'Good luck and Godspeed': Read letters that outgoing US presidents wrote to their successors

Since President Ronald Reagan’s letter to President George H.W. Bush, every hand-off of power has included a gracious note left in the Oval Office — regardless of political party.

In 1989, President Ronald Reagan wrote a personal letter to his successor, President George H.W. Bush, beginning a tradition representative of the country’s peaceful transition of power throughout history.

Presidents have often reflected at the end of their time in office, dating as far back as George Washington who stated that he was "tired of public life" in regards to his decision not to seek a third term, according to the Associated Press.

But historians say Reagan's is likely the first instance of a personal letter being passed between presidents as one left the White House so the other could enter.

Since Reagan’s letter to Bush, every hand-off of power has included a gracious note left in the Oval Office — regardless of political party. The letters share a common theme about what that monumental role represents in our democracy, and they have often included words of encouragement and tidbits of advice as the successor begins the enormous task as commander-in-chief.

The friendly notes of previous transitions offer a glimpse into the mindset of each president having served, now handing off that power to another person, and often times, of the opposite party. 

"I am rooting hard for you," George H.W. Bush wrote to Bill Clinton, following Reagan’s lead. Bush lost to Clinton in the bitter 1992 election. His words were so touching that the new president’s wife, Hillary, later recalled they made her cry.

Eight years later, Clinton wrote to Bush’s son, incoming President George W. Bush, in 2000. Clinton noted that "from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness."

Two terms later, the younger Bush penned a note of congratulations to newly elected President Barack Obama. He warned of "trying moments" but noted the support of "a country that is pulling for you, including me."

Finally, in 2017, Obama carried on the tradition in a note to Trump, according to the letter published by CNN. He called the presidency "a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success," but described U.S. presidents as "just temporary occupants of this office" tasked with guarding democratic institutions and traditions that previous generations "fought and bled for."

Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush, 1989

Dear George

You’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well, go to it.

George, I treasure the memories we share and wish you all the very best. You’ll be in my prayers. God bless you & Barbara. I’ll miss our Thursday lunches.


George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton, 1993

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—

Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, 2001


Dear George,

Today you embark on the greatest venture, with the greatest honor, that can come to an American citizen.

Like me, you are especially fortunate to lead our country in a time of profound and largely positive change, when old questions, not just about the role of government, but about the very nature of our nation, must be answered anew.

You lead a proud, decent, good people. And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.

The burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated. The sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.

My prayers are with you and your family. Godspeed.


George W. Bush to Barack Obama, 2009

Dear Barack,

Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life.

Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.

There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your "friends" will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.

God bless you.


Barack Obama to Donald Trump, 2017

Dear Mr. President —

Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.

This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.

First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.

Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.

Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions—like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties—that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.

And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.

Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

Good luck and Godspeed,

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.