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tv   Conversation With Gordon Wood  CSPAN  February 20, 2017 3:20pm-4:16pm EST

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by the demands for more and more slaves. so if you want to know why we can never again replicate this extraordinary generation of founders, there's a very simple answer. the growth of what we today presumably value most about american society and culture, egalitarian democracy. in the early 19th century the voices of ordinary people, at least ordinary white people, began to be heard as never before in the history of the world and they soon overwhelmed the high-minded desires, high-minded aims of these revolutionary leaders who brought them into being. the founders have succeeded only too well in promoting democracy and equality among ordinary people. indeed, they succeeded in preventing any duplication of themselves. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. thank you.
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[ applause ] >> thank you. let me just start by asking, what sparked your interest, your passion for history? i believe you grew up in massachusetts near concord and a number of historic sites. did that play a role in it? >> no, i don't think so. i just was interested in stories. i read a lot. i had a terrible high school teacher, i must say, in -- i went to waltham high school, and he was horrible, but it didn't dampen my interest. i just read history and enjoyed it. but as dave said earlier, i had planned to go into the foreign service. i graduated from tufts. i was going to serve my three years at air force as a rotc and go to fletcher school. it's connected to tufts. it's part of georgetown.
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an fso, foreign service officer training school, but my experience and being arbitrarily treated by the federal government in the military soured me on working for the government so i decided -- i changed my mind in japan to apply to graduate school, and i've never regretted it at all. >> any book that you've written that you felt was particularly challenging or perhaps you wanted to start off by finding or proving one point but along the way you found something quite different? >> well, no, i'm not sure they found something different. i had a sense already of the outline of the period that we became a much more democratic society by the early 19th century and that this transformed our culture in fundamental ways, and that became my book, the radicalism of the revolution. and the emergence of a middle class society in the north changed -- changed things.
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and we forget that people like martin van buren didn't think much of the founders. it's lincoln who rescues them. martin van buren said, look, we've got to forget about those guys back there. we're aristocrats. we're living in a democratic world. van buren is the first man to become president who had no credentials whatsoever. that's not to say he had never won a battle, never been a great political figure, he had never written any great document. he was a master politician. he organized the best political party in the state of new york that catapulted it into the white house. van buren represented a whole new generation that disparaged the founders because they were aristocrats. it's lincoln who -- when people -- prior to the civil war when people talk about founders, they didn't mean washington and jefferson, they meant john winthrop, william bradford, john smith. the founders of the colonial,
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17th century founders. after the civil war, largely as a result of lincoln's foundation, the founders become the men that we celebrate. i think it's an interesting transformation. >> you've written this -- on this point, and i'll get back to your writing style, but you've written this and it's been said about you time and time again by book reviewers, professors, your colleagues, that a lot of historians found the founding to be kind of dull and not worth writing about. it's already been explored, especially post 1776, but you were different. you devoted a half a century to writing and studying about the founding. what made you see it differently than almost every other historian of the time and see that it wasn't a dull period after 1776, that was just a first inning? >> well, that's a good question. i think i was -- when i came to brown there were only nine members in the history department, and we didn't have anybody teaching the colonial period, the revolution or the
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early republic. the next person took off around 1830, andrew jackson -- the andrew jackson administration, so i felt incumbent upon myself to teach a course i called the colonial period. on the revolution, i said, i have to give a course on the early republic. by working up that course i suddenly saw the whole period from 1760, 1750 to 1820 as a whole. and i saw a transformation taking place that was extraordinary. in a way, the specialization of training in graduate school, you either were colonialists and you stopped with the revolution or you stopped with the founding of the constitution or you were an early republic and you started with 1789 but most people were not trained to think of the whole period and i think that -- that -- having to teach that course forced me to think of the whole period in a new way. and i would attribute it to that. >> you and i talked before about
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one of the alarming things happening on college campuses is we're no longer focusing on the founders while the american public in general, i think because of the sales figures of a lot of the prominent books that have been john adams, some of the mccullough stuff, a lot of the public seems to be enthralled with the founders not so much on college campuses anymore. would you let folks know what's happening in terms of the lack of teaching of the founders? >> yes. unfortunately many of the leading institutions, i'm not -- i have not been replaced, and that's true at harvard. brad baylor has not been repl e replac replaced. princeton has no senior person teaching revolution. at yale she wrote a book on hamilton. her interests have gone into the early 19th century. i'm he not sure if anyone teaches the american revolution. it's declining. the dead old white males, what do we have to do with them?
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our world is -- and i must say much of the graduate education now is focused on race and gender issues, that's understandable, those are issues that are part of our time, but it means the founders themselves are neglected. and i think that's unfortunate. fortunately, there are these people who are part of your program who have no academic credentials, david mccullough, ron chernow, lynn cheney, there are dozens of others who are writing the books that you people read. joe ellis and i are rare birds. that is, we're academics who happened to write this quasi popular history that reaches out beyond the academy, but for the most part most historians are writing for each other. they're like physicists writing papers, and to try to read an article in william & mary quarterly or one of the historic journals requires knowledge of what previous historians have said because they're talking to
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each other. and that's understandable. they're trying to expand the discipline, and good things have come out of that, but it does mean that they neglect their responsibility to reach out to the public. physicists don't have to do that. they're proof of what they're doing comes in the -- in the invent of the nuclear weapon. but historians can't just talk to each other, they've got to reach out. it's the kind of discipline that needs to be spread to the general public, and i just wish more of them would attempt to do that. but that's not how you get ahead in the academic world. you write for your peers, and in essence the quasi science. >> given this lack of focus on the founding now on so many college campuses and as someone who's not only writing about it, teaching about it, but engaging audiences like this, as a consequence, what would you say is one of the things that the public gets wrong about the founders? what mistakes? what misplaced assumptions do we have about it? >> it's not just the general
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public, but i think the greatest danger in historical writing or historical reading is to assume that the people back then are like us, and be that's why i always quote to -- i always quoted to my graduate students that opening line of l.p. hartley's great novel, the go between. he said the past is a foreign country. they do things differently there. and i think that should be the mantra for graduate students when they start or anyone's reading. don't expect those people to be like us, and if you do, you've create an anachronism. you read back into their behavior. it's hard for us to understand hamilton engaging in 11 duels. 11 duels. he only exchanged fire in one which was deadly. we don't have duels anymore, but you need to enter another world
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to explain why that was considered to be a necessary and rational action for him to be involved in these duels. they usually got involved in negotiations and eventually they would resolve without exchange of fire, but to enter that world you have to open yourself to a different world, just as if you go to france or italy or even england and say -- immediately notice that they're not like us and start complaining, then you're missing the point of foreign travel. and it's the same -- the same thing is true going back into the past. go with an open mind. try to understand why they do things differently. >> on that point in trying to get back into that historical mind set, i've spent my adult life studying the founders, and i still feel like i don't understand george washington and i don't really know thomas jefferson. this is one of the topics we
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discussed last week with professor ellis. would you say that washington and jefferson are difficult to understand, difficult to know and maybe intentionally so, they made it that way, and how do you then go about researching them and unmasking them and presenting them to us? >> well, i agree that both of them are difficult. i mean, i think they're very different people. washington, as i say, was caught up in the -- these values. he was an auto didact. he wanted to be the perfect gentleman and he worked at it. the first document we have in his collection is the rules of civility. 16-year-old kit carves these out from a french miss manners book, how he should behave. don't stick your tongue out when you're talking. a whole host of things. he was going to be the perfect gentleman. you know, he had a disadvantaged background by his standards, and he wanted to learn to be an
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aristocrat as far as 18th century america had aristocrat. so he worked at it. jefferson has the same goal, but jefferson was really -- he was by far the most knowledgeable person in america. he knew more things, i think even more than frankly. he knew more and knew more things than any single person and he has a sense of separation from his peers. you know, why does he build this house on montacello? it was kind of a crazy thing to do. it was impossible to bring water to it. he wanted to be above his peers, and he saw himself as different from them and was obsessed by that. just wanted to be better than they were, smarter. he knew more. he read more widely. he was a connoisseur of all the
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arts and i think tried to show off a little bit. they all bowed to his judgment. even wine. i mean, after presidents began consulting him, what should i order for the white house, mr. jefferson? he just knew about the world and told them about it, and they respected him for that. and i think there's nobody that came close. washington certainly knew that jefferson was more knowledgeable, more intellectual than he was, but washington had other talents that jefferson respected. he was a born leader. he just exuded leadership. he had, as adams said, the gift of silence. that is knowing when to keep quiet and not make a fool of yourself. washington was extraordinary and by far i think the most impressive. i mean, we group all these founders together, and we've done a terrible thing by collapsing washington's birthday into presidents' day.
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his -- he stood head and shoulders, both literally and figuratively above them all. they respected him as their superior, and i think we need to recognize that. he simply was -- and explaining that is not easy because how many battles did he win? i mean, what is it that's the secret of his deal? i think it's a complicated story, but it can be explained. and i think -- i think he's just the greatest of the presidents that we've ever had. he certainly should be number one, and he was the greatest of these founders. >> earlier in the greenroom you and i were talking about world war ii and a new book and we were talking about the gifts and genius of general montgomery and the gifts and genius of general eisenhower. you had some interesting assessments that you made. >> right. >> would you share that with the audience?
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>> i've been reading just recently a biography of montgomery by nigel hamilton, a wonderful biography, and very defensive of montgomery but critical, too. but at any rate, montgomery became aware of montgomery's great talents as a field commander, but his inability to deal with people. he lacked all political skills. and if he had been the commander in chief, the thing would have been a mess. you have eisenhower who has almost no field command experience or ability, but he was a genius for bringing diverse views together and satisfying a bunch of egos. what struck me as i'm reading about eisenhower and montgomery is that washington combined both in himself. he was a field commander. he was out there in the field often quite dangerously so. he put himself in positions he should never have done, but he was able to make decisions, command decisions, but at the
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same time he had this enormous political skill. he knew how to mend his political fences. he kept the congress on his side and even though there were plots, not amounting to much to kind of unseat him in favor of gates who was the victor at s saratoga, nobody pressured him too much because he was such a superb politician. that is to say in a good sense. he knew how to keep diverse interests together, and i think he held that army together. there's no doubt of that, almost by sheer personality. >> in addition to all the accolades that professor wood has, when you talk to historians and talk about him, one of the things that always pops up is he's such a good guy, nice guy, and he's so humble. backstage earlier this morning when we were talking about this before we exchanged our analysis of washington based on the jerges in world war ii, professor wood tells me, let me
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qualify my comments, i'm a novice in world war ii. you don't need to qualify your statements. in terms of thomas jefferson, you know, when you're reading jefferson, he's so complicated, so complex and, you know, he sometimes seems as though he's writing with an eye to history and he's writing as if he doesn't really want us to know him. the other person who seems so complex is ben franklin. so could you share with us on these two, what pops out to you when you read jefferson? and i think you -- i read in one of your books when you were talking about ben franklin might be one of the most complicated and complex of the founders. >> yeah. franklin, of course, is world famous. he was by far the most famous american in the 18th century. you have to think of it -- you know, he made major original contributions to science, pure science on electricity and if there had been a nobel prize in the 18th century, he might have
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been a contender. so it's not that kind -- he's not a tinkerer. he's not an early version of thomas edson. he's a real scientist. the fact that he was an american stunned the world. they thought of america as a bunch of mongrel people who were hardly capable of any kind of acts of civilization. most of the western european aristocrats, so when franklin makes this achievement he's celebrated. dr. franklin. he's given honorary degrees and celebrated as a great genius. the fact that he had no education, no college made it even more impressive. and, of course, he was ironic and sly enough to play that role to the hilt, and of course he was -- i think our most famous diplomat. he almost single handedly brought the french into the war, extracted loan after loan impoverishing the french government creating the
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background to the french revolution simply by creating this role that the french aristocracy fell head over heels. they were caught up in radical chic. they were singing songs in favor of america and liberty. this was in the 1780s without any awareness of the future consequences of this and franklin played that role. he would show up at the court of versailles which is the most protocol ridden court in all of europe and he would show up in a plain linen coat with no sword, none of the dress that you're supposed to wear at versailles. it would be showing up like today at the court of saint james in front of queen elizabeth in dungarees and a t-shirt. that would be the kind of thing that -- but the french aristocrats loved it. they just celebrated. and he played his role to perfection. and i think was able to bring the french -- kept the french going, not just with their army but, of course, more important
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was the money. they loaned america enormous amounts of money. franklin -- but the interesting thing is franklin came late to the revolution. he really wanted to hold the empire together. he spent most of his adult life up to 1776 in england itself and of course his son became a notorious loyalist, governor of new jersey. >> new jersey. >> franklin comes very late, and only -- i think it's the -- the british aristocrats had given him a big position under secretary of state in the american department, for example, he might have been lost to america because he loved london. he loved england. and it's only because they turned on him and i think angered him so deeply that he -- he became an american. he only leaves from -- you know, from 1757, despite a brief 12-month period in 1764, from
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1757 to 1775 he's in england. he's in england. he thought it was okay. he didn't like it. he thought that would cause some problems. well, empires cost money. we've got to -- he was stunned. he got a friend appointed stamp agent in philadelphia. it almost cost his friend's life because the mobs attacked him. franklin had a very hard time adjusting to american opinion. he was way behind it, but he finally caught up and then becomes a super patriot as a consequence. when he first arrived in may of 1775 and is elected immediately to the continental congress, many people thought he was a spy, a mole. that's why he writes this famous letter to his friend, you are my enemy and i'm yours and he circulated it but never sent it, because he wanted to show that he had cut his ties to england. he had to disabuse people of his loyalties to england, so he becomes a super patriot attacking the king. and people were kind of stunned
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at how vicious he was. that's because he came so late to the revolution. >> in terms of jefferson's complexities, one of the things we talked about last week with joe ellis is who can we learn more from today, jefferson or an adams, and i think on this point the two of you have a slight disagreement. could you share with us? >> yes. i just finished a book on adams and jefferson, which is due to come out later this year, so i know these two guys as well as i know anybody because i've read everything they've ever written. adams is a realist. he's contrarian. he does not believe that all men are created equal. he says all men are created unequal, and from birth he's all nature, not nurture. jefferson set forth i think the basic premise of americanism, which is all men are created equal. distinctions that emerge are due to environmental circumstances.
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now jefferson takes that back when he comes to discuss slaves, but by and large most americans, and i think right up to today, have bought into that notion, and that's why we spent so much effort and so much money on education. so jefferson set forth, as lincoln saw, the secret to americanism is this belief in equality, that we are all the same at birth and that we all in whatever distinctions emerge are due to effort and circumstances. adams denied that. he also denied american exceptionalism. jefferson creates the idea of american exceptionalism. we have the distinct society. we're different from europe and we did have a different destiny. adams denied that. he said we're just as corrupt, just as vice ridden as any society in the history of the
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world and maybe more so. so adams message is not one that could sustain a nation. you can't imagine lincoln appealing to adams. >> right. >> to -- to -- to sustain the effort to hold the united states together that lincoln had to do in the war. so adams has nothing to say about our nationhood. he simply is another realist, you might say. he's contrarian. but he doesn't offer us any -- any -- any nourishment for our sense of nationhood, for our sense of being american. jefferson does, and that's what lincoln saw. and i believe that for that reason despite the criticism, and jefferson has been horrendously criticized over the last 50 years, mostly because of his slave holding, his inability to do anything about it fundamentally, i think jefferson will survive.
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adams, of course, his last words were jefferson survives. technically that's not correct. jefferson had died five hours before adams on the same day, july 4th, 1826, 50th anniversary of the jubilee of the declaration, but he was in a larger sense right. jefferson survives and will continue to survive, i think, as long as the republic exists because his message is the basis of our nationhood. and adams hasn't got anything to say to that. >> it's jefferson we look to as the architect of this great new experiment that you've written so extensively about. >> right. >> but in reading you, even though adams was a flawed person, contrary person, so forth and so on, you like him. >> oh, you get to like him. everyone did. jefferson tries to explain that madison, who does not like adams, he says, look, once you get to know the guy, he's
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amiab amiable, he's loveable. jefferson is utterly polite in the sense that -- in a more narrow sense as in the expanded sense i mention. jefferson does not like any disturbance in a personal relationship. he's quiet and he puts up a lot from adams. adams will insult him. you know, he'll make some -- or insult one of jefferson's heroes and jefferson just swallows it because -- and this is in their correspondence, in their retirement. >> right. >> their relationship is so important to both of them that jefferson does not react the way most human beings would because adams says things, he just jumps on jefferson's views. jefferson, of course, was loved the french revolution and believed in it right until the end, and adams can't help but practically say, i told you, mr. jefferson. we got napoleon. it was all a mess.
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you were wrong. and jefferson puts up with that simply because he -- he knows beneath the surface adams is -- he loves him. he just says, he's a wonderful person. and i think that's the appeal of adams. everyone who gets to know him realizes that he just has this capacity for love, and i think that -- that impresses jefferson. jefferson doesn't have -- i think his closest friend, of course, is madison, but i never feel -- you never feel the relationship with madison is as close in some sense as it is with adams even though they share no major political views. they differed on religion, they differed on slavery, they differed on the nature of the united states, on equality. i mean, the only thing they shared, jefferson and adamdams,s the commitment to america and the revolution and yet it's enough to hold them together.
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although i think the correspondence is a little trickier than most people had said. you know, adams writes about four letters to every one of jefferson's, and he exposes himself. he just throws himself out. all of his inner feelings, and jefferson is very self-composed and very reticent. >> yes. >> never lets you know what he really thinks. and that's part of his notion of politeness. and he says this to many people, youngsters, don't tell people what you think about them because it's rude and they're not going to appreciate it. and so that's -- you know, a lot of advice for treating people, but it does lead to hypocrisy because privately he would say, the guy's a scoundrel, i don't like him, but in his presence he would be very formal and very correct. and so when you do that you can be accused of hypocrisy, which is what jefferson was accused of. no one ever accuses adams of
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hypocrisy because he tells you what he thinks right to your face practically. so that's what makes him -- redeems him in modern eyes, but in the eyes of his colleagues, many of them, they thought adams was mad. insane, i mean. >> and in the 1800 election, of course, the two of them run against one another, and jefferson had been adams' vp during his presidency. >> right. >> that campaign in 1800 strained their relationship. >> definitely. >> the relationship has so many layers of complexity. what -- two-part question. how did they repair that relationship after that difficult 1800 campaign? and related to that, the way you know the relationship is through the letters. when you read jefferson/adams letters which all historians have to, they're almost trying to write for history i get the sense as they're doing that. >> right. yeah. i think that's true. they're aware that posterity
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will read these letters. adams forgets that because he's so exuberant. the election of 1800 was that. neither of them campaigned and neither said anything about the other publicly. that's their followers who do that and make charges. ad a neither of them are quoted although privately they had damaging views about each other. it was very difficult to repair. in 1804 abigail adams makes an effort. she writes a very consoling
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letter. jefferson responds, but he makes a mistake. he makes one complaint. that's enough for abigail to sound off and say what do you mean. she comes in with charges against jefferson. jefferson doesn't know what to say. he comes back and tries to apologize and they exchange a few letters, but abigail's f furrious and writes him off. in 1812 rush works on both of them and manages brilliantly to have them have each quoted and
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that's enough says jefferson. >> it brings them back together. >> yeah. adams makes the first effort. he says i'm sending you some artisan products of boston to you and jefferson being so little minded he writes a long letter on manufacturing in virginia when what adams sent him was two volumes of his son's lectures that had just been published. then jefferson gets the gift and then he writes an apologetic letter. the correspondence goes on and they both appreciate it. they are aware they're writing for posteriority, jefferson in particular. up to 1819 they avoid any talk of slavery.
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jefferson makes a reference to it and adams pounces so jefferson pulls back and says no more. it's one of those subjects that they differ on and adams realizes he can't push it because that will destroy the relationship. so it's an interesting correspondence and not as revealing as you would hope because jefferson restrains himself. adams doesn't. so you get a one-sided view. >> that's so typical of jefferson and so typical of adams to be restrained and to completely put himself out there. so they're being themselves. >> right. >> a quick comment since we're talking about founding fathers. abigail adams was a remarkable woman and she had an interesting relationship with jefferson and interesting things to say about george washington. would you care to comment? >> abigail is a marvelous
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character. the library of america just published some of her letters. her letters are as interesting as john's. i suggested to them because i did three volumes of adams' correspondence, i said you have to do something on abigail. she is unique among the found s foundersa wivfounder founders' wives. martha destroyed all of her correspondence with george. none of those wives were like abigail. she was bright and well read. she had no education. she was embarrassed by that and angry by it. of course she writes that famous letter, remember the ladies, john. she's not a modern feminist, but she was well aware of her
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feelings that women should be treated more equally. they exchanged letters to each other. they knew each other in paris and then the adams go off to become minister in london so there's an exchange of letters. at one point jefferson writes to her and he says notice that i use the word people instead of men. i hope you appreciate that. obviously she had said to him at some point everyone talks about men. why don't they talk about humanity or people instead of always men because women are included in the men. jefferson makes this comment, which i thought was very very revealing. he was very impressed by her. he had never met any woman like her and obviously his wife was not like that. he thought, and he writes this to her daughters, upon marriage
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their duty is to look after their husbands and to acquire talents like knitting and french and reading things, but no politics. he couldn't imagine women, but abigail was as interested in politics as john and she let her views be known. she was tougher. she took a harder line on the act. she wanted them earlier. she had -- she was a hawk on so many issues. she wanted to go to war with france and it's her husband holding back. so she's a fantastically interesting character in her own right. >> absolutely. joe ellis asked me to ask you this so i want to make sure i do. would you say that the founders were predemocratic or anti-democratic? >> i think of them as predemocratic. now, there is the constitution is created as a consequence of
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madison's mind too much democracy in the states. the state constitutions were created in 1776 and nobody in his wildest imaginations created in their minds anything resembling the federal constitution, which was created ten years later. nobody imagined such a government. the articles of confederation are like the eu today. this thing of the united states is sort of like the united states of europe today. so to create this national government required something awful to have happened in the decade following the state constitution making, which are far more important in some sense then the federal constitution because the federal constitution derived from them. madison's working document called the vices of the political system of the united states, which is a working
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paper, he never published it, he outlines what's wrong with the government. it isn't just the weakness of the articles. everyone was agreed that some amendments had to be made to the articles, what he analyzes are what he calls successes of democracy in the states. the state legislators were running wild and injustice of legislation. what he means by that is the majority tyrrany. the majority were hurting minorities. the minority is the creditors, but the principal is the same. he was worried and he wants to curb those excesses of democracy, but he doesn't want to go to the alternative, which many people suggested let's go to monarchy. sort of like what we did tso we
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get general cc. that's the conventional wisdom. you have too much democracy, you get monarchy. >> there were some fascinating and important alliances and relationships among the founders in creating what they did arguably two of the most important, which became partnerships would be the jefferson/madison partnership and the washington/hamilton partnership where it's important to understand one's contributions without the other partner. would you say a word on those partnerships? >> jefferson and madison were the closest of any of these two partnerships that we talk about. they just simply -- madison deferred to jefferson and that -- and he just respected him, although madison was by far the shrewder and more practical
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minded person. it's probably very fortunate that jefferson was abroad in 1887 because he would have screwed up the convention. he definitely did not share madison's views about democracy in the states. he wanted an open convention. the convention took vows of secrecy and four months they met. it's unbelievable today, but for four months they met behind closed doors and no press involved and madison said later we could never have done it if the press were involved because then people make statements that they would have been committed to and they couldn't take it back. that's the problem with the press. they come in and write up what you said on day one and then you want to change your mind on day five and you have an inconsistency. it never would have worked. madison was quite right. jefferson wanted the press there. he did not like the
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constitution. the only reason he comes around to it is because he had great respect for madison and madison convinces him that it's going to be a good thing. as soon as he gets the bill of rights, which is one of the things that -- he had to objections, jefferson. one was the president was like the polish king, he could be reelected. the president would serve for life and die and the vice president would serve for life and die the way the polish king did he was elected and served until he died and then they elected a new king. it didn't work out that way because washington retired at the end of two terms, which is an extraordinary thing. no leader in the western world had ever done that. again, that's what makes washington special. at any rate, the other thing he objected to is the bill of rights. the funny thing is the reason he thought -- he was upset because
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he says my french friends, liberal friends, think a bill of rights is wonderful and every government should have it. he's embarrassed with his french friends that there's a bill of rights. madison gave him a long explanation of why there was no bill of rights, but it goes right by jefferson. he doesn't pay attention to it. finally, this letter that jefferson wrote to madison, he also wrote to another person that the constitution lacks a bill of rights. it got publicized and the anti-federalists make a great deal of it, patrick henry in particular, so madison is forced to come around and say all right if we get this constitution adopted, i will work personally to get a bill of rights, which i does. in fact, in the first congress he starts immediately amending the constitution and his federal
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federalists are saying what are you doing? he said, look, i promised i would do this and he does. we owe the bill of rights to madison. madison almost didn't get into government because henry hated him so much and he controls the virginia legislator. then madison says if i'm going to get into the government, i've g got to get a representative to be in the house. henry redistricts his district and then recruits this young lawyer as an opponent, james monroe, to run against madison. madison has to make a speech, which he hates. the idea of having to make a speech, this gives you an idea of how different their politics was. he did not want to descend to this grubby practice of
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electionneering as he calls it. but he does and he promises he'll create a bill of rights if elected and he does get elected and becomes the major figure in the house of representatives for the first two terms. the other partnership with washington was with hamilton and hamilton comes in with a program, a fiscal program modelled on new england that stuns james madison. they had been collaborators in the federalist papers and they both wanted a strong national government, but madison had no idea that hamilton had this british model in mind, a fiscal military state, and that's why he goes into opposition. it's never been easily explained why do you have james madison who is a nationalist suddenly become a states rights opponent
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of the government and i think it's explained by the nature of the fiscal military state that hamilton is building. hamilton is a modern man in that sen sense. this celebration of hamilton that we're getting of the musical, the show, is misleading because there's no doubt that hamilton is no modern american in the sense that he's very anti-democratic. he think democracy is a bad thing and he wants to -- he knows that it's the problem of america, he says, and he wants to create a modern state that could be able to take on the european states on their own terms, that is with a standing army, a large navy, a whole industrial military complex. it's so contrary to what jefferson and madison have in mind that they go into
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opposition and the election of 1800 reputeates almost everything of hamilton's views. people don't realize how little of hamilton's creation survives. the bank survives because it was given a charter for 20 years, but then there's no res resubscripion of the bank. jefferson and madison want a small minimal state and a
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federal government that involves itself only in foreign policy and leaves everything else to the states, a completely different view from hamilton. >> do you have a favorite founder? and on two levels in terms of his contributions to the forging of this nation, but also someone you think you would like if you had a chance to meet the person? >> well, there's no doubt that washington is head and shoulders above all the others. without him, the thing would not have succeeded. he really holds the army together. there's that great moment in newburg in march of '83 where he comes as close to a military coup that we've ever had in history. 50 officers want to take over and march on congress. it happens elsewhere in the world today. it doesn't happen because washington stops it by this impassioned speech that he
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gives. it's a kind of banned of brothers speech, but he said he was with you. i lived in a tent. i didn't go into winter quarters like general howell and go to the life of luxury. i didn't go back to mount vernon during the winter. i was with you at valley forge. i was out in the field with you. we're a band of brothers. he has them in tears by the time he ends because he pulls out a letter to read from some congressman who says we're going to do something for the army and so on and he puts on his glasses and there's a gasp because many officers had not realized he needed reading glasses and he looks up with perfect time and says, yes, gentlemen i have grown nearly blind as well as gray in the service of my country. at that point they all break
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into tears. he was very -- he was the best actor of the presidency we've ever had. it's true, washington had a real sense of drama. he loved plays. he put them on. there's no doubt this was a performance, but it was a brilliant performance and it broke this crowd -- this coup. so we owe a lot to him and his presidency was -- without him the country wouldn't survive. he represented -- people were -- had been raised in monarchy. when washington takes over, when he's going from mount vernon to new york to take the oath of office, he was celebrated long live washington and people wrote to him and say may you long reign over us. so he gets so conscious that they think of him as a king that he writes an inaugural address, a draft where he says, look,
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don't worry about me. i'm not going to be a king. i have no children. he had no blood relatives. he said i have no children to pass on this thrown to. don't worry about me. he asked james madison to look at it. madison says you can't say that, take it out. the fact that he did put it in shows how conscious people were that he was a kind of king. i think he played that role as a surrogate monarch. republicanism was new to the people. he eased us, if you will, into republicanism by behaving scrupulously as a republican president and playing a role that the people wanted of a monarch that made the new government acceptable to hosts of people who were frightened of it. so both as commander in chief and as president he was
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indispensable. he made the new nation possible. >> no doubt. i know gay and i share your enthusiasm for george. no doubt he had a flare for the theater cal from the physical se this guy was straight out of casting. unfortunately we're about out of time. just one more question. i could sit here all day. the eternal fascination we have with the founders. to what do you attribute this eternal longing for the founders? joe ellis and i spoke and you alluded at the beginning of your
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remarks while new england may have this myfigure, we have rea flesh and blood folks who are not that long ago, yet we are continuallyly eno, ma'am with t founders. >> nobody says what would king albert think about brexit. americans want to know, and i understand it, what would jefferson think about trump's election. they want to know that. i understand that. these people are closer to us and they're meaningful to us and i think that's wonderful. the reasons for this i think is because they -- they represent our nationhood in a way that we don't have a nationality.
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i think that's a saving grace for us now in this world of migration and all this immigration. we can absorb immigrants. you know we have problems with immigration, but you have to be in france to appreciate how little our problems seem compared to the ones they're facing. they don't have the ability to absorb these foreigners. even when they're foreigners, the arabs that have been living in france, they can't believe they're french, and yet we don't have that. somebody's that's been here whose irish grandparents came in 1870 are thoroughly american. we wouldn't have that problem. the same will be true with mexicans and central americans and asians 50 or 60 years from
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now too. we have that ability to absorb different people because we have no nationhood in an ethnic sense. to be an american is to believe in something. what do you believe in? well, these things the founders created. the constitution, the declaration of independence, liberty, equality. so that's why they're important to us because they are our nationhood. they're our source of our oneness and we haven't got anything else. i mean, mcdonald's and starbucks are not gonna do it. adams had no answer for this. he said we're just a hoj poj of a people. we had a lot of french, germanys and spanish and scotts and irish. he said how are we going to hold this nation together? he had no answer.
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lincoln saw it and jefferson saw it and jefferson will always live in our memory or should live because of the notion of equality. that's why the founders are important to us. they are our nationhood. they are the sense of our sense of being american. there is no ethnicity in americanism. we don't know what it is. we have -- the whole world is here. why are they all americans? because they believe in these things. if they don't believe in them, they're not americans. they do. they've become -- they've become part of us, as lincoln said, to the point where they are blood and flesh of the founders themselves and that's an extraordinary image that he has, i think. >> yes. [ applause ] >> in february


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