As he was preparing to leave the White House in January 1989, President Ronald Reagan wanted to leave a note for his successor, George H W Bush, and reached for a pad emblazoned with a cartoon by humorist Sandra Boynton under the phrase, Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down.
It featured a collection of turkeys scaling a prone elephant, the symbol of both men’s Republican Party. Dear George, You’ll have moments when you’ll want to use this particular stationary. Well, go to it, Reagan scrawled.
He noted treasuring the memories we share and said he’d be praying for the new president before concluding, “I’ll miss our Thursday lunches. Ron.” Thus was born the tradition of departing presidents leaving a handwritten note in the Oval Office for their successors. The missives’ contents start off as confidential, but are often eventually made public by archivists, references in presidential memoirs or via social media after journalists and others filed requests to obtain them.
The 32-year tradition is in peril this year. President Donald Trump has refused to accept the results of November’s election and vowed not to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. That makes it doubtful Trump will leave behind any handwritten, friendly advice for Biden. Presidents often write reflectively at the end of their time in office, including George Washington, who stated that he was tired of public life in recording why he wasn’t seeking a third presidential term.
But historians say Reagan’s is likely the first instance of a personal letter being passed between presidents as they left and entered office. Let the tradition continue.