May 5, 2011 -- Staffers at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation were looking through old boxes of Reagan-era documents when they stumbled upon a box labeled "RR desk." In it, they found a used photo album with dozens of note cards inside. On them, Reagan had gathered hundreds of quotes, ranging from Cicero to the Founding Fathers and Winston Churchill, which he used in speeches throughout his political career.
"It helps you to trace the origins of his political thinking from back in the 1950s," John Heubusch, Executive Director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, told ABC News. Reagan's philosophy and political thinking have been invoked by virtually every Republican presidential candidate since his time in politics.
The Notes: Ronald Reagan's Private Collections of Stories and Wisdom is set to be released by Harper Collins Publishers on May 10.
"We look on these notes as essentially being a key Rosetta stone of Ronald Reagan's thinking and his philosophy that was built up over many years," says Heubusch. "It kind of rivals in some respects the significance of Reagan's diaries that were released a couple of years ago."
Reagan picked up the habit of recording quotes for future use in the 1950s when, as his film acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for General Electric, crisscrossing the country to give speeches at factories. He would read constantly during those long train rides, writing down what he thought was most important.
"It tells you something about the man when you see the [huge] number of quotes he could have chosen from, these are the ones he kept," Heubusch told ABC News. "That tells you something about what he thought was important."
In his later political career, Reagan spread these quotes liberally throughout his speeches.
During his address on the Nicaraguan Contras on June 24, 1986, he said, "President Kennedy wrote on the day of his death that history had called this generation of Americans to be watchmen on the walls of freedom."
At the White House Correspondents Dinner in 1986, he said, "Courage, Churchill said, is the one quality which guarantees all others."
The quotes can be traced back to the worn note cards found in a re-purposed photo album Reagan kept in his desk. Note cards that he did not share with anyone.
"This is not a set of cards that he was casual with, he kept them very private," said Heubusch. "When speeches would be written for him that he would edit, and edit voraciously, they would find quotes and notes that oftentimes they would wonder, 'Well where did that come from?' Well, this is where it came from."