THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT DEDICATION OF ANDERSON COTTAGE U.S. SOLDIERS' AND AIRMEN'S HOME AS A NATIONAL MONUMENT
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home Washington. D.C.
12:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Hello, everyone, and welcome to what most people call the Old Soldiers' Home, the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, on this historic day.
I want to begin by thanking General Hilbert for his leadership here. And I want to thank Bill Woods for speaking on behalf of all the residents at the home. He said to me, you know, I stumble a little, I'm not used to doing this. I thought he did a fine job. (Applause.)
He told you one of the things that I wanted to say, which is that the people who live in this home open amazing volumes of mail -- at one point, 9 million pieces since he's been at it. A lot of that mail is mail that very young children send to Socks and to Buddy. And you may know that Hillary actually did a book on the best letters that children wrote to the White House asking questions of our pets. And it would have been impossible to do that book, and it would be impossible to respond to those children with the staff we have at the White House if it weren't for the veteran volunteers here, who do this and so many other things to help the White House work.
I hope one of the things that will come out of this today is that the people who have retired after distinguished careers in military service will finally get some of the credit they deserve for helping the White House to operate every single day of the year. And we thank them all. (Applause.)
I also think we brought Buddy and Socks out here today to play. I hope I get them back before the end of the day.
I would like to say a special word of appreciation to Secretary West for his work with our veterans. And because of what we're doing today, I want to say again how indebted I feel the country is to Secretary Babbitt and to those who work with him, especially Bob Stanton, the Director of the National Park Service. We make another milestone decision today under the leadership and with the drive of Bruce Babbitt. When all is said and done, I'm not sure America will ever have had an Interior Secretary who had done so much good for the natural heritage of America as Bruce Babbitt. (Applause.)
I want to thank George Frampton, of the White House, who has done so much to support this effort. I thank the members of the D.C. City Council who are here today. We're going to try to raise a little more money to help you with the continued renaissance of our Nation's Capital, and we thank you for your leadership. (Applause.)
I want to thank Richard Moe, the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for all that his organization has done to protect this site and others like it. The Trust is helping to put places like Anderson Cottage literally back on the map.
And, finally, this is one of the First Lady's White House millennial projects, which has allowed us to honor our past and imagine the future. I want to thank Ellen Lovell, who runs that project, and I want to thank Hillary for the truly astonishing impact this millennial effort has had in our country. Dick Moe told me on the way up here that we've now seen $100 million divided almost 50-50 between public and private monies committed to preserve the great treasures of America, of which this is one. And I know how passionately Hillary feels about this.
I'll never forget, I was once reading -- a couple years ago I was reading this biography of Rutherford Hayes. And President Hayes, he was one of those Union generals from Ohio that got elected President -- Grant, Hayes, Harrison, McKinley. After the Civil War, if you were a Union general from Ohio, you had about a 50-percent chance of being elected President. (Laughter.) There has never been any category of Americans that had such a high probability of being elected President as Union generals from Ohio between 1865 -- or 1868 and 1900.
But anyway, I was reading how Hayes brought his family up here because the Potomac was a swamp and the mosquitos were terrible and the heat was unbearable, and no one could work in the White House. And I started talking to Hillary about this, and she kind of nosed around up here. And we knew about the home because of all the work that the veterans here do for the White House. And one thing led to another, and this became one of our millennial treasures.
But I am very grateful to her and to Ellen Lovell, because I think that the millennial projects around the country -- and I'll say a little more about this later -- have really given a lasting gift to America. So I want to thank them. I know Hillary wishes she could be here today. (Applause.)
Now, I understand I am the first President since Chester Arthur to actually go up and down the stairs at the Anderson Cottage more than 100 years ago. But the place is very special to America. It has so much of the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, even though it has almost been forgotten for more than a century. It's not because the people have forgotten President Lincoln; last year more than 1 million people visited Ford's Theater alone. But barely 100 made it here to Anderson Cottage, where Lincoln lived and worked; where his son played and his wife found solace; where his ideas took shape and his last, best hopes for America took flight.
In some ways, this cottage behind me is the most important, as well as the least known, Lincoln site in the entire United States. He spent a quarter of his presidency at this cottage, he called the Soldiers' Home. It was, in part, summer days like this one, that drew the Lincolns here, to higher ground, where the breeze flows more and a visitor can breathe a little easier. In 1862, Mr. Lincoln's second year as President, he and Mary packed up and moved the family these few miles north for the summer. It was quieter here; it was a place to reflect; and for them, at that time, it was, sadly, also a place to grieve for the lost of their young son, Willie.
It was a place where the President could sit beneath the canopy of a beautiful copper beech tree, to go again through the books of poetry he loved so, or drop the books and follow his son, Tad, up into the cradle of the tree's great limb. That tree is just behind the cottage here. I saw it when I arrived and I walked beneath its canopy just as President Lincoln did almost 140 years ago. It is still very much alive, standing proudly and, I might add now, because it is three centuries old, it is our last living link to Abraham Lincoln.
It's hard to believe we're just a few miles from the White House. On a clear day, it's close enough to signal by semaphore from the Sherman Building tower; close enough to commute. On my short drive here today, I thought about how Mr. Lincoln used to come here -- on horseback or by carriage , up and down the old 7th Street Pike. His days were spent in wartime Washington; his nights and mornings here. Not a bad commute by our standards, but it wasn't especially safe, either.
One evening, in August of 1864, the sound of a gunshot sent Mr. Lincoln, who was riding alone on horseback, scrambling for home. He made it back here safely, though his $8 plug hat did not -- the bullet passed through the hat, but thankfully, not through him. His guards found it along the road -- and they found the bullet hole.
The Soldiers' Home gave the Lincolns refuge in times of trouble, but not escape. If anything, being here often brought President Lincoln closer to the front. The Battle of Fort Stevens was waged just two miles north of here. Lincoln got on his horse and went to witness the fight. On another ride, he passed an ambulance train, a terrible reminder of the war's human cost. And in July of 1864, the able Confederate General Jubal Early got so close to this cottage that Lincoln had to return in haste to the relative safety of the White House.
The war was never far away from him. In that, I think we see the real significance of the Soldiers' Home. For Lincoln came to this cottage not to hide from war, but to confront its deepest meanings, to plumb its most difficult truths, to find the solace necessary to muster the strength and resolve to go on. It was here, as many of you know, that President Lincoln completed a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in the seceding states. When he signed it, Lincoln said, "my whole soul is in it." You can still feel that spirit strongly in the room in this cottage where he worked.
America knows Monticello, Mount Vernon, Hyde Park. We come to understand our heroes not only through their words and deeds, but by their homes, the quiet places they created for themselves and their families. But not enough Americans know about Anderson Cottage and the truly historic role it has played in our nation's history. We should, and now we shall. There is fragile, vital history in this house. Today we come to reclaim it, to preserve it, and to make it live again -- not simply to honor those who came before, and not only for ourselves, but for generations yet to come who need to know how those who lived here lived and made the decisions they made, at a profoundly fateful time for our nation.
Our compact with the past must always be part of our commitment to the future. So today I am proud to designate President Lincoln's summer home, the Soldiers' Home, as a national monument. (Applause.)
I am using the power vested in me under the Antiquities Act, because conservation applies not only to places of great natural splendor, but to places of great national import. This cottage in its way is just as precious as a giant Sequoia, as irreplaceable as the ruins of cultures long past. And it is our profound obligation to preserve and protect if for future generations.
I am also announcing as part of our partnership with the private sector to save America's treasures, an award of $1.1 million to Anderson College. (Applause.) Now, we need a lot more, but this is a good start -- one of 47 grants we're awarding today, $15 million overall, to fund preservation efforts across America.
As I said, Hillary inspired this whole millennial "Save America's Treasures" project. We both look forward to the important work ahead, to continuing it for the next six months, and in the years ahead when we return to private life. This new round of awards will reach from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; from Ellis Island in New Jersey, to the USS Missouri anchored off Hawaii.
The Missouri, as some of you may recall, is where the Japanese formally surrendered, bringing an end to the second world war. We have a gentleman here today who served on that battleship and witnessed that ceremony. Tony Antos, if you're here, I wish you'd stand up so we could give you a hand. Where are you? Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
The Save America's Treasures" movement has already saved the Star-Spangled Banner, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and, now, Anderson Cottage. The new steps I announced today, along with the new funds, will help to ensure that the Soldiers' Home is restored to the way it looked when the Lincolns lived here. Then, at long last, school children and scholars alike can tap this precious national resource. And we will all better understand the life, times and legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
Earlier, I said Mr. Lincoln sat beneath the copper beech tree and read books of poetry, the works of Burns, Holmes, Whittier. His favorite poem was called, "Mortality," by William Knox. He knew every line, every word, by heart. He said it so often, people started to believe he had written it. In a few moments, when I sign the proclamation establishing this as a national monument, you might think of this stanza as a brief meditation, which meant so much to President Lincoln, and you might think of it any time we act to preserve our history and our heritage for our future:
"For we are the same our fathers have been; We see the same sights our fathers have seen; We drink the same stream, we view the same sun, And run the same course our fathers have run." Thank you very much. (Applause.) END 12:15 P.M. EDT