tv Harlow Giles Unger First Founding Father CSPAN April 15, 2018 1:45pm-2:30pm EDT
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>> that evening and welcome to the knights lecture in the davis education center for american history. before the can please remember to silence your phones. after the lecture that will be a q&a and book signing. the views of the author and their own do not necessarily represent the views of fraunces tavern use them for the sons of. people begin like to recognize and thank a leading use members who here tonight including presidential patron. quick announcements from the museum. the last for the tour will be given the saturday at 3 p.m. a new special trophy offered to the public every saturday at 3 p.m. in the celebration of women's history month in march. the next evening lecture will be on march 8.
without precedence chief justice john marshall and his times presented by joel paul. tonight we are having historian harlow giles unger, best-selling author 25 books including more than a dozen biographies of our founding fathers including washington, and cut, lafayette and after kendrick. a veteran journalist, broadcaster and educator, he is a former distinguished visiting fellow in american history of george washington's mount vernon. cited by florence king of the national review as america's most readable historian, he has appeared many times on the history channel and c-span's booktv is spoken of george washington's mount vernon, valley forge, yorktown and a stroke sites in boston, new york, philadelphia and washington, d.c. he's a graduate of yale university and was an editor at the new york herald times oversees new service endocytic syndicators columnist people coming and author. you can put all his books on his website.
tonight he will discuss his latest book "first founding father: richard henry lee and the call to independence" please welcome harlow giles unger to the lectern. [applause] >> thank you, ladies and gentlemen. nice of all of you to come out through this rain and his foes in honor for me to stand in the footsteps of george washington here at fraunces tavern museum. as the lady said, , my views may not reflect those of fraunces tavern museum nor do they reflect the views of the president or the members of congress. [laughing] actual i don't know whose views they reflect other than my own. i'm sure you all know that america had many founding fathers, most of them all but unknown today, button gwinnett,
joseph use, 56 of them signed sign the declaration of independence. each of them of enormous importance to their community and state in the 1770s, '80s and '90s. most of them are forgotten today along with the 39 founders who signed the constitution. most americans don't know their names either. but as i wrote in the introduction to my new book, one of those founders, richard henry lee, was the first of the founding fathers. and deserves as much or more attention that almost all the others. before washington, before patrick henry, before jefferson, franklin or adams, richard henry lee was first to call for independence from britain. he was first to call for union of the states, right up there,
liberty and unique accuse the first to call for union. he was first to call for a menu the constitution with the bill of rights and the first to call for abolition of slavery. yes, he was a virginian and the own slaves, but he nonetheless was the first of the founders to call for abolition of slavery. and now some of you i'm sure are wondering why didn't he for his own slaves? that's what they say about washington. they couldn't. first of all they didn't buy any slaves. they inherited them. they were part of the properties that they inherited. washington opposed slavery as much as any man in america, called it a savage system. but british law in virginia and the other british colonies, this was britain at the time these founding fathers lived.
it was against the law to free them. lee, washington or any of the other plantation owners in the south who inherited slaves, the slaveowners would've gone to prison. the slaves were still be part of the land where the work. there was one loophole to the british law, and that was they could free slaves and could come any property they wanted to to anyone who wanted to in their wills. wills bypassed the law, and many of the southern plantation owners, whom everybody castigates today for having slaves, many of them did that, free them in their will. lee did come washington did and many other enlightened slave owners. that and many other historic
steps made richard henry lee as much the father of our country as george washington. early on weight of the founding fathers still hope for reconciliation with britain, and that included washington, lee called on americans to find ourselves to each other, these are his words, to bind ourselves to each other to our country with our lives and fortunes. because words of sound similar, jefferson competent and writing the of the declaration of independence ten years later. but richard henry lee spoke and wrote those words at the end of february 1766 as part of the town resolves which you read to the crowd protesting the stamp act. the stamp act imposed the first ever direct tax on american colonists by britain's
parliament. parliament was supposed to be a representative body of legislators, but several million american colonies were unrepresented. richard henry lee led a a grouf more than 100 virginians including his brothers and four members of the washington family to protest taxation without representation for the very first time. his complaints would spur the nation to declare independence a decade later. remember though this is nearly ten years before patrick henry's famous give me liberty speech. later throughout the long war of independence it was lee who masterminded the financial and diplomatic victories that insured washington's military victory, and after the nation took shape it was lee, not james
madison, it was only the first conceived of the bill of rights our nation enjoys today. he was truly our first founding father. well, why, asked a member of the audience a few minutes ago, why isn't he recognized as such? i'll get to that later, keep you on pins and needles. [laughing] richard henry lee was born into one of virginia's and north america's wealthiest and most powerful families. his family is one of those fabled dynasties at the time. they ruled over hundreds of thousands of acres across the colonial virginia, maryland and pennsylvania. their fleet of ships carried on american tobacco to all corners of the earth. at the peak of their wealth and power, the lees controlled virginia's government and
economy, and made it north america's largest, richest and most populated british colony. new york was nothing then. virginia was the heart of our country. but leaving nothing to fill his personal needs of the young man, richard henry lee studied and traveled in europe, returned to his virginia home to absorb a huge family library of learning before deciding to enter public service. what started as an application in public service soon became a lifelong commitment and turned them into many of his own social and economic class in the south as he ran into government corruption and widespread deprivation of individual rights. his conflicts corrupt officials and petty tyrants in virginia grew into the man's for individual liberties, for human
rights, and eventually american independence from britain. as a member of the virginia legislature he shot the south by declaring black people entitled to liberty, , and these are his words, entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature. in doing so richard henry lee planted the first seeds of emancipation in virginia. 12 years before britain's colonies declared independence, lee was first to threaten king george iii with revenge, and if he did not, with the staff. it didn't matter much to the average taxpayer, a penny here or there. a staff had to appear on every legal document, wills, bills, contracts and consumer products. when i was a boy there were stamps on decks of cards, on
cigarette packs. that's the stamp act and american stamp act anyway. all those pennies added up to what they said were to protect americans against indians and attacks. americans said they could protect themselves. they said taxation without representation was no better than confiscation or theft of property. remember that never been before tax directly. lee felt so strongly he wrote to the firebrand activist samuel adams and together they organize committees and correspondence in each colony uniting the independence movement and bringing colonies, colony leaders to philadelphia for north america's first continental congress. although many of the delegates including holy had been to mother england to study at
oxford or cambridge. almost none of them or their forebears had entered into any of the other colonies. there was no transportation. each colony was a self sustained little country. richard henry lee brought them together for the first time. in 1775 at the first trip to richard henry lee stood patrick henry demanding war with britain if necessary to obtain redress of american grievances against parliaments government ministry. in april of that year british troops fired the shots heard round the world at lexington and concord. and the year after that lee invited his own execution on the british gallows for the treasonous resolves before congress that these united colonies, and these are his words, these united colonies are
as of right ought to be free and independent. his writing, this document is illustrated in this book. if those words sense of where they should because they are the keywords in the declaration of independence and it was richard henry lee, not jefferson, who first wrote and then spoke those words in congress urging independence. three weeks later on july 2 congress approved the resolution declaring independence from britain newspapers sent the news streaming and banner headlines across the world proclaiming america and her people free of british rule and hailing richard henry lee as father of american independence. john adams wrote to his wife abigail that july 2, 1776, would become, and these are his words,
july 2, evidence 76 become the most memorable day in the history of america with pop and parade from one end of the continent to the other for evermore. whoops. [laughing] what happened? well, why didn't he get credit? that's what a when i started writing this book. i learned that after passing lee's resolution on july 2 congress decided that a few dozen words were not grant enough to announce the birth of a huge and great new nation. so congress appointed a committee of five including franklin and jefferson to write a more grandiose document. four of the five like franklin were old and very tired after weeks of debate, and they told young jefferson to stay up late and extend lee's document.
he opened the new document with a magnificent preamble, then filled the heart of the document with dozens of grievances written in pretty boring prose, the king did that come he did this come he did that, he's a bad boy. however, , he ended by repeating the story words of richard henry lee that i just read to you. he gave lee no credit, and that's pretty typical of jefferson throughout his life. i year later when british troops seize the capital at philadelphia it was richard henry lee, not jefferson, who rallied a band of 20 courageous congressman, and while jefferson and all the rest fled to their homes, jefferson to his mountain home in far-off charlottesville, virginia, lee led the remnants, 20 members of congress, westward to lancaster and then to york,
pennsylvania, before they crossed the river, a safer place. washington meanwhile held the remnants of his army together at valley forge. lee kept the remnants of congress together throughout the rest of the war and reestablished the government. it would've been no government had he not done that. assuming leadership of the de facto chief executive, the insured the rebel government survived your he supervised military affairs, foreign affairs and financial affairs. john adams called lee the cicerone of the revolution in contrast to george washington and the unquestioned warrior, cincinnatus. three of lee's brothers each bound by the same love of country and of their older brother reinforced richard henry every effort. francis lightfoot lee stood by henry as a firm ally in
congress, in the debates. arthur lee and william lee the youngest serve as surrogates in europe. they provided intelligence, they found financial aid and it worked out secret deals to smuggle french arms and ammunition to washington's army. the surreptitious shipments arranged by the lee brothers would supply washington with 80% of his armies and needs for more than a year, until trent king louis xvi recognize america's independence and sent his army and navy to america to see an american victory and independence from britain. until then americans have been on their own and washington could count on only richard henry lee and his brothers to stave off the field. john adams hailed the lease as a band of brothers, his words, a band of brothers, intrepid and
unchangeable like the greeks stood in the gap in the defense of the country, from the first glimmering of the revolution, through all its rising light to its perfect day. the brothers were extraordinarily close, and for good reason. their father had died when they were still children, leaving their oldest brother thomas as their legal guardian. barely an adult himself. it was just too much for him running a huge plantation and trying to raise a bunch of youngsters. he hired a full-time women to school teacher to take care of the kids and he was a good school teacher. and the kids learn all the lessons but the voice invented a complex secret code that only they could understand to communicate secretly behind the teachers back. and i'll tell you more about that code later.
when i tell you all the other things later. when the boys were old enough richard henry lee doctor boarding school in britain. arthur went to medical school and william learned accounting and set up a london trading office as exclusive agency for the lee plantation to sell the produced in britain. both mingled and britain's highest political and social circles, accumulating friends who would serve them and the brother richard henry during the revolution. some willingly, some not knowingly. williams won election as a luncheon sheriff and then a member of parliament, nothing wrong with that at the time. he was british. all people in america were british. it was in london that arthur lee suddenly used their childhood code to notify his brother
richard henry lee of a spending plan to win the war of independence. lee had met the great french playwright pierre. he wrote the place of marriage, figaro and the barber of seville which were later turned into operas so he was a famous famous playwright. they struck a really close friendship. after a few get together to reveal himself not just as a sympathizer of the american cause but of all people, he was also an espionage agent for the french king. in other words, he led to come even three, four lives. he was in london trying to find an american contact through whom the french could help the american rebels under my english
rule in the new world and do it secretly. a dozen years earlier the british had humiliated the french and what we call french and indian war. the fritz had ceased almost all french territories in north america including canada -- brits, and france wanted them back. they just couldn't afford that. the british at the time were crushing the americans were facing starvation at valley forge, although washington had scored a couple of victories come he forced the british out of boston and surprised german mercenaries. british had routed washington's army at brandywine and seized philadelphia, america's most important city at the time. washington had fewer than 4000 able-bodied troops left at valley forge in the winter of 77. to make matters worse, the third
powerful british army was streaking out of canada and slicing its way through upstate new york. plan was to combine with the second british force marching north from new york city and cut all off new england from the middle and southern colonies. washington feared the war would be over. and then suddenly the tip of a mass bobbed up on the horizon off of miss new hampshire. and a second mast and then he crows nest and a french flag from the top, flew from the top. portsmouth village race to harborside cheering historically. the mere grab every man who could reach screen at each to bring his horse and wagon. then the french ship arrived and the cheering subsided, and silence filled the air as french
sailors and new hampshire villagers, men, women, and children unloaded and armies worth of arms, ammunition and other military supplies from the ship onto a miles long wagon train that left on the road westward towards saratoga new york. these were the french supplies that are thoroughly, richard henry lee his younger brother had arranged to ship to america. the first of the wagons reached saratoga battlefield as american minutemen were firing the last bullets and prepared to surrender. risa pride reinvigorate with food and water the americans turned their french guns on the redcoats and scored the greatest military victory of the war. they captured nearly 6000 british troops, including the
british commanding general, the fabled general, a former member of parliament who had voted to tax americans. in consultation with washington, richard henry lee had sent a coded message to his brother arthur to direct one of the three ships to portsmouth to resupply the northern army. the other two ships headed for the delaware case to resupply washington's army but the british interceptor both of them and thank them. only the ship to portsmouth arrived safely but it changed the course of the war because the victory at saratoga proved that with french arms, the american army was skilled enough and willing to win the war against the british. hoping she could recapture candidate, france declared war on britain. spain enjoyed in, and holland made the essential loads of money to the american government.
in 1779 richard henry lee, 47 years old with four fingers blown away by the flintlock explosion, came out of congress to display his heroism in battle. he led his home county militia in a a charge against british troops landing along the potomac river near his home. after the revolution and the celebration had ended, the founding fathers split apart, geographically of course, they all went their separate ways to their old homes, but politically as well. they began a political conflict that would raise throughout the 19th century, reaching a climax that sort with the civil war by continuing long after come into and throughout the 20th century and now even in the 20th century, its members continue to smolder. this was the conflict over and
how to govern. although the founders wrote a new constitution, it divided government powers between the central government and the states, giving the central government powers to tax, powers over national defense, international affairs, and many areas of interstate affairs. then they added ten amendments, the bill of rights that than government of richmond of certain human rights, , free speech and so forth. the tenth and last a member of the bill of rights went a step further, specifying any and all powers not granted to the central government were preserved to the states. it's very short, very clear-cut, and i quote, the powers not delegated to the united states by the constitution nor prohibited by it are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. that's pretty clear-cut.
at the time they wrote this constitution, the founding fathers agreed that the articles of confederation, which had governed the nation during the war, just wasn't working. america needed a stronger central government than that id during the revolution. the individual states had remained sovereign then come leaving the congress unable to tax, unable to raise troops or money. members of congress couldn't even raise their own eyebrows without unanimous consent of every state legislature. it was impossible and we almost lost the war because of it. well, the battle over the constitution didn't solve anything at the time. the tenth amendment was not clear-cut enough for richard henry lee, and he joined patrick henry as the leaders in opposing
ratification of the constitution. both men feared that as written it would concentrate the nation's bow and wealth in the hands of oligarchs, , that the rich would get richer and the poor, poor. the first maximum of a man who loves liberty, these are his words, the first maximum of a man who loves liberty should be never to grant to rulers and out of the power is not clearly and indispensably necessary for the safety and well-being of society. those words of warning to that first congress were meant for every congress that followed. they use her powers in almost every area of american life from the items your kids can take to kindergarten, to the toothpaste
you can use in the privacy of your bathroom. we continued the fight winning election to the very first u.s. senate, but after two years of fighting to prevent federal usurpations, the struggle for him down. spent an anything, he retired to his virginia home and died two years later in 1794. the words on his gravestone expressed his families loss and that of the nation. we cannot do without you. since then, of course, americans have done without them and all but forgotten. it's appalling that most americans have never even heard of this great patriot. the first to call for union, the first to call for ending slavery. every american knows the name of his great-nephew, robert e. lee who tried to shatter the union.
few americans know the name of richard henry lee who spent his life creating the union. how could that be? after you read about him in this book i think you'll be as shocked as i was after i wrote it. several factors beyond anyone's control came into play. first of all, lee's home, his plantation was on a deserted stretch of land on the ice for the cliff overlooking the potomac river. far downstream from any neighbors, churches, schools or towns, and contrast washington's mount vernon was and is only about ten miles from alexandria. jefferson's monticello is in the bustling town of charlottesville and the university of virginia. both homes, mount vernon and monticello were centers of political and social activities during washington's and jefferson's lifetimes, and
became the targets of fast restoration efforts after the deaths of their owners. jefferson's daughter form the foundation that exists to this day. preserving and protecting monticello. washington's home was sold to a group of ladies, patriotic ladies from the south who are we organized into a group called ladies of mount vernon, and they started to take charge of mount vernon, restored it and run mount vernon to this very day. it's one of the greatest group of americans i've ever met in my life. they are just absolutely marvelous. even lee's wife did want to stay at isolated plantation after her husbands death and she moved with her to school-age sons to alexandria leaving the plantation home deserted.
abandon an isolated as it was, it became an easy target for british gunboats saving of the potomac during the war of 1812. one of those fired set the home ablaze. i hope that this little book will help restore his legacy and remind you here tonight how much of our freedom and liberty we owe to richard henry lee. he was, after all, our first founding father. thank you, ladies and gentlemen. god bless america. [applause] >> i'll take questions i can answer. [laughing] yes, sir. >> quick question.
you mention richard henry lee was the first person to declare or ask for independence but when the commission was formed he wasn't one of the members. why would that be? that was his resolution. >> i'm sorry, i did hit the question. >> i said, richard henry lee was the person who actually made the most from resolution calling for the independence of the colony. since he made the resolution, it would make sense to invest part of the commission to draft a declaration declaration of independence. why wasn't he? >> he had to go home on family business. so he was not there actually on july 4. he didn't cast his vote until early august actually. yes, sir. oh, man, i'm sorry. >> how did you become interested in him since he -- how did you become interested since he is so little known? >> well, he was a little known
at the time. these were the greatest man in american history. they founded our country. that's why they call them the founding fathers. i do see how anyone wouldn't be interested in them. >> but there's so many founding fathers. >> and i'm trying to get through them. [laughing] i'm working on the 26th right now. [inaudible] >> he was deeply involved in running the war. he was washington's man in congress. you know, eisenhower did not have won the war if he didn't have roosevelt and the leaders of congress behind him. eisenhower couldn't go out and buy the arms and ammunition. someone at home had to do it. the same thing with washington. the story of our revolution is often told just through to washs eyes, and deservedly so, but it ignores the fact how did he
closed his men, , how did he fed them? it was richard henry lee who did that. yes, ma'am. >> did have the nickname of lightfoot? >> no, no, no. that is lightfoot. harry lee was his nephew. he was a hero in the revolutionary war. he was a great commander and later became governor of virginia, and he was the father of robert e. lee. >> is there a a definitive boon the family history? the history on the family. >> yes. there are loads of books called the lees of virginia. >> which one would you recommend? >> i wouldn't. [laughing] i'd recommend my book. [laughing] yes, sir. >> you talk about how the french ships provided supplies at least one of the ships provided supplies that were used at battle of saratoga. i'm interested in what the kind
of real-time communication at the time were when they were dispatching the ship. was it for the purpose of providing supplies for the american forces in that general area, or was it just happenstance that the supplies were unloaded and got there in time? >> actually he said a secret code message to arthur 121 ship go towards the saratoga battlefield at portsmouth. to shorten the talk a little bit, i went right to saratoga. actually the first top of that wagon train was in vermont, and they crushed the british there who retreated back to saratoga. as i i said that was one of the ships that beaumarchais had
arranged to sail to america secretly with french arms and the other two were sunk, unfortunately. there were spies everywhere in britain, in france. this only could've happened at a party with two guys talking secretly to each other. >> in the broadway show 1776 doesn't he come off as really vain? is that based on anything? >> no. it's based on good play, good music. it's like hamilton he can wrap. [laughing] -- hamilton speaking wrap. >> you indicated lee was espousing and things like ten years before the declaration df independence, and to sell it was very prosperous in america. he was benefiting so what was the ideology of his spirit of wanting freedom and independence from england?
>> when he went into a freshman what was then called the house of burgesses which was the provincial legislature of virginia under the british, the chief of the house, like the chiefest of the men, a fellow named john robinson who, instead of retiring, used british currency. he was also treasurer. he had a double job, as if the president could also be secretary of treasury. he funneled all the use currency, instead of having it for he funneled into his little cubbyhole at home, and whenever his friends needed money he would lend it to them. so he had a big business going on. he was stealing right and left and richard henry lee couldn't believe it when he stumbled on
it. and so he, that was his first crusade to unseat john robinson, and robinson actually died, but the inquiries were going on and he was already being shamed and would've been forced to resign. >> i read your book and i think -- [inaudible] -- the speaker of the house i believe. >> i'm sorry? >> that he passed the law separating the duties of the speaker of the house and the treasurer with robinson was because it was a conflict of. >> this was before the war. >> right. >> this was when he was a young man before the war. yes, ma'am. >> did he have sons that were active political -- did he have sons that were active politically? >> he had seven sons and he went into business and law and things like that.
>> i'm just curious, would you comment on a person that is so prominent and some visible in history, how did he laid dormant and fly under the radar so long of historians and not get a biography like yours? is a because maybe publishers don't think he would be -- >> i explained that his home was not in the center of action at the time come after he died the home disappeared. his wife and two sons went to alexandria, didn't renew interest in what he had done. each generation forgets the previous generation as quickly as they possibly can. none of you walks around with a label my father was joe smith. h american out. you can't leave the first world
war and the second world war. where is the room for the other characters? there is none. if you want to study in american history, and i think american history should be taught in more than one year, that high schools should spend two years in american history and a little bit less on home economics. well, if that's all your questions, thank you very much for coming through the rain tonight. there's one more? >> did he have any aspirations to become president? >> no. >> no backing? >> no. he let washington -- no one would even briefed a breath of ambition after the passage of the constitution at a time came to name the president. it was one man, one huge hero
and everybody, know what he believed the survive unless he took the reins of the presidency. [inaudible] >> well, he actually was given powers after richard henry lee and the little congress that was left in york, pennsylvania, after there was a military coup to overthrow washington because he's losing a lot of battles. richard henry lee led the congress and the effort and in effect they gave him dictatorial powers on that point on. so he really had absolute power over the nation. until the end of the war and bone meal to go to congress and gives back his commission and says every time -- which is what
cincinnatus down and jerome that's why john adams called in the cincinnatus andy cohen cicerone, he called him social because sister was the great statesman and order. it was a legislative leader that provided cincinnatus with all the necessary forces to win that war. >> what was the code they use between the brothers? >> it's too complicated to get into here. you can see a little bit in the book. thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,. [applause] >> you are watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. ..