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Public Papers - 1992 - April

Remarks at the Unveiling Ceremony for the White House Commemorative Stamp

1992-04-23

Thank you, Mike, very much, and greetings to all of you. May I greet Edward Horgan and Kenneth Hunter, Associate Postmasters General; Mike, thank you, sir, for the introduction and those remarks; old friend George Haley here, the Chairman of the Postal Rate Commission.

And welcome to Peerce Farm, or as we call it nowadays, the White House. George Washington selected this site for the President's house more than 200 years ago amid apple orchards owned by a colonial farmer named Peerce. Being a surveyor by trade, Washington knew what he was doing. Abigail Adams, the first lady to live here, wrote, ``This is a beautiful spot. And the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it.''

It was Thomas Jefferson who suggested a national competition to design the President's house. Washington himself chose the design of the winner, James Hoban, an Irish immigrant then living in Charleston. Hoban's plan won out over grander designs, some of which included vast central courts, rotundas, and -- here's an intriguing idea -- a draped throne for the President. [Laughter] His design was plainer than the others, more befitting the house of a democratic leader, but it was still stately and dignified, as Washington wanted.

Incidentally, when he won the contest, Hoban began another Capital tradition. He promptly leaked the news to his hometown papers in Charleston. And after many revisions to the original design and after some unfortunate redecorating by British troops in 1814, the President's house assumed the graceful form that we celebrate today.

And 1992 marks the 200th anniversary of this magnificent building. The cornerstone was laid in October of 1792, just a few yards from here, though the stone itself, I'm told by the historians and the custodians, has never been found. You'll notice we're restoring the exterior stone walls of the Residence as part of the anniversary, a celebration that includes commemorative books and museum exhibitions and symposiums. The far side of the house has been stripped down and painted. And I'm told again by the historians that this is the first time that the building has been taken down to its original stone.

The celebration also includes a commemorative postage stamp, which is what brings us here this afternoon. And I thank everyone who worked so hard to make this stamp possible, particularly the former Postmaster General Anthony Frank, who authorized it; Jack Ruther, who we just met, who did the superb design. And I hope the stamp serves as a reminder to every American that this place is truly the people's house.

One of the things I enjoy the most is taking our foreign visitors over here when the tours are on. And I'll never forget the reaction when I introduced a monarch to the visiting tourists coming through here. And one of the kids started yelling, ``It's a real live king, Dad. It's a real live king.'' [Laughter] And it was a good experience for the real live king to see how the people consider this properly their house.

One of the great blessings of the Presidency, obviously, is to live within the walls of this house, to roam its hallways, to absorb its history, and to be reminded at every turn of the noble men who have lived here and of their families. But a President can never, obviously, be more than a caretaker or a tenant in this house, for the White House belongs, as it has for 200 years, to every American.

And we are very grateful, Barbara and I both. And we pray that God continues to bless this house as He blesses the United States of America. Thank you all very much for coming. And now, Mike, do the honors.

[At this point the stamp was unveiled.]

That concludes our brief ceremony, but thank you all very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Acting Postmaster General Michael S. Coughlin.

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