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Minutes of the Judson Welliver Society


Fellow blogger Bernard Higgins just tipped me off to this story on the FOXNews website by Catherine Donaldson-Evans on the evolving tradition of presidential speechwriting.

As Ms. Donaldson-Evans notes, the function is a comparatively recent one.

Speechwriters and their craft are actually a fairly new trend, and presidents up through Woodrow Wilson—a historian and a writer by trade who was in office from 1913 to 1921—basically wrote their own remarks. The first official speechwriter was "literary clerk" Judson Welliver, who began working under President Warren G. Harding in March of 1921.

"Presidents didn't give many speeches until the early 20th century," Ribuffo said. "Wilson could be his own speechwriter not only because he was a writer but because he didn't have to give any speeches. Now it would just be impossible."

No president from Thomas Jefferson to William Howard Taft addressed Congress in person, and what are now known as State of the Union speeches used to be written reports.

The speeches of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served from 1953 to 1961, filled only 6,618 of the Public Papers of the President, as opposed to those of Clinton, which took up 15,669 pages, according to Americanpresident.org.

My own boss, President Gerald R. Ford, also managed to fill up some 6,000 pages in the two years and five months he spent in the Oval Office, fewer than a dozen of which were shaped by this hand.

Here's one of my favorite bits (from page 908 of Volume II):

It is through the free exchange of varied ideas that real wisdom—the kind of wisdom enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights—is attained. And as all of us approach our Bicentennial, I believe we can be proud that, in spite of the follies of a few individuals, relatively speaking, the collective wisdom of democracy has managed to prevail ….

Just to clarify the record, President Ford added the "relatively speaking" part.

As Ms. Donaldson-Evans so tellingly observes, it's the President who makes the speechwriter, not the other way around.

Posted by Rodger on May 11, 2005 at 05:18 PM | Permalink


i am interested in possibly getting a speech written to kick off my campaign for governor of South Carolina for 2008 or 2012. let me know a little about your services. i am looking for a campaign manager and staff.
Philip Healy

Posted by: Phil Healy | Feb 9, 2006 5:30:59 PM

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