WASHINGTON (Reuters) - On Christmas Eve 1910, future U.S. President Warren Harding wrote his mistress Carrie Phillips a letter that began: "There are no words, at my command, sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you ... mad, tender, devoted, ardent, eager, passion-wild."
Harding praises Phillips' "matchless embrace" and adds: "To have and to hold you, in happiness to you, exclusively, in satisfying and satisfied love, would be the triumph of living and loving."
The message is among about 1,000 pages of sometimes steamy love letters between Harding and Phillips that the Library of Congress will put online on July 29 after a 50-year court seal expires.
The letters offer the chance to rethink perceptions of the seemingly staid 29th president, who campaigned on a "return to normalcy" and died in office tainted by scandal, participants at a Library of Congress program said on Tuesday.
Harding, a Republican who served in the White House from 1921 to 1923, was a defender of free speech, sponsor of a naval disarmament conference, and an early civil rights supporter, they said.
"In looking at this collection, it's astonishing the amount of misinformation about him, in fact, about everybody connected with him," the library's Manuscript Division chief, James Hutson, told the audience, which included Harding relatives.
The letters were donated to the Library of Congress by Harding's nephew in 1972 and have been locked in a vault ever since.
The letters were written between 1910 and 1920 during an affair that began in 1905 between Harding, then Ohio's lieutenant governor, and Phillips, a family friend in Marion, Ohio.
Almost all were written by Harding. Both he and Phillips were in struggling marriages, with Harding's wife chronically ill.
Phillips kept the letters, some of them written in code, despite his requests that she burn them.
In 1913, Harding wrote her: "I do love you so. I wonder if you realize how much - how faithfully, how gladly, how reverently, how wistfully, how whole-heartedly and how passionately."
Harding died of a heart attack in August 1923 during a political tour, tainted by the Teapot Dome bribery scandal involving his secretary of the interior. Phillips died in 1960.
Microfilmed copies of the letters had been made and one of the copies turned up at Cleveland's Western Reserve Historical Society. James Robenalt, a lawyer and historian, used it for his 2009 book, "The Harding Affair," and some of the letters are on his website.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Peter Cooney