Shakespeare, Past and President: A Presidents' Day Pop-up

Shakespeare, Past and President, a pop-up exhibition at the Folger, was open to the public and took place February 19, 2019, from 1-4 pm in the Board Room. This exhibit was curated by Rachel B. Dankert.

Shakespeare, Past and President assembled vault materials from the collection and institutional archives to demonstrate the numerous connections between Shakespeare, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and past Presidents of the United States of America. Over twenty-five former Presidents were represented in the exhibition, from George Washington to Bill Clinton. Henry and Emily Folger chose to build their research library on Capitol Hill to establish the connection between Shakespeare and American civic life. This exhibit recovered some of that history. For more information on the U.S. Presidents' unique relationships with Shakespeare, read more from The White House Historical Association.

Items included

This section includes the list of items displayed in the pop-up exhibit, divided by President, with the years of Presidential service included with each official's name.

George Washington, First President (1789-1797)

Bell’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays: as they are now performed at the Theatres Royal in London: regulated from the prompt books of each house, by permission, with notes critical and illustrative / by the authors of the Dramatic censor. London: Printed for John Bell, near Exeter Exchange in the Strand, and C. Etherington at York, MDCCLXXIIII [1774].

Folger call number: PR2752 1774b copy 5 v. 1 Sh.Col.

This is the Lewis family copy of Shakespeare, presumed to be from George Washington’s library, with tipped-in typed provenance note signed by "Attaway Lewis, [his] Great grand-niece, April 25, 1897." Attaway Lewis was the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth (Betty) Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington. While we’re not sure that this was in George Washington’s library, we do know that his descendant believed it to be so, speaking to the power of Washington’s name, and Shakespeare’s.

John Adams, Second President (1797-1801)

Quotation from Julius Caesar in the hand of John Adams (2.1.22-28)

Folger call number: Y.d.246

Digital image of Y.d.246


Brutus in J. Caesar of Shakespeare
Tis a common Proof
That Lowliness is young Ambitions Ladder
Whereunto the climber upwards turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the Ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.

In a different hand:

I have no autograph signature to spare, but the above is in the handwriting of John Adams.

Massachusetts Historical Society Adams family tree

Thomas Jefferson, Third President (1801-1809)

Copy of letter (incomplete) from Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, Virginia, to Doctor Walter Jones, 1814 January 2

Folger call number: Y.c.1420

Jefferson writes of George Washington:

“He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed.”

James Madison, Fourth President (1809-1817) and James Monroe, Fifth President (1817-1825)

By the President of the United States of America, suffer the Brig Shakespeare, Curtis Holmes master or commander ... to pass with her company, passengers, goods, and merchandize without any hinderance, seisure, or molestation ...

Folger call number: Y.d.942

Signed by President James Madison and then-Secretary of State James Monroe, allowing the brig Shakespeare to land in Savannah, Georgia.

John Quincy Adams, Sixth President (1825-1829)

Autograph letter, signed, to John B. Davis of Boston. Washington DC, 5 January 1830.

Folger call number: Y.c.10 (2) quotes from The Two Gentlemen of Verona


John B. Davis Esqr. Boston

Washington, 5. Jany 1830

Dear Sir.

I have received your obliging Letter of 31st. Oct.? It would be gratifying to me to see the full and authentic account which you mention to have been prest? into your hands_The author may be assured that I shall retain no resentment against him for any share he may have had in the transaction; and that if my forgiveness of any injury that he may have done me can set him at ease with himself, he has it freely. I have been accustom'd all my life to forgive my enemies; even those who do not repent, and of those who do I say with Shakesepear

"Who by Repentance is not satisfied,

Is nor of Heaven nor Earth."_

The secret History of the publication to which you refer is no doubt curious as literary and political History, and as such is peculiarly interesting to me. That the man of duplicates should be thirsty for revenge, I suppose ^will^ not be surprizing to any one.

I would readily comply with your request that I would give you my views of public affairs generally were my information such as could be relied upon with confidence of what is public, you have seen much that cannot be approved by me_of interior discensions in the Cabinet there are tales in circulation, the evidence of which is apocryphal, and which must wait the develop[e]ments of Time.

I thank you heartily for your good wishes and reciprocate them with sincerity.

And remain, with respect your friend and Sevt J.Q. Adams

Millard Fillmore, Thirteenth President (1850-1853)

Autograph letter signed from Millard Fillmore to Augustin Daly, 1872 May 25.

Folger call number: Y.c.922 (1)


Fifth Avenue Hotel

May 25th 1872

Mr. Augustin Daly,

Sir, Allow me to express my thanks for your kindness in sending me a box ticket for your theater. I seldom attend dramatic representations but having heard of the beauty of the Fifth Avenue Theatre I had a desire to see it, and I am happy to say that all which I had heard in its praise was more than realized. I was also greatly delighted with the performance, and feel that I am indebted to you for a very pleasant evening. With my best wishes for your prosperity,

I am truly yours,

Millard Fillmore

James Buchanan, Fifteenth President (1857-1861)

Letter from James Buchanan to Delia Bacon, 1856 January 12.

Folger call number: Y.c.2599 (154)

Delia Salter Bacon is the originator of the Baconian theory, which posits that William Shakespeare’s works were written by Sir Francis Bacon. She first published on her theory in 1856, using cipher-based “evidence” from printed texts of Shakespeare’s plays that she decoded. Many of her letters to luminaries of her day are housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Correspondents include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and of course the future president James Buchanan.


56 Harley St. 12 January 1856 My dear Miss Bacon/

I owe you an apology for not having waited upon you since the receipt of your note; but the truth is that, without a secretary of Legation, my whole time is necessarily occupied with my public duties. I shall, if possible, do myself the pleasure of calling ^upon you^ early next week, unless you should in the mean time favor me with a visit.

With much? respect & regard, I remain, your obed[ien]t servant James Buchanan

Miss Delia S. Bacon.

Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President (1861-1865, died in office, succeeded by Andrew Johnson)

Note signed from Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., 1864 July 20.

Folger call number: Y.c.1432

Digital image of Y.c.1432

Our co-founder Emily Clara Jordan Folger lived in Washington, D.C. Her father, Edward Jordan, worked as Solicitor of the Treasury under Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase from 1861-1869, during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations. This note, signed by Lincoln, appoints Benjamin F. Pleasants, another Treasury official, to serve the capacity of Solicitor in Jordan’s absence.


Washington, July 20th 1864.

Benjamin F. Pleasants, is hereby appointed to discharge the duties of Solicitor of the Treasury, during the absence of Edward Jordan, the Solicitor.

Abraham Lincoln

Ulysses S. Grant, Eighteenth President (1869-1877)

Autograph letter signed from Edwin Booth, Gloucester, Massachusetts, to William Winter, 1872 November 10.

Folger call number: Y.c.215 (219)

Edwin Booth was one of the most renowned Shakespearean actors of the 19th century, celebrated for his roles as Hamlet, Richard III, and Iago. He also was brothers with John Wilkes Booth. Although Booth initially retired from public life, he realized the nation did not hold him responsible for the sins of his brother. In this letter Booth writes to his friend and famous theater producer, William Winter about the Presidential election of 1872. Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General at the end of the Civil War, was re-elected. Before becoming a military hero, Grant worked various odd jobs, including as a tanner.

Edwin Booth quotes Hamlet when he writes: Do you really think Shakespeare predicted Grant's re-election when he said a Tanner would last you some eight or nine year?

Gravedigger: Faith, if he be not rotten before he die (as we have many pocky corses nowadays that will scarce hold the laying in), he will last you some eight year or nine year. A tanner will last you nine year.
Hamlet: Why he more than another?
Gravedigger: Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade that he will keep out water a great while; and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

(Hamlet, 5.1.168-179)

James A. Garfield, Twentieth President (1881, died in office, succeeded by Chester A. Arthur)

The dramatic works of William Shakspeare: illustrated : embracing a life of the poet, and notes, original and selected.

Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1850-1857.

Folger call number: PR2752 1850-1857 copy 2 Sh.Col.

This copy was owned by James A. Garfield and bears his library bookplate with the motto inter folia fructus, or, “between the leaves are fruit.”

Chester A. Arthur, Twenty-first President (1881-1885)

Romeo and Juliet : a tragedy in five acts / by William Shakespeare (arranged for representation from the text of the second quarto, printed A.D. 1599) ; as performed by Miss Mary Anderson and Company at the Lyceum Theatre, November, 1884.

London : W.S. Johnson, "Nassau Steam Press", 1884.

Folger call number: PR2831 1884b copy 1 Sh.Col.

Marked “For President Arthur” on the front cover, this copy of Romeo and Juliet was presented by Mr. Henry E. Abbey, theatrical manager, producer, and the gentleman who first cast Sarah Bernhardt in American theaters. Included in this copy are also a playbill and program for the production.

Grover Cleveland, Twenty-second and Twenty-fourth President (1885-89 & 1893-97)

Autograph letters signed from Grover Cleveland to various recipients, 1899-1906.

Folger call number: Y.c.549 (2)


March 30, 1906

My dear Mr. Birmingham,

I have received your letter informing me that the Shakespeare Dramatic Club intend to celebrate the birthday of Shakespeare on the 21st of April, and extending to me on behalf of the Club, an invitation to be present on that occasion.

Everything that tends to keep with the memory of Shakespeare between the English and Americans challenges my current intent and approval; I am glad to know that the American people are to be in the celebration.

I will be with you on the occasion you contemplate.

Yours very truly, Grover Cleveland

Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-sixth President (1901-1909)

Oliver Cromwell, by Theodore Roosevelt

New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1901

Folger call number: DA426. R7

Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist and historian, authored 40 books during his lifetime, all while serving as Police Commissioner of New York City, a Rough Rider, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and President. His biography of Oliver Cromwell closely followed upon one of his more enduring works The Rough Riders. In the introduction to this biography, Roosevelt likens Cromwell’s revolutionary moment to that of other important revolutions, of 1688 in Great Britain, of 1776 in the United States of America, and the American Civil War of 1861 and argues that all of them were fought for the idea of freedom.

William H. Taft, Twenty-seventh President (1909-1913)

Typed letter signed from William H. Taft, New Haven, to Viola Allen, Empire Theatre, New York, 1916 March 6.

Folger call number: Y.c.2389

Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President (1913-1921)

Letter from President Woodrow Wilson, The White House, to Augustus Thomas, Secretary of the William Winter Testimonial, New York, 1916 March 7.

Folger call number: Y.c.5835

The 80th birthday celebration of theatrical manager, producer, and all-around luminary, William Winter was a fantastic occasion. Winter knew everyone—or at least corresponded with them. To celebrate his life and legacy during the Testimonial, actors who worked with Winter invited government dignitaries, along with showbusiness stars to honor him. William H. Taft and Woodrow Wilson were both invited and both unable to attend. Here you can see both refusals from then Chief of the Supreme Court Taft and sitting President Wilson.

Calvin Coolidge, Thirtieth President (1923-1929)

Jewett Repertory Theatre Fund: A notice of the aims and appeal for financial support.

Folger call number: Z.d.21

Wanting a permanent home for their players, the Jewett Repertory Theatre Fund was started in 1923. The theater itself, now called Huntington Avenue Theater, resides alongside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Symphony Hall, and the former Boston Opera House, situating it as a cultural landmark. The Jewett Repertory Players were the first civically supported theater in Boston. Calvin Coolidge’s signature appears at the top of the list of civic leaders of Boston, demonstrates the city’s public support for the arts.

Herbert Hoover, Thirty-first President (1929-1933)

Georgius Agricola De re metallica / translated from the first Latin edition of 1556, with biographical introduction, annotations and appendices upon the development of mining methods, metallurgical processes, geology, mineralogy & mining law from the earliest times to the 16th Century ; by Herbert Clark Hoover ... and Lou Henry Hoover …

Folger call number: TN617. A4

This is the presentation copy from co-translator, geologist, humanitarian, and President Herbert Hoover to Amherst College President Stanley King, “With kind regards, March 1920.” President and First Lady Hoover were present at the grand opening of the Folger on April 23, 1932. This copy was donated to the Folger by King in 1938.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thirty-second President (1933-1945, died in office, succeeded by Harry S. Truman)

Typed letters from Franklin D. Roosevelt, The White House, to Dr. Joseph Q. Adams, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1942-1943.

Folger call number: Y.c.5568 (3)

Dated April 13, 1943, typed and signed by Grace Tully, the President's secretary, she responds the President has had much pleasure in inscribing the two Shakespeare volumes and they are being returned herewith.

The Temple Shakespeare

London : J.M. Dent and Co., 1894-1896 (Edinburgh : Turnbull & Spears), 40 volumes.

Folger call number: PR2752 1894-1896 Copy 2 Sh.Col. Vol. 7

Volume 7 Inscription

For the Folger Shakespeare Library from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This set was given by me to my Mother - Sara Delano Roosevelt about 1900 - and was in her room at Hyde Park until her death in 1941, when it came back to me. -- 1943, FDR.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Thirty-sixth President (1963-1969)

MacBird! by Barbara Garson

Berkeley, California; New York : Grassy Knoll Press, 1966.

Folger call number: Sh.Misc.1822

Frustrated with the loss of life and stalemate of the Vietnam War, activist and writer Barbara Garson, shouted to a crowd about “Lady Macbird Johnson!,” thus sparking the idea for her off-Broadway stage play MacBird! Adapting Shakespeare’s language from Hamlet and Macbeth, Garson uses Shakespeare’s language and stories to add to growing critique of Johnson and the running of the war.

Richard M. Nixon, Thirty-seventh President (1969-1974, resigned)

The tragedie of King Richard, the Second: the life and times of Richard II (1367-1400), King of England (1377-1399) compared to those of Richard of America in his second administration by Robert John Meyers. Washington, D.C. : Acropolis Books, Ltd., 1973.

Folger call number: Sh.Misc. 1866

In a similar vein to MacBird!, Robert John Meyers wrote this satire of Richard II, culminating in Nixon’s resignation, much like in Shakespeare’s history play. Meyers, rather than sourcing his text from Shakespeare, he writes new language in iambic pentameter, putting fresh, lilting words in the mouths of those embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

Jimmy Carter, Thirty-ninth President (1977-1981)

Letter from President Jimmy Carter to Folger Shakespeare Library Director, O.B. Hardison, November 18, 1977 and pen. Folger Archives


November 18, 1977

To Dr. O.B. Hardison,

I thought you would like to have this pen [framed with letter] which is commemorative of the signing of H.R. 9836, the bill which provides for chilled water for the Folger Library.


Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan, Fortieth President (1981-1989)

Letter from President Ronald Reagan to Folger Shakespeare Library Director O.B. Hardison, December 7, 1982.

Photograph of O.B. Hardison receiving The White House Library, a short-title list as a gift at the White House, December 8, 1982.

Folger Archives (Facsimile)

The White House Library; a short-title list.

Washington: White House Historical Association, 1967.

Folger call number: 222- 445q

Bill Clinton, Forty-second President (1992-2000)

Shakespeare in America: an anthology from the Revolution to now

Edited by James Shapiro, foreword written by President Clinton

New York : Library of America, [2014]

Picture: President-elect Clinton visits the Folger, January 18, 1993

Folger call number: PR2971.U6 S49 2014

In his foreword to the Shakespeare in America anthology, Clinton relates an early lesson learned from his memorization of one hundred lines from Macbeth “about the perils of blind ambition, and the emptiness of power disconnected from higher purpose.”