What does the old POTUS say to the new POTUS?
January 21, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Are the contents of the letters from US Presidents to their successors available in the National Archives or Presidential Libraries?

I'm intrigued by the "From #43 to #44" letter that former President Bush left for President Obama in the Oval Office, and was wondering: are the contents of earlier outgoing-to-incoming POTUS letters available for historians and the public-at-large to review?

Obviously, you want Presidents to be completely frank and candid in their intimate conversations (so I would expect there to be a significant period of time before such correspondence would be made public), but it would be fascinating to read what previous US Presidents wrote to their successors.

(And please don't waste my time or yours by injecting your own political opinions.)
posted by BobbyVan to Law & Government (9 answers total)
I don't believe those missives are publicly available in any form. As personal correspondence, they aren't subject to official record-keeping regulations, and the tradition has been for presidents to keep them confidential. I'm not aware of any such letters that have been made public.
posted by valkyryn at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2009

Best answer: The Reagan letters to Bush 41 (which started the tradition) have been made public. (He wrote two.) The first said "Don't let the turkeys get you down", on Sandra Boynton stationery.

The second wasn't much more than that.

Not much to hang a National Treasure movie on.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2009

Uh, I think Reagan only wrote one outgoing letter (he only left the presidency once, Jan 20, 1989) and that note was on novelty stationary preprinted with the phrase "Don't let the turkeys get you down." Your link above is to the text of that letter.
posted by mattbucher at 12:06 PM on January 21, 2009

I imagine these letters containing some super secret for presidential eyes only information. Like a password for the football or something. But then, I probably just watched too much TV and it's really about the turkey.
posted by Brennus at 12:15 PM on January 21, 2009

Not sure of the content, but 43's letter looked like this.
posted by Adam_S at 12:28 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

probably nothing as somber as the british prime minister's letter to a sub commander with instructions in the event of the destruction of the chain of command as well as britain: the last resort letter
posted by rmd1023 at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The "last resort letter" story is amazing.

This conversation also reminds me of the Bill Hicks comedy bit about the video that new US presidents watch. Found it here. Feel free to ignore the video and just listen to the audio.
posted by BobbyVan at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2009

Best answer: In this book, George H.W. Bush writes that on January 20, 1993, "I leave a note on the desk for Bill Clinton. It looks a little lonely sitting there. I don't want it to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him. . . . As I told Bill Clinton, I feel the same sense of wonder and majesty about this office today as I did when I first walked in here."
posted by mattbucher at 8:18 PM on January 21, 2009

Best answer: On page 951 of his book My Life, Bill Clinton writes: "I thought about the note to President Bush I would write and leave behind in the Oval Office, just as his father had done for me eight years earlier. I wanted to be gracious and encouraging, as George Bush had been to me. Soon George W. Bush would be President of all the people, and I wished him well. I had paid close attention to what Bush and Cheney had said in the campaign. I knew they saw the world very differently from the way I did and would want to undo much of what I had done, especially on economic policy and the environment."

It's also interesting to read that Clinton rode in a limo from the Capitol to Andrews Air Force Base after Bush's Inaugural ceremony. George H.W. Bush was the first to arrange a helicopter ride on Marine One to take the retiring president (Reagan) directly from the Capitol to Andrews. Obama extended this courtesy to George W. Bush, but W. did not for Clinton.
posted by mattbucher at 8:47 PM on January 21, 2009

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