The following letters between US presidents and children are excerpted from 'Dear Young Friend,' published this month by Stackpole Books. Instances of creative spelling or punctuation come directly from the letters.
John Quincy Adams in 1817 to his son John Adams II, a Harvard student who was expelled for participating in a student riot: "I have received three Letters from you since I have been here, all grumbling Letters; and all very badly written.... I ... request you to write me no more such Letters."
In 1925, in one of few letters he wrote from the White House, Calvin Coolidge offers stern advice to his son, a student at Amherst College in Northhampton, Mass.: "You are going to decide about now whether you will amount to anything.... You will make this decision for the most part by determining whether you will work or loaf.... The world will pass on and leave you and you will see many boys that you do not think are very smart going right by you and leaving you behind to be ignored, pitied and despised."
Herbert Hoover, to a girl who asked if there would ever be a female president: "As a generalization, the men have not done too good a job of government in the world in the last forty-seven years, and the chances for the women are thereby increased."
When a high school girl lauded Harry Truman in 1951 for firing General MacArthur, Truman responded: "I am glad you told your high school what the facts are. I am enclosing three speeches which cover the situation completely and thoroughly and if you will read them you will know just about as much of the Foreign Policy of the United States as the President does."
In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower, learned of a boy with cerebral palsy who defended the president every night with a toy pistol by his pillow. He wrote: "A friend of yours has just told Mrs. Eisenhower and me a wonderful story - that way up in Albany I have a small but courageous little bodyguard by day, and that my picture watches over you while you sleep. I am proud to have such a staunch defender, and I wanted you to know it."
To a boy in California who asked him about St. Patrick's Day, John F. Kennedy responded in 1963: "Your questions are quite pertinent, coming as they do just before St. Patrick's Day. There are many legends about the 'little people,' but what they all add up to is this: If you really believe, you will see them.
"My 'little people' are very small, wear tall black stovepipe hats, green coats and pants, and have long, white beards."
Lyndon B. Johnson writes in 1966 to a boy from New Jersey: "I learned today about the saddest tragedy that could happen to a little boy.... Please let your President try, in a small way, to help you blot out your unhappiness. If you like, I will send you another friend who ... will find in you the love that you gave to Snoopy, who has now gone away. I believe he will love you and be loyal to you because I have a feeling this little beagle is especially partial to a four year old boy."
Richard Nixon to the younger John Kennedy after a visit to the White House in 1971: "I will let you in on a little secret with regard to our dogs. Usually Mrs. Nixon - for obvious reasons - will not allow them to come to the second floor. So you can see that your visit was a special treat for them (and for me! - I don't worry so much about what happens to the furniture)."
This letter, from a 12-year-old Cuban boy named Fidel Castro to Franklin D. Roosevelt, appears to have gone unanswered: "My good friend Roosevelt, I don't know very English.... I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy because I heard in it that you will be President for a new (periodo).... If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter because never I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.... If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest (minar) of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oreinte Cuba."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society