1Einstein's letter to FDR Triggered the Manhattan Project
To: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
From: Albert Einstein
Date: August 2, 1939
Subject: The letter (written by scientist Leó Szilárd and signed by Einstein) warned that the recent discoveries of atomic energy are being explored by Nazi Germany who may use it to make a weapon. He encouraged FDR to fund the work of American scientists to beat them to the punch.
Notable Quote: “A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.”
Results: FDR began the Manhattan Project, resulting in the first atomic bombs before Hitler could.
Ironic footnote: Einstein was a pacifist who later regretted signing the letter.
2Little Girl's Letter to Abraham Lincoln Encourages Him to Grow Beard
To: Abraham Lincoln
From: Grace Debell, age 11
Date: October 15, 1860
Subject: Facial hair
Notable Quote: “You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Results: Although Mr. Lincoln wrote back to the girl saying people might think it a new beard would be a “silly affection,” less than 4 months later he grew his famous beard (and you probably know the rest). On his inaugural train ride to Washington, he stopped at Grace's hometown in Westfield, NY and thanked her for the advice.
Ironic footnote: Lincoln was one of only a few presidents that had facial hair, and it is considered today to have a negative effect on a candidacy.
3Gandhi's Letter to British Rulers Led to India's Independence
From: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
To: Additional Secretary of the Government of India in New Delhi
Date: October 26, 1943
Subject: Gandhi was under house arrest for coming out against British colonialism in India. He implored the government to not waste resources and put him in jail instead.
Notable Quote: “The huge place in which I am being detained with a large guard around me, I hold to be a waste of public funds. I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison.”
Results: This letter, considered one of the most important in Indian history, signified an attempt to reach independence through nonviolence, one of the key signatures of the movement.
Ironic footnote: Gandhi's imprisonment helped him become a martyr for the movement.
4Henry VIII Letter to Ann Boleyn Led to Break from Catholic Church
To: Ann Boleyn
From: King Henry III
Date: Unknown (circa 1527)
Subject: It's a love letter written in confidence to Ann while he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.
Notable Quote: "The proofs of your affection are such ... that they constrain me ever truly to honor, love and serve you."
Results: Divorce was not an option in the Catholic Church, so Henry broke from Rome and created the Church of England.
Ironic Footnote: Henry and Ann were betrothed, but she was merely the 2nd of 6 wives (Henry VIII had her executed after 3 years of marriage.)
5Martin Luther King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail Started Civil Rights Movement
From: Martin Luther King, Jr.
To: An open letter to the public
Date: April 16, 1963
Subject: Dr. King was imprisoned for parading without a permit, but the real reason was to stop him from protesting racism. The letter was written in the margins of a newspaper containing a statement from white Alabama clergymen who disagreed with his civil disobedience methods.
Notable Quote: “One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.'”
Results: The letter was published in many major publications and outlined the main principals the Civil Rights movement.
Ironic footnote: In spite of his nonviolent stance, he was killed by an assassin's bullet.
6St. Paul's Letters form New Testament
From: Paul the Apostle
To: Various churches
Date: Mid 30s-50s A.D.
Subject: Paul (formerly known as Saul) wrote many letters to churches he founded in Asia and Europe to teach them how to worship.
Notable Quote: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Results: The surviving letters make up the bulk of the New Testament, which shaped Christianity by asserting Jesus as the Son of God.
Ironic footnote: Paul was Jewish and these personal letters ended up starting an entirely new religion, becoming the New Testament.
7The Declaration of Independence
To: A "Candid World"
From: The Continental Congress
Date: July 4, 1776
Subject: Independence from the British Empire.
Notable Quote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Results: The United States of America was born.
Ironic footnote: In spite of being about "freedom" the issue of slavery was avoided in the original document as several of the signers were slave holders. Separation of Church and State continues to be a divisive issue.
8Intercepted Zimmerman Telegram Draws U.S. into World War I
From: Arthur Zimmerman, Foreign Secretary of the German Empire
To: Heinrich von Eckardt, German ambassador to Mexico
Date: January 11, 1917
Subject: A coded telegram was sent with instructions to offer a German alliance with Mexico, should the U.S. join World War I.
Notable Quote: “We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance…”
Results: The telegram was intercepted by the British and sent to president Wilson, who gave it to the media on March 1. This helped shore up public support for joining the War and on April 6, the U.S. formally declared war on Germany.
Ironic footnote: Wilson was narrowly re-elected in 1916 using the slogan “He kept us out of war.”
9Nixon's Resignation Letter
From: President Richard Nixon
To: Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State
Date: August 9, 1974
Notable Quote: “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.”
Results: Nixon became the only U.S. President in history to resign from office, due to the Watergate break-in and political fallout from the incident.
Ironic footnote: “I am not a crook” is one of Nixon's most famous taglines.