Icons & Inspirations: HMH’s Presidential Past

With the National Conventions under way and each party formally nominating their candidate for President of the United States, I thought this was the perfect time to take a look back at HMH’s presidential history and the five presidents who published books with us: Jimmy Carter, James Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

In 1985, HMH published Jimmy Carter’s book The Blood of Abraham, in which he explored the long history of peace efforts in the Middle East. On April 22 of that year, Carter visited the Houghton Mifflin offices for a reception to mark the start of the book’s promotional tour. A picture from the event, at right, shows him enjoying a laugh in front of wallpaper that may have seemed familiar to him as it is also used in the White House.

The Blood of Abraham is the only book that Carter published with HMH, however, he did also write the introduction to the 2008 edition of Best American Spiritual Writing. Additionally, in 1984, Houghton Mifflin also published Rosalynn Carter’s memoir, First Lady of Plains. Below is a photo of her with HMH author Eudora Welty.

Rosalynn Carter

There are two other presidents who only published one book with HMH: Calvin Coolidge and James Garfield, and both books are a collection of speeches and thoughts.

Have Faith In Massachusetts

Calvin Coolidge

Coolidge’s book, Have Faith In Massachusetts, capitalized on the national attention he received when he was governor of Massachusetts and succeeded in breaking the 1919 Boston police strike. It essentially served as campaign material when he ran for the Republication nomination in 1920, becoming instead vice-president to Warren G. Harding and then president when Harding died in 1922 (he was re-elected in 1924).  

James Garfield

On the other hand, Garfield’s book, Garfield's Words: Suggestive Passages From the Public and Private Writings of James Abram Garfield (1881), most likely was not compiled by him, or maybe even intended for publication. I do not know the month of publication, but I suspect it was put together after Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881 and subsequently died on September 19.

The two HMH published presidents that remain wrote several books on several topics other than themselves; they are Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson published nine books with Houghton Mifflin between 1885 and 1897. His first was titled Congressional Government: a Study in American Politics and was an expansion of his PhD thesis.

The books Houghton Mifflin published were all written while Wilson was a professor at Princeton University, before he became its president, and before, of course, he became the country’s president. The date on the letter at leftis interesting given that Wilson was in the midst of a cross-country tour to rally support for  the Treaty of Versailles, which had been signed five weeks previously and needed to be ratified by Congress.  

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt published five books with Houghton Mifflin and co-wrote or contributed to several more. He wrote two entries for Houghton’s American Statesmen series: one on Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton and another on the Founding Father Gouveneur Morris of Pennsylvania.

Recently discovered in a long forgotten cabinet, were letters between Theodore Roosevelt and Houghton Mifflin, in which Houghton Mifflin repeatedly asks Roosevelt to write a book for the Riverside Educational Monographs series called The Teaching of Patriotism in the Public Schools. The head of the Educational department, Franklin S. Hoyt, sent Roosevelt a two-page letter proposing that he write the book, and enclosed another Monograph written by Harvard president Charles Eliot. Roosevelt sent back a four page letter (below) stating the many reasons he could not write the book, along with expressed disdain for Eliot’s book and Woodrow Wilson.

Theodore Roosevelt Letter
Theodore Roosevelt Letter

Theodore Roosevelt Telegram

Hoyt and James Duncan Phillips, the general manager of Houghton, were far from discouraged, and they continued to pursue Roosevelt, first thanking him for his “most interesting letter” and then offering to come and talk to him about it. At right is a telegram from Roosevelt inviting Phillips to lunch.

James Duncan Phillips Letter

But Phillips was not able to persuade Roosevelt to write the book during that lunch, nor in a subsequent letter written in September. A few months later, on April 8, 1917, two days after the United States entered World War I, Phillips tried again through the proposition of a different title: The Duty of Every Man to His Country Today, since, he understatedly said, “events have changed.”

Theodore Roosevelt Letter

This time Roosevelt answered briefly, but still in the negative.

Nearly a year later, on February 15, 1918 Phillips tried again, this time sending Roosevelt an essay that Phillips himself wrote on the subject. Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s response, if any, was not put into the files and so is lost. Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating, and his biographers agree that he became despondent after his son Quentin died in battle that summer, and Roosevelt himself died on January 5, 1919.

So as the presidential race continues to take center stage, maybe we can all root for additional books by presidents. Or maybe we can all root for this candidate:

Gandolf for President