—-Envelope or a letter’s address block:
—-—-—-Or a bit less formally:
—-—-—-—-The Honorable (Full Name)—-#3
—-—-Dear Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)—-#1
—-—-Dear President (Surname)—–#2
—-#1) Traditionally former presidents go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to taking office. The logic was that it was a one-person-at-a-time office so only the current office holder would get the forms of address. For example, in retirement Dwight Eisenhower was correctly addressed as General (Full name) on the envelope and as Dear General (Surname) in the salutation. After Harry Truman left the presidency he directed others to address him as Mr. Truman.
—-#2) The contemporary practice is to orally address and refer to former presidents as President (Surname) in conversation or in a salutation. NOTE: The current president is the only one to be identified as The President or addressed as Mr. President.
—-#3) In the writing on an envelope or a letter’s address block — the Honorable (Full Name) is correct for a former president. As noted use this form also in a program or in a formal acknowledgment from the stage.
—-—-For more on this traditional form of address, see the next post Is a Former President Addressed as President (Name)?
How to Address a Former President
Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”
Is a Former President Addressed as President (Name)?
I have been directing people to refer to former presidents as President (Last Name). Is that correct?
______________– Anna McDonald, Stafford, Virginia
Dear Ms. McDonald:
As you note, the contemporary practice is to address former presidents as President (Surname)in conversation. The current president is the only one identified as The President or addressed as Mr. President. In writing for a former president use the Honorable (Full Name) on an envelope, address block on a letter, in a program or in a formal introduction made from the stage.
For those interested the traditional form, here goes:
Today former presidents are typically addressed and identified as as President (Surname) – President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton and President Trump.
But …. the traditional rule was former holders of one-person-at-a-time offices go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to assuming office. Like all U.S. officials elected to office in a general election, former president’s do continue to be addressed as the Honorable (Full Name) for life. But ‘President’ is not a personal rank one receives, uses while in office, and keeps when one leaves office.
—–The traditional pattern for any office for which there is only-one-office-holder-at-a-time such as:
—–—–the mayor of a city
—–—–the governor of a state
—–—–the speaker of a house
—–—–the chief justice of a high court
—–—–the president of the USA
—–… only the current office holder is addressed with the ‘title’. Formers are no longer The person. They are out of office.
Elevated forms of address are courtesies of the office. Former-office-holder are no longer due the same courtesies we extend to the current office holder: elevated precedence & seating, the big corner office, a great parking spot and … the same special form of address. Those stay with the office and the current office holder.
A former one-office-holder-at-a-time now speaks with the authority of an esteemed private citizen. We honor former office holder’s service, but the ‘elevated forms of address’ –– which acknowledges the responsibilities and duties of office — belong only to the current office holder.
With offices of which are many office-holders at a time … senators, admirals, judges, etc. addressing ‘formers’ with their former honorific is not disrespectful to a singular current office holder.
To explain the traditional form I’d say “using the title of a former position is flattering to the former official and he or she may not correct you, but is not respectful to the current office holder. There’s only one The (one-at-a-time officeholder) at a time.”
— Robert Hickey
How to address a former President