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Special Event

President Clinton Dedicates Lincoln Summer Retreat as National Monument

Aired July 7, 2000 - 11:58 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: I am Jeanne Meserve in Washington. We are going to take you to the Anderson Cottage in Northwest Washington. President Clinton about to designate it a national monument because Abraham Lincoln summered there while he was president.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said to me, he said, You know, I stumbled a little, I'm not used to doing this. I thought he did a fine job, don't you?

(APPLAUSE)

He told you one of the things that I wanted to say, which is that the people who live in this home open amazing volumes of mail, 1.9 million pieces since he's been at it. A lot of that mail is mail that very young children send to Socks and to Buddy.

And you may know that Hillary actually did a book on the best letters that children wrote to the White House asking questions of our pets. And it would have been impossible to do that book and it would be impossible to respond to those children with the staff we have at the White House if it weren't for the veteran volunteers here who do this and so many other things to help the White House work.

I hope one of the things that will come out of this day is that the people who have retired after distinguished careers in military service will finally get some of the credit they deserve for helping the White House to operate every single day of the year.

And we thank them all.

(APPLAUSE)

I also think we brought Buddy and Socks out here today to play. I hope I get them back before the end of the day.

I would like to say a special word of appreciation to Secretary West for his work with our veterans. And because of what we're doing today, I want to say again how indebted I feel the country is to Secretary Babbitt and to those who work with him, especially Bob Stanton, the director of the National Park Service. We make another milestone decision today under the leadership and with the drive of Bruce Babbitt; when all is said and done, I'm not sure America will ever have had an Interior Secretary who had done so much good for the natural heritage of America as Bruce Babbitt.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank George Frampton of the White House who has done so much to support this effort. I thank the members of the D.C. city council who are here today. We're going to try to raise a little more money to help you with the continued renaissance of our nation's capital.

(APPLAUSE)

And we thank you for your leadership.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank Richard Moe (ph), the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for all that his organization has done to protect this site and others like it. The trust is helping to put places like Anderson Cottage literally back on the map.

And, finally, this is one of the first lady's White House millennial projects which has allowed us to honor our past and imagine the future.

I want to thank Ellen Lovell (ph), who runs that project, and I want to thank Hillary for the truly astonishing impact this millennial effort has had in our country.

Dick Moe (ph) told me on the way up here that we've now seen a $100 million divided almost 50-50 between public and private monies committed to preserve the great treasures of America, of which is this one.

And I know how passionately Hillary feels about this. I'll never forget, I was once reading a couple a years ago, I was reading this biography of Rutherford Hayes. And President Hayes was -- he was one of those Union generals from Ohio that got elected president; Grant, Hayes, Harrison, McKinley. After the Civil War, if you were a Union general from Ohio, you had about a 50 percent chance of being elected president.

(LAUGHTER)

There has never been any category of Americans that had such a probability of being elected president, as Union generals from Ohio between 1865 and -- or 1868 and 1900.

But, anyway, I was reading how Hayes brought his family up here because the Potomac was a swamp and the mosquitoes were terrible and the heat was unbearable and no one could work in the White House. And I started talking to Hillary about this, and she kind of nosed around up here, and we know we knew about the home because of all the work that the veterans here do for the White House, and one thing led to another and this became one of our millennial treasures.

But I am very grateful to her and to Ellen Lovell (ph) because I think that the millennial projects around the country -- and I'll say a little more about this later -- have really given a lasting gift to America. So I want to thank them. I know Hillary wishes she could be here today.

(APPLAUSE)

Now I understand I'm the first president since Chester Arthur to actually go up and down the stairs at the Anderson Cottage more than 100 years ago. But the place is very special to America. It has so much of the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, even though it has almost been forgotten for more than a century.

It's not because the people have forgotten President Lincoln. Last year more than a million people visited Ford's Theater alone, but barely 100 made it here to Anderson Cottage where Lincoln lived and worked, where his son played and his wife found solace, where his ideas took shape and his last best hopes for America took flight.

In some ways, this cottage behind me is the most important as well as the least-known Lincoln site in the entire United States.

He spent a quarter of his presidency at this cottage he called the Soldiers' Home. It was in part summer days like this one that drew the Lincolns here to higher ground where the breeze flows more and the visitor can breathe a little easier.

In 1862, Mr. Lincoln's second year as president, he and Mary packed up and moved the family these few miles north for the summer. It was quieter here, it was a place to reflect, and for them, at that time, it was sadly also a place to grieve for the loss of their young son Willie. It was a place where the president could sit beneath the canopy of a beautiful copper beech tree, to go again through the books of poetry he loved so, or drop the books and follow his son Tad up into the cradle of the tree's great limbs.

That tree is just behind the cottage here. I saw it when I arrived and I walked beneath its canopy, just as President Lincoln did almost 140 years ago. It is still very much alive, standing proudly, and I might add now, because it is three centuries old, it is our last living link to Abraham Lincoln.

It's hard to believe we're just a few miles from the White House. On a clear day, it's close enough to signal by semaphore from the Sherman Building tower; close enough to commute. On my short drive here today, I thought about how Mr. Lincoln used to come here on horseback or by carriage, up and down the old 7th Street Pike.

His days were spent in wartime Washington. His nights and mornings here. Not a bad commute by our standards, but it wasn't especially safe either.

One evening in August of 1864, the sound of a gunshot sent Mr. Lincoln, who was riding alone on horseback, scrambling for home. He made it back here safely, though his $8 plug hat did not. The bullet passed through the hat, but thankfully not through him. His guards found it along the road and they found the bullet hole.

The Soldiers' Home gave the Lincolns refuge in times of trouble, but not escape. If anything, being here often brought President Lincoln closer to the front. The Battle of Fort Stevens was waged just two miles north of here. Lincoln got on his horse and went to witness the fight.

On another ride he passed an ambulance train -- a terrible reminder of the war's human cost.

And in July of 1864, the able Confederate General Jubal Early got so close to this cottage that Lincoln had to return in haste to the relative safety of the White House. The war was never far away from him. In that I think we see the real significance of the Soldiers' Home, for Lincoln came to this cottage, not to hide from war, but to confront its deepest meanings, to plumb its most difficult truths, to find the solace necessary to muster the strength and resolve to go on.

I was here, as many of you know, that President Lincoln completed a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in the seceding states. When he signed it, Lincoln said: My whole soul is in it. You can still feel that spirit strongly in the room in this cottage where he worked.

MESERVE: You're listening to Bill Clinton speaking at Anderson Cottage in Northwest Washington. Abraham Lincoln summered there during his presidency, and President Clinton called the most important and least-known Lincoln site in the entire United States. He says he spent one-quarter of his presidency there.

Bob Franken is also on the grounds at Anderson Cottage.

Bob, some money also coming along today with the designation of national monument, isn't that right?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. For this individual monument, $750,000 will be turned over by this new trust that has been set up. All together, there are 71 historic sites that are being named today around the country. They will share millions of dollars, oftentimes with matching funds coming from elsewhere. There will be efforts, of course, to match this money.

And there's a lot of work to do. Inside, what Bill Clinton has seen is painted walls that are peeling, rooms that have been used for offices, that kind of thing. So there's a lot of restoration.

Now, we got a history lesson from President Clinton as we listened this morning, and the idea is that this history will become available to public, because along with the restoration will be plans to make this open to the public so more people can find out this hugely significant part of the Lincoln presidency where, as President Clinton pointed out, Abraham Lincoln wrote some of the drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation, what one person called the centerpiece of the Lincoln administration. And I should point out, Jeanne, this is also where President Lincoln visited one day before he was assassinated in the Ford's Theatre in Washington, just three miles away.

MESERVE: Bob Franken at Anderson Cottage, thanks so much.

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