Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 2000

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Author: William J. Clinton  | Date: December 9, 2000

Remarks on the Unveiling of the Design for the William J. Clinton Presidential Library,
December 9, 2000

Thank you very much. I want to begin by saying how glad I am to see all of you here. I want to thank my two Arkansas Cabinet members, Rodney Slater and James Lee Witt, for being here. And thank you, Skip Rutherford, for all the work you’ve done. And I want to thank the other Arkansans here who have tried to help us get this off the ground, including Mack McLarty and Joe Ford and all the local officials. And I want to say a special word of appreciation, obviously, to Jim Polshek and all the people in the architectural firm who worked on this; and to Ralph Applebaum, who is not here today, but I will say a few more words about why that’s important.

I want to thank Hillary and Chelsea, who have spent a lot of time on this, working with me, trying to imagine what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. And I want to thank Terry McAuliffe, who is sitting here trying to make sure we can pay for it, as Jim reels off all these things we’re going to do. [Laughter]

Since President Roosevelt started a Presidential library—and he had the only Presidential library, actually, where the President worked in the library while he was President, because he built it in 1939 and he actually used it whenever he went home to Hyde Park, until his death in 1945—there have been 10 Presidential libraries. I have actually visited seven of them, myself, and I’ve looked at the plans and the scheme of the other three. And I’ve tried to lift some of their best ideas in this building.

But basically what I wanted to do was to, first of all, have a building that was beautiful and architecturally significant, that people would want to walk in 100 years from now, but one that would also work—would work for average citizens. Ninety percent of the people who come to Presidential libraries are people who come as visitors. They want to see the museum; they want to know what happened in this point in our history related to everything else and how it relates to the present and the future.

And the challenge for any architect is that you’ve got to protect all these documents, and they have to be in buildings that don’t get overly exposed to the light. So if you put all that stuff in one building, you have to have a lot of solid walls. And so the thing that we were able to work out that I’m really pleased about is, we’re protecting all the documents in the back there, and we don’t have to worry about that interfering with the enjoyment of the people who actually come to see the museum and the building and participate in all of that.

So I think that’s really the thing that will make it fundamentally more interesting and more enjoyable for all the people, plus the fact that we—thanks to the good people of Little Rock, we’ve got enough land here to have a park, which will always be accessible to the local citizens as well as to all the visitors. And I’m very, very pleased about that.

I also want to say that it was very important to me to try to faithfully present the history of this time. And I want to say a special word of appreciation to Ralph Applebaum. Some of you know he did the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, which I think is the finest museum of its kind anywhere in the world. And I was elated when he agreed to do this.

I also want to say, since we’ll be living in New York, I think that the planetarium that’s been done in Manhattan by the Polshek firm, which some of you have seen pictures of, is basically this great square building in steel and glass with a globe inside—it’s just breathtaking. And I knew that when I saw that, that they could do what I wanted to do down here. And so I’m very, very pleased.

Skip has already talked about this, but I wanted this library to also benefit the city and the State. And I think recovering this portion of the river, recovering this part of the neighborhood—you can’t tell here, but those of you who aren’t from Arkansas don’t know, but once you get down here, over here, you’re immediately into perhaps the most historic part of our State, the Old State Capital, which is mentioned, where I announced for President and where I had my very first reception as a public official in January of 1977 in an ice storm—was built during the period in which we became a State, from 1833 to 1836. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful old building.

So it was very close to this present State capital and a lot of other very historically significant buildings, including the magnificent new library we have there. So I’m very pleased about it.

I’m very pleased that the library will be accessible and interactive. You know, because of technology, you don’t really have to go anyplace anymore to get whatever is there. And we were laughing about all these tens of millions of documents. The people who work here at the White House who are part of the permanent staff, who work from administration to administration and preserve these documents, one of the things—I went over to visit them not very long ago, and they showed me what they are doing, and it’s amazing.

This may be somewhat embarrassing for me, but people will actually be able to pull up on the Internet copies of actual memos that I wrote on. And the woman said, "The reason we’ve got to have so many documents here is that you wrote more letters, more notes to your staff on more pieces of paper than any President in history." [Laughter] And unfortunately, most of them are unreadable, but—[laughter]—at least the people will be able to get a picture of that. You will be able to see drafts of the Inaugural addresses and what I wrote and what they wrote, and that’s good, because it will let a lot of my speechwriters off in history. People will think, "Gosh, what he marked out was better than what he said." But anyway, all that will be available, and I think that’s very important.

The third thing I would like to say is that I really wanted the relationship that this library would have to the University of Arkansas to be focused on public service. I want more and more people to want to go into public service. And we are going to offer a master’s degree in public service, but in addition to that, I’m going to attempt to set up partnerships with employers all across America to get them to come and send their young executives to our place for a couple of months as a kind of an orientation in preparation for doing a year of public service in the National, State, or local governments all across the country.

I got this idea just basically from the Presidential Fellowship program we have here. But I can tell you that all the people who come here as White House Fellows make an incredibly unique contribution, as do all the volunteers, all the interns, everybody who works here, and it changes them forever, but they also help us do what we’re doing here.

And it occurred to me that if we had a critical mass of people all across the United States who are out there working in businesses of all kinds and nonprofits and whatever, but they had spent at least one year of their lives working in the public sector at the Federal, State, or local level, that, number one, the Government would always work better, would always have a sense of how whatever is being done affects people who are not in Government, but secondly, we would not ever return to a period where the American people felt as alienated from their Government as we did for, in my judgment, too many years in the latter part of the 20th century.

And I really think it could—if we can get enough people to do this, it could pretty much permanently change the relationship of the American people to the way the Government works and the way that would have the Government making better decisions, and also, having more people in the private sector who had actually had the experience of being there. So I’m very, very hopeful about it.

In 1941 President Roosevelt’s library was dedicated. And he said, and I quote, "Building a library is really an act of faith, a belief in the capacity of a Nation’s people, so it will learn from the past, that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

Well, this is a similar act of faith. And I hope that it will not only allow people to see these remarkable 8 years but will help to empower people and give them the confidence to believe that they can build America’s greatest days in the new century.

So again, I want to thank you all. And especially, I want to thank those who have helped me to develop these plans. And I want to thank Terry and all the others here who have agreed to help me figure out how to build it, which is now the next big challenge. But I’m looking forward to it.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:40 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to J.L. (Skip) Rutherford, president, and Terence McAuliffe, fundraiser, William Jefferson Clinton Foundation; former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. (Mack) McLarty; Joe Ford, chairman and chief executive officer, ALLTEL Corp.; and James S. Polshek, lead architect, and Ralph Applebaum, interpretive designer, William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

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Chicago: William J. Clinton, "Remarks on the Unveiling of the Design for the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, December 9, 2000," Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 2000 in United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, December 15, 2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000), 36:3215 3046–3048. Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KZUJEQM4BRITVW4.

MLA: Clinton, William J. "Remarks on the Unveiling of the Design for the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, December 9, 2000." Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 2000, in United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, December 15, 2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000), 36:3215, pp. 3046–3048. Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KZUJEQM4BRITVW4.

Harvard: Clinton, WJ, 'Remarks on the Unveiling of the Design for the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, December 9, 2000' in Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 2000. cited in , United States. Executive Office of the President, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Week Ending Friday, December 15, 2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000), 36:3215, pp.3046–3048. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KZUJEQM4BRITVW4.