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tv   Joseph Ellis American Dialogue  CSPAN  January 1, 2019 7:00am-8:01am EST

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>> here's a quick look at the next 3 programs on booktv. that's what is coming up on booktv on c-span2. now here is historian joseph ellis on the political thinking of four founding fathers. [applause]
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>> thank you very much for that wonderful wonderful introduction, unsung we are. thank you for being here. i want to get to as many questions as i can. and get to your wonderful questions and phrase this question. so i am told this is the first stop on joseph ellis's book tour. that is delightful and terrifying for me. >> i won't have heard these before so i won't be ready for them. >> all about the gotcha questions. beginning is a good place to start. let's talk about the title of this book, how this dialogue is occurring, aside from you being the foremost expert. is it so fundamental we would
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turn to the truth, complexities and contradictions of the founding fathers? >> a large question, i will try to, you don't know how to talk to each other, we don't know how to argue. i've seen it in my own lifetime, the apps do that. you would think the internet would be a source of communication but it is a source of isolation. the more i look at it, the more the term better angels of our nature looks like a naïve idea. so we live in a troubled time where we are divided, we watch fox or ms nbc and listen to the different acts. you have to be very mindful that you are talking to this
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audience rather than that audience and are kind of civic center this institution embodies is really rare. a place where people of different persuasions and backgrounds and income can coming together and come to terms. so in some sense the title of the book means we need to learn how to talk to each other. in the end the founders succeeded, in part, because they are a diverse group, not racially diverse but intellectually and temperamentally, ideologically diverse. the picture of the american revolution and american founding is a group portrait,
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jefferson alone was in charge we would have ended up in an anarchy. if hamilton were in charge we would end up in than autocracy. checks and balances allegedly built into the constitution, there were checks and balances built into the generation and they could argue in the greatest example is the final correspondence between adams and jefferson between 1812-1826, the north and south poles of the american revolution beginning by saying you and i ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other. so there is a model back there in the same way the founders went back to plutarch and cicero.
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i am going back to jefferson, madison, and my granddaughters said why not. jefferson, adams, madison and washington and historians aren't supposed to do this. to pose questions of the past, formed in the present. it is called presentist. that is a sin. everybody is doing it. i am joining them. >> i am very happy you did. it is always auspicious to have historians of this period in
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philadelphia, perhaps you particularly. thomas jefferson wrote the declaration of independence at 7 and market street. he and that document such a quantity to us and i keep going back to the same words i read this paradox and irony and i wouldn't think. >> if that is what comes to you, i am winning. >> the paradox of jefferson in the document can you elaborate on what confounds us so? is that the question? >> that is a biggie. >> on the second floor apartment, a desk built by a former slave in the middle weeks of june 17, '76 jefferson wrote the magic words of american history which began we hold these truths to be
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self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. this is the american creed. it is the cataclysmic foundation for the liberal tradition of the united states. it is the reason, you know how supreme court justices especially when testifying say i'm just an umpire. i call balls and strikes. what i say to them is baseball didn't exist in 1787. baseball has been extending the past 200 years. it has been expanding in terms of what those words mean. you can talk about that, that is a whole seminar. jefferson simultaneously firmly believed blacks and whites
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cannot live together in the same society, the reason he couldn't lead america towards gradual emancipation policy when he had the opportunity to do it with the louisiana purchase, he genuinely believed once the slaves were freed they had to be sent somewhere else. he could not envision a biracial society. and a society that corrupted the purity of the anglo-saxon race. he never assumed a leadership position on slavery because he believed until we could come up
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with a plan to deport them initially thought the american west, that is not good, that is where we will put the native americans. liberia may be the best, santo domingo. that is his last word. he never changed his mind. that is the reason he is so important. because we are encountering in this moment an american society in which the significant minority of americans share the same prejudices that he did. those that have never died. the arc of the moral universe said towards justice, we don't live in the moral universe. we live in the united states. in my judgment it vote two chapters to this, the chapter on race is called fighting backlash so that the pattern
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according to the mystic liberal view is gradual improvement over time. and that is true. this is the real path. we are in a backlash. a significant portion of the american populace never accepted the full implications of the civil rights movement, not just people in the former confederacy either. this is ripe stuff. as we approach 2045 and the white population is scheduled to become a statistical minority even though it retains the bulk of economic and political power, we can fully expect demagogues. this is fertile ground for demagogues. trump is just the first.
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and in the end king was right but getting there is going to be hard. and they struggle. and like cancer we will never cure it. >> this -- you know it is going to be something because it starts with the last line in the great gatsby, looking back at the past, it is populated by great thinkers, great minds then and now. how do you see him as the most important -- i was trying to phrase this in a counter voice. how do you see him as the in
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conclusion? >> in his time he was dismissed by militants as an uncle tom and the whites said radical. as a gay guy he was dismissed on those grounds and he was an expatriate, he lived in paris the last 40 years of his life. we hired him for the last 5 years. the three black guys i found most interesting with the race question was baldwin, wbe dubois and sociologist at harvard, that is the guy's name, william wilson. what baldwin does is say something that i think was truly prophetic. this was in notes of a native son in 1955.
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he said while the great achievement and challenge of american history has been the creation of a democracy in a continent-sized population, that challenge pales in comparison to the challenge still faced of sharing that democracy with black men. should have said and women. what he is saying is the belief in interracial, biracial, interracial society is reasonably recent. it is a mid 20th century american idea. none of the founders can imagine. jefferson included, most specifically given that he was having relationships with sally makes it even more hypocritical, it seems.
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but baldwin, partly because he was gay and could advertise a different size of gender and racial identities and because he's an x patriot used to say things like blacks going back to africa are crazy. blacks are american and americans will solve the racial problem before the french will because they have experienced. and read notes of a native son. there are things there that speak to us. >> let's talk about john adams. >> my favorite guy. >> host: it shines through. so can a nice. speaking as one of the 99%, had
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so much interesting material to say about income any quality. here is something we don't think about. he said it was ludicrous to believe all men are actually created equal. you mentioned the irony of the slaveholder from virginia lecturing a farmer's from massachusetts any quality. can you discuss this irony, this discussion they had and how it relates? >> i have been talking too long. adams, adams has come back in a big way because his papers are coming out and the most interesting. if you look at his diary it is about the weather. the last day of his presidency
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he is leaving public life, what is the great thought he has got? washington, april 2, 1780, -- 1796, other like always, 25 °, that is it. for adams, he always talks about the weather inside his own soul. about the storms inside himself. that is the major reason he has come back. there are other reasons we should find it interesting and that is what jason is referring to. is the only one of the founders that predicts the gilded age. he the only one of the founders who says that he quality in the marketplace will lead to any quality socially and politically. and based on reading adam smith, he thinks scottish philosophers are more important
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and more interesting than the french philosophers who were jefferson's guys. the french philosophers are dominated by ideology which is a term they coined. what is ideology? adams says the signs of non-compass mentis, the delusion that because you can imagine something in your mind it is possible in the world. okay? and this is the delusion believes to the guillotine and firing squad. he believes that everyone comes into the world as equal in terms of human beings with rights, they come with fundamentally different abilities and different opportunities and that is true and that is going to wean away the jefferson can't anticipate to an aristocracy of wealth because the americans don't
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have a natural aristocracy in the way that britain and europe does. the american aristocracy will be a plutocracy and it will take over the government and once that happens it will be difficult to dislodge it. guess what? we are there again. and he doesn't have an answer. put all the aristocrats in the senate that will be ostracized. that is where they have power. one thing is not an answer, what we would call supply-side economics. trickle down will not work, as if we need to be told, right? although there are a lot of people in america who continue
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to believe it. once you have income inequality in major ways, you will have plutocracy. we have it. people in congress, both parties, especially the republicans, both parties, their primary constituency is not the voter, it is the donor. it is true. when the second amendment talked about legislation after sandy hook, 90% of americans wanted limitations on handguns and background checks, 90%, you can't get 90% to agree on anything, it never had a chance. nra money. never had a chance. adams seized that. adams is my kind of guy too because he is a contrarian he said things like the greatest
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thing i ever did as president was lose the election of 1800. because i lost it because i did the right thing. i avoided war with france. i knew if i did that i would lose the election. how many politicians today would do the right thing when it cost them the election? i can't think of a single one. from north dakota, she was going to lose anyway, but it is assumed that you as a candidate or as a congressman or senator have to have your own reelection as the highest priority. none of the founders would understand that at all. they would think that, if that is the case, count me out. none of them run for president in this economy. it is prostitution as far as they are concerned. >> one of my favorite lines is
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adams is most relevant when he is most irreverent. i truly love that and i could spend half an hour talking about your thoughts, his thoughts as you listed them here but a couple other topics to get into and one is so incendiary, so of this moment. >> guest: i know where this is going. >> host: the concept of original is him pertaining to interpretations of constitution, the bill of rights, by our supreme court. you know that was in the news. can you talk about this notion of original is him, especially as it pertains to one supreme court justice? >> you are not talking about the currently most recently appointed what i hope. >> host: i'm talking about -- >> guest: the one that is
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deceased, justice scalia. i have two chapters on the law. the guy on the law on the founders side is madison. i followed his career for 1785-1790, this mental process, creating and defending the constitution in drafting the bill of rights. nobody called it the bill of rights then. it wasn't called the bill of rights until the 20th century. it was called the first ten amendments. madison to think they should go at the end. he tried to put them into the document, then he couldn't do that because he couldn't figure out where to put them. and he didn't believe in it. he said they have no effect, democratic majorities want to do something they will override these paper principles. the reason i'm doing this is to
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encourage people who are reluctant to join the new confederation or anti-federalists, to -- that we are trying to hold them in. they wanted a bill of rights. original is him, originalism is a judicial doctrine created by robert bork in chicago in the 70s and chicago is a school that believes in the great books, something i like, but this is an application of the great books philosophy to the law and the constitution is the equivalent of the ancient greek texts. eternal truths are buried if we can find them. this would be a judicial doctrine that would enjoy some brief measure of success for period of time and then beer a
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place to buy a more fashionable theory but it stuck because it became a weapon ice weapon, weapon ice doctrine to undermine the liberal principles of the 20th century. because if they are right, the originalists claim, originally claimed the original intentions of the framers. the they changed that to the original meaning. it is more verbal than real. they want to be -- discover the mentality of the people at that moment. this to me is utterly preposterous. it is not sort of i don't completely agree.
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this is like are you kidding me? you are on my turf. and you can't play here. you don't know what they were saying. you haven't read it. this is all a device and i do a close analysis of scully's opinion in dc versus heller which he regards as his masterpiece of originalism and it is a labyrinthine trip through alice in wonderland. there is a law school history too. law school, if you are a lawyer you are given your client. your job is to mount the evidence which supports your client and suppress the evidence that is bad.
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that is what scalia does. historians can't do that. you are not allowed to do that. historians on the one hand or the other hand, paradox and irony, doesn't have to come out a verdict, yes, no, it shouldn't. it is perfectly okay to debate who can land on the triple wart score. read the book and you will reach your own conclusion but in my judgment the doctrine of originalism claims to be the only detached approach to the constitution. it is in fact the most ideologically prejudiced of all.
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>> host: and irony that jefferson refuted that in his own lifetime >> a letter in 1816, where he says for you to try to do what we did or use our words, the coat that he wore as a child. that is when he told him this, the secret that you want to redo it every 21 years. >> i want to get to one more figure before you get to the questions which is so elusive and enigmatic and inscrutable and purposefully so, and that is george washington. one of the things you write is there are no words written on the washington monument, very tellingly. he had his wife burn his papers
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and a few close confidant 's. what i found so -- a lot of us who are interested in the period know of washington's ys, if you learned more about the context taking on these new layers, the first architect of american foreign policy was george washington. can you talk about how he is specifically addressing that in the farewell address, the experience that led him to that? >> the farewell address achieves a certain level of iconic stature over the 19th century as the prescription for american isolation. america should have commercial relations with all the world the diplomatic relations with none. the future of america is the west. it is not across the atlantic
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and europe, but the unbelievable continent which happens to be occupied by 1 million americans. washington thinks about that. that particular verdict was based on geographic and demographic considerations in the realist tradition. washington is a realist, jefferson is an idealist. washington believes interest drives decisions. that is why he abandons the french, the french saved our bacon, that was then, this is now, we sell them out. the interest has shifted and for jefferson, ideals are the reality. once you pursue that far enough
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you end up at the guillotine. washington's prescription for isolation dies in the late 19th century on the move from rural to an urban power. and the other war years it is a catastrophe. when we walk away to the status what happens with hitler and mussolini, we know as historians, if you attempt to apply jefferson's realism to the situation now, the verdict i offer you is we are perfectly positioned as a superpower, no other superpower exists between the atlantic and pacific to go both ways, and in a global world isolation is impossible, it doesn't exist anymore.
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it is not whether we should be a superpower but what kind of superpower we are going to be and on that score there are a couple things washington has to tell us. remember, we began as an anti-imperial power. people would ask me when i was on the road, what would washington do about iraq? he wouldn't know where iraq was. secondly he would say how did we get to be the british? okay? we are the first republic with a democratic foundation, believes the ultimate answer is consensus and empire believe
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the ultimate answer is coercion. a republican not be an empire. yet we sort of our. what does that mean? because we are a democracy a clock is running on all americans abroad. eventually they will lose favor. exceptionalism, the opposite of what exceptionalism means to most people. it means god takes care of women and children in the united states of america and we are the chosen people. washington said know precisely because we had a unique set of conditions when we started. the land we had, the distance. our experience is not transportable to other countries, he meant france but in our time he would mean the middle east. anybody that thinks they will
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plant jeffersonunion seeds of democracy in the middle east needs to have his or her head examined. that is not going to work and there are certain places it will not work. we shouldn't try and we should know that. for him, the city on a hill is a good idea. the perfection of our own society as a model to the world -- >> host: two more questions, the delightful anecdote and very telling today. and they sense their death and own time, not just these men in marble, happy to know george washington himself was a victim of fake news. >> guest: it is so crazy and raunchy and fun in the book.
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he was criticized, and the republican opposition, republicans, not democrats, jeffersonian party, benjamin franklin's grandson is the editor. we uncovered secret papers which happen to be forgeries, he was a british spy. he was intending to turn on us with benedict arnold. british documents they distributed to undermine on washington. it is the loadings of a sick mind. we devoutly pray for your imminent death.
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this is washington, right? there's all kinds of crazy things going on as well is there is now fake news, a better party warfare in the 1790s. the internet has made, given greater range than existed then. they would not be that surprised at fake news, or what is called that. in that sense, what makes them helpful to us is while they are really different they are not totally different. and in washington, you can't stop being a world power, the
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current president will never have that power. we are the number one economic and military power in the world, no one is even close. are geographic position is -- it is what kind of world power. >> philadelphians have never taken it easy on people. benjamin franklin's grandson. my last question before we get to yours comes up time and again in the book and i was briefly mentioning it, the mythologizing of these men in their lifetimes, afterwards, turned into marble, adams, washington in particular issue that deification even then. in this book you don't struggle, you turn them back. >> guest: if you put adams on mount rushmore it would have to
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be flesh rather than marble. >> host: you can answer this question as a historian or you personally. why is it so important to turn these people back? >> if they are really gods, what can we learn from? if that is what they are, i haven't seen anyone here who is. i know i am not. the fact that they are flawed the years makes them truly important and relevant. people whose struggles we can learn from. it is probably inevitable that all new nations create mythical heroes. rome has romulus and remus, england has king arthur, spain has illustrated. all those fictional characters, these guys are real and they cared so much about the fact
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that we would be thinking about them. imagine in october 2018 would have a couple hundred people sitting there talking about them. they were the audience, you are the audience, we are the audience they are performing. they didn't >> host: a wonderful time to take your questions. round of applause. i believe a great majority of you believe how this works, two volunteers come to the microphone and i will choose
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this gentleman first, we will get to as many patrons as possible. >> jefferson did not believe in biracial society. >> he created just that society of monticello. >> look at every president between lincoln and eisenhower and do any of them believe the biracial society and did they take the steps toward achieving it? >> the only one is truman. that is the only one. >> okay. other hands? gentleman waving his hand over here. do we have anyone on deck for the next question? over here first? >> i suspect you think citizens united distorts the political process. if you agree with that and with the new makeup of the court, what is the workarounds to get
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us back on track? >> is really simple. we need 100 million frontal lobotomies. [laughter] >> i think citizens united is probably the worst supreme court decision since dred scott. it won't be overturned until we face a crisis that forces us to reconsider certain assumptions that are rooted in capitalism. i believe in capitalism, in fact. by the way socialists, any use of government power is often described as socialist especially by people on the right.
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as casey single said, you can look it up. socialism is government ownership of the means of production. it means the end of private property. there are very few socialists in the united states. what they are talking about is regulated capitalism. i think leadership only emerges in crisis. it doesn't mean it will emerge if there is a crisis. but without one, the crisis i see is climate change. and i think that is coming faster than we knew and it will force us to face things that will make citizens united look like something that is obviously the wrong direction.
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if i was to predict, i never said this before and i just realized i think this. [laughter] >> i think we are going to respond to climate change the same way we responded to slavery. it was a way to end it if we caught it early, the early 19th century, by 1820. once a got past that it was -- the cotton kingdom was too many valuable, too many slaves and that meant war. i think that is what is going to happen on climate change. we are going to know too late and then it is going to be evacuated the coasts. i don't know how that plays out.
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>> host: you thought my questions were tough. there was a gentleman with a microphone. >> i made that question upon his question. i hope he doesn't mind that. >> thank you for your pessimism. i wish everybody could listen. you mentioned these gentlemen were addressing us as an audience. not sure that's accurate in context because you can't talk jefferson without jimmy calendar. can you go further without getting all the way down to fake news? >> guest: is talking about people who wrote about them at the time. what i am saying is they left us a legacy of writing. because they knew we would be here they preserved their work, their writing, their letters in a way no other political leader in recorded history has done. we had the records of this group more than any group in recorded history. the adams papers are in 87
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volumes, don't know where the washington papers are now, 70 some-we know about them. they can't come to us. they are busy being dead. but we can go to them because they left it there. okay? a woman could read abigail adams march 31, '17 a 76 letter and think about feminism as something that is serious and once you feminist? but in that sense they still speak to us, they speak to us in document they left us. that is really important. >> host: speaking of that perspective, right there. >> i wonder if you would speak a little on how you wrote this book.
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the contemporary aspect of it is a little different than your historical one. did you just sit in a room and think about it? or did you talk to a lot of people involved in the more pressing contemporary issue? >> i wrote it this way. [laughter] >> with a pen. not a quill pen. i don't write on a typewriter. you are right. there's a difference between chapters, with material -- i have read all the founders papers that i am writing about. when you move into now you are into journalistic territory. what i tried to do is to write about the patterns over time, the patterns of the law.
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and so i am attempting to write about the present with a historian's assumptions. i talked to a lot of people who are journalists and friends of mine working on the new york times, the blog of the new republic which no longer exists, but mostly i have read stuff. if you want to know what is going on, a new yorker book called the unwinding. george baker, is it? patrick? i got early alzheimer's. another new yorker writer, dark money is really -- but then a lot of our beds. op-eds.
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i struggled with it. my process of thinking is a digestion process that comes with reading and trying to write and going back to read more and it is a struggle. this is a struggle for me in a way my other books were not. you know you're working with stuff that is very contemporary. even though our nose is up against the window in trump land, i wanted to step back and say trump is important because he is in airburst in the night that has shown us who we really are. i started working on this before trump was a name throughout the land in 2014. the racial problems, economic inequality problems, problems with the law. i didn't go into stuff like
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let's get rid of the electoral college. they would be amazed we still have the electoral college. they thought it was a disaster the day after they did it and it was a compromise. let's figure out a way to equalize voting in the senate. north and south dakota have four senators. the total population of north and south dakota is less the los angeles, figure that out. we need a second constitutional convention. the founders would be amazed this thing is lasted as long as it has. madison said in 1829 if it lasts another hundred years it will be a miracle. it ended in 1929 like the depression. it is impossible to imagine a second constitutional convention.
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almost everything that i want to have happen is impossible to imagine. i want to have mandatory national service for everyone between 18, and 25. [applause] >> a fully we could control the congress we would get it through. we are in that moment. i expect to see leadership coming from outside mainstream politics. martin luther king could never have been elected. anybody in mainstream politics will be swallowed up by the plutocracy. >> let's get a few more perspective. >> in answer to your question, i saw that you don't use research assistants, take that, you lazy tenured academics out
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there, rely on poor graduate students. >> i don't know how to supervise them. they say what should i look at? i don't know. until i look at it myself, what you should look at. one time i discovered washington sent general how, a greyhound on the battlefield, send it back and they would never have found that sucker, never noticed. there are things like these reasons and ago. that is what you read in history and what you do research. >> that would be one detail i told you. back here is a question. >> washington's view on the rest of the continent and the role of native americans. >> washington was born into a
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world in which indians were a big thing, native americans were powerful. he understood native americans better than the other founders. when president -- this is something a lot of people don't know and i don't know, people that write about the presidency don't even talk about it. washington made the native american question his major to mystic policy issue in the first term of his presidency. he wanted to negotiate a treaty with native americans, certain tribes, he became the priest that would create a series of homeland east of the mississippi that would avoid indian river, indian removal is violation of the values on which the revolution was based. his old artillery commander,
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henry knox, was prompting them on this. if you don't do this right and avoid indian removal. it is a stain on your legacy and the people will not come to hear anything about you. they created this treaty with a guy who was the creek -- an amazing character, native american chiefs come all the way up from georgia to new york, 27 of them riding in, they live next to abigail and john and make her an honorary creek indian and sign this treaty, arm to elbow, the only moment of real possibility in american indian relations.
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the state of georgia and south carolina don't recognize indian rights, and a series of homeland east of the mississippi, bypassed by american settlers. you couldn't be protected by american troops and over time those 7 amounts would grow smaller as they are not hunting and gathering societies but farming societies and eventually they would be assimilated. jefferson never thought blacks could be assimilated. he thought indians could be assimilated. he made a heroic effort, washington did, and it failed, the biggest failure of his presidency and he regretted it to the end of his life. the only way to make it work is to build a chinese wall.
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before there was trump's while there was washington's wall to protect the indians. it failed. >> since they were not listened to in that era, the last question from the female perspective. >> raise your hand. >> we have a couple women's questions. i am used to having where we got you. >> give your general pessimism, what makes you feel you are of the moral universe bends toward justice? >> we needed that after tonight. >> given my pessimism on many issues as i articulated it here, what makes me think the arc of the moral universe bends
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toward justice? [laughter] >> my book ends with a quote by tocqueville, it is tocqueville's last lines. i'm full of apprehension and hope. because i have to. because i'm going to die in 20 years and i don't want to die an unhappy guy. because i think you want to hear it. [laughter] >> because maybe it is true. hitler, what happened in europe, reed snyder, on tierney, tier any, a lot of
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presidents working against us. i don't have an answer. it is just hope. why do you believe in god? faith. i don't believe in god. but i believe there is such a thing as morality. i believe the pattern in american history is towards greater racial acceptance. that is true. that makes me feel better. there is a basic pattern. anybody that doesn't recognize that is nuts. all these reasons. but there is a pattern that suggests, after we finish this downturn, we are going up again. [applause] >> it may not have all the answers but poses some fascinating questions is what a
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wonderful dialogue, i appreciate it. ladies and gentlemen, one more round of applause for joseph ellis. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> 2019 is about to begin, booktv is returning to our nonfiction roots for in-depth. our monthly 3-hour interview and call in with an author who has written books on policy, science, history, biography and more. we kick off the new year with best-selling author david corn. the washington bureau chief for mother jones magazine will discuss all his books including his most recent, russian roulette, the inside story of vladimir putin's war on american the election of donald
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trump co-authored with michael isacough. on january 6th-12:00 to 3:00 pm eastern mister corn will join us to answer your questions. visit for more information. booktv's in-depth program live with david corn on january 6th. c-span launched booktv 20 years ago c-span2. since then we have covered thousands of authors and book festivals including more than 30 events with supreme court justices. here is supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg from 2016. >> when my law firm heard about this, they said do you know where that comes from? of course i do. the notorious bid and i were born and bred in new york.
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>> you are watching booktv on c-span2 with top mexican books and authors every weekend. .. she's been selling out arenas throughout the country and we will show you some of those appearances now on booktv. we are going to start off in june at the american library association annual meeting in new orleans. she previewed her book and talk about her life with the librariaf


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