tv Book Discussion on War of Two CSPAN February 20, 2016 4:45pm-5:36pm EST
the boston globe said sedgwick writes elegantly and eloquently. great compassion both some brilliant self-created hamilton and elegant immigrant illegitimate birth and boundless ambition and equally brilliant birth and american aristocrat. i think many of you are familiar with our speaker tonight. written several books and articles for publications such as the atlantic, gq, newsweek, and esquire. the finest nonprofit. anyway, john sedgwick. [applause]
>> thank you very much. i feel terrific to be addressing this multitude, staggering. i am also reminded that there is an adage about bostonians that they would much rather hear a lecture but heaven and visited themselves. and i think it is in that spirit i got you all to turn out tonight. okay. dennis, of course, stolen a lot of my thunder here. i will -underscore what i have been asked to say.
here. you really should look at it. it is just marvel. the whole beauty in which of this institution is that these documents are here to touch. there is nowhere else that you can go to actually make contact in this fashion is rare and wonderful and inspiring for writers and scholars. it is number one and two elaborate a little bit, it was years ago making it one
he had helped push hamiltons economic agenda through the house and ultimately rose to become speaker of the house for the election of 1800 they wrested control away from his federalist party and turned it over to thomas jefferson which he openly referred to as the antichrist and his republican jacobson. much to his distress theater tried to steer the election to bar a friend who he assumed would be more malleable. his uncle had gone to live in berkshire. theodore had been one of very few politicians who remained a trusted friend of both men.
which is why hamilton was writing to him. they will get back to that letter taken out of context it may seem tangential and unusual. it is likely to defy expectation as to why hamilton crossed the hudson at daybreak and faced his doom. a few choice sentences he offered a better explanation and a better prediction of what was to come. that is my contention. i have always been interested in the letter of a dead man because hamilton writes a letter, crosses the hudson might get shot, comes back and dies the next day. what happens to the letter? who mails it? how is it mailed? and then when theodore gets it does he know this has been written by a man who is now dead? and we don't know the
answers to any of these things except we do know the theodore never responded and there was no one to respond to. when earlier members of the family encountered they could see its value to history. all caps they the same message, this letter must be preserved. that was the start of it. to be honest i did not think, mo write about this. it was one of those little tidbits that a writer comes across in the talks away for later for never. my memoir came out and i wrote a couple of other books, one of them on whitey bulger. i was starting to get itchy,
little bored as if this was all there was nothing had come before. this glittering pond. i'd come down to the shore and now i felt i was ready to take a swim. coming from historic family i already had a feel for the past. i thought i was ready to take on this federalists. i have done many things, but i am a journalist at heart. to be honest, i was not interested in history per se but in the stories that collectively make up the past. character expressed through action command if i was lucky is of great men were
not a swirl of conflicting emotion if history was a mystery to me it wasn't done by the wind on. initially i was intrigued and assassination, something explosive, kennedy, lincoln, mckinley, garfield. terrible the other histories. oddly for all the supposed claim it was not much of a short memory. more a matter of easy familiarity.
alexander hamilton lived in the security. not sure who killed and there was the essential publishing question. it was covered in all the biographies. a masterful job but that was hamilton. two powerful, fascinating men this and possibilities. it seems just been as if it were a letter sent to me to explain. i really do think there are
were most history. i think that is the whole purpose and that did it for me. this is the book for me. the dual can easily be understood if you narrowly. published an account of hamilton's remarks. better happened across a. he was the sitting vice president with two illegitimate children -- constantly being. jefferson had dumped him
this is the preferred the next election. still stung over the treatment the house of representatives to affirm that the country is intended saying what everyone knew, jefferson was the man, not him. he did not say a word to anyone and just let it go. thought to be elected governor of new york that hamilton had politics against them. he said that hamilton told him dangerous he called out hamilton demanding to know
>> that leads them to do their doom. each one is a desperate plight on the part of one to avoid to faith and on the part of the other to insist the faith is inflicted. a dual is in an odd way like a romantic courtship in that had has etiquette, too. it goes the other way. not a joining but a parting. if a marriage declaration requires preliminary so does a dual to the death. there is conversation. more serious conversation. an offer, a choice of location, second like best men, the guns are a little different but the
intimacy and spacing is particular. they are not side by side but facing each other close enough to see into each other's eyes to discern any gratifying hints of distress. and then instead of i do they shout present which could be the last word that one of them would ever hear or both. bang-bang. in this case intriguingly bang-bang. hamilton is struck on his right side. the bullet pierces his liver. he died of internal bleeding with his wife and seven children by his bed. hamilton's life was over but it just began in some ways. he rose again from the death to assume the place in american political history he would never have attained if he had died quitely at age 80 as burr did. it is a triumph of political
spin. his team was able to sell the idea that bang-bang meant that hamilton was a murder victim not the looser in a dual of honor. more exactly, since this was a political matter hamilton was assasspat patinat assassina assassinated. a martyr. he fired into the air after burr shot him. his second, retrieved a branch overhead that was severed by his mall. the whole thing went down differently. hamilton it thrown away his f e fire. hamilton's son had been killed in a dual a dual a few years
ago. it was argued he fell into a depression that led to this dual as suicide by dual rather than just a dual. but he is shot. the rules of the dual, hamilton could not fire again until burr squeezed off his round. burr took his time, aimed and then fired. at lease burr stood up to a gun, he believed, leveled in his direction. he was not hailed a hero but indicted.
he travel in disguise under a make name hiding from men bent on arrested him from for murder and taking him back to manhattan to face charges. the sitting vise president. joe biden? it is hard to picture. wouldn't it be nice if our present politicians could resolve issues so easy whether it is bang-bang or whatever it is over quickly. no bickering or tweets. just bang. you know?
the thing that is marvelous about the dual is it is very decisive. it is binary. it is up or down. in or out. yes or no. dead or alive. it is over. that is why in times of war duals are welcome between officers because otherwise they have to go through the judicial process or court marshall that could be elaborate and take forever so they dualed and were fairly good at it. a duel requires an underlying assumption that doesn't exist today. we will go down one layer further into the question of why did they duel? and that is a matter so long gone from contemporary life we
hardly recognize it. like a strange artifact dug up to puzzle over and honor. it all depended on something called honor. anybody heard of it? no one has honor anymore. certainly no politician certainly not original he would die for. but honor was everything back then. pride, reputation, valor, linage and a hundred other things. it was their brand. it was the product of a lifetime. not the calculation of marketers. it was everything they imagine they stood for in life. they would soon as surrender
their manhood than give up their honor. when hamilton said burr was a dangerous man he was impeding burr's honor and no word now can convey how threatening that was. it was time for a meeting tea duel ground. time for water for me. now, how could these two players have gotten into such a sticky situation in the first place. not why did they hate but they did they hate so recklessly. they knew where the trip wire was bet they kept stepping closer to it. it took me almost 400 pages to explain. but the short of it is the point
of maximum contention between sameness and difference. the differences hamilton was of course an immigrant from the west indian island. burr was an aristocrat the son of the president of princeton and the closest colonial america could be to a rock star. the differences pushed them apart into separate realms. they were both short, brilliant, educated, ambitious, handsome, and attractive to the lady: that said the differences hamilton was prolex -- acquisition to dash off a 10,000 world treatise in an afternoon
and transparent. he could not help himself. he always had to tell the truth. burr was covert. a man of few words and few of them written down and many of those in code. he wore a cal over his head all of the time. hamilton was man of ideology. he formed the federalist and then the anti-federalist. burr was a man without any political philosophy at all leaving him open to something he could never disspell. and polytpolitically the united states is a small place. if you were to look at america in about, even as late as 1800,
most of it was green. little specks of it where they cleared lands of urban centers of which there were like four. they were not urban centers we would recognize. this was a little tiny dot in the wilderness. that was america back then. these guys were like two of the greatest men in it. and for that reason they could not escape each other. wherever they turned there they were be it the revolution, law, or politics. it was all the same story because of their talent and ambition they both rose in power and prominence. but if the reach of power is an inverted cone. at the top we call it the president. there was not room for both of them. they could not escape each other. they were two wolves in a tight
cage all fang. and then there is this other part of it which is that these were men for the first time in their lives not on the rise anymore. first hamilton, then burr. hamilton couldn't, you know, he was never a political successful man to himself and elected only. men who have been rising have been dangerous -- i want to go into the future and ask the
concentrated at the top. it was the few versus the many. and for hamilton it was the elite he trusted thinking they were smarter, better and more sensible. and now of course in a democratic age that we have entrusted our society correctly to the people but it seems that at time the people can let us down. they can either not vote or vote for people who others regard kremlins or worse. these were the issues that were present at the time. there was also something called hamilton the musical which i hope you either have seen or are about to see or promise yourself you will see before the decade is out because right now they kr incredibly they are taking ticket orders for not this
january but the next january. so plan your life accordingly. it shows hamilton is important but it is a different kind of hamilton than the one i recognize. this was the hamilton who is up for nothing, this scrappy immigrant and he is going to show them. that is not really hamilton. hamilton is hamiltonism and this person running countries and getting them set-up. he is a big thinker. that said it is wonderful to see years of the founding father and individuals of the founding father so evokes. it is this incredible eversion by which founders are portrayed by actors of color but they capture the founders better than any more literal portrait can
do. the founders themselves, white was a default color. everyone they knew was white. now whiteness is a political statement. it is about entitlement and nostalgia. it takes color to get back to the original normal in a country of all immigrants. so you get a sense of the energy that evokes a turbulent period when everything was new. too often we look back at this time and think this was all done in marble and that everyone had this serene confidence of the jefferson memorial and it is one big wax worth. you don't have to read much in this period to realize that is not quite how it was. for most of the revolution, everything was going terribly.
governments are made up of men and men are not always reliable. the founders were brilliant but they could be head strong, vein and everything else. hamilton could be all this and burr more so. if the individuals were imbalanced the groups were not. one of the reasons the founding fathers were so successful was the number of george washington's who is one of the most serene people i have ran across. i am always surprised, too, when i talk about this book how few people other ask me anything about poor aaron burr. it is like the hamilton show and there is no burr in it. you know? but measured in hamilton's terms of political accomplishment burr raised less than zero. there were things but not many. i found him much more
fascinating than hamilton. if there was a dinner party and i had a chance to sit next to burr or hamilton i would cuddle up to burr every night. he would tell you stuff that would curl what hair you have. he is a marvel. as milton discovered satan is the one you watch. and hamilton can be too earnest, clever, whereas burr is a welcome relief. i found after the dual to be moving. trying to detach half of the american landmass for his personal empire is just nuts. afterwards, when he is in exile in europe and down to his last sioux and trying to decide whether to spend it on bread or
a prositute and decide prostitute and that letter and i will close with this -- look at it. three thinks are striking. by all means, do look at this. one; it is amazing to me that he could have written anything that was in the least bit coherent under the circumstances of going to face his worst enemy with a gun in the morning. second; it is great penmanship. you have to admire that. third; it is unbelievablely c casual. as the letter goes on it gets deeper and this is what dennis was referring to at the beginning. despite the circumstances hamilton didn't refer to burr by name but the illusion is not
mistakable when he said it would break his heart if the country were broken. burr was wanting to break the new england states plus new york to be free and headed up by aaron burr. burr embarked on the western conspiracy going an the land of the louisiana purchase if a private empire and that was the most dangerous secession campaign until the civil war. that placed burr in the odd position of having killed the head of one party and possibly to be killed by the of the other. hard to pull off. and in the letter to theodore he invaded democracy but democracy is not the term it is now where
universal franchise is revered even if not always exercised but was an ignorant electorate. burr was the first to engage in door-to-door politics. he believed in nothing so thought hamilton. if this is so, it offers a gloss on the count. the duel wasn't personal. it was in fact the first battle in a war that hamilton was waging against burr and all he stood for. to learn about hamilton and burr is to learn about america and also about the emotions that are always teaming under the surface of great leaders.
jealously, ego burst. they count for what they do and identify them and see their source and consequences. that is the real work of history and what i sought to capture in my book "war of two". thanks so much. [applause] >> i would be happy if there is time and you are interested in my doing this to take questions. easy ones first. the more difficult ones later when i am warmed up. you with the wonderful neck tie. >> i know he didn't want to kill burr why doesn't the suicide make a lot of sense? >> it does make a lot of sense. i think one of the things that
happen in a dual is people don't think it through in the heat of the moment. i also think that sometimes what could happen when you are depressed or in mourning is you are not capable of making a sensible choice. can people pick up on this? is that better? i don't want the people in iowa and california not to be able to hear me. i think in some ways i had not thought of it until this moment. but there is something delusional about the letter.
to answer the question, i think there was a -- you can't enter a duel without a suicidal impulse because the chances are decent you will get shot. so you have keep. that has to be on your mind. i mean -- i will say and i don't want to monopolize this but i find it staggering, staggering that anybody could engage in this. if i had a copy of my book, which i don't have, i would read a little passage from this describing what it is like. they wore a cape to make it
unclear where the body was. they put up their shoulders to protect their chin all to no effect. they are just ten yards apart. the whole thing is crackers. it is hard to think of it in logical terms. anything else? >> do you think that hamilton giving away this shot thought that burr would give away this shot? >> you know, i think that is a very good idea. but you would think he would say something about it.
i think that is a setup for some rather inconsistent behavior. what excuse can you kill someone which it isn't war time or any threat to you? you can't get heads of these people but looking at it from where we do this is bizarre. it is hard for a bizarre question like that to untangle the logic because we cannot see it or grasp the fundamental
when eliza appeared before hamilton at a christmas party in the wilderness during the war he is transfixed. you don't know what he is seeing. is he seeing money? is he seeing beauty? is he seeing kindness? he describes the characteristics of the women see seeks. it is a particular complicated letter first because it is so liter literal. he wrote a letter to lawrence
are the earmarks of a school boy crush and referred to his love of lawrence that went beyond the love he had for anybody else. it is a letter gay rights groups have captured for the internet to show that hamilton was gay. it is possible. we are all a little gay. well, not all of us. his interest in eliza is complex but it doesn't deny the fact she is the moral center of his universes and one of the moral centers of the universe he acted.
there was an embarrass story about him having a love affair with a tramp. and he forgave him for that and allowed him to come back to the family. she is bent on redeeming and affirming his memory and no man stood higher in the history than alexander hamilton in her mind. it is a glorious thing. >> john, thank you for a wonderful talk. it has been so enjoyable. my question is about the idea of
duel. to what extent were duels commonplace? and was this duel between two high positioned government officials unusual in 1804? >> no, it wasn't unusual. i don't know exactly the count but i would venture to say in the 30 years period surrounding 1804 there were probably a hundred duels fought in the greater new york area. all of them by the way in new jersey because then as now you can do things in new jersey that you cannot do in manhattan even though they are equally illegal.
>> i will be glad to sign them. we welcome you to come up and take a look at the letters we have up here. their are bro brochures out in front. >> here is look at books being published. in playing to the edge, retired general recounts his time as the director of the national security agency and central intelligence agency during the war on terrorism. adam siegel, direct on foreign
policy at the counsel relations looks at the threat there government poses to cybersecurity in the hacked world order. and retaking america, in which australian author nick adams argues that political correctness is the reason for the problem america is facing. and outlining drug car tell and how to beat them. and in the fight to vote, president of the center for justice at nyu school of law explores the history of voting rights. look for these titles in the coming weeks and watch for the interviews on booktv. >> in your book you write americans have long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadist.
>> 80% of americans are somewhat worried about terrorism. 24% of the republicans think it is the leading political issue in the election season. 9% of democrats. and you know, some of that is understandable. we had the attack in october where 224 people were killed in cyanide and you have the attack in paris where 130 people were killed and in san bernardino, california 14 people killed who were inspired by isis. with that said, the fret from jihidist terrorism in the united states is low. it has been managed and contained because of the actions of the u.s. government and the vigilance of the american publi. contained because of the actions of the u.s. government and the vigilance of the american pubcos of the u.s. government and the vigilance of the american public >> hosost: when you say managed and contained what to you mean? >> guest: if we were having this
talk before 9/11 and i stated the facts of what is happening it would it would have been absurd. 45 deaths is a tragedy but they are not on the scale of 9/11 or even on the paris attack with 130 people were killed. you will not hear politicians say we managed and contained the threat. you hear them saying we managed and contained the threat and you are not going to hear them say by the law of average someone is going to get one through. >> peter bergen, you write that americans suffer from historical amnesia and you say the golden age of terrorism was in the 1970's. >> guest: