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Presidential Valentines

Below are excerpts from letters of Presidents to their closest loved ones — their wives.

George Washington
John Adams
Ulysses Grant
James Garfield
Harry Truman

Tiny heart graphicFrom George Washington to his wife Martha
During the Revolutionary War, George and Martha Washington were often separated for long periods of time. Martha would spend the spring and summer in Mount Vernon and then join her husband at his winter quarters. Her presence boosted the troops' morale. In this excerpt, Washington is concerned for Martha as she spends her days alone at Mount Vernon.

June 18, 1775

My Dearest:

I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence, which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall. I shall feel no pain from the toil or the danger of the campaign, my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone. I therefore beg, that you will summon your whole fortitude, and pass your time as agreeably as possible. Nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own pen. My earnest desire is, that you would pursue any plan that is most likely to produce content, and a tolerable degree of tranquility; as it must add greatly to my uneasy feeling to hear, that you are dissatisfied or complaining at what I really could not avoid…

Your affectionate

Letter from George Washington to Martha Washington (June 18, 1775), in Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems and Speeches 133 (William Bennett ed., 1997).

From John Adams to his wife Abigail, before their marriage
Like the Washingtons, John and Abigail Adams were also separated from each other for long periods of time. This excerpt is taken from a letter that John wrote a month before their marriage.

Sept. 30, 1764

…Oh my dear Girl, I thank Heaven that another Fortnight will restore you to me —after so long a separation. My soul and Body have both been thrown into Disorder, by your Absence, and a Month or two more would make me the most insufferable Cynick, in the World. I see nothing but Faults, Follies, Frailties and Defects in any Body, lately. People have lost all their good Properties or I my Justice, or Discernment.

But you who have always softened and warmed my Heart, shall restore my Benevolence as well as my Health and Tranquility of mind. You shall polish and refine my sentiments of Life and Manners, banish all unsocial and ill-natured Particles in my Composition, and form me to that happy Temper, that can reconcile a quick discernment with a perfect Candor…

Believe me, now and ever your Faithful.

Lysander (John's nickname taken from a Spartan Admiral)

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (Sept. 30, 1764), in Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems and Speeches 115 (William Bennett ed., 1997).

From Ulysses Grant to his wife, Julia, before their marriage
Julia met Ulysses at her home, where her family welcomed him as a West Point classmate of her brother, Frederick. She agreed to wear Ulysses' West Point ring, and they became engaged in 1844. The Mexican War, however, deferred the wedding for four long years.

Corpus Christi, Texas
October 1845

My Dear Julia:

…After an engagement of sixteen or seventeen months ought we not to thinking of bringing that engagement to an end, in the way true and constant lovers should? I have always expressed myself willing you know my Dear Julia to resign my appointment in the army for the sake of overcoming the objections of your parents, and I would still do so; at the same time I think they mistake an army life very much. No set of ladies that I ever saw are better contented or more unwilling to change their condition than those of the Army: and you Julia would be contented knowing how much and how dearly devoted I am to you — I cannot help writing thus affectionately since you told me that no one but yourself reads my letters…

Yours most affectionately,

Letter from Ulysses Grant to Julia Grant (October 1845), in Grant: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant: Selected Letters 1839-1865 901 (Mary Drake McFeely and William S. McFeely eds., 1990).

From James Garfield to his wife, Lucretia, before their marriage
During their courtship, Lucretia worked as a teacher in Ohio, and James was a student in Massachusetts. The pair married in her home in November 1858.

No. 12, South College
Williamstown, March 6, 1855

Lucretia Dearest:

…O Dearest, you do not know the thrilling joys which vibrated through the thousand strings of my being as I read your reminiscences of one year ago. I wake to life all those scenes as vividly as if they occurred but yesterday, and I lived over again that short hour of delirious joy when you told me for the first time that I was loved. How long my heart and lips had trembled on that question before it was asked! And how full and overflowing was my heart's joy when your own dear heart echoed the affections of my own! The recollection of that hour and many that followed it cheer many a desolate hour when Life seems so hollow, so cold and drear. Let the swift months roll, for they bring me near to you. If God spares us both, I shall hope to enjoy a few days of happiness in your society in the end of the summer of '55. But I will not hope too much…

With much love, I am your James

Letter from James Garfield to Lucretia Garfield (March 6, 1855), in Crete and James: Personal Letters of Lucretia and James Garfield 45 (John Shaw ed., 1994).

From Harry Truman to his wife Bess, before their marriage
Harry Truman's plain-spoken style is evident in his letters to Bess during their courtship. The first excerpt is a request for a date. The second excerpt, written just a few months later, is a proposal.

Grandview, Missouri
April 12, 1911

Dear Bessie:

…I have some tickets to Sothern-Marlowe (Shakespeareans) for Saturday night and if you will help me use them I shall be very glad. I tried for Macbeth for Saturday matinee but everything was gone. It is Taming of the Shrew and I think is as good as Mac.

If you can't go, why my phone number is Hickman No. 6 and it costs ten cents. So you'd better save the dime and go…. If I don't hear from you, I shall be around at 7 p.m. Saturday.


Letter from Harry Truman to Bess Truman (April 12, 1911), in Dear Bess: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959 27 (Robert H. Ferrell ed., 1983).

Grandview, Mo.
June 22, 1911

Dear Bessie:

…Speaking of diamonds, would you wear a solitaire on your left hand should I get it? Now that is a rather personal or pointed question provided you take it for all it means. You know, were I an Italian or a poet I would commence and use all the luscious language of two continents. I am not either but only a kind of good-for-nothing farmer. I've always had a sneakin' notion that some day maybe I'd amount to something. I doubt it now though like everything. It is a family failing of ours to be poor financiers. I am blest that way. Still that doesn't keep me from having always thought that you were all that a girl could be possibly and impossibly. You may not have guessed it but I've been crazy about you ever since we went to Sunday school together. But I never had the nerve to think you'd even look at me. I don't think so now but I can't keep from telling you what I think of you…

More than sincerely,

Letter from Harry Truman to Bess Truman (June 22, 1911), in Dear Bess: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959 39 (Robert H. Ferrell ed., 1983).