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tv   Ronald white Discusses American Ulysses  CSPAN  January 9, 2017 7:23am-8:02am EST

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men in the yard start talking about civil rights in the prison, human rights in the prison. and, of course, many of these guys had also come from streets that had been, you know, been very active, particularly rebellions in philly in '64, harlem in '64, rochester in '64. and they began to ask for help. initially through the system, writing letters to their state senators and begging the commissioner of corrections to do something. but nothing was really done. and, in fact, what was done was a great deal more repression. ing anyone who was caught having the letter asking for help would be thrown into keep lock which meant you were thrown in your cell for indefinite periods of time. you couldn't get out. and it's in that context that people start talking across political lines, start talking ai cross racial lines. >> that's a look at some of this year's notable books according
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to "the new york times" book review. booktv has covered many of these authors. you can watch the full programs on our web site, booktv.org. [inaudible conversations] >> good afternoon, everyone. i'd like to invite you to continue enjoying your lunch and your dessert, and i'd like to welcome our good friends who are joining us now via c-span to enjoy our lecture here at the white house historical association in historic decatur
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house, right across the street from the white house. the white house historical association, as many of you know, was founded by first lady jacqueline kennedy 56 years a who at the ripe old age of 32 years old, had the foresight and the wisdom to know that the white house would need a private partner to come alongside her and every first lady since to provide private resources for the conservation, preservation and restoration of those beautiful state floors at the white house, to acquire art and furnishings for the permanent white house collection and to do something that we're doing today, and that's to have an education program to teach and tell the stories of white house history over the past 216 years. so this is a key part of our mission and our education program, and today we're honored to have with us dr. r07bd c. white -- ronald c. white who is the author of three best selling books on abraham lincoln. dr. white is himself no stranger to the white house having
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lectured there, but today we're across the street here in decatur house, and this historic home is actually something i think dr. white may tell us a little bit about. as i mentioned earlier, grant himself, we believe, actually spent time in these very rooms. and dr. white is also a californian. and for those of you who have stepped around this seal in the middle of the floor, we actually have the great seal of the state of california in this room. but that's a story for another lecture on another day. [laughter] please join me in welcoming dr. ron white to share with us insights on this significant president and and significant leader in our country. [applause] >> thank you very much for the invitation to be here with you today. yes, ulysses s. grant and julia
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dent grant would have very much enjoyed being here. he was quite a shy person at receptions such as we've had today, so he was grateful that his wife, who was much more outgoing, would often be the hostess at such receptions. she would ask julia fish to join her, wife of the secretary of state. this promises for me a story that about four years ago someone approached me and said, well, you're writing this biography of grant. what if we start talking about doing a television miniseries? this is a friend of mine, a hollywood writer and director. and so he said, well, let's get together for lunch where cynthia and i live and talk about this. he said, now tell me, what do you think were some of the most outstanding characteristics of grant? what would we like to know? maybe things we didn't really know. i said one of the things i want to do in my biography is lift up julia. i think she has been underestimated for who she was as a person and a partner. and what was really remarkable was the tremendous marriage that
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they had. all of a sudden, he started shaking his head, and he said that will never do. [laughter] of i said, what? he said, oh, that will never do in a television mini serious. they're all based on internal tension, internal tension. i said, oh -- [laughter] okay. well, the remarkable marriage is still a part of my biography. in the year 1900, the first year of the 20th century, theodore roosevelt gave his assessment of who he thought were the great american leaders. and he said of the mighty american dead loom three figures; george washington, abraham lincoln and ulysses suspect grant. you -- s. grant. you might be surprised to hear that affirmation. he went on to say a second rank, of second rank were benjamin franklin, thomas jefferson, alexander hamilton and andrew jackson. once upon a time, this nation
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revered ulysses s. grant as part of what i call the sort of holy trinity of american leaders. how did he fall? he fell by the fact that right after the civil war, led by many confederate generals, the propaganda went forward of the so-called lost cause that the greatest cause, the south, lost the civil war. they were the christian part of the nation. they were the chivalrous part of the nation. and they only lost because they were overwhelmed by huge numerical forces of the union army, by the industrial might of the north and by that butcher grant who was willing to throw his men into battle without any heed for casualtieses. of course, that story is completely untrue. our greatest american civil war historian, jim mcpherson of princeton, has shown us grant's casualties were far less than lee's casualties. but interestingly, a young woman recently has written a book on
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kentucky in which she shows kentucky joined the union from 1861-65, and immediately in 1866 joined the confederacy. and all of the leaders going forward would be ex-con fed be rate generals -- confederate generals. but grant, in the midst of all this, steps forward after the civil war with his magnanimous peace treaty with robert e. lee to find himself in the controversy of the administration. i'm convinced he never wanted to run for president, but when johnson failed in his presidency, grant stepped forward. and this is what grant wrote to his dear friend, william tecumseh sherman. i have been forced into it in spite of myself. i could not back down without leaving the contest for power for the next four years between mere trading politicians. the elevation of whom, no matter which party won, would lose to us largely the results of the costly war which we have gone through.
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so part of my biography is to try to come to grips with the enigma of grant's presidency. almost everyone recognizes his great role as civil war general. john keegan, the british military historian -- the finest military historian -- says quite clearly grant is the greatest general this nights has ever -- this nation has ever produced, certainly of the civil war. but then we look to his presidency, and i would argue that his presidency and the scandals of the second administration -- of which he was never touched -- have somehow diminished everything else that he did this that presidency. so in that presidency, i wish to point out the fact that, first of all, as his own republican party was retreating from reconstruction, grant stood up staunchly for the rights of african-americans. he was willing to do whatever it took to do away with what i would call voter suppression. we think and we've been told
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that president obama was the first american president ever elected with a non-majority white vote. not true. grant won popular vote in 1868 only because 400,000 african-americans voted for him. by 1890, only 3,000 african-americans were allowed to vote in the south. the vote keptty mining. but not because of -- kept diminishing. but not because of grant. he was willing to do whatever it took to allow their right to vote, and they became his great friends. he also in his first inaugural address said we must reimagine the american indian policy. what we have been doing here is absolutely immoral, and going against his military generals, his friends, sherman and sheridan, he asked if the christian churches could step forward to help him reconstruct a new, fairer american indian policy.
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in his presidency alongside hamilton fish who had signed on to be secretary of state for, oh, two months he took, rented quarters here in washington. fish served for eight years, one of the most distinguished secretaries of state who became a great friend and admirer of grant. together they finally solved what was called the alabama claims. this was the fact the united kingdom had put into the warfare british confederate ships that had been built in their shipyards. america was very angry about that, but they solved that problem with a treaty signed in geneva, and that became the foundation with future treaties -- for future treaties with england. and on and on. what i want to especially highlight today as i look at the japanese paintings around here talk see that are very likely a
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gift of ulysses s. grant to edward biel which is what was not too well known, and that was grant's world tour. rutherford or b. hayes was elected, and he could have easily won a third term. there were no term limits. julia wanted him to run for a third term, she liked being the hostess in the white house, and he declined. when he arrived in liverpool, he couldn't believe with it. people greeted him, he was the embodiment of what people in the rest of the world thought of american democracy. and although he walked around without any pins or without any medals or anything, he was just this common person, the british people absolutely fell in love with him. let me read just a section here as to why they did so, what was so important about him. grant had this remarkable
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ability to engender affection. not just appreciation, but real affection. he traveled throughout england, he spoke to the working men of northern england and found a tremendous, tremendous appreciation among them. why did he do so? what did they find in him? they found in him this kind of common person with no pretense, no pomposity who they could identify with. his tour was originally to be only to england and to europe, but his son, buck, his second son -- ulysses was investing his money and said i'll keep going -- so he began to travel for 28 months, finally taking himself to china and japan. and when he not to china and japan, he discovered nations very, very different, but he entered into their society, into their culture and had the
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ability, i think the rare ability, to sort of understand who they were. he warned the chinese, he warned the chinese, do not allow the european powers to become part of your nation. their goal is to take you over, to influence them. you have your own society and your open culture, and i -- and your own culture, and i respect it, and you need to chart your own path forward. >> the leader of china said to him, well, we have this huge dispute going on with japan. would you perhaps be a mediator for us between china and japan? so grant accepted this proposal. he went to japan, which he was tremendously impressed by, and the japanese leader said, yes, we would like you to be the mediator between these two nations. and so this is another of those stories of grant that we don't fully know. and after this remarkable 28 months, he merged as a person
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much more understanding of the world situation and what he could do to influence it. people ask me why did i write a biography of lincoln and then a biography of grant. i think that the in america once in a while we encounter or persons who start from very humble beginnings -- lincoln, you'll remember, had maybe ten months of formal education -- and and rise but encounter all kinds of difficulties. grant had seven years of just terrible experiences often due to circumstances beyond his control. i found myself on a cold day in springfield, illinois, asking if i could put into my hands this particular precious document. it was a document that took place that showed me that three days before christmas in 1857 grant, now failing as a farmer, the whole world market for farming had gone under, grant
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walked into a pawnshop in st. louis and pawned his gold watch that he could buy his dear julia a christmas present. and we have that pawn ticket. but out of that, grant rises to be this prominent american citizen as did lincoln. but both of them, i would argue, never rose simply for themselves. for their own greatness, for their own honor. but they rose in service of a cause beyond themselves. to me, that's the the greatness of the greatest leaders of our country. the huntington library, where i work in san marino, phenomenal place to work, some years ago put up a exhibit on george washington. and the new york review of books did a review of it. and the reviewer began by saying this entire review can be summarized in one word: honor. honor. it's a word we don't know. it's a word, i'm sad to say, academics try to undermine.
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but it really is the word honor. this is what twines every as -- defines every aspect of george washington's career, to step down as commander or in chief, to step down as president of the united states. and so we could use the same words about lincoln and grant, but not honor simply for themselves, but they pointed beyond themselves to the great truths of the american democracy. and that's why i think grant needs to be revived in his reputation in the 21st century as he was in the 19th century that he is, i think, one of our great american leaders. and i'm hopeful that what i'm athe tempting to do here in this book will give people a deeper understanding of why this man is so important. thank you very much. [applause] and i'd be happy to entertain your questions and comments. i might even repeat them if we can't all hear. i think we can in this size
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room. yes. >> with dr. white, my civil war ancestor fought for the union -- >> yes. >> [inaudible] one of them he named after general george thomas,. [inaudible] but the first one was general grant. >> wow. >> and i wonder with that in mind, have you been able to assess what type of an impact grant had as a popular icon? did he achieve even after the is civil war -- not just because of his -- [inaudible] but even after the civil war as president, did he achieve the type of popularity, that type of adulationing -- adulation that some other great american figures have received? >> he did. we have recently witnessed the vice presidential debate last night, presidential debate then and now. the way people campaigned in those days, grant did not campaign. he would not campaign. in fact, he even left washington
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to be sure that people wouldn't get after him. he traveled west. what did campaign were what were called campaign biographies, and there was one particularly wonderful one written in 1868 so that all americans knew the story of grant. they knew the struggles that he had gone through. they knew who julia was. they knew this story backwards and forwards. and be they came to is so enjoy who he was -- enjoy who he was compared to andrew johnson or james buchanan or some of the midling figures who had been the president way back to andrew jackson. and so, but his humility, his, what i would call his self-effacement, that was more of a 19th century term, this was so endearing to people as it became endearing to people on this world tour. so he was not simply admired, he was really loved. and be you can hear this and see it in the letters that people write or even in writing their diaries. you can see it and hear it in
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the soldiers, they so admired him. one of the most amazing stories to me is grant leads the so-called overland campaign of may 1864, four times the northern army had invaded virginia, four times it was forced to retreat. and after the terrible, terrible battle of the wilderness, two days in which 20,000 union men are casualties in which the scrub forest sets fire, men are burned to death and men kill themselves before the fire will get to them. the question is, what will happen now? will we retreat one more time? so grant orders a night march. it's 8:30 in the evening. he's starting along the road with his huge horse, and as they come to this junction in the road, one junction turns south, the other turn knot, and the soldiers all gather around. this is a momentous moment, and grant gets to that junction -- i have walked that junction -- and grant turns south. and the hats go in the air, and
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the cheering goes forward. grant will not turn back. and that's what endeared him to the american people. yes. >> [inaudible] [laughter] tell us, tell us about the relationship between ulysses s. grant and robert e. lee in the early years before the war, or during the war and subsequent to the war, and tell us, remind us things that we sort of know but also some things that we might be interested in that we don't know and maybe particularly i'm interested in this -- [inaudible] >> sure, sure. well, robert e. lee was our a+ student. he was a star in the making from the day he graduated from west point. he was a star in the mexican war, grant was not. grant was -- lee was half a
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generation ahead of grant. and so grant admired lee. he knew who he was. he knew of his various accomplishments. lee had been superintendent at west point. he was born into a patrician family, his wife was a patrician person. he was everything of the kind of southern gentry. not that grant was poor white trash, but, i mean, he was a frontier family of a very different like. so they became, finally, face to face. and his own soldier said you yoe never faced bobby lee. and after the second day of the wilderness, a general arrived in grant's camp, and he said to the general, well, i know lee, he's going to do this, and he's going to do that, he's going to divide us and drive us back north. and grant, who was a very, very calm man was observed by horace porter or, and grant became pretty agitated, and he said i am getting tired of people
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talking about robert e. lee. it's like you expect him to arrive in our camp and turn a double somersault and land right in front of us. and so he went forward and defeated robert e. lee. but he had a tremendous respect for him. andrew johnson wanted to try lee for treason. and grant said you will not. grant is the spiritual leader of the southern people. and the way we treat him will say everything we should about the way we are going to treat the southern people. you will not try lee for treason. i gave him my word, and and i will keep my word. so there was a remarkable respect. lee only lived until 1868, but i believe he visited grant one time in the white house. so grant had a remarkable respect for robert e. lee. >> [inaudible] >> i believe he visited him in the white house, yeah, yeah. yes. >> so -- [inaudible] international component -- whether yes. >> i've never heard anything about --
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[inaudible] partly because the u.s. is not a global power at this point. >> right. >> so i wonder if you could talk about -- [inaudible] grant's personal leadership qualities that kind of took him to the white house to this international trip and what you think that might -- [inaudible] because sometimes learning from that period when america was not a global power sometimes can give us indications of where we might be thinking. and also the resurgence of -- [inaudible] 150 years of civil war. is there anything else going on about grant that's more relevant for this day and age -- [inaudible] >> well, i think grant began the world tour simply by his own love of travel. he always loved to travel new places, wherever it was. and he thought he was simply traveling as a private citizen. but i entitle that chapter in my book american ambassador. and i argue when grant passed the boundary of the rio grande into mexico, he was crossing
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several boundaries at once. it wasn't simply a physical boundary. grant had the capacity to understand empathetically the views, aspirations of other people whereas many americans did not. when lincoln offered his second inaugural address, the british press said if this would have been offered by any other american politician, it would have been arrogant. this was in the 19th century. it would have been arrogant. but because it's been lincoln, it's a whole different tenor. so grant went to madrid, for example, and the ambassador here said i've been here for two years, and he said grant knows more in two days than i do in two years. he was walking down the side streets, communicating with people. he had learned some spanish in mexico, so he had the ability to internalize what people were thinking and feeling. and that's why i think people stepped forward to talk with him. he arrived in berlin, and there was a great conference of international pures, and -- powers, and he was going to see business mark. so he walk -- bismarck.
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when he knocked on the door, people didn't know who he was. ulysses s. grant, the president of the united states? so i heard in the secondary literature that the next day the papers were not filled with the talk of this international conference. theythey were, but grant and bismarck, my german wasn't very good, so i dispatched a dear friend to find the german newspapers that were published that next day in berlin, which he did, and sure enough here were the articles. grant und bismarck talking about the anything enough cannes of grant for the -- the significance of grant. i think this took grant by surprise because he was not into self-aggrandizement. but there's been another person whose name is escaping me at the moment who is a u.s. diplomat who's also written about this.
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his attitude towards china, towards japan. he had seen the british attitude in india, and although he very much respected britain, he did not like the way britain was ruling in india. and saided if we were to do this, i think we would do it in a very different way, not demeaning the people who live there. and i think those are the lessons that could be learned frit. yes. >> [inaudible] in your book there are a couple of places, there's the anecdote -- [inaudible] >> yes, yes, yes. >> and there's also that dichotomy that would have woulde wonderful in you could e e will elaborate and start there -- [inaudible] and how to deal with uniforms and pomp and ceremony or the lack thereof. was that up meant in grant, or was that something he picked up along the way? >> okay. let me go back to the first comment first. if i may read something from my book. this is the way the book begins.
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the man of middle height accompanied by a young boy arrived at the crowded baltimore and ohio railroad station in washington on a cold, crisp morning. it was march 8, 1864. he hailed a carriage and asked the driver to take them to willard's hotel. that was the way it was called in the 19th century. at the northwest corner of pennsylvania avenue, only two blocks from the white house. this man and boy stepped from the carriage and walked directly to the front desk. the man, 42 years old and wearing a travel-stained duster, asked for a room. the clerk sniffed brusquely, did not the visitor know that in wartime washington few rooms were available, especially at willard's, the finest hotel in the nation's capital? the clerk dallied, then informed the travelers he could give them a small room on the top floor. that would be fine, the man said softly. the clerk asked the guest to
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sign the hotel register. when the clerk turned the register around and read the signature,up s. grant and son -- u.s. grant and son, georgia lean that, illinois, he turned pale. general grant, why didn't you tell me who you were? peering more closely, the clerk could now see that underthe duster, mostly hidden, was the blue uniform of a union officer. he had seen posters portraying the hero of the west everywhere in washington. he blurted out that he was reassigning grant and his son to parlor suite 6, the same that mary and abraham lincoln had stayed in three years earlier on their arrival in washington. now that he knew who was standing in front of him, the clerk handed grant a sealedden ve lope. the general opened it finding an invitation to join president lincoln at a reception that evening as guest of honor. because he had not served in the
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eastern theater of the civil war, curiosity about grant pupping chaited conversations everywhere -- punctuated conversations everywhere. many knew the outline of his rise to fame, but still they wounderred out loud, who was he? how had he succeeded when so many union generals had failed over the past three years? why had the president elevated him to the position of general, the first man since george washington to hold that rank? why had lincoln tapped him to come from the western theater to lead all the union armies? when you write a biography, sometimes the prologue is the last thing you write. and i was searching for the story that i felt would capture or who is this man. and it's so -- the publisher decided to publish this book one month before the presidential elections, and it seems to me such a totally different posture than we often find today.
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a person who is not putting himself forward. there is no pomposity, there is no arrogance. he's not claiming rank, he's not claiming anything. i'll, softly, i'll take that room at the top of the sixth floor. and i think this captures who grant is. your second question. two generals in the war with mexico, winfield scott was mr. fuss and feathers who had a remarkable uniform, self-designed with all kind of braid -- [laughter] on this, that and the other, you know? nathaniel taylor was the other general who wore a common, just almost a country man's outfit with a straw hat. grant typically wore a private's uniform. he never wore any braid at all. the only way that you would know he was a general were the stars on husband shoulders -- on his shoulders or. he never put himself forward. the men loved him for it because
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he was one of them. he became a part of them. and that's what endeared them to him, yeah. yes. >> [inaudible] i'd like to thank you for researching and creating this wonderful biography, and thank you for speaking to us today. we've heard about grant's platitudes, his modesty, his humanity, but i think there's a darker side to -- >> yes. >> -- grant that perhaps you could comment on the discussion about his fondness of drink, and lincoln even made a remark about -- [inaudible] can you discuss grant's drinking? >> yes. >> situation? >> thank you for asking the question. it's an important question. grant has been accused of being a drunkard. and the question that i wrestled with in this whole seven years of writing this were the contradictory assessments, stories, anecdotes, whatever. so i think grant was at times afflicted with drinking.
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drinking was a part of the military culture, for sure. and when grant was separated from julia, most especially paris in oregon and then in california -- first in oregon and then in california, i think he did fall into drinking. he fell into despair. and out of despair, he fell into drinking. and the story which has been going back and forth was did his commanding officer in fort be humboldt in california threaten him with a court-martial. that may be true. it's hard to know. others denied that it was true. at that moment -- the moment literally that grant had received from the secretary of war, ironically jefferson davis, that he had been promoted to captain, he received -- jefferson davis received a letter back from ulysses s. grant offering his resignation. and so he returned to julia, and seven years in st. louis and then georgia lee that, illinois. there seems to be no evidence whatsoever of his drinking while president of the united states, but i this was an issue. he's not an alcoholic, he's not
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a drunkard, but i think this was something that he dealt with in his life. >> thank you. >> yeah. >> hyde like to ask a question about the grants in the white house as well. can you tell us manager about a special, memorable experience they would have had or someone they hosted that was significant, some an 'em dotes -- anecdote about their years. >> what's interesting is that grant was, i would now call him -- we wouldn't have culled him in the is theth century, i think he was an introvert.
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out among the people in washington. he wanted to be in common touch with them. one of the most amazing things about grant was that he must have kept eight or ten horses at the white house. and a horse culture is so foreign to us today. we don't understand what it must have meant. but grant was a horse tamer from the time he was 7, 8 or 9 years of age in ohio. and what people learned from that was anyone who could gentle a horse must be a gentle person. they learned from his attitude towards horses what kind of a person he was. so it was a very open white house. receptions held very often. and julia especially was his hostess in this situation. they had four children, three boys and one girl, all very, very active. some away at college. nelly, the daughter, was married at the white house with her father in tears, and she was the
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princess in those years. and it was a delightful experience. when they left, funny. rutherford b. hayes came into the white house, and julia kept some things for the next family in transition including some bottles of wine. she didn't know that lemonade lucy was about to inherit the white house and was not appreciative. [laughter] thank you. [applause] >> thank you, dr. white, for sharing your thoughts with us and for this compelling book that i know all of us are going to delve into. we have a little memento for you to take with you, and we welcome you back to visit us anytime. >> we'll be back. >> i know that many of you are here for the first time at the white house historical
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association, and we are about contacts and relationships and connections, and and i'm a big believer in partnerships, and we look forward to partnering with you individually and welcoming you back on other occasions. i'd like to introduce dr. curtis sandberg, director of the rubenstein national center for white house history. dr. edling el is our new chief historian. roett wilson, haleyly bare row, put this lunch together, and our curator who normally, we don't have one today, but normally we have exhibits on the ground floor. you're welcome to come back starting on november the 15th for a terrific exhibit on blair house, the president's guest house, which will run through the month of february. now dr. white will be happy to sign your books if you'd like to join him in the next room and have a word with him and have him sign your books. thank you again for being with us today, and i wish you all a very good afternoon. [applause]
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[inaudible conversations] >> you're watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. booktv, television for serious readers. >> next on "the communicators," a conversation with telecommunications analyst craig moffett. then proposed legislation dealing with u.s. cybersecurity operations. after that, officials discuss their preparations for the presidential inauguration.
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