Presidents Speak to the Children

Article excerpt

Gov. George W. Bush has borrowed the motto of the Children's Defense Fund, "Leave no child behind." With all the current political emphasis on children, it occurred to me to look back on how presidents past have addressed children. This I was able to do, thanks to Stanley and Rodelle Weintraub, whose collection of letters of presidents to children is being published this fall under the title "Dear Young Friend" (Stackpole Press).

The early presidents addressed children with the formality of the time.

George Washington wrote to his nephew, George Steptoe Washington, urging him "not only to be learned, but virtuous, clothed decently and becoming your station." He counseled his teenage step- granddaughter, Nelly, to be careful of her suitor. "Is he a man of good character, a man of sense?"

Thomas Jefferson counseled his daughter, Martha, to be more careful about her spelling.

John Quincy Adams was also concerned with style, complaining to his son, John Adams II, of receiving three letters, "all grumbling letters and all badly written." James Polk wrote his nephew, Marshall, of being "mortified" at his bad conduct record at West Point.

Abraham Lincoln introduced a more in time style of letter. His last one, to the daughter of an innkeeper, included a verse:

You are young and I am older.

You are hopeful, I am not.

Enjoy life ere it grow colder.

Pluck the roses ere they rot.

Woodrow Wilson wrote to newsboys of Trenton, N. …