The Wall Street Journal’s Notable & Quotable column runs a 1984 letter to President Ronald Reagan, and a draft of his reply, as published in the second volume of Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, compiled by Shaun Usher, out next month from Chronicle Books. Usher also has a related Letters of Note site. Reagan letters including the one below are accessible here. The new book includes the letter Andy Smith wrote President Reagan:
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Andy Smith. I am a seventh grade student at Irmo Middle School, in Irmo, South Carolina.
Today my mother declared my bedroom a disaster area. I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room. I am prepared to provide the initial funds if you will provide matching funds for this project.
I know you will be fair when you consider my request. I will be awaiting your reply.
I learn from Usher’s site that President Reagan’s response is included in Reagan: A Life in Letters. Reagan responded:
I’m sorry to be so late in answering your letter but as you know I’ve been in China and found your letter here upon my return.
Your application for disaster relief has been duly noted but I must point out one technical problem[:] the authority declaring the disaster is supposed to make the request. In this case your mother.
However setting that aside I’ll have to point out the larger problem of available funds. This has been a year of disasters, 539 hurricanes as of May 4th and several more since, numerous floods, forest fires, drought in Texas and a number of earthquakes. What I’m getting at is that funds are dangerously low.
May I make a suggestion? This administration, believing that govt. has done many things that could better be done by volunteers at the local level, has sponsored a Private Sector Initiative Program, calling upon people to practice volunteerism in the solving of a number of local problems.
Your situation appears to be a natural. I’m sure your Mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with the more than 3000 already underway in our nation—congratulations.
Give my best regards to your Mother.
I love that “Give my best regards to your mother.” That is funny.
There is more wit and wisdom in that brief letter than in, say, The Audacity of Hope, but also better prose.