How to Write a Letter to the President of the United States

by | Feb 11, 2010 01:36 PM ET

When I was researching Tuesday's post about sites to visit on an Abraham Lincoln road trip, I came across an interesting landmark I didn't have the space to share. In Delphos, Kansas, you can visit a monument saluting Grace Bedell Billings. Billings, who died in Delphos in 1936, is famed for writing Lincoln a letter suggesting that he grow a beard. The year was 1860, and Lincoln was campaigning for the presidency. Grace Bedell was 11, and vowed to Lincoln that if she was a man, she'd vote for him. Lacking the ability to cast a vote, she suggested that the candidate grow some whiskers, as his face looked thin. A beard, she claimed, would make him more handsome, and thus lock up female support, as women can't contain themselves around beards. The ladies would have no choice but to tell their husbands to vote for Honest Abe.

Believe it or not, Grace got a reply. Lincoln responded that since he had never had any whiskers, he worried that people would find it silly if he started growing them now (indeed, Lincoln seems to be anticipating our current 24-hours news networks, which undoubtedly would obsess over any candidate's facial hair). Still, though he was ambivalent in his response, Lincoln did, of course, grow a distinguished beard, and now it's impossible to imagine him without it.

As a tribute to Grace Bedell, and to continue my personal celebration of Lincoln's birthday tomorrow, I thought I'd remind people of the ways to get in contact with the current president. To me, the beauty of the Grace Bedell story is that it shows that we citizens have influence with our elected officials in ways we don't even realize. And though presidents are busy men, there is a chance that Obama will read your letter; a New York Times story from last year detailed a day in the life of the White House Office of Correspondence. Each day, Mike Kelleher, director of that office, selects 10 letters from both supporters and detractors for Obama to read.

So if you've got something to say, why not send it to the White House? After all, you might have a million dollar idea that garners you the equivalent of a monument in Delphos, Kansas.

If you like snail mail, address your envelope like so:

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

If you're more inclined to write an e-mail, you can leave a message at the White House Contact Form.

And if you'd like to just pick up the phone, you can contribute a comment by calling 202-456-1111.

If you don't have anything to say just yet, why not enjoy some letters written to Barack Obama by children on the occasion of his election? These letters were compiled for the book "Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country," which is available for purchase from McSweeney's.

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