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He wasn't a complicated man. He was a private man, but he was not a complicated one. But he was a very sentimental one. And he was a very, very good writer. All of his ideas and thoughts were formulated well before he became governor or certainly president.
Nancy Reagan, in an interview with the editors
Ronald Reagan wrote, in his own hand, from his high school years right through his presidency and on into retirement until Alzheimer's disease wreaked its gradual destruction. He wrote not only letters, short fiction, poetry, and sports stories, but speeches, newspaper articles, instructions to his cabinet and staff, and radio commentary on public policy issues, both foreign and domestic.
Nevertheless, many of the writings under his name including the two books, Where's the Rest of Me? and An American Life were partially written by ghostwriters. A few of his presidential speeches were drafted personally, but most were written in interaction with White House speechwriters. Most of his original writings those we are absolutely sure are his were pre-presidential. As Nancy Reagan recalls, "He continued to write in the White House. He wrote speeches in the Oval Office, and he had his own desk in the living quarters of the White House. He was always sitting at his desk in the White House, writing. He was so used to writing his own speeches that it took him a while to realize that, as president, he just wasn't going to have the time to write, though he could go over a speech draft and edit and correct. But to take the time to write a whole speech? He soon realized he wasn't going to have that time."
From his high school and college years, seventeen handwritten manuscripts (and a French quiz) written between 1925 and 1931 have been preserved, mostly short stories. The high school yearbook (on which he worked) has a story and a poem he wrote. In college, he wrote for the weekly newspaper. Reagan wrote a weekly sports column for the Des Moines Dispatch while he worked as a radio announcer at WHO. When he went to Hollywood, he wrote, with the cooperation of Warner Bros. but not, according to Reagan himself, with their help, a series of seventeen articles about his experiences for the Des Moines Sunday Register.
Nothing has thus far been found in his own hand of the speeches he gave to employees at General Electric's 135 plants between September 1954 and 1962 (although he often used a question-and-answer format on these occasions) or the many other speeches he gave during this time. It is quite possible that they were his own creations, but we cannot be sure. A number of these speeches appeared in print in various publications with titles such as A Time for Choosing, Encroaching Control, and Losing Freedom by Installments. We have excluded them from this book in order to focus on the substantive writings from the immediate pre-presidential years that exist in his own handwritten drafts.
We know that Reagan wrote extensively during 1975-79, between his years as governor of California and his inauguration as president. He spent these years giving speeches, writing a newspaper column, and giving over a thousand radio addresses. The idea of the radio broadcasts and newspaper columns was developed in 1974 during Reagan's final months as governor of California. Peter Hannaford, assistant to the governor and director of public affairs during Reagan's final year, conferred with Ed Meese, then Reagan's chief of staff, and Michael Deaver, and suggested that the governor consider the offer of Harry O'Connor, the head of O'Connor Creative Services in Hollywood, to produce "a five-day-a-week, five-minute RR [radio] commentary program, to be syndicated nationally."
One weekend in October 1974, Hannaford and Deaver presented a comprehensive plan to Reagan including newspaper columns, radio commentary, and several speeches a month. Reagan agreed to do it under the management of a new firm, Deaver & Hannaford, Inc.
On December 30, 1974, Governor Reagan announced his plans at the Los Angeles Press Club. The radio broadcasts were produced by Harry O'Connor and titled "Viewpoint." Though Reagan relied on Hannaford to draft most of the newspaper columns, he enjoyed writing the radio broadcasts himself, and eventually wrote most of those essays.
In a letter dated September 19, 1978, Reagan explained to a private citizen how his radio broadcasts were written: "I write many of my commentaries while I'm traveling and this [the one requested by the citizen] was done on a cross country plane trip." Reagan taped the broadcasts in batches of fifteen at a recording studio. O'Connor Services would distribute them with suggested airing dates, but radio stations would broadcast them according to their schedules. The dates used here are taping dates, except as noted.
In a memo to Reagan on May 23, 1975, five months after the commentaries and columns began, Peter Hannaford reported that the broadcasts were being heard on 286 radio stations, and the columns were being printed in 226 newspapers. Similar numbers were reported by Hannaford two years later. In correspondence on October 30, 1978, Reagan estimated that through his daily radio broadcasts and biweekly newspaper columns he was in touch with "20 million Americans each week."
The radio broadcasts began in January 1975. Reagan suspended the broadcasts when he ran for the presidency in the late fall of 1975. The broadcasts were resumed by Reagan after he lost the Republican Party's nomination to President Gerald Ford in the summer of 1976. He ended his broadcasts in October 1979 as he was preparing to announce his 1980 presidential aspirations.
Only a few people who worked with or were close to Reagan, like Nancy Reagan, knew that the governor wrote most of the radio broadcasts. "He worked a lot at home," Nancy recalled in an interview. "I can see him sitting at his desk writing, which he seemed to do all the time. Often he'd take a long shower because he said that was where he got a lot of his thoughts. He'd stand in the shower and think about what he wanted to write. And then, when he got out, he'd sit down and write....Nobody thought that he ever read anything either but he was a voracious reader. I don't ever remember Ronnie sitting and watching television. I really don't. I just don't. When I picture those days, it's him sitting behind that desk in the bedroom, working."
Martin Anderson recalls traveling with Reagan in 1976. On airplanes, Reagan always sat by the window, and whoever was traveling with him took the aisle seat next to him as a "blocker." As soon as the airplane lifted off the runway, he would reach for his briefcase. The briefcase contained articles to read, stacks of 4- by 6-inch cards that contained speech drafts written in his shorthand, pens and pencils, and a supply of writing paper, which was almost always lined, yellow, legal-size paper.
When Reagan wrote, he didn't scribble or scrawl, he wrote in a clear script. He rarely stopped to cross things out or edit. When he reached the bottom of the legal pad, he carefully flipped the page over, tucked it in on the back side of the pad, and proceeded on to the second page. The desired length of one of his radio essays was two full legal pages, and his words almost always just filled that second page rarely shorter or longer.
Dennis LeBlanc, a young member of the California State Police, was assigned to the security detail of Governor Reagan in 1971. After Reagan left office, LeBlanc stayed on with Reagan to do all his scheduling and advance work, and became the only man to travel continually with Reagan for the next three years, often traveling alone with him.
"He was constantly writing," declared LeBlanc; "a lot of the time it was on a legal pad, where he'd write things out longhand. Other times it would be taking speeches that he wrote out longhand, and then putting it on 4 by 6 cards in an abbreviated way, using the special shorthand he had developed.
"But all the time he was writing. He would always fly first class. He'd sit by the window, and I'd sit in the aisle seat next to him. It didn't matter whether or not there was a movie being shown and all the lights were out he'd turn on his reading lamp and would constantly be writing."
Beginning in early 1975, Reagan, with the help of LeBlanc and Barney Barnett, a retired California highway patrolman who had been Reagan's driver when he was governor, spent a lot of time rebuilding the ranch property he had recently bought.
"We drove up to the ranch from Los Angeles and back down the same day many, many times for the next two years," recalls LeBlanc. "Either Barney or I would drive, and Reagan would sit in the backseat with his legal pad, writing.
"The car we used was a red 1969 Ford station wagon, because Mrs. Reagan's favorite color was red. Barney and I and Reagan would leave Los Angeles at seven o'clock in the morning, and it would take us about two and a half hours to get to the ranch. All the way up Reagan would be writing.
"When we got to the ranch, we'd put in eight or nine hours of work. We ripped out walls and really gutted the place, so you couldn't stay overnight there. Then we'd drive back. He would be writing in the backseat when we drove back. There was some idle chitchat and stuff, but he never fell asleep and he never read he was just always writing.
"What was amazing to me," said LeBlanc, "was the fact that Ronald Reagan never slept on planes when he was traveling. It was the same way when I was with him in the station wagon. It was like you're wasting time if you are sleeping. You know, everyone's got things to do. And his thing to do when I was with him was his writing."
David Fischer, Reagan's executive assistant in 1978 and 1979, had similar memories. "The minute the meal service was done, he'd whip out the legal pad and start writing. He wrote to fit the exact time he needed to record. I was always amazed at how hard he worked. I'd be exhausted from traveling with him; I could start reading something and quickly fall asleep, and when I woke up he'd still be working, just writing away."
Michael Deaver and Ed Meese, his two top advisers since the mid-1960s, both confirm the same story. In addition to the broadcasts, Ed Meese remembers that he wrote many of his own speeches, at home on weekends. "He would come in on Monday morning with six, eight, or ten pages from his legal pad, all in his own handwriting. One day we found him in his office checking the typed copy of one of his speeches against his written copy to make sure it was accurate, and then he took the written pages, tore them up and put them in the wastebasket. I'm afraid a lot of his handwritten documents ended up that way."
It may partly be luck that so many handwritten drafts of the policy essays Reagan wrote for his radio broadcasts survived. William P. Clark, who served as chief of staff to Governor Reagan in California and later followed him to Washington and became his national security adviser, recalled the difficulty his staff had in preserving documents while he was governor.
"Yes, he was a writer," said Clark about Reagan, but "unfortunately, he maintained one habit we were unable to ever break other than by scouring his trash basket.
"He threw away his longhand notes. Insisting that the top of his desk must be clear at the end of each day, he would carefully place a paper or two in his top desk drawer to age for the morrow's review and action. Then, a few informational items would go into a folder or small leather briefcase for completion at the residence. But then his longhand notes would go into the wastebasket unless intercepted. With our admonition that these could be important to historians some day, he would respond, 'Well, OK, OK.' Helene or Kathy (his secretaries) would take possession of our catch as he moved toward the door, giving his own cheery admonition, 'All right, you good people, goodnight and get home to your families.'
"Nodding, we always remained."
As Hannaford recalls, Reagan would write large numbers of radio addresses at a time. "I can still see him coming into the office in Los Angeles after these trips, often with a sheaf of yellow pages in his hand and a big grin on his face. He would hand the handwritten pages triumphantly to Elaine Crispen [at the time our chief administrative assistant], saying: 'There you are, Elaine, three weeks' worth of radio scripts for typing.'"
Elaine Crispen (now Elaine Sawyer) was the person who took the handwritten drafts that Reagan produced and typed them for his recording sessions. She worked for Reagan during the five years he had his radio program. "As I remember it," recalled Elaine, "he would go to the recording studio on a Saturday. He had written a lot of the radio scripts while he was out on the road. When he came back to the Los Angeles office, he would give them to us. We had to have a hard copy that you could read from, because sometimes his handwriting was not that easy to read. We typed every one of his handwritten yellow sheets so that he could go to the studio and read them in clear print....We had devised a system so that his handwritten yellow sheets were never to be thrown out. We were supposed to save them and file them. Probably some of us knew that maybe someday they would be valuable historically."
We have included very few speeches in this book, because apparently few survive in his own hand. We do know that he wrote many of his pre-presidential speeches. His use of notecards for their delivery became famous, although the details of how he did it have not been widely shared.
Over the years Ronald Reagan wore either eyeglasses or contact lenses for reading, and felt that any serious policy speech with its myriad facts and numbers had to be written out in advance and read to avoid errors. But as he once explained, he didn't like to wear eyeglasses; when he wore contact lenses, he could see the audience but could not read his speech because the writing blurred, and finally, he felt the audience did not like anyone to read a speech.
Reagan's solution to this problem was twofold. First, he figured out how to read a speech draft without wearing his glasses. En route to his speech, he wore his long-distance contact lenses. They were the older, fairly small, hard plastic lenses. Just before he arrived at the speech site, while sitting in a car or in an airplane, he would lean forward, bring both hands to his face, and then with his forefinger and thumb pluck out the lens that was in his right eye. After popping the lens in his mouth for a quick wash, he carefully placed the lens into a small case and dropped it into his coat pocket.
Now Reagan had one long-vision eye and one near-vision eye, and he had learned how to use them separately. With his naked right eye, he could read. But when he looked out at the audience, he focused on them with his lens-clad left eye. Throughout his speech he would go back and forth, reading with one eye, watching the audience with the other.
As for the text, he disliked reading speeches typewritten on regular letter-sized paper. Carrying a speech when he walked up to the lectern was obvious, and on a windy day at an outside lectern it was difficult to hold and turn the pages and more than one presidential candidate has lost pages of a speech in this situation. What he settled on were index cards, medium size, 4- by 6-inch cards that would fit into the side pocket of his suit coat.
He would take the speech draft he had written out longhand, and transfer it directly to the cards for reading. The problem was that the speeches were written on yellow legal pads, 14 by 8 1?2 inches in size five times bigger than those 4- by 6-inch cards that fitted so nicely in his suit coat pocket.
So Reagan invented his own shorthand.
He would spend hours changing the penned words into this shorthand. Some words in the original draft were left out. Other words he shortened by dropping vowels or using special abbreviations. Every now and then he would make coded letters to represent words. All the shorthand writing was block printed on the cards, in capital letters usually in black ink. Once he had rewritten a sentence of his original writing into shorthand, he would draw a line above and below the new writing so it would stand out. To further pack even more text onto a card, he eliminated all indentations and paragraphs. One sentence followed another, separated only by the thick black lines.
Using this technique, Reagan could copy much of the writing that filled one page of a legal pad onto a 4-by-6 card. Each card was then numbered in the upper right-hand corner so he could keep track of them. Finally, the finished pack of cards was bound together with an elastic band. A major speech filled twenty-five to thirty cards.
Reagan's speech system gave the appearance of being casual and spontaneous, while in reality his speeches had the cold precision of any carefully researched and typed speech manuscript.
He would walk across the stage to the lectern to address his audience, both arms swinging back and forth, often waving to the audience, giving no sign whatsoever of a prepared text. After he reached the lectern, only those seated behind him could notice, if they watched very closely, his left hand drop into his jacket pocket and pull out a packet of those cards. Laying the cards on top of the lectern, he would glance down, read the top card, and begin to speak.
It helped a lot that he had a gift for remembering all that was on that card. As he spoke, his hands were sorting the cards, slipping the top card to the bottom of the deck, while his naked eye glanced down every now and then to read the next card. When his speech was over, he quickly scooped the cards together, and as one hand dropped them back in his coat pocket his other hand was waving to the audience.
The system also made it easy to edit and prepare new speeches. To cut part of a speech, he just removed some cards. To add something, he prepared new cards and slipped them in the deck. To prepare a new speech, Reagan often combined sections of two or more speech card decks, producing a brand-new speech from old material.
Later, when he became president, he did not have time to prepare speeches this way, and he relied on speechwriters to prepare drafts, which he edited, and TelePrompTers to read them. But while he was writing his own material, the cards served him well.
The manuscripts from which this book is drawn were discovered by accident. Kiron Skinner was the first scholar since Edmund Morris to be granted access to the private papers of President Ronald Reagan. She found several boxes of handwritten drafts of radio broadcasts, speeches, and correspondence by Reagan, and with Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, undertook to prepare a selection of these documents for publication, with Skinner focusing on the foreign and defense policy essays and the Andersons on domestic and economic policy. Together, the editors realized that they had a treasure trove of documents that showed Reagan grappling with the major policy issues of the time.
Although the handwritten broadcasts and other pre-presidential papers are stored at the Reagan Library, the National Archives does not have authority over them because they are President Reagan's private papers and not those of the U.S. government. The president's personal papers have been kept in boxes for many decades. Some boxes contain archival folders that separate documents by subject or chronology; others contain hundreds of disorganized pieces of paper. The index to the collection is incomplete, but a database of the radio broadcasts developed by Annelise Anderson is produced here in the Appendix.
Reagan's work is presented as he wrote it. The book offers Reagan's own words in his own hand, including personal edits and even a few errors. Everything here, including the marginal comments, is Reagan's own. The Note on Editorial Methods (page xxv) explains the conventions used to display his handwritten drafts in type.
In reading these first rough drafts it should be kept in mind that they are first rough drafts. They were never intended to be published. They were written to be edited and typed, and Reagan took shortcuts while writing.
When Reagan wrote he often used abbreviations and some of the shorthand he used on his speech cards. This was especially true when he was writing something that would be typed before he recorded it as a radio broadcast or gave it as a speech. His secretaries knew his abbreviations and shorthand and turned them into clean English as they typed.
For example, he would write "nat." for nation, "ec. & pol." for economics and politics, "burocracy" for bureaucracy. He was often casual about where he placed apostrophes, if he used them at all, and they can be found hovering over a word that needed one. After writing the teaser with which he began all his radio essays, he usually wrote "I'll be right back." But sometimes he wrote "I'll be rite back."
If you look back at his speech card on page xix, you can see the full use of this technique: "Ending" becomes "Endng" and "fight" becomes "fite."
Reagan's essays and other writings constitute many hundreds of pages of original first drafts. We have tried to select documents so that they represent a fair sampling of Reagan's views on a wide variety of specific issues over the five-year period he was broadcasting the radio commentaries.
In writing these daily essays on almost every national policy issue during the 1970s, Reagan was acting as a one-man think tank. He drew upon hundreds of sources, and his drafts contain thousands of facts and figures. Sometimes he lists his sources in accompanying documents. In one case, for an essay on oil, he appended them. At times he cites his sources in the text. And in many cases he simply does not mention the specific sources.
Because he was writing on topical subjects in the 1970s, it is sometimes difficult, many years later, to determine sources. We have checked dozens of references in his writings and, in virtually all cases, Reagan correctly cited or quoted his sources.
In Martin Anderson's experience, while advising Reagan during his presidential campaigns and in the presidency, whenever aides challenged him on some fact he had used, Reagan produced a source for his statements. In rare cases the source itself might not have been entirely accurate.
As our memory of events in the 1970s recedes, some of the events that Reagan reports might seem questionable. For instance, in one of his radio commentaries he writes about the plan of the People's Republic of China to "liberate Taiwan," as presented in a private speech given by Foreign Minister Huang Hua on July 30, 1977. After considerable searching, we found a copy of Huang Hua's speech, "Report on the World Situation," in a Taiwanese journal, Issues and Studies: A Journal of China Studies and International Affairs.
We have not fact-checked everything that Reagan writes about in his radio commentaries, but we have checked numerous events he cites and they are discussed in our footnotes.
The bulk of the original handwritten documents reproduced in this volume are stored at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, in the "Pre-Presidential Papers, 1921-1980" (PPP) collection of papers. The original handwritten drafts of radio broadcasts are mainly found in boxes 12, 14, 15, and 21. Typescripts of the radio broadcasts are found in these boxes and others throughout the PPP collection. Typescripts are also found at the Hoover Institution Archives in the Citizens for Reagan (CFR) Collection, the Peter Hannaford (PH) Collection, and the Ronald Reagan Subject Collection (RRSC). The main boxes for locating typescripts of the radio broadcasts at Hoover are CFR 35, 39, 104, and 105; PH 2 and 3; and RRSC 8.
In addition to the radio scripts, we have included examples of the other kinds of documents that exist in his handwriting. Most of these documents are found in the President's private papers at the Ronald Reagan Library. A few of Reagan's other writings included in this book come from private collections.
The last document he wrote, a letter Edmund Morris calls "a masterly piece of writing" with "the simplicity of genius," is of course the 1994 letter to the nation about his Alzheimer's. Nancy recalls that she "had somebody ask me just the other day about the Alzheimer's letter. 'Did he just sit down and write it? Or did he do some drafts?' I said, 'No, he just sat down and wrote it.'"
Copyright © 2001 by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson