tv American History TV CSPAN March 27, 2016 3:00am-4:01am EDT
>> our first speaker is a native of chicago. earned a b.a. degree in sociology and began his career in boston. he moved to washington, d.c. in 1985 and has been here ever since. a journalist with the "washington post," republic, and new yorker, covering various presidents. he was washington, d.c. bureau egularly ontributed r columnist to the guardian and served as senior editor at new republic. served as assistant and senior adviser to bill clinton from 1997 to 2001.
his jobs included advising the president on communications and public policy, researching information in the media about the white house. he was a senior adviser to the 2008 hillary clinton presidential campaign. after leaving the white house, he wrote the clinton wars, 2003, about his time in presidential service. the book has been praised for its keen insights into the nation's political process. our speaker was a political consultant for the award winning series tanner 88 and executive producer of the documentary taxi to the dark side which details the nation's torture and interrogation practices during the war in afghanistan that won an academy award for best documentary in 2007. as the son of illinois it might be hope that he would some point turn his attention to lincoln. he will. and his lincoln life will examine the origins of his personality, anti-slavery views, international
dimensions, awkward efforts with the opposite sex, his fierce reading, other features of the extraordinary 16th president. the first volume has a publicication date of this year. i'm sure that's a coincidence that's john wilings booth's birthday. but like john he grew up in illinois, practiced journalism and put his hand to controlcal to history that he experienced. i'm not sure he can go one better. i don't recall ever playing lincoln on stage but he has played lincoln. last summer, as a matter of ct, i saw his lincoln at the amphitheater on stone hill farm at plint hill in virginia. i was president and can attest he was most presidential at stove pipe have to prove it. so you can see we have a very interesting and well rounded
speaker. my lords, ladies and gentlemen, sydney blumenthal. [applause] >> thank you. i appreciate those kind comments. i especially appreciate terry's guidance in my scholarship. he's a wonderful scholar and has won an award, written an award winning book on john wilkes boods. i am honored to be here at the institute to be able to speak about my new book. i am honored to speak before you. i hope that there will be time for questions. if there aren't, you can always come up to me afterwards and there will be a panel in the afternoon and i will be happy to answer any questions. in an age of anti-politics, i am here to speak of a career
politician, a party stallwart who conducted his own permanent campaign for elected office from the age of 23 onward when he was not visibly serving his corporate clients. and yet, after the founders was the greatest revolutionary figure in american history. perhaps it is a good thing abraham lincoln is not available to run for office this year, especially in the party he helped to found. though he was familiar with being the target of negative attacks, as a religious infidel, an aurist crat, corrupt, unpatriotic, tyrannical, possibly black, and proponent of misedge nation, abraham frinis the first during his reelection campaign of 1864 dove talede. but the perennial charge
against him was that he was a vulgar village politician. as the new york herald described him in 1960. when lincoln was 28 years old he tried out the word politician as an accusation against his opponent. he arose on the floor of the illinois legislature in defense of the state bank which he proposed to fund vast public works. the politician, he said, by unholy means, is endeavoring to blow up the storm that he may ride upon or directed. mr. chairman, this movement is exclusively the work of politicians, a set of men who have interests aside from the i want rest of the people and who to say the most of them are taken as enmass at least one long step removed from honest men. and then he added. i say this with a greater
freedom because being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal. a politician myself. this was one of young lincoln's earliest self-descriptions. after lincoln's assassination in this very place lincoln underwent a transfig ration. elevated into a saint and a martyr canonized, septmentized and romanticized. through his death he became unrecognizeable from how he was known in life. but as william henry sured, lincoln's secretary of state, among the most cunning politicians of his time, remarked about the framers of the constitution, the saints were not sages and the sages were not saints. steward had ab understanding of
hamilton long before the musical. together, lincoln and sured layed by the rules of the game and by the rules vindicated their principle. it was how they got enacted the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. and that is not folk clore. lincoln's life has been rediscovered in every era. when david donl wrote lincoln reconsidered in 1956, calling one chammer a lincoln politician describing his background as a wig party stal wart it was considered something of a revelation. in 1958, the lincoln nobody knows. entitling one chapter the master politician. since then, many distinguished historians have plumbed this
area not to mention steve ven spielberg. but there is much more to be learned about america's greatest genius. and as the campaign of 2016 demonstrates, to use one of lincoln's famous words that he gained from his reading of euclid, a campaign of political party chaos, driven by an irre spessible conflict, revealing a house divided, the lincoln theme we learned against is never exhaust it. rom the start, i sought to use my own experience having living closely with a president in the white house, as a journalist in washington, and campaigns. to think anew about his home life and world from this angle and vision i have exflorid aspects of lincoln that i hope
will enlarge and deepen the insing. lincoln lived in a time of self-made men. henry clay who rose from rags to nearly the presidency and coined the phrase a self-made man to apply to himself with lincoln's vote ideal. in the first half of the 19th century, possibilities opened up for men of humble origins to transform themselves into new people, asiming identity that were previously unimagined and which to find democracy. many men of lincoln's generation were self-made but lincoln was uniquely self-made. ip volved immersion into party politics as part of the first generation of professional politicians in america. his lecks of a socially prominent and unusually
political wife and his engagement with the realities and politics of savery which summoned him forward as toms jefferson was like a fire belle in the night. lincoln cannot be understand apart from the whole background of party politics. it cannot be overstated that lincoln was a party politician. and that background could not be separated from the issue of slavery. his entire life is self-making from its beginning was shaped by the struggle over slavery. nor cazz his relincolnen and understanding of religion be part.d -- grasped a nor can his personal story be filtered from slavery. the first time abraham lincoln
spoke openly about his origins is the year he assumed his new identity as a republican. until then he had been retiscent about his personal life. he was one of the best known political figure in illinois yet he kept an essential part of himself mysterious. he had been a professional politician on public view for 24 years more than half his lifetime and it time, a member of the whig party. it was as a wake he had climbed rapidly and it's blank's. at the age of 27, he was elected to his second term and legislature. the chieftain, head of the so-called springfield -- that directed the state party and a de facto co-editor of the leading whig writing many editorials anonymously.
he was the manager of wig presidential campaigns in the state and a presidential elect or to the electoral college. he was the prime mover behind installing the convention system. selected candidates, and forced the party system. he didthe first time that when he did the phrase a house divided. he was referring to the whig party. on the whigigned platform for economic development, internal improvement, federal and state and the terrace to protect and encourage manufacturers. he emphasized he was one of the aristocracy, and felt hurt he was accused of being part of the upper-class because of his marriage to mary todd.
she belonged to the edwards todd's family, the most on --.uished, living he wanted to be seen as rising from the common clay. leave hisermined to past behind, even to bury it, i live hiding his humiliation. his impulse was to protect himself from revelations about his origin. as for the details of his existence, he had been stone silent. it was at a campaign event in 1856, after he had become a he blurted outt a startling confession. i used to be a slave, said lincoln. he did not explain.
why he branded himself as belonging to the most oppressed, stigmatized, and untouchable worse than being accused of being an abolitionist. why would lincoln announce he was a former slave? facts, he did not disclose to his audience, or these. 21, his father had rented him out to neighbors in 10ld indiana at a price of to $.31 a day, to labor as a rail splitter. lincoln was an indentured servant, in effect. a slave. comments lincoln -- thomas
learnn wanted his son to and honest trade as a laborer. perhaps trained as a carpenter, considered formal education a waste of time. it was only when he identified himself as a republican that he felt free to reveal himself as a slave. completed his story. imc free that they let me practice law. i am so free that they let me practice law. he called himself a slave and it was not a slip of the tongue, hyperbole, or metaphor. it was not another of his funny stories. he made it into a joke.
considered himself held in bondage and escaped. he rarely talked about his feelings, even to his friends,, who tried to discern the signs. .e hit his depths his authenticity was not deceptive, but a veneer, nonetheless. he was simple and his approach .nd a presence he was a man of infinite silences and was deeply secretive, uncommunicative and close minded as to his plans, wishes, and fears. herndon said he never open himself to mortal creature. his captivity of a -- as a boy he so was humiliating and grading, imprisonment in a world of neglect and poverty and
ignorance. fierceat the root of his desire to rise. he knew his father had been reduced to a dirt farmer and had been compelled to escape kentucky to escape slavery. new free states are the places for poor people to go to and better their condition. lincoln had been impressed by a man who was himself oppressed. by crossing the ohio river, his father had made his own escape. son, andas a fugitive a fugitive himself.
selfstartling than his description is his subsequent self identification as a particular slave. this one intended for his candidacy in 18 68. he offered this description of himself. if any personal description of , weighing onle average 100 80 pounds, dark complexion, coarse black hair, gray eyes, no other marks or brand. many, even at the time, might have missed lincoln's allusion in the end of his seemingly
bland portrayal. what did it mean? no other marks or brands recollected. it was not another of his amusing jokes. language slaveowners used to describe runaway slaves in newspaper ads. himselfhad identified as one of the fugitives and mocked their owners. this was more than sympathetic projection. he believed he had his own andtive experience emancipated himself. he was not oppressed -- he was an oppressed and stunted boy who achieved his freedom. if he could do it, it could be done. identified himself as a slave, he began emerging as the
abraham lincoln identifiable in history. he would be given another identity, the rail slur. the legendary ax wielding establishing one of the most in during icons of american history. it was the picture of himself, from the time when he thought of himself as a slave. like other runaways, he remade his identity and never took it for granted. despite his standing for years among the whigs, few people favorite things other than a provincial figure, except his wife. his marriage was indispensable to his rise.
his sense of destiny and his equilibrium. comically awkward suitor who had a nervous breakdown over his inability to deal with the opposite sex. mary todd, daughter of his business partner, from , was a rareentucky woman of the southern upper-class who loved politics and was described as a violent little wahig. she did not hesitate to offer her opinions when women were supposed to remain silent and differential on the subject. she was more ambitious for her ambitious husband than he was. with her gave her
more than the social standing he desired. she steadied him, pushed them forward, and never lost faith in his star. their union as our lincoln party. through high strong, ew temperntrums -- thr tantrums, but she also gave lincoln a family and passionately believed in him. herndon hated her, calling her a shewolf. she would never invite him into the lincoln home, calling him a dirty dog. lincoln's private separately -- secretaries refer to her as the hellcat. there would have been no lincoln without mary and he knew it. he remained smitten and wondered that she had selected a poor nobody.
before the eyes of those that dismissed him, he was constantly transforming himself through self education and political aspirations. all were his heaven. lincoln was a new kind of man on the political scene. not just a self-made man, but the self-made man as a professional politician, a new profession. a newlyisan regular in -- partisan system. was not successful as a merchant. failure.dismal if being a successful
necessary forre being in office, he would have been disqualified. politics was not a grudging necessity. if it were true, to begin with, he never would have become president. in the end, he never would have an active the amendment abolishing slavery. were not antithetical sides of the same person. or antithetical stages in the same life. lincoln theot for politician, lincoln the great emancipator would never have existed. experiencew from his that it required a thousand political acts, some difficult.
a few grand, beginning in the illinois legislature. could betood defeats the father of victory. he knew in direction had a direction. men often heard what they wanted to hear. he knew little jokes could be and or rations could be jokes. his contemporaries learned it was often cover for political subtlety. his rhetoric had its own symphonic uses. though he was never an abolitionist, he was naturally anti-slavery. he grew up in an atmosphere far antislaveryd with
sentiment that has been generally understood. cabin, the men he chose as his mentors, conversations and debates, he joined in country stores. ,n the politics of indiana pitching the party of the people against the virginia aristocrats. lincoln's deepening understanding of lavery is a moral, political, and constitutional dilemma, began in his childhood, among the primitive baptist anti-slavery dissidents, whose churches his parents attended. as a boy, he wrote down the mississippi river to new slaves were on gaudy display and it shocked him. his development was hardly a straight line. he was caught up in the currents
of his time. it was the election will for his condemnation of southern christian proslavery theology that surface in his eulogy for henry clay and was shaped to diamond hardness in his inaugural. his 1830 seven springfield lyceum adjust protested the mob inby a proslavery illinois of elijah lovejoy. he did not mention him by name. lincoln was only one of two illinois state legislators who performed the unheard-of act of proposing a bill in favor of emancipation in the district of columbia.
as a congressman, he lived in a boarding house across from the capital on the side of what is now the library of congress. that was known as abolition house. he experienced the invasion of slave catchers coming to seize one of the waiters. undoubtedly, he knew the secret of the house where he lived. it was a station in the underground oil your -- underground railroad. with the quiet assistance of the leading abolitionists in the congress, he drafted a bill for masturbation -- four in the district. the former vice president, u.s. while hend tribune
reestablished himself in contemplating his political career, a writer of south sea tales began his writing of an ethnic work that would encompass an ocean. it was thought to define the new american generation to come. in one chapter of moby dick, ishmael uses his hands of a shuttle. it seems this were the loom of .ime
was sometimes hitting the roof crookedly or weekly, as the case may be. by this difference, producing a corresponding contrast and a final aspect of the completed was finally -- the sword must be chance. i chance free will and necessity. the straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course. free will, freed to apply her shuttle, and chance, though restrained, and sideways in its ,otion, directed by free will
chance by terms rules either and has the last featuring blow at events. herman melville j k description as practical work on the whaling ship was a portrayal of the political life been predetermined scales of ideological evolution. who isn't a slave, asked ishmael . lincoln spoke in springfield --, declaring that blacks had no rights and that
slavery could not be prohibited. in those days, our declaration of independence was held sacred includend thought to all. now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed and , if it could torn rise from their grave, they could not recognize it. then, he conjured terrifying images of a slave, with the world conspiring against him, bondage fastened through 100 keys by 100 men. all of the powers of earth seemed combining against him. follows, philosophy follows. day is fast of the joining. they have him in his present
house. they have searched his person and lest no prying instrument with him. another, they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him. of 100 keys. lock the key is in the hands of 100 different men. they scattered to 100 distant places and they stand, musing as to what invention and all the dominions of mind and matter. from what source did lincoln fearful scene of a prisoner held behind bars locked with a hundred keys in the possession of 100 keepers. was it inspired by a tale of
edgar allen poe? who were these oppressors bound to each other. what was the crime, who was the criminal? for which youime are to dutch. rising to deliver his speech for the crime against kansas on may 19, 1856. the criminal also must be .ragged in today from no common source could it proceed. neededperpetration was ambition, which would hesitate at nothing. a heartiness of purpose, which was insensible to the judgment of mankind area a madness for slavery, which would disregard
the constitution, the laws, and all of the great examples of our history. also, a consciousness, a power that comes from the habit of power. charles sumner described this .ower with an image a combination of energies found only in 100 arms, directed by 100 eyes. through these hundred arms, directed by these 100 eyes, the power exercise, a control of public opinion. subsidize clock -- crowds in every location of life. the lawyer with his subtle tong and the authority of the judge on the bench.
all of these things and more were needed and they were found in the slave power of our republic. days later, as charles sumner sat writing at his desk on the floor of the senate, preston brooks of south carolina, feeling on her bound to punish charles sumner's insulting remarks, entered the over thend beat sumner and, the proper beating for inferior, until he was left lying in a pool of blood running across the senate floor. brooks was hailed throughout the south as an avenger. sumner was transfigured into a
martyr. eight days after sumner was bludgeoned nearly to death, lincoln stood on the stage at bloomington illinois to found the illinois republican party. sumner'sransformed metaphor of the slave's power. he kept the number in his drumbeat repetition, but changed more than the objects. more than arms to keys and eyes to men. he shifted the point of view. he assumed the vision of the slave himself. slave, asked ishmael.
he identified with the captive, who could not find the key to his freedom. lincoln discovered the keys to his own escape. that is what he understood the captivity and would become a new shortlyl man, he would, after creating the illinois republican party, stand before a crowd to issue his personal proclamation. to be aed to -- i used slave." [applause] thank you. i believe there is still time for questions. please. >> some people like to refer to
--e of lincoln's will as lincoln's quotes as racist. do you believe that was lincoln being a politician and pandering to the public or do you believe those were his true feelings? >> the lincoln douglas debates are endlessly fascinating subjects. rival ran fortant the senate against each other, in 1858 and held a series of debates. douglas use the issue of race waytantly in every possible he could to take the issue away from lincoln.
it was race against slavery. atcoln made his statement the southernmost part of .llinois he defended the rights of blacks as human beings under the declaration of independence, but said he could not accept them as socially equal. that was more than a commonly held view. heldof the abolitionists that view at the time. we are dealing with a different world than our world. maybe we don't appreciate how much progress we have made. lincoln did that as a way to deal with the relentless racist arguments of douglas in those debates, and at the same time
try and make the argument that lacks also -- blacks also were human. >> two questions. where was the abolition house, boarding house, lincoln resided at when he was in congress? could you expand more on, did lincoln have conversations potentially with his father about treating him like a slave whereto his 21st birthday he was no longer being hired out by his father as a slave? sidney blumenthal: thank you. on the first question, the boarding house was run by a widow named mrs. sprague. boarding house was on a row of boarding houses where congress now exists. the jefferson building, the big building. not the madison building where you do research, but the main building.
that was a whole row of boarding houses. lincoln lived in one of those boarding houses. it was originally a boarding house where theater well lived. he had been the assistant to john quincy adams and was one of the brilliant organizers of the abolition movement. , thea giddings lived there leading abolitionist in congress. there were a number of others there. sprague was a virginian. clear tot was very people what on in that house in terms of people buying their freedom and people coming and going who were black. but it was a kind of station of the underground railroad. later, mrs. sprague fell on hard times and it came to the
attention of president lincoln and he gave her a federal job. the second question was? if you could remind me again. >> when he was feeling like a slave because of his father hiring him out, did he express that in any way or talk to his father or others about it while he was under that condition of oppression? sidney blumenthal: his relationship was obviously strained with his father. when he became a successful lawyer in springfield, he purchased a farm for his father and stepmother. he was very closely attached to partly because she protected him against his father, especially in his habit of reading, which is father regarded as a complete waste of time. , poor boy whod liked to read.
his father did not understand how you could advance yourself through reading. he bought his father a home. when his father was dying, lincoln's stepbrother and other members of his family urged him to come to the farm to see him. and lincoln refused. so there was never a final reconciliation. lincoln was, as i said, very closed about his emotional life and did not talk about it. think he did not ever want to talk about that particular wound he had. thank you. >> good morning, sir. i want to thank you for pointing out abraham lincoln weighed 180 pounds. sidney blumenthal: thank you, mr. lincoln. >> as someone who likes to dress up like lincoln, that tells many to get on a treadmill or split a
number of rails to get down to that weight. [laughter] >> i'm going to work on that. my question to you is as an advisor of presidents and in this time of the presidential campaign in which secret communications have become an issue, has there been any scholarship regarding the lincoln era, the wartime? i saw the lincoln movie in which he walked over to the telegraph department or department of war. obviously, there were secret communications happening. there was the story about the confederacy where there was a secret message wrapped around cigars that was mishandled. my question is, are there any lessons? i always think there are lessons in lincoln's life. are there any lessons in lincoln's history that can be carried over to this issue of communications and the need to have communications be private and confidential? sidney blumenthal: well, lincoln did not have e-mails.
[laughter] sidney blumenthal: but he had telegrams. that was the internet of its day. he would go, as anyone who has seen the lincoln movie recalls, to the telegraph office located in the department of war right across from the white house where the old executive office building is today. he would spend a good deal of his time there with secretary stanton and receive the latest communiques. it was in that office he wrote the first draft of the emancipation proclamation. i don't believe there was much of a classification system then. example,heard of, for that there would be government agents who would reclassify lincoln's telegrams after he left office. [laughter] [applause]
i think weenthal: are dealing with another era rather than the euro of today with its own complexities and vast government bureaucracy and its own tangled rules dealing with new technology that has not really worked out. thank you. i believe that is the last question. i want to thank you all. [applause]