Skip to main content

tv   American Historical Association Annual Meeting  CSPAN  January 5, 2018 1:34pm-3:08pm EST

1:34 pm
train teams part of 4h who are receiving new access to broadband so they can turn around and help train members of their community to provide them with digital skills and help them make better use of the broadband access they will be receiving. there is a lot of work going on with this initiative. there are proceeding that the federal communication's commission --dash. >> a history hat is a writer of history and is thrilled to have this panel on the first federal congress because it is such an incredibly important subject and one that these folks, for many, many years, the history project is really one of the most remarkable institutions and outputs that i have ever seen. among other things, it is complete.
1:35 pm
it doesn't happen that often -- the founding fathers papers will be published when we are all dead. the fact that this group of people so marvelously put together 22 fabulous volumes and really tell a story of the founding of the country in a way that is incredibly important and one that i recommend to all because you know, the guys got together and wrote the constitution pretty quickly given the fact that bill clinton said the constitution should be called let's make a deal. we in the press went there which made it a lot easier and then they've got this piece of paper and come out and basically sell it and they
1:36 pm
solved it quite variously with different people selling different things and contradicting each other. i read the executive sections of the federalist papers and the way madison and hamilton started out is quite stark. here they are. they've written this thing and sold it to the public or at least to the router fires and now they have a country to figure out. that is left to this group of 95 men in new york and they finally met in april of 1789. david then did remarkable things in the course of our first congress. the project really did bring it all together.
1:37 pm
can bowling, immediately to my left is one of the directors there. he has been an expert on the revolutionary war since he was a mere boy and has written written a great deal about it. you can read more of his bio. i think you're more interested in hearing from him then hearing about him. he will talk to us a little bit about how this happened. >> i'm going to tell you a history story that covers 80 years, a documented history of the first federal congress and
1:38 pm
the ratification of the constitution was envisioned by this escort centennial, 1939 were that was the original idea but during the 1930s, a group of american jewish leaders, in response to the rise of nazi germany had begun the process of iconic the federal bill of rights. if they knew it at all it didn't sit in the minds of the american people, but these gentlemen spearheaded by representative saul bloom of new york city who is the chairman of the committee and made the bill of rights and essential part of the
1:39 pm
sesquicentennial of the ratification of the bill of rights was december 15, 1941. the address about the bill of rights is almost entirely about adolf hitler and nazi germany. since 1941, those of us who have matured since 1941 have known this great document, but those who came the generation ahead of us wouldn't. one of the things that the sesquicentennial recommended when they went out of business was that by the time of the bicentennial of the ratification of congress which would be 1987 until 1991, by the time of the bicentennial, the american people should have had access to all of the documents.
1:40 pm
nothing happened until 1950 until julian boyd published the papers. and appointed someone to work at the national publications. it was very easy to gather the official records.
1:41 pm
they are part of the legislative branch. they were in the capital building and in closets in small rooms and basements. water was dripping from the roof and they were stained document. it was the predigital age. the question was how to gather the letters to and from members. essentially, at the beginning. the searcher went out where everybody knew the documents would be. massachusetts historical's, new york historical, the new york public, the library of congress and the historical society of pennsylvania.
1:42 pm
zero sedgwick of massachusetts. by the 1960s the search was in the hands was leonard report. leonard taught me about manuscripts. my graduate education didn't teach me about manuscripts also what other sources there were four manuscripts.
1:43 pm
by then the 100-year-old autograph market, after the civil war, wealthy americans began to collect manuscripts about the founding generation, putting together collections of signers of this and declaration constitution, et cetera. the most successful of all had collections of doctors and lawyers and indian chiefs and if you are a lawyer at the vast collection of thousands and thousands of very valuable records. he filmed his own documents on a little camera, he taught me that you can't rely on the
1:44 pm
catalog, it's pre-digital. the only kind of information we had was description societies had of their collections. he said you need to look at every single collection dated 1781 to 1791. i followed him in the 1970s and spent two months at the historical society of pennsylvania alone. he took up the fight when the national historical commission , the publications commission said okay, the search is done, we are satisfied with the 1950s search and were satisfied with what leonard has done. what leonard wrote to merrill jensen who was editing the ratification project and linda who was editing the first
1:45 pm
congress project that is just not true. they had 2000 documents. when we finish the search we had 10000 documents. most of course by northern members of congress because northerners tended to have more interest in history and also didn't suffer from mold is war. leonard said you can't understand and this was julian boyd's great contribution, you cannot understand these letters by these members of congress who are writing back to somebody if you don't know what that person wrote to them so we have to include all of the letters from constituents and friends to members. as i say, i did the historical society in pennsylvania and many other places throughout the united states.
1:46 pm
they spent six months of the library of congress manuscript division. i will tell a quick story about what i learned about manuscripts. most of you are probably familiar with benjamin rush, the great revolutionary era and most hyperbolic of anyone in his generation. >> also really bad doctor. >> a leader, founder of american psychiatry interested in female education and abolition and prohibition. he wilt his paper to the library company of philadelphia, but before his son, the executor gave the papers which included hundred and 20 letters written from the first federal congress, before he gave them he went through them and took out every letter written by
1:47 pm
someone important that he knew was important. jefferson adams, members of congress and gave them to his daughter as a wedding present. she married alexander biddle, the son of niclas biddle, the editor of the lewis and clark journal and the president of the second bank of the united states. when they died in 1898 she still had the collection. she put them all together and numbered them, but there was a problem called probate. in 1940 the estate was finally out of probate and the family sold all 2000 letters that have been given.
1:48 pm
they went for five dollars apiece. the auction house didn't want to sell them all because they are interested in having things available in the market. in the early '90s, a friend of mine. it said big sale at blue ball pennsylvania barn auction, a complete set of pennsylvania magazine of history and biography, complete set of hustler magazines and two
1:49 pm
letters from william mcclay. i contacted the manuscript division, the library of congress and said the two letters you don't have are available in the manuscript division and they said we are not interested. then the first federal congress had many wonderful supporters and the senator from west virginia by the name of bird, he was very interested in william mcclay. he took me over to meet senator byrd and didn't pay any attention at all.
1:50 pm
i'm thinking why am i here. the historian of the united states senate actually kicked me. come down. all the sudden senator berg looked me right in the face and recited verbatim the last paragraph of mcclay's diary. i grabbed my colleagues and said come over, listen to this. senator byrd repeated the whole thing. we managed over the course of 25 years to locate approximately 105 of those 120 letters that were written from the first federal congress and sold in the biddle sale. we start out by only wanting the letters of great white men and then the letters that were
1:51 pm
written to the great white men and then in 1990 and 1989 i met the bicentennial, the project got a new colleague who was educated in a different world than the older editors and social history and women, of all things were important. how can you understand what it was like to understand what it was like to be a member of first congress if you didn't know how they lived and what their relationships were with their families, whether those families were in new york or philadelphi philadelphia. congressman george thatcher from maine came to congress in
1:52 pm
1788 and served every winter until 1800, leaving his wife and his family at home on their farm in maine during the winter. now, they had help. but nonetheless, sarah thatcher became, as she called it, melancholic. we don't have sarah thatcher's letters to george thatcher because the kids threw them away, but he writes to her and he says let me tell you what a woman ought to do when she is depressed and i thought a boy, the little feminist hairs on my neck started tingling. he said go to the barn, saddle the horse and ride and i thought wow, what great advice for anyone. it was my favorite story.
1:53 pm
i always told it. i told it to a rather wealthy couple who were big donors of george washington university at a benefit and the wife said , when she heard the story, well, of course, what woman wouldn't want something that big between her legs. [laughter] i haven't told the story quite as often since. but, it was a wonderful wonderful professional life. i love the letters more than the official record, but i had colleagues who really knew the official records really well and could even recognize which clerk drafted or copied the bill of rights. there were 13 copies of the bill of rights. one for the federal government and 12, one for each of the states including the two that had not ratified and obviously
1:54 pm
bloom was very interested in whether or not they still existed in state archives. he did the survey and found out everybody had them except for new hampshire, new york, pennsylvania, maryland, north carolina and georgia. since that time, the editor of the document of the ratification project found the new hampshire copy on top of the bookcase in the archive. south carolina didn't have its copy but it did find it. the north carolina copy came up for sale in the early part of the century. the constitution center in philadelphia was offered it and they asked me too verify that it was authentic. one that you could tell it was authentic and to that you could not tell what state it
1:55 pm
had been stolen from. it took us one minute to recognize it as the north carolina copy and that's because george washington, who had nothing to do with the bill of rights other than to send it out to the states sent a letter to the governor of each state saying here are the amendments to the constitution that have been proposed by congress, please submit them to your legislature, and the clerk of the governor of north carolina who was samuel johnson at the time wrote on the back, he docketed the document both the amendments and the letter and said this is a letter from president george washington transmitting amendments through october 17, 1889 and it absolutely matched. the constitution center, the lawyers for the constitution center, lawyers for the owners
1:56 pm
of the north carolina copy of the bill of rights and the lawyers for the people who are going to put up the $5 million to buy it were meeting in new york city. the lawyers for the constitution center say we don't want to pay you 5 million for it because it's obviously north carolina's and it can be reported and but we will give you two half-million. apparently after the meeting somebody said something to the effect well, if you're not willing to pay 5 million for it, somebody in saudi arabia will. a month later, the constitution center called the owner, called the attorneys and said look, we have a very
1:57 pm
patriotic supporter, benefactor from san francisco who is willing to put up the 5 million. his position essentially is that he's doing public service. if north carolina replevin said it will still be in public hands. so the owner sent the document down to philadelphia for meeting to finalize everything. the owners employee bicycled the north carolina copy of the bill of rights in a big part box across the benjamin franklin bridge from camden into central philadelphia for this meeting. my conclusion about how we find manuscripts, the meeting consisted with the constitution center, the attorney and the.com or.
1:58 pm
he said before i give you the check for the 5 million i would like to see document. they passed it over and he looks at it and says to the historian is this the copy of the bill of rights that can bowling said was north carolina's and historian said yes and he said fbi is confiscating this document on behalf of the state of north carolina. wow. [applause] charlene can tell you a little bit more she likes. going down to it being interviewed by the fbi in north carolina, but i can assure you when i go to raleigh to the archives they roll the red carpet out. thank you very much. >> that's great. [applause] >> taking all these documents, i must say the letter about
1:59 pm
the depressed wife, john marshall when he was in france, wrote to his wife who had ten children in virginia and said she had to stop being depressed because it made him sad. [laughter] these documents are fabulous and they are so able to tell a story, but not everybody is going to sit and read 22 volumes. we are lucky that they took the information and wrote it into a very readable narrative, the first congress, how james patterson, george washington, and a group of extraordinary man invented the government. he is again, a very distinguished historian and author. let's hear from him rather than about him, and let's hear
2:00 pm
about the book. >> all right, so, this book, the first congress, this book couldn't have been written without the first federal congress project. this monumental and wonderfully accessible mountain of material with incomparable detail and sophistication that can has so colorfully described. frankly, it may be the best, certainly one of the best collections i've ever worked in. my gratitude for its existence and for the members of the project. :
2:01 pm
they were all personally invaluable resources and guides throughout my research. they allowed me to essentially set up shop in the offices of the project where i did most of the writing and have the extraordinary good fortune of having or the privilege i should say of having the materials than a few steps where i was writing. i can't say i've ever had such research for luxury any other projects i have done. i first encountered the first federal congress project about ten years ago. i wrote another book washington the making of the american capital which is about the
2:02 pm
creation of the federal city to the decade of the 1790s. it's a political narrative that focuses primarily -- but not exclusively on the significance of slavery -- and the politics behind the location of the federal city, capital here in dc. why aren't on the susquehanna river and pennsylvania as perhaps we should of been? and also i wrote a great deal on the role of slaves in the building of the city's first draft, so to speak, in the decade. i wrote a great deal about the great compromise of 1790 which resulted in a capital located here in a place safe for slavery and the agreement by a certain number of southern opponents of hamilton's financial plan, the
2:03 pm
abandonment of their opposition to it to allow the capital to come down here. in the process of doing that research i met ken and charlene and the other members of the project i became aware of how immensely rich the project material was and how significant first federal congress was. and how wide-ranging its achievements were and i think it is fair to say that the first federal congress was certainly one of the quartet of the most effective and creative congresses in american history, if not the most, the others being parenthetically lincoln civil war congress, franklin roosevelt congress and johnson's great society congress. but unlike those other three the first congress was creating the
2:04 pm
government as we know it today. it was essentially a piece of paper and it was a piece of paper. it was a sketch for a system and it didn't make the system. that was done by political men, politicians and we all know lawyers and politicians so when you hear as we all do all the time how rotten professional politicians and lawyers are they were the men who created the government and amateurs cannot have done it. but at any rate discovering this wealth of material and the vast extent of the project prompted me to plan a larger on the first congress itself. happily my editor were very interested in that.
2:05 pm
the book basically takes the congress from the beginning to its conclusion in a narrative passion and essentially i think it demonstrates one how much it did in two how it functioned, made it function and i hope convincingly makes the case that i just suggested that very likely the most productive congress in american history. apart from the official records of the first congress my goal was to bring members alive, to make this a book about people in human beings. more or less like yourself and friendly, some of them most of them were like ourselves. they were extraordinary and what they achieved but they were also
2:06 pm
ordinary human beings froze up to the challenge that they faced i wanted to show them struggling with this utterly new and untried system, creating it as they went along. for this the project was in the men's collection of personal correspondence which canceled so colorfully describe was invaluable. i don't even know what the total is -- >> 10000. >> okay. i was going to say thousand and i didn't want to exaggerate. thousands. thanks. thousands of letters, personal, political, anecdote, uncensored comments on them for members, observations of life in new york city, travel, the benefits of travel in the america of 1789 in
2:07 pm
1790. carriages being overturned in iraqi hills of connecticut and members being shipwrecked on the coast of new jersey. one guy was a land wrecked and shipwrecked in the same journey. he eventually made it and died a while later. the editing and the larger sense of this massive project. it was superb and for me in particular the annotation and the transliteration and annotation of these thousands of letters and other kinds of documents and anyone who is trying to work and try to decipher 18th century handwriting will appreciate the untold hours and sheer intellectual heroism that went
2:08 pm
into the transcription of these documents. the handwriting is -- most of you know, of many people in the 18th century and in fact in the pre- typewriter era, someday i'll write a book that takes place in the typewriter era and i'm looking forward to that someday. [laughter] i'm currently writing about congress during the civil war and brutal is also, penmanship, i mean. anyway, the letters give me access to the inner lives or at least the private thinking of dozens of members of the first congress. open to me are individuals who otherwise were mostly just names or in some cases even prior to that, mr. ames of massachusetts,
2:09 pm
a brilliant man, absolutely brilliant dynamic he was the pastor of his age in terms of expression and scoring process. this georgian, james jackson, who was so loud that the windows of the senate upstairs had to be closed. jackson is talking again, you know. and who may or may not have brandished a pistol on the floor at one point. george bacher who one can already talk about in these marvelous letters to his wife and robert morris of pennsylvania one of these titans of the era wrote marvelously entertaining to his wife in philadelphia. very chatty and gushing with love and in that morris was a
2:10 pm
financier, powerbroker and a very tough customer in the committee rooms. the warmth of his letters twice for quite revealing. theodore sedgwick can also mention and medicine, of course. madison, of course, hardly unknown but there are numerous pieces opposed by madison that enabled me to develop more fine-grained rendering of the man i would otherwise have -- i mean, one pops to mind was a letter about to be truth in packaging has too deep for the first congress and that he was corresponding with jefferson, i believe, and trying to acquire a
2:11 pm
slave boy at the request of a french friend in order to dispatch him to an aristocrat in france has a black girl to the two of them can breed. this is madison who writes, not the faintest with a funnies about this, a man who often is credited with stronger antislavery feelings that he actually had. there is an immense amount of correspondence by other observers, [inaudible], who were two of the most marvelous commentators and insightful commentators on the first congress and in july of 197090 is observing the debate the full force of debate i believe at that particular point over the location of the capital but i
2:12 pm
could be mistaken and he writes the intrigues, the cabals, the underhanded and insidious dealings of infectious and turbulent spirit are even much more frequent in this republic than in the most absolute monarchies. what he's talking about is democracy in action. republican government in action. at any rate taken together the resources of the project were invaluable in a great many ways. just to cite a couple of many examples. they were specially revealing to me of how members thought about what they were doing and often what they thought of each other. i can without and what they thought of each other. this is fisher ames on medicine. fisher ames is quite young, harvard educated, as i said the
2:13 pm
webster of his day. very idealistic on its arrival. samuel adams had been beaten by him by a hair and at any rate idealistic and encountered most of his new colleagues and i'm putting the demigods and roman senators he anticipated. i felt chagrined at the yawning listlessness of many here in regards to the great objects of the government. there reliable this to the impression of argument as problem and their state prejudices and their over refining spirits in relation to tribal, i was sorry to see that the picture i had drawn was so much bigger and fairer than the life. that gets on medicine in whom he was acutely disappointed. i see an madison with his great
2:14 pm
knowledge and merit so much error and some of it so very unaccountable intending to switch mischief. he goes on to say on the whole he is a useful, respectful were the man but let me add without meaning to detract he is too much attached to's theory for a politician. he adopted maxims as in books and with little regard to the actual state of things. these are goldmine materials like this. i can sit here all day putting similar comments. also, what else. this is just a couple of things i found very revealing and had the quality of discovery for me digging into these collections. anyway, the tremendous fears that everyone felt in 1789 the
2:15 pm
system simply will not work. this was after all plan the. the articles of confederation were playing a and plan a has failed. plan the failed there was no poignancy. the anxiety was absolutely tremendous especially at the beginning when no one showed up, just a handful, a couple people should up in madison is practically having a cow. later he writes and many members express something like this they said we are in the wilderness without a single step to guide us and despite his comments the ordinary people rose to the occasion and that is wonderful to watch. another item, the critical fisher over slavery even at this early date they were serious southern threats of secession
2:16 pm
surrounding the debate over the debate of the federal city and the language that is used by certain southern members is virtually identical to what you here in 1860. the commonality of the rhetoric is revelatory, but happily it shouldn't be but it was at the time. the debate over amendments or in another way pleaded the non- debate over many of the amendments was remarkably interesting. the debate was less overconfident for the most part that over the amendments whether there would be any and there was a great deal of opposition to the idea of it. i was struck by how little debate there was over those parts of the amendments we call the bill of rights particularly
2:17 pm
first amendment freedom and second amendment gun rights which loomed so large on today's political landscape, barely a shrug, barely a shrug. i addressed it as best i could in here but many of the amendments just didn't interest many of the members and as i said, many did not want them at all. i was also really struck and this has the best ramifications of how unfamiliar nearly all members were the main basic elements of financial theory and policy and this comes up in the debate over hamilton's quite brilliant financial plan and again and again in letters of member thanks something like
2:18 pm
this. i don't really understand what mr. hamilton is talking about but it sounds quite intelligent. another and i am paraphrasing but pretty closely what is this thing called finance that mr. hamilton discusses? this is america 1789 and what hamilton accomplished as we all know because we have seen the musical is to lay the groundwork for this nation's financial structure and yet, it was revelatory radical and brand-new at the time. at any rate, i can't reiterate often enough how much, how many gold mines, it is not just one, it's not just this one book that many books will be written in many and many, many, 23 volumes of the project work in the years
2:19 pm
to come, scores, dozens, hundreds books that will use this material and its organization is absolutely wonderful. it's so user-friendly i can't express enough thanks charlene and the others for that. thinking. >> thank you. [applause] >> i do think what is so interesting is how you make them come alive. we think of the founders as these bronze and marble deities and one of the great joys of writing women's history is women did not see them that way. [laughter] i do think and i'm sorry you have the word extraordinary in the title because your quotation from charles francis adams that it takes away from them to see them as demigods because it is much harder for people to do what they did, for ordinary
2:20 pm
women to do what they did and found in the country is much harder than it bronze statues. i love the fact that you made them so lively. catherine has done something that is the beginning of a great deal which is the fact is you could write about almost any debate in this first congress and have a book because whether it's the bank or where to put the city or creating the supreme court or a currency, think of all the things they did in the course they didn't want a bill of rights. they just gone through a horrible ratification process. james madison made a campaign promise because patrick henry tried to succeed him with james monroe so there they are going through all of this and among other things they don't even know what to call the chief
2:21 pm
executive. katia has written a wonderful book about that debate, the fear of an elected king, george washington and the presidential title controversy of 1789. one of the things i like best is that it gets into the first big fight between the house and the senate and of course, we see constantly going on forever more and i remember at one point when tom followed the speaker of the house with some bushytailed freshman came to talk to him about the enemy and he said who are you talking about and he said some republican and so i said they are not the enemy, the senate is the enemy. [laughter] you capture that in that very first congress and the important thing. talk to us about this debate. >> think so much. welcome everyone, i'm pleased to see so many here. here to celebrate the great valuable work of the first federal congress project.
2:22 pm
i wandered into the congress project over 16 years ago in 2001. shortly after i began my doctorate at george washington university. as a student who is interested in political history in the first presidency and at a time when interest in political history was at what we say, nicely, a wayne and in the profession i was looking for [inaudible]. we can talk about how exciting and wonderful it is but it was also a time where i really was seeking people who also looking at the politics of the early republic. in a deep and thoughtful way, not just a radiographic way, and not just about the people but the issues and the events of the
2:23 pm
time. when i walked into the congress which was, by the way, located an easy walk from campus but in a nondescript building on the second floor and i knocked on the door and go in for the first time in here are cameron and helen, chuck and charlene working away in this second story office building and i realized right away that they were working on extraordinary stuff, just extraordinary and it seemed as if and this may be important but it was undiscovered as far as i was desperate it was basically perfect storm for a graduate student. there was an archive that was underutilized that had to do
2:24 pm
with the ideas and the time. and i was most interested in and the people there were friendly, welcoming and knew what they were talking about. i started hanging around because i was no fool and i was trying very hard as all of you know is a graduate student to try to settle on a topic and one day over lunch i mentioned that i had just read joseph ellis rounding brothers and i thought his discussion of the people's attitude toward washington as president had just brought to the surface -- i was such a pompous graduate student. [laughter] i wanted so much more and can mentioned that the project was sitting on a vast amount of information, no surprise, but
2:25 pm
the vast amount of information on the presidential title controversy of 1789. had i heard of it? but it was the dispute betwee between -- with the district between the house and the senate and later among the public over whether or not to give the president a regal title. he mentioned that the treasure trove had barely been examined by anyone other than himself. i went home and i thought about it for about 24 hours and i walked in the next day where he but derby is that i wanted to do it and this is what i wanted to do my doctorate on. all four of them in their own way let me know that i would have challenges ahead. there were many unanswered questions about the meaning of the title controversy in the motivations of the people involved but it was the best decision of my professional life. although i certainly do not have
2:26 pm
all the answers and i still do not, none of us do on a topic, let's face it, but as i listened closely to the places that i encountered in the primary material that i would be able to uncover answers in the story that needed to be told because that is all we really want. my experience with the congress project was the making of me. like ken said no one really taught you in school how to read a manuscript but the congress people taught me. charlene, ken, helen and chuck, answered my questions, gave lessons and manuscript reading in shared my excitement and discoveries big and small, the high standards of the congress project are testaments to their professionalism and it rubs off when you're in their presence. my historians work ethic and my understanding of research method
2:27 pm
were invaluable and my time there. the insights i gained there safely upon making shallow decisions and shallow analyses and to dig deeper. i also arrived at the congress project in a very useful time for me in its evolution because the two volumes don't happen overnight. they take 20 years. [laughter] but all the volumes dealing with the records and documents of the house and the senate were completed and fully indexed, published and the first three volumes of the infamous and wonderful correspondent volume of letters that we've been talking about so much, volumes 16, 15 and 17 cover the period during march and november 1789 were in progress and there was a draft index. that period of time from the
2:28 pm
spring to the fall of 1789 of the first congress is also the period where about 95% of title controversy occurs. the legislative days is in april and may is in the public face is throughout the summer into. although it was in the dress stages i had access to the organized collection of all the personal correspondence of the representatives and although in draft stages this makes piles, all over the office. i still cannot believe that these wonderful people trusted me and granted me access to these great profiles of unpublished documents. most of what is known about the dispute in the senate over titles themes from the detailed diary of the infamous senator
2:29 pm
william mcclay of mania and as ken said his diary is part of the project documents in volume nine. clay was against a high title for the president and his diary reflected his highly antagonistic views toward contentious titles. it also documents his very antagonistic view of vice president john adams who championed the grant titles. mcclay's disdain is loud and clear, salacious in his diary. this contentious relationship between adams and mcclay and mcclay's views as expressed had dominated our understanding of the presidential title controversy at the time i was thinking about writing my book and doing my doctorate. but the diary alone presents only one voice and a limited one. in addition his diary wasn't
2:30 pm
even published or available until about 100 years after the first congress in the late 19th century when it was first published. so, other contemporary accounts of the title controversy were extremely valuable and all those letters to and from people there was a lot of other material out there but the profession was really only knew about this very enjoyable fight between adams and mcclay. what i discovered at the time of this project archives helped give me voice to a broad array of americans thought deeply about their new president, the new presidency, federal power and other issues all wrapped up in whether or not to give a high title to the president. it seemed that just about everyone had an opinion, as it
2:31 pm
turned out, not just clay and adams. in fact, the public face of the controversy which unfolded over the late spring and summer of 1789 was an inferno of different points of view from peers that anarchy would reign without a high title to absolute certain conviction that despotic rule like they had under king george would return if the president had a kingly title. it was the 18th century version of a twitter feed gone viral. [laughter] and it was great stuff. it was full of everything from gossip and innuendo to topple discourses over presidential power and popular sovereignty. although the legislative part of the controversy lasted only three weeks and was over in mid may 1789 the public server didn't really begin to die down until the end of september when as congress posed a trend closed
2:32 pm
its doors for the procession. in the end it became clear that a majority of americans wanted no high title and the approved final decision in this legislation in the senate that had nixed the grant title. a decision that was emphatically led by the house, pulling the senate along. during the title controversy john adams was pilloried, both publicly and privately, not only by mcclay but also by the press in letters and in private conversations. he was the butt of jokes, called his [inaudible] among the political elite and it gets us while his fraternity but it was an insult that we know about because of mcclay's diary. it wasn't widely known at the time and it was bandied about a
2:33 pm
lot because of the senators and the congressman among the political elite but much more broadly he became known in the summer of 1789 known as the dangerous place. this was based on a poem by edward church, first published in the boston papers and later in new york and throughout the states and huge, huge, very publicly damaging and the way it was written a dangerous vice, .-dot, .-dot, .-dot, enough dashes to spell out the world of the word president in this poem written by edward church, as i
2:34 pm
said, it linked the evil of the price of monarchy with the vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency and the title champion. correspondence volumes of the congress project, allusions to this poem abound and it is obvious that made an immense splash at the time. it made such a big splash that later when adams was president he wrote to abigail and in the letter he refers to thomas jefferson as his dangerous vice. so it was a title that stunned for years for adams personally and the more we know about adams the more we know that he's the type of guy that wouldn't take it personally and hold onto it for a long time. it was so inflammatory that there were backlash against the
2:35 pm
author and church fled boston where it was first published to georgia just to escape the heat. that backlash became a cautionary tale between south carolina representative, thomas tutor tucker and his brother. st. george tucker was a lawyer who became a professor of law at the college of william and mary. he was a representative in new york at the time and st. george had written a play, a skating, farce of a play entitled up in ride and wanted to share it widely. it attacked john adams contentious title, pompous congressman who sought favor and rode around in fancy carriages and a dangerous fight that attacked abigail adams for riding around in a carriage at
2:36 pm
one point. apparently riding around in a carriage was seen as part of an elite activity that does make the image just didn't sink with where americans wanted their countries to be. in any case, st. george sent a letter to his brother telling him about his farce and although thomas wanted to read the play and said this was great his he advised his brother to be politically circumspect. he knew what was happening with this dangerous vice and he knew that admin church had been there had been backlash against the poem and as he wrote to his brother were we to make every man our enemy who is not holy
2:37 pm
and in sentiment with us we should have very little support left. if only that of vice followed more today. [laughter] gems of discovery like these waited for me in the archives of the congress project. voices from across the emerging nation came alive for me and as a result my book for fear of elected king -- anyway, i think it's fairly entertaining and has a meaningful examination of an important moment in our founding history. concept of presidential power and the extent of federal power never goes out of style and depending on who the president is at the time up until today those kinds of questions and where we start with our first
2:38 pm
president become more and more relevant. voices from across the emerging american nation came alive and as a result so did my book and speaking of giving voice to title controversy i want to mention that i got this great christmas gift this year, my book just got made into an audiobook. it's available on audible .com and i am sure, absolutely certain, that all that gossip and innuendo that i had so much fun with is one of the reasons as well as those political discourses on popular sovereignty and the presidency and one of the reasons that cornell university press thought that it would be a candidate for
2:39 pm
a narration. my journey as a historian writer and researcher has benefited from the time the people and resources with the congress project and i can only hope that my work with maxwell on their stewardship and i want to take this moment to say thanks very much and thank you all for attending today as well. [applause] >> one of the things you point out in the book is part of the problem is this idea of america was convincing european powers that we mattered and these 13 little colonies huddled against the atlantic ocean and part of the controversy was that, they needed something grand to show that america mattered. the person that really struggled was martha washington.
2:40 pm
and having to find the levees and all that and she was called lady washington throughout the war and all the soldiers coulter lady washington but her difficulty in figuring out how to be a republican queen was a very real one and the country was just trying to figure it out and that is what is so remarkable about these papers. you see them figuring it out and coming to a conclusion that as i said living with today and charlene, is really the person who has done this the longest and study us, 50 years with the project. she and ken working together and doing so much incredible work. she was the editor of the 21 of the 22 volumes and co-authored the birth of a nation, the first federal congress. charlene, bring us out.
2:41 pm
>> i will talk mainly about how we got to this point, to the 22 volumes and it has to do with a lot of support from others. we were very committed to the project, sometimes i thought i needed to be committed, but we worked hard to keep the place operational. first today i want to say thanks to [inaudible] who has a history with this project. [inaudible]'s mother the wonderful congressman lindy boggs was a huge supporter of our project and i always love to picking up the phone and having her say hello, darling, this is lindsay. she served on the advisory board, responsible for getting us special congressional appropriation during for the founding era project during the
2:42 pm
bicentennial. and it was a joy to work with and know it was a very special part of working for the first congress. >> she felt the first working with project. >> anyway, we want to talk a little about the structure of what we did and we started with the basic journals, the basic thing required, the senate journal and the senate executive journal in the house of representatives journal and then we did legislative history so to do the legislative history we found ourselves exploring a lot of resources that were beyond where we were working to put the story together particularly the newspaper accounts of the debate so then we sort of we should have done the debate first, i
2:43 pm
almost feel like, but it's so hard to decide in a lot of ways because we thought official records should go first but then we discovered so much material in sources that were after what we were working on that it was always difficult but we did for the legislative histories we read the newspaper debates and use those in the legislative history. then the debate were, i would say, compared to some of the other volumes relatively easy to do if you had all the resources. we did them before some of the tools that were available these days to get a hold of the newspaper accounts so we were working with pictures that were made on the machine that i can't even remember what the name of it was but there was a machine
2:44 pm
that could print off of microphone so that we could then put those in our files and it took a lot of work to get those prints and get them controlled it into our files. we later were able to go back and put a few more things that we missed most volumes into later volumes but we were always working with probably tools a little bit behind where we should be but we started out with way system model 52 in 1981 and that was an hpr seat which we are trying to get everybody on track with technology and then we went to mark elias 15
2:45 pm
for terminals with very much an improvement over having one terminal in the office for all of us to argue over. as we went along, first, we had all these new search tools we were able to do some of the things that can finished up volume 22 to bring a lot of new document to the addition that would not have been there had we not been able to find them with the electronic resources so as the resources evolve and more of these documents came in to the public domain we were able to have a level of evolution that made it so i think we have a
2:46 pm
very complete project and that is what you were looking for was complete documentary history first federal congress and i think we came very close. we would not have been able to do this without the support of our founders, george washington university and as i said provide the space and equipment and we had many students from george washington that worked with us on as volunteers and some paid staff. the national endowment for humanity we had funding from them for a large part of the year so we were in business and most importantly the national historical publications and record which is always in danger it seems in its funding and again is in danger of this year. we also had private money and
2:47 pm
that was very helpful and we had friends in those foundations that were helpful to us and said they had both document collectors so therefore they would tell us about special things they had found when they were doing their personal research and what other people like that shared their personal research with us. we were very lucky to work in an environment where people believe sharing and helping each other out. that to me, anyhow, i feel very fortunate that i fell into that kind of job and accidentally but the start doing something and all of a sudden 20 years later you say we are finally finished with it. [laughter] but to me, anyhow, it could not have been a better experience even in the days when we were
2:48 pm
desperately fighting for the nh prc when it was zeroed out in 1981 through 1988 or so and then again after some other years. to me, anyhow, what i would say to anybody that working with historical documents and getting immersed in them is a great adventure and i highly recommend it. >> thank you. [applause] >> we have time for a few questions and i need to ask you to come to the microphone because c-span is taping this and they need you to speak into the microphone. if you have questions and while you're thinking of questions, helen, would you stand up quickly so everyone can meet helen who [inaudible] [applause]
2:49 pm
>> do we have questions? yes, please, come. tell us who you are. >> i'm connie schultz and i'm a disclaimer to begin with and that i was privileged to be the nh prc fellow at the first congress project in 1981 when we undertook being a political as well as a scholarly organization, to save the nh prc and the national archives. my question is a quick one in that is are the volumes going to be digitized and can you tell us how and by whom they ought to at a minimum be a part of the founders online but the second question, my job was to work with some 750 petitioners to the first congress and i'm just curious whether either of the two authors discovered some of the petitions and use them in
2:50 pm
your analysis staff has anyone else showed any interest in plumbing those wonderful letters of petition from veterans and their widows and other people saying help, help, help and they were now a one of the volumes of the 22 but those two parts of the petitioners and can we do talk about donald campbell outside -- >> [inaudible] is that happening? >> yes, the good news is that the johns hopkins university press has given up their electronic rights to the project in the project will now be part of rotunda which is the university of virginia and the gold standard for editing or publishing these projects electronically and it will be with the founding fathers
2:51 pm
papers. i think ratification to the constitution those will be involved, as well, and it's very exciting and eventually it will come to be. >> that established. what about the question of the petition did either of you people petition? >> unfortunately, within the concept of the title controversy petitioners are kind of like a sign, it's a side issue but in some of the things that i read, you know, i did see them with the congress, various people in congress dealing with some of those petitions but they didn't ever deal with title specifically. >> i would say similarly that i read a prejudiced number of petitions that doesn't quite count as opposed, alongside writing about them, but i think
2:52 pm
some their way into my text and i can't fight one off the top of my head but in a mere 350 pages i had to make many very painful judgments about things that i could include not include that in and of itself there is a book there. >> sir. >> hello, i'm christopher gray. independent scholar. i would like to ask if you realize that her splendid essay, the trust lecture writes on the harvard savanna controversy that created what i would call the privilege of senatorial courtesy was circulated during the controversy over whether to filibuster judge garland's hearing or not and i found out and i know it may dismay you but i passed around and i discovered from challenging both right-wing and left-wing law professors my twin brother dated at wayland,
2:53 pm
justice scalia's favorite law clerk dated his later wife and that's how we became intimate with them. i found it both on the right and left that they were arrogant and ignorant. your essay and i wrote the three liberal professors and they didn't bother to reply when i send them your essay so i guess it was unanswerable. [laughter] >> tell us about what the essay. >> not sure which they were referring to is the one you gave for the [inaudible] at shepherdstown in 2014, dear member that is a? on remember washington nominated someone who senator georgia senators did not want any part of -- >> the first use of senatorial courtesy when a nominee of washington's was turned down and the person was made benjamin was
2:54 pm
born and he probably was turned down because of the senator from georgia opposed him and that seems to be happening and therefore was seen as the beginning of senatorial which on executive business. >> how did washington react to that? >> george washington was not happy and stormed into the senate to demand to know what it was and why this happened and was not happy with the response and said this defeats every purpose of my coming here and it was an amazing scene, i'm sure, to be there and the only reason we know much about it was because of the diary of william mcclay who did make a record of
2:55 pm
this. >> but that is such a good example of how were still living with it, right? this is the first incident of senatorial courtesy and still is. >> i would add to that when washington was in the senate through the senator from georgia who had opposed the nomination got up and said because you are george washington i will tell you why but you need to know that no senator of the united states has any responsibility to tell the president of the united states why he opposed his nomination. we know this because when george washington got back to the presidential mansion with his head in his hands he told his secretary to buy is clear what had happened and tobias lear's
2:56 pm
son, 25 years later, wrote a letter to a newspaper about what had happened in 1814, that we were able to locate and that is what charlene is talking about going up ahead we also have letters that were discovered in the civil war by union soldiers and then published in their hometown papers like the indianapolis star in the 1860s, manuscripts that exist. >> go ahead. >> hello, good afternoon. jonas, phd student at american university. the question is for kenneth, he mentioned several times that the first congress was the most productive congress perhaps in american history. i'm curious as to what you meant by the most productive. >> i think that was pervious. >> sorry i apologize.
2:57 pm
i ask what you meant my most productive in what sense? >> constitution is there though and it was written by politicians that one of their work ratified and they couldn't make the hardball decisions or it would have been defeated. they left those congress. the first session of the first federal congress created the executive branch, the judicial branch and it adopted the first federal incomes, taxes, tariffs, he created a system that collected that money. later sessions organized the united states army, naturalization, copyright, patents, the fiscal system, the basis for capitalism, the british special fiscal system not to mention 750 petitions,
2:58 pm
several of which were granted. the amendments to the constitution. >> and the location of the capital. >> in funding the depth of revolution. >> so i guess basically in sheer numbers of institutions organized in that sense. >> the breath of what it had to do and what it did. >> prejudice achievement and the relative speed in which they moved is mind-boggling. it would be complete with apprehension to suppose that there was a grand consensus here. they took it out. they fought one another and there was bitterness and tremendous controversies in uganda system that already. they fought their way to
2:59 pm
decisions on these many things and the quantity of legislation was enacted and the significance blasting down to the present day to the city we live in and the government that existed today on capitol hill. this is the egg from which it was born. >> you talk about how best they did it but i was looking it up recently because of a listener question and they did an awful lot at the last minute just like we do today. [laughter] it was a huge amount of legislation right at the end of the session. >> each time like in september we get suddenly the cabinet is formed and like a second and it seems -- the debate on the titles happened all summer but it was interesting that there was such a furor in the public and then the legislators made it
3:00 pm
made their decision back in may of the public fights and it's interesting that even the public seems to have this crescendo in june and august and september at this crescendo and then it peters out at the same time it's like everyone it needs rest for a while for the next congress because they were duking it out each time. ... start all over again. >> we don't know the conversations they had back at the boarding house or the restaurants but we know that probably was going on at that they were constantly negotiatin
3:01 pm
negotiating. >> we know some of those conversations because they wrote to their wise. >> yes. or they wrote somewhat about it and those of the people we like the best are the ones who told us those kinds of stories. >> i do want to answer one more thing to this last question which is a think another reason why you make an argument for the vast amount accomplished, is how little has been changed and overturned in the years since. it was really this huge, broad basis, the foundation that was worked out in those three congresses. >> a couple of questions for todd. could you, one, given some of the examples of the proposed titles? and, too, could you talk about the cartoon? >> for one thing, i'm really
3:02 pm
glad that cokie mentioned lady washington. she not only was called that during the revolutionary era, but during the time of the first congress especially at the beginning of the first congress when everybody was up in the air and not knowing what to call the president. they also did know what to call the wife of the president and the wives of the various congressmen. and so there was a lot of lady this inflated that in the paper. >> or mrs. sender so what's of, or first -- those kinds of things. one of my favorite titles, beside the more predictable ones in the way which were serene highness and, you know, your majesty. >> you have in the appendix, you have the actual resolution so why don't you read that? >> i will read those. one of my favorite other titles was washington. they wanted to call the
3:03 pm
president the washington, and make it this universal kind of term so that it would be washington obama and washington trump. [laughing] >> and it's true that there were a lot of different terms. and you have to understand that these hurt the ears of benjamin, of william mcclay and a lot of benjamin eades and watson, hurt because of people that were of a more -- the revolution a mix everybody equal. nothing besides mr., and the name of the president will do. but in the end, the senate, even though they capitulated with the house and agreed that there would be no title other than the
3:04 pm
title of president, which was mentioned in the constitution, the senate went on record to say that what they thought was that it's their opinion that he should be addressed as president. his highness, the president of united states of america, and protector of their liberties. his highness. >> so really glad we don't have that today. [laughing] >> thank you all -- >> real quick. the cartoon. >> just real quick. i will say that washington, you think this was just the outlandish list of the few people, especially john adams and his cronies or his best friends, and a few other people that were enamored of aristocratic life. but there was a cartoon that appeared as washington was entering new york on a grand
3:05 pm
barge with, this appeared a few weeks before he was due to arrive actually, and they rolled out the red carpet for him basically. but a cartoon appeared where he, he's going down in front of the federal building on an ass like christ, entering jerusalem. and his black ballet is on the back of the ass sort of writing a long, and his secretary is in front of him shouting hosannas, and he's writing into basically the new world jerusalem, new york city. to face his fate. christ went into jerusalem to be hung on the cross.
3:06 pm
so there's this sense that there were people that realized he was being lauded to such an extent that it could be his downfall in the end. >> what was the caption? >> i can't remember. >> that day shall come to pass when david shall lead and ass. >> thank you all so very, very much. [applause] >> this is great. >> quite well. >> how are you? >> sorry i i missed the meeting the other day. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
3:07 pm
[inaudible conversations] >> we will bring you back for more live coverage from the american historical associations annual meeting taking a a brea, probably back in about 30 minutes. returning for discussion about slavery at presidential plantations including james madison montpelier, thomas jefferson's plantation. you can also watch online at c-span.org or joint is like using the c-span radio free app. while the group is taking a break will look back at this morning session had to do with free speech focus on professors on college campuses. >> so i thought our first topic that we might discuss is

4 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on