16
16
Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 12,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
16
Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 12,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The White House Years of Robert S. McNamara

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New York

Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy
Autograph letter signed (“Jackie”), 7 pages (7 7/8 x 5 3/4 in.; 194 x 146 mm) on 4 leaves of light green White House stationery, Washington, 24 April 1963, to Margaret and Robert McNamara (“Dear Margie and Bob”), accompanied by the original autograph envelope, directed to “Mrs. Robert S MacNamara [sic]” and designated “By Hand,” the envelope docketed in pencil by McNamara “4/63.”
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Catalogue Note

“[W]hy can’t I be like Josephine just once”: with an uncharacteristic abandon, Mrs. Kennedy thanks the McNamaras for the gift of a print she thought was fated to become part of the White House Collection. The Secretary of Defense and his wife had evidently learned of the First Lady's fondness of an early engraving of Mount Vernon from either James Fosburgh, chair of the Special Committee for White House Paintings (an adjunct to the Fine Arts Committee founded by Mrs. Kennedy), or William Elder, the Curator of the White House. So excited was Mrs. Kennedy by the gift that she wrote the present letter the same evening she received it:

“I just got home tonight from Florida—and there was an enormous gold papered present—in our private hall—with the Secretary of Defense on the card. I couldn’t imagine what it was—and the children were dying to rip it open—but I made them wait until Jack got home and we all tore the paper off together. My God!!—is all I can say—the greatest treasure and earliest engraving and prettiest one that I adored from the moment I saw it—and nobly suppressing my own love and craving for it—I agreed with Jim Fosburgh that he should search for someone to give it to the White House.”

The First Lady continues in an exuberant vein, poking fun, first, at her ostensible self-sacrifice, and then at her supposed corrupting influence. “It was the one time in my life I felt really noble—as so many of the things we twist people’s arms for the White House—gloomy but contemporary old Presidents, ratchet back chairs etc—I know should be here—but this time I thought—oh I adore this engraving so much—it is just the way I think of Mount Vernon—and could I save all year and give it to Jack for his birthday—or hint to him through Mrs Lincoln that it is the one thing I want for mine—but I swallowed all that, thinking why can’t I be like Josephine just once—who in Napoleon’ s Italian campaigns got every Italian to give her all the lovely things she wanted by promising favors from the Emperor!—and agreed with Jim—yes, go and search for a donor and secretly prayed he would never find one. … Bill Elder, our curator, must have compromised himself, or Jim Fosburgh—I can’t imagine how you found out—and put us before the W. H.!—which is rather nice—my desires corrupting everyone around me! Anyway—you know how much I loved and wished for this picture—even if only to look at for the brief time we will be here—and to have it now be ours!—because of both of you. It is the first thing I will save in any fire.”

Mrs. Kennedy next describes the President’s reaction to the gift—and discusses their differing approaches to connoisseurship. “But I know you gave it to us both and I just wish you could have seen how it affected Jack—‘My God’ (this is the most profane letter)—he kept saying—‘that’s incredible—but it’s so beautiful—and look at the frame—but they couldn’t be giving this to us.’ I had never told him about it—but always thought he had the most fantastic eye—he doesn’t study drawings and furniture like I do—but in all the changes we have made here—or things you wonder about—he comes in at the last minute and uninformed—always agrees with the expert—(often over-riding me)—or suggests placing a bust of Houdon some place I never would have thought of and he is always right. And all that instinct—which is the best—came out when he saw Mount Vernon. It is now in our bedroom … and nothing in the world could you have found that we would both love more.”

In praising the McNamara’s cleverness, Mrs. Kennedy makes an odd allusion to the Tactical Fighter Experimental, an attempt to merge the production of fighter jets for the different military services that would be one of the major failures of McNamara’s tenure as head of the Department of Defense.  “You should be the heads of CIA—not TFX—to ferret such things out." 

Even as she recognizes that her thanks may have been too prolonged, the First Lady expands the conclusion of her letter to voice her gratitude to the McNamaras, not just for gift of a historic view of Mount Vernon, but for their friendship and loyalty to her and the President: “It is our greatest treasure—for what it is and because it comes from both of you. Yes we did change your lives—or rather Jack did—and it has brought travail—and of all the people I know—we few—we often unhappy band of brothers—who will live through these difficult years—it is you who are the most—there is no word for it—giving? loyal?—unforgettable. I don’t care if every other Cabinet member sees what I write—! I suddenly beg your forgiveness for this interminable letter. Just let me say once more that the picture—which we would love anyway—coming from you—for the first house we have ever really had—makes it something so special.”

The assassination of President Kennedy just seven months after this letter was written lends a special poignancy to its final paragraph. “I must spare you further words and pages—but please always know how touched—and stunned—and delighted we were—when we opened it together—and what we will think of when we look at it for the rest of our lives.”

The White House Years of Robert S. McNamara

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New York