President John F. Kennedy Polishes a Letter Declining to Write a Book on Thomas Jefferson

June 5, 1962

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President John F. Kennedy Polishes a Letter Declining to Write a Book on Thomas Jefferson
Typed Letter
1 page | SMC 1448

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      Background

      If President Kennedy hadn’t a day job, and a night job, and a weekend job; if, somehow, the presidency wasn’t, in the famous words of a predecessor, a life of bondage, responsibility and toil – then well, yes, he would have liked to have written a book about Thomas Jefferson, as his correspondent suggested. Failing that, however, if he could not write about Jefferson, this letter gives evidence that he would, whenever possible, write like him. Jefferson, of course, having penned the Declaration of Independence, set the standard for spare and elegant, and that was a style to which JFK, beginning with his Inaugural, sought to emulate. Kennedy could not but help look at the page in progress and not dicker with the verbiage. This draft differs, then, from the polished version which went forward, that same day [and is present in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Collection]: his pleasure (if not job) was to make it shorter, and better.

      The original version set before Kennedy read, in part:

      I quite agree with you that the scope of Jefferson’s contributions to American life are not as widely known as they should be, and if I were not otherwise engaged I would be tempted to consider your proposal. My present job, however, takes all of my time so I must refuse.

      This Kennedy emended here, so that passage, in the final version sent forward, read as follows:

      Even though there have been several admirable works on Thomas Jefferson I quite agree with you that his varied contributions to American life are not as fully known as they should be. If I were not otherwise engaged I would be tempted to consider your proposal. My present job, however, takes all of my time so I must refuse
      .


      Kennedy, it is noted, felt – half in admiration and half in regret - that for all his stylistic emulation of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson was the better writer. Yet that he never had the opportunity to yield to the temptation to write about him, is yet one more lost dream of Camelot.


       


      Typed Letter, being a draft with numerous Autograph emendations, as President, 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, June 5, 1962. To Ken McCormick in New York.
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      THE WHITE HOUSE
      WASHINGTON

      June 5, 1962

      Dear Mr. McCormick:

      Many thanks for your kind letter and for your interesting suggestion in regard to Thomas Jefferson.

      Even though there have been admirable works on Jefferson I quite agree with you that the [text is crossed out] [...]'s contributions to American life [text is crossed out] is not as fully known as they [text is crossed out] should be. [text is crossed out] If I were not otherwise engaged I would be tempted to consider your proposal. My present job, however, takes all of my time so I must refuse.

      Sincerely,



      Ken McCormick
      Editor in Chief
      Doubleday & Company, Inc.
      575 Madison Avenue
      New York 22, N. Y.