Presidents and Ghostwriters

Presidents and Ghostwriters

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Not sure if hiring a ghostwriter is for you? Only you can decide that for yourself, but did you know that many US Presidents and political leaders have relied on ghostwriters for help in crafting and sharing their messages? This use of ghostwriters goes back centuries, in fact, to the first President, George Washington.

A History of Hiring Writing Help

As many people probably know, Washington relied heavily on help from Alexander Hamilton for his speeches Hamilton also prepared his famous Farewell Address in 1796. Hamilton wrote it and Washington put his name on it and had it published over several days. James Madison had penned Washington’s inaugural address years before and likely gave Hamilton input on the farewell message.

President Lincoln is known to have written his own speeches, but he did get help from his former rival, William Seward, on his inaugural address, it turns out.

When President Grant left office in 1877 to take a two-year trip around the world, he returned in need of cash – stat. Fortunately, according to CNN, “Mark Twain approached Grant about publishing the war hero’s memoirs with a plum deal that would give Grant 75 percent of the profits as royalties.” With few other income opportunities in the offing, Grant accepted. Despite rumors that Grant had written his own memoirs, the National Park Service reported that “Twain worked by Grant’s side over the next several months as Grant wrote his now famous memoirs, providing literary advice as Grant wrote out each page.”

Fast forward to 1921 and President Warren Harding went so far as to employ a full-time ghostwriter, Judson Welliver, whose primary responsibility was to craft his speeches.

Today, ghostwriters in the White House is almost a foregone conclusion. Presidents today don’t have time to spend hours preparing speeches and statements. Where President Lincoln gave an average of 16 speeches a year, President Obama gave 411 his first year in office, or more than one a day.

Why Rely on a Ghostwriter?

For many Presidents, use of a ghostwriter’s services was appealing in the hopes of crafting a more memorable message. Other Presidents lacked time, which are the two main reasons clients in any industry or field opt to involve a ghostwriter.

And just as these stories reveal a broad spectrum of reliance on outside ghostwriters, from light feedback to writing from scratch, aspiring authors have a similar continuum to choose from when it comes to asking for help. Some Presidents and clients prefer to write their own first draft, as President Lincoln did, and then get input and help in shaping and refining it.

Other would-be authors, much like President Harding, find it more expedient to turn over primary responsibility to a skilled writer from the start. In many cases, the author gives input and background materials to inform a first draft, and then reviews and polishes the draft at the end of the process.

There is no right or wrong way to work with a ghost. Whichever process results in the best quality deliverable in the time allotted is the best choice.

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Marcia Layton Turner

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