Since 1989, each outgoing American president has left a private letter of comments and advice in the Oval Office for their successor.
What a treasure trove of history the nation would have if this tradition had started with George Washington instead of Ronald Reagan.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln, elected with less than 40 percent of the vote, inherited a politically divided union. He was pushed into a Civil War with domestic terrorists, propelled toward budget deficits, and faced a balky Congress and a conflicted Supreme Court.
In 2017, Donald Trump, chosen on 46 percent of the ballots, faces the political division of civil unrest, a war with international insurgents, spiraling spending, a Congress that has too long delayed solving critical issues and a deadlocked Supreme Court.
Lincoln and Trump are very different men living in very different times. One, at age 70, has a fine college education and no political experience. The other, then 51, was a former state legislator and congressman with first-grade level formal schooling.
Modern communication for Trump is instantaneous. For Lincoln, it was the telegraph. It took Lincoln 13 days to journey from Springfield, Ill., to Washington by rail as president-elect. Trump flew from New York in less than an hour.
Nevertheless, Lincoln, our 16th president, could well have valuable insights for Trump, our 45th, to prevent the current culture clash from erupting into a second civil war. Knowing that California may be on the verge of declaring itself a “sanctuary state,” Lincoln may well have written:
Though I left the Executive Mansion a century and a half ago, custom permits me to leave a word of advice. The same gap of time between us permits you to freely disregard it.
You are a builder, I merely a lawyer. I suspect that your administration will commence with a flurry of reconstruction.
A strong Cabinet is a necessity. One might say I relied upon a team of rivals. I am certain that your choices, like mine, will be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.
I faced and surmounted a great Civil War. Circumstances have forced upon you a great civil unrest. Let not criticism deter you from a required path.
Prioritize the nation’s needs, but be flexible, strategic. My only purpose was to save the Union. I would have freed some, all or none of the slaves to do that. In time, I accomplished both freedom and union.
Let Congress legislate, but fear not the issuance of Executive Orders. My edicts were the essence of saving a nation: Draft calls to muster troops, suspending habeas corpus to preserve the peace, emancipation to win the war.
Take care to guard the Constitution — ultimately it, and the Declaration of Independence which ennobles it, are our gift to the world and ourselves.
Issue not any proclamation in haste or heat of anger. While a bird may “tweet” with impunity, a president must preside, most often, above the fray. My custom of placing my “hot” letters in a desk drawer, “Never Sent,” “Never Signed,” served the country well.
Finally, keep faith — keep your promises made to the electorate. We Republicans are a new and ever emerging party, and must build, not dissipate, the base. Remember always, this is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Boise attorney David H. Leroy is an Abraham Lincoln scholar, former Idaho attorney general and lieutenant governor.