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Inaugural Oath of Office Signed and Used by Ronald Reagan 

Every president’s career begins with inauguration day, and from the start of his historic presidency Ronald Reagan set out to build a strong foundation. With Cold War tensions mounting abroad and economic trouble brewing at home, all eyes were on Reagan to see how he would deal with these pressing issues. Reagan knew he would need to be steadfast in his convictions and beliefs in order to be the problem-solver the American people needed at that time, but first he needed to be sworn in. Housed in the Mercury Collection is a rare memento from this special day. Comprising of just 41 words, the Oath of Office is perhaps the most important part of inauguration day. On this humble notecard is the original printed oath of office address that Reagan used on that fateful day in Washington D.C. At the top of the card is a handwritten note than reads, “To Nancy – Who ‘brightens up the corner where we are’”. One might assume that the Nancy he is referring to is his wife, Nancy Reagan, but actually this note is addressed to Nancy Clark. Nancy Clark served as Reagan’s assistant press secretary during his governorship in California and continued to work with him after his term expired. When he was elected president in 1980, Reagan invited her to join his White House transition team and she remained both a friend and advisor to the president throughout both his presidential terms.

On the day of Reagan’s inauguration Nancy was responsible for retrieving this notecard, and the notecards for his inaugural address, from a safe and delivering them to the soon to be president. After Reagan finished reviewing the material one last time, he penned this note to Nancy and gave her card to keep. In an error that befalls us all at the start of a new year, Reagan accidentally dated his note January 20, 1980 out of habit even though the inauguration occurred on January 20, 1981. According to the provenance information that came with the card, Reagan also added a humorous note to the reverse side of the card which stated, “I already have this memorized.”  Considering the fact that he gifted this to Nancy before he actually he took his oath, this note would have been a funny moment on an otherwise serious day.[1] However, upon further inspection of the notecard no such note exists. It is unclear where this part of the story came from, or why it got added as part of the historical account if Reagan never wrote the note. Perhaps there was miscommunication and Reagan had penned the note on another piece of paper or card given to Nancy, or perhaps he spoke those words but never wrote them down. Either way, this mystery is a great example of the problems that can arise when dealing with oral histories and also demonstrates the importance of documenting events as they occur.

Sources:

[1] “The Original Signed Inaugural Oath of Office Used by Ronald Reagan For His First Inauguration, January 20, 1981”. Raab Collection. Ardmore, PA. 2018. https://www.raabcollection.com/presidential-autographs/reagan-inaugural

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