Skip to main content

tv   Election of 1796  CSPAN  January 10, 2015 4:40pm-6:00pm EST

4:40 pm
bookshelf, hear from the country's best-known american history writers of the past decade. to watch these programs anytime visit c-span.org/history. you're watching american history t.v. all weekend, every weekend on c-span 3. next on american history t.v., historian and author jeffrey pasley talks about the creation of american political parties the issues they disagreed on, and the media wars they waged in 18th severally newspapers. the election of 1796 was the first time american voters had to chose between candidates from competing political parties. mr. pasley discusses the tactics used by the federalist party and the democratic republican party to sully the reputations of candidates john adams and thomas jefferson. his talk is about an hour and 20 minutes.
4:41 pm
>> all right. good to see everybody today. let's get this thing going. for those of you who don't know, i am douglas bradburn. welcome to mount vernon. welcome to the fred w. smith national library for the study of george washington, which is where we are. i'm the founding director. this is our evening bookstores. the ford motor company has been a great supporter of mount vernon since henry ford donated the first fire engine to the estate. we want to make sure that the mansion doesn't burn down. that's been a longtime concern of ours. and an ongoing issue. but we're really thankful to ford the ford family and the ford motor company, for their continuing support for all of our projects. mount vernon, of course, doesn't take any government money. it's all supported by private funds. so we depend upon people
4:42 pm
patriotic citizens around the world to support the mission of educating people about george washington's life and legacy. it's great to see everybody out here tonight. it's great to welcome c-span as well, and c-span's audience, to this wonderful evening lecture. so welcome guys! this is going to be a great evening. this is our evening book talk. this is december, as you all know, the end of the year. this is the end of our first year of evening book talks which we kicked off in january of last year. and for some of you who may have been here at that time, we really had a diverse group of scholars and talks. and we began in january of last year with a book called "where the cherries grew" and it was about george washington at the farm in fredericksburg. about washington's boyhood and in fact the way people remembered that boyhood over time. it's somewhat fitting, then, that we're ending the year
4:43 pm
tonight, looking at a sequence of events that are really partly about george washington's last great public moment, when he is leaving the presidency, so we've kind of had -- in the 12 months, we've gone from his boyhood to his retirement essentially. now, we have an excellent speaker tonight, who i'm going to tell you a little bit about. jeffrey j. pasley -- this is an old tick. i've known jeff for a while. an old tick i've had. now, those of you who were here last month we had brunsman, who you all remembered was the valedictorian of a college. in this case we have jeffrey l. pasley, who was not the valedictorian of carleton college, the great enemy of the other college. so this is nice.
4:44 pm
that's right. he did graduate. i know he graduated and he did well, because he went on to do his master and ph.d. in history from harvard university. he worked with the great historian balen, who really is one of the giants of early american history. and he established many debates in the field. so tremendous lineage, as we would say. but jeffrey has moved well beyond the shadow of balen. he's now, of course, a full professor at the university of missouri at columbia, where he trains graduate students and undergraduate students. he's researched american political history written a number of different things, won a number of awards, including the national endowment for humanity fellowship, the history division book prize, as well as other things. his earlier books he's got
4:45 pm
edited his other major book "the tyranny of printers" is all about the role of journalists in creating the early politics of america. he has an edited collection that's of some significance. i'll let him talk to you about that if he wishes. this book tonight, "the first presidential contest: 1796 and the founding of american democracy," was one of the finalists for the george washington book prizes, as we know which is a tremendous achievement in and of itself. so we're all of you -- will all of you please give a nice, warm welcome to jeffrey pasley. [applause] >> let me make sure i've got all the -- this is by far the most elaborate system i have ever stood behind or in front of. [laughter] and i want you all to know that this is my -- this is a power
4:46 pm
point just like the ones i do for plants. so don't expect whirling multiple images. it's not the national constitution center. it's just me. and i'm also -- i'm not sure what the resolution of some of these images is going to be. i hope it's good. so for all of -- thank you for all of you and just apologizes for all of you -- apologies for all of you and the viewers at home. i hope this looks reasonably well. c-span, they kind of tell you -- you don't know like weeks in advance when c-span is coming. so i found this out like last night. [laughter] so i am slightly nervous about that. i don't know if this is really national-t.v.-ready, but let's give it a try. i was interested, of course, that doug couldn't speak the name of my book here in this place, because it's called "beyond the founders" where with eactually talk about -- we actually talk about what
4:47 pm
political history would be like without the founders really but just beyond them with other things alongside it. and in fact, this current book is actually a sort of return to the founders, so i guess i've -- i guess it's not exactly a "come to jesus" moment but i guess it's close. at any rate, most americans are proud to be americans. but not of their political system or the government that it runs. i'm speaking of the present day. congress's reputation is at an all-time low, for instance. the two-party system is so unpopular that one third of americans disclaim any part of it and considerably more practice that attitude by just not participating. the founders, on the other hand continue to ride high in our esteem. it seems to be the great dream of every washington journalist to publish a book about them. and even crusty old john adams got to be a t.v. star, once upon
4:48 pm
a time. this is actually an illustration that i actually -- i actually wrote a column complaining about john adams's mania as it existed back at the time when david mccullough's book was a best sellerseller. this is sort of a cheeky illustration somebody made for me to illustrate what i was saying. i thought of this because the founders are so popular that even john adams got to be popular, and he was never popular in life. he was never popular at anything in life. even when he won. so americans still look up to the founders. regularly polled on the question of how the founders would feel about how the united states has kurnturned out, as of 2013 71% said the early american heros would be disappointed. i'm not here to dispute america's love of the founders.
4:49 pm
that would be rather churlish, to come to mount vernon and talk about how people shouldn't love the founders. in fact, it might be illegal. i'm not sure. [laughter] for the most part, they were admirable in accomplishments men of courage, committed to what were in their day fresh and highly progressive ideas. though "in their day" obviously is a big proviso. though mired in a social and economic system predicated on the enslavement of one group of people and the ex appropriation of another. undoubtly, the founders fair favorly to most people we watch on t.v. every night, those of you who can stand to do that. i don't include nies myself in that number. the founders started governments rather than shut them down. yet i think we cloud our vision if we put them up too far in the clouds. and here i need to get this pointed in the right direction and make sure i -- okay.
4:50 pm
there we go. interesting. well, anyway, so the apathy of washington, just an example that -- just to say that the putting -- that putting the founders up in the clouds that's not me hyperbolizing, but it's a common thing even at the time, the rotunda of the u.s. capitol. that's actually, of course -- the one on the right up there, which if you can't see it unless you have telescopic vision, but when you get close up, that's what it looks like, i'm told. politics was always politics and many things we decry about the decline of american politics are actually things that were present from the beginning or before the beginning. and if there's any like sort of one message to my work, i think it's that.
4:51 pm
other aspects of our political system, like political parties the founders thought they could do without but turned out to be very wrong. my book tries to explaining what happened in the first contested presidential election, while also shining some light on what has and has not changed in 220 years of american politics. now, we'll say a word about myself, and i don't mean about myself but my approach. i would venture to say, and this is not something i disagree with at all that most professional historians tend to emphasize the idea that the past is a foreign country, far removed from us. and like i said, i don't necessarily disagree with that. but especially when dealing with the founders, i think it's useful sometimes, just sometimes, to treat the american politics of the past as something that didn't happen in a foreign country but happened in our country, as in the one that we still live in. find the connections that go across time and see and try to
4:52 pm
include it all in the same mental space. that way we can hold the founders above ourselves only in the cases where that is actually warranted, which may be a lot of cases. okay. so there's america. that's sort of a contemporary map of america, as in from the time of what the united states -- how far the united states went in the 1790's. that's sort of one that's actually from the time. here's a later one that still is sort of crude but shows the same places. if you can see, that's one that's actually trying to show population, not just where the united states is, but as you can see, it doesn't go very far. one thing about american politics that has changed very little is geography. of course, there there were a lot fewer states in 1776.
4:53 pm
yet the basic structure of the electoral map was more or less the same as it would be in barack obama's two presidential elections as its was when john adams was elected. i think i'm getting the hang of this. so that's 1796. and i'm actually going to avoid having to look as much, if i catch up to this one. i've got a separate one up here so i don't have to look to the left. so you see the states only go so far. but you see the basic structure is the same. new england on the one side. the lower south on the other. those are the two extremes, with the states in between making the decision. and basically, it boils down -- until ohio came along, and ohio will be added to this. and then, of course, indiana and
4:54 pm
missouri where i'm from, gets added to this. but in the old days, pretty much new england was on one side. lower south is on the other. it was pretty much a decision between new york, pennsylvania, and new jersey. you got two of those three, you won. if you lost two of three, you lost. of course, obviously three of three would be even better. you see that jefferson carries pennsylvania. adams gets new york and new jersey. and so adams is the winner. but so you go to 2008. obviously i should have -- whoops. i did it on mine, not yours. see, this is what's going to happen. so there's 2008. and if you have to just kind of avert your eyes to the left of the screen and veer to the right of the screen to kind of see some of the same thing, where you've got again, the lower south, especially the two to look for south carolina and
4:55 pm
connecticut. south carolina and connecticut never inhabitat the same space whereas the states in between are the ones that decide. and just quickly, you see that it more or less came out the same in 2012. you can make the comparison even more detailed than that. pennsylvania is the classic swing state, but in 179 # the real -- in 1796, one of the real deciders was the area we're in right now, northern virginia. that was always a place somewhat apart from the rest of the states, even before the growth of the d.c. suburbs, that if i had a more detailed county level map, you could see how it helped push virginia to obama in 2008 and 2012 and made virginia kind of a swing state for the first time. in 1796, northern virginia was not yet the d.c. suburbs but a somewhat less remote and more
4:56 pm
commercialized virginia plantation district, where some of the more ambitious landowners were looking forward to trade routes between the interior of the continent and the eastern seaboard. this is all predicated on the idea that the potomac was going to be the great highway to the interior which did not pan out but they thought it was going to pan out and they kind of got the capital instead. with most of the state going heavily for jefferson -- excuse me. sorry. one more map that i forgot to do, which just shows you what happens in 1800. it's an illustration of what i was talking about that when pennsylvania goes to -- when new york goes to jefferson in 1800 then it's cleaned up. with most of the state going heavily for jefferson, one of
4:57 pm
these landowners, levin powell, a military contractor -- there's another northern virginia scene. i was quite amused he was one of the military contractors. interesting. with most of the -- there's also a flower manufacturer and -- a flour manufacturer. he ran as a critic of jefferson and shaved off one crucial virginia electoral vote for john adams and massachusetts. that was one third of adams' eventually margin of victory. you can see on the previous map, the state legislature prevented such an outcome in 1800 by switching to the now-familiar winner take all position of electoral votes. so virginia was on a district system in 1796, so colonel powell was able to shave off one vote. that became one of the three
4:58 pm
that puts adams over the top. but later, in the 1800, it goes to winner take all. that's no longer possible. it's the state majority. could you guys turn off the sound in the power point? that's kind of an accident just if anybody is in the booth there, to mute that that would be good, because if there's any sounds in there, it's accidental. this is actually class power points, which occasionally have little "wake up the students" noises, which would not be appropriate on c-span. [laughter] you can just imagine, you know, interstitial music, i guess, if any little noises go on. of course, the story of this crucial role suggests a major difference between then and now. electors actually did something in 17996. the constitution as written gifts this elm a free hand in making the selection and provides no instructions other than each state needed to appoint electors who would
4:59 pm
gather and vote in each state on the appointed day. neither jefferson nor adams now powell's first choice, patrick henry, was on any ballot, colonel powell had to go to the trouble of publishing a notice in the newspapers saying he would vote against jefferson. this is something a lot of electors had to do. the frequency of which has been used against self-consciously or perceivedly liberal presidential candidates ever since. drawing on his own experience as an officer during revolutionary war, powell accused jefferson as a weakening, a coward, who is, quote, wont of firmness and general incompetence had let virginia be overrun when he was virginia governor. faced with the british army, jefferson had quote, drinded
5:00 pm
into the -- dwindled into a poor philosopher. they actually said that. that was actually in a newspaper from 1796, that jefferson would cut and run. a baby in his cradle, said another writer, could not have been more helpless, then jefferson faced with real military men. president jefferson would jefferson would surely lead the nation just as governor jefferson had left his state. the item went viral, jumping from newspaper to newspaper around the country reprinted or repeated until it was common knowledge. powell became the toast of conservative federalist for the rest of his life. "wherever i went, i was known as the person who voted english for adams and put him in office." almost nothing in the story shows the presidential election
5:01 pm
system going as the framers of the constitution planned. nothing goes as they plan. parties were competing for the presidency. presidential electors were reaching out to the voters at large and competing for national candidates. this was not what was planned. the founders hated political parties. "the last aggradation of a free, moral agent," jefferson called parties. in boston, they raised a glass -- "maybe canker worm of fraction never reach the stem or blast the fruit of liberty." water. has anyone done that with rome and they have the banquet with the toasts going 15 long plus volunteers? they can hold their liquor. the founders knew of no. is nation where two groups had battle for power over government without one warring with the
5:02 pm
other. the founders could read about such occurrences as current events in france, in poland where it happened several times in this period, including the end of the revolution, and within living memory, 1745 great written's opposition party had conspired -- what we now think of as great britain's opposition party had proved itself not a loyal opposition at all, conspiring with france and scottish rebels to put the old monarchy back on the throne. that happened when george washington was a teenager. they had no example of parties working out. they had many examples of competing for national power being a dreadful outcome. john adams dreaded nothing so much as a division of the republic into two great parties each arranged under its leader in concerning measures of
5:03 pm
opposition to each other. the framers not only left political parties out of the constitution but set up the electoral college partly to prevent parties from forming. the idea was that by having an independent electorate voting on the same day but scattered in their individual states, the framers hoped to keep the presidential away from the passions of the people and make it impossible for parties of interest to my try to influence the outcome to coordinate their actions on a national scale. they were counting on the fact at communication and travel over so large a republic, which was large to them, when you only had boats and horses as the motive power, was difficult, slow and expensive. the electoral college -- the constitution has many great things in it. the electoral college never worked once, right? it worked when it was unanimous. it never worked once under any sort of stress, whatsoever, the way it was intended.
5:04 pm
acclamation for george washington was the one time it went smoothly, and even then, there were problems. what the founders did not count on was the bitter differences that immediately grew among them almost the moment their new constitutional government was in place. not just personal rivalries, but fundamental policy choices arose under what kind of republic the nation would become, who would benefit, and what its place in the world was to be. people complain politics is too polarized today with democrats and republicans on every ballot and liberals and conservatives on every talk show panel, but if you want to know where polarization started, even where the hostility between left and right and politics in america began, i would argue look no farther than the founders the people they try to rule over, and the comp located world in which they tried to live. polarization, in other words, is us, and it always has been. with thomas jefferson and alexander hamilton installed as the main pillars of george washington's administration --
5:05 pm
there we go. now hamilton is up here. i'm sure i don't need to label these guys for you all, so i did not. jefferson on the left, hamilton on the right. with these two guys impaled -- impaled. [laughter] installed as the main pillars of washington's administration, the founders first quarreled over hamilton's plan to refinance the bankrupt republic by putting its money into the hands of wall street and chestnut street in philadelphia, which is where the country's original financial center was. i'm not trying to be partisan by saying that. that was more or less literally what he was trying to do. the bank of the united states created part of hamilton's program was a privately
5:06 pm
controlled institution that received the privilege of holding the government's revenue in default and being able to make loans on that amount or, of course, as a multiple of that amount. this generated a huge windfall often for investors in u.s. public debt and amassed potential capital for new business ventures. a good thing. it was trying to do this. i had the foresight to hold onto government securities -- they had the foresight to hold onto government security's. they were not just southern planters, southern supporters, but eventually also a majority chunk of the craftsman workers and poor farmers of the northeast, especially in the city. for instance, philadelphia, the area of philadelphia becomes one of the centers of jeffersonian republicanism in the north. one of the major themes and a
5:07 pm
newspaper jefferson and mattern helped start to broadcast their criticism is a familiar one in the annals of the american left -- the way the finance industry and the government policies that favored it were creating social inequalities that would curdle america's hard-won liberties and betray the democratic promise of the revolution. so this is what you have -- on the right of early american politics, a group of politicians who've enjoyed the support of the wealthiest americans and the bulk of what we would now call the business community. then, they would more likely have been called merchants or something like that. these defenders of the washington administration policies came to call themselves federalists after the pro-constitution forces during the 17 87-1788 ratification debate. party names are almost always either something some unreal scald you or an attempt to criticize the other side. the hamilton supporters called
5:08 pm
themselves federalists because that the name of the people who supported the constitution. the message they are being that the other guys do not support the constitution, that they are trying to overthrow it. if you are not a federalist, you must be against the constitution. jefferson's group on the left of early american politics called themselves republicans in keeping with their claim that the inequality-loving federalists secretly urine for a monarchy, which they sort of use as their all-purpose -- sometimes talked about as the reality, sometimes talked about as an all-purpose symbol of inequality. by calling themselves republicans, they were claiming that the federalists were actually monarchists. the federalists in return taunted the republicans as democrats, a word that -- yeah, as democrats -- oh, my god! -- a word that then conjured scary visions of social levels, which then stuck on the party of
5:09 pm
jefferson over a long process of the next 20 or 30 years, and again, something that actually comes out of philadelphia. adopting the word democrat as they are not insulting us but describing us. the terms left and right were not an equidistant terms. -- not anachronistic terms. this is "the national gazette," which i will not talk about too much, but jefferson and madame helped started while jefferson was still in office. that is the incident where the editor was hired as a french translator in jefferson's office, which is kind of funny because jefferson, of course, was a fluent french speaker and writer. the last employee he needed in the world was a french translator. so he told him whatever he
5:10 pm
wanted to do in his spare time would be fine, which turned out to be editing this newspaper. as i started to say, the terms left and right would not have been self applied by the 1790's, but they are not anachronistic. they were invented to describe the radical and more conservative factions of the french revolution, an event unfolding across the ocean at exactly the same time. the french revolution or rather the american response to it also happened to be the major issue that divided the founders in the competing parties. jefferson and his followers thrilled with the vision of universal liberation, social inequality, and at least what a thought was progressive rational government. hamilton and his allies were horrified on the other hand by the dangers of the revolutionary spirit posed to law and order the christian religion, and society, including a hierarchy of wealth, property, status, and lifestyle that was far more
5:11 pm
pronounced then than it is now. this is still a time when no one did anything with their hands if they could afford to have a servant or slave do it for them and when servants were necessary to achieve even what we now with think of as basic levels of hiking. that is to say, you could not have clean clothes everyday or water to drink all the time if you could not pay for servants or slaves, so most people did not. i think there is a -- they were go. it's out of order slightly. the first diplomatic envoy from the french republic arrived, and american fans of the french revolution started what were called democratic societies that both celebrated the french republic and criticized the washington administration. federalists considered in the vanguard of the new revolution that they were not in favor of and the tool for subversion. in reality, they were more like
5:12 pm
the beginnings of an opposition party, but that was no reassurance, given the fears that existed about parties. for most federalists, especially for president washington, periodic elections were all the popular input that a republican government required in the only popular constitutional form. they just meant voting, not everything we think of is going into an election. not a campaign, and certainly not constant criticism of the government by some but people between elections, the things that parties do. constant criticism of the government between elections by people no one had elected to anything was distasteful and dangerous. federalists hoped it would go away, and many wished to make it go away. that is to say, the phenomenon of people out of doors as they said, criticizing the government all the time. they wanted it to go away and try to make it go away when they got the chance later on with the alien and sedition acts, largely aimed at the opposition party.
5:13 pm
in the meantime, the largest army ever on american soil was sent down to put on the whiskey rebellion, which washington blamed on the democratic societies, mostly unjustly. the competing attitudes toward the french revolution also led to bitter debates over foreign policy. this is just the slide that i had out of order. there's chief justice john jay and his treaty. foreign policy animates the politics. two sick american support as a sister republic and old ally as the french side, who had saved the american revolution back during the war. the washington administration responded by making a proclamation of neutrality in the european war and then a commercial treaty with great britain.
5:14 pm
negotiated without too much vigor by a moonlighting chief justice of the supreme court john jay. the supreme court had a lot of spare time in those days. he could go off to london and negotiate treaties without causing anything to stop. mass protests directed when this treaty was announced. at the seeming betrayal that this treaty represented. the mass protests erupted, and they were followed by a drive to derail the treaty in the house of representatives, which, of course, is constitutionally suspect. that effort collapsed in the spring of 1796. after that, a presidential campaign with a competing candidate opposed to washington and hamilton's policies came to seem the opposition's only recourse. the presidential election -- the contested this of the
5:15 pm
presidential election of 1796 comes directly out of these policy debates. it is not something just about jefferson and hamilton or jefferson and adams struggling with each other. an outcome that the founders had devoutly wished to avoid emerged organically out of their own competing beliefs and actions and the wide public support both sides were able to draw. with its own designers working to short-circuit it, the indirect constitutional electoral system never had a chance. long before 1790 six, the republicans had attracted a network of newspapers that could speed their messages across the country, which meant it happened in only a week or two, which was, of course, virtually instantaneous in their world you know, when it took a day to get from baltimore to philadelphia, right? in that day, a weeks time getting a message all the way up and down the eastern seaboard was a big thing.
5:16 pm
then, democratic societies got into the act. the federalists for their part had newspapers of their own, and they drew on the influence of their wealthy supporters. shipowners, merchants, and insurers, were urged to tell employees and customers to support the jay treaty or suffer economic consequences. to manufacturing show of public support for the treaty petitions were printed up and sent to local communities with the place name blank. the idea was for a town meeting to be organized for local merchants that would approve that message as their own and send it back to philadelphia with the blanks filled in. unfortunately, i do not have an illustration for that. today, we call that astroturf, where you have a prewritten message sent out from a central place that has been filled in and sent back to present at least the illusion of a public groundswell of support. tonight, i'm going to slip over the desk if over the slow
5:17 pm
process by which the candidates emerged or flamed out. you can read about that a great link them my book -- at great length in my book. it is a page turner and also a door stopper. they have very wide margins. at any rate, it has lots of things i will not be able to talk about, including the nomination process, which, of course, is not a process at all. nobody could say anything until washington's farewell address was released, which did not happen until september. at any rate, by september 1796, jefferson and john adams were generally acknowledged as the primary candidates. though neither of them participated in the candidate campaign at all. both were mostly home on their farms in ignoring the whole thing, and james madison actually did not even communicate with jefferson during that time because he was afraid jefferson would abruptly resigned from the race.
5:18 pm
he did not even communicate with him. their surrogates, however, were quite busy mounting coherent but quite vicious campaigns they used the biographies and writings of the major candidates not unlike we would use them today, to show how they personified the divides that had opened up in american politics, including the beginnings of what we have come to call the culture war. let me go ahead a couple here. all right, there's john adams. john adams had a lot of free time when he had been a diplomat in the 1780's, and especially when he was vice president from 1789 to 1797. he had ample free time, and he used it to write thousands and thousands of pages on political philosophy, which he had published. i should say he would write thousands and thousands of pages
5:19 pm
and in some cases, he is copying because they did not use quotation marks the way we use them today, so there is an awful lot adams is riding on political philosophy that are actually other people's writings that he just got to label a such, but it came back to get him because he is blamed for all the things these monarchists of the past had to say. adams' writings, and this one you are looking at here, defense of the constitutions of the government of the united dates was the most commonly discussed 1 -- they were full of passages that could be taken out of context to show that adams was in fact the sort of monarchists and would be a aristocrat that republicans have long accused federalists of being. in the crucial swing state of pennsylvania, thousands of handbills were sent out, listing the pro-jefferson electoral candidates. i know you cannot be that, but i probably can describe to you what that is. -- i know you cannot read that.
5:20 pm
at the top, it lists the pro-jefferson electoral candidates in pennsylvania. they had to do that because the federalists that controlled the legislature in pennsylvania had passed a law saying you could not have printed ballots. you had to name every single elector -- you had to write every single candidate on your ballot to have a valid ballot. kind of a 1796 voter suppression tactic. i mean quite literally. that is literally what they were trying to do. republicans printed out handbills to make sure people can copy exactly who the electors were, but then they attached a reading guide to john adams' writings. these are little pull quotes with page numbers attached, a guide to reading the defense of the american constitutions, to show you all the terrible things that adams had that about how aristocracy was better, that it was better to have rich people in office, that aristocracy and monarchy were inevitable and
5:21 pm
half the things probably adams himself did not say, but they were things that were in the books. in all proved according to the handbill that thomas jefferson is a firm republican. he first framed the sacred political sentence that all men are born equal. john adams said this is a farce and a falsehood. which of those freemen of pennsylvania will you have for president? one of 1796's only straight of statewide popular election campaign for electors, most pennsylvania voters chose jefferson. there's another one of these handbills talking about how adams has sons. at mount vernon, i'm, of course not going to get into another
5:22 pm
part of the republican campaign where tom paine called a certain percentage a hermaphrodite. they were also as attacking george washington as well. he did not mean a literal hermaphrodite. he met a hermaphroditic personality, which we can talk in the q&a what the hell that means. he did have a meaning. of course, it was john adams who wins the election in the in. much of the credit goes to figures that people who have read a lot about the founders have not heard of. i talked about colonel powell at the top of this talk, but even more important was william l smith. i've had different reads on how to pronounce his middle name. a south carolina congressman who was hoping for a diplomatic post in the adams administration, maybe even the top one, though
5:23 pm
he did not get that. smith was one of the federalist major floor leaders in congress and he turned out it went five-part series of newspaper essays that were later packaged as a teen of-part pamphlet. you see one of the title pages here. it becomes the seminal hit piece in american politics, staking out scenes that would be rolled out anytime later a candidate was perceived as aggressive or of the left. smith may jefferson into the original model that david -- favored conservative politics. whose squishy soft political sympathies revealed a naivete of thought and cowardice of character that rendered him totally unfit for office. i also want to say he is the first limousine liberal, but that would be an anachronistic. i was playing around with what we will go with that, and i decided on its leaving a gala terrien -- enslaving a gala terrien -- enslaving ega
5:24 pm
litarian, because smith also originates the idea of undermining jeffersons politics by bringing up the fact that he was a slave holder. smith relied on powell's account of jefferson's behavior for his account on cowardice, but he also did a brilliant job of setting up jefferson as the pointy-headed intellectual taking jefferson's only published book as his text, lampooning jefferson as a suppose it scientist whose so-called discoveries and homemade inventions amounted to no more than self-serving prejudice. you know jefferson liked to invent home office equipment as
5:25 pm
-- this was his collection of home office equipped, but when he did not invent but became famous in various ways is what smith called the wonderful whirly gig chair in other words, his swivel office chair. ironically, george washington had this one before he did, so it should be washington's wonderful whirly gig chair but this seems so ridiculous to smith that he turned this into a symbol of jeffersons silliness. smith described the piece of furniture in swifty and mode with the miraculous quality of allowing a person seated in it to turn his head without moving his tail. ha ha. at any rate, there was quite a bit of talk about the chair in the campaign of 1796. while it is a ridiculous issue it is one that is highly symbolic of a more serious criticism they were making. while smith mind jefferson's
5:26 pm
writings for humor, he moved in on a more serious issue reminding christian voters about jefferson's liberal religious views and connecting them to the excesses of the french revolution he was such a fan of hearing the french revolution, the french republic, as you know i'm sure most of you know abolished christianity at some point. at best, it was another case of jeffersons muddled irresponsible thinking. alexander hamilton originated the idea and smuggled a dig on jefferson into washington's farewell address released just before the campaign started. extreme view on religious toleration liberty of conscience like jefferson, who had said he did not care -- rhetorically he did not care wether there were 100 gods or one, that he did not break his leg or pick his pocket. use like these were taken as a character flaw -- views like these were taken as a character flaw. in their politician not to be more cautious about disturbing christian belief and observances.
5:27 pm
these firmest props. smith suggests that was hamilton in the farewell address. smith suggested were stashed jefferson might be a danger to the christian religion and christian morals that the bible itself right be in some danger. again, the charge which comes up later in american political history. taken together this was the first attempt in american history to marshall christianity in the service of presidential politics, and it might be the first time -- i cannot say this for sure. i think it might be the first time anybody use religion in the campaign for office. there certainly were arguments about laws and toleration, but i think this is the first time when it becomes a campaign issue. last thing i want to talk about tonight is the most serious part of smith half -- smith's attack and probably the most surprising. i can tell you that teaching students, what most people know about thomas jefferson at this point was that he was a slave
5:28 pm
holder, and that makes his democratic ideals and his other talk about liberty into a piece of hypocrisy we can mostly ignore. this line of attack comes straight from smith's pretensions of thomas jefferson, but it came out in a way that may be a little surprising. while we think of -- i'm going to go one more slide. we think of jefferson as a slave holder primarily now, but that is not how jefferson was seen in 1796. jefferson was straight up -- despite the fact he was a slave holder, he was straight up seen as the anti-slavery candidate, someone who was for freedom and progress and equality, who had said he would put some of the mustering words on paper that existed yet on this theme. when smith goes to deal with jefferson on slavery he does two things -- first, he does use the hypocrisy thing. he has long discussions of jeffersons terrible passage in the notes on virginia, where he
5:29 pm
gets him to kind of desk gets into kind of biological racism and tells his fear is about why logical theories about -- tells his biological theories about black inequality. he counter poses that and says on the one hand, it's bad science, and on the other hand asks how that can possibly support with jefferson's suppose it anti-slavery views, but there was another purpose -- he was from south carolina, and federalists were trying to get southern votes. their main vice presidential candidate, main vice presidential candidate was general charles pinckney -- thomas perez a, excuse me. from south carolina. later on, they nominated another pinckney for president. they intended to be a national party, and that meant getting votes from the south.
5:30 pm
smith's way of using jefferson's anti-slavery views is suggesting that jefferson is a danger to slavery, that his thoughtless commitment to a pending existing social arrangement might extend to endangering the south by freeing the slaves and even then goes on to attack -- uses as an example jefferson's famous letter to benjamin banneker, the black surveyor and almanac maker. jefferson, of course -- this is an exchange of letters that gets brought up against jefferson because there are some condescending aspects to that letter, but the fact that jefferson had exchanged letters with banneker sent off alarm bells, according to smith. he said that if jefferson was willing to lower himself to write a letter to a black person, that he might be willing to lower all the other barriers
5:31 pm
as well. jefferson basically was damned if he was against slavery, damned if he wasn't, looked unfit for office and like a hypocrite either way. those are just a few of the attacks that smith comes up with just three of the main ones. let me finish by reminding you of course, that by the time this election was through, the constitution electoral system was thoroughly broken. you ended up with a situation where john adams comes in first, but his opponent ends up as his understudy, thomas jefferson his vice president. thomas jefferson, having to go to philadelphia all the time, not being able to go back to the plantation, has a lot more time on his hands to get involved in political campaigns in a way he had not before, and he is right there with access to the newspaper editors and documents and spends 4 years working against adams after they are elected and ends up then of course causing the election to
5:32 pm
come out tied again in 1800. finally, after 1800, after the tie between jefferson and erin burke, you end up with a situation where the founders finally admitted their mistake and wrote a little parties into the constitution by actually allowing electoral to cast separate votes for president and vice president acknowledging the fact that there actually were going to be national organizations. it was easy to come up with a national political party, and polarization would be the norm in american politics rom here on out -- from here on out. i think i have spent enough time, and thank you for listening today. [applause] >> well, thank you. that was fantastic, and it is a great look, of course, as well. many thoughts come to mind, and i have the privilege of asking
5:33 pm
the first questions here. you describe a situation in which polarization frustration -- a real sense that the political system is not working the way people wanted it to work as being basically there from the beginning in american politics. why does this country succeed under the constitution in the 1790's and not go the way of so many other countries who create their independence in the midst of war try to set up a functioning government, and then fall into anarchy, other revolutions, breakdown? what about the american political system, as frustrated as people are with how they perceive it should work and if it does work -- what aspect allows it to persist in that early period? >> i think there's a lot of things you could say. i think americans are very devoted to their dreams. when i say that the founders acknowledged the lyrical parties
5:34 pm
in the constitution, of course they did not do that literally. they just put a provision in that accounted for that, the slain way slavery is protected -- the same way slavery is protected in the constitution but not mention. they were committed to the system, despite the fact that it was broken. if i had to give a serious all-time answer to the question, i would say that i don't think there's necessarily a structural reason. i think american elites perhaps were not as far apart as they sometimes thought they were, that when it came down to it, you know, there are several moments where things happen that would not carried as far as they could. the federalists passed the sedition act, partly because of the election of 1796. they had almost lost power, and they wanted that not to happen again, but they kept that within the legal system.
5:35 pm
they do various things that are abusive, but they do not get to the point of just rounding everyone up. they follow the law and put people in jail for six months. they harassed them with legal proceedings, but in fact, it was not enough to actually scare anyone, that with republicans to back them, by the time the sedition act meant to shut down the press, i guess this is turning into a plug for my other book -- they were trying to shut down the press but they're sedition act was not scary enough to shut anything down. more newspapers appeared by the end of that than at the beginning. similarly, there's a couple of points. federalists could have -- they could have blocked jefferson from becoming president. they could have put in ehrenberg -- ehrenberg -- aaron burr. virginia was ready to go to war
5:36 pm
if they had put someone besides jefferson in power. the federalists would have had a perfect right to do that. people blink at various times or do not go to the end. >> it is a great argument you make, so challenging. the rhetoric is so inflammatory. the character of the debate is so outrageous, and yet, they do not go to civil war in that moment. but of course, america does have a civil war later on. many of these guys lived through a revolution. it is something, i think, that your book helps highlight. there is a certain stability and continuity in american politics, but there is a certain fragility as well.
5:37 pm
this rhetoric is real. people do mean it. they get impassioned about it, but there has to be at some point a shared understanding of the rules of the game. >> there is. i'm not sure it is always self-conscious. when we go in that direction, that tends to be the sort of line of thought that leads us to set aside some of these political conflict am talking about, to say that these great men got along in the end, they came together as founding brothers to help us through these troubled times. i think that takes away from some of it, does not allow us to see some of the things we have in common with them. >> excellent. that's fantastic. let's open it up. because c-span is here, we do have microphones that will go around the room so way to actually speak until you get your microphone. who is first? yes, sir, right here up front.
5:38 pm
>> thank you. you sort of tapped into the sectional differences that were ultimately resolved. what were the key policy issues of 1796? what were the issues looking to the future that they were sort of battling? >> as i tried to address in the middle of the talk, it was a financial system basically if the government policies were going to lead to capital development and building financial industry and led to rapid economic development. hamilton has kind of finance the plans behind his financial system, and the other one was foreign policy basically if america was going to try to operate within the british colonial system independently
5:39 pm
but sort of reach an accommodation with the british or if we were going to join -- you know, join with france against the monarchists. 1796, it comes down to straight up britain versus france to the point that france is actually -- one of the things i did not say in this talk that i sometimes they is that the french actually gave us democracy. the french spent time and money trying to urge americans to have democracy. you should decide to vote yourselves, right? in fact, the text was leaked because the french payday virginia senator to do it. it's not clear weather it was a bribe or just they were paying for the printing costs. those are the policies. >> it was a mason, was in it? >> from right around here. >> right down the road. >> good evening.
5:40 pm
is it fair to say that in the run-up to the revolution that that first introduced the political party system in a way maybe just regionally as well as socially that in 1796 and then 1800, our forefathers and the colonists -- they were not novices to the political system so this was just a new structure now because we have a president -- is that a fair statement? and then maybe george washington 's presidency was the anomaly where everybody came together, and that was not the reality. >> at think that is probably right. the tendency of polarization was there. the there was no national structure in it because individual colonies had had their miniature party systems and ongoing battles, but they
5:41 pm
tended to be a bit more structural, and they would also be much more localized. in terms of the run-up to the revolution, the patriots and tories -- whatever you want to call the loyalists and patriots of the revolution, that would be an example they had of a party system that did not work, in a sense that they ended up not only fighting, but taking serious actions against each other. going back to doug's question, republicans and federalists when they were in power, if they had acted like patriots did during the revolution and took away property and exiled people and executed people, then it would have been over. that was a whole other example they had of how this could be handled. i actually think that is kind of in the back of their minds. they have been there and do not want to go there in this case.
5:42 pm
among historians, i tend to use the word party loosely. i would say party system or even party should be reserved for the idea of an ongoing thing where you are going to battle through votes and not necessarily come to blows. >> i think you are being too harsh because there has been a social scientific effort to define party so rigidly. when madison writes the great essay on party, he is talking about what is about to become the third party system that he was about to start. the first is the patriots and the tories. the second is the federalists and the ratification debate. the third is going to be this majority faction that he wants to organize against hamiltonianism, which is going to be another party. when they thought about party they thought about english history.
5:43 pm
>> i agree. i will be lean you in on myself. >> in your research, did you find george washington formally or informally trying to influence the 1996 election? >> i think that he allowed -- as happened a lot with him, he was not consciously trying to, but he went along with stuff. one section i dropped out mostly of this talk that i give sometimes is the farewell address, right? we read it as this great beacon of nonpartisanship, and it is actually a nasty partisan speech . if you know who is being referred to and what is being referred to, then basically saying parties are terrible if you are the opposition. who would do that? the other aspect is that hamilton gets washington to delay the announcement, like
5:44 pm
all summer. washington had wanted out in 1792, and he wanted to announce that he was stepping down for a long time. hamilton explicitly keeps -- first, he delays him by saying he does not have time to work on the final text and will get back to him in july. finally, he allows hamilton to install this over the summer and hamilton was doing that specifically because he did not want to give any other candidates a chance to go. no one could say anything about being a candidate as long as george was in place. allowing his resignation announcement not to come out until three months before the election -- that is an act of partisanship, certainly. otherwise, i think he mostly stays out of it, the policy, wise, he was obviously quite federalists by this time. >> we recently acquired in the auctions of the last week -- at
5:45 pm
christie's, there is a great option of a letter george washington wrote in the spring of 1996, and he is basically saying he wanted to be known that this opposition to the jay treaty in the house where they are going to pretend they cannot fund it is a way to stall its operation. he said it is against the intent of the framers -- uses those words -- and says it would make us all fools if we allowed treaties and allow the house to delay them. this is a political letter. and yet, it all points south, basically. he is a political animal, and that is the season where people are mobilizing around these issues that are going to have an impact on the presidency and presidential elections. he is definitely on the side of what he considered the right side of good government.
5:46 pm
he brings out the idea of getting away from anybody really standing above in that election year. it really is much more familiar to us than people have suggested. >> the other thing is appearing to be above -- that is the stance you were going for, right? >>'s, although not as useful. >> people still try that all the time. washington, that was one of the things -- these sometimes partisan tactics that he was very good at. >> here we are at mount vernon. the one thing that is so different, obviously, in the politics of then and ours is unanimity around washington's presidency. just kind of unheard of. although i guess munro is pretty close. reagan does pretty well.
5:47 pm
at any rate, good question. yes, sir. >> wait for the microphone please. >> sorry, i forgot to say that. >> i wondered if you could explain a little bit more about the jay treaty -- explain a little bit more -- [inaudible] >> the jay treaty? their argument was the treaty called for certain conditions to be created. one of them had to do with adjudicating american debts pre-war debts, so the idea was that if you denied the appropriation for the commission to be formed, you could stop the treaty from even being implemented. the treaty has already been ratified already been agreed to. they are basically trying to sort of mess it up and make it so that the british will get mad
5:48 pm
and reject it, is kind of their idea. but it is a shred. it's one of those moments though, when the constitution -- you know the constitution is really being written in the 1790's. i really think the real constitution is written in the early 19th century when things that are spelled out one way -- they could have easily gone -- republicans almost one that vote and could have established the idea -- i say it's lame, but you put it another way, and it sounds much better, which is democratic control over foreign policy, right? the branch of government that people can actually vote for what have some control over foreign policy, but constitutionally the reed we are standing on is really, really thin. >> you mentioned that the states
5:49 pm
could split their electoral votes in the early days. would any of the elections have turned out differently? >> people love this. i don't know after talking for an hour that i can really intelligently run too many alternate scenarios for you but, totally, right? in essence 1796 is an alternate. if virginia has winner take all in 1796, the jefferson does not lose that electoral vote. the fact that the winner take all system existed, i'm pretty sure jefferson does win. gives us the chance to track maryland, then you add north carolina at one from pennsylvania, at the one from virginia, you know, so that he kind of thing you get into. a lot of them could have easily turned out different league.
5:50 pm
the reason i shy away from this question is there so many different parts of the things. you probably would not just change one. another thing sometimes people make up is what about the 3/5 clause -- had it not been for that, wouldn't adams have won handily? the thing is, that's actually not quite clear what the alternative is. on the one hand, do you count -- are slaves of the south like the women and children of all the country who were counted as a full vote for purposes of representation even though they do not vote, or are they zero? the effects are actually quite different, whichever way you put that. alternate scenarios are very -- unfortunately, this whole thing about the statewide -- about the winner take all stuff, how the states filled out the electoral votes -- that is, like completely influx for the first 30, or years.
5:51 pm
as maps and charts where they are literally deciding every election a year before, six months before, two months before. who is in charge of the legislature, and what arrangement do we think will win for our candidate? >> the main split? >> that's kind of the thing that is coming back. federalists, when they wanted to fix the electoral college, they wanted a district method -- that was going to be their only chance to put a national coalition together in the foreseeable future. >> it certainly allows for more rights for the minority voting block. >> ok, yes, ma'am, right there. >> thank you. you mentioned that the democracy of the united states was past
5:52 pm
established and worked pretty well in comparison to the french . my question is that would have to do with the political culture of the united states, of the population, or how would you explain why it works so well? >> i don't know if i would say it worked so well. i would say it barely worked. the electoral system was broken immediately. it is sort of accidental. the idea that the american political system works better than the french is -- compared to what, right? yes, the american system worked better compared to mass death and dictatorship, right? know what i mean? in other words yes, we avoided the reign of terror and did not end up with a dictator, so good on us. i do not think i would say given the extreme golf -- gulf between
5:53 pm
the way they thought it would work and ended up working, i would not use the word well for how it ended up working. except for the part about keeping slavery together for almost a century and then having to have a bloody war to resolve that. even that is certainly an open question. >> i certainly think that the americans were -- they were familiar with the british system of ocular government. the colonies had a form of popular government in which property was represented in government. there are some continuities. the breakdown of the regime was a dramatic transformation which they had really no experience and offices of government in that same way. >> this is these jack reed
5:54 pm
approach, that the british learn most of what they do in terms of political culture and how to run a free government from the british and just did not get too far away from it. but i mean, i think there's a lot to that. like i said, my -- i just find i am more comfortable with the idea of treating this all as contingent that we know it works, but they did not know it worked. some of the things happened just barely. we can look back, and i like to look at continuities, but i just do not think in terms of success or failure, i guess. >> ok. do we have one final one? if you do not, i have one final one. that would be -- you are a very
5:55 pm
smart guy. you have written about the political culture, the emphasis on political culture. what surprised you in putting this book together? when you began the project what were you after? what was the thing that you really came across or came upon that you said that was an interesting way you needed to rethink something, or was there any of that? >> there's definitely surprising things. the story of how the book came to be is i thought it would be a little pamphlet. i have written an encyclopedia. just a little book. just take a summer to write. i had already written an encyclopedia article on the election of 1796. i thought i knew everything about it and it was just a question of writing it down. it turned out i did not know
5:56 pm
anything about it. i think the hardest part is there is really known a ready in the usual way. you cannot start, like, a year before the election and have it make any sense. they cannot have the ready-made plot that literally other presidential election book ever has. i did not have that. trying to figure out how to block it out was a challenge. i guess i was -- i tried to express a couple of times in the talk -- i was quite shocked by cutting run -- cut and run. i was writing this during the 2008 election, in case you cannot tell. some of the things that were deployed in the 21st century presidential election, especially by conservatives against the democrats, were
5:57 pm
just like, really reminiscent of some of the types of things that william smith was writing that it just made me start to think more in terms of a tradition at least of conservative and liberal rhetoric. certainly the people who were being conservative changes at times, but at least there is a certain constellation of ideas and arguments that gets directed. >> the two parties have existed throughout all time. >> that is the one that the left turns against the right, which is that it is all about -- and there is some kind of aristocracy. these verses the people. without necessarily defining that very well. >> fantastic edifying, excellent -- all those
5:58 pm
adjectives you can come up with. let's give a big round of applause. >> thank you. [applause] >> here are some of our featured programs for this weekend on the c-span networks. on c-span2, tonight at 10:00, on "after words," the pitfalls of group decision-making and what to do to avoid them. and part of "booktv's" college series, we talk with professors at johns hopkins university on the influence of hip-hop on politics and the government's efforts to cure malaria during world war ii. and tonight at 8:00 p.m. brian durham uses abraham lincoln's life to understand the views of white americans on race and slavery before and during the civil war. sunday afternoon at 4:30, a discussion on birth control advocate margaret sanger her legacy, and the impact of race social class and policy had on
5:59 pm
the birth-control movement. find our complete schedule at www.c-span.org and let us know about -- what you think about the programs you are watching. call us, e-mail us, or send us a tweet. join the c-span conversation. like us on facebook. follow us on twitter. >> this sunday on "q&a," the groundbreaking 1915 film "the birth of a nation," its depiction of former slaves after the civil war, and the efforts to prevent the release of the movie. >> the second part of the movie which is after the war reconstruction, is really the heart of the protest in the sense that this is where the blacks are just appalled by the portrayal of free slaves. this is a scene showing what happens when you give former sl

7 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on