The personal and presidential letters of Ronald Reagan set for release tomorrow show the Great Communicator also was a prolific writer and reveal a more personal side of the former president.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said the collection of more than 1,000 letters in the new book, “Reagan: A Life in Letters,” was written in her husband’s own hand and gives a first-hand look at his inner thoughts.
“I think it was important for people to get to know Ronnie, understand Ronnie,” Mrs. Reagan said. “I hope they see the charm, the humor, the intelligence, the wise man that he is.”
Mrs. Reagan, along with the book’s co-authors and several recipients of Mr. Reagan’s letters, discussed the book yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The letters of the 40th U.S. president were released by the Reagan Library and compiled by co-editors Kiron Skinner, and Martin and Annelise Anderson of the Hoover Institution. The book was published by the Free Press.
“It’s the sum total that’s fascinating of these letters that were never meant for publication, but that I think tell us more about who Reagan is than anything else we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Anderson said.
The book contains letters to friends and family outlining his views on politics and religion, and a handwritten letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev shows his hands-on management of “the evil empire.”
“In your letter, you imply that we have imperialistic designs and thus constitute a threat to your own security. When World War II ended, the United States had the only undamaged industrial power in the world. Its military might was at its peak. If we had sought world domination, who could have opposed us?” Mr. Reagan wrote.
That letter written in 1981 was “the beginning of the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Anderson said.
State Department officials did not approve of the letter and submitted a more formal, typed response for Mr. Reagan’s review. Mr. Reagan resolved the problem by sending both the formal letter, and his handwritten letter.
“I think it was really that he was taking control, that he was putting his own draft on top of what was to be the standard argument, that he was saying, ‘This is how I see the relationship,’” Mr. Skinner said.
Former Secretary of State George Schulz said the letters show the source of Mr. Reagan’s strength and firmness of conviction: “They came from the inside out.”
Mr. Reagan described a lingering friendship between his daughter and the “anti-American left” in a letter to William F. Buckley as “getting in the way of family peace,” Mr. Buckley said.
“I think my biggest problem is, believe it or not, her friendship and admiration for Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden,” Mr. Reagan said. “I told her bluntly I could not share those feelings because both, in my mind, were traitors to their country.”
This week’s edition of Time includes 14 letters, including an essay by daughter Patti Davis who said Mr. Reagan “wrote letters that said more than he could say in person.”
“It’s odd to think that the man who has been called the ‘Great Communicator’ was often shy with others, yet it’s true,” she said.
Mr. Reagan, 92, wrote his last public letter in 1994, in which he disclosed he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“My fellow Americans, I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. At the moment, I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family,” Mr. Reagan wrote.
“In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. The Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours, and eternal optimism for its future,” Mr. Reagan said.
Asked if coping with the disease was as painful as Mr. Reagan feared it would be for his wife, Mrs. Reagan responded, “Well, it’s not a wonderful time.
“He’s doing as well as can be expected,” she said.