Being President of the United States can be lonely and daunting, and only a few people alive know what it’s like first hand.
One of the modern Inauguration Day traditions for presidents leaving office is to write their successors a letter offering best wishes and advice. This is usually left on the Resolute Desk to read when the new president first enters the Oval Office.
Sometimes the letter are humorous, like Ronald Reagan’s pithy note to George H.W. Bush. But they’re mostly an exchange of thanks and hope between the two commanders-in-chief.
Barack Obama wrote to Donald Trump about the importance of civic institutions: “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.”
George H.W. Bush wrote to the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton: “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”
President Joe Biden also received a note from his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“The President wrote a very generous letter,” Biden told reporters on Inauguration Day 2021. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.”
A senior Trump aide described the letter to CNN as a “personal note” that prays for the success of the country and the new administration to care for the country.
Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush
(On stationary that reads “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” with an illustration of an elephant surrounded by turkeys)
You’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationary. Well, go to it.
George, I treasure the memories we share and I wish you all the very best. You’ll be in my prayers. God bless you & Barbara. I’ll miss our Thursday lunches.
George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton
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 is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck –
Bill Clinton to George W. Bush
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.
George W. Bush to Barack Obama
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,
Barack Obama to Donald 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,