tv Last Speeches of Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. CSPAN March 28, 2015 10:30am-11:54am EDT
e else. nothing saying let's let the lusitania go into the sea. grandma sunday night, at 8:00 >> next on american history tv, a discussion on the matter -- the last major speeches of president lincoln and martin luther king junior. a few weeks before president lincoln's assassination. martin luther king junior gave his mountaintop speech, the day before his assassination in memphis tennessee. panelists at this event in the washington national cathedral include claiborne carson, senior editor of the king papers and douglas wilson. it's about an hour and a half.
>> great honor to welcome you all to washington national cathedral. my name is mary m body and i'm privileged to serve as the bishop of the diocese of washington. this cathedral is a house of prayer for all people. and as a space for reflection and it is where our country gathers to mourn, celebrate and consider critical issues of our day. this is a distinctly american cathedral that tells our nation's story in its stained glass. and its statuary. if you look around, you see symbols and signs of the history of our nation beautifully represented in this place. of particular interest for tonight are two statues, beautiful statues of president lincoln.
a statue in the back and on the right and one of lincoln at prayer in the stairwell here just this side of the cathedral. if you haven't seen, you must see tonight. there is a carving of dr. king that graces the side aisle and it was as of course as you know from this pulpit that he gave his last sunday sermon in march of 1968, just days before he was taken from us. tonight on the 150th anniversary of lincoln's second inauguration, we will talk about how these two men shaped our nation and how the issues they addressed in their last great speeches are still with us today. the cathedral is delighted to be
sponsoring this program with ford's theater and i'm delighted to welcome the director of ford's theater. >> thank you, bishop and thank you to washington national cathedral for partnering with us on this amazing event and hosting it in this beautiful and iconic space. thank you all for joining us this evening. today marks the 150th anniversary of president's -- president lincoln hoss -- president lincoln's second inaugural address. in a few weeks we will mark the 150th anniversary of lincoln's death. this time period between march 4 and april 15, 1865 is perhaps the most critical period in the history of america, a gruesome civil war ended, a nation began
to reunify and lost one of our greatest leaders this country will ever know. we will never know what happened -- what might have happened if lincoln lived, would jim crow laws have still come to the south, would have taken another 100 years for the civil rights act to be passed. tonight we have the opportunity to explore two great leaders separated by 100 years, but united by history, abraham lincoln and martin lincoln king junior, dealt with polarized divisions and called for a union -- a unified nation. what can we learn about their speeches then and now. i want to thank you again for joining us tonight. ford's theater has a number of events planned between now and may marking the anniversary of lincoln's death and end of the civil war.
in your program you will find details and i hope you will be able to join us for some or all of those events. i would like to introduce you to our moderator for this evening. after serving in the peace corps in africa, chris matthews works in the united states senate and moved on to be a presidential speech writer and became top aide to the speaker of the house. since becoming a journalist he , has had an incredibly successful career by skillful and tactful coverage of the fall of the berlin wall and in south africa, among many other news events. he is probably best known today for his show "hardball with chris matthews" on msnbc and he is the author of seven best books on the 20th century political figures and policies that have shaped our country and what america means today. please welcome my friend and
moderator for this evening chris matthews. [applause} mr. matthews: the weather, tonight, i checked as we honor this was a little different on march 4 of 1865. it was wet, it had been wet for weeks. that sounds familiar. but it wasn't as cold. there is no reference to snow in what i have been able to dig. it was just wet. and on the east front of the u.s. capitol, it was deep mud. everyone has to stand in it to watch what most of us believe is the greatest speech in american history. i believe that, how does a man stand before his people and say, 600,000 people are dead because i was president, and the horror
of that war and what it meant to a country, and the losses, just imagine six million people dead today. we have never gone through anything like this. and the heart was ripped out of the country and ripped apart and he was trying to explain why. essentially, the evil of slavery and someone had to pay for it and that was us. pretty frightening stuff, a powerful speech. joining us to talk about death the reverend gary hall, the 10th dean of washington national cathedral. dr. claiborne carson director of the martin luther king junior at research and education institute at stanford. and professor lawrence where he is co-director of the lincoln studies center. and now the specialty of the night and the young ladies are waiting, i would like to welcome our orators for the evening. they will read excerpts from
speeches that were given 103 years apart, both in the time of conflict and great change in society. both speeches call people together and ask them to take responsibility for their country and for their fellow citizens and both speeches look back on what was and make the case that the situation was unatennable. -- untenable. nadia duncan loves singing acting and writing and plans to study music in college. nadia will read an excerpt from president lincoln's second inaugural address from the capitol, the newly constructed dome behind him. the north stood on the brink of victory. nadia duncan. [applause}
>> on the occasion corresponding to this, four years ago all thoughts were directed to an impending civil war. all dreaded it, all thought to avert it. while the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted all together to saving the union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the union and divide facts by negotiation. both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive and the other would accept war, rather than let it perish, and the war came. one-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally but localized in the southern part of it. these slaves constituted a
peculiar and powerful interests . all new that this interest was somehow the cause of the war to strengthen, perpetrate and extend this interest, was the object for which the insurgents would rend the union, even by war. neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. both read the same bible and pray to the same god and each invokes his aid against the other. it may seem strange that any man should dare ask a just god assistance in bringing their god from the sweat of other men's faces but let us judge not that we not be judged. the prayers of both could not be answered, that of neither has been answered fully. the almighty has his own purposes.
woe unto the world because of offensive, but woe to whom that offense cometh. if we shall suppose that american slavery is one of those in which in the providence of god, but which having come through his appointed time he removes and gives to go both north and south this terrible war as the woe, due to those he has since come, shall we discern those difference divine attributes in which a living god ascribed to him. fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scurge of war might speedily pass away. yet as god wills that it continue until all the wealth by the bondsmen of 250 years shall
-- but unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the last shall be paid with another drawn by the sword. as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said. the judgments of the lord are righteous and true all together. with malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as god gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him that shall have borne the battle and his widow and his orphan to achieve a just -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace. among ourselves and with all nations. thank you. [applause]
mr. matthews: paige was introduced to oratory in a pilot program in central high school through ford's theater. she became a leader. page will read an expert -- and at certain from the speech given in memphis during a sanitation worker's strike. memphis city officials had asked a federal judge to issue an injunction blocking the march. paige: another reason i'm happy to live in this period we have been forced to appoint that men -- where we are going to have to appoint the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history but be the man force him to do it. survival demands that we grapple with them. men for years now have been
talking about war and peace. but now no longer can they just talk about it, it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world, it is nonviolence or nonexistence. that is where we are today. i can remember -- i can remember when negros were just going around, scratching where they didn't itch, laughing when they were not tickled. but that day is over. we mean business now. we are determined to gain our rightful place in god's world. and that's all that this whole thing is about. we aren't engaged in any negative protests or any negative arguments with anybody, we are saying we are determined to be men, we are determined to be people, we are saying that we are god's children.
and that we are god's children. we don't have to live like we are forced to live. all we say to america is be true to what you said on paper. somewhere, i read of the freedom of assembly. somewhere, i read of the freedom of speech. somewhere, i read of the freedom of press. somewhere, i read that the greatness of america is the right to protest for rights. and so just as i say, we are not going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around or any injunction turn us around. we are going on. we need all of you. let us rise up tonight with the greater readiness.
let us stand with the greater determination. let us move on these powerful days, these days of challenge to make america what it ought to be. we have the opportunities to make america a better nation. and i want to thank god once more for allowing me to be here with you. we've got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn't matter with me now, because i have been to the mountaintop and i don't mind like anybody, i would like to live a long life longevity has its place, but i'm not concerned about that now. i just want to do god's will. and he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. and i have looked over and i have seen the promised land. i may not get there with you but i want you to know tonight
that we, as a people, will see the promised land, and i'm so happy tonight. i'm not worried about anything. i'm not fearing any man. mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord. thank you. [applause] mr. matthews: those were more than recitations they were dramatizations. thank you, page and 90th. dr. wilson, you worked -- lincoln study at knox college has been producing the lincoln papers for the library of congress. take some time and give us a context of that night or afternoon 150 years ago.
dr. wilson: i tried to write a brief contact statement about the context, and i thought i would admit up front that my context is inadequate but give you a few things to think about. actually, i want to talk about to context, since because this is a speech, there is a context in the external world, battlefield in the country at large and also what's going on in the mind of the writer. this terrible war, as lincoln called it, picking up his own phrase from a letter they had written, had been going on for four years. and only in the past few months had the tide been running very
favorably, as late as the previous august, lincoln himself was convinced that he probably would not be elected. but some decisive military victories, combined with a badly misjudged peace platform by the opposing party and a strong endorsement from the soldiers' vote, brought the president a solid victory in november. and only days before he delivered his second inaugural to the dismay of even his closest associates, he engineered the passing of the 13th amendment to the u.s. constitution, banning slavery. while the context of any great national occasion is the public's expectation, in 1865 the country expected their re-elected president to talk at least about at least two important subjects, the war and
even more importantly, reconstruction, what would happen after the war. imagine the public's astonishment when he said virtually nothing about the war and nothing at all specifically about reconstruction. and yet, he said a great deal. what the address was mostly about was the product of something which the public knew very little, if anything, namely the president's protracted meditation on the meaning of the war. specifically, why had it come and why was it lasting so long. this last part is evidence that he really studied that hard. for at least a year prior to the inaugural address, we can identify in lincoln's writings
and his conversations, tracings of the ideas that are central to the second inaugural. some of his writings contain similar phrases and propositions such as the hodges' letter and the letter i referred to and his speech at baltimore, all had a different kind of statement, but a recognizable statement of the same themes. coming about a year before. perhaps the most revealing of these is the private memorandum aimed at understanding what could be deduced about the war from his major premise, which was the will of god prevails what can be deduced from that is the subject of his meditation. lincoln was a life-long fatalist who believed in the words of alexander polk that whatever is
, is right. even though he was for most of his life a religious skeptic, but nonetheless the idea of an overruling providence and at least by this time, in a moral universe. the conclusion that he came to and that he expressed in the speech, he realized what at first would not be popular, but he called it a truth that needed to be told. this is the private context of which i spoke earlier and which i hope will occupy a good share of our attention this evening. mr. matthews: how did the speech get received? it was tough on us. mr. wilson: as he started to speak and everybody was wet and muddy, and there was not a strong reaction which he was expecting.
there wasn't much to cheer about is what he said. and i think you have to put it in the context also of 19th century oratory. people came to these things to get cheered up, give them something to yellow about. he gave them a theological interpretation of the world. mr. matthews: what about the bloody shirt crowd? were they offended by the malice towards non-reference? mr. wilson: the people who wanted a strong reconstruction the hard hand of war going down south hanging people, trying , people, putting a lot of people in prison, which he was totally against, he didn't say it in so many words but he knew -- but they knew what it meant. a senator said this speech argues trouble.
mr. matthews: at appomattox courthouse, someone is operating under someone's instructions, go home with your horse, keep your sidearms. it is over. go home. you are free. >> let him up easy. mr. matthews: well, let's move on to dr. carson. the late dr. coretta scott king picked you to publish the letters of dr. king. talk about the address we heard tonight. >> i think in some ways there is a parallel with lincoln in that lincoln believed the second inaugural was the better street -- better speech than the gettysburg adjusts. the world was through king but "i have a dream speech.”
arguably, the speech he gave in memphis was a better speech. it was a fuller speech. it was a more coherent speech. and i think what he was trying to do was sum up the meaning of his life. he had reached the point where he was ready for death, but he had always been ready for that. but i think what he was coming to decide was that he was not going to accomplish his great goals in life. some people, most of you perhaps, think of him as a civil rights leader. he did not think of himself that way. he was a social gospel minister, who got recruited into the civil rights movement by rosa parks. and she's the one who made him into a civil rights leader and did that fairly well and all of us would agree for 10 years and and the civil rights agenda was pretty well completed by 1965. if you look at his papers, which i have done for the last 30 years, you find that his agenda
went much beyond civil rights reform. and he makes that clear in many of his early papers and he certainly makes that clear after he gets the nobel peace prize . and his agenda is partially racial justice but also ending poverty throughout the world not just the united states, ending war throughout the world. that is a pretty ambitious agenda. and what happens during the next few years is that all the popularity that he gains from the "i have a dream speech," from getting a nobel prize and from the success of that civil rights agenda. he is enormously popular and he spends that popularity quite rapidly, as he moves to these other issues, as he moves to chicago and takes on the war in
vietnam, as the launch of the poor peoples' campaign and goes to memphis, which is opposed by meems of his staff who think why are you going to memphis? we have a poor peoples' campaign and you are getting distracted by this sanitation workers' strike that no one has even heard of. that is the context that he gave that speech that he wants to explain -- in some ways, i think similarly to lincoln. he wants to explain why we're here, what's the significance of that and maybe that's one of the great things about a great speech is it provides meaning that goes beyond what most people think should be the meaning of the event. and when you were mentioning about the second inaugural, how he doesn't say what people want him to say, expect him to say. i was at the march on washington
here, and most people expected him to say something about civil -- about kennedy's civil rights legislation. he doesn't mention it in his speech. and that kind of, you think you're here for one purpose and i'm here to tell you we are fighting for something much deeper, much more important than that. and it has transcended meaning. so i think that's what he wanted to do with that speech. mr. matthews: i remember when he moved from being a civil rights leader in the eyes of most people, whites and blacks, and became a critic of the war. we remember here, 1968, it was a divisive issue. you had the hard hats and college kids and a lot of people felt at the time he gone out of his lane. what is he talking against the war. he is pushing that, he knew it
didn't he? >> of course he knew it, and i think at a certain point he has a fatalistic mission, a prophetic mission -- and that's why i call him a social gospel minister that got distracted by civil rights, that he is very clear about his mission. in one of our volumes, we published a paper that he wrote in 1948 when he was a seminary student. at that point, he would have been 19 years old. one of the things he is asked, is well, what is going to be your mission as a minister? and he says, to deal with slums, unemployment, economic insecurity. it does not mention civil rights. to think of what he is doing 20
years later in memphis, he is dealing precisely with this kind of economic issues. in a way, what happens is that he comes back to his original mission, but he the will not be popular. the biblical prophets he modeled himself on were not popular in their time, they were not saying what people expected them to say. most of them are challenging the religious establishment and insisting that they had wandered from god's will and they were there to remind them because they had spoken to god and that was not the way god wanted them to go. mr. matthews: i want to ask you about security now and security then.
they challenge the country. dr. king was facing, well conservative whites, if you want to generalize. he had no security at the time. did he have any security in memphis? >> very little. one of the things you realize when going back and looking at that, you realize how little security there was, there is more security within 100 yards of here then there was at that crucial time. mr. matthews: in his papers, is there evidence of threats? speaker: yes, and we know more about the threats that were there at that time. for example, one of the things that we know is that military intelligence was watching him but they were not there to guard him, but to monitor his activities. they were in the fire station
right across the street from him where the hotel was. the important thing for him was that he understood that from his days in montgomery, he goes through what some call the kitchen experience where he gets these calls threatening his life, threatening his family repeated calls. and at one point he just breaks down. i cannot take this, i did not ask for this, and he is ready to give up, and he has a religious experience. he feels the presence of god telling him to continue on. and i think from that point on he understands that yes this might lead to my death but this is the course i have taken.
there is a fatalistic part of it . some of you have seen the movie "selma." there is a scene where he is attacked in the hotel and there is a similar thing in birmingham when someone comes up and clobbers him. the guy was a nazi. and everyone around described his reaction to it is not even -- as not even surprise,m and -- not even surprised. in fact, in the birmingham incident he is more concerned about his attacker than himself. everyone else was concerned about him. and he goes into a room and actually has a conversation with the guy that attacked him. it is something that was deeply felt by him that his life might end at any point and
particularly when you get to 68, after the level of violence in the country at that time. this was after major rebellions in detroit and newark. mr. wilson: there is a real parallel with lincoln, he did not like protection. he even hated it all the time. and he have her -- never had much protection, anyway. the police assigned a guy to hang out around the white house. but he was the kind of a list that started talking before he became president that he had an intuition that he would meet a terrible end and he told people he did not think he would outlive the war.
and i think that you can see that -- of course, it is easier to see things in retrospect but you can see that in the second inaugural, he does not have a program, but he describes why it has happened. he puts in their strong language so if people are tempted to say, well, the war was really not about slavery, it is about an economy or something. he makes it so clear and he says it in such a careful way but he had the sense that he probably was not going to make it and certainly that is what dr. king was saying the night before. >> isn't there an irony that lincoln and king were the best hope of the other side? they were the ones ready to reach out.
speaker: and in the wonderful collection of the best mr. -- best of the pieces that you have, there is a wonderful speech in their about nonviolence. he says the genius of the nonviolent revolution is you don't make bitter emanates -- enemies of the people that lose. it is exactly the way he talks. he didn't like to talk about you know, he didn't like to use the word treason. he was always saying, all we are asking is that you come back into the union and take up your place as citizens and that is all we want. that was not enough for most people but it was what he wanted . and it is the same idea. that is so we can minimize the hatred afterwords.
mr. matthews: you have been drawn with giving us -- with the somewhat dry challenge of speaking about the religious and intellectual references made in these addresses. speaker: i always love the exciting opportunity to be the guy who closes the evening down. [laughter] i have killed more parties than i can even think of. [laughter] a couple of thoughts about these addresses. first of all, we live in the time, even in my own lifetime, of a decline of political oratory. what we have here are two wonderful examples of different
kinds of oratory. king is a great high style speaker, he has a lot in common with speakers like churchill and kennedy, a lot of high style rhetoric. and lincoln is in many ways a plain style speaker. king is expensive and tells stories and lincoln is like reading an emily dickinson poem it is extremely compressed. it almost starts out like a shareholders report. it is extremely dull at the beginning, he talks about how he is not giving a big speech and by the end he has given the most profound theological exposition. king, on the other hand, is obviously a master orator of a different kind. and king uses the expensive storytelling mode as a way to
really to engage the audience. i would say, for me, what is interesting theologically about the speeches is how different they are. if we are in a moment of decline of oratory, we are also in a moment of just the worst kind of public theology that you can imagine. politicians all speak about god in very kind of formulaic pro forma letters in the 21st centuries -- ways in the 21st century. these two are actually theological speakers. and lincoln is looking at the war and trying to understand god's agency in that war and he comes up with the idea that america is a kind of christ figure, that america is suffering for the sins of slavery. king interestingly goes the other direction.
and we didn't hear red -- read tonight, but the speech begins with him imagining god taking him on a flight through human history. and he starts seeing the exodus to the parthenon to martin luther to the founding fathers to abraham lincoln trying to decide to sign the emancipation proclamation to franklin roosevelt writing his inaugural. and he says of all the times in human history i would want to be alive, i would want to be alive for a few years in the middle of the 20th century. because what king sees is this expensive story of liberation. so, lincoln, in a way, even though he is on the verge of winning the war, is giving a kind of penitential speech
. whereas king, at the lowest moment of his life you might say, is giving this ruling -- really wonderful resurrection speech about the advance of human freedom. and they are both trying to lead -- read history and see what god is doing in history and they do it in different ways but with enormous profundity. i think it is a kind of rhetoric but a kind of theological reading of history we do not do anymore. i think you can learn a lot from it. mr. matthews: we can go back and realize that lincoln gives two of the greatest speeches in less than 1000 words total. of the two speeches together. king would take that long and going from the conclusion to the conclusion. [laughter] but king was a baptist minister. that is part of the deal you
would get. i think you are right, king is telling a parable. the exodus parable which has been one of the most powerful liberation stories and certainly the most powerful liberation story in african-american history but i think in western history, the story that we keep coming back to in different forms. i think what he is doing is you -- he is taking what many people involved in the sanitation worker's strike, they are looking at themselves and saying, we have been out on strike, we are trying to get a $.10 an hour ratise and they do not recognize our union and no one even cares. and he is telling them that they are the exodus story. that they are escaping from herrod, that in the history of -- pharaoh, but in the history
of the world they are a part of the story. it seems to me that that is one of the things that made kate such a powerful figure. -- king such a powerful figure. but for many of us involved in the struggle, we thought it was the lunch counter or getting a seat at the bus or civil rights legislation passed. to have someone telling you, even if you do not believe it, that you are a part of one of the greatest, what i would consider, the greatest freedom struggle the world has ever seen, because king saw it in global terms. and one thing we do not often recognize is that while we as americans were focused on the civil rights struggle, around the world there were anti-colonial struggles going on . so while african-americans were getting full civil rights era,
the majority of humanity, for the first time, was becoming citizens. mr. matthews: he mentions africa. speaker: he goes to africa and other places in particular it in the context of the greatest freedom struggle the world has ever seen. of course i would want to be here. even though he says the world is messed up. i would rather be here than in the renaissance or reformation. speaker: i would rather be here in memphis tonight on the eve of the sanitation worker's strike rather than watching martin luther pounded the 99 theses to the door. he has this wonderful way. i am neither a king nor a lincoln scholar but i have read and studied a lot about both of them.
i think people, the ways in which the "i have a dream" speech has become the standard by which people think about king, they forget the depth of his intellectual and theological sophistication, the public does. i think when you read the letter from birmingham jail and you see the depth of his learned this -- learnedness and the sharpness of his theological insight. whereas lincoln was, as you said really kind of a lifelong skeptic and not someone who would have maybe defined himself as a christian in many ways and yet he has this deep self-taught understanding of theology. and they both use the text differently. link" packages -- quotes packages. he uses it as cultural glue in the way that shakespeare was
used in the 19th century. king retells the story of the prodigal son -- not the prodigal son, the good samaritan. again, brings people into the story and says we have to find a way to identify with the other, not to think about ourselves but the guy lying in the street. it is very different strategies, but both very effective in their own way. mr. wilson: you mentioned the horrendous butcher bill of the war and how that was a huge part of the context. i think that was one of the things that were weighing on lincoln's mind. because you can see that it is not the why is much as the why so long. he says if god wanted to end it would end tomorrow but it does not end.
the war goes on. so that means that he just lets the logic work. it means that somehow there is a reason that the war has to go on this long, that the mortality bill has to get so long. that is the understanding that he comes to, but with the end in sight. i think he this scared before but with the and inside, he can say that this is the reason because the north is complicit in slavery as much as the south. >> household? > -- how so? >> because the whole experiment, american democracy, which is the thing he thinks is the most precious thing, is contaminated with slavery. they did not deal with it in the constitution. mr. matthews: we will ask everybody to fill out postcards -- those cards and we will be
collecting them. the lincoln memorial trust -- them. -- just staggers me. the secular temple of this town. martin luther king went here. jimmy stewart and mr. smith goes to washington, goes there in despair. it is really interesting how that temple -- speaker: richard nixon went there one night. mr. matthews: to make sport of -- meet and talk sports with the demonstrators. [laughter] let's be serious. it is on the penny and the five dollar bill. it is almost primordial, isn't
it, dr. carson? to go there and give the speech that matters. dr. carson: there are a couple of things that would say about -- i would say about that. number one is that it was kind of an accident that it was delivered at the memorial. it was aimed at congress, they wanted to go to the steps of the capital -- capitol and have the protest there. but they did not want that there. mr. matthews: they did not want to have it at the white house. mr. carson: when you look at the mall, what is the farthest place from the capital? [laughter] of course we're sending them there. they felt that this was a punishment and it turned out to be this wonderful decision because everyone then have that -- had this symbolic importance
of king, when he is delivering his speech and frames his speech this way, the head lincoln on -- he had lincoln on his mind the whole time he is preparing his remarks. and he mentioned five score years ago, lincoln delivered his great speech. he mentions the emancipation proclamation 100 years before the march on washington. he has lincoln on his mind as he prepares the speech. by the way, he was given 52 -- given 52 -- five to seven minutes to give a speech, as the new baptist manager -- asking a baptist minister to give a speech in five to seven minutes is asking for trouble. [laughter] it is the most crafted speech he ever wrote because most of the time he never sat down and wrote out a speech. at the end of seven minutes, he decided to tell them about his dream.
so the irony is that the most famous speech he ever gave would not have happened if he had stuck to the rules. and that was all extemporaneous, about a dream. mr. wilson: like lincoln, he tried out ideas earlier. mr. matthews: the genesis goes back to the founding documents not the constitution. the idea that -- and can, of course quoted from the , declaration and i love the declaration. the constitution we can argue about but there is something about how the declaration has risen up as a founding address -- document, starting with the gettysburg address and these references we all make to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. we do not quote the constitution . that is somewhat a straight
line, a trajectory from 1776 to where we are now because the unpaid check or the bad check that dr. king talked about, it was a great metaphor. they were coming here to make payment on that check. you said we would have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. pretty strong. >> to make that point, that lincoln is reframing the story. from the constitution to the declaration. when you are in the lincoln memorial, which i have been to as often as i can the declaration is carved in its entirety on the one side. when you step back from it, one of the most moving eggs to me is that the seals of each of the state is at the top of the line
so it is like the building in some sense incorporates the saving of the union in its own architecture. mr. matthews: so now we are going to get to questions and they are being brought here like the academy awards. somebody is coming toward. with the wedding questions. i am making a run. [laughter] i think these are going to be great. they are coming. thank you very much. what is the best way we can remember lincoln and dr. king and the 21st century and keep their memories alive? dean hall.
dean: i think two quick thoughts. one of them is thinking about king and about the current state of race relationship in america -- relationships in america and lincoln and the legacy of slavery. it does seem to me that the president has called for a national conversation on race. we are clearly in a moment in which america's history on race is coming back again to reassert itself and we need to engage it. i think the best way to keep them alive is seriously as a national community to have that conversation about race and to go to lincoln and king for guidance about that. i have taught in schools and i have seen the way that we have turned them into old that guys -- dead guys. but i do think the current moment of anger and tension and fear and anxiety about race relations is a moment to go back
and bring them into the living present. [applause] >> i will pass on that. mr. wilson: i think one of the things that draws king and lincoln together is that they both thought of american democracy as an experiment whose outcome we still do not know. i think many americans become complacent about, yes, of course we will succeed as a nation. we have been here for over 200 years. 200 years in the history of the world is a very short time. and i would argue that only during the last 50 or so years have we really been a democracy. we really only have about 50 years of opening up the notion of democracy to include everyone.
and that experiment is what king and lincoln were both speaking about and they make it explicit that this might not work. and lincoln at the end of the war is saying we might survive. the gettysburg address is around that theme, we might survive as a nation and we might not. and i think the general feeling of americans when they celebrate king or martin luther king is that it symbolizes patting ourselves on the back for the accomplishments we have had. that if not for king we would not have the civil rights bill if not for king we would still have jim crow. but king was not overly concerned about whether we got a civil rights movement.
when you think about it that is not much of an accomplishment. and what i mean by that is that the 14th and 15th amendment stated much more clearly than the civil rights act of 64 and -- 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965. if we wanted a clear statement of the right to vote, we had it. it was passed 150 years ago. why did we need a voting rights act? because we did not obey the clear language of the constitution. so i think that when we look at ourselves honestly i think the one quality that americans have more than anything else is self-confidence. and it is misplaced. we think of ourselves, we are the richest nation, the freest nation, we never put those
statements to the test. so we have a very inflated notion of our capabilities as a democratic society. and i think if king or lincoln were around today, lincoln for different reasons because she -- he was just a skeptic and it -- that it was all in god's hands anyways. mr. wilson: i was going to say that the questioner wanted a practical suggestion so i will just say this. take advantage of the fact that for the generations that are here now, the lincoln memorial has become not just about lincoln, but also martin luther king and we should encourage that. the whole idea of monuments is to cherish and keep alive and promote what they represent.
because it is human nature to become complacent. mr. matthews: maybe i am more optimistic than you, i will admit to that. you sound a little dismal for where we are going. mr. carson: i think of it as an experiment. mr. matthews: i think the general rule of us all is that we are more liberal and better on race than our parents and our kids are better than us, it is just a fact. my kids -- kids don't come home and say that i have a black teacher in school. they don't even bring it up. i know it sounds fanciful but it is true. my kids do not think about it. i insist on the word ethnicity and not race.
i just say ethnicity, they are not even aware of that. it has gotten so much different. we're going to have more intermarriage, i do not know if the walls of geographic segregation are going to drop, they have not dropped yet. there is a lot that has not changed. mr. carson: i agree with everything that you are saying except that one thing that is true is that johnson -- and you are a political expert. johnson, in 1964, won by a landslide. that is the last time that a majority of white americans and black americans voted together. it hasn't happened since. and it is not likely to happen in the lifetime of any of us appear. dean: were i agree with lincoln -- where i agree with lincoln is that i think the legacy of slavery is still deeply a part of our national problems.
and we keep on telling ourselves, we have moments were we say -- it is like when you go through therapy and you think you are well and you discover 10 years later you go back into therapy, slavery feels like that to me in america. at best we will be in recovery from slavery. but i am not sure we will be field as a nation from slavery. mr. matthews: let me get another question. this is just looking for trouble. who made a larger impact on modern society? lincoln or king? i don't know the purpose of this. what do you think? mr. carson: i look upon jefferson, lincoln, and king is -- as in this perpetual dialogue about democracy. one without the other does not make a lot of sense to me. if you look at lincoln's draft,
the declaration of independence, and the way in which later on lincoln has his commentary on that, king has his commentary on lincoln having a commentary on that, that is the american dialogue. so you cannot take one of them out of it. king's speeches do not make sense without lincoln and jefferson. mr. wilson: it is the bad american habit of having to know what is the biggest. or the longest or the farthest. mr. matthews: let me ask you about the history behind being the experts on these gentlemen. let's start with lincoln because he said that all he wanted to do was prevent the expansion of
slavery and that is all the -- he politically new he could do. but what was lincoln's goal? was it the quality? was it social integration? did he ever intimate what his dream was or is notion of a good -- his notion of a good country? mr. wilson: i think he was, most of the time, what he wants described as behaving like a river pilot. the mississippi river is such a treacherous river that the pilot can only steer from point to point because the river will have changed since the last time he was there. so lincoln says i take my cue from that and take things one step at a time and when i get to that point i will see what it looks like. i think he is so much that way that it is hard to say.
i think one of the things, this is a point that gary has said is he does not describe or say anything about reconstruction because he has not gotten any farther. with it then charity for all, malice towards none. that is the way we are going to go into it. and he does not have a program. he is getting a lot of flack saying the soldiers who focus , for us, we have to let them vote. and the ones who were educated no reason not to let them vote. why can't we start there? so he has put out something in terms of race relations and improvement. but he does not have a program he has not drawn up a bureaucratic arrangement, how the freedman's bureau is going to work. he sales he -- steers from
point to point. he is a big vision man if malice towards them entered for all his big envisioned. which i think it is. especially if you can say it in a way that people cannot forget it. it stays with you and other people can use it. this is what he said is the reason that writing was the greatest invention. if somebody writes it down, then it does not matter if it is forgotten for 1000 years, it is written down. and the person that can use it 1000 years later finds it worth writing. and that it goes on. so, i think that is the kind of thinker that he was. mr. matthews: the term african-american is no but he -- is not new but he knew people
who had come from slave backgrounds like frederick douglass. did he have any sense of on unsealing black potential? as compared to white potential. or didn't you? -- he? mr. wilson: he doesn't really talk about this, you have to intuit it from his attitudes and so forth but he is professionally closed mouth. all of his friends talk about it and not even his friends know his deepest thoughts. i do not have to tell chris matthews that when a politician opens his mouth, nothing but the truth from his heart comes out. [laughter] and abraham lincoln as a politician. mr. matthews: dr. king, do we know if he was a socialist or had an idea of ideology?
mr. carson: he was not political -- politician because the goals he had in mind -- one of the things i invite you to do is in the latest book, "martin's dream," i have a chapter about the love letters he wrote to coretta when they were dating in 1952. and it said the question of is he a socialist, yes he is a socialist, a christian socialist, an anti-communist socialists, but definitely a socialist. that is what they wrote love letters about. they were discussing and looking backward. one of the things he says in one of the letters is, let us promise to work together to have a warless world. a better distribution of wealth. these are obviously the things all of you wrote in your love letters.
[laughter] but, it is very clear -- and it gets to the question of if he was a politician. coretta kept the letters under her bed until 1997. that is why you probably do not know about the letters. could you imagine what would've happened to king's career -- can you imagine what would've happened to king's career if a letter was published, i look forward to national industry, it says in one of the letters. all of these things in the context of the cold war in the 1950's, that would have destroyed him. all the suspicion. i do not think j edgar hoover made a distinction between socialism and communism. that would not have been one of the distinctions he would ever make. king was someone who was in
favor of the kinds of changes that we are still probably, 100 years from. he was basically a science-fiction writer. about america and the 2000s. he was not a very accurate science-fiction writer. but neither was "space odyssey." mr. matthews: we lost mr. spock this week. dean, i want to ask you about something because i do not think you are right, we have to have a -- which is we should have a national conversation about race . in my experience when you bring it up, the room goes gold. -- cold. because what it is about indy -- in day to day terms, it is about bigotry. and people do not like talking about it because it is
embarrassing to everybody. you cannot have a conversation about race, i tried it on tv. let's talk about the intellectual aspect. people pull back. dean: i am sure it makes that -- bad television. i have been in conversations about race with a diverse group of people that have been carefully moderated and very transformative. life-giving conversations. they are hard conversations but i do not know how -- and maybe the national conversation about race is the wrong phrase. i do think though, we have to find a way as a society to engage these questions of difference and bigotry because otherwise it keeps on coming back. i think i was surprised, i think
we were all surprised about the amount of range in the shootings -- range -- rage in the shootings this summer. the police involved shootings both in ferguson and eric garner. i agree with you that it is a kind of buzz kill suggestion but we have to find, as a society we cannot go much farther forward just not talking about it or dealing with it. we are going crisis to crisis. mr. matthews: i am going to run the questions in front of everybody. could you please comment on the reading structures of lincoln and king? how did they go about deciding teams and structure in relation to the inclusion of theological? that grab anybody? mr. wilson: lincoln has the reputation of being a guy that writes his speeches on envelopes.
so that story came forward in a fictional thing at the turn of the 20th century and of such a -- it took such a hold on the public it will not let go. but on the contrary he was very, very deliberative. he was what i call a prewriter. if he had an idea, he would put it down. if he had a phrase, you put it down. he was always cooking the next message, the next thing he wanted to say. working on the idea. then he waited for the occasion. if you think you wrote his letter to greely after he got attacked, no way. he was ready with that answer. compact and made to order as it seems. he made it that way. he did this with all of his writings that i have been able to track. he did not think it was done
until he had read it to somebody. you think you could get that by reading it to himself but he said, no, that the network. older man blair or someone like that, tell me what you think of it. but one time he had to send off the letter and no one was there, it was summertime and he sent down the clerk in his office. and the clerk said, you want me to comment on it and lincoln said, no, just listen to it. i have to have somebody to listen to it. what i am trying to say is he was a very deliberate writer far more deliberate than people think. thinking ahead, not being taken by surprise, ready with a phrase or a sentence and a wonderful antithesis. without it, i cannot sail. that kind of thing.
he was this kind of writer. when you start tracking it he , spent a lot of time just writing. he would say, no visitors this week, i am working on my message . i cannot emphasize too much how much time he spent as president writing and how much good he did with these things and the way in which they add up. not only for getting things done in the 1860's but for the service it has done for posterity. mr. carson: king found it hard to write. every one of his books was a struggle. i have all of these letters between him and his publisher and it was clear he was struggling to get it done and he would ask for help from friends who would take on chapters.
he rarely wrote out his speeches. his great quality was his memory. if he ever heard a speech or read something and there was some nugget of insight in it, he would pull that in and it would go into his brain and stay there until he needed it, probably in the middle of some sermon. one of these sermons that i know he gave visiting a church, he had the program. he is on the program. on the program he is writing out the outline. probably when he is sitting up here on the stage, he is writing some ideas out on the program and then gets up and gives a great sermon. that is something that he picked up by listening to some of the
great orators in african-american history benjamin mays, his father gardner taylor. all of these people that were his models for oratory. that is what made him. dean: it is like letters from birmingham jail which is full of quotations from an astonishing array of sources which he had to have those in memory. mr. carson: maybe if he hadn't been in jail he would not have had time to concentrate. [laughter] he didn't like to do it but he was in jail and there's nothing better, right? mr. matthews: compare and contrast. [laughter] the approach of lincoln and king
to today's political leaders on issues of economic justice social justice, and war as a means of settling problems. dean: economic, social, and what? mr. matthews: war. and compare their approach to today's leaders. dean: i recently read king's riverside church speech which got him into a lot of hot water because he said the three great challenges to american life were racism, materialism, and militarism. i mean, i think it is clear on war and peace issues king and lincoln -- lincoln lamented the cost and bloodshed of the war but lincoln was obviously the commander-in-chief whereas i think king was more of a piece
-- peace person. that would be clear to me. i am not sure about the other ones. lincoln was not an economic ideologue to the extent that i would know. mr. matthews: we have had three marvelous presidents in a recent lifetime, certainly obama and kennedy. and you had to say reagan. they could say things with profound importance. they could say things philosophically and we remember it and we could argue about it. i personally think obama was the best in my adulthood. he is unbelievable. but he has lost his ability to connect. i guess it wears out these days. it is hard to keep oratory connecting with people for a long time. i do not know if king would've kept it up, people stop listening. is there a duration people give
-- are willing to give you as a leader these days? mr. carson: i think the most interesting speech obama gave his when he accepted the peace prize because before that time he often used -- he had the picture in his office of king and gandhi and i am not sure who else was in the picture but it was obviously something close to him and he writes about this in his books about how influenced he was by king and gandhi. but when he gets the prize, what does he have to say? well, i am president now. and i remember for myself being very critical of him because he says that they did not have to deal with terrorism which i thought was laughable. king died because of terrorism and gandhi, what is colonialism other than terrorism?
so, what he was basically saying was that if king had been elected president by some miracle, he would've had to make the same kinds of compromises. and that may be true. it may well be that being the president of a modern nationstate that has a monopoly on violence or at least is supposed to or we are discussing it with terrorism, you have to do what you have to do. your main job is to protect the nation. and i think that is one of the things that perhaps all of us face when we look at king and we say that we admire him. but do we really believe in nonviolence?
well, i think most of us would say that we do as long as the police have guns to protect me . and the military who have guns to protect me. maybe we are all hypocritical in that sense. dean: in terms of the connecting issue, as a preacher i would say that with the rhetoric, the ability to speak involves an ability to connect with the audience and to empathize with the audience. and i wonder if modern presidents lose that because of the isolation of the office. king was connected with the movement people he was with, lincoln was much more connected to the average person than any modern president. i just do not know if a modern president remembers his audience
after six years in the office. mr. matthews: especially when you're audience is being confected everywhere you go. where as in your campaign, you have to sell. you have to connect with them on their terms. you have to go find them. anyway, this has been a great night. i am sure we can go on. and i do think these questions are great. especially compare and contrast. [laughter] i think it -- thank you. it has been an honor. thank you dr. carson. i have learned a lot tonight. i hope you all have, too. thank you all very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015]
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