tv Book Discussion CSPAN January 1, 2015 8:00am-9:01am EST
>> richard brookhiser come senior editor of "national review," recounts abraham lincoln's affinity for the founding fathers. this program from the new york historical society newark city is about one hour. save >> we are i absolutely thrilled to welcome back richard brookhiserpr to the new york historical society.il as you know he is renowned e historian author, senior editor of "national review" aris well as a columnist for american"nationa history. review" bledsoe is a
columnist for american history. before he served as a historian and curator for our spectacular institution for alexander hamilton also us receiver of the george washington alexander hamilton and james madison. his most recent book which was released last week as "founder's son" a life of abraham lincoln" and already getting wonderful reviews. i'd like to ask before i invite him to the stage anything that makes noise like a cell phone is switched off now pleased when meet to welcome richard brookhiser to the stage.
[applause] >> thanks. i n being adjusted. they did not need this in the 19th century. it is always a pleasure and an honor to be here at the historical society. just my publicist, basic books has done a terrific job they are publishing and well and i could not be happier. roger has done so much for history and particularly was very generous to support the publicity of this book. and lou gave me crucial early a vice when i was
trying to find my way ever 15,000 books published now 15,001. and also my friend and agent over 20 years this is our tenth book together restarted with washington and andrew johnson next. we will try to do better than that. abraham lincoln was preoccupied with the founding fathers. 1854 when the missouri compromise was repealed and he was roused is he had never been before the end of the civil war. his most famous expression
and devotion to the founders was the "gettysburg address" which he began with fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty but three years before that in another great speech here in new york at cooper union, he kicked off a presidential campaign and referred to the founders again as our fathers marked slavery led it so it can be marked as an evil not to be extended but speak as though they act upon it and six years before that with this speech that kicked off his political career in peoria. and again references the
founding fathers. trailing in the dust to spirit the revolution led this return slavery to the position of our fathers gave us. and these examples could be multiplied dozens of times. linkedin looks to the founding fathers for inspiration and for guidance and uses them to persuade his fellow americans. tonight i want to briefly look at where the interest came from and what the founding fathers gave him. the three most important were george washington thomas paine and thomas jefferson. but i also want to touch on to other fathers.
thomas lincoln his actual father will never rises with dissatisfaction from his own father. longer quite enough for him. so to begin with thomas lincoln he was born in virginia 1778. he moved to kentucky. there he had his family daughter sarah, son abraham, and the little boy thomas who only lived for three days. thomas lincoln was a subsistence farmer and a carpenter all his life. and there was a fashion in the mid-20th century to depict him as almost snopes in
na'er-do-well, but i think historians and biographers has revised of that. thomas lincoln never went broke. he never left bad debt. he had some problem with land titles in kentucky, but everybody did serving in that state was just a nightmare. that's one of the reasons the lincolns moved to indiana and then to illinois. thomas lincoln was on several juries, which was a sign of respectability. and he was also a trustee of a that this church that he and his wife belonged to. he sent his children to little one room schools on several occasions. now, this wasn't for a long time. if you add up all the time that abraham lincoln spent in school it adds up to a year. that his father did send him. you want them to learn how to
read, to write and how to do simple pragmatics up to the level of cross multiplication. these were useful skills, and he wanted his son to have them. but father and son never truly got a long. they were not alike. they inhabited different worlds. thomas lincoln wanted his son to read, but he could not understand abraham's passion for reading. for abraham lincoln, reading was both an escape and also an explanation of the world. it was a way to have an alternative life and to understand better the life you are living. and this was something that was just beyond thomas lincoln's thinking. when lincoln was running for president he wrote a campaign autobiography, and in it he said
that his father never learned more than two bungling right is only. there was a lot of scorn and that word, bungling. i learned how to write. you could have learned to write if you wanted to but she never did. i think that's the symbol of the distance between father and son. now there were some things that abraham did get from his father. his father was strong and so was abraham. and in the frontier conditions in which they lived, this was very useful. it meant you wouldn't be bullied when you moved into a new place and for hayes by the locals, had to do a challenge match with the local tough guy. you could beat him or you could can hold your own. and this happened both to thomas and to abraham. so that was one important resemblance. another resemblance was that thomas lincoln was temperate. he was not a drinker.
in early 19th century america this is almost unheard of. this was the country of alcohol lacks, consumption of liquor that ordinary people performed is simply astonishing. and neither thomas nor his son abraham drank. may be the most important result is that thomas lincoln was a great storyteller. two of abraham's cousins who live with the lincoln family, dennis and john hangs, both testify to this and john hanks says thomas was as good a storyteller as abraham. dennis said he was better. so this must have been a quality that the sun sal and his father and learn from. -- saw in his father. abraham never mentioned them. when he was 21 he left the nest, went off to live on his
own. there are some rather strange letters between him and his father. the father dies in 1851. abraham named a horse after him old tom, and he named one of his sons, 10 years later when he is about to leave for washington to be inaugurated, he visits his father's grave and he notes that there's no stone on it, no monument. he says he will have to arrange for one to be put up. he never did. so that was the relationship between this father and his son. none of us ever gets everything we want from our parents. it's not possible, but especially when there's a great gap between our expectation and what they give us then we look for substitutes. we look for surrogates. and for a young man in early
19th century america the handiest substitutes were the founding fathers, the men of the generation just passed who won the revolution, who had ridden the constitution. and many of these men were still active when lincoln was a little boy growing up. thomas jefferson had one month still in the white house after abraham was born. he was followed by eight years of james madison who was followed by eight years of james bond role, the last founder president. but by the same abraham lincoln is in his 20s in the 1830s the very last of the founding fathers are dying off. none of them ever went to indiana or illinois. lincoln never went to the places where they lived. so the only way he could encounter them was in books.
and the first founder he encountered, the first important foundry encountered in the book was george washington, and he met in in parsons life of george washington. this was one of first biographies of washington that was published. he knew washington very slightly. he boasted that he was the parson of mount vernon parish. there is no such parish and he was not the rector of a. but he claimed that connection and he was an itinerant book dealer as well as a clergyman and he realized that a biography of washington would be a good seller. so washington died in 1799 weems make some changes to his biography, 1880 version that abraham lincoln would read. and weems' biography is still in print. you can still, you can still buy it on amazon and we still
remember stories on. the writing the sentences are not good but the paragraphs are great and the stories are terrific, and the proof is that we still remember some of them. the most famous one is young george and the cherry tree. his father gives him a hatchet. the little boy swings it around and accidentally chops the bark of a prized cherry tree. the father asks george, how did this happen who did this? and george said i can't tell a lie. you know i can't tell a lie. i did it. and then his father thanks him for being honest. so story told, lesson learned. it that's not what impressed abraham lincoln about weems' life of washington. and we know this because lincoln said what impressed him. in 1861 when he was on his way to his first inauguration he
left springfield, illinois, by train. he traveled through seven states on his way to washington. he made appearances in six of them. he was showing the flag as the country was falling apart. and in february he came to trenton new jersey and addressed the new jersey state senate. and there he talked about weems' life of washington and the battle of trenton. and that's what most impressed him in weems' book. he said, boy even though i was i suspected that there must have been something more important even than independence that those men fought for something that was of value to all men at all times and places. and what lincoln meant by that was liberty and he is drawing a parallel between the revolution in 1776 and the troubles that he fears he is about to face in
1861. if you go back and read weems' life of washington, d.c. that that is exactly the lesson that weems draws from the battle of trenton. he has dramatic descriptions crossing the delaware. he gives a lot of pages to the haitians. he depicts them as sort of common marauders with heavy almost vaudevillian german accents, but then when it captured their pitiable prisoners and americans treat them well so they changed sides. there's a lot of events and bustle and local color but the most important moment is after weems gets the american army washington industries across the delaware and they still have to march a few miles to trenton, he introduces an allegorical figure, which is hovering over their line of march. this is the future of liberty. and he says, she has been driven from her home in europe.
america is or last refuge, but her enemies have followed her with soldiers and with armies. who will defend her? only his ragged band of men. he is presenting the battle of trenton as a struggle for liberty in the world. and the line that he just washington before the battle begins is, all i ask of you meant is that you remember what you are about to fight for. and in 1861 abraham lincoln remembers. and he told the new jersey state senate you know how it impressions that are made on us when we are boys stick with this throughout our lives. sorry, it was an all-male senate, but that's the he was addressing. -- that's who he was addressing the so george washington for lincoln was not a good boy. he was a great man. and a great man because he was a champion of liberty.
the second founded by the lincoln encounters is in his 20 and this was thomas paine. paine was a great journalist of the american revolution. i would say one of the greatest journalists who ever lived. commonsense was this great polemic in favor of american independence. the american crisis which he wrote on the eve of the battle of trenton has the greatest lead paragraph i would say ever written in journalism. these are the times that try men's souls on a ghost and lincoln read all those works. they were reprinted. they were in print. but he also read paine's book the age of reason, which was his ferocious attack on revealed religion. paine written this in france. it got over there for the french revolution, had been thrown in prison and while he was in jail he began "the age of reason."
he says i believe in one god and no more. but he argues that all religions are falsehoods that are set up to terrify and enslave men. and he makes some cracks at islam and more judaism, but most of his fire is for christianity. and the rights sort of the ideal or the anti-ideal book for a bible reading public. his technique is to take the bible to look for any inconsistency, any contradiction, any seeming inconsistency or contradiction intimate relentless fun of them. so lincoln reads this book and like many 20-year-olds who thinks this is great. this explains everything. jesus was a bastard, he was an illegitimate child. who could believe in the virgin birth? the accounts of the crucifixion
all disagree with each other, on and on and on. and we know that lincoln was so impressed with this there's a story that when he was a postmaster in his early 20s this was one of the jobs he held when it's time to figure out what he was going to do with his life, also to pick up a little money and postmasters in those days did not work out a post offices. they kept the desk in someone's store and that's where they sorted out the mail. that's where the red everybody else's newspapers. so lincoln is at his desk and he's telling all his pals about his new religious views and he said i have written a pamphlet myself and this is going to show that jesus was illegitimate and the only test for religious belief should be reason. and the owner of the store an older man named samuel hill thomas took the manuscript from lincoln and he put it in the
stove. because lincoln was already interested in politics and mr. hill knew that attacking christianity was not the way to win votes in illinois in the early 1830s. and lincoln learned over the next two years to be discreet about his views and over time they would change. it's hard to track because he became very close mouth about a lot of his opinions. but one thing he learned lifelong from paine was how to use humor to win serious arguments. and whether you like paine or dislike him, whether you agree with him or not you have to admit that paine is brilliant at making serious points humorously. his attack on the virgin birth is that if any girl now were to
say that she was made pregnant by a ghost and an angel told her so even if she swore to it, which he be believed? there are lots of ways to think about the virgin birth, but this is a very aggressive way. it takes a very literally very sensibly and and divorce him from that angle. and that's the kind of argument that when lincoln came to master it, he would use again and again. he already knew how to be fun. he learned that from his father. he learned how to tell stories, but this is using humor to make serious points. one of lincoln's jokes he told over and over again which democratdemocrat s would accuse him and other republicans of being raised makers. because if you want to limit slavery you must like black people and therefore, you must want to sleep with them right quick so lincoln would say just because i don't want a black
woman for a slave doesn't mean i have to have her for a wife. i can just leave her alone. sometimes he would collaborate on this. it always got a laugh but all also made a serious point. because if you're leaving her alone, aren't you also leaving her to be free? so he's using his audience but he's also getting them to think. i think that is something that he retained from his youthful encounter with thomas paine. the third founding father who influenced him, and this influence begins to show itself in the 1850s as thomas jefferson. and it's the chairperson of the declaration of independence. jefferson had a very long life. there were a lot of hesitations and second thoughts and retreats
from some of his earlier opinions as he aged your butt it was not that jefferson that lincoln invoked. it was at the jefferson wrote the declaration of independence of independence in 1776, and lincoln would use this over and over as an expression of his principles and of the republican party's principles, and of the principles that should guide america as they confronted the question of slavery's expansion. in 1854 he called the declaration of independence the sheet anchor of american republicanism. the sheet anchor is the toughest anchor should pass. that's what i should put down in a storm. and the storm was beginning. so lincoln calls the declaration our sheet anchor. in 1859 he said the declaration
gave the axioms and definitions of a free society. this was in response to an invitation to come to boston to celebrate jefferson's birthday. lincoln couldn't go but he sent a letter that he had clearly labored over, and it was, he said all honor to jefferson, the coolness and the forecast to insert into a merely revolutionary document a principle which should be valid for all times and all ages. and then of course his final wringing of this chime is what i started with, the gettysburg address where he looks back four score and seven years ago to the declaration and he says that this is the proposition to which this country is dedicated. now, the gettysburg address and
the other speeches that day were given to dedicate a cemetery. and a lot of cemeteries filled her in the civil war. lincoln was not a warrior president who did serve in the black hawk war which was an indian war when he was a young man. he didn't see any action at he had seen some men who had been scalped. he knew that his own grandfather, abraham lincoln, also abraham lincoln, had been saved from an indian attack when he was a little boy. and indian head shot rather, had shot and killed abraham lincoln, and his son thomas, lincoln's father, was saved by a brother who shot the indian and rescued him from the field where this violent encounter have happened. and also in lincoln's life he
lost a mother, a sister and a sweetheart to diseases. and these were common losses in early 19th century america. but the civil war was uncommon. and even a man who is not armed himself could not be insulated from it. elmer ellsworth was one of lincoln's law students. he read law and lincoln's office. hehe accompanied lincoln understrength it to his first inauguration. and ellsworth was in the army and he was killed in a union operation to take the city of alexandria from rebels early in the spring of 1861. at the end of 1861 edward baker was an old friend from lincoln to let politics. lincoln named one of his sons after him. he was killed at the battle of the false law. lincoln was described at the
funeral as weeping like a child. also in 1861 a man named william mccullough asks lincoln for his help to get in and illinois regiment. mccullough had the court clerk in bloomington illinois on the circuit that lincoln traveled. the reason he did the president's was that mccullough was 50 and he lost an arm in a farming accident but lincoln intervened for him. he got in his regiment. he became a colonel, and in 1862 he was killed in northern mississippi in the run up to the siege of vicksburg. lincoln also saw a lot of wounded. a reporter who had known him in illinois in, then moved to california, came back to washington to cover the war for the sacramento union. he accompanied lincoln on many visits to hospitals that the president made with the first
lady. and on one of these visits, lincoln and brooks were going down the line of fans. ahead of them was a charitable woman who was handing out literature for the wounded soldiers. and one man takes the pamphlet that she hands him and looks at it and he sets it down laughing to anyone lincoln and brooks to the man, lincoln says, that woman she meant well it probably wasn't nice to laugh after. and the soldier says well, just give me a pamphlet on singing and dancing. both of my legs have been shot off. you know, this has the shape of a joke, but the joke was on the president. and also on the legless soldier of course. so lincoln is a sing this in people that he knows. he sees it in visits that he makes and as commander-in-chief
commander-in-chief, of course he's getting all the casualty reports. they are all being funneled to him. and its horror after horror. the battle of gettysburg two years into the war, about the length of the mexican war and the war of 1812 the other wars of the 19th century. we talk of it now as a turning point in the war and certainly lincoln hoped it was it still the war went on. and the problem for lincoln the particular problem for lincoln, it was related to his logic. he had a very logical cast to his mind. he was also a determinist. the baptist church that his family belonged to believe in predestination, and lincoln, he left the church but he kept believe. he kept that belief. one of the full phrases he had was that the motive was born before the man.
so even before you were born the motives of all your actions are determined because every act as a cause and that caused also had a cause and so on and back and back and back, so everybody is cast to a web of determination. by the civil war you are trapped in such a web. so lincoln thinks to himself, and he makes a note of this and he talks about it with a couple of people. he thinks to himself, god rules the world. remember, paine was never an atheist. he always believed in god, and so did lincoln that god rules everything. and yet, the war happens and the war continues. god could have stopped it from happening. he could stop it at any moment yet it still goes on. both sides pray to him. they both can't be answered.
may be neither side is being answered. what does god want in continuing this war? and lincoln beats his head against this problem for years. and then his solution, attempted solution come is revealed in his second inaugural address. in march of 1865 the war is not over yet but it looks as if it is ending. and here's what he tells americans in this state paper. if we shall suppose that american slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of god must means to come, but which having continued to his appointed time he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both north and south this terrible war as the woe due
to those by whom they can, should we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living god always ascribe to him? if god wills that it continue until all the wealth heil by the 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with a lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3000 years ago so still it must be said that judgments of the lord are true and righteous altogether. now, this is a very punitive father more punitive than thomas lincoln ever was. you will also notice that the founding fathers have disappeared from this speech. the gettysburg address set four score and seven years ago going
back to 1776 by the second inaugural said 250 years. agencies to five minus 250 take you back to jamestown which was the first american colony the first colony to accept slaves from africa. so the founding fathers have become a dimensionless point in 250 years of our experience with slavery. and because of that william mccullough and homer ellsworth and edward baker and the young man whose legs were blown off and so many other people who never owned a slave but most of the southern soldiers did not own slaves were never saucily. there were not a lot of slaves in wisconsin, but they have to die by the thousands. you can see in this speech how far lincoln has traveled from paine. paine was revolted by the notion
that god would accept the sacrifice of his son as the payment for men's sense it but lincoln is now saying that god requires of the death of americans to pay for the national sin of slavery. but that's not where the second inaugural ends. the last paragraph from the last sentence. with malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as god gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. and when i came to write about that i noticed that all those
verbs and all those verbal phrases are two syllable verbs. strive on finish, care for do all, achieve, cherish. and i thought it's like walking. it's as simple as walking. it's as hard as walking after you walked so long and there's still so far still to go. and this is what lincoln gave to america a month before he died. this is what he gives to us now strive on do all a chief. thanks very much. i'll take your questions. [applause] >> now, you should know that to
ask a question there are microphones in the aisles. and so come into a microphone state your name, and please remember only ask one question and no speeches with rising inflections. [laughter] you know if you read the lincoln-douglas debates audiences were more rude and. they shout stuff out. they would say stuff like hit him, hit him again. or that's the doctrine sometimes stephen douglas' supporters would say white men white men he is a disgrace to white people. but we have to be a little more polite than that. which side you want me to start on? okay, you spent i'm jim. lincoln guide his hatred of slavery from his father and as you mentioned other inspiration and jefferson and washington. how did he coincide his hatred
of slavery with their belief of slavery? >> well, certainly his father, his father may be a source of that. that is probably one of the reasons that he left kentucky. for two reasons are troubles with land titles because surveying was just, it was just conflicting surveys and thomas lincoln had had to go to court because of rival claims, and he wanted to get to the old northwest territory because the federal government had surveyed that and guaranteed the surveys. also there's also the possibility that he didn't want to commute with farmers who had slaves. he was a small farmer. these were bigger farmers. who needs that? so that was an incentive for him to leave. i noticed in one of lincoln's books, one of his primers called the kentucky primer, and one of
the questions that kids were given is who has more cause to complain, the indian or the slave? this was a book written in 1790 and it's the kind of academic exercise for school kids, but there it was. and then of course, people lincoln took two trips to new orleans. it was the only place in the deep south he ever went when he was an older teenager, and people have speculated, well what did he see there? new orleans, lots of black people, free black people slaves, slave markets, slaves being sold slaves being inspected. you know, how is the body on the young and? some people would be thrilled by that. i mean, we have some accounts that lincoln was appalled, but
there are problems with those accounts. one is by one of his cousins who didn't act to get to new orleans. you stop in st. louis, so lincoln i told them this later but he didn't see it firsthand. with the founding fathers, those who were slave owners who include washington and jefferson lincoln always said that they found slavery existing in the country in which they were born. and the policy that they wished to follow was what we would now call containment. that's my word. that wasn't lincoln's word. but he said it cut off its expansion in one direction by forbidding it in the northwest territory, and they cut off its supply in the other by stipulating in the constitution that the slave trade could be ended in 1808 and indeed it
was. he also made the point that although the constitution gives guarantees to slavery it says that the fugitive slave should be returned to their owners who come to seek them. and it should count slaves and the apportionment in the house back but never used the words slaves or slavery. lincoln would've read madison's notes on the constitutional convention, because they were published in 1840. and there was a set of them in the springfield, and the state library in springfield. and they are madison says, madison is a slave owner and madison says, you know, we should not use this language in the constitution. lincoln will later say so that when slavery has disappeared, there should be no sign that it ever existed in the great
charter of our liberties. so this is lincoln's view of the founding fathers, that they hoped it would wither away, that they took certain concrete steps to cause it ultimately to wither away, that america had strayed from this program. america can't let it expand across the southwest and in 1854 with the repeal of the missouri compromise there's a possibility it could go into kansas and nebraska. and this is what really changes lincoln's life and changes american politics. but he is saying that this was their program i'm getting back to me. so this is how he tries to reconcile that thorny point. yes.
>> what's the name of the sweetheart he lost to the disease the? >> his first sweetheart was and ratledge and i have to say -- ann rutledge. and ann rutledge is one of the contending subjects. there are lincoln scholars who said no, no, no. no was nothing there. i mean and their evidence is people who knew lincoln fan, like half of them say he was really torn up by this and then half of them who say you know he didn't seem to be affected but i didn't see anything. but i think that's a stupid reason. know what you think? also some people are just dumb. they wouldn't notice it if it is right -- i didn't see anything.
but numbers of people said, you know, oh, he was distressed. we had to hide the raises big he talked about killing himself. and it seems like the thing one thing i learned in writing this book, i mean, i knew lincoln was melancholy. all you have to do is look at a picture and you can tell that, but i was not aware of the depth of his depression. this was a serious lifelong curse that he bore. and after ann rutledge dies, the thought that torments and is that rain will fall on her grave. now, illinois was having the latest summer than on record -- whitest. it'd rain for four in a straight months. that's a very depressive thought because rain falls everywhere. it falls on us, if also houses it falls on grades. you can't stop the but if you're depressed you think it is
falling on the. if it's falling on the it's falling on mine. i can't stand. so that's the name of the young woman and that's what i believe he experienced. yes, sir. >> my name is norman and i'm a member of the abraham lincoln association. my question to you is which has the greatest toll on abraham lincoln's thought and conduct? a declaration of independence or the united states constitution? >> well, lincoln writes an interesting memo to himself when he is president-elect. he never used these exact words in the speech, but sometimes he would jot down thoughts and he might incorporate them later, or he would just leave them there. but in this particular thought, he uses a biblical phrase that a
word fitly spoken. ironically it had just been used in a letter to him by his old friend alexander stephens, his colleague from his one term in congress a week from georgia who was urging lincoln to condemn john brown's raid which it happened the year before. and stevens would become the vice president of the confederacy, but up to the last minute he was a unionist and is looking for lincoln to like make some gesture to the south and he says, a word fitly spoken by you now would be like apples of gold in pictures of silver. lincoln had already read that. he didn't need stephens to instruct them in the bible, but there it is in his mind. so later on when he's writing to himself he uses this phrase again, and he says that the
declaration is the apple of gold, the constitution is the picture of silver. it's now the most eminent lincoln scholar of the last 60 years is harry jaffa. and he has used this phrase over and over again to say that the declaration is more important to lincoln and the constitution. certainly old is more valuable than silver. i mean it is. but the metaphor it's jewelry. you know the hebrew scholar and chancellor says pictures of silver means jewelry, like a jeweled framed. so the picture of silver protects the apple of gold you know, preserves it, it guards it. that's how we keep it. and indeed, lincoln says in this note, so let neither be changed or altered. he's the man who in his self presentation he says i am the
man who holds both of these things. there some people who want to chuck the declaration. they either well, they either openly disdained it or they reinterpreted. stephen douglas says all men are created equal. you mean all white men. it doesn't mean the growth. it doesn't mean savage indians. it doesn't mean malaise. that's what stephen douglas said. lincoln-douglas said no man new men. jefferson knew what he was saying. the continental congress knew what they were signing on. and he says there are also people who hate the constitution. this with the abolitionists. william lloyd garrison, he said it's a deal with the devil because of the guarantees against slavery. and lincoln always has i am the man who stands with both. so in answer to your question yes, the declaration is more
important but they are equally important. and lincoln would never, you know would never entangle them or this tangled and. that's what he would tell you. >> i would go with the rule of law. >> well, you know, lincoln put a lot out there, but i think he is the one who is going to uphold both of them. yes, sir. >> how was lincoln college will and successful as president without a real education? >> well, he was self educated. you know he went to these five one room school houses, two in kentucky and three more in indiana. there were lots of people who were better than he was. people in his own cabinet. william seward was much better read than abraham lincoln, much more lightly read.
lincoln loved shakespeare. in everett office place, but what lincoln read he read breaches do. gave a pretty deeply. lincoln is an autodidact. he teaches himself. one of his law partners his second law partner, stephen logan, i think his first name is steven, he said lincoln's general knowledge of the law was never very great, but william herndon, his third law partner said he always dug up the roots. if there was any case he would just come he would master all the details. he would master all the precedents for the case but that's the way his mind works. he fastens on something and he bores him. and the most moving testimony to that, his mother died when he was nine and his father married again. the stepmother was a remarkable woman. she knew she had a remarkable stepson. her name was sarah bush lincoln.
she was interviewed as an old lady by lincoln's last law partner, william herndon who did what we would now call oral history. you know he knew that this friend of his was a remarkable man and he studied him, he observed him. and after he was guilty decided to write a biography and he started anything people, and he realized there's stuff i never heard about, stuff i was never aware of. he did dozens of interviews with people who knew him well people than in a little, smart people, stupid people, just all sorts of people. amazing work. but maybe the most moving one is, he looks up sarah bush lincoln who is this old lady and her husband is dead her son has just been killed. he goes to meet her and he thinks, at first he thinks that having dinner and he thinks, it's too late.
she's, you know she is gone. i won't be able to get anything, but he starts talking about the old days. he warmed up and then she gives this terrific interview, and she says when lincoln was a boy and he didn't understand anything, he had to ask, what did this mean? what were these people talking about? and then he would write it down and he would rephrase it and he we keep doing it until he had it fixed in his mind. and then if you've tried it on a piece of wood he would shave it off so we had a clean piece again, but he had to like figure things out get them fixed in his mind. and that's the way he continue to educate himself. >> thank you. i'm jane and i was just wondering if you turned up in the literature about newton
bateman? do with my great-great-grandfather and a friend of abraham lincoln's. >> no. sorry. [laughter] but look i mean look in the indexes of lincoln biographies. michael burlingame has two volume huge, look at the collective lincoln papers which are online. i mean there ought to be a way of chasing this down. >> oh, i have seen he was depended of public schools director of public schools in springfield. >> well, that's my advice as how to -- >> and shared wall with abraham lincoln. anyway, thank you. >> thank you. >> can ask you a what if question based upon her studies of lincoln? what if he had not been assassinated antistatist president and johnson have not become president?
with the south and the reconstruction, what do you say would've been the situation? >> well, johnson was a bad pick wasn't he? and what his can of astonishing about that is to presidents have died already come and lincoln had supported both of them. harrison died in 1841 and zachary taylor died in 1850 and they were both whigs. harris and vice president john tyler undid all of harrison's policies. he was not a whig and he just kicked over everything. and this was something every x. whig will remember. so lincoln's choice of a johnson is odd. i know why he did it. he wanted a union democrat. he didn't think is going to win his reelection, so it was a very dicey thing and he's looking for a way to broaden the ticket,
broaden the space. and johnson was a brave man, he was a patriotic man. he was the only southern senator to stay loyal, but he was just, just a boiling with resentments, a small man in a lot of ways. the back of lincoln's murder is what makes the comparison between washington and lincoln ultimately impossible because lincoln's work was half done. it would be as if a die hard story had shot washington after he had returned his commission to congress and annapolis in 1783. and he still would have been a hero of the revolution, the men who had won the war a man who is never seized power during the war. but his whole presidency would have been lost to us. and you know, lincoln would've
had a glacier's term in his -- hellacious term. how could it have been worst? it would have been extremely stressful. the only thing i can say is that lincoln was a very good politician. he was very good at keeping the republican party together, even republicans who disliked him which many of them did. kelo thought he was stupid. people thought he was too conservative. benjamin wade called them white trash. there was just a lot of resentment. i could've done this all yesterday, you know, why did it take so long, this kind of thing. and yet there was never a successful rebellion in republican ranks against him. he was masterful at dividing and conquering among his rivals. he had genuine friendships with people disagreed with him.
the last speech he gives both urges that the southern states participate in the ratification of the 13th amendment, and that certain black people be allowed to vote. so he's addressing both the three men and the former rebels -- free. in a very are cited and magnanimous spirit. booth that a lot. never underestimate john wilkes booth. he did far more than lee and jackson are he struck the blow. is that it? okay. on that grim note. [applause] >> every weekend booktv offers programming focus on
nonfiction authors and books. keep watching for more here on c-span2 come and watch any of our past programs online at booktv.org. >> as 2014 comes to a close and we look ahead to book fairs and festivals around the country that are scheduled for the new year. from february 12-15 the savanna but faster will be held in savannah georgia. let us know about book fairs and festivals in your area and we'll add them to our list to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. >> you are watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend.