

The denial of science by some Harding relatives illustrates the power of idolizing an ancestor. I’m sure they took a lot of pride, growing up, in being related to a US president, even if he was maybe one of the worst ones we had. But maybe now it’s time to set that aside and take pride not in who your grandparents were, but in who you are. And who you are should not be someone who stops believing in DNA because you hate a woman who had sex with your grandpa.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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3 Comments

  1. August 25, 2015 at 8:58 am —

    >The denial of science by some Harding relatives illustrates the power of idolizing an ancestor.

    It also illustrates the fact that some people will defend their beliefs even harder when faced with uncontrovertable evidence that disproves them.

  2. August 25, 2015 at 9:47 am —

    Yeah, the Harding family has a long track record of trying to bleach his history. The Harding Memorial Association (yes, really) has occasionally acted on their behalf to swing lawsuits around.

    This has become one of the popular case studies in ethics courses for archival studies:
    http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/HardingAffairLetters_CEPC-CaseStudy5.pdf

  3. August 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm —

    And yet white people accuse us of ancestor worship. (At least the Black Elk family doesn’t deny Crazy Horse’s womanizing. Nor do the Crow Dogs deny that their ancestor was an assassin.)

    You should visit James Buchanan’s house some time. The entire tour is about his interior decorating choices. Seriously. Everything’s about drapes, silverware, furniture, sheets, objets d’art.

    Possibly because the truth (which involves a mix of things that wouldn’t be scandalous today but were back then, such as homosexuality, and things that were perfectly fine back then but would be absolute scandals today, such as all the almost megalomaniacal effort Buchanan put into preserving his boyfriend’s right to own other people, drafting up plans to invade Cuba and all the way into South America because he didn’t believe the Spanish could put down slave riots) doesn’t make President Buchanan look very good.

    tl;dr: Let’s be honest, an affair is hardly the worst thing a US president has done.

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