Found in the Archives

“To Capture a Great Dream Before it Dies”

Historians often speculate what FDR would have done after the presidency had he lived. Would he write his memoirs? Would he run the United Nations? Recently, one of our archivists came across this exchange of letters between Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish and FDR that sheds some light on this question.

In May 1943, Archie MacLeish – a Pulitzer Prize winning poet – wrote a candid letter to the President stating that he would resign as Librarian of Congress when FDR left the presidency and asking if FDR could help him find work to do that would benefit the war effort.

In his reply, FDR reveals his own thoughts on his post-presidency: he would become a librarian himself at his presidential library in Hyde Park, write “scurrilous articles” about people for publication after his death, and grow his beloved Christmas trees. He also urges MacLeish to put his writing and administrative skills to work compiling concise and readable histories of America’s wars, particularly how the wars affected the lives of the citizenry.

To FDR, making our history accessible to the American people is like capturing “a great dream before it dies.” This is a mission that all of us who have the privilege of working at his Library try to achieve every single day through our archives, museum exhibitions, and education and public programs.

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