A Letter from the White House

A while back, I caught sight of an interesting and rare note, which was written by President Kennedy, printed in an old Latin textbook. It, evidently, was a reply, in Latin, to a group of high school students who had taken the time to translate the president’s inaugural speech into Latin and had sent it to him. Being a Latinist, I get a thrill, and not a cheap one, out of seeing Latin used as a means of communication so recently. These students shared an experience in common with the president, that is, struggling with and learning the Latin language, and I’m going to hazard the guess that this is why their letter caught his eye.

Below is his reply. Below that is my translation of it.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the Republic (United States), sends many greetings to the girls of the Dalton School.

Extraordinary girls, I received your letter, in which you mentioned the translation of my speech, and I read through the translation. Many things in it pleased and charmed me. I am greatly astonished at your knowledge of the Latin language and your eloquent skill at writing. The style of your translation is praiseworthy to me and ought to be esteemed, for it has both richness and variety.

What can you have done that is not worthy of approval? I thank you, on one hand for your kindness, on the other hand because your efforts make it so that I can now read my speech speaking the Latin language.

Goodbye and best wishes! From the city of Washington, on the 27th day of May, in the year of the Lord, 1961.

I can only imagine, given that he did write at least a majority of this himself, that the president had fun composing this letter, with an ablative of respect to boot. And, really, what better seal of approval on a homework assignment is there than to have the president himself sign off on its quality.


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