Office of the Chief of Staff: Chief of Staff, 1981-1985


To see a list of material, please click on the 'Select' Tab

This collection is available in whole for research use. Some folders may still have withdrawn material due to Freedom of Information Act restrictions. Most frequently withdrawn material is national security classified material, personal privacy, protection of the President, etc.


James Baker was born in Houston, Texas, in 1930, the son and grandson of prominent Houston attorneys. He attended the Hill School, a college preparatory boarding school in Pennsylvania which his father had attended. He continued to follow his father’s path by enrolling at Princeton University. After graduating from Princeton in 1952, Baker served two years as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, then enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. He received his law degree in 1957, and was hired by the Houston law firm of Andrews and Kurth.

Baker’s first wife, who had been active with the Republican Party in Texas, died of cancer in February 1970. A grieving Baker accepted an offer from a close friend, Congressman George Bush, to help with Bush’s campaign for the US Senate that year. Although Baker had been a lifelong Democrat, he joined the Republican Party and served as Harris County campaign chairman for the Bush organization. After Bush lost the election in November 1970, Baker remained active in politics. He served as State Finance Chairman for the Republican Party of Texas in 1971, and Gulf Coast Regional Chairman for the Nixon Presidential campaign of 1972.

In mid-1975, Baker resigned from Andrews and Kurth to accept President’s Ford offer to serve as Undersecretary of Commerce. It has long been assumed that Bush, who was then serving as US Ambassador to China, had a role in getting this position for Baker. Baker resigned after nine months as Undersecretary, to work in President Ford’s 1976 reelection campaign. Baker helped Ford fend off Ronald Reagan’s challenge for the Republican Presidential nomination, then became national chairman of Ford’s general election campaign organization. In 1978 Baker made his own try at elective office, but lost in his bid to become Attorney General of Texas. The following year Bush, who had decided to run for President, made Baker the head of his campaign for the 1980 Republican Presidential nomination. Despite Baker’s record of supporting Ronald Reagan’s Republican opponents, Reagan recognized Baker’s managerial and political skills. He made Baker a senior adviser in his own Presidential campaign after winning the 1980 Republican Presidential nomination, and named him to be his White House Chief of Staff shortly after winning election as President.

In the Reagan White House, Baker, Edwin Meese III, and Michael K. Deaver formed a senior staff triumvirate which came to be called “the Troika.” Baker’s responsibilities included broad supervision of management and policy execution, with ultimate oversight over the White House offices of Legislative Affairs, Presidential Personnel, Communications (including press and media relations), Counsel, Political Affairs, Intergovernmental Affairs, and Public Liaison. He also maintained contact with Vice President Bush’s office. His assistant Richard Darman controlled the President’s schedule, as well as the paper flow in and out of the White House. Baker became known for his cautious and thorough approach to his job, and for his skill in devising solutions that could be sold within the executive branch, to Congress, and to the public. He helped convince Reagan to focus on tax reductions and increased defense spending early on, rather than spend political capital on social and cultural issues. Although Baker was not organizationally involved in policy formulation to the extent that Meese was, and despite some conservatives’ misgivings about him, his influence grew throughout President Reagan’s first term. He played a leading role in Reagan’s successful 1984 re-election.

Baker left the White House for the Treasury Department in February 1985, switching positions with Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. He resigned as Treasury Secretary in August 1988 so that he could manage Bush’s successful 1988 Presidential campaign. After Bush became President, Baker served as Secretary of State (1989-1992), then as White House Chief of Staff and Senior Counselor (1992-1993). He took the latter position so he could assist Bush’s faltering bid for reelection, but was unable to prevent Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton. In late 2000 Baker was a prominent spokesman for the George W. Bush campaign during the post-election controversy over the Florida vote count. In 2006 he co-chaired the Iraq Study group (aka the Baker-Hamilton Commission), a bipartisan group of people with long-term Government experience formed by Congress to submit recommendations on US policy in Iraq.

This collection consists only of files from Baker’s time as Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff. It is organized into five series, the first of which contains three subseries.

Compared to others on the White House staff, Baker wrote relatively few memos. Also, many documents created or utilized by Baker while he was Reagan’s Chief of Staff are filed in other White House collections. In particular, researchers should check the collections of Baker’s assistants James Cicconi, Richard Darman, Frank Hodsoll, and Margaret Tutwiler for additional material documenting his work as Chief of Staff.


SERIES I: MEMORANDUM FILE, 1981-1985 (3.8 l.ft.; Boxes 1-10)
Subseries A: 1980-1981 (Baker/Hodsoll File) (0.9 l.ft.; Boxes 1-3)

Francis (Frank) S. M. Hodsoll was James Baker’s deputy from January to November 1981.

During Hodsoll’s tenure, Baker’s records were interfiled with Hodsoll’s records. Material in this subseries documents issues and personnel matters, pertaining to Cabinet departments or larger Executive Office of the President (EOP) agencies, which involved Baker and/or Hodsoll. Much of the material pertains to the initial staffing of Cabinet departments and agencies at the beginning of the Reagan Presidency. Some folders consist preponderantly of either Baker or Hodsoll material, while others contain a mixture of material from both men. The material is arranged alphabetically by office/agency.

In the course of processing, Reagan Library staff determined that a substantial portion of the material in this subseries consisted of pre-presidential documents. These documents were removed from this subseries and placed within the Transition of President-Elect Ronald Reagan collection. The pre-presidential material is not a Presidential record, and is therefore not subject to the Presidential Records Act nor the Freedom of Information Act.

Subseries B: 1982-1983 (1.1 l.ft.; Boxes 3-6)

Consists of memoranda and other materials, pertaining to White House and EOP units with which Baker had contact – mostly, the White House offices which ultimately reported to him. Arranged alphabetically by office or agency.

Subseries C: 1984-February 1985 (1.8 l.ft.; Boxes 6-10)

A new set of Baker memorandum files was established at the start of 1984. This subseries consist of the same sorts of material as are found in the previous subseries. Arranged alphabetically by office or agency.

SERIES II: CORRESPONDENCE FILE, (1981-) 1984-1985 (0.5 l.ft; Boxes 10-12)

Consists of outgoing memos and letters from James Baker or his secretary, along with schedules, lists of names, and boilerplate letter formats. Topics include White House administrative matters, letters referring correspondents to the President’s 1984 re-election campaign, unsolicited personnel recommendations, and information on Baker’s travel, schedule, and activities. Almost all documents are dated 1984 or early 1985.

The Reagan White House printed the material in this series from diskettes that were maintained in James Baker’s office. The documents are arranged by diskette, then by document file name. The Reagan Library has transferred the diskettes to preservation storage.

SERIES III: CABINET/CABINET COUNCIL MEETING FILE, May 1983-September 1984. (0.2 l. ft.

; Box 12)

Consists of Baker’s copies of issue papers and Cabinet Affairs staffing memoranda, for a few meetings of the Cabinet Council on Economic Affairs, Cabinet Council on Commerce and Trade, and full Cabinet. Many documents contain Baker’s handwritten notes from the meetings. More extensive files on the Cabinet and Cabinet Councils may be found in other Reagan Library collections, particularly the White House Office of Records Management (WHORM) Subject File category FG010 (Cabinet) or the staff and office files from the Office of Cabinet Affairs.

Arranged chronologically by meeting date.


(1.2 l. ft.; Boxes 12-15)

Unanswered letters on policy issues, sent by corporations and the general public, which arrived at the White House near the end of Baker’s time as President Reagan’s Chief of Staff. These are primarily letters written in opposition to the Treasury Department’s 1984 tax reform proposal, particularly as it affected independent oil producers and other aspects of the oil and gas industry. Many of these letters contain the same boilerplate text criticizing the tax reform proposal.

Arranged alphabetically by state and city (except for letters with no return address or attached postmark, and letters that were sent from all over the country on Parrish Oil Production Inc. letterhead).

SERIES V: REPORTS, 1981, 1984 (0.1 l.ft., Box 15)

This series consists of a report setting forth the Administration’s public stance on selling AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia, and a binder pertaining to the work of the Budget Review Board.

Last Updated: 08/16/2023 05:25PM

Filter by Status

Filter by Status

Contact an Archivist

Have a research question? Contact an archivist about this collection or about research at the Reagan Library.

Contact Us

Archival Resources

Here are quick links to the most used resources at the Reagan Library. 

White House Staff & Office Files

White House Office of Records Management (WHORM) Subject Files

WHORM Alphabetical Files

Topic Guides

Back to Top