“Just friends; friends, that’s what matters in life:” the President and the Secretary of State

By: Daniel J. Linke
Curator of Public Policy Papers

 

The Mudd Manuscript Library notes the passing of former President George H. W. Bush, who, though a Yale alum, is represented within our collections via the papers of his long-time friend and political ally, James A. Baker III ’52. Baker, among other roles, served as Secretary of State under President Bush.  In December 2012, the library received a significant addition to the Baker papers in the form of a thick folder of correspondence exchanged between the two men from the late 1980s and 1990s.  The friendship between the two began decades earlier when they were doubles partners at a Houston tennis club and was maintained through all of their political travails and afterwards, a rarity in modern Washington politics.

In addition to the papers’ historic import—which includes notes passed between Baker and Bush at international meetings, as well as letters and memoranda shared while each served in our nation’s highest offices—the material also reveals President Bush’s human side–his thoughtfulness, his sense of humor, and how much he valued his friendship with Baker.   While every item is noteworthy, one, in a very understated way, reveals the depth of their friendship and Bush’s remarkable humility.

This cover of Turkey Hunter magazine with its post-it note from then President Bush (“JAB Do you get this mag? If not I’ll send you mine. GB”) reveals several things:  Bush’s consideration for Baker, his “no-airs” personality, and of course, a close friendship, unlike almost any other in 20th century politics.  The date of the cover is striking: June/July 1989—within the first half year of the Bush presidency.  This predates any of the momentous events that would mark the Bush administration: the Panama invasion, the Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Empire, or the Madrid Peace talks.  Instead, it shows two friends who shared a passion for hunting, who also happened to be the President of the United States and his Secretary of State.

These materials are part of the Baker papers. The finding aid for the collection is available online.

The title of this blog post is taken from a phrase Bush used to describe his relationship with Baker. It is found in an interview with him (bottom of page 3 of the PDF, page 1 of the transcript) within the James A. Baker III Oral History Project.

For further reading:

DeLooper, John. “A Princeton Degree for a Yalie: George H. W. Bush Visits Princeton.”

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