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From the Letters to the Editor column of the February 2007 Perspectives

What Is the Price of Presidential Libraries?

Eric J. Vettel, February 2007

Editor’s Note: Perspectives welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be e-mailed to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for the letters’ contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

As a long-time member of the American Historical Association and executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, I have great difficulty understanding concerns raised in The Coalition Column of the January 2007 issue of Perspectives about legislation authorizing a grant from the Federal government for the Wilson Library.

The fear of setting a precedent for public funds for private presidential libraries is a profound analytical error of the first order. All effective governments must make value judgments, and we can surely trust our legislators to draw proper distinctions between the impact and legacy of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and those of Chester A. Arthur, Millard Fillmore, James Garfield, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce—indeed, most if not all of the 19th-century presidents.

With the Clinton Library surpassing $200 million and the proposed cost of the Bush Library nearing $500 million, should not our nation be willing to invest a one-time grant of $5 million in matching funds to support construction of a library for one of the most influential—for good and bad—chief executives?

—Eric J. Vettel, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library