tv Bob Woodward on President Lincoln CSPAN July 28, 2016 9:00am-10:04am EDT
by labor union leaders who had it all but repealed by 1868. first, last, and only law in american history encouraging immigrants. this is a time to think about abraham lincoln. this is a period in american history to understand abraham lincoln and recognize what he stood for. often times when he was in the telegraph office pacing or pornlding and driving the awe-struck soldiers serving their crazy with news, at the end of the day with the shawl around him when he stood up he would say, well, boys, i'm down to the raisins. which meant he had completed his task. i think i'm down to the raisins right now. i would like to thank each and
every one of you for being a wonderful attentive audience. thank you so much. [ applause ] >> questions for our speaker? >> lincoln approached not-nothing voters during the 1860 campaign. did he announce them or try to win them over to the republican? or how did he fdo that? >> he said how do you want to welcome those people? i will welcome the no-nothings if they will accept in the entirety the republican platform, which does not include exclusion. when lincoln's people went out and campaigned and somebody would say, well, what does your boy think about immigration?
lincoln instructed them to tell them that there will be no prejudice at all based on immigration and ethnicity, and they're more than welcome to vote for the republican ticket, meaning him, but they should not expect the naturalization laws will be increased. they should not expect there's going to be any one group preferable for the other. they should expect there immigrants to fulfill the labor shortage that the civil war created. he did not turn anybody away, but he made it abundantly clear that if you vote republican and enter the republican party, you enter a republican party on the basis of our platform. not yours. yes, sir? >> i'm glad you brought up -- thank you. glad you brought up the german-american -- german community. isn't it true, i think it was in daryl's book. he bought a german newspaper -- >> very good question. >> in order to get the german
vote. >> lincoln was -- lincoln was a politician, and in lincoln's defense i don't use that with a kind of nasty sense that i would describe somebody today as a politician, but lincoln understood that there was a german newspaper -- several german newspapers in illinois at the time. one was was going bankrupt. the editor of the newspaper was a man by the name of theodore kanessis. lincoln said i'll buy the press, i'll buy the machinery, i'll buy everything. you can continue your newspaper along the lines of what you asked me -- you can continue your newspaper in german as long as you don't violate one aspect of the republican party platform. and so consequently the transaction was struck and theodore, who liked abraham
lincoln. who would ultimately have a diplomatic position. published the newspaper. basically it was a republican outreach to the german population in and around springfield, illinois designed so they could read in their native language that abraham lincoln was the proper candidate and they would get what they needed from lincoln. the sad part about this is not one sing the issue of that newspaper exists. nobody has found a single issue of that newspaper. yes, ma'am? >> thank you for this wonderful -- i guess you call it an address. i was interested in your dust of ages comment. did lincoln ever meet any asian people? >> as a matter of fact, he did. not many. not many. but he met two young men over
the course of i guess maybe five or six years who had come to the united states, settled in the san francisco area, made their way eastward, and became part of a congressional group that came to the white house to meet ak hamlin c -- abraham lincoln. so basically his comments about asia was based on very little experience and virtually no first-hand knowledge. lincoln, i mean, the interesting thing about lincoln is you've got to recognize him warts and all. so consequently in his era he was enlightened and progressive, but he had a few blind spots and his quotes i read to you tonight indicated that. >> he addressed any of these
groups of immigrants in their language. today advertisements sparred in the language to communicate to the immigrants -- i know mary todd spoke french. did lincoln ever speak french? >> no, he didn't. that's an excellent question. because he knew a number of the germans, they actually encouraged him to sit in on a class to learn the german language. lincoln learned three or four word and a phrase. what he liked to say when he would speak to somebody that he was fluent in german, most of the accounts i read who were with him said he liked to tell stories more than he liked to listen and german. that's the closest he ever came to being bilingual.
>> did lincoln have any platforms or profound thoughts about native americans? >> you know, that's a superquestion. when i started my book five or six years ago, i was going to include them. then i thought, wow, okay, that broadens the topic because native americans are not immigrants, and now you're talking about a fine line between race and ethnicity. it depends on who you ask. there are some people who will tell you that abraham lincoln was as prejudice toward indians as any westerner would have been. and participated in the execution of a number of indians in minnesota. on the other hand, if you take the other side, they would say that he reviewed each case
individually, reduced the number of those scheduled for execution by two-thirds, and consequently saved a number of indians. so it really -- it's kind of like everything with abraham lincoln. it depends on what side of the fence you were on. but if you're asking me have you ever come across anything in which he said that native americans were part of this american dream and should be given jobs. no. i think in that regard lincoln was a westerner. he said on a number of indications that the only bloodshed was because he was bitten by mosquitos. he saved an elderly indian from being shot by one of his soldiers one of his fellow soldiers because lincoln could not face the fact he would be executed because he was an american indian.
so my personal opinion is lincoln had a good gscope. deep down inside i think he probably had more come passion for fellow man and women in all races and ethnicity than virtually anybody in his era. one thing i cautioned my students about, and professionals as well, that is it's very unfair to evaluate abraham lincoln by 2016's standards. if you went up to lincoln and said you're a racist. he wouldn't know what that word was. so if you suffer from evaluating historical character on the basis of what we know today, you're doing everybody a disservice including yourself. so i feel pretty comfortable standing with the belief that lincoln was as enlightened a human being as possible that
came from the west and the middle of the 19th century. >> all right. i'll ask. relating lincoln's policies to what seemed to be republican platforms today with regard to immigration, isn't it fair to equate them? >> no. >> okay. >> i'm glad you asked me that. i'm glad this is on television, too. there will be no mistake about what i think about this. i think lincoln would have fits with the republican party. i don't think he would recognize it as his republican party. i don't think abraham lincoln, and this, you know, i tell my students on an ongoing basis, because i obviously in south carolina i come from a red
state, and so whether it's red or blue, republican or democrat, i tell my students, with a great deal of sincerity i hate them all. i have no use for politicians, in that sense. which was lincoln wasn't. lincoln would not be able to relate to a giant wall being built. he would not be able to relate to the deportation or the punitive measures taken against any group because of who they are. lincoln had this extraordinary ability to look at people as individuals and not form these incredibly broad generalizations and act on them. now, as a westerner, those broad generalizations might filter into his vocabulary, but take the comments about asians. were lincoln alive in the 1880s, i can't imagine he would have participated in the chinese exclusion law. i can't. that wasn't him. and so for people to latch on to
abraham lincoln today, it's sort of saddens me a little bit they don't understand abraham lincoln than misuse a great deal of what he said and how he said it. there was a very famous news week editorial when i was an undergraduate in the stone age. and the title was "getting right with lincoln." and basically what it was how ever president -- it was during nixon and watergate and the vietnam war. how every president including nixon tried to get right with lincoln. that's what i think people try to do today. they try to get right with lincoln, but the republican party of today, i don't think lincoln would be able to relate to or identify at all. lincoln knew some dirty politics. i mean, you know, they were not angels back then.
the lincoln douglas debates were pretty brutal and lincoln was a politician. he knew how to get beaten up and everything. were he alive and witnessing some of what happened in this presidential campaign season, i think he would be just appalled. i really do. and i don't think he would be able to support anything about exclusion of immigrants just because of who they are. [ applause ] >> oh, wow! thank you so much. thank you so much!
coming up this weekend on american history tv on c-span3. saturday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on lectures in history. virginia commonwealth university instructor. and sunday morning at 0k a.m. "road to the white house" rewind. the 1852 and 1948 national conventions. dwoi in 1948, the first televised conventions where president harry truman accepted his party's nomination. >> the failure to do anything about high prices and the failure to do anything about housing, my dooutd duty as president requires i use every means within my power to get the laws the people need on such
importance of urgency. >> and at 6:00 on american artifacts. we'll take an early look at the new smithsonian national museum of african-american history and culture with the director. museum opens the doors to public in september of this year. >> we're able to get amazing collection of movie posters, such as the ones behind you. that's an early oscar movie poster. in the 1920s and this is part of our job to help people relearn history they think they know. that is from spencer williams. he was one of the most important black film directors in the late '30s and' o40s. and john and ed gordon and ron talk about the process of writing a presidential biography. for our complete american history tv schedule, go to c-span.org. tonight hillary clinton becomes the first woman to
accept a major political party's nomination for president of the united states. and with c-span, you have many convenient options for watching the entire speech without any interruptions. watch her historic acceptance speech live on c-span. listen to it on the c-span radio app, watch it live or on demand on your desk top, tablet, or smartphone at c-span.org. hillary clinton's historic acceptance speech tonight on c-span, the c-span radio app, and c-span.org. coming up next on the presidency. washington post journalist bob wood ward reflects on abraham lincoln's legacy and how it affected a number of his succ s successors. this is parking lot oft of a we lecture series.
on behalf of the law school and the entire university, i'm pleased to welcome you here to the beautiful auditorium for the first lecture in a new series hosted by the college of law entitled "the new lincoln lectures. what lincoln means in the 21st century." during this series, we will, over the next few years, bring in ten or so aid logically diverse national thought leaders to reflect openly on lincoln's legacy and his continuing relevance 150 years after his passing. i know all of us are eager to hear from our lecture woodward, but i want to take a few minutes to say a bit more about the lecture series. people sometimes ask me why the law school has chosen to focus
the lectures on handabraham lin. that's easy. he's probably america's greatest lawyer. lincoln played many roles. president, legislator, military strategies, newspaper owner, et. cetera, but at his core he was a lawyer. a constitutional lawyer who, to our collective good fortune, was there when the nation most needed someone to understand and preserve the supreme law of the land so that, as he put it, government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth. another easy question, why focus on lincoln now? a century and a half after his death? many of the themes of lincoln's life and his life's work, treatment of race and noncitizenship, relationship between the national government and the states, the scope of executive power, among others dominate discourse today nearly as much as in lincoln's era. what is more, we're literally in the midst of a presidency of
another tall, skinny, illinois whose political ascent would likely not have possible been without lincoln. president obama twice carried essentially the same states that lincoln did. as was true after lincoln's death, there are big questions now days whether that collision can endure to transfer power to a key aid of the twice-elected president. in the 19th century illinois resident ulysses s grant and today hillary clinton. why here? in a real sense, the university of illinois located between springfield and chicago is mr. lincoln's university. as we in champagne urfwhan prepare to celebrate our own -- we were among the first created by the act signed into lincoln five years earlier.
and the only one in that original group founded in lincoln's home state. one of the reasons i was drawn to come to illinois last year to take the job as a law dean is the prospect is the university of illinois can build upon the legacy of and become linked with lincoln in the way that the university of virginia is associated with thomas jefferson, who, to my mind, was not as great a president and not a great as person. it brings me to a fourth question, why bob woodward. that might be the easiest one of all. many people consider the "new york times" the country's newspaper of record, but bob woodward of the rival washington post is america's reporter of record. he's been at the post for 45 years and responsible for two of the pulitzer prizes for investigative coverage of watergate and 9/11. he's more than an reporter. he's a prolific historian of america's presence. he's cowritten 12 number-one
best selling nonfiction books. more than any other contemporary american author. the native of, where else, illinois, and a graduate of yale college who spent five years in the navy, mr. woodward has won virtually every major journalism award. one of his earlier books, the first major work to expose the supreme courts to inner operation to outside view figured significantly in my decision and a handful of years earlier in the decision of my older brother to attend law school. i have reread it at least a half dozen time oefrs the last 25 years, including during the term i worked for justice blank. and like mr. lincoln, it continues to be powerfully relevant to modern, legal, and relevant disputed even though it was penned almost 40 years ago. it brings me to the last question, which is the on one that seems hard. how did we get mr. woodward to
share his thoughts with us this evening? the answer to that, also, turns out to be simple. we asked. i've heard that long before people knew who he was, mr. woodward would determine whom he wanted or needed to talk to for a project he was working on, approach them forthrightly and say, i'm bob woodward from the washington post and i need your help. when we reached out to him and explained to him straightforwardly why we needed his help on this project, he graciously obliged. it turns out above and beyond his accomplishments and talents, he's a generous and kind man to whom it is my privilege to turn over the podium. [ applause ] >> thanks.
thanks. >> it's great to be here, and i do not have a coat and tie on because i got stranded out of washington because of the snow, and the dean generously offered his best suit, and i declined because my daughter, who is a freshman in college said, now you look like a real professor. under dressed. it's really a real genuine pleasure for me to come to a law school or talk to lawyers, which i've had the opportunity to do for many decades. my father, who was a lawyer here in illinois, wheaton, illinois,
outside of chicago. circuit judge and then appellate judge. so i was raised in a household where he drummed into me the following -- he said "always carefully pay attention to the lawyers because they have the most profound and meaningful and lasting things to say, unless you listen carefully." [ laughter ] great advice for the journalist. i want to tell one lawyer story that actually connects to lincoln in a way. this was the 1980 they were doing a lot of stories about the cia covert operations and the reagan administration was prying to prevent us from publishing these stories. there was a big debate.
a lot of hand wringing, and at one point on a saturday morning i went to see edward bennett williams, the very famous criminal lawyer, and ed was my personal attorney that represented the post. i went into his office and said, you know, i need your advice. i want to talk about these tough decisions about whether to publish national security secrets, and he said just a minute. i need to tell you something. and what is that? he said, we, i also -- i represent you, i represent the post, i represent the cia director bill casey, also, personally. i'm general counsel to president reagan's foreign intelligence
advisory board. i said, ed, wait a minute. you represent me, the post, the cia director, the president -- isn't there a conflict somewhere in this? he smiled and looked at me and said i like to represent the situation. a lawyer's dream. if you look at lincoln and the way he used his power during the civil war in so many ways, he as a lawyer and his president represent represented the situation. i want to identify some of the characteristics i think lincoln had and then -- let me go through the list. first of all, lincoln accepted
himself and who he was. he was a pragmatist, he had a moral center, we hhe had a sens strategy, and a good strategy is trying to plan what you want to do in a year and six months and not just crisis manage. he also had a strategic patience. he was not in a hurry even on the most vital matters. he was persistent, he was ruthless as commander in chief and war, he understood deeply the importance of morale in the troops and generals, and he understood the importance of human relations in carrying out his office. he also -- he was a big ego. a giant ego.
had a giant ego. probably had no real friends. he was probably the most activist president. he probably believed in executive supremacy. he waged the civil war without a declaration of war, as the constitution literally required. he suspend eed habeas corpus in various regions. he said in justifying in differenting wh defending what he was doing that it made no sense to, quote, "lose the nation and yet preserve the constitution." in reading a number of books and doing research about lincoln, there's a book by josh shanke, which is called "lincoln's
melancholy," and the thesis is that -- and there's some truth to this, i think, that lincoln had melancholy. i think if you examine it deeper, maybe that melancholy was really a habit of introspection, but in his book "lincoln's melancholy" he said the following, which i found quite striking. "what primarily accounted for lincoln's increasing success, and his vital relevance was not his own growth to a place where he could speak to the country's needs, but the country's regression to a place where lincoln was needed." an assistant who works for me looked through this and said, you know, lincoln was, in many
ways, like the batman of christopher nolan's movie "trilo "trilogy" not the hero we deserved but the hero we needed. i think that's true. lincoln was certainly the most modern of the presidents. and now in 2016, i think if you look at the politics of this country we're at a pivot point in history and in his vit is vi the next president, whoever it might be, gets some things right and get the important things right. or at least comprehend the dimensions, impact, and meaning of failure to get those important things right. over 40 years of writing about presidents and trying to understand them, i have asked myself "what is the job of the
president?" and my answer is the job of the president is to figure out what the next stranage of good is fo the people in the country and develop a plan and carry out that plan. it must be the next stage of good for a real majority. not one party or one interest group. i did not realize that this notion i had been using for a long time was one of the points lincoln made in one of his speeches. it was february 1860, his president elect lincoln said the following, "i hold that while man exists, it is his duty to improve not only his own
condition but to assist in mankind and therefore without entering upon the details of the question now, i will say that i am for those means which will leave the greatest good to the greatest number." yes, it is true, america is the last great hope, as lincoln said, but i think lincoln realized that failure was possible. the country was young when he was president and not yet powerful. america was an experiment, and in truth now in 2016, the experiment is not over. what i would like to do is review eight presidents i've worked on and extract trying to
distill out what they may have learned from lincoln or maybe should have learned from lincoln. one of the scholars, jaque bergeron said about the foll following about lincoln, quote, "what gave lincoln his enormous strength in relation to others was that he had learned early in life to accept himself. he knew that he was ugly, ungamely, awkward in society, untaught except by himself, and as a congressman for one term unsuccessful. the great point was that he did not resent those deficiencies. he neither tried to cover them up or refer to them continuously from embarrassment. they were part of him and he
accepted all of himself as in t inevitable is a fact of nature." that realization freed him from some of the demons that have plagued other presidents, i think specifically of richard nixon, which i will get to in probably too long. lincoln was a pragmatist in an important way that he -- one of the things he said our government rests in public opinion, whoever can change public opinion can change the government. and this is -- what he did is identify the essential element of democracy. he also said with public sentiment nothing can fail.
without it nothing can succeed. subsequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than who enacts laws or pronouncing a decisions. the clear dig at the congress and the supreme court. part of what he did, and just how he handled the press during the civil war and harold's book on lincoln in the press, he makes a number of important points. what lincoln did, this, again, is reflective of the pragmatism. he did not initiate press suppression. he remained ambivalent about its execution, but he seldom intervened to prevent it. he let it go. he said, and made it very clear,
that the secretary of war has my authority to exercise the executive discretion on this matter. it was his way of saying he represented the situation and he was going to delegate it to somebody else, because it was a task that was difficult and he kept his hand off it directly. most important part of lincoln, of course, he had a moral center. he had that sense of strategy, strategic patience, as i mentioned, the great achievement, the emancipation proclamation. if you look at the histories of this, what he did he realeled i out over a long period of time. he didn't declare it.
he had meetings with reporters and editors that were coordinated leaks, imagine that, to the press to religious leaders. this went on from july to september of 1862. he knew he needed a military victory or success and he waited until he got it, and what he did then, he announced he was going to free the slaves on january 1st, if the rebellion did not end. it, of course, did not end. and the military, which is what the emancipation was really -- it was an invitation to slaves to leave their masters. this pragmatism that he had is
something to measure. n -- now candidates by. it went deep for lincoln. harry williams, the historian said, quote, lincoln would not have been able to comprehend the attempts of modern writers to classify his ideas into an ideology. inde indeed, he would not have known what an ideology was. lincoln is quoted is "my policy is to have no policy." very important to the way he conducted, not just the war, but everything else. how he conducted the war is very instructive and i think important as we get -- as we
start looking at some of the eight last presidents. he supported lincoln. the great humanitarian supported the economic strategy carried out by grant and general sherman. and agreed that brutal aggression was the only way to subdue the rebellion. lincoln didn't like war, thought it was terrible, but the larger purpose and the strategy to save the union was key to this. he also understood the importance of morale for everyone in the country and the military. on july 14th, 1863, he wrote union general mead a letter
after mead failed to pursue following union victories in gettysburg and vicksburg. what the letter said is the following, quote, "my dear general, i don't believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in lee's escape. it was within your easy grasp and to a closed upon him in connection with our other late successes would have ended the war. as it was, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. i am distress eed immeasurably because of it." but lincoln didn't send the letter. he realized that it would be to graphic an attack on the general. i sometimes have thought if we
could ever get the unsent letters or e-mails of presidents or presidential candidates, we would learn a great deal about them. we would also learn that it is important, sometimes, to write these things out and not linger on them. the other important part, and this is a core aspect of lincoln how he understood the importance of human relations. i remember it was sometime in the '90s, 1990s catherine graham, who had been the owner and publisher of "the washington post" for years was working on her auto biography, and i ran into her and she said, oh, the weirdest thing happened last
night. i was at the reception and jimmy carter, the former president was there. carter came up to her and put out his hand and told her he admired her so much. i like you so much. she told me you know what i thought? what the -- sorry. we're in an academic environment. we can quote people accurately. she said think of this, we fought with carter and his administration for years. the whole time he was there. we couldn't find out what was going on. there was no real relationship. she made the larger point, which is critical. she said, you know, it's hard
not to like someone who says they like you. true. if you're in disagreement with somebody or you're negotiating with them and said, you know, i like you, but not all the barriers come down but some of them. lincoln realized this in so many ways when he was a private lawyer in the 1850s, he was involved in a lawsuit where edwin stanton, the country's foremost lawyer was involved in this case in ohio. lincoln learned stanton would speak very negatively about lincoln and call him privately a backwoods bumpkin. stanton was a democrat and later practiced law in washington
still mouthing lincoln the whole time. what did lincoln do? he appointed stanton secretary of war. it turned out that stanton was one of the best war chiefs the united states ever had. after lincoln was assassinated, it was stanton who said "now he belongs to the ageages." so lincoln was able to bring people, even enemies close to him and use them for his purpose. and then sense of human relations, as much as we talked about in the histories about lincoln's second inaugural famous address. if you look at it in the context
of pragmatism and in the context of human relations and read what that second inaugural said. to do all which may achieve and adjust lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. that isn't just pragmatism. that is human understanding. now the eight presidents i've tried to understand and write
about august 8th, 1968, accepting the republican nomination for president. nixon said the follow iing, "th next president will face challenges, which in some ways, will be greater than those of washington or lincoln." astonishing thing to say for somebody who has been nominated to run in one party. nixon's argument was for a war abroad and at home. and then he said the long, dark night for america is about to end. let me read that again. nixon, august 8th, 1968, the long dark night for america is about to end.
six years to the day on august 8th, 1974 announced his resignation. it was gerald ford who responded to the nixon resignation and watergate by saying our long national nightmare is over. political 29th, 1974, before nixon was -- he was three months away from resigning the house impeachment inquiry subpoenaed more secret tapes. so what nixon did is invoke lincoln in defending his argument to not comply with the subpoena and he said lincoln at
an equivalent time in his presidency was being subjected to unmerciful attack. the book i did in the fall called "the last of the president's men" about alexander waterfield who revealed nixon's taping system, and spirited away thousands of documents from the white house, the nixon white house, that he gave to me. you sit and dream as a reporter about somebody spiriting thousands of documents out of the white house, and among the documents that butterfield took was -- in butterfield's account of what happened -- i think it was christmas eve 1969, nixon is president went for a tour of the
executive staff offices. and the office building next to the white house. he discovered that there were about a dozen support staff who had pictures of john f kennedy in their offices. nixon went crazy and called butterfield in, who is deputy chief of staff at the time and said this is an infestation of kennedy pictures. i want them out. i want them replaced with, you guessed it, nixon pictures. butterfield launched an investigation of this. was able to persuade people it was kind of not proper. it was suggestively disloyal. if you had pictures of other presidents in your office that succeeded, you know, i was kind of skeptical of the story.
then the documents. there was the document that butterfield wrote directly to the president and the subject was to the president. the subject was sanitization of the executive office building. sanitization, as if there was some disease because staff people had pictures of another president. think about it. what do you think lincoln's response would have been if he discovered that there were staff people in the white house or the government who had portraits of george washington or thomas jefferson? i think it is unthinkable and this inability -- and if you trace the nixon story, you see that he is not accommodated to
the idea of who he is, the opposite of lincoln. when gerald ford became president, the next year, one of the things he said, again, contradicting nixon, "none of our problems today are as severe as those facing lincoln." he quoted one of the things lincoln said in one of ford's natural spontaneous statements of humility. when a dispute with congress, he said, well, lincoln said the following. we of the congress in this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves.
ford also said of lincoln that his compassion, lincoln's compassion for others came from an understanding of himself. i think the kind of merging somewhat of the pragmatism and the strategic sense of what the country needs, an excellent example of this is gerald ford. it was september 1974. ford had been president about one month. he went on television. some of you may remember this. and said he was giving nixon a full pardon for watergate.
and any other crimes he may have committed. ford, of course, went on television early on a sunday morning, hoping no one noticed. but it was widely noticed, but not by me. i was asleep and my colleague, carl bernstein, called me up and said, have you heard? i said i haven't heard a thing. i was asleep. and karl, who then and still has the ability to say what occurred with the most drama is the fewest words said, "the son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch." [laughter] and i was able to figure out what had occurred. i thought perfect. nixon goes free.
the only want to get a watergate pardon. it is the ultimate corruption. you look at the polling at the time and the suspicions about the pardon, that was a widely held view. and you can argue and i think historians of the '76 election, when ford lost to jimmy carter, that the pardon had an aroma that there was a deal that something really untoward had occurred. and i believe this. i have real strong convictions that this was in a sense the perfect corruption of watergate. then 25 years later, i undertook one of my projects, which became a book called shadow about the legacy of watergate in the presidencies of ford through
clinton. and i called him gerald ford. i had never met him. i had never interviewed him. i asked to talk to him about the pardon. and he said sure, come on up. he was in new york at a board meeting. and i had the luxury of time, to full-time assistance. we looked at all the contemporary coverage of the pardon, got all the memoirs, got the legal memos from the ford library. i kept going back to interview ford. and to try to piece together what happened. i interviewed him in colorado in number of times, where he had a home, and many times add his main home at rancho mirage, california. i remember the last interview asking him why did you pardon nixon? he said, you keep asking that question.
i said, but i don't think you've answered it. and then he said, astonishingly, ok, i'm going to tell you. he then said what happened is that al haig, and's chief of staff, came and offered me a deal. he said, if you guarantee that the president will get a pardon, he will resign and you get the presidency. and ford said, however, i rejected that deal. i knew i was going to become president. nixon was finished. so there's no way he could work that deal in the way haig described. passionately, he said, look, let me tell you what happened. at that time, ford had a letter from the watergate prosecutors
saying that nixon is going to be investigated as a citizen. likely will be tried, probably convicted and go to jail. so ford said we're going to have two more years of watergate. the country could not stand it. and there was this plaintive tone that he had of i needed my own presidency. the cold war was still going on. the economy was in great danger. and then he said he acted preemptively to get nixon off the front page and out of our lives. and i remember writing this part about the pardon and realizing ford was right. what he did was quite gutsy.
and this is in the book. after the book came out, caroline kennedy, the daughter of john f. kennedy called me up and said, you know, i've read your book. my uncle teddy kennedy has read it. we agree and we are going to give gerald ford the profiles in courage award that is given out by the kennedy library once a year. and it is not going to be an award for being president or for being gerald ford. it is going to be for the single act of pardoning richard nixon. and she said the in the tradition of her late father, about politicians who do things that are contrary to their own interest in the national interest. i did not go to the ceremony, but i watched it and it was a
cold shower for me. because teddy kennedy got up and said, look, at the time of the pardon, i denounced it almost as a criminal act. and now, 25 or so years later, you look at it and you realize it was exactly in the tradition of my brother's book "profiles in courage." and then gerald ford got up and talked about partial vindication. i remember watching this and thinking here i was convinced it was an act of maximum corruption, that the pardon was. then it is examined many years later, dispassionately. and what looked like correction actually is an act of courage.
and that is sobering for somebody in my business. you can say, oh yeah, this war made no sense. this was a good war and so forth. and the decades go by and it may look quite differently. jimmy carter, as somebody using lincoln in december 1979, as he was gearing up to run for reelection, in one of his speeches, carter said, at the height of the civil war, lincoln said, "i have but one task and that is to save the union." then carter went on to compare his responsibility in getting the 50 iranian hostages out as the same problem.
he said he would devote his concerted efforts to that. you look again at the histories of this and jimmy carter became obsessed with 50 americans. and to compare it with lincoln's effort in the civil war to save the union doesn't quite parse. but at the same time, in 1978, carter is president, any of you remember what he did at camp david when he invited menachem and the egyptian president to the united states. took them up to camp david for a couple weeks. and they reached a kind of peace treaty. it did not solve the problems in
the middle east, but it was a big step forward. i remember i was amazed at what carter did and the persistence of doing this. i asked one of carter's aides well, how did he pull this off? and the aide that was very close to carter said, look, if you had been locked away at camp david with jimmy carter for 13 days, you, too, would have signed anything. [laughter] persistence can sometimes achieve great things. ronald reagan, what is interesting about reagan and lincoln is -- that reagan used lincoln politically. in an interesting way also,
reagan understood abraham lincoln. july 17, 1980 at the republican convention, reagan accepts the nomination. and he quotes lincoln. so president lincoln said "no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." then reagan said, "if mr. lincoln could see what's happened in this country in the last three and a half years, he might hedge on that statement." in other words, the carter years. reagan also said in his inaugural, in 1981, "whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of america will find