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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  March 2, 2016 12:00pm-1:01pm PST

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>> rose: welcome to the program. when everyone else is following the election results tonight, we thought we would give you some history. look back and see who were the gate presidents through the eyes of their biographers. we talked to ron chernow about george washington, david mccullough about john adams, and doris kearns goodwin about abraham lincoln. >> washington, under the surface, was a passionate, sensitive, complex man. he was a man of many moods and fiery opinions. he was really a fierce, hard-driving perfectionist, but it was all cloaked under this tremendous reserve and that very kind of stoical aura we know. >> it's possible to know john adams and especially because of what he wrote to his wife and she wrote to him, it's possible to know him better than any of those prains prince pal figures. >> when we look to who we are
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going to elect for president, we should look at their temperament. lincoln had an amazing set of emotional strengths, and you couldn't have even -- you could have even known that without his external resume. when he made a mistake, he learned from it and acknowledged it immediately. >> rose: what is it great presidents have? presidential historians tell us about their presidents next. funding for charlie rose is provided by the following: captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose.
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>> rose: ron chernow is here. he is an award-winning biographer. his books hamilton and titan, the life of john d. rec fella. the "new york times" has called him as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we've seen in decades. his new book "washington: a life" is a detailed and vivid portrait of american's first president. >> i think the starting point of any biography is the sense that there have been significant events in the subject's life that for one reason or another eluded previous biographers. i had a revelation when doing the hamilton bog turks hamilton had a quarrel with washington late in the revolutionary wax quit washington's staff in anger and wrote a letter to his father defending his decision. he painted washington as a moody, irritable and temperamental man. he writes "the general and sri come to an open rupture, he shall for once repent of his ill humor." i could remember sitting there
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absolutely stunned, george washington? >> rose: he shall repent? it didn't conform to the saintly image i had of george washington and got me wondering thinking maybe the most familiar figure in history is in many ways the most unfamiliar. >> rose: what makes the familiar unfamiliar? >> i discovered washington, under the surface, was a passionate, sensitive, complex man. he was a man of many moods and fiery opinions. he was really a fierce, hard-driving perfectionist, but it was all cloaked under this tremendous reserve and that very kind of stoical i conk aura we know. but there was a very fierce, hard driving personality under that facade. >> rose: could you make this case with ease, without george washington the revolution would have failed? >> yes, in the earlier biography, the indispensable man, what you find surgt revolutionary war, eight and a
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half years he is commander-in-chief of the continental army. there were probably generals from a strategic standpoint are superior. but while the other generals are jockeying for power and getting side tracked in petty disputes, george washington, whatever he does, he has a clarity of vision, a ten nasty of purpose and a force of character. there's nobody in the world whom you would rather give a monumental task to than george washington. >> rose: how did he come to those skills? >> well, this is a man, actually, he had tremendous experience. we tend to associate him obviously with the revolutionary war. he spent five and a half years in the french and indian war. george washington turns out to have been a prodigy. when he was 23 years old, he was already in charge of all the armed forces if virginia and virginia was then the most populous and powerful state. >> rose: at 23. at 23. he was a wonder kid, if i could put it that way. he was in the virginia house of
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burgess for more than 20 years, running immense plantation in mount vernon, and kind of a small industrial village he felt has a commercial grist mill, a fishery business on the potomac and in his last years running one of the largest distilleries in the country notwithstanding his aversion to alcohol. >> rose: he was the logical choice? >> he was. in 1775, he was elected unanimously by the continental congress as commander-in-chief and one of the few people who had significant military experience, even though he was in his '40s and this experience was back when he was in his 20s. but remember, charlie, the revolution started in massachusetts, lexington and concord. there are thousands of militiamen who gathered on the common in cambridge but they're all new england militiamen, so to give this cause a continental
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perspective, everyone immediately looks to the south to give it a national character. there is something about washington throughout his life that people are confident in entrusting power to him. he inspires confidence, he's level-headed. he's not someone who becomes drunk with power. also, he is somebody who understands that military power has to be subordinated to civilian power and he does this brilliantly through the revolutionary war. remember, he has 14 masters. the backdoor guy has to deal with 13 state governors and this eternally squabbley continental congress, and, so, washington's war was in more ways a political genius. he was not a great general, i discovered. >> rose: he was not a great general? >> no, there were a few major battles he bungled through either faulty intelligence or poor strategy, but i think this is a rare case in history of a
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general in what he did between battle was probably more important than the battle. >> rose: what did he do? eight and a half years he ran an army chronically short of men, money, clothing, shoes, blankets, gunpowder. there are one-year enlistments. every december, the army seems to be in dissolution and he has to re-create in january. so holding this bragged band of men together for eight and a half years, he had to have been a very, very strong leader and also a very, very inspirational presence. you have to understand this is not the story of a general standing on the hill watching battle it is unfold in the plains. this was a general always in the thick of battle with the bullets whizzing around him. >> rose: what were his friends and who were his -- >> that's been a good question. washington was somebody who was naturally mistrustful. he had to know you a long time and then he would gradually
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lower the barriers. so washington didn't have a lot of friends in the contemporary sense of kind of confessional relationships and heart-to-heart conversations. yet, he forms a very, very powerful friendships and alliances with some of the other founders. madison is certainly an advisor on the u.s. constitution, doesn't get any better than that. hamilton, who is aid decamp and effectively chief of staff during the war not only gives hamilton's treasury secretary a brilliant constitutional scholar but one to have the great programmatic minds in history. washington keeps a distance between himself and people. >> rose: what was in his chargt that made him famously not want to be president for
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more than two terms and not earlier want to be king? >> it's interesting. he starts out as a young man who wants money, status and power. then he gets more fame and power than any human being can possibly dream of. people don't realize, charlie, during the revolutionary war, he's away eight and a half years, only goes back to mount vernon once for three days in eight and a half years. so at the end of the war, he feels he has really sacrificed h prime of his life to this war. he goes back to mount vernon just praying for a little piece of privacy and tranquility, but then what happens because of his stature and because people feel so confident in entrusting power to him, he's first pulled out and becomes the president of the constitutional convention. he does it very reluctantly. he very reluctantly becomes the
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first president. the office is literally his for the taking. in fact, he was unanimously elected in the electoral college, but he does it and says to his closest friends, he said, i'm going to become president for a year or two, establish the legitimacy of the new federal government and then i'm going back to mt. vern. what happened was after a year or two, his cabinet said, we're in the middle of a crisis, you can't go home. then there was one crisis after another and eight years passed. so if you look at the last 25 years of this man's life, almost the entire period is sacrificed to the service of his country. >> rose: and then when we went back home after eight years? >> when he went back after eight years -- this is a fascinating story because he was warned -- in fact, someone said to him, you should get a special appropriation from congress because you will have people descending on mount vernon. he no sooner gets home than he looks over the ridge and sees
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veterans and curiosity seekers. and washington is this impeccably polite man so he feels obligated to feed and house everyone who comes to mt. verner. so very often 10 or 20 people are sitting at a table, the loot of people complete strangers in. 1775 he writes in his diary, i dined alone with mrs. washington today for the first time since i returned home from the war. he had been home from the war for a year 1/2. it was the the first time he had had dinner alone -- >> rose: unbelievable. so even in the privacy of mt. verner, he becomes not only a prisoner of his own celebrity, he becomes like a piece of public property in a way he can't escape and doesn't know what to do with and he's constantly complaining in his letters all these guests who are showing up are drinking his wine, eating his foot, and it becomes a tremendous strain on his finances, and he made the mistake, this person had advised
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him to get a special appropriation from congress for expenses, and he said, no, i don't need that, but it becomes a major drain on his finances. >> what's his relationship with jefferson. >> he had tremendous admiration for jefferson's political and literary talent. then what happens is the two-party system emerges from this feud between washington's first secretary of state thomas jefferson and his first secretary of the treasury alexander hamilton. jefferson is very disturbed by the growth of federal power and presidential power. he's very disturbed by this literal interpretation of the constitution, and jefferson begins to have secretly orchestrated attacks on the administration. as the 1790s went by, washington becomes increasingly disenchanted and cynical about jefferson. they are really not on speaking terms during washington's final
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years. most amazingly of all, if you want a sense of how hostile george washington ended up, after george washington died, thomas jefferson visits mount vernon, martha washington makes the statement to friends that the second worth day of her life was the stay thomas jefferson visited mount vernon, the worst day of her life having been the day her husband died. works powerful statement. then she says to friends that thomas jefferson was among the most detestable of all mankind. and martha washington was not particularly political. >> rose: why did she say that? well, she felt jefferson had betrayed and double-crossed her husband. >> rose: is that a true portrait of jefferson, that that was part of the nature of the man? >> jefferson wrote a letter to an italian friend that ended up accidentally getting published in the newspapers where this friend who had visited the united states, he says to the
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italian friend, you would be amazed at the heresies that have sprung up among us. he said, those who were samsons in the field and solomons in the council have had their heads shorn by england. very strong language. jefferson never dreamt this letter which clearly referred to washington would be published. martha washington when she made the statement at jefferson said we have the proof in the house and my guess is she had a copy of that letter. >> rose: what was her influence on george washington? >> i think it was immense. i didn't get the feeling this was a torrid or lusty marriage but ripened into a deep friendship. he marries her, she's a very wealthy widow. it gives washington financial security which then allows them to do what he does. washington was a reserved and
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aloof man. martha becomes his confidant, which was very important. also washington was a good host but of a cordial and detached nature. martha would make sure everyone was attended to and felt comfortable. so in a thousand-one ways, she takes this young man who becomes very settled when mar this comes on the scene. it happens in a successful marriage, it sets up the success of both parties. >> rose: he had a difficult relationship with his mother. >> to put it mildly. his father dies at 11 and he's left to the tender mercies of his mother. she was a very self-centered woman who always felt that gorm was neglecting her. we really have no statements of her taking any apparent pride or pleasure in his success.
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there's no evidence that she attended the wedding between george and martha washington. she lives in fredericksburg, va but never visited george and martha at mount vernon. most shockingly of all, late in the revolutionary war, washington receives a letter from the speaker of the virginia assembly and says, dear general, there is been something happening in the state capital of richmond i think you should know about. your mother has appeared and she has applied for special emergency relief, claiming she's crushed by taxes, pleading poverty, and intimating that her son, the commander-in-chief, has neglected her. well, washington was mortified because he was a very dutiful son and had been very generous financially with his mother. >> rose: it's hard to ask a question about washington without asking about the teeth. >> the teeth turned out to be very important for all sorts of reasons. they weren't wood.
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they were made of elephant or walrus i've write -- ivory and had real teeth inserted in them. in '74, he bought teeth from his slaves, and sounds ghoulish, but was common practice to buy teeth. the dentures were important. he becomes president. he has only a lower left bicuspid. the upper and lower dentures were anchored on this one tooth. when i cammened his dentures, i noticed in the back the upper and lower dentures are connected by curved metal springs. the only way they stayed in was he had to keep his mouth shut. this meant every time he opened the mouth and started talking, it relaxed the pressure on the spring and there was a possibility the dentures would suddenly come shooting out of his mouth. it may not be coincidental but most of the speeches that george washington gave as president
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were one, two or three paragraphs long. he was intensely self-conscious. we have a lot of accordance core between he and dentists. he would write to his dentist in new york and say, the items you sent me arrived safely. he was intensely self-conscious about that problem. must have been very, very painful. >> rose: any famous last words before he died? >> no. even on his death bed he's very stoical. he noticed his young slave christopher shields has been standing all day. he says, i see you've been standing, please sit down, you must be tired. he died of inflammation of the epiglottis, so he felt he was both choking and suffocating. his secretary tobias leer got on
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to bed with washington and rolled him over because it made breathing easier, and he says to tobias, thank you for doing this, this is a debt we perform each other and i hope when your time comes someone performance the debt for you. this is a man who is dying who comes up with this vair beautiful and ol' kept statement. but this kind of awareness of nsitivity of the people around him was very characteristic of washington. again, we have the image he was a cold-blooded man of marble. not true. >> rose: joining me now the author, david mccullough. i am pleased to have you here. now -- (laughter) >> thank you, charlie. i'm very pleased to be here. >> rose: now, i deserve -- fair to say, you and i have been talking about this book in interviews for a while. >> indeed, we have. >> rose: because our initial conversation about this anticipated book about the intertwining of the lives of thomas jefferson and john adams.
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>> yes. i found that i wanted to write about adams, and it was discovering, which maybe i should have known but didn't, the extent to which he tells us what he really feels, unfolds his inner life as well as his political life, brings us into his confidence with a candor that's extraordinary in any century but certainly was rare among prominent people of that time. so it's possible to know john adams and especially because of what he wrote to his wife and she wrote to him, it's possible to know him better than any of those principal figures. there is a moment, for example, when he was in wooster as a young school teacher, 20 years old, he says, i vow to rise each morning with the sun and study holy scriptures every monday,
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wednesday and friday and read in english poets the days in between and i will gather myself within myself and address myself to doing bet around so forth and so on, then the next day he writes, dreamed away the day, slept most of the time -- and i suddenly thought, there is my guy. >> rose: there is an honest man. (laughter) >> and he's human. he was very vain. vain in the 18th century sense of the word which did not mean spending a lot of time in front of the mirror. it meant being self preoccupied. and he was observe city nant and he was irritable at times, quick-timperred, but he was warm blooded, brave hearted. he had great physical and moral courage. he was no sunshine soldier. he was there when he was needed. he wasn't perfect and made mistakes. none of them are perfect. i think we've got to understand
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how human they were because that makes their achievement all the more remarkable. if they were gods, gods can do anything, and they weren't. they weren't super humans. they were extraordinary people, and some of them were truly brilliant. and it is truly a miracle what they accomplished. but these were the people that were present at the creation. >> rose: the founding fathers. they were making a country, making a revolution first and then making a country against the most daunting odds imaginable. >> rose: where did the phrase "present at the creation" first come? >> it was the title of dean achenson's book. they're making a country and a nation and they don't know how it's going to come out. if they had taken a poll in the country in the 1 13 colonies in
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1776, they never would have gone ahead with it. only about a third of the people were for it. >> rose: odds were against them. >> and it wasn't popular. >> rose: what manner of man and woman was in favor of it? >> to large degree, new englanders and virginians. >> rose: some from south carolina. >> definitely we have to include the carolinaians but principally new york and pennsylvania were very much on the fence. they were led by a man named john dickinson -- >> rose: but i'm asking what was the nature of the revolutionist is my question. were they intellectuals, political fire brands? >> all that. intellectuals, fire brands, ambitious politicians, decent, hard-working people who had farms. >> rose: just were offend bid the way things were.
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>> they felt they were not being granted the rights that -- their birthright as english subjects. in other words, they're not so much revolting to create a new and very different kind of society. they're saying, wait a minute, ire taking away our rights as english subjects, free englishmen, government of laws, not of men. and you're taxing us with -- and we have no choice in that, and you're taxing us to pay your own bills back home. why should we pick up the tab for your expenditures there in england when we have no part in that life, most of us have never seen england and, besides, it's probably time we started our own country. >> rose: no taxation without representation. >> yes. and when they say "free and independent," the concept is that they can't be free unless they're i want, and they -- unless they're independent and they can't generate the moral fire, the morale, let's say, the
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spirit to fight a war unless they're fighting for independence. so they have to do it to give spirit to the army and they're not going to be able to get help abroad, namely france, if they don't declare independence because france is not about to come in and give financial and military support to a country that's going to make up and go back and be part of england again. the french support of our american revolution which was essential to our victory in northwestern revolution was primarily as a way for the french to get at the english. they weren't anxious for government of all the time. all men were created equal. france was a monarchy. more of a monarchy than even great britain was. >> rose: it's amazing when you think about that. on the great decision of the war against france, john adams believes that the most important thing he did was to want peace with france and not war.
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>> yes. most americans don't realize that we were fighting a war with france in the last years of the 18th century during the john adams administration as president. we were fighting an undeclared war at sea, but it was a real war. exchanging fire, capturing ships, all the acts of war at sea. but the real war, the undeclared war at sea could have very well ignited into a real war with, as it happens, the new high tick dictator, emperor, if you will, as he claimed himself, napoleon. but adams steered a very careful, dangerous, treacherous course among the shoals and the whirlpools of diplomacy and managed to keep america neutral,
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not to side with either england or france. the jeffersonians wanted peace at any price. the hamiltonians were eager to go to war with france. it would have improved adams reelection if they had gone to war with france. after he succeeded in keeping us going to war with friends after the humiliations of the xyz affair, he felt he had saved the country a colossal blunder and he knew that but at tex pence of his -- the expense of his history. it's proudest of that than anything he'd done. it ranks as an extremely brave, politically courageous act, a true profile in courage.
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>> rose: quote from you, "adams is the best subject i ever had, he really is. i could just sit right down and write another book about him and not be redundant ." >> it's unimaginable the quantity of material. there are over 1,000 letters between adams and his wife, marvelous. neither one capable of writing a dull sentence. >> rose: tell me about her. she was extraordinary. she could hold heaver her own intellectually with any of the brightest people of the day. she was looked upon by the likes of jefferson and franklin and others as one of the remarkable women of the time. she'd never been to school. he was a minister's daughter. she had been educated at home. she read everything. she remembered everything she read. she was a wonderful writer, but she also made her own clothes, made the clothes for the children, cooked the meals, looked after the farm, managed the family accounts when john was off serving in the
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continental congress or when he was abroad as a diplomat for the united states during the war, and she carried on the most -- as active a correspondence of any woman of the 18th century. if she had done nothing but write the letters she wrote, she would be someone historians and biographers would be extremely interested in. i think one of the most impressive things about her, charlie, in almost every letter she wrote, she quotes several lines of poetry. there was speculation and gossip at the time that the old woman, as they said, was really running things and that -- and there is some truth to this that whenever she was away and back in quinzy, he got in trouble. he writes these wonderful letters saying you must come and be with me, i need your advice and council and nobody understands things bert than you. one of the things i found in my work that hadn't been published before was a wonderful account of a dinner at the white house
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not long after they occupied the white house where, when jefferson attended the dinner and there were a number of people, members of congress at the table, large dinner party around a large table, and she recorded all that she said and jefferson said, and jefferson was sitting beside her, and she knew every single member of congress who was around that table by their face, and she knew all about each of them. and jefferson would say, now, who's that over there and who's this sitting fx t -- sitting net to them and tinted know who they were and didn't know anything about them. she didn't know because she made great effort to learn, she loved being at the center of things. she loved politics. george washington was an immensely intelligent man. he was not learned and she was not an intellectual, but he was a great natural-born leader and
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a man with phenomenal self-demand which is what adams admired most about george washington. >> rose: will have to, early on in support of who ought to be leading the revolution, he nominated a man of virginia. >> he put washington in nomination to command the continental army. he's the one who said jefferson ought to write the declaration of independence and put john marshall on the supreme court, maybe the greatest chief justice we ever had. as a casting directors john adams was quite remarkable if he had done nothing else. >> rose: he could have been the kingmaker of the revolution. >> yes, but i think washington's greatest quality, certainly during the war, was he would not give up. >> rose: george washington. absolutely. the idea we were going to defeat this british army, the best-trained, best-equipped, toughest army in the world, this sort of a pickup team of an army that washington had,
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poorly-equipped, poorly-clothed, inadequately trained, was going to take on -- and no naval force, not a ship to defend any of our ports at that point, it was preposterous, he had never led an army in battle before the war began but he wouldn't quit. when washington is retreating across new jersey in the late months of 1776, that is the absolute nader of this nation, the lowest point. he hasn't a chance. it's over. and he gets his army down and succeeds getting across the delaware. the british army comes right after him. the british officers decide winter is coming, it's the time the gentleman stop the fighting business for the duration. the british officers went back to new york, the british forces.
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washington is on the other side of the delaware sort of licking his wounds. he's only got about 4,000 troops, and it's over. so what does he do? he attacks. the painting of crashed crossing the delaware which has been made fun of and it isn't very accurate nonetheless conveys the immense ioportance of this extraordinary heroic act. comes across at night, the river full of ice, blowing sleet and know, this pathetic little army, guys walking with no shoes. this isn't just legend, leaving bloody footprints in the snow. and he hits the hetians at princeton and wins. the effect on morale is beyond
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description. and that's the turning point. >> rose: and then you can go through the presidency to the fact that he does not want to be king and pulls the country together. >> like franklin roosevelt who went through two crises during our lifetime during the depression and the most horrible war in history, washington leaves the country in two testing times, the revolution and then this period after the revolution where we're trying to form a government, we have these disparate forces of the states pulling apart from each other over all kinds of issues including slavery, and the only thing holding it together is the universal regard everywhere in the colonies and the new states for george washington. >> rose: are you in the process of writing a book about george washington? >> charlie, i can't say a word
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yet. (laughter) i'm really convinced we can't know enough about those people and one of the reasons adams is such a joyous subject -- i had a wonderful time writing on him -- is he is a window on all of them not just himself because he wrote about them. the others didn't necessarily write about them. >> rose: not only that, but as someone said, he had no filter and it was instant, the reaction from his emotion that he had this sort of extraordinary sense of a direct, without filter from his soul to his mouth. who said that? i forgot who said that. you? >> well, i don't know. i wish i had. that was quite good. hezbollah add he said in -- he believed as he said in his wonderful letter to john quincy when he was becoming a writer, that one ought to write how one talks. no literary flourishes or
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flourish of the pen, write the way you talk. an awful lot of life is made up of talk, but we can't hear those people talk. there is no recorded voices or a film of them. >> rose: sadly so. but the way this man in particular wrote, and the way his wife wrote, that's the way they talked. so it's very direct, and it's without frills. it really has almost a modern candor to it. he's a pungent writer. he's really maybe the best writer of the whole bunch. >> rose: better than jefferson? >> yes, not in sort of the grand pronouncements, the papers of state or proclamations, but he would have made a terrific novelist. he would have made a wonderful reporter. he would have made a very good interviewer. his little sort of sketches, what he wrote about different people, describing them, are the
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best we have of all these characters. >> rose: so what did he say about jefferson? >> well, he said many things about jefferson. >> rose: such an arc in that relationship. >> depend okay what -- depending on what the mood was. he thought jefferson was more ambitious than people understood. >> rose: no surprise there to me. >> no. he thought jefferson was not always, as we would say, on the level, that there was much hypocrisy and many contradictions about jefferson. he thought jefferson was -- >> rose: did he keep this private or -- >> well, yes, mostly within the family and mostly at a time when jefferson had really betrayed him. he was -- jefferson was providing financial support for the man who was busy slandering and slamming adams at every chance. >> rose: what does that say about jefferson? >> it says among other things -- >> rose: fight tough. yes, but he wouldn't do his own fighting. jefferson would never say anything derogatory about anyone himself but would encourage
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otherrers to say. he would say to madison, go cut so and so to pieces and do it quickly. jefferson did not like confrontation. jefferson felt and said often that one ought to try to go through life avoiding pain. and adams, no, you can't do that. >> rose: adams was the ultimate realist about things. >> yes, he was. he once described someone as a mountain of the salt of the earth, and that could also, i think, be said of him. to me he's like a character in dickens -- he's grumpy, he's funny, he's full-form. he's not a silhouette. he's not a cardboard figure. if you were to cut him, real blood would come out. his love for his family and particularly his wife is quite wonderful.
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it's one to have the great love stories. >> rose: he loved his farm. he loved to build walls and move trees and all the -- but it's small farming. it's new england. very different. the difference between a new england free holder of the 18th century and a virginia planter was far greater than most people understand. it wasn't just one owned slaves and the other didn't. i should point out adams is the only founding father that never owned slaves on principle, as a matter of principle. he was a man of principle and he would live and die as one. >> rose: doris kearns goodwin is here. she won the pulitzer prize in history for her book "no order fire time" which chronicled the lives of franklin and eleanor roosevelt. her other works, wait till next year, the fitzgerald and the ken dis. her new book, "a team of rivals
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the political genius of abraham lincoln." i am pleased to welcome doris kearns goodwin back to this table. welcome back. >> thank you! >> rose: how did lincoln do this? he was not a governor. he was not as prominent as others. they were ease teamed establishment figures. he, one-time congressman, lost two rails for the senate and was simply a lawyer who went out and made speeches. >> you would think after losing two races to senate you might go into another line of work, right? >> rose: yes. but he had an internal confidence. at the time people thought it was simply because he stood in the middle of the party. but when i looked into it more, it was his temperament. he worked harder than anyout the others had. sue ward went to europe eight months before the convention, wind and dined by queens and kings. lincoln went from one state to the ortho, maneuvered to have the convention in chicago. he had his person at the
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national committee saying nobody's a front runner in illinois, let's have it there. he got people to come to the convention and applaud for him, give it momentum. but more, i think he got it because he made no ennis his entire life. his strategy was if you go away from the first guy, come to your second love. he was humble about it, not you have to make me your first love. >> rose: say it again. he specifically said, if you have to give up your first love, if for some reason that guy's not going to get it, let me be your second love. and, so, he never said anything bad about the other three guys, which they were all saying bad things about each other so they finally come to him nu what gifts did he bring to the -- not becoming president but to the campaign? what was it about? was he the smartest man around? was he the most gifted o or orar around? he had to have something other than being a nice guy.
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>> i think he had already become a national figure because of dazzles speeches. >> rose: and the debates. and the debates with stephen douglas. this is a different time than ours. politics was the abiding passion of the country so thousands would come listen to the debates. when you had a great speech, it would be presented in the newspaper next day. everybody won would be reading it. it would be in pamphlet form passed out to 50,000, 100,000 people. so speeches are more important than now. >> rose: he wrote his own speeches? >> without a question. nobody else could have done a single part of that. >> rose: he was brilliant. and completely self-taught. he finally figured out he had only one year of formal schooling. a few queetion weeks here and there. his farmer would lend him out ps everyone had.
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he had remarkable empathy, more than others, to understand people on all different sides of the political spectrum so he could speak to their feelings and thoughts and absorb them in a way others couldn't. he used folksy metaphorrings. he's a gifted story teller, legendary. he could have been up there with any of the comedians today. he's more funny, more lively, more magnetic than i realized and less depressed. i think we've overdone the idea this man had depression all his life. >> rose: he was or not? i think he's me melancholy from the time he was born and haunted by losses early on, however he knew how to get out of his sad moods incredibly. he did it by conversation, humor, reading, he did it during the days of the war. the minute he'd hear a battle
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was lost, he knew he had to get to the battle front to talk to the soldiers and that would get him out of his moods. there's no evidence he's dysfunctional during presidency, that he ever takes to his bed, he sustains everyone else's spirits. he understands himself so brilliantly he can get his low moods up to high moods. >> rose: there is a notion that you find out if you do what you do that the exercise of power is influenced by the qualities of personality and character and all of those things that have nothing to do with sort of the standard measurements of -- >> oh, you're so right. i think when we look at who we're going to elect for president, we should look at their temperament. lincoln had amazing emotional strengths and you could have known that even without his external resume. when he made a mistake, he
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learned from it and acknowledged it immediately. he shared credit with other people if something went well. if something went wrong, he'd shoulder blame. if he were mad, he'd write a hot letter, wait for his emotions to calm down and never send it. eloved journalists and gossipping, he was curious the whole time. you have to look at those things, more important than their resume or what they said 20 years ago. he would say, yes, i changed my mind today, i'd like to believe i'm smarter today than yesterday. >> rose: you spend about 200 pages on this. >> yes. >> rose: introducing the central characters in this book, he gets the nomination, and what's the campaign about in 1860? slavery? >> yes, the campaign is about extension of slavery to the
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western territories, essentially. even the republican party didn't they they could get it out of the south because it was protect bid the constitution, but they figured if you could prevent it from going to the west territories, kansas, nebraska, then it would die of its loan accord later as long as it doesn't expand, so the platform is we won't let it expand. so the democratic party is split in three and lincoln wins the election. >> rose: lincoln comes to washington, the issue of saving the union is the most important reality of his life. he chooses all of these rivals. is it a hard sell for him? has he convinced them? are they surprised? >> the country is certainly prized. it was unprecedented. up until that time, presidents put like-minded people in their cabinet. >> rose: people who helped them get there. >> yes. these guys were rivals and represented different parts to
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have the republican party. the reason he got them to say yes, they knew the country was in peril. as soon as lincoln is elected, the southern states start seceding. >> rose: and they said why are you choosing people who wished you no good? he said i need the best men. >> exactly. the country is in peril and i need the strongest men. once they're there, it means in the white house you have all these different points of view, it made him such a better leader to have them there. they fought, some wouldn't talk, wouldn't go into each others' offices, call each other liars, scoundrels, thieves, can you imagine? but it made lincoln clear head because he had to test it out on these guys. >> rose: when fort sumpter came up, he was getting advice from his secretary of state to give it up.
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>> yes, he had a vote, shall we supply fort sumpter, and the overwhelming majority said no. >> rose: seven yeses and one no. >> that's exactly right. >> rose: , so i mean, how -- so, i mean, back to this notion of this extraordinary man who has not had the perfect resume or experience. he had not been in washington dealing with issues, he had been dealing with slavery rhetorically. >> i think it was he had huge ambitions. he wasn't a modest man in terms of ambitions -- >> rose: ambitions burns -- like the little engine that couldn't stop. but his ambitions were not simply for office or power, they were for accomplishing something so worthy his name would be remembered after he died. he dreamed of that. >> rose: immortality, almost. it was. when his mother died, he was dying and she said to him, he's
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only ten, she said, abraham, i'm going away from you now and i will never return, not offering them hope of heaven they they will reyou ninety there, so i think he never had the hope of heaven as a young man and seemed to adopt an ancient greek notion that if you could accomplish something fine you would live on in memory of others and wouldn't simply be dust in the grave. so he has ambitions but doesn't have a selfish ego. he can have bigger guys around him and he can bear grudges, stanton humiliated them when they were much younger yet he decides he's the best man for the job. i'll put that past grudge behind. stanton ends up loving him more than anyone else in his family. the key is he has huge ambitions for a good purpose and he can subordinate himself to reach the larger goal. >> rose: speak to his
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morality. >> i think he had senses of what was right and wrong. he knew slavery was wrong. the question was how do you get rid of it without undoing the dons tuition which was the fabric of the country. once he made a promise to himself, for example once he emancipated the slaves with his proclamation and people were saying what if you could get the war over quicker if you could comp maze, he would say i'll be damned in time and eternity if i go back ton a promise made. if he promised something, he would never ever go back on it. >> rose: he also had the capacity as roosevelt did as you know in terms of getting america into world war, two you can't automatically say we're going to enter the war because you have to prepare for that. he prepared for the emancipation. >> absolutely. in a democratic country like ours, the key to a leader is sensing the mood of the country and moving it step by step.
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lincoln would say with universal sentiment anything is possible and without it nothing is. he knew if he had done the emancipation proclamation a year earlier before the country was ready he would have lost the border states and maybe the war. if hey had waited another six months it may have been too late to inject the morale. just as roosevelt understood he couldn't take the country into caring about britain too quickly, he had to do the peacetime draft and get the factories going, it's the genius of the leader. the mystical sense of knowing where their con stitc constitue. today they say with pride we don't care about public opinion. you should. you should shape it and not get restrained by sphiet you can change it, not view it as something that dictates to you what you ought to be and do. >> right and lincoln's white house was some more open he would have more feel for the
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public. there would be receptions so anybody could come so diplomats and backwoodsmen are side by side and he's shaking their hands. he said these are my public opinion baths. he would gossip with people and curious all the time and kept him alive to the sentiments in the country. >> rose: he visited the troops. >> he got enormous sustenance from visiting the troops. he would walk amongst the ranks and visit them in the hospital. he would tell his funny stores they'd tell to others. after each battle was lost, they had to see him to know he still had confidence in him and they got him feeling better. he would come home from the visits and buoy the spirits of the country -- i've seen the soldiers and know what they're fighting for and gives the purpose of the war in the gettysburg address more brilliantly than anybody else could have done. >> rose: it tells you abraham
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lincoln was a great c.e.o., a great leader-manager and great leader of an institution, in this case america and the presidency. but you seem to be saying that's what is remarkable about this is you show his political skills. >> right. i mean, i think he understood how to deal with people. what is political skill all about? it's managing emotions of other people. if you understand the people around you. if you're allowing yourself to put your rivals in your cabinet because you're going to be strengthen by them, if you can shoulder responsibility with them and treat them with kindness and sympathy and compassion, you're going to get ahead of them in the long run. he understood people. if politics is about people, it makes no sense to think there is something wrong with a political person when politics should be an honorable profession. we just made it differently today. >> rose: the gettysburg address, tell me about that and the preparation and instinct for it and how long it took him to
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write that. >> it's one of the great mysteries. they say he wrote it on the train to gettysburg. he would write pieces of a speech down and put it in a drawer, in his hat and be thinking. the orator was everett. lincoln speaks for two minutes. at the time when he finches his speech, everybody thinks it's not quite finished so they don't really know how to applaud right away and he doesn't think it's worked because they're so stunned he's finished so quickly, they're used to the long four or five hour speeches, but he was able to give a meaning of the war that endured forever. he said these people have not died in vain and are giving their lives for something large than the union and emancipation, he said we're fighting for this experiment that we're the democratic country and if we
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lose this war, we'll no longer be a beacon of hope to the world thaat large. he's saying they're fighting so the government of for the people will not perish. it's what america stands for. >> rose: for more about the program and earlier ep voadz, visits online at and captioning sponsored by rose communications
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captioned by media access group at wgbh
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larriva: it's like holy mother of comfort food.ion. kastner: throw it down. it's noodle crack. patel: you have to be ready for the heart attack on a platter. crowell: okay, i'm the bacon guy, right? hoofe: oh, i just did a jig every time i dipped into it. man: it just completely blew my mind. woman: it felt like i had a mouthful of raw vegetables and dry dough. sbrocco: oh, please. i want the dessert first! [ laughs ] i told him he had to wait.


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