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Shedding Light on Private Lives of Leaders

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060211/ap_on_go_pr_wh/lovestruck_presidents;_ylt=Aq5y2muEVfZ_4GFZc.4VSKWyFz4D;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvMDdwBHNlYwN5bmNhdA-- Shedding Light
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2006
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      Shedding Light on Private Lives of Leaders

      By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press Writer 4 minutes

      WASHINGTON - Presidents and their wives have been an
      amorous lot, their White House years coming at the
      pinnacle of lives entwined. The men pursued and loved
      these women as intensely as they clawed to power and
      unleashed armies.

      "Touch you I must or I'll burst,"
      Ronald Reagan wrote to Nancy three years before he
      became California governor. Lyndon Johnson, then a
      young congressman from Texas, declared to his
      valentine, Lady Bird, mere weeks after they had met,
      "This morning I'm ambitious, proud, energetic and very
      madly in love with you."

      College graduate Teddy Roosevelt put Alice Lee on a
      pedestal, telling her five days before they wed: "I
      worship you so that it seems almost desecration to
      touch you."

      A new book of letters between presidents and wives
      fleshes out momentous periods of history with the full
      range of human emotion — love, longing, snippiness,
      betrayal, loss, lust.

      These men turned a resolute face to the world. In
      private, they could be goo. The women were easily
      their match in exchanging heart-racing prose and
      pulled no punches on tough stuff.

      Even as John Adams was in Philadelphia working on the
      Declaration of Independence and its assertion that
      "all men" are created equal, his loving spouse,
      Abigail, sent the future second president a blistering
      letter about the subjugation of wives — this, way back
      in March 1776.

      "That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth,"
      she wrote. "Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those
      customs which treat us only as the vassals of your

      She was a flirt, too, offering sweetly, "If you want
      more balm, I can supply you," in a letter the spring
      before they married in October 1764.

      The correspondence in "My Dear President: Letters
      Between Presidents and Their Wives," by
      Library of Congress historian Gerard W. Gawalt,
      captures some of the couples in the first blush of
      their romance and follows them into the White House.

      Presidents who were wild about their wives were not
      necessarily faithful to them — not even close. Some
      wives knew it.

      LBJ was a bull in the china shop when it came to
      women; Lady Bird once shrugged off his affairs as a
      "speck on a wedding cake."

      Lucretia Rudolph was not so accommodating when she
      learned her fiance, James Garfield, had been stepping
      out. "James, to be an unloved wife, O Heavens," she
      wrote in 1857. They wed anyway; he was assassinated in
      1881 just months after taking office.

      Dwight D. Eisenhower, as allied commander for Europe
      in World War II, tried in several letters to his
      stateside wife, Mamie, to shoot down rumors he was
      involved with his driver, Kay Summersby, with whom he
      formed an intense friendship. "I've no emotional
      involvements and will have none," he told his wife.

      Civil War spouses and girlfriends received harrowing
      letters from the battlefield, for many presidents were
      soldiers when young. Whether in war or peace, many
      were ambitious men in eras of slow travel, meaning
      long absences from home and longings expressed in the
      overwrought language of their times.

      "I have the Blues all the time," a love-struck Ulysses
      S. Grant told his sweetie, Julia Dent, writing from
      the Mexican War in 1848 two decades before becoming

      "I feel the pulses of your love answering to mine,"
      Chester Arthur wrote to his fiancee in New York, Ellen
      Lewis Herndon, during an 1858 Republican Party mission
      in Missouri. Arthur succeeded Garfield in 1881.

      Such power couples enjoyed what might be politely
      called quality time.

      Harry Truman alluded to one such encounter after Bess
      had visited him in July 1923, 22 years before he
      became president, when he was at military training
      camp in Kansas. "I, of course, acted like a man
      brute," he wrote in a somewhat sheepish tone soon
      after she left.

      Gawalt drew his 184 letters, telegrams and cables from
      4,000 to 5,000 found in the papers of 23 presidents
      held by the Library of Congress, provided by family
      members or available at presidential libraries. About
      half were previously unpublished.

      "What struck me is how early on that the wives were so
      vitally important to their husbands' careers," he
      said. "There's just an endless number of strong-willed
      women who are involved in these couples."

      Exchanges between one such woman, Eleanor Roosevelt,
      and Franklin were friendly but emotionally distant.
      Such was the lasting result, Gawalt said, of his wife
      discovering FDR's affair with her social secretary
      Lucy Mercer 15 years before he became president.

      "That's when the passion went out of that
      relationship," he said. "After that, I think, their
      relationship is pretty well summed up by the fact they
      were exchanging memorandums."

      In one, Franklin complained to his wife that White
      House food portions had gotten out of hand and
      everyone must be cut back, for example, to one egg for
      breakfast instead of two.

      Another no-nonsense woman, Barbara Bush, got a treacly
      note from her husband, George, asking her to show more
      affection for the television cameras in the 1988
      campaign, like their opponents, the Dukakises.

      "Sweetsie," he began. "Please look at how Mike and
      Kitty do it. Try to be closer in more — well er
      romantic — on camera. I am practicing the loving look,
      and the creeping hand. Yours for better TV and more
      demonstrable affection. Your sweetie pie coo coo.

      "Love 'ya GB."
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