Presidential Humor, 1944

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

On April 12, 1944, the U.S. legation in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, dispatched a despatch to the Department of State.  Enclosed was a sealed envelope containing a letter from King Ibn Saud to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The legation was not provided with a copy of the letter, so it could not provide a translation along with the despatch. 

Upon arrival at the Department of State almost two weeks later, George Summerlin, the Chief of Protocol, sent it to the President through General Edwin Watson at the White House.  Watson, affectionately known as “Pa,” was FDR’s Appointments Secretary.  Following the usual procedure, the sealed envelope was not opened in the Department.

President Roosevelt responded with the following note.

will you pls let me know where and when you think I learned to read and translate Arabic?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt to George Summerlin, April 26, 1944 (NAID 302021)

Summerlin thereafter had the letter translated and sent it back to the President, again through General Watson.  In his cover memorandum, Summerlin noted that “I have always felt that sealed communications addressed to the President and received by the Department should not be opened over here.  However, in the future, and as indicated by the President, all such communications in Arabic will be opened here for translation before being forwarded.”

Sources: U.S. Legation Jidda to the Department of State, Despatch 152, April 12, 1944; George T. Summerlin to General Watson, April 25, 1944, file 811.001 Roosevelt, F.D./9692; President Roosevelt to George Summerlin, April 26, 1944; and George T. Summerlin to General Watson, May 4, 1944, all 1940-44 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

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