Elvis Presley Writes to Richard Nixon, 1970

Elvis Presley Writes Nixon

This is page one of a 5-page letter Elvis Presley wrote to President Nixon, which he hand delivered to a security guard at the northwest gate of the White House on December 21, 1970.  Written on American Airlines stationary, Elvis wrote that he would like to meet the president in order to give him a gift and to discuss how Elvis wanted to help as a federal agent with the country’s war on drugs.  Once the White House realized that Elvis was sincere and what a coup this would be for the government’s war on drug use, a meeting was set up between the singer and the president.  I find the first line of the letter very funny: “First, I would like to introduce myself, I am Elvis Presley…”  As if he needs to be introduced!  I can only imagine how surprised the security guard was to see Elvis walking up to the gate.  Here are some fun facts from the meeting:

1) Elvis’ present to Nixon was a World War Two-era pistol.  Can you imagine how much trouble you would get into today if you arrived unannounced at the gate of the White House and told security you wanted to give the president a gun?  Being Elvis means people cut you a lot of slack!  Here’s a photo of the gift:

WWII Handgun - Gift to Nixon

2) Nixon aide Eril Grogh even drafted a two-page agenda for the meeting, which included talking points and suggestions for how Elvis could help.  One of those talking points was how the entertainment industry was a valuable tool in spreading the anti-drug message to teenagers, since they watched an average of 15,000-20,000 hours of television in-between their birth and their high school graduation, which outnumbered the amount of hours they spent in the classroom.  One of the suggestions on page two was that Elvis could record an album with the theme “Get High on Life”.  Here is that agenda:

Meeting Agenda - Page 1 of 2 Meeting Agenda - Page 2 of 2

3) 10 days after the meeting, Nixon sent Elvis a thank-you note for the pistol and Presley family photos that Elvis had gifted him.

Nixon Thank You Letter - Page 1 of 1

4) And here’s a photo from the meeting:

5364-02

For the whole story, here’s an online exhibit set up by the National Archives to explain the letter and the meeting that took place afterward.  It’s a short, interesting read, and you can download all of the documents and photos in two zip files if you’re interested!: When Nixon Met Elvis

Source: [National Archives]

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8 Responses to Elvis Presley Writes to Richard Nixon, 1970

  1. itwasjudith says:

    i like the informative post but not sure i like the act discussed in itself. someone who represented the idea of rock n roll volunteering to act as a fed and gifting a war gun? i don’t get this gun fascination, really… i had already read something about this somewhere, i shall take some time to try and read the links. what’s your take on this story? Thanks for posting it 🙂

    • Thanks for asking! 🙂 I as well have a tough time understanding the allure of guns! But, I never really grew up with them or had much experience with them, so perhaps I don’t understand it because I have no experience with them. I think it may be because of my history background. I’ve studied war and warfare. A lot. Some may look at a WWII-era pistol and admire its craftsmanship or its features. But whenever I see a historical weapon, I can never get past the fact that it was probably used against another human.

      That said, I think historical guns have an extra added connotation because of current events. I don’t think people think as negatively of early modern cannons or ancient swords!

      What’s your take?

      • itwasjudith says:

        You have a good point there! though I think there seems to be some sort of “advertisement” of war and its “necessity” in our society. I wasn’t specifically thinking of the historic weapon, but when I looked at it, I saw a gun and found it unfit as a present, because of what it represents and for me that is more violence than “self-defence”. I also was shocked at Elvis’ offer, coming from him – originally some sort of rebel and who himself had dependency on tablets (if I’m not mistaken). Also, I’m not sure I believe in their “war on drug”, to be honest. Wasn’t it just another repressive form of state? Why no war on armies and weapons or sex industry? don’t know, just my 2 cents 🙂

      • Good point – I was never quite sure why there was so much focus on battling drugs in the late 20th century instead of so many other things that still plague modern times. To me it would make sense to have a war on slavery or sexual assault or poverty.

        Thanks for sharing your opinion – blogging about history is fun, but discussing it is always my favourite! 🙂

  2. Gypsy Bev says:

    In the United States, drugs have been and still are a major threat to society. They create more crime than anything else you can imagine. As for the gift of the gun, I believe it was given as a commemorative gift for WWII because Richard Nixon received many medals for bravery during that war. Thanks for all the information.

    • Thanks for the insight! This is why I love posting stuff on this blog: history is all about interpretation and it lets me see how others see what I see. You really do need a ‘community’ to interpret historical documents!

  3. Amy says:

    I’ve always found the photo of Elvis meeting Nixon really intriguing, but I appreciate having more context around the meeting with these additional artifacts.

    • Thanks Amy! I had a really fun time finding the background context too! I’d seen the photo all over the internet but I loved finding all the supporting documents and backstory. I found the whole topic especially intriguing considering how drug use was implicated in his death.

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