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The American Presidents

The American Presidents

From George Washington’s love of the theater to Harry Truman’s surviving high-school essays on The Merchant of Venice, a surprising number of US presidents have well documented connections to Shakespeare and his plays.

John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were avid Shakespeare readers, though John Quincy had far more chances to see the plays onstage. Abraham Lincoln, another frequent theatergoer, often read and recited favorite passages from the plays in private conversations; it was one of many cruel ironies that his assassin came from a famous American acting family. Bill Clinton, influenced by memorizing a long passage in high school, once said that “Mr. Shakespeare made me a better president.”

Folger Shakespeare Library has a special place in its history for Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Former president Coolidge (like Henry Folger, an Amherst graduate) headed the library’s trustee committee from 1931 until his death in January 1933. As president, Herbert Hoover attended the library’s opening ceremonies in April 1932, accompanied by First Lady Lou Hoover. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum also holds several letters to Hoover from Emily Folger, who worked with her late husband to found Folger Shakespeare Library. Dating from 1934, the letters from Mrs. Folger asked the former president to give serious thought to becoming director of the library. He politely declined, preferring to remain in the West.

President Hoover and George Arthur Plimpton at the dedication of the Folger. Photograph, April 23, 1932. Folger Shakespeare Library.