The former Presidents’ Club: Presidential advice from one to next

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

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Presidential letters

WASHINGTON, September 3, 2017 — The Former Presidents’ Club is exclusive; it has only had 36 members since George Washington started it in 1797, when he left office. Eight presidents died in office, hence never joined.

Five former Presidents are still alive: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. None of them supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

This is not in the never-happened-before category. In 1861, ex-Presidents Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were all alive. The only one present at Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration was James Buchanan.

In 1993, when Bill Clinton was inaugurated, ex-Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were all alive. Only Carter and Bush attended. Nixon, Ford and Reagan watched from their homes in New Jersey and California.


The last time we had five living former presidents was 2001-04, when Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all alive. Reagan had already withdrawn from public life due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The tradition of the departing President leaving a letter to his successor goes back at least to Reagan, who headed his letter to President Bush, “Don’t let the turkey’s get you down.” At least that is the anecdote oft repeated.

The letters are insightful and reflect the outgoing president’s personality and leadership style, from the humility of President George H.W. Bush to the advice of President Obama to President Trump

From President George H.W. Bush to President Bill Clinton

Jan. 20, 1993

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good Luck — George

From President Clinton to President George W. Bush

January 20, 2001

Dear George,

Today you embark on the greatest venture, with the greatest honor, that can come to an American citizen.

Like me, you are especially fortunate to lead our country in a time of profound and largely positive change, when old questions, not just about the role of government, but about the very nature of our nation, must be answered anew.

You lead a proud, decent, good people. And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.

The burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated. The sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.

My prayers are with you and your family. Godspeed.

Sincerely, Bill

From President George W. Bush to President Barak Obama

Jan. 20, 2009

Dear Barack,

Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life.

Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.

There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your “friends” will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.

God bless you.

Sincerely,

GW

During President Barack Obama’s final moments in office, he wrote a letter to Donald Trump addressing him as “Mr. President”; those before him addressed the newest member to the President’s Club by his first name.

Despite their public statements of continuing to work together, Trump and Obama have not been in communication since Obama left Trump his letter, at least not that we know of.

Obama’s letter was handwritten, offering four points of advice for the new president.

From President Obama to President Trump

Dear Mr. President —

Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.

This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.

First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.

Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.

Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions — like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties — that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.

And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.

Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

Good luck and Godspeed,

BO

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