“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.”

This Week in Princeton History for March 28-April 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the community gets the first public transit option for leaving town, George H. W. Bush visits the campus, and more.

March 30, 1868—John C. and Sarah H. Green endow building and library funds; later gifts include Chancellor Green Library and the School of Science.

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John C. Green School of Science, 1876. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box SP6, Image No. 1510.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate pioneers new territory in aviation, a sitting American president visits the campus, and more.

May 4, 1970—On the same day as the Ohio National Guard shoots and kills four students at Kent State University during an anti-war protest, over 4,000 Princeton students, faculty, and administrators gather at Jadwin Gym and discuss how they will register their disapproval of the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia. They vote to suspend final exams (audio and photos available here). In the aftermath of the “Princeton Strike,” the academic calendar will be revised to allow for a two-week break from classes in November to allow students to campaign during election years. This will later live on at 21st-century Princeton as a week-long fall break.

May 6, 1963—More than 1,500 undergraduates riot in Princeton for no apparent reason, causing extensive damage to the town and campus. Twelve students are arrested in connection with crimes committed during the riot, and a fine will be imposed on the student body at large to pay for repairs. More than 40 years later, Princeton President Robert Goheen will recall the riot disdainfully.

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The driver of this Volkswagen Beetle honked at rioters, who responded by surrounding the car, lifting it up, and placing it on a nearby sidewalk. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

May 8, 1919—Jim Breese, Princeton University Class of 1909, begins the world’s first transatlantic flight as the Reserve Pilot Engineer aboard the seaplane NC-4. The trip will take 23 days, during which Breese will earn the distinction of being the first person ever to shave on a plane. The Autostrop Company, manufacturer of his razor, will later buy it back from him for a reported $500 (about $12,000 in today’s currency).

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing 1919 PAW 24 Feb 1928

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing, May 8, 1919. Photo from Princeton Alumni Weekly.

May 10, 1991—Sitting United States President George H. W. Bush is on campus to dedicate the University’s Social Science Complex and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. While accepting the degree (video here), Bush, a 1948 Yale graduate, talks about his first visit to Princeton during his senior year. “I was not treated quite so hospitably. It was out at the baseball diamond … Crowded along the first base line—it was very hostile, the way things were in Princeton—were a bunch of hyperventilating, celebrating alumni. And I remember standing there at first base and a gigantic tiger—I think his name was Neil Zundel—came to the plate. He lofted an easy fly toward Yale’s first baseman (me) and as I reached for the ball, the guy just sheer bowled me over to the cheers of the Princeton alumni. I was hurt. My pride was hurt. But P.S.: Yale won the ball game.”

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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