tv QA with Robert Strauss CSPAN January 20, 2017 12:01pm-1:00pm EST
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sun afternoon at work k with our cable affiliates and cities across the country. with our cable affiliates and cities across the country. with our cable affiliates and cities across the country. this week on q & a robert strauss, he talks about his book "worst president ever." the legacy of the lesser presidents. robert strauss author of "worst. president. ever." to my family, who made me read every historical marker, for my
mother edna especially for teaching me to laugh at myself. explain your dad's connection? >> well, my dad he saw when i was little and picked up the sports page that i would read every little statistic on it so he bought me a book, it would have every last line however long they lived to the day after their inauguration or how long their mothers lived where they came from, any way so it became this sort of thing for me that i was the money ball guy for presidents as a little kid and they would show me off at parties but then my father wherever they would drive there would be some of these historical markers and we would have to stop and read it, maybe sometimes he would make me read it allowed and of course i
plagued my kids the same way, so that of course gets you to jeopardy level you know thin but long at the top. >> whoever had it, what about mom teaching you how to laugh? >> well, that's really important because i don't think you can really be successful unless you can laugh at yourself. and my thought is especially writing a book like this you have to sort of take the opposite view, take the contrarians view to say not everybody was an amazing success. not every biography has to be about washington-lincoln. the reason i chose to do this is i do think you can learn from failure. i think that if the next president wants to aspire to be like somebody they probably want the aspire to be washington or
lincoln. you can't recreate the country or the civil war, do you aspire to be james monroe? i don't know, but you can aspire not to be james buchanan. >> what number of president was james buchanan? >> in order he was the 15th. >> and before we go any further where were you born? >> philly. and he was from land caster about 16 miles away. >> when was the last time you went to his grave or home? >> i did a story on what you can do in lancaster if you went there for the weekend, it's also part of the amish country and i took my daughter who was in high school, not that long ago, she's a senior in college now, about five years ago. >> you give a lot of credit to patrick clark, and there's a quote about what he said about
james buchanan. >> he's the guy who runs wheatland, buchanan's home when he was middle aged and lived the rest of his life. if you go to wheatland if you like historic homes with historic furniture it's very helpful. he knew i was not writing the most favorable biography of buchanan, and what's funny is he sort of acknowledges that buchanan is not the best president in the world but is of the mindset that you can do anything you want to do he runs the buchanan legacy. >> who supports it? >> i believe it's a private foundation, but it's lancaster history. thaddeus stevens also came from
lancaster. >> i want to dip into your book and have you tell a story. this is a nonseqitor. many people who forget it relatively interested in high school or college founded the -- remember one thing of everything, but we forget that there's years pass and many things happen, daniel sickles was a congressman from new york, but when buchanan was ambassador to new england he was his right-hand man. just before they left sickles was in his early 30s, he married a 15-year-old woman in washington and got her pregnant and then left to england.
going to england he took a prostitute with him, a famous prostitute. i don't know how famous prostitutes were but he even introduced her in court. any way time passes, he comes back, he's gotten various jobs in the government here, and he gets a letter from somebody saying that his wife is having an affair with phillip key. he was francis scott key's son, there's only 23 million people in this country, not many of them are of the elite. so phillip key is also said to be the handsomest widower in washington, at some point he sees phillip key in the park where he lives. >> lafayette park.
>> it was another park nearby but he runs to lafayette park, key starts running away, shoots him, kills him, however many people were there, he runs to the house of attorney generals and surrenders, they lock him up but he's freer than many people and he gets to meet with dignitaries and one of the dig n -- dignitaries is james buchanan, he secures as his defense attorney edward stanton who eventually becomes secretary of war under lincoln and now under the ages great quote when lincoln dies, and tries the insanity defense, gets taken
from the courtroom on the shoulders of his friends. he reconciles with his wife, becomes ambassador of france, distinguished career and lives till he's 90. >> and gets the medal of honor. >> so he originally went as an aide to james buchanan. >> yes. >> at what point was he administer to his life. >> he was one with a great résume to every run for president. he was a state legislature, he was in the u.s. house, u.s. senate, ambassador to britain, prior to that ambassador to russia and -- under poke, so he had a long and i don't know if you wall it distinguished but long career in government service. pretty unusual.
and so he was ambassador of britain not at a particularly crucial time but he was that. >> what have you done in your life. what was your career? >> my career. i went to a small school in minnesota. carleton college major in philosophy which of course great preparation to become a sportswriter, i worked in newspapers, magazines and television and at some point i decided to freelance about 20 years ago when i taught non-fiction writing in pen, as an adjunct not a full-time professor. >> you discovered a president had gone -- >> william henry harrison. i was teaching his class and i said you guys aren't like
harvard and penn. and this girl pipes up and says we had william henry harrison and i said really? so we look it up and harrison's father who's name was benjamin harrison as well was his grandson, he had been in philly a lot even though he was in virginia and he wants to become a soldier and his father says no you're not you're going to study medicine with my friend benjamin russia. he started the first hospital in pennsylvania. he starts studying medicine. and a month or two into that his father dies and says goodbye to benjamin russia and goes back to being a soldier, so small case of the pen president.
>> you went through this tick to ticktock list, he ran for president how many times? >> he was a serious candidate for president three times prior to becoming the actual candidate in 1856. he had a pretty -- he was always at the top echelon, but never the cliche of the bridesmaid never the bride. he always had the here of the broureaucracy or whatever you wt to call it that runs the party but eventually in 1856 he's the last man left standing and in cincinnati he becomes the democratic nominee in what i would say is about -- well, the recent elections hold no candle to the 1856 election. it's transformational in a way. >> why? >> okay.
in 1853 we had a president from the whig party, will momorwillm 1854 it had broken apart. they lost the 1854 election to franklin pearce and it broke apart and essentially back two parties the no nothing party and to think we had an election with a group that called themselves no nothing party and the republican party taken from the democrat republicans of jefferson's time, so the no nothings their big platform was anti-immigration which of course sounds familiar today. they thought the pope was going to come over here and i don't know take up a seat on capitol
street and but they were against irish and germans taking our jobs. they didn't quite have a candidate. but, they found one no phil mmo. he never wrote a thing about being anti-catholic or immigration or anything but he took up their cause so to speak and the republican parties were entirely northerners who didn't necessarily believe that slavery should be abolished but shouldn't extend into the territories and as you know during the years proceeding we tripled the size of our country so they were looking around for a candidate and the obvious one was william seward from new york. he was a former whig and he thought i'll wait my time out.
this is not really going to work out this year, so they picked a celebrity john fremont. he had been a governor of california for a little bit but basically was called the path finder, he and kit carson mapped out the west and he wrote sort of a dry journal about all of this but married the 17-year-old bell of washington jesse benton the daughter of the longest standing senator, thomas benton democrat from missouri so she is sort of the chris kardashian to bruce jenner, she's going to make something of him, takes him around to all her father's friends and becomes what today would be a best seller so he's suddenly a celebrity and the republicans say i can hitch our ride to this guy and so he's the
man who runs for president of the republican part. >> the word that popped out at me that you ascribe to james buchanan is obliviousness what were you getting at? >> you got to start somewhere, so i started in the library of congress to research this, and you know, you're messing around on the internet and a page comes up and it's a letter from buchanan to lincoln, presumably the only letter buchanan wrote to lincoln, it's the most significant one to me because i love the goofiness of history. it's a letter written in october of 1861 after lincoln had been in office a little bit the civil war started, lots of fighting in northern virginia. on the particular day that the letter gets written, so maybe
buchanan didn't know this, one of lincoln's good friends who became a congressman who died in battle. mrs. lincoln was always prone to blue periods, probably what he was at this point. even if she wasn't he would be all prepared for this, a war is going on, he's a little busy but this letter from buchanan says he forget a few books in the white house could you get somebody to return them to me? so he's not even thinking that -- >> and he sent that letter to abraham lincoln? >> right. this is like the first thing lincoln should be worried about on this particular day? >> you talk about a party that buchanan had when he was being considered for the supreme court? >> yeah, he always waffled that was his big problem, that he
waffled about everything and he was waffling about this supreme court decision but he's known as the best partier in washington so he has a great party with a celebrity chef for everybody to come over and he keeps giving little parties to supplement him, but then in the end he decide he doesn't want to be on the supreme court so in a certain sense he's done all this for nothing. >> where did he get the money to put on all the parties? >> he was a good lawyer, he was a star student at dickenson college in pennsylvania, he goes to lancaster the largest inland city in america, 6,000 people, america is pretty small even though the capital moves to
harrisburg he decide to stay in lancaster, and he makes a good buck. >> you say he was also very generalio generous with his nieces and nephews? >> never married. there was always this speculation of whether he was gay or not. but this is an amazing story too, how do we not know this, well, he gets engaged to his friend's wife's cousin, anne coleman, her father was an iron maker, this was his next to youngest daughter, but he was very, he looked after her very well, didn't sort of approve of this relationship she was having
with buchanan. he's there for an hour or two. gossip goes around lancaster at this level, anne coleman accuses him, who knows what she's accusing him of, breaks off the engageme engagement. buchanan doesn't know quite what to do and says well if i let it go for a couple of weeks it will all blow over. in that team she goes off with her older sister to see her other sister in philadelphia, she done feel well and when she comes back she's in convulsions, presumably suicide, that's the speculation that she killed herself over this relationship not working out. so the idea that a guy who eventually runs for president
has his fiance dying when he's young sort of has to be a big story somewhere. >> why did you name this book "worst president ever"? >> of course i have to bow to my editor, it's sort of the way young people punctuate their stuff now to have these great pauses in the way they talk, so if you said worst person ever fast somehow it doesn't have the sort of emphatic, and i did really want to make a point on how we rate things in general in our discourse. >> how do we? >> we do everything. you know, there are polling has become ubiquitous, people poll
everything about everybody, you didn't have to watch the last election closely to know every day there was some new poll that came out and that we became interested in, how many points? this state that state? there are basketball polls, i pointed out each week monday morning there comes out two college basketball polls and people move up and down however the teams do win or lose but at the end of the season there's a 68-team tournament that decide everything you don't need these interim polls because in the end you're going to get the champion, but my kids graduated from davidson college, if they make it up to like 24th one day i'll give a little cheer to my wife and kids to the gloat that
they're beating george washington, so we are insane about rating things and presidents are no different. >> so let's pick five, you pick five presidents you can put on the bottom besides buchanan. >> okay. i do try to make a case for buchanan against these people and my next to worse, i'm not going to write a book would be his predecessor franklin pearce who did virtually every stupid thing buchanan did, i shouldn't say stupid, but he was able to fore stall that so even for that one thing he rates ahead. lots of people will pick herbert hoover who the great depression started under but he made great attempts to emile -- whoever at
least tried to do good things, brought some people into government, he forestalled any hostilities, i understand hitler and mussolini were moving across the lines but was able to see our way through peace. another people pick would be jimmy carter. i could never put carter at the bottom of a list. first of all he negotiated the only middle east peace settlement that really still exists between israel and egypt. he brought consciousness to environmental situations, people after him were wearing sweaters. but at least there was some sort of consciousness of that.
he had a bad economy, he certainly screwed up in iran but had a marvelous post presidency, richard nixon, it depends on what you think. if you think having to resign in disgrace is worse than the civil war then i can't argue with you but nixon also did a number of things that lasted, opening china, starting the epa and if i've already done five this is the sixth, warren harding, things about warren harding is he came to the presidency wanting to continue the business the good business cycle that had started and he was able to do it. the skin in his administration, he had an illegitimate child and died in office but still did
what he was said he was going to do which was at least something. >> so how did you decide to write this book in history in your mind? >> part of it in my mind is my father and the presidents and thinking about them and i played early morning basketball in philadelphia i park 5:30, 6:00 in the morning in philadelphia it's a popular place, but i think hmm, james buchanan i had not really thought much about him but i studied the papers and like really? he made this decision, that decision they were all bad decisions. >> who says so? >> oh, of course me. >> okay. >> but they were decisions that led to the civil war in a sense. there was a clear pathway of
almost they were almost non-decisions in some ways. >> where were the papers. >> many of his papers there, one of his -- he was very as you said very kind to his nieces and nephews and his nephew took charge of his papers. >> how many books have you written before? >> i'm a journalist, i've written a lot of stories but i've written one become before and it was a memoir about being the dad of girl athletes but it wasn't like my kids were the greatest. it was sort of funny and sentimental so it was a completely different kind of thing than this. >> you say that james buchanan did not profit financially? >> no, because he was in his mind independently wealthy.
he was not the wealthiest man in america, but he loved giving parties. there's always a positive aspect of a negative guy and he was two things about him is one in all of his papers ran a lot of stuff by him, about him, to him, he never says anything bad about anybody publicly, at least in papers, i don't know what he said in verbal terms but even people he didn't like politically he never said anything bad about them personally and like i said, he loved giving parties and the inaugural ball of 1857 was the greatest party in 19th century america. >> how did you find that? >> okay. well here is the problem after van buren the next several presidents had non-partying aspects to them. washington wasn't a very big town but still an elite party
scene. there would have been, dolly madison was certainly invited to every party so after van buren, william henry harrison dies after a month in office, successor john tyler has a sickly wife, she dies while in office, poll k comes in, zachary taylor, he dies in office, phil mo philmore comes into office, his wife is sickly, and dies shortly after his term is over, but there's really no first lady partying going on, and the most tragic of all is franklin pearce, said to be the handsomest president, sort of the john kennedy of his time, a president picked out of nowhere from new hampshire, his wife doesn't want him to leave new
hampshire yet he runs and wins, he has two sons who die young and a third son who of course is now his favorite son, taking a victory lap on the train, the train has an accident and dies in front of him and his wife. they wear black during the whole time of presidency, so we have this whole long time of no parties in washington suddenly james buchanan is putting up this fantastic ball, 6,000 people come. 6,000 people is a lot in a country that only has 23 million people and star-spangled big orchestra food, saddles like this, and oysters like that, and
harriet lane is the first lady, the jaqucque kennedy of her tim. they have harriet lane trading cards, they name a coast guard cutter after her. it eventually fires from the confederate side. it's still the csa, or css harriet lane so these two together are just looked upon -- he starts on such a favorable way, all the dignitaries come. the story that the recounting of it in "the new york times" and other papers are just wonderful. just a wonderfully written story about the pomp and everything that had gone from washington. but, then the dread scott decision comes down. >> before we get there.
>> okay. why is harriet lane known as the first, first lady? >> they sort of called dolly madison that, the first lady, because she was so prominent, while she was the president's wife and then afterwards and after madison's death she was the go-to person, every party dolly had to be at, but then harriet lane is the host eess i the white house what are you going to call her? she's not the president's wife, she's the president's niece so they called her the first lady. >> as you go over james buchanan's life he was a state rep in pennsylvania? state rep. >> he goes on to congress, becomes a senator from there. >> right. >> he becomes the minister to
russia, the minister to great britain. >> and secretary of state. >> and secretary of state and then becomes president. is he at that point the most qualified person to be president? >> if that's what you go by, yes. if you go by the number of years at a major post depending on what you call a major post, he definitely is. but here is something about him. he's never proposed any significant legislation or got any significant legislation passed. he was a conciliatory man. that's why he was probably -- he was extremely good in russia. andrew jackson sent him to russia and said to have said on his death bed he would have sent him further if he could. he didn't particularly like buchanan, but he micromanaged
everybody and so buchanan comes to office with a long résume, sort of boring to people, he was 65 when he was elected. nobody until reagan was that old after him. the democrats had had quite a streak in the white house after the first two federalists they won ten of the next 13 elections. >> he was a democrat? a democrat. ten of 13. when your ball team wins ten of 13 you're pretty happy. it's a crucial time but doesn't seem any more crucial than -- slai slavery is the overhanging problem. >> what is the first day he becomes president? >> they did march instead of january. >> the year. >> oh, in 1857, so he sees as his mandate to solve the slavery
question, not to get rid of it, to solve it, testifies called a doe face a southern leaning northerner, you could move their face like dougdough, his friend were southerners more southerners than northerners took up gross in washington, the railroads got the northerners back a lot easier so he's predisposed to think like his friends so he wants to solve this slavery problem to keep the union together and sees this court case going around called the dread scott case, he was a slave to a military man in missouri for a time went to what is now minnesota free territory around came back to minnesota
dread scott saying i was free in minnesota i should be free. the court case goes around and it comes up that it would be on the supreme court's docket but roger taughty the supreme court justice who like tickenedic dic own slaves. >> how many? >> i don't know, but he had slaves his whole life and was francis scott key's brother-in-law to show that everybody is sort of connected, so they have this discussion before buchanan takes office and says we can't just have a decision that's southern-northern, it's not going to amount to much.
so buchanan takes it upon himself to find a northern justice that will go along with this and finds a guy named robert story who coincidentally enough went to dickinson college and so they have this bond and says okay i'll go along with whatever he says and another northerner from new york says i'll write a concurring decision, now it's 7-2, northerners going along with southerners, the decision comes out two days after the inauguration, it's said that on the inaugural platform before tony gives him the oath that they discuss something, buchanan had distributed souvenir transcripts of his inaugural address, there are a few lines that weren't in it and a few lines sort of allude to the decision is going to come out an we're all going to be happy
about of but the dread scott decision is generally the worst decision that the supreme court has ever made, there are contenders for that, too, but eventually says every state is a slave state, he's not a freeman, therefore can't sue in fact is still a slave and slavery can't be outlawed by individual states. it reinstitutes the most heinous parts of slave law, all the ones from high school and missouri compromise, compromise of 1850 and essentially makes the united states a slave country. >> but you said there's the panic of 1857? >> right. things have been going great. louisiana purchase, oregon territory, texas, all these other lands, we had the american
dream going on. don't make it in pennsylvania go up to ohio, missouri, illinois wherever, people speculate on different railroads. but suddenly this sdig comes out and let's say you've got a tin cup factory in cincinnati going pretty well, maybe i'll open one up in dayton, maybe this guy is going to come up from kentucky with his slaves and be my kpe r competitor. people who have speculated on railroads, they go bankrupt, take a ride on the redding like in the monopoly game where the railroad stops running. other businesses fail, so within months we're in this tremendous depression grart than the great
depression. all the banks close for a day, they don't take scripts, in the south, it doesn't affect them that much -- as much because they're an agricultural society because you can feed and clothe your family, at the very at least you can probably sell your cotton and lima beans but in the north it's really precip totous that divides the country even more. >> how would that compare to our country in 2007? >> because they were affected so greatly so quickly, so our most recent recession, i'm not belittling it, was not a dive off of a cliff. it was sort of a slower --
things happened in a matter of course as opposed to just precip to precipto preciptously. >> i like to tell stories within this that have something to do with me but i'm out looking for a 25th anniversary present for my wife, looking for something goofy, looking for a quarter or a silver dollar from when we were married, i'm waiting my turn and people when looking at coins were way big and suddenly in 1857 coins are like this like a dime and the guy says oh, panic of 1857 that was buchanan's great idea we'll make the coins smaller, that was a bad idea, like to heck with you
you deserve it why aren't you like the people in the south that work hard with their hands and it plays out and eventually we have a lot of munitions to make in 1861. >> you say americans have a lot of vitreal toward their presidents? >> yeah, i think so. i don't know how you feel or people out there feel, but they probably don't hate their mayor or congressmen they may not agree with them or something like that, but especially as the last election shows you know it can only go by polls how much the two main candidates were disliked as opposed to liked. and i don't think that's any different from times in the past. we tend to have -- it must be because they're the top person whatever it's jealous or we feel
they have the ultimate say over us and we can't possibly agree with everything they say and somehow we really find like i say vitreal. >> if you had gone to their sights over the year, not interesting, successful. >> you know, i did write a story on "the new york times" visiting sites of lesser known presidents, of course i knew the buchanan book was coming so i put him at the top of the story, but i found as i looked into the lesser known presidents i was sort of more interested in them. mike cool age, he had three
hobbies, pitching hey, riding a horse and throwing indian clubs, really? who knew you threw indian clubs, they're like bowling pins, so i always found these sorts of people interesting. i badgered my wife to stop at presidential sites. we live in new jersey and drive out to her mother's house in michigan, we would pass this rutherford b hayes house, and i finally ask ask we please go there and she says 90 minutes. we go to his house, it's a beautiful old house, 30 some rooms, his father died and was rich and built this house for his mom and him and we're going through it and there's only two
other people on the tour and presidential history is fine but most people stick with monticello and mount vernon so at the end of the tour the woman says would you like to see hayes's bellow driven harps accord? i say what's a harps accord? and so she brings it out and it's driven by the bellows at the bottom and says would you like to play it? and i'm like yeah, and mozart's violin too, so i go and pump this thing at the bottom and play "take me out to the ball game" and i can imagine hayes sitting there going yay, let's go too. >> what are some of the other presidents you put on the list if you're going to be a visitor? >> of course the great ones, you know, i don't care how different their politics are than yours,
but come on, you know, george bush has the same birthday as me, the younger george bush. i'm waiting for him to invite me to his birthday party. >> same age? >> no, five years older, merv griffin as well, but he's not around, but i would like to meet all of them. i once did a story with david eisenhower, the grandson, writing books about his grandfather's time, he was a pulitzer winner, he teaches at penn david and calls me up and says will you write a story with me and i'm like, eisenhower he's not all that well thought of as a president and he starts telling me stories about him and
once he starts telling me stories david's father, ike's chief of staff, they eventually retire to getsburg, can you imagine the president coming to his grandson's little league games. wouldn't you want to sit with ike and talk baseball? wouldn't that be a lot of pressure? and he said oh, no, my grandfather loved to play golf. that was when he would allow the press to come take pictures with a diplomat or somebody else would go and often there were only two other guys and he would say david come out and go and he said that's me a 14-year-old out with the presidential press. so you know they were substantial people. i always have admonished people who always want to say how dumb
george bush was, like wait a second, this is a guy that went to jail an harvard business school. you may not agree with his politics but he's not dumb, so i would love to have dinner with any of them. >> what could our new president learn from studying pat buchanan? >> that, too. >> but studying james buchanan. >> i think the differentiation between good presidents and bad presidents, jfk are the top that historians always decide to take. you can't come to the top of the ladder and not be decider, james polk hated him for being a waffler, you're my advisors you got to tell me what to do, so that's how he was as president.
i could go down the list of things when he was president and all of them have to do about not making a decision when he had to make a decision so whether it's presidents should learn. at some point you got to say this is the way it is going to be. i mean, people didn't like reagan, don't understand the reason why people liked him, because he made decisions. whatever they were. >> so at that point go through a couple of decisions he did not make that led to the civil war. >> okay. so the next upcoming state is going to be kansas. kansas has a problem. is it going to be free, come in free or slave? so the slave contingent comes over from missouri, makes a capitol in compton, a small town, gins up a constitution that allows slavery. nonslave people come to topeka, they have a similar constitutional convention, just
the opposite, of course. there were six slaves in all of kansas. not like it was going to be slave territory, but the south needed another slave state, somebody on their side. they're supporting it, especially people in missouri. something has got to happen. buchanan has to say something. he's got to choose one or the other, have something -- got to say there is going to be an election, something that will resolve this problem before it becomes a problem and he doesn't. he makes no decision. he sends several people out there to be governors of kansas, doesn't listen to any of them saying this very thing. not that many soldiers in the united states, only about 12,000 troops. one of the things that happens in this maelstrom is people start firing each other. john brown, who becomes much famous later, more famous later, he said to have murdered several
slave owners and their families. now it is called bloody kansas but makes no decision. brown gets away. not like he's doing things in secret. he's meeting with harriet tubman and frederick douglas and other anti-slavery people. he eventually comes to harpers ferry in 1859. harpers ferry now, it is a bucolic setting, appalachian trail goes through it, likes leak a disney version of a 19th century village, back then, a big munitions maker. other industry, 40 miles down the road from washington. brown comes there, not so foolish. if he can gather more people on his cause, maybe he can have this slave rebellion he wants. for two days, buchanan does nothing. nothing. he says, let them handle it in virginia. part of virginia, west virginia
then. until this prominent sigh ciosc robert e. lee comes home, he says, i think we ought to do something. he says, all right, take some troops out there, see what you can do. lee does capture brown. they have a trial. he eventually gets hanged. but by this time, he is a martyr. victor hugo is writing about him, ralph waldo emerman, walt whitman is writing about him. and that angers both sides. exacerbating any problem there is because of his inaction. >> when the corcoran art gallery shut down in washington, they had to get rid of a lot of paintings. you say in your book the national gallery of art refused to take the buchanan painting. george healy. >> yeah, here is the problem, of
course. one of the great things about harriet lane is that into herco to the her dotage she -- when two of her sons die, she inherits the children's research lab, still in her name and has this art collection, some of which is buchanan art. and she gives it to start a national gallery of art. she essentially started the national gallery of art and one of her favorite paintings was this portrait of her uncle. and ironically enough when they disperse the art, this particular portrait of the founders' uncle, who was president, doesn't make it in the cut. >> any idea why? >> probably wasn't a very good painting. but we went into a portrait section of a lesser gallery. >> when you dedicate the book to
your father and mother and for your father, for making you read all the roadside historical signs. when you think -- is your father alive? >> no, he's not. >> when you think back about your dad in the early days, how old were you in the early days when you first started fooling around with history and what do you remember an incident or two with your father? >> it is -- i was about 5 or, but we didn't travel much. >> what did he do? >> he was a local lawyer in camden, new jersey. he was fascinated with history. i have books and books and books, president poke's letters or all these sort of things. they were always around. we did take one trip to the south when i was 10, 1961, and we started going to civil war sites, started the civil war centennial. we made it to stanton, virginia, where woodrow wilson's birth place is.
we come up to the door and there is a sign it is closed. my father never traveled there. walks around and it was the day, the second mrs. wilson died. how unlucky could we be. >> you mean the anniversary of edith wilson's death. >> no, the day she died. who could pick that day? he decides, we're going to go to charlottesville, not very far away. we don't go to monticello first. or ashland where james monroe lived. we go to the library at the university of virginia. he storms up the stairs, a chubby small guy and my mother waits in the lobby because she's already rolling her eyes and i go up with him. he's got this old box camera and comes up to the librarian, i don't think there is anybody there as i remember, and he says, i'm judge strauss from new jersey and i'm friends with judge -- and he makes up a name in virginia and he says i need
to photograph thomas jefferson's will. all right. so the guy is saying, no, no, no. can't do that. finally, my father's berating this guy, mentioning this judge in virginia, who i'm sure is apocryphal and finally gets the guy to go cowering back and brings back the pages of jefferson's will and photographs them. he frames them in three things. i know it is three framz. when he died, i had to have them in my office. i have this framed jeffersonian will in my office. so that's sort of how -- that's how -- that's why i want to tell sort of fun stories of history. >> go back to your -- rutherford b. hayes home and your wife says 90 minutes. over time, you've been married how long now? >> 1989, so 27 years. >> over time, what has her attitude been about your obsession with presidents? >> she sort of doesn't mind it
because she had a fellowship at stanford and we drove across the country. herbert hoover is well known at stanford. a hoover institution, and he went there. but on the way, we go through iowa and west bank iowa. and we stop at herbert hoover's childhood farm. we run to the chicken coop and we look at the cats. and so she finds had her, you know, side enjoyments in my bizarre nature of looking at history. >> how many kids? >> we have two kids. ellen and sylvia. both went to davidson. for a short time, when you go there, woodrow wilson attended davidson for one year. >> what do your kids think of all this history stuff? >> they would pretend to not be like me, but i know that sylvia, the younger one, especially, sort of loves the nuances of
history and ellen studied history, though mostly indian, meaning the country of india, history. >> we're about out of time. what are the chances i can get you to write a book about dan sickles. >> no, lynn miranda, he has to have sickles, don't you think? >> who is your favorite character, last question in this whole book. >> i think it has to be harriet lane. the niece of the president that i never knew about, this doyenne, one of most popular women in washington for half a century. she would be the other musical. >> robert strauss, our guest. the book is called "worst president ever, the potus reigning game, the legacy of the least of the lesser residents -- presidents," excuse me. james bucha