tv Book Discussion on The Last Founding Father CSPAN April 30, 2016 4:00pm-4:52pm EDT
discusses his book, "the last founding father: james monroe and a nation's call to greatness." he argues that president monroe is one of the least researched presidents. he describes president monroe's life through his two terms as the fifth president of the united states. this program was recorded at inders in new york city 2009. it is about 50 minutes. [applause] mr. unger: thank you very much. i am honored to be here and i want to thank my publisher for making this evening possible. my thanks to c-span television and borders bookstore, a landmark here at 57 and park avenue in new york city. i am particularly honored by the presence of several renowned authors, one of them alice fleming, his latest book is a
biography of martin luther king jr., a dream of help. the naval historian paul service down is here. -- silverstone is here tonight. bookhomas fleming, his new is called the intimate lives of the founding fathers. i wonder what that is about. [laughter] honored byi am having you all here because i know that some of you sacrificed the $15,000 a plate fundraiser for president obama tonight. i can only offer you food for thought, but the price is right. i am sure you have all seen the famous painting of george washington crossing the delaware. you probably remember there is a soldier standing behind him with the american flag in his arms. that soldier, the officer, is james monroe.
and they were too symbolic reasons that the artist john trumbull placed monroe with washington as one of the only two important figures in the painting. one of the only two figures standing in the boat. monroe did not actually cross the delaware in the same boat as washington, but trumbull put him there to show him as a great hero of the battle of trenton under washington's leadership. he also put him next to washington to recognize him as the second greatest and second most beloved president after washington in the early years of the republic. indeed, monroe is the only president other than washington to be elected without opposition. with washington, americans trusted and loved monroe so much of that political parties disappeared. everybody voted for monroe. yet, if you ask the average
american today to identify him, he or she would probably not know who monroe rose -- was. one person suggested he was a point guard on the new york basketball team. and another was certain that he was marilyn monroe's father. that is tragic, because he was the last of our founding fathers. next to washington, the greatest. he was the last president to have fought and lived through the revolution and as president, he transferred a -- transformed a tiny nation that washington had created into an empire that stretched from sea to shining sea. it was he, not jefferson, that bought louisiana. it was he who stretched america's frontiers to the pacific ocean. trenton -- battle of
back to the battle of trenton. monroe crossed earlier than washington, landing on the jersey shore, circling behind the town while washington later with troops on the riverside below the town. what makes trenton so important, is that the british had almost won the war by christmas of 1776. their troops had overrun long island, westchester, new york and most of new jersey. thousands of american troops had deserted and the british had traced the remnants of washington's army across new jersey, over the delaware and into pennsylvania. redcoats were in sight of philadelphia, the capital. congress had fled to baltimore and had decided talking about terms to concede to the british. the war was over, unless
washington could come up with something. he chose a young college student, lieutenant james monroe, to make a miracle happen. they all crust the delaware -- crossed the delaware during a blinding snowstorm. mercenaries had spent in the evening celebrating and because of the storm, they went to sleep without posting guards. at don, monroe and his squad ,nuck to the top of king street the main street that washington would have to come up with his troops to capture the town. the soldiers happened to step outside to do you know what and he spotted them. he shouted, the enemy did they poured -- enemy. they poured out and started to fire on monroe and his men.
monroe was shot. but he and his men block them come andhington can force them to surrender. it was luck that is surgeon happened to wander by and tied off in artery, stopping the bleeding in monroe's arm, and saved his life. -- washingtonoe gave him a promotion to captain thanks to monroe, washington won the battle of trenton. they were able to win back number i'll of the public -- win back the morale of the public and the troops. training,tle and no we defeated the british. enough, he was well rejoined washington, fought
heroically at brandywine where lafayette was wounded and he helped save that man's life. he survived the bitter winter at valley forge and served battles.y at other monroe grew up in a modest virginia farm. after the war, he decided against farming. he went back to finish his education at the college of william and mary and study law under thomas jefferson. he then shows public service as -- chose public service as a full-time career, and by the time he died, he had held more offices than any public figure in history. the legislature -- legislator, ambassador to france, congressman, minister to spain, a fourth term governor of his home state virginia, u.s. secretary of state, of war, and
finally, a two-term president of the united states, the fifth president. as governor of virginia and he became the second most powerful figure in america. a virginia then was america's largest, wealthiest, and most heavily populated state with 20% of the american population. it stretched to the mississippi river and all the way north to the great lakes. it was enormous and the prestige toits governor was likable illinois, texas, california all put together. he was not only governor of america's most important state, he was a national hero in the revolutionary war. he was a giant in his day. i do not understand why historians ignore him him a which is why i wrote this book, to restore him to his rightful place in american history.
the most important presidents in the early days of our nation. now, some historians elevate john adams to historical prominence. most all but dfi thomas jefferson and james madison, and these were three great founding fathers. great political philosophers. but they were disastrous presidents. those three men left the nation worse off than it had been when washington seated them the presidency 20 years earlier. , declared went to war a naval war on the french. he stripped americans of their first amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press. thomas jefferson imposed a trade embargo that bankrupted the nation. and madison declared war, unnecessarily, on britain. what had just signed a peace
treaty. those three presidents left the nation still threatened on the north by british troops, threatened on the south by spanish troops, and threatened in the west as indian tribes slaughtered farmers. it took monroe to end those threats and leave that still small, still poor, still undeveloped nation to greatness. transform the to nation into an empire. now, along the way to greatness, monroe fell in love with and married the beautiful elizabeth cortright, a new york heiress who unlike most women of her day, had received an education and the arts, history and literature. she could hold her own with the best educated men in her era. his was the greatest love affair in white house history.
, mean, you talk about passion let me put it this way. put theory book club monroe story on the front cover of its christmas catalog. it buried bill clinton and monica lewinsky on the inside. .he monroe's adored each other they were inseparable throughout their lives, everywhere that he went, she was by his side, elegant. when you see the portrait, you will see that she was the most beautiful and elegant first lady in history. also, the most gracious. monroe was still a senator when president washington sent him to france to negotiate with the revolutionary government. elizabeth and their daughter went with him. in paris, they learned that
lafayette's wife had been sentenced to death. monroe could do anything about it without risking his diplomatic status, so elizabeth took matters into her own hands. she got into their carriage and like out of a movie, she drove through the paris mobs, by herself to the prison. she had a driver, but she was alone in the carriage and when she got there she demanded to see the wife of lafayette. eventually, she won her release. elizabeth munro was only about five feet tall, a tiny lady. but the courage and heart of a joan of arc and she won the hearts of the french people. they called her the beautiful american lady. helped lafayette and her children flee france to safety. together, elizabeth and james
monroe saves the lives -- saved their lives. on his next mission to france, a ,ecade later in the this time he went with $9 million from congress to negotiate the path -- purchase of the island of new orleans. that was all he was supposed to do. the farmers westerville appalachians wanted to flow grain down to new orleans for shipment overseas. instead of buying an island, monroe borrowed 6 million more dollars from an english bank on his own signature, and a double the size of the nation. he bought almost one million acres, the largest territory ever acquired by any nation in history from another, peacefully. without a war. one million acres and at a
bargain price of two cents an acre. even in those days, the average price for wilderness land was two dollars an acre. this purchase stretched the rockies and gave us the river valley. it was monroe that engineered the louisiana purchase. and as president, jefferson took credit for the deal, but he impact almost canceled -- in fact, almost canceled it. he had to be talked out of canceling it. he thought it was unconstitutional for the u.s. government to buy foreign territory. now, while james monroe was in paris combine louisiana, -- reducing louisiana, elizabeth munro was snapping up french furniture. the revolutionaries had looted
several homes and shadows and used furniture shops had piles of magnificent louis the 14th furnishings and furniture. it was at bargain prices. she bought dozens of beautiful pieces and later as first lady, she filled the white house with the priceless european treasures. it transforms it into the glittering palace it is today. you can see the pieces if you tour the white house today, a long-standing silver tray with magnificent silver candelabra, still sitting on the long dining table that is still used often for formal state dinners. her portrait hangs in the east room on the wall opposite the podium that the president uses at his press conferences, as he answers questions, he can stare over there -- their ugly faces
and be inspired by her beauty on the opposite wall. [laughter] mr. unger: one other thing that they did on their second trip to paris was to save the lafayette from french destitution. he was bankrupt and james monroe convinced a bank to accept land in the american wilderness as collateral and advanced lafayette enough cash to recover, financially. james monroe became america's fifth president, two years after the end of the war of 1812, in which the british invasion left the public buildings of our .apital gutted by fire americans called the war of 1812, madison's war, because james madison and his them toence cabinet declare war on britain and
innovative canada, -- invade canada. madison and his war secretary left the city of washington undefended. when he realized the mistake, he pleaded with james monroe to become the secretary of state and then to become secretary of war on the to hold the two positions simultaneously. monroe all that went into battle to protect washington, but it was too late. so he took all the men he could muster to baltimore to protect it. that battle raged through the night, but at dawn, our flag was still there and the british retreated, thanks largely to the brilliance of james monroe. by the capital building and the presidential mansion as it was called, had been gutted by fire. they slathered on codes of white
paint to cover the black exterior of the president's house, and that is when it got its name, the white house. it was elizabeth munro -- monroe, the first lady to live in it after the war, who turned it into america's most beautiful home. while elizabeth was re-furnishing the white house, her husband was refinishing the nation. he was determined to make the in tangiblecable -- -- impenetrable by foreign countries. toexpanded our boundaries the natural defenses of the oceans, lakes, rivers and mountains that surrounded the continent. he sent andrew jackson and a small army to seize florida from spain. he forced spain to redraw the western boundaries of the
louisiana territory, to extend into the rocky mountains. and north to the pacific ocean. for the first time since they declared independence, americans were secure from attack foreign troops and they went westward over the mountains and into the wilderness, to claim their share of america, buying up land from the government and carving out in an harvesting timber era when land was wealth. the land wealth added six states to the union and continued the -- never before in history had a sovereign state transferred ownership of some much land, and so much political power, to so many people not of noble rank.
ownership, the americans gained the right to vote, stand for office, govern themselves and communities, their state and nation. you could not vote or stand for office if you did not own land. if you owned land, you owned the nation. to ensure success for the land rush and perpetuate economic growth, james monroe promoted the construction of roads, bridges, and canals in every region of the nation with outlets to the sea and shipping routes to the world. the massive building program transforms the wilderness into the most prosperous nation on earth. the economic recovery converted the u.s. government deficit into such a large surplus, that james monroe abolished all personal taxes in america. his presidency made poor men rich, encouraged the arts,
literature and fine arts. he turned political allies into friends. as no president had done and never would again until maybe the second world war. political parties dissolved, disappeared. americans of all political persuasions rallied under a single star-spangled banner and reelected him to the presidency without opposition. the only president other than washington to win the presidency without opposition. never seenan era before or since, an era of good feeling, they called it. that propelled the nation and the people to greatness. after he had built the american military a naval power to levels that made the shores impenetrable, monroe climaxed his presidency and the start of
the war with the most important manifesto after the declaration of independence, the monroe doctrine. he warned the world that the united states would no longer permit foreign incurrence in the americans -- america's. he used diplomatic language to rarity -- to reiterate the warning of the rattlesnake on his regiment, do not tread on me. unprecedented in world history, the monroe doctrine, or the manifesto, unilaterally extended america's sphere of influence over one third of the entire western hemisphere, he told the world we would not inal in their -- meddle their affairs and don't they dare metal -- meddle in ours. they would benefit much more by trading with us, rather than
trying to congress. se infuriated some has -- head of state, but he gave americans enjoy. -- joy. told him, you have made me prouder of my country man i ever was before. than i ever was before. some of you are wondering about the slavery issue. president monroe like others owned slaves, but he considered slavery you moral. mmoral.ijmm but saw no way to end it without a bloodbath. but the first thing to remember that slavery was not an american institution, it was british, french and spanish. americans inherited it after it was 200 years old.
virginians had actually voted to ban slavery in the early 1700s. by the british government of good clean and -- of good queen act in aruled the largely because they depended on revenues from slave traders. in the decades that followed, virginians petitioned to end slavery. all refused, and more africans crossed the atlantic, involuntarily of course. ironically, the increase in the number of slaves was more of a burden than a benefit to most virginia planters. slaves were usually unskilled and unable to speak english. they had fewer incentives to work than workers in the north.
fatherthey aged and children, they added enormous numbers of nonproductive infants and elderly to the population of the planters had support. in only 50 years, from 1720-1770, just before the american revolution, in those years virginia's slave population grew almost eightfold. from when the problem was still 200,000.ble, to nearly virginians owned 40% of all the slaves in america. with traders going up the james river, virginians feared that blacks would soon outnumber whites and stage an uprising that would end in a bloodbath. most of virginia planters wanted to end the importation of slaves
, and get rid of the ones they had, but where would they go? 200,000 people, where would they go? in the north, there were cities with factories and apprenticeships to teach freemen new skills. the south was agrarian and with fewer towns. the end of the road of one plantation led to the end of -- led to the beginning of the next. where exactly where the slaves slaves to go?the the only jobs in the south were for field workers. it was a widespread fear, for slave rebellions, that sparked the idea of resettling blacks. in 1817, a year after monroe's election, a group of southern plantation owners joined with northerners to form an alliance
called the american colonization society to purchase and emancipated slaves and transport them to africa. congress appropriated $100,000 to fund an agency to return africans captured from slave traders, to return them to their native lands. in 1821, the colonization society bought a large area of land at the mouth of the st. paul river in liberia, as a temporary haven for returning slaves, expecting them to set off for their native villages. after three or four generations in america, they do not know where their native villages were, so many did not move into the interior and that settlement grew into a city. work for the, the colonization society started about 40 years too late.
the economy of the south had converted from tobacco to con. -- cotton. tobacco plantations depended on skilled hands to grow the tender crops, which usually forced planters to foster worker contentment by providing adamant care for worker families, providing care for elderly and children. onntent changed -- cott changed that and changed slavery entirely. it required no skills. they absorbed women, children and the elderly as long as they could stand or crawl. it opened agriculture to a new class of grower. almost every white man could join you all he needed was a ,atch of land, it will -- whip and enough money to buy a slave.
craftsman who had opposed slavery as free labor that the private them as -- deprived them jobs, all ofd them a sudden they were buying land and slaves. paternalismaced across the south. the crack of the whip could be heard across the field and a violent revolt against the would turn into an abolition. the efforts of well-meaning men like washington and monroe had, 120 years too late. monroe died almost penniless. even as a youngster, he had always considered service to his country as his obligation, so like washington he refused all
pay for serving in the revolutionary war as a lieutenant, captain, and finally a kernel. later he bought a house in paris to serve as the living quarters for the family, assuming congress would reimburse him. he was wrong. he covered the cost of his office. always assuming he would be reimbursed. and he never was. when lafayette came to visit the u.s. in 1824 and heard of the outgoing president monro's financial plate, he responded immediately. monroe, let your friends lend you resources to put your affairs in order. remember when i was in similar circumstances, unaccepted your help. -- i accepted your help. that should give me the right to reciprocity?" monroe was deeply moved, but far
too proud. he told lafayette, i could never take anything for you nor from your family. i have known and seen too much of yours in their sufferings to commit such an outrage. -- if i ever visit friends, visit france, i shall make your a house my home for a good long time. he sold his beautiful virginia plantation to pay his debts. home of hiso the daughter and son-in-law. he found strength to write to his old friend in virginia, james madison, for whom monro had served as both secretary of state and secretary of war. they had known each other since they were young men in their 20's. "my condition renders the restoration of my health very uncertain. it is very
distressing to me to sell my property, or besides parting with all i have, i regret that there is no prospect of our ever meeting again. we have for so long been connected in public and private life in the most friendly way that a final separation is one of the most distressing incidents that could occur to me." monroe's letter so upset the aging medicine that he -- madison that he replied-- "the pain that i feel of never meeting again afflicts me deeply, a recollection of the long, close, and in interrupted friendship that united us. the pain makes me hope that you might be brought back to us. this is a happiness that my feelings covet. i will not despair at you not being able to keep up election with virginia." monroe died a few weeks later on
july 4, 1831, at 73. the third american president to die on a july 4, and the last of the revolutionary war presidents. monroe, john to quincy adams, who had served monroe for 8 years as his secretary of state, told americans to compare the map of north america in 1783 with the map of that empire as it is now. the change more than that of any other man living or dead was the work of james munro. strengthening his country for defense, sustaining her rights, dignity, and honor brought. soothing her dissensions and conciliating her absurdities of home. unifying the and
edifice of his countries union until he was entitled to say, like augustus caesar, that he had found her build of brick, and left her clad in gleaming marble. the lastjames monroe, of our founding fathers. thank you very much ladies and. [applause] thank you very much. yes sir? >> i think you answered your own question. let me feed it back to you. notoriety is my long life experience. orndal, military victories, controversy. he seems to have avoided all three of those things by
skillful diplomatic corporation. -- diplomati cooperationc. without getting himself that kind of notoriety. that may be one answer. the other is that he is difficult to write about. she just did his job. -- he just did his job and didn't seek a tremendous amount of felicity, -- of publicity, as did some of the others. yes sir? book, you describe the end of the party system under monroe. a and the consequences are failing calamitous. it can be a constructive lesson in our times. can you talk more about the causes -- was it the british invasion of washington, or the
antifederalists taking over the federalist position? mr. unger: the two are unrelated. the first is about the end of parties, which is monroe uniting everyone in building the nation. there were unfortunate consequences of that. with the disappearance of political parties, members of his cabinet -- he was too honest a man and said he would not run for a third term. the members of his cabinet all started eyeing his seat. their political ambitions came to the fore. with no political party system left, he had no way of disciplining them other than to talk them out of the cabineto or his office. there was no party structure
left to discipline any of these potential candidates. that was one of the unfortunate fallouts with the election. one of them died before the election. and no one gotn, a majority in the electoral college. it went into congress. congress gave the election for john quincy adams over andrew jackson, even though it jackson had a plurality of votes. she did not have the necessary majority. elected and jackson had to hold off for four more years. the other question was the war of 1812. that had nothing to do with political parties. that was madison's incompetence as president. she had been secretary of state for eight years under jefferson.
no real experience running the nation. he did not have to make any real decisions. he was simply incompetent. left most ofe jefferson's cabinet in place and took on political hacks, especially the secretary of state. he replaced himself with a republican leader from congress. that secretary of state did a disastrous job. the british had signed a peace treaty with the americans in london. more for month or ships to cross the atlantic. before the ship could bring the copies of the treaties here, madison was talked into invading canada to show off how strong we were.
of course it was a disaster. yes sir? you alluded at the beginning, the fact that most americans don't recognize him as one of the great presidents. or they don't recognize him at all. what do you think is the reason for that? mr. unger: the other gentlemen asked that question, i think. the reason simply is that historians like to cover exciting battles, a lot of blood, a lot of action. and they tend to ignore the hard-working political leaders. i think that is probably still true. thate get elected a lot way. here clearly was in an elected for his competence.
yes sir? >> he lived for several years after she left the presidency. do you have any idea how he felt about his successes? deep inside, he favored john quincy adams. he had worked with him for eight years. in those days, the secretary of state was the most important figure in government after the president. we were surrounded by foreign powers. the secretary of state had a very important role in dealing with the rest of the world. john quincy adams had been with then or diplomatic service since he was 17 years old, and was with them when his father was in france. clearly adams was the most competent man in the field of foreign affairs. monroe was quite pleased that
adams won. he really favored adams. but state out of the election. -- stayed out of the election. she did not feel that it was his role, as did washington, that it was not his role to get involved in the campaign for his successor. yes sir? >> you mentioned in your book how after the election, monroe sort of made a tour of the united states. that put him out of washington, and in a sense, out of touch with what is going on for months at a time. and very difficult for communications back and forth. is that just a sign of the times, or that maybe those decisions were being made by others in washington? mr. unger: that is a wonderful question. in those days, people in
washington were not the ones who were doing things. they were there for a very short time. monroe was not passing laws after laws. they went their business and got home to their farms. most of them were planters and farmers, doctors, lawyers, and bankers. they had full-time jobs. this is a part-time job. not much was going on in washington. what was going on was in the rest of the country. monroe, like washington -- remember, there was no television, no e-mail, no communications -- the only means of communications were these weekly newspapers, weeks, often was late with the news. like washington, monroe did not want the presidency to become a monarchy, with a monarch sitting in his castle in a cocoon, away
from all the people. he went out to meet the people. and that's why he was so loved. he became a people's president. he went out into the farmlands, shook their hands, walked with them over their fields and became one of them, as washington had done. these other presidents had sat in philadelphia, and later in washington, as they do today. womencongressmen and today. they are isolated from the people. monroe wanted to be in touch with the people. as a result, he found out what they wanted and provided it for them. yes sir? monroe iser question, obviously inane of great accompaniment. -- a man of great
accomplishment. did he ever described what he though of as his greatest accomplishment? mr. unger: no, all that knew him say he was a very modest man. a gentle man. yes sir, in the back? purchase.isiana other than for money, where there are multiple reasons that france was willing to part with the territory? and additionally to that, the population of the territory -- to what extent was its colonial frenchman as distinct from others? mr. unger: very few colonial frenchman. although there were some. this was the big difference between the english, french, and spanish. most of the english settlers came to settle.
most of the spanish immigrants to the americas and the french came to find treasure of one form or another. in the spanish, they wanted precious ores. they found it in mexico and south america. the french, they wanted furs and health. they found that. -- furs nad pand pelts. the british were content to settle here, perhaps because they came from a crowded island. but they were truly settlers. the reason the french were willing to give up for such a small price was napoleon had had it up to here with the colonies. his army, led by his brother-in-law, was slaughtered by an uprising of patients -- of haitians. threatening --
there were rumors that the spanish were going to read your seat the territory -- retrocede the territory to the french. they had already done it. that set off other rumors that napoleon was going to send tens of thousands of troops over here to put up a barrier along the appellation -- appalachians to keep settlers from moving out west. 200,000 citizen soldiers on the mississippi before napoleon could get his troops there. combined with the haitian he was gettingnow defeated in spain -- the british had intervened in spain and were pushing out the french -- he
realized he had extended his forces too far and to wide. -- and too wide. he said literally, the hell with the copies, the hell -- with the colonies, the hell with the coffee, all the sugar, the products of haiti. he decided to let that territory go. >> [indiscernible] mr. unger: it went both ways. wily foreignis minister, got into negotiations. napoleon didn't trust him, and the americans didn't trust him. this went around in circles. it was finally negotiations between napoleon's own executive and monroe that settled the deal.
>> you mentioned on his way to france to purchase new orleans, he took out a $6 million loan. what did he use for collateral to make that purchase? mr. unger: just his signature. [laughter] he couldn't talk people into anything. he was this mild, gentle fellow. one could only guess what the accents were like in those days. were they part british? for they the soft virginia -- were they the soft virginia accent? he could -- you just trusted the man. he just talk to them into lending them $6 million. [laughter] be.ertainly tried to
>> monroe sort it out being against the constitution because it gave too much power to the federal government. he winds up buying louisiana and florida, going beyond the powers granted by the constitution. did he ever address these subjects? mr. unger: no. nor did any of his predecessors. they violated and continued to violate the constitution. every branch of government has violated the constitution since day one. washington had no authority to send troops to crush the whiskey rebellion. he had no authority to demand that congress give him control over the executive departments. marshall, when he became chief justice, had no constitutional authority for declaring half the state laws unconstitutional. there is nothing in the
constitution that gives the supreme court the right to declare laws unconstitutional. it does give congress the right to pass laws that are negative, state law, but it doesn't give the supreme court that right. every supreme court, every president, and every congress, every senate, every house of representatives, has usurped powers not granted by the constitution. sadly, most of them do indeed th our former vice president said, that the constitution is a quaint inument, but impractical terms of emergency and in terms of day-to-day politics. i thank you all very much for coming. [applause] >> on history bookshelf, hear from the country's best-known
american history writers of the past decade. every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. you can watch any of our programs at any time when you visit our website, c-span.org/history. you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. army 65th infantry regiment, also known as the monrinquneers served in world war ii and korea. the last segregated unit in the military to be deactivated. congress awarded them a congressional gold medal and held a ceremony to recognize its achievements. this is about an hour and 10 minutes. [applause]