“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.”

A Princeton Degree For a Yalie: George H.W. Bush Visits Princeton, 1991

On May 10, 1991, President George H.W. Bush came to Princeton’s campus to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and dedicate the University’s Social Science Complex. This $20 million dollar project included the newly constructed Bendheim and Fisher Halls, as well as a renovation of Corwin Hall. This Reel Mudd blog post includes video of both of these events, along with other scenes related to the President’s visit.

President Bush’s visit was notable for several reasons. This ceremony was Bush’s first appearance outside of Washington DC after suffering atrial fibrillation while jogging at Camp David. In addition, Bush’s speech (beginning at 00:50:26) was expected to be a major policy speech, though a report indicates that the president rewrote the address en route to Princeton in order to tone down direct attacks on Congress (Daily Princetonian, Volume 115, Number 65, 13 May 1991). While still peppered with criticism of Congress, the President’s talk was mainly a discussion of the Executive Branch’s policy making role compared to that of the Legislative, and Bush’s personal opposition to creating new bureaucracies. The speech is also peppered with humor about the Princeton/Yale rivalry and the President’s place within it (51:42), as well as Bush’s health(50:39), the Nude Olympics (51:22), John F. Kennedy (52:02), and the Princeton allegiances of Secretaries of State George Shultz ’42 and James Baker ‘52  (52:28).
Bush receives his honorary degree from President Shapiro *64.
Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box MP2.

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