Skip to main content

tv   Alexander Hamilton and George Washington  CSPAN  November 12, 2016 4:53pm-6:01pm EST

4:53 pm
past decade every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. and you can watch any of our programs at any time when you visit our website, watching american history tv come off all week and every weekend on c-span3. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] knott, he, stephen talks about founding fathers alexander hamilton and george washington. he argues that the two had different personalities but collaborated on a federalist agenda too great a stronger central government, often in opposition to the views of thomas jefferson and james madison. this is just over an hour. >> tonight we are delighted to have stephen knott presenting washington and hamilton, the alliance that forged america. he is a professor of national security affairs at the u.s. naval college in rhode island.
4:54 pm
prior to accepting his position at the war college, knott cochaired the oral history program at the miller center at the university of virginia. his books include the reagan years and alexander hamilton and the persistence of myth. with that, i would like to welcome stephen to the lectern. [applause] stephen: thank you, jackie. thank you everyone for being here, it really is a privilege to be speaking at such an historic site. this is my first time here. so i am thrilled. , and thanks to all of you for coming out tonight. i know there was a little rain earlier. let me begin by noting that lin manuel valls and the -- miranda's blockbuster "hamilton"
4:55 pm
kept hamilton on the $10 bill. it has transformed this unlikely founding father into somewhat of a celebrity. while hamilton is seen as a heroic figure it is important to , note to that, throughout much of our nation's history, hamilton was seen as both un-american, a classic monarchist to hated the great east, which he probably never said, but was attributed to him. and a man whose dictatorial ambitions were checked by the champion of the common man, thomas jefferson. and to make matters worse, his alliance with george washington has already been distorted or slighted in favor of the more poetic alliance between jefferson and james madison for the moving tale of reunification between jefferson and john adams. many historians and biographers
4:56 pm
who are inclined towards a progressive interpretation of the american experience have also contributed to downplaying the importance of the alliance between washington and hamilton. these scholars, unfortunately, echoed the distorted account of jefferson and his lieutenant, all of whom engaged in what it -- in what i believe is the first american example of the politics of personal destruction. jefferson believed that hamilton favored a monarchy bottomed on corruption, as he put it, and that hamilton had betrayed the spirit of 1776. hamilton was in essence a british agent. and this cunning immigrant from the caribbean repeatedly manipulated an aging, somewhat dimwitted george washington, president of the united states. hamilton's premature death in 1804 at the hands of vice --sident ehrenberg presented
4:57 pm
burr, -- john adams, who also despised hamilton, partly for good reason, would later join jefferson in crafting a narrative which pretrade hamilton in a most unflattering light. he talked about him as a plutocratic character. adams believed that hamilton suffered from an overabundance of secretion which led him to engage in unbridled whoring. both jefferson and adams were nativists and it perturbed them bastard, whiche was not quite american held such , sway over george washington, whom, by the way, they also
4:58 pm
resented. the democratic party, particularly jackson and then ren echoed thisu characterization of hamilton. the civil war and the rise of the anti-slavery republican party provided a brief respite from populist hamilton bashing. a series of republican presidents, including james garfield rutherford b. hayes, harrison, all admired hamilton for his nationalism, and to some extent for his antislavery , stance, which stood in stark contrast to jefferson's beliefs. hamilton's reputation peaked at the dawn of the 20th century when theodore roosevelt invoked hamilton's nationalism and his embrace of energetic government to provide a further progressive agenda.
4:59 pm
one of roosevelt's left and progressive successors, warren reveredng, also hamilton. llon erectedetary me a statue outside the treasury department. mellon's embrace of hamilton was guaranteed to offend progressives and populists. and when the great depression came, alexander hamilton was held almost in culpable as mellon and herbert hoover. other than thomas jefferson, no american did more to contributive the negative image of hamilton in the american mind than franklin d. roosevelt. the only book review franklin d was aelt ever wrote struggle for democracy in america, published in 1925. it was a very sophomoric account of jefferson's gallant
5:00 pm
resistance to hamilton's plutocratic plotting. roosevelt loved the book and would go on to resent the same character in his speeches and letters. who elevatedelt jefferson into the american pantheon, along with washington and abraham lincoln. and it was roosevelt who led the drive to erect a full base at monticello. hamilton's reputation during the second world war sank so low that he was seen by many in a goebbels inph waistcoat and breaches. i'm not overstating this, by the way. his defenders were compelled to argue that hamilton would have opposed the nazis. at the height of the war, one of the leading broadway shows in 1943 was "the patriot."
5:01 pm
the plot of this multiple revolvesning play around a cigar-jumping alexander hamilton, stomping around the stage, proclaiming the american drunk and crying." franklin roosevelt invited the playwright to stage a command performance in washington and to attend the dedication of the jefferson memorial. this image held well into the 20th century, but began to break down partly in response to hamilton's status as the full immigrant among the key founding fathers. this status will likely secure his reputation, i believe, in an increasingly diverse america. hamilton's standing has also improved due to increased scholarly appreciation of the role of race and immigration in american society. while jefferson's role is one of the leading, one of the largest slaveowners in virginia, it
5:02 pm
stands in contrast to hamilton's founding membership in the new york manumission society. and fair or not, it appears to be an iron law in american history that as one falls, the other rises. jefferson would have it no other way. he said opposed in death, as in life. what makes the previous count more disturbing in my view is, when you consider the fact that the most revered american founder, george washington, held alexander hamilton in the highest regard. conventional wisdom holds that the epic confrontation of the founding error occurred between hamilton and jefferson. but in fact, it occurred between washington and hamilton on one side and jefferson and madison on the other. jefferson helped to foster this myth, celebrating his man-to-man confrontation with hamilton by
5:03 pm
placing busts of hamilton himself facing each other at the entrance of his plantation. over time, some jeffersonians came to see washington less as a victim of hamilton's machinations and more as a co-conspirator. this, by the way, was an accurate assessment of the situation. for hamilton remained firmly under president washington's direction throughout the over five years he served as treasury secretary. jefferson himself later testified to washington's hands-on control of his administration. the president, according to jefferson, was always inaccurate -- in accurate possession of all facts and proceedings in every part of the union. and to whatsoever departments they related, he, washington, formed a special for each
5:04 pm
point branch. but again, both in their time and in ours jefferson and james , madison and their admirers have had to choose between two very unflattering options regarding george washington. he was either an unknowing bastalice of the cunning rd from the caribbean or willing co-conspirator to the plot. to minimize the political repercussions, many jeffersonians in their ideological airs adopted the former position, in other words, that an elderly, doddering, intellectually challenged washington was unaware of the plotting taking place within the executive branch. as early as the summer of 1790, populist demagogues, such as willie mcclay in pennsylvania, were claiming in private that
5:05 pm
washington had become "in the hands of hamilton, the dishcloth of every dirty speculation." his name goes to silence all murmurs. to this day, critics of the federalist focus their fire exclusively on hamilton to avoid blowback that might have accrued by attacking washington. remarkably, for a variety of reasons, attacking hamilton remains a far more palatable approach than attacking the towering figure of george washington. regarding hamilton's treasury secretary, it should be noted that washington believed that hamilton filled "one of the most important departments of government with acknowledged abilities and integrity and left a legacy where he had become "a conspicuous character in the united states and even in
5:06 pm
europe." the president went on to add that hamilton was enterprising, quick in his perception, that his judgment was intuitively great. on the occasion of hamilton's departure from government, the president observed "in every relation, he found his treasury secretary talents, exertions, and integrity were ofl-placed and worthy approbation and proof of your title the public regard." in march 1796, a little over a year after this letter was written, washington wrote hamilton that he could be assured of the warmth of my friendship and of the affection and regard that he felt towards hamilton. in contrast, and this is frequently downplayed, in contrast, washington would go on to sever all contact with jefferson, who had deceived him on multiple occasions.
5:07 pm
the unlikely partnership of george washington and alexander hamilton and the brief federalist moment that they presided over, allowed the united states to build the institutions that launched this country on the path to becoming a superpower. but perhaps more importantly, the two men devoted themselves to convincing their fellow citizens, as hamilton put it in a letter to washington in april 1783, "to think continentally." washington and hamilton returned to this theme throughout their years of public service. as washington and hamilton noted in washington's farewell address, all americans citizens, whether by birth or by choice, are part of a common country. and that country has a right to concentrate your affection. the name of american, which
5:08 pm
belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt you -- the just pride of patriotism more than any other appellation derived from local discrimination. these men urged americans to biasesstate or regional and to reject the emotional appeal of parties and factions, imploring them to instead embrace the common good of the nation. in other words, they wanted americans to think of themselves as americans, not as new yorkers, not as virginians. what makes washington and hamilton unique from the other founding collaborations that get far more attention, including that of adams and jefferson, is that the bond between washington and hamilton was forged in the
5:09 pm
crucible of war, the revolutionary war. unlike many of their great contemporaries, washington and hamilton saw war up close and personal. they were brothers in arms in a sense. and as any combat veteran will attest to, combat is a bonding experience like no other. these two men helped form the core cadre of leadership in the struggle for independence from great britain. and by the way, won against overwhelming odds. they, along with james madison, drove the national forces that would culminate in a more perfect union formed at the constitutional convention ratified in 1788. these men breathed life into the constitution of the early republic come a setting important precedents as both president and the secretary of the treasury.
5:10 pm
the establishment of a national bank, the establishment of what hamilton referred to as an energetic executive, the retirement of the public debt, the response, their mutual response to the whiskey rebellion, and even the controversial jay treaty were all important steps of an -- in the creation of an american identity. washington was as devoted as hamilton in his desire to create a great nation. and this i think set him apart from his fellow virginians. that these two virginians, washington and jefferson were unable to see eye to eye on the great issues of the day is revealing. washington, shedding his virginian parochialism envisioned a nation, the united states of america, and the more often than not, sided with the cabinet member, hamilton, with
5:11 pm
whom he had the least in common. jefferson remained committed to an agrarian confederation that was slowly but surely dying away. unlike his great rival, washington categorically rejected jefferson's flirtation with nullification and secession. jefferson's fierce opposition to the administration's proposals for a national bank and manufacturing center of the economy and acceptance of the idea that a publicly financed debt had its attributes and, by the way, i would add his contrasting treatment of his slaves at the end of his life places him in stark contrast to washington. it is very tempting -- and you see this repeatedly, to portray washington as above the partisan fray of the 1790's.
5:12 pm
but he was as committed to the federalist agenda as was hamilton, who did his washington bidding. while the federalist moment was a brief one, lasting from 1789 to 1796, you can argue that it somewhat carried over through john adams's presidency, due to the influence of washington's cabinet, which adams kept in place until the last year of his presidency, it was this critical period that allowed the new federal government to secure its footing, stabilize the nation's finances, and to avoid war with the leading superpower of the day. interestingly, jefferson's devotion to liberty, to the cause of liberty, to which he was devoted, and which he believed was intrinsic to human nature and universally applicable, and which is
5:13 pm
frequently contrasted with the allegedly authoritarian inclination of hamilton and the federalists, this devotion to liberty on jefferson's part did not extend to the haitian revolution of the 1790's and early 1800s. the slave uprising that occurred on that imprisoned island was directed against french colonial rule as well as against the barbaric conditions experienced by slaves in bondage. the events in haiti terrified southern slaveowners, such as thomas jefferson. whose position on emancipation, along with that of many of his fellow virginians, hardened as the 1790's wore on. again, this was due in part to the fear that the haitian contagion would spread to the southern united states. while washington and hamilton
5:14 pm
endorsed a cautious approach to the haitian revolution, the issue of slavery divided hamilton from jefferson and ultimately divided other federalists from the jeffersonian republic. while the federalist party contained abolitionist whites and free blacks, the latter party became the party of slaveholders and the institutions' northern white sympathizers. the point in terms of haitian revolutionaries and the united states relationship, the federalists took a much more assertive -- to use a more modern term, a more progressive position than the democrats or republicans. the difference between a federalist like hamilton, who was a founder of the new york society for promoting the manumission of slaves, and jefferson, one of the largest slaveholders in virginia, who
5:15 pm
began to see northern opposition to slavery as part of a conspiracy to oppress the south, has to be factored into any honest assessment of this period in american history. by the way, i am not engaging here to what some historians call a presentism, which is to apply present day believes to 200 years ago. presentism.aging in jefferson's federalist contemporaries and even jefferson himself, during his younger years, recognized the hypocrisy of a nation founded on the principle that all men were created equal while, at the same time, enslaving human beings by the thousands. according to edmund randolph, who served time in as the
5:16 pm
attorney general in washington's administration and was no friend of washington, according to randolph, washington told him that, if it came to a conflict between north and south over slavery, and the fate of the union, the general, general washington, would join the northern cause. now let me make it clear. washington and hamilton were by no means abolitionists. and i do in fact think that both ron chernow and lin-manuel maranda, who has again, done a tremendous job in reviving interest in hamilton, i think they overstate this alleged abolitionism. we can deal with that in the question period, if you wish. they were not abolitionists. but they were more concerned than many jeffersonians about the debilitating influence of slavery on the character of the american citizenry.
5:17 pm
and they fear that the issue might ultimately destroy the nation. in a sense, jefferson did correctly discern the dangers to the south peculiar institution presented by the federalists, who unfortunately, to this day, are portrayed as enemies of the common man. i would urge you to consider the fact that if that common man happened to be black or native american, then these accounts are complete distortions of the truth. so what i would urge you to consider tonight and after you leave here tonight, and i hope folks who might be watching this on c-span someday, will put aside the caricatured accounts of early american history, which pits the supposedly champions of the people, jefferson, madison, and their party, against the forces of privilege and authoritarianism, washington,
5:18 pm
hamilton, and the federalists. if they do so, they will discover that, due to the exertions of george washington and alexander hamilton, the american people did begin to think continentally, they did take hamilton's message to washington in april of 1783 seriously, and helped to create a strong union, which decades and then centuries later, helped defeat fascism and communism, explore the universe, produced endless scientific and technological breakthroughs. but perhaps more importantly, that central government would go on to abolish slavery and jim crow, thereby securing the blessings of liberty for all their fellow citizens. i would prefer at this time instead of keep talking at you, , to take questions from you. thank you for listening. [applause]
5:19 pm
by the way, i will confess that i suffer from a strain of jefferson during gement syndrome. so if anyone would like to push back, feel free. [laughter] >> hamilton, he was going to be partaking in the de facto war against france. it didn't happen. i was curious how the relation with what was going on with haiti, how did that come to be in passing and his relation with france? stephen: i think one of the things that stun younger students that i taught is the extent to which foreign policy had an impact on american domestic policy.
5:20 pm
-- domestic politics. and so the fact that you are either considered an anglophile or a francophile -- there didn't seem to be any middle ground. it did drive american politics throughout the 1790's. hamilton was always accused of being something of a british agent, secretly on their payroll. that is antagonism toward france, in other words, his urging president washington for neutrality in 1793 these are the -a-vis the government, that was a suspect. hamilton's advice to president washington in terms of dealing with the french, of seeming to tilt or throwing in his lot with the british. when john adams becomes
5:21 pm
president, you have this situation with the so-called -war with -- quasi france. or as john adams referred to it, the half war. adams inherits this mess the , french began to harass americans at shipping on the high seas. and adams begins to prepare for war. i'm sure most of you in the audience know that he basically is forced by his fellow federalists to appoint george washington as the commander of the american military during this quasi-war. and then washington insists that hamilton be assigned as number two, which i'm sure infuriates adams. but hamilton, i do think he sees
5:22 pm
this war as an opportunity to -- on the more cynical side -- to help unify the united states. wars sometimes have the tendency to do it. i do not think he saw it as an opportunity to crush the jeffersonian democratic societies that were springing up in the south. he is frequently accused of that, i do not happen to buy that. hamilton was, in foreign policy, he is what we would call today as a realist. he viewed the british as the superpower of his time. he viewed the french as, thank you for helping us in the revolution, but we are not going to help you with yours because it is not in our national interest. all power resides essentially in great britain. this revolutionary government in france is starting to consume itself. they are killing people by the thousands. it is not in the national
5:23 pm
interest for us to throw in with the french in any way, in a trade relationship or anything else. he does see this looming war with france as a legitimate. when adams pulls a fast one on hamilton and negotiates a treaty, somewhat secretly, hamilton i think is upset. but interesting to note, he disarms the army that he is the defacto commander of. people have accused him of wanting to use that army for dictatorial purposes. if he had wanted to do that, he would not have disarmed that military. that's a long-winded answer, but , is that helpful at all? by the way, it appears that john adams sends the negotiating team to france to diffuse the quasi-war at the very moment it
5:24 pm
has become clear to him that hamilton is going to be the guy running the american military. [laughter] stephen: here you have the commander in chief, john adams, handing his commander in chief authority over to a former president, george washington, who in turn hands it over to alexander hamilton. very strange situation. adams, by the way, was a very weak president. he did a tremendous job in terms of the declaration of independence. but he was a disaster as a president, in my view. that's why hamilton had problems with him. >> in your opinion, this is just a what if -- considering their relationship with washington and hamilton during the war and after the war, the what if it is, if washington had lived longer and there wasn't a duel, if hamilton had wanted to get back into politics and was
5:25 pm
considering maybe being president or something down the line, do think washington, if he had lived longer, he would have backed him? do you think if hamilton went to him they had that kind of relationship, that washington would have washed away a lot of the scandals? that is a what if question. stephen: that is a big what if question but that's ok. , i do think, had washington not died in december 1799, hamilton would not have made a number of mistakes he made. for instance, circulating that letter undermining john adams's presidency and undermining adams's candidacy. washington would have said that's a bad idea. don't do it. the point being that washington temperingrating,
5:26 pm
influence on hamilton. hamilton was much more effective as a public figure while washington was alive. had washington not died somewhat unexpectedly in december 1799, i think he would have thought that hamilton would have been a good president. he may have -- i don't know -- he may have publicly supported him. but i think hamilton would have been a more effective candidate and president if washington were still alive. you also have to consider the fact that the extramarital affair that hamilton had with maria reynolds, which was exposed by the jeffersonian, by jefferson's lieutenant, had done a lot of damage, as had hamilton's 90-page response, in which he details -- typical hamilton -- everything he did was right down to the smallest detail, including -- beyond belief.
5:27 pm
[laughter] stephen: but anyway -- so hamilton was -- this is why i am hesitating somewhat. hamilton was damaged goods. veryhat reason, very, effective -- you just cannot underestimate the effectiveness of that campaign of misinformation that i mentioned in my talk. i mean, hamilton, by 1800, was really seen in many quarters, particularly in the south and in the mid-atlantic states as a british agent. as a monarchist who was now not only a monarchist, but a friend of this growing wall street power outside the door here. who was not one of us. he was an immigrant. he was not of good birth. that part, by the way, gets left out a lot in these accounts of jefferson versus hamilton. jefferson and john adams look down their noses at hamilton's
5:28 pm
poor birth and his lack of appropriate lineage. so you throw all of that together, john adams would have fought hamilton's candidacy tooth and nail. we are talking about 1800 or 1804. it's a great question, but it's a tough one to answer. he was incredibly damaged goods by 1800. i will leave the author's name out. he contended that, had hamilton not been killed in the dual and had he run for resident in 1808 against james madison, that he would have wiped the floor with madison. that's nonsense. he was completely damaged goods.
5:29 pm
the only thing that might have made a difference is if washington were still alive. and somehow put the mantle around him, drapes -- presented him as his legitimate successor. that might have made a >> i read recently that hamilton had done some undermining of jefferson as secretary of state, sharing information on back worth he shouldn't have and could have been traitorous. stephen: yeah. i don't know why am laughing. serious stuff. [laughter] stephen: for the most part, when hamilton had an objection to a policy that jefferson was pursuing, he would confront him directly. that's one of the differences between hamilton and jefferson
5:30 pm
. hamilton was in-your-face, whether you wanted him there are -- or not. he could be irritating. he was smart and he didn't shirk -- shrink from competition. jefferson hated confrontation. jefferson would routinely use lieutenants to do his bidding, his dirty work for him, whether they were in the media or in other parts of the government. this is an example where hamilton, either thinking that he had exhausted his arguments with jefferson -- and what we are talking about here is this notion that the united states should essentially warm-up to great britain, improve relations with great britain. jefferson hated great britain with a passion. hamilton thought they had to be taken seriously as the lone superpower. secretly with
5:31 pm
george beckwith, the british envoy to the united states. jefferson and jeffersonian boyd have like julian made a big deal out of this. they view it as treasonous or near treasonous, undermining the secretary of state, engaging in these back channel negotiations. i'm going to stick my neck out here and i may hear about this from jeffersonians who eventually see this tape. i actually think that hamilton did this at the behest of president washington. case, hamilton believed what he was doing, washington would have approved. there's no smoking gun. there's no document i can point to where washington urges hamilton to open up with this
5:32 pm
back channel. but i don't think what hamilton was doing was at odds with the president's policy. if i were secretary of state, would i have been irritated by this? yeah, you better believe it. sure. >> [indiscernible] undermine the secretary of state's position? stephen: did any of the information undermine the secretary of state's position? possibly. sure. i don't think what hamilton was doing was giving away classified information. what he was doing was trying to reassure the british that president washington in the end was a realist like him and had a realist understanding of the world scene. i wouldn't necessarily say this was a high point of hamilton's time in office, i don't think it was treason. i do think it was done for the best of motives. and i actually think the policy he was talking about was correct.
5:33 pm
thank you. good question. >> hamilton and madison seemed to work very well together up until the constitutional convention. of course, they were there and they were seen to be friends. and the federalist papers, of course, they worked on closely together and had helped pass the eventual constitution. and then when hamilton became treasury secretary, the first thing he wanted to do was option , which i had always read madison was in favor of. then all of a sudden he turns 180 degrees. i never figured that out. stephen: another great question. both hamilton and madison were
5:34 pm
asked what happened, why the break? you were key figures at the annapolis convention, which was the precursor to the constitutional convention that makes the call for the philly convention. that puts out the word for that. wo were part of this group, then you went to write the federalist papers. hamilton was the driving force, ,ut he enlisted 26 or so medicine. i think it was 26, of the essay. when madison takes office as a member of the first congress under the u.s. constitution, he is kind of a de facto majority whip with president washington and washington's administration.
5:35 pm
he is the for leader for all of washington's initiatives. i attribute to break to the factors, one of which is the return of thomas jefferson from paris. the new government takes hold, washington is inaugurated a few steps from here in april of 1789. the new government kicks in that summer and fall. hamilton is confirmed as treasury secretary on september 11, 1789. madison is in congress. jefferson is still in paris. jefferson does not become secretary of state until march of april of 1790. somewhere in there. there is a good chunk of time where the new government is up and running, there is a decent amount of unit amenity --
5:36 pm
unanimity for policies that should be pursued. when jefferson arrives, i do think that has an influence, ultimately on madison. jefferson is -- let me see, is at least 12 or 14 years older than madison. he has used hamilton as brash, a little too much in-your-face, not a southern gentleman. then there is all of the policy differences that we have talked about. i do think jefferson works on madison. i do think that contributes to the split. again, coupled with some policy differences. thatot convinced, not dupe of jefferson, but it did not help to have jefferson inside the convention whispering to people like madison, then eventually to
5:37 pm
newspaper editors about the debates that are going on within the cabinet and within the administration. there were legitimate policy differences but i think ultimately, it is jefferson that contributes to the split between madison and hamilton. it does not help, of course, when hamilton puts out his report on manufacturing. that raises alarm bells in the south. it does not help when hamilton seems to be pursuing, or urging a pro-british foreign policy. the whole of assumption in debt question did not help. i think it would've been a far greater chance of compromise had jefferson state in paris. which i wish he had. that is neither here nor there. >> what would washington and hamilton have thought of the louisiana purchase? which even jefferson thought he
5:38 pm
might not have the authority to do. stephen: generally speaking, the restrained were more when it came to this question of expansion. hamilton did not share jefferson's constitutional qualms. in other words, hamilton had no problem with the constitutionality of a acquiring that territory. whereas jefferson did. although i have to tell you, even there, i am not convinced. jefferson is such a -- you have to keep peeling the layers back. there is a public jefferson, then you have to dig for years on end to find the real jefferson. i am not sure that the qualms that jefferson had about the constitutionality of the louisiana purchase was genuine or posturing to leave a legacy for his successors of presidential restraint, and a limited interpretation of the constitution. let's say he was serious about
5:39 pm
that. hamilton did not share that view at all. again, i have to qualify that by saying that generally speaking, , perhapsalists hamilton less so, were concerned about too rapid of an expansion. i think partly because they feared that the territories that would be acquired might well become slave states. and would tip the balance of power in favor of the slave states. which it did for a time. you go from jefferson to andrew jackson, with the brief exception of john quincy adams, then you have a series of virginians and one tennessean who are slave owners who dominate.
5:40 pm
for that reason, my guess would be hamilton would say this is in the national interest, but it is -- but would have faced stiff opposition within his own party. but not on constitutional grounds, on policy grounds. does that answer your question? thank you. two folks up front. the policyk to differences between hamilton and john adams with the personal differences. stephen: i have often said that the failure of john adams and alexander hamilton to work together is kind of a tragedy of sorts, since i am a federalist. those two should have been able to work out their differences, because they did believe in military preparedness. john adams, i teach at the naval war college. john adams is seen as the father of the american navy.
5:41 pm
eyed view, more clear-i' a realistic view of foreign policy. they caught on to the fact that the french revolution was going into a bloodbath. jefferson never really accepted that view, that might be a bit of an overstatement. but when you write a letter saying that every man in france was killed in order to keep the species alive, that is ok, which is what he said in his adams was appalled by that sort of conversation. they had a similar view of the butchery and dangers from the french revolution. both adams and hamilton were far less taken with the idea and the wisdom of the common man. not that they hated the common man or saw them as a great
5:42 pm
beast, but they were believers in republican government and filtering public opinion more than jefferson. you put all of that together, you would have thought the two of them could have worked together. one of the big differences of opinion between adams and hamilton was regarding finance, economics, and in particular, the place of banks in the united states. adams' disdain for bankers knew no bounds. hamilton's proposal for a national bank, and other financial measures undertaken as treasury secretary leads him to see eye to eye with thomas view,son that, in their
5:43 pm
hamilton was trying to create some kind of moneyed aristocracy in the united states and that that would work the entire -- warp the entire system. that was the big difference between the two. you would not think that was enough to keep them from working together on the other issues, but it was a major factor. i do have to add this as well, i apologize for this because this is not policy, it is personal. adams did not like working with anybody. [laughter] stephen: nobody, including his own cabinet. i love that hbo documentary, i love the book it is based on, but john adams' standard for success was how many people were alienated today? in other words, if i am doing something that people are praising, it has to be wrong or something has to be wrong.
5:44 pm
he could not work with his own, he was resentful of george washington, he came to resent and hate hamilton. again, perhaps for some good reason. he spent a good part of his time as president in his home in massachusetts. at one period he was gone for about eight months. he was an absentee chief executive. he had a cabinet he inherited from george washington and kept in place, which was a nice magnanimous gesture, but those were not his people. they were hamilton's people. then you have an absentee chief executive, and they are looking for guidance not in massachusetts, but in new york, where hamilton is practicing law. again, this is why i mentioned earlier that i think adams was a disastrous president. this is why hamilton writes that , instrous letter, circular condemning the0
5:45 pm
adams presidency as a lack of system. there was no system. it was no structure. it was sort of organized chaos. that was appalling to hamilton , who had a very structured and disciplined, very hands-on, might even say micromanagement style. does that answer your question? if you really want to laugh, just read adams' quotations about hamilton. apoplectic. at one point he suggested, or hinted that hamilton was under the influence of opium when he participated in some debate over something. just absolutely crazy stuff. yes ma'am? >> is there any way hamilton could have foreseen the current state of our national debt?
5:46 pm
second question, i know in the general biography there was a lot of speculation about his constitutional convention speech, along with the bizarre speech he gave. i am wondering if you have any theories about those two things? stephen: let me start with the second one and if i forget the first, remind me. that speech that hamilton delivers on june 17th, 1787, it goes on for at least three or four hours. i think one account had it up to six hours. it was kind of like one of the old khrushchev or castro speeches where it would go all day. what i think hamilton was trying to do in that speech, and this is the source, this is the root of the accusation that hamilton was a monarchist, because madison is sitting there taking notes.
5:47 pm
when they break later on, he is feeding this to jefferson. let me tell you what he said behind closed doors. he wanted a president, he hamilton wanted a president elected for life, assuming good behavior. we would still be in the jimmy carter presidency today. anyone in senate elected for life as well. but hamilton did have a proposal for the house of representatives that was far more democratic than a lot of proposals. i think a three-year house term with direct popular vote and all white males, of course. he didn't say this, but that was the assumption. hamilton's goal in that speech was to pull the constitutional convention, and i am stealing this argument from forrest mcdonald and other historians. to pull the constitutional convention as far as building in
5:48 pm
permanent instability, infusing permanent instability in this new government as possible. he is staking out this extreme nationalist position. mcdonald argues, and i agree, and i think even hamilton later in life's is exactly what he was doing. it makes the more mainstream or consolidation proposals it makes them seem , more reasonable. he is out there on the extreme, you do not get a president for life, but you get a president with a four-year term with three eligibility. no term limit, which hamilton liked. that is my take on what he was up to. i would still say that even advocating a president elected for life and a senate elected for life, does not necessarily make you a monarchist. he is not talking about family,
5:49 pm
an inherited monarchy. but the republicans used that cudgel to beat hamilton throughout the bulk of his public life. i have made this argument before, i know some historians have objected to it, but calling someone a monarchist in the 1790's is equivalent to calling somebody a communist in the 1950's. it was designed to finish you. it was not designed to encourage debate, it was designed to destroy you. that is why i do believe that hamilton was the first victim of the of politics personal destruction. regarding the debt, if you were to come back today he would probably say things are a little out of whack. what he talked about was a well managed debt. i doubt he would say -- i am conjecturing here.
5:50 pm
i really would be shocked if he were to come back and say what you are doing here is a well-managed debt. i doubt it very much. i think somebody else in the back. yes ma'am? >> washington was good friends with henry knox, what was the relationship between henry knox and hamilton? stephen: the relationship between knox and hamilton was polite, cordial, there were no problems there. you would have thought maybe it would have been a deeper relationship than what it was, because hamilton starts out here in new york city as head of a provincial artillery company, and knox is washington's artillery chief. they certainly dealt with each other during the revolutionary war. knix is kind of a lovable
5:51 pm
figure, but he is not a first rate intellectual. hamilton is a first rate intellectual. some might even say a genius. i don't know if i would go that far, but i might. there is a kind of intellectual barrier between the two that keeps that relationship from maybe progressing beyond what it is. it is possible that knox was the guy who brought hamilton to washington's attention. we are not sure. it occurs here in new york, during the horrible time in and around the battle of long island, which i don't think most americans are aware of the fact that within five or six weeks of the issuance of the declaration of independence the whole cause almost went down the drain. i think of a lot of new yorkers who are tuned into history, like you folks, but what a disaster that almost was. hamilton performs quite well during the battle of long island. i think he is responsible for
5:52 pm
recovering a retreat that saves washington's army. if we had lost that army, if united states had lost that army during that time, the whole cause is down the drain. it is possible that knox is the one that brings hamilton to washington's attention. there is another theory that says it was nathaniel green. there is another theory that says washington itself saw hamilton drill his artillery company and was very impressed. yes ma'am, answer. >> back to the speech, if i am correct, hamilton said that great britain had the best government in the world at the time. they did, and in fact our democracy even today is an extension of centuries of what happens in england.
5:53 pm
was it that at the time, people could not say the truth, they could not handle that? what was their idea of what they were creating, rather than a continuation of the centuries of democratic ideas and justice? stephen: very well put question. , part of the problem was, for some folks, anything with the taint, with the british taint on it was beyond repair. -- beyond the pale. the hatred for britain was so deep, but it was deeper in certain parts of the united states than others. i would say it was deeper perhaps and the south than it was in the north. although the war starts in the north. i think for a lot of new englanders, and new yorkers, they did have a certain respect for the brits and what led them
5:54 pm
to war was the sense that their rights that englishmen were being violated. i think most colonial activists felt that way. but over time -- in all honesty, jefferson's attitude towards the british was -- this is really going to get me into, i'm not going to say it, ok i will say it. mpian. almost trunm [laughter] i don't know if it was because of the debts he always owed to british banks. i'm not one who tends to put a lot of emphasis on economic forces, but he just hated the british with a white-hot passion. the only other group he seems to
5:55 pm
have hated were the barbary , then later hamilton and the federals. this, hamilton once said that jefferson had a womanish attachment to france. a passionate attachment. you could also say he had an emotional disdain for the british. i think hamilton's view of foreign policy was you have to push the emotion out of it. have to look at the world as it is and act in your self interests. >> what was the incident of creating a democracy and cultivating justice, which was the whole idea? what was the parlance of where we got this from? stephen: all these guys, for whatever their differences, and they were all guys, they were children of the enlightenment. they read john locke, they read
5:56 pm
baron montesquieu, the scottish enlightenment. our sense of justice, our sense of how to erect a just government was derived from these great enlightenment thinkers. many of whom were british and scottish. so sure, absolutely. i just saw a bunch of hands. >> i think it was at the raritan river in new jersey that hamilton held back the british. where do you come down on the tom cat question? and i don't mean the fighter plane. stephen: i know what you are getting at. it should be debunked. the great musical that we have referred to a few times tonight, which i loved. my wife took me to see it last september for my birthday.
5:57 pm
the only thing that got under my skin was that there are two references in lin-manuel miranda 's musical is where they say martha washington named her cat washington. lin turns towards the audience and says that's true. it is not true. unfortunately got that from raunchier nose -- unfortunately, he got that from a book. there is a lot to commend in his book, he also put hamilton back on the map. this story that martha washington, of all people. i don't know how much you know about martha washington, but can
5:58 pm
see -- can you see her naming a horny cat after one of her ?usband's aides it is not just wrong, it is everywhere. i have looked into it, they have actually wrote a piece about it. he got under my skin because it feeds to this john adams notion that hamilton was nothing but an abundance of secretions and was constantly sleeping around. yes he had extramarital affairs, to which he admitted to. but was he constantly on the prowl? i don't think there is a lot of evidence to support that. one thing the authors do is they story,o this tom cat even want -- martha washington knew he was out of control. if you look at the sources that for that, first of all, they do not cite the source
5:59 pm
, which is really unprofessional, to say the least. if they do cite the source, it will be some other secondary source. i have pursued this as far back as you can go. it was reported around 1860, it was revived in some history of the revolutionary war. that source points back to some wacky account written in great britain, where at the same time the hamilton tom cat story is mentioned, they say george washington had 13 toes. [laughter] stephen: it is clearly a satirical piece, designed to poke fun at the continentals and yet it has lived to the state. i think it is sometime in the 1780's. it has somewhat contemporary account, but is clearly a joke. i don't think george washington had 13 toes. i don't think. how would we know? it is a great example of a myth being propagated, and hamilton
6:00 pm
is one of the founding fathers in which many myths are frequently propagated. thank you all for some terrific questions. [applause] stephen: thank you. >> you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. author eric wittenberg talks about the calvary action on july 3 at the 1863 battle


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on