By Dan Linke
James A. Baker III ’52, the distinguished public servant and five-time presidential campaign manager who served as the 61st U.S. Secretary of State, will open his papers that are held at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University on January 1, 2018. Donated in 2002, originally the papers were to remain closed during Baker’s lifetime or until his 100th birthday. Soon researchers will be able to examine his work in senior government positions under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, as well as his role in five consecutive presidential campaigns from 1976 to 1992 for Presidents Gerald Ford, Reagan, and Bush.
In 1976 Baker (pictured here) served as President Gerald Ford’s “delegate hunter” in the primary race, successfully fending off a challenge from Ronald Reagan, then went on to lead Ford’s national campaign in the fall. In the 1980 primary, he was the campaign manager for his close friend and tennis partner George H. W. Bush, then joined the Reagan-Bush campaign for the general election. He would then serve as the campaign manager for the subsequent three Republican presidential campaigns. (From the James A. Baker III Papers, Box 265, Folder 1.)
Baker at Princeton
In 1949, as the United States and its western allies established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to “contain” Soviet expansion into Europe, James A. Baker III was a freshman at Princeton. He was, in his words, “focused more on making grades, playing tennis and rugby, and chasing girls — not necessarily in that order — than on U.S. foreign policy” (Baker p. 287).
In his memoir, Baker provides a good-natured account of his early years here. “I became a member of both Princeton’s Right Wing Club — so named because we spent much of our time using our right arms to hoist spirituous beverages — and the 21 Club, another social organization with a similar mission” (Baker p. 9). But by the time he left Princeton, Baker had produced serious work; he found his interest in history and classics and had written his senior thesis about parliamentary politics in Britain in the two preceding decades.
The Cold War would soon find him, however. Baker graduated in 1952 and immediately entered the U.S. Marine Corps’ officer training program while the Korean War was still ongoing. The Cold War would continue to shape Baker’s career, by which he was both a witness to and agent of the fall of the Soviet Union. By the end of 1991, Baker had served as Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary and as Secretary of State for George H. W. Bush.
Return to Princeton
This video, documenting a talk by Baker co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School and the Class of 1993, was delivered on December 12, 1991 in Alexander Hall. Baker was then serving as Secretary of State.