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tv   QA Charles Calhoun  CSPAN  September 2, 2018 11:00pm-11:59pm EDT

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calhoun. that's followed by america in turmoil race relations. later, law enforcement and education officials discussed cyberbullyingt among youth. >> this week on q&a, historian charles calhoun discusses his biography of president benjamin harrison. brian: professor charles calhoun, if you were introducing someone to benjamin harrison, what would you tell them? charles: i would tell them here is a man you can learn a lot from. he was an intellectual. he was a good student of history.
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he knew his country well. it was good conversation with in a small groups that he knew well. he wasn't so good at meeting people cold. that is one of the things about his personality that i think people have pointed out did not work well in politics. he did not come across as a particularly warm person. that hurt him sometimes with his into relations with political leaders in his party. once you got to know harrison, you could benefit from his friendship and understanding of his country. brian: why did you get interested in him? charles: it goes way back to when i was in college at yale. i had a seminar my junior year with a great historian. he was a specialist in the late 19th century american politics, early 20th century american politics. i was an american history major. i designed it so i would have a course my four years at yale
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that would cover american history. one of that covered it was the junior seminar. i think the title was the democratic party from cleveland to wilson. it really covered everything, not just the democrats. i did a paper on the election of 1892 in indiana. that was the first semester. i did a second paper, the second semester on the election of 1888 in indiana. i began to know benjamin harrison then. i have written a good bit about him since. brian: what impacted the fact that you are from indiana that you got interested in indiana and benjamin harrison? charles: i think the way he organized it was you are going to read the cleveland papers, the harrison papers, and you will read a newspaper from your
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home state. my home state was indiana. that is why i the papers on indiana and it worked. brian: why do you get interested in history in the first place? charles: when i went to college i was thinking about becoming a political science major. that is what i registered as my first semester. the historians at yale seduced me into the wonders of studying the past. it emphasized original research, rather than rehashing what was found in secondary sources. the library was great, it had all of the presidential papers. we had lots of newspapers from the period. brian: i want to put on the screen a series of numbers, back in the late 1800s of elections, and have you explain it to us
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and how benjamin harrison fits in. charles: these are the popular votes in the electoral votes for the elections. let's start with a little background. we often think of this era as a republican era. it is true that between johnson and wilson there was only one democrat, grover cleveland. in fact, in the late 19th century, the two major parties were very evenly balanced. just about as many republicans and democrats in the country. they were spread out over two sections. the south was solid for the democrats. in any given presidential election, they could count on a body of electoral votes. the republicans could count
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almost as reliably on a body of electoral votes coming from the northeast, the upper midwest, and most of the west as well. neither one of those blocks of votes was large enough to win the presidency. what you had between them was in those states, doubtful states, new york and indiana. most of the campaigning was done in those two doubtful states. those electoral statistics you had up there reflect -- they look like they are fairly wide apart. in cleveland's victory in 1884, there are two states separating them, indiana and new york. those were quite close.
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cleveland's victory in new york was something like a thousand popular votes out of one million cast. then you come down to the next election, harrison versus cleveland. those states were the only ones that flip. harrison defeated cleveland. again, both of those states, new york and indiana were very close. you have basically the same blocks taking place again in the south and the north. there were some changes. because of things that happened, disenchantment in the west and other reasons harrison did not do as well as he had done in 1888. he lost illinois and wisconsin which he had one in 1888. he also lost new york and indiana.
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you see a wider spread for cleveland's victory. james weaver one 22 elect for about. brian: in your research, how did they react, that somebody lost the presidency and then was reelected? charles: the democrats were very happy to win the white house back. the republicans were sorry that it did not turn out well for them. there is an old story you have probably heard that grover cleveland's wife in 1889 when them. the cleveland's relinquished the white house to the harrison's, she supposedly said to be servants take care of the furniture we will be back in four years. cleveland got renominated in
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1892, he was the only person they had been able to elect since really james buchanan. he was a very popular democrat and did manage to get the nomination again in 1892. it was a democratic year, quite definitely. he took with him into the white house in 1892 and 1893 when they took office, both the house and senate that were democratic. brian: benjamin harrison fits into the harrison family where? charles: he is a part of the family that goes way back in american history. in colonial virginia there were five benjamin harrison's in succession. benjamin harrison the fifth was a signer of the declaration of independence. he was governor of the first state of virginia.
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his son was william henry harrison. he was president in 1841, just for a month. his son was john scott harrison, who was a congressman from ohio for two terms. his son was benjamin harrison, the president. brian: what is the difference between a wig and a republican? charles: they began to call themselves whigs in the mid 1830's, they lasted until the mid-1850's. they came up as an opposition to andrew jackson. they had a program too. henry clay was the great
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philosopher of the whig party. i guess you could say the intellectual and policy leader. a very strong leader. the american bank, the u.s. bank, and henry clay was one of benjamin harrison's heroes. the whigs in 1852 had a disastrous election. the party basically fell apart. in large part because of the slavery issue. it was a national party, there were northern whigs and southern whigs. southern whigs did not want to continue to affiliate with people who felt that way. the party fell apart. there were other elements, the temperance movement had to look
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for the whigs to being part of the temperance movement. immigration sentiment was rising in the 1850's. the wicks had more or less fallen in with that kind of attitude. some people who felt they were anti-immigrant felt they were not doing an effective job. those elements of the whig party fell apart. they felt they were not getting what they wanted from the whig party and it did collapse. in the north, the whig party was replaced by the republican party. the birth of the republican party if you will was the pass of the kansas to nebraska act which opened in new territory. slavery would now be possible, that sent forth in the north, many of them wild.
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the repeal of the missouri compromise. brian: benjamin harrison grew up around cincinnati but went to miami of ohio. eventually moved to indiana. why did he move away from his family's tradition? charles: he wanted to be out on his own, to prove himself. he had a cousin living in indianapolis already. he said if you're looking for a place to land, this is a good spot. there are lots of good people here. harrison had just passed the bar, you will find the bar is full of men who are like-minded, full of men who are like-minded, i think you will flores year. so he and his wife did move. brian: where did he meet caroline?
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charles: caroline was the daughter of one of his professors at a place called farmers college. this was closer to cincinnati. he had a habit of visiting more and more. it became a love affair really, he fell for her. harrison was very quiet, sort of an introverted person. she sort of brought it out of himself a little bit. she was much livelier, had a good sense of humor. he did enjoy her company. it is very interesting, she moved to oxford first. she was going to mr. net a
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seminary there. harrison was at farmers college near cincinnati. the professor said we hope you will stay here, can see was thinking about going to maybe to be an oxford. he said no please day. he said no, i think i'm going to go up there. he did and he graduated third in his class. of course, his relationship with caroline grew deeper and deeper. brian: i understand that you're retired in 2014? charles: that is correct. brian: where did you do most of the teaching and what did you teach? charles: i thought most of my career at east carolina university, which is in north carolina. i am a specialist in late 19th century america. i did most of that teaching in that area. brian: any idea why that era was what you were most interested in? charles: going back to that course i took at yale it just sort of gravity. if i'd taken a different junior seminar i would've had a
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different specialty. the kind of research i was able to do, it was a wonderful period to do research in. all of the communication is really on paper. many, many, many of the politicians have papers collections that one can dig into very deeply. the library of congress manuscript room is really my second home. they had tons of papers collections there, harrison's has been microfilmed. it was a period where you could get a handle on the research material.
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i marvel at my 20th and 21st century colleagues who have so much material to try and understand and assimilate into so many different formats. brian: you said something when you appeared at the smithsonian in february talking about your new book on a grant that i wrote down and i wanted to ask you to explain. i don't remember the date, you said it when selfishness became enshrined in our country, do you remember the date was that you suggested that selfishness became enshrined in our country? charles: i think i may said the 1980's. in that decade there seems to be more emphasis on looking out for number one. i think it sort of debate in the country that we haven't
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completely gotten rid of it, i don't think we are anywhere close to getting rid of it. it seemed to me that some of the political leaders at the time were touting policies that were aimed at lining your own pockets, rather than worrying about the next person. as opposed to an ethic that seemed purveyed in the 1960's. they were more willing to use the government to help folks. brian: go back to the harrison years. one of the things you write a lot about in your book on benjamin harrison is the religion of the family and the religion of a lot of these schools in the united states and the colleges.
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i think you point out at one point that he was born again or he had a particular event. charles: that was in college. miami was a presbyterian dominated school. it was not unusual to have a revival meetings. preachers coming in and saving souls. harrison attended one of those meetings and essentially was born again as a result of that. he remained committed to the faith throughout his life. brian: what impact that have on politics of those days? charles: the united states goes through periods of anti-catholicism, this was a.
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when the american protective association was a gaining some steam. this was an anti-catholic organization. i don't think harrison played on that at all, or meant to in any sense. religion was not really centerstage in that election. economic issues were much more important. brian: you have in the back of your book a milestone couple of pages telling us the different important dates in harrison's life. in 1872, he loses the republican gubernatorial nomination in indiana. in 1876, he replaces republican nominee for governor and it loses general election. in 1881, the united states senator from indiana -- this is
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interesting, in 1887 loses bid for reelection of the senate and turns around the sheer and becomes president of the united states. he sounds like a loser. charles: harrison's career evolved over time. in 1872 he had held a state office prior to that. he was elected to the reporter of the state supreme court. he held that job until he went into the army and held it after he came back from the war. he was a very well-known lawyer. in 1872 he was giving speeches for the party. he thought he was in good position to run for governor. he was not particularly well liked by the boss of the republican party in indiana, the senator. although harrison had lots of
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support for the nomination in 1872, it sort of circulated through the hallways at the convention that morton was not too keen on this guy. in 1876, he was tempted to run for the nomination again. they nominated someone else. he had to resign from the ticket because of conflict of interest charges. in the early fall, the republican state committee said to harrison, we need you, can you step in and take over. he made a valiant effort. he fought very hard, gave lots of speeches. it was basically a democratic year in indiana that year. he came fairly close to winning. after that, he went out and campaigned in other states for presidential candidate rutherford b hayes. oliver morton died the next year, that sort of gave harrison
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the opportunity to move as the leader of the republican party. when there was a seat open in the senate in 1881, after the 1880 election campaign, the republicans want it. harrison through in his hat, garfield as presidential elect said it you want to come in the cabinet? and he said he would rather be in the senate. he held the senate seat for six years. in 1885, the democratic legislator in indiana gerrymandered. when it got to choose the senator again, the democrats won that very narrowly. harrison spoke all over the state and said he by a machine
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to multiply his letters to get them out to as many people as he could. he really got a lot of national attention for that campaign. when the votes were counted, all the people running for the legislature on the republican side they got 10,000 more votes, but the democrats got to elect it. harrison lost his senate seat the gained lots of reputation nationally. why was i importantly was running for president? i would say we would have to keep in mind that indiana was one of those swing states. here's a guy who could work really hard in indiana. who can perhaps a win indiana in 1888. he might be someone we want to
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take seriously in looking at candidates for 1888. brian: did he actively run for the nomination in 1888? did he actively run around the country campaigning when he won? charles: no. he did not actively run in the sense of personally hunting for delegates. he had a good team. it was headed up by a man who managed his preconvention campaign. harrison himself did cultivate good relations as best as he could with supporters of james g blaine. brian: we talk about him all the time, was he, he ran in 1880
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four and lost and become the secretary of state when harrison is elected? charles: blaine really is one of the most interesting characters. he was speaker of the house for six years. in 1876 he was the front runner for the republican nomination and lost it to rutherford b. hayes. there were some ethical charges against them that heard him seriously as it turned out. in 1880, he sought the nomination again. this time he had a knockdown fight with ulysses s grant. they came to a deadlock and garfield was nominated as a dark horse, so blaine became garfield
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secretary of state. he didn't keep the job long because garfield was assassinated. he was mr. republican really and in many people's eyes. the harrison people in 1888 realize that you have to cultivate these people. they will have so much to say about who wins this nomination. what they wanted to do was to say it is a wide-open convention, which it was. i think 14 people were voted for on the first ballot. the idea for the harrison people was let's line-up second choice people and see what we could do to get them after several ballots to come over to us. the key to that strategy was the blaine contingent. harrison did not travel around the country after he was nominated. blaine had done that in 1884.
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he made speeches on a six-week tour. in new york, there was a couple of serious gafs that some people say cost him the election. harrison said i will not travel, a candidate who stays at home may need a fool, candidate who travels will definitely need a fool. by fool he meant a person in blaine's presence in 1884 before the election let out an anti-catholic slur. harrison said i am not going to travel, what i will do is stay in indianapolis. when he was nominated he was in indianapolis. at his house, he gave four speeches that they. his campaign people said this is
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the thing to do. let people come to you. over the next four or five months until the election, that is what happened. harrison stayed home, slept in his own bed, he would meet these delegations from around the state, from around the country. often it would be special interest groups, coal miners, wheat farmers, cotton farmers. they would come and harrison would give them a short speech, mostly attuned to their own interests. he had his own stenographer take down what he said. often it would be special then he would go over what he said and made it sure it was what he wanted people to read. they would give it to the associated press the next morning and it isn't it newspapers all over the country. it was not a relaxing campaign but at least it did not have a lot of travel, worries, headaches, and fatigue. brian: i want to throw those
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three elections back on the screen to look at the numbers. if you look at 1888 when he was elected, he did not get the popular vote. charles: that is correct, i'm glad you pointed that out. this is another thing we have to remember about politics at that time. in most of the south blacks were pretty much eliminated from voting after the collapse in reconstruction efforts. what that meant was the democrats could rack up huge margins in the south. when you counted all the states together, cleveland did in fact have a majority -- not a majority but a plurality. 90,000 votes more than harrison in the national popular vote. in the states that harrison won in the north and the west, the margins were closer. if you look outside of the
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states that had slavery before, if you take all the other states, harrison won a plurality in those states of something like 450,000. if you look outside of the states that had slavery before, if you take all the other states, harrison won a reality in the states. --other words, we actually where we actually had competitive elections, harrison did much better. brian: by the way, in 1992, jim weaver, the populist candidate, if he had not run and gotten one million votes, who would have gotten those? charles: you didn't get enough, of course, to flip the presidency. and, it ispresidency. varied from state to state. it was not decisive.
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there were too many other things going on against harrison. brian: who was responsible for this? when he was president, there were six states added to the union. north dakota, south dakota, montana, washington in 1889, and idaho and wyoming in 1890. how much did harrison have to do with that? charles: harrison certainly endorsed the idea. harrison, when he was in the senate, had been on the territories committee, and he tried to get the dakotas in earlier. but politics always played into the admission of states, and the dakota territories, of course, very small population but nonetheless they would have a few electoral votes, and a few electoral votes could mean a lot in that era. the dakotas were largely republican, so the democratic house of representatives prior to harrison would not let them,
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would not go along with legislation to admit those s tates. harrison, this is important to remember about harrison's term, he carried elected .oth houses of congress first time since 1875. first thing they wanted to do was admit the states democrats were blocking before, so they did come into the union. them did get some votes to weaver in 1992. you did point out that in his four years, four nominations to the supreme court. these are four i heard very little about. david josiah brewer, henry brown, george surres junior and howell edmonds jackson. who were those folks, and how
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did he get four? charles: he got four because four people died, so he had the opportunity to appoint four. the one you probably have heard of but don't remember well, that we don't remember, the name on plessy versus ferguson, henry brown. he was from michigan.all of them were conservative jurists. in thetty much were not business of widening the areas in which government could take action, more in favor of limiting government action. so they were of their time, shall we say. brian: so if you had to name three or four things harrison accomplished that mattered, that day,ght even feel to this what would they be? charles: the thing we feel to the day might not be the most important at the time, but it is
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still with us today, the sherman antitrust act. this is a period, the 1880's when trusts are emerging, kind of a generic term for these large, consolidated businesses. standard oil, cottonseed oil, the whiskey trust, all these things, sugar trust. and there is a growing sense in the country that they are dominating the economy more and more. both parties in 1888 actually said we need to do something about these consolidations. there were efforts at the state level, but these large corporations were of course doing business across state lines, and the constitution says commerce between the states shall be regulated by congress. there was a movement that something should be done to corral these great, monster trusts. and harrison certainly believed that. in his inaugural address, in his
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first state of the union message, delivered on paper, not in person in those days, in december of 1889, said we have to do something. he was behind legislation. the spearhead, although he had other health -- health in framing -- help in framing, was john sherman, senator from ohio. brian: is that william tecumseh sherman's brother? charles: that is correct. sherman put in a bill in the previous congress, pretty much the exact same bill under harrison, but this time there was a greater chance of getting it through. sherman's original idea was, what we need to do is to include production in the things we have been regulating. consolidations in production. but others in the congress said, no, the congress, the constitution says that congress can regulate commerce between the states and in foreign trade. but production itself,
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regulation of his essays in production -- businesses in production should remain with the states. that's the way the sherman antitrust act is written. combinations in restraint of trade or commerce were outlawed, and certain penalties were there . harrison agreed with sherman that it would have been better if we put production in there, but it would not have made it through congress. brian: what else? charles: he also was very instrumental in pushing through the mckinley tariff act. today, tariffs, of course, we hear a lot about. but it used to be, when we theorians would talk about tariff issue of the late 19th-century, eyes would glaze over, why is that so important? we have a greater appreciation of why regulation of trade is so important, certainly in the forefront of pushing for a protective tariff. brian: let me interrupt again, for this purpose. that is william mckinley. he was in the house of
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representatives. charles: he was. brian: what was his job, that got him into the tariff business? charles: he was a representative from ohio, and sometimes representatives sort of adopt a specialty. he was on ways and means, and the house was democratic, so he was a minority member, but he was chair of the ways and means committee in the first two years of harrison's term. this is why it was called the mckinley tariff act. he was the real point man for developing this. it was a very complicated piece of legislation. that lay behind this legislation, and that both parties were wrestling with, was the united states government was running a surplus. i actually use the word surplus, not deficit. since 1866 the united sta tes government ran a surplus, quite large by the 1880's. the feeling was, you have to leave that economy in -- leave
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that money in the economy somehow, you should not take that money out of the economy. but the republicans, who agreed, also felt you needed a protective tariff, to protect industry from foreign competition, mainly from british manufacturers, and of course the people who work in their factories. tariff sou adjust the you are not collecting as much revenue, therefore reducing that surplus that people find damaging? they came up with a clever kind of way of doing this. one was to raise some rates so high that it cut off the imports. said, we won't pay that. so that reduce the revenue. for sugar, a very important said,commodity in the revenue m of the country, they put that on the freelist, no tariff at all on that. and that will reduce the revenue. what about sugar producers in louisiana?
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aren't they going to be hurt by competition from sugar producers elsewhere, in the caribbean and so forth? yes, so we will pay louisiana sugar makers two cents a pound bounty, taking more money out of the surplus. and farmers who didn't much like the tariff, because it meant they paid a lot for machining, that sort of thing, that they did not produce themselves, they worked out a scheme, let's give them reciprocity. that is, let's give the president the power to negotiate agreements with other countries to open up their markets for our, especially our farm products. so it is a complicated law, much more than people tend to realize. and it was industrial policy writ large, with the u.s. government actively trying to frame legislation to further benefit the economy.
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brian: what did he do? charles: well, he also was a very strong advocate of black rights, particularly voting rights. the -- brian: they could not vote at all then? charles: well, in the south, various mechanisms were developing, mostly intimidation, to prevent blacks from voting. keep in mind, at that time if blacks in the south were committed to vote, they would have voted overwhelmingly republican, so there's a political motive as well. but harrison definitely believed something should be done to protect the right to vote. now, why wasn't anything done earlier? we say reconstruction ended in 1876. part of why nothing was done since 1875 was that the democrats controlled the house of representatives, and with cleveland also have the presidency, and they were against supporting black rights in the south, black voting
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rights. so when harrison became president with a republican house, with a republican senate, they said, we can do something, we are in position to do something. and the legislation fell to a committee headed by henry cabot lodge, a young representative anm massachusetts, scion of illustrious family there. a piece oftogether legislation that essentially, you already have on the books some supervisory legislation, that is to say federal supervisors could be called in in some situations in southern states to watch over elections. lodge essentially expanded that in such a way that not only would federal supervisors play a more direct role in watching registration, voting, counting, but they would also, this applied only to
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congressional elections, because those were the only ones the constitution really recognizes congress could control directly, that the's bill said certification of elections, if there was some question about what the state certification boards were saying, then a federal board of canvassers could certify, or a federal judge. this is the essence of that bill. it took the final certification of congressional elections out of the hands of state officials in the south, who were overwhelmingly democratic and overwhelmingly against black voting, and put it in the hands of federal supervisory canvassing boards, and if need b e federal judges. that's why the democrats opposed it silver humanly -- so vehemently, willing to do
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anything to stop it, and they were able to eventually prevent its passage, largely through the alliances seven democrats. brian: there's a lot more in your book about benjamin harrison, but i want to have you walk us through the relationship with his wife, caroline, his two kids, and then his subsequent second marriage. charles: well, we talked about harrison meeting caroline in his college days. they got married, i think he was only 20 years old when he got married, quite young. he had this interesting sense, was taking over some teaching for somebody who was ill. harrison convinced himself, unless i marry this woman, she's going to die. interesting notion, but he did marry her. they had a very happy marriage in indianapolis.
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it was probably the place caroline liked most, where they spent most of their marriage. she had a good life there. they had two children, russell and mary. they had a third child in 1861, who died right after birth. so, they moved to the white house in 1889. caroline harrison is interesting an first lady, because she did all the hostess duties, had her daughter help her, had a niece help her, the cabinet ladies help her. she was not a terribly comfortable person in the public role of first lady. she liked to paint china and so forth, was something of an artist. that they had lots of family living in the white house, and it was quite cramped. so caroline harrison conceived this idea, what you needed to do was to expand the white house.
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she worked with committees in congress to develop an elaborate program that would have changed the white house essentially into a quadrangle. as the drawings were made, architectural historians say, it was a monstrosity. one of the great things that happened, that it did not happen. but she did get some money to refurbish the white house. as i said, assisting her in her social duties was a niece, her sister's daughter, named mary dinnick, a widow. she had been married only three months. a widow for six or eight years by this time. her husband died very early in their marriage, and shw was sort of -- he was sort about loose ends, eventually moving to washington. she spent a lot of time at the white house. there was a short period where she lived there. in 1888,n the scene
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the campaign. harrison actually enjoyed her company quite a bit. liked to take walks with her. she knew enough not to say much when he was ruminating during their walks. she played billiards with him. filled a similar kind of role in the white house. and became quite close with the president. mrs. harrison, caroline harrison, in 1892, developed tuberculosis. just went progressively downhill. she was the person who, by the way, put together the origins of the white house china exhibits. she had done a lot of rummaging around in the basements and attics of the white house. some people said she sort of had gotten tuberculosis this way. in any case, she did get it, and
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8092.nt downhill through she was moved to the adirondacks for the cool, fresh air. brian: he was out of office then? charles: still in office. this was during the campaign for reelection, 1892. and she got progressively worse, so in october she said, i would like to go back to the white house, and she did in fact i in the white house on october 25, 1892, a couple weeks before the election. mary dinnick, who was called daug like caroline's own hter, she had helped nurse caroline and so forth, and was very close to the family. harrison, of course, was devastated by the death of his wife. this was two weeks before the election.
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and then he lost the election. a very bleak time in his life. after he left office, he went back to indianapolis and tried to put things back together. his daughter mary moved with him, and helped him refurbish the house, redecorate and so forth, and then harrison began to ask mame to come out and visit because he enjoyed her company so well. she was living in new york at this time. they exchanged visits, 1893, 1894, 1895, and they did then get married in 1896. brian: he was 62 according to your book. she was 37. russell and mame, his daughter and son, were older than his new wife. charles: russell certainly was. mary the daughter, mame the daughter, was almost the same age, about four weeks difference. brian: how was their reaction? charles: they opposed the second marriage vehemently.
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when it was apparent it was coming on, mary mckee the daughter left the harrison has in indianapolis, moved out with her possessions, and russell, whatever he had, he moved them out. they did not attend the wedding in new york, and there was quite a strain. really tragic, in a sense. harrison wrote to them, i cannot let them get in the way of my love for you, kind of expression. brian: five years later, he died. what were the circumstances? in 1901. charles: he was -- harrison went back to work in the law. he worked very, very hard. as is not unusual at the time, did not particularly take terrific care of himself. and the diets in those days were not particularly wholesome. in any case, he got pneumonia in the winter of 1901, and it
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cold to begin, a with that developed into pneumonia, and he did die. his second wife was with him. the children were not. brian: your book that you wrote a number of years ago is still available, in the presidential series? charles: right. you have in then, 2018 a brand-new book, and i want to make sure our viewers know that they can find about one hour, 45 minutes of you talking in the since tony and in february -- in the smithsonian in february in your book o ulysses grant, an in-depth discussion. i want to ask something about the ulysses grant book. you wrote something in the preface. it says, no scholarly work focusing on grant's presidency had appeared since the 1930's was one of the reasons you wrote
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this for the university of kansas press. bookshave been two grant in the last year and a half, and i assume the ronald whyte and chernow books are not known as scholarly books on grant? charles: that is correct. brian: what does that mean? charles: i think what that means is that, an historian comes to his work full of skepticism. after the seminar i took at yale, one of the things he drove into us, go to the original sources, that is what is important. i think the popular writers are willing more often to perhaps you secondary sources, more convenient sources. it took me about five years to research this book. i like to say, the grant book took me as long to produce it as grant was in the white house practically. because you have to run down --
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grant's administration was so encrusted with myth and controversy that i felt the obligation to really try to unpack it all and go to the original resources, sources. i think that's one of the key distinctions between a popular writer and a scholarly approach. not that a scholarly approach isn't, we hope, well-written and isdable, but the obligation to leave no stone unturned, as it were, and that's really what drove me. brian: a general question. all of a sudden, out of nowhere, three major books on ulysses s. grant in 2017 and 2018. what's going on? charles: grant's reputation, as you well know from the c-span surveys, has certainly gone up over the years. part of that, i think a major nt is is the fact that gra becoming much more recognized as
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a defender of african-american'' writes -- rights. the civil rights movement not only obviously was fighting for civil rights at the time, but he also served as kind of an inspiration for people to take another look at reconstruction, what it meant, what was attempted at that time. the great book "reconstruction," which came out in the 1980's, was an inspiration for others to examine the period much more closely. grant was a major figure in reconstruction, and so if anything what he did on behalf of blacks and their right to vote, ultimately not successful, but what he tried to do has given him much more visibility and interest to modern readers. brian: what was the biggest myth you were able to deal with in your book on grant? charles: i think one of the most important myths was that grant was detached, that he was
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somehow not really involved in his own administration, that he was not a hands-on president, and i think that's part of the reason why i wanted to look at the original sources so much. what did this guy do? one of the most important diary., hamilton fish's hamilton fish was secretary of state and kept a diary of all eight years. you can really see grant being a hands-on president. what's interesting about grant, and what has been overlooked so much, is that he was very much a legislative president. he did not just sit back and wait for congress to act and say yea or nay in the white house. he met with legislators all the time, senators and representatives, in the white house. he also went to the congress. there was a room in congress at the time called the president's room, and he would meet with committees, sometimes
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individual senators, and push his agenda. he was an activist legislative president more than anybody realized before. brian: when we were talking about benjamin harrison, you talked about the surplus they had during his time, 1888. grant was 1865. chapter, "besides the southern question, the other major item on the domestic agenda cited by grant in his inaugural address concerned the disordered state of the nation's finances, another consequence of the war." what happened in those 20 years to get the united states surplus? charles: the u.s. action had a surplus from 1866 on. brian: how did they do that? charles: again, during the war, when i talk about the disordered state of finances, what happened during the civil war was, this was the most expensive thing the united states government had ever undertaken. so taxes went way up.
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borrowing went through the roof. something like a $2 billion debt at the end of the war, which seems that nothing now, but this is a huge amount of money at that time. even that wasn't enough. the united states government began to crank out dollar bills with nothing behind them, no gold and silver. so in the postwar years, what leaders had to do was try to figure out, what are we going to do with all this? we are no longer at war. how will we adjust this to peacetime? lower taxes, grant worked to lower taxes and succeeded. he argued for refinancing the national debt. that is, issue new bonds at a lower interest rate, save interest payments for the government. the national debt went down during grant's administration, something like 17%. the greenbacks, the unbacked currency, most people thought we need to get back to a position
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where the government will pay hold for the greenbacks, so people will regard them as a valuable currency. that legislation, pushed strongly by grant, was passed to do just that. brian: which of these two men would be the most in attaining at a dinner? charles: interesting question. each of them in his way was an introvert. i think grant would probably be more interesting, because once grant was relaxed with you, he was not relaxed with people he didn't know very well, in that way he's like harrison, but once he was relaxed with you, he loved to tell more stories. -- war stories. he would recount what happened during the war, talk about personalities, quite entertaining. rutherford b. hayes kept a diary. sometimes he would visit the grant white house. you can see in the diaries, amazing, this man is such a wonderful, he did not use the term, but raconteur.
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he entertained so well in his recounting of his momentous events of his life. harrison would be more cerebral. grant was not an intellectual. harrison was much more intellectually inclined. brian: our guest has been professor charles calhoun, for years a professor at east carolina university. we talked about two presidents, benjamin harrison, and a book there he has written, you can see it on the screen, and also his brand-new book this year on u.s. grant. thank you very much for joining us. charles: thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> for free transcripts or to give comments, visit us at, also available as c-span podcastss. >> on the next q&a, zachary
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wood with the atlantic talks about his new book, "uncensored," my life and conversations at the intersection of white and black america. next sunday at 8:00 p.m. on c-span. the british house of commons remains in recess until tuesday, so prime ministers questions will not be shown tonight. instead, we bring you our original series, "1968: america in turmoil," which takes a look at civil rights and race relations that year. then, law enforcement and education officials discuss ways to prevent cyber bullying among youth. later, former state department official richard hoss talks about foreign policy and the state of global affairs. next on "wasng


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