Later in his political career, Bill Clinton would earn a reputation as — among other things — a detail-oriented policy wonk. But by 1968 that trait is already evident as the young Clinton, penning a letter to his friend Mark back in Arkansas, opens with a brief but thorough lecture on the finer points of how to send international mail, after Mark had failed to put sufficient postage on his own letter, costing Clinton a dime to collect it. (“You should write on thin paper like this,” he chides.)
Oxford is a lovely place, a triumph of man and nature. And the atmosphere is conducive to reading, studying, and thinking. If it eases your mind any, I have not yet fallen prey to any dangerous left-wing ideas I didn't have before I left the states!
Clinton is by this time already deeply engaged with politics as well. After graduating from Georgetown University, he worked for Arkansas Sen. William Fulbright’s reelection campaign. And in the letter he goes on to discuss a number of his observations about recent events both in the States as well as in England, including Associate Justice Abe Fortas' nomination to be chief justice of the Supreme Court, the 1968 presidential campaign, and a political demonstration Clinton had recently observed in England.
Near the end Clinton also mentions that he's been getting in shape — "have lost my belly and a lot of flab" — playing lots of basketball and rugby. Perhaps unwisely for an aspiring politician, he goes on to say the latter sport is so rough that if he continues playing rugby with the Brits, he's "liable to get hurt so bad I'll flunk my draft physical. Wishful thinking."
Ken Gloss estimated the retail value of Mark's letter at $12,000 to $13,000.
Read the full transcript of the letter below.
Letter from Bill Clinton, Oxford University, 1968
Sunday night, November 3
Your letter, written Oct. 4 and mailed Oct. 8, reached me only two or three days ago, and I had to pay 10 cents for it to boot! You can't send a letter to England, regular mail (which takes at least two weeks) for six cents! Air mail letters are 20¢ per ½ ounce — that means you should write on thin paper like this — or buy an "air letter" at the post office for 13 cents.
At any rate, I appreciate your writing. I, too, was disappointed by Fulbright's vote on the Fortas cloture issue. I was in Washington the day he flew back to vote and was able to see him for about 15 minutes. He seemed very tired of the campaign. From what I hear, however, he has continued to run hard. You would know, by the time you read this, whether he ran hard enough.
I was a little surprised by JWF's [James William Fulbright's] stand on the Fortas issue [a conflict-of-interest controversy stirred up by Sen. Strom Thurmond during the confirmation process for Associate Justice Abe Fortas' nomination to be Chief Justice on the retirement of Earl Warren] after he had risked political damage at his El Dorado Rally last July by saying he would vote to confirm. I think he decided to vote against cloture for the following reasons:
1) he did not want to alienate McClellan [fellow Arkansas Senator John C. McClellan] at this time 2) he has a classical conservative's prejudice against shutting off debate by cloture; 3) he was perhaps influenced by the testimony alleging Fortas had counciled [sic] LBJ on Vietnam; 4) he was probably impressed by the shift in public opinion against Fortas. Too bad. Let's hope Earl Warren has a few more good years left in him.
It seems that Humphrey has picked up remarkably — just how remarkably you will also know before you read this.
The overwhelming majority of Rhodes Scholars are very leftist, very dovish, and were very pro-McCarthy or Kennedy. Despite strong reservations, I think almost all the Americans I know over here did vote for Humphrey — At least the ones who received their absentee ballots did. I never got mine and am mad as hell about it.
The English are mostly pro-HHH [Hubert H. Humphrey] but are surprised by the three candidates the "system" has produced. There is not much enthusiasm for anyone, though the feeling is strong against Wallace, LeMay, and Agnew.
I have enjoyed my stay here so much. Oxford is a lovely place, a triumph of man and nature. And the atmosphere is conducive to reading, studying, and thinking. If it eases your mind any, I have not yet fallen prey to any dangerous left-wing ideas I didn't have before I left the states!
I am getting in pretty good physical shape. Have lost my belly and a lot of flab playing basketball and rugby. These British rugby players are pretty tough. I have already suffered a cut over the left eye and, if I play much more, I'm liable to get hurt so bad I'll flunk my draft physical. Wishful thinking.
Take care of yourself and let me hear from you — did you apply to Georgetown? Where else?
Next letter, don't forget to send air mail Ha! — Remember, even Arkansas must move into the 20th Century!
On an accompanying piece of paper, Clinton provided the following summary of a recent demonstration he had witnessed.
It was for the most part peaceful — the British police are way ahead of the US forces — The leaders were a disappointment — very orthodox Marxists, shouting superficial slogans and rhetorical BS — Reminded me of an Ark. Election campaign because of the useless words that were uttered!
— Take care,
See the full appraisal page for these 1968 Bill Clinton letters in our Appraisal Archive