The letter George H.W. Bush left for Clinton is a lesson in grace

Former U.S. presidents George H. W. Bush (L) and Bill Clinton film a public service announcement in the White House Library encouraging Americans to make cash donations to the tsunami relief effort through January 5, 2005 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric Draper/White House via Getty Images)

When Bill Clinton entered the White House, he found a letter from the man he beat: George H.W. Bush. Notes from outgoing presidents to incoming ones are a tradition, but Bush’s letter on January 20, 1993, is a lesson on grace in defeat.

“He made us feel at home, as much as he could. Total class,” Clinton said of the letter.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—


Once political rivals, Presidents Bush and Clinton ended up forming an unlikely friendship.

“Because you run against each other, that doesn’t mean you’re enemies,” Bush once said. “Politics doesn’t have to be uncivil and nasty.”

Bush lived by that quote, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN.

“I wish we could get some of that back in our system now,” said Powell.

In his statement after Bush’s death, Clinton recounted the friendship between the two.

“I will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed,” Clinton wrote. “From the moment I met him as a young governor invited to his home in Kennebunkport, I was struck by the kindness he showed to Chelsea, by his innate and genuine decency, and by his devotion to Barbara, his children, and their growing brood.”

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