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tv   Book Discussion on Henry Clay  CSPAN  November 27, 2015 4:00am-5:01am EST

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>> you're watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. booktv, television for serious .
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and now we are going to kick off our weekend with historian unger talking about henry clay. >> our topic for today is henry clay, america's greatest statesman. mr. unger is a veteran journalists, historian, former distinguished writer and mr. unger has appeared on history channel and c-span's
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book tv and spoke many times at yorktown and many historic sites he spent many years as an american analyst. two of his three most recent books, mr. president and john marshall reveal how george washington constructed the executive and judicial branches of the government athat -- that we know today. please join me in welcoming me charles unger to the national
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archives. [applause] >> thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, it's a privilege to be here at the national archives specially since the government tends to be in a state of flux right now. if i had to choose one word that summarizes the basis of our nation's survival for more than 200 years, it will not be patriotism or national resources because that's two words. [laughter] >> but they also contributed. land, courage, all contributed to the nation's growth and survival, but that's not the one single factor that has held us all together for all these
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years. this nation was founded and built on compromise. the declaration of independence was a compromise. half of the people who signed it wanted to stay british. the constitution was a come -- compromise between slave states, urban states. five major compromises worked out by one man, the man i call america's greatest statesman henry clay of kentucky. americans in his day called him great compromise.
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a little more than two centuries ago henry clay, the young henry clay walked into the house of representatives and found almost every member carried a pistol. just about everybody in the house of representatives did. members fought on the floor wrestling and then step outside and fight a dual and shoot each other. one member brought a pair of vicious hunting dogs to protect himself and intimidate opponents. clay was the youngest speaker and only freshmen elected to
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that post. they picked up the gavel and pounded into order and turned the house of representatives into what the framers had intended when they wrote the constitution. in doing so, he became the greatest speaker in american history. he layed down the rules of conduct for the house and for every speaker who followed. and i can sum up all of those rules with that one word, compromise. i was stunned a few weeks to read in a major daily newspaper an editorial that praised our current speaker john boehner for having, and this is a quote from this newspaper perfected the art of disagreeing without being
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disagreeable. that's not the job of the speaker. he's not there to be -- to be disagreeable or to disagree. the art of the great speakers in american history, the art of henry clay perfected is that of compromising, not disagreeing. the great speakers who followed model themselves after clay, all perfected the art of compromising. now, most americans don't realize that the speaker of the house of representatives is the second most powerful elected official of the land after the president. and like the president, he is the only oh -- other official in the federal government elected by all americans, by the entire nation, by we the people.
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now, sometimes it seems that neither the president nor the speaker listens to any of us. but that's because we the people don't speak with a single voice. americans are diversified people with a country whose size and geography make solutions impossible. we all disagree and each of us have rights to do so and pursue interest with benefits ourselves and unwelcomed effects on others, but remain united as a nation each of us and our elected representatives in congress must compromise and make personal and collective sacrifices. that's what the speaker's job is. that's what he's supposed to manage, compromises. hold the nation together.
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in the 225 years since the first congress convened, the members of every house of representatives have elected one member to do that job, to reconcile our conflicting interests. they call him the elect of the elect, the elected leader of the elected representatives of we the people. most people think those speaker is elected by the majority party in the house of representatives. that's not true. he's nominated by the majority party and he belongs to that party once dominated, but the entire membership of the house must elect, in other words, all of the representatives of all the people must elect the speaker and they called him then and some people still call him the elect of the elect.
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the speaker's powers are second to the president himself. resident controls the executive process, he puts the laws into effect and enforces the law. the speaker of the house is the man who controls the legislative process. he names the chairs of all the committees and influences the appointment of the membership of each committee. he through these committees, he controls whether and when a bill can come to the floor for a vote. he selects which members can speak and for how long. he selects those who can speak for a bill and against a bill. in the early 1800's one elderly congressman spoke well beyond, spent a lot in the time, henry
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clay brought his gavel down like thunder to stop the old man from talking. but i speak to prosperity, yes, sir, clay responded, but you seem resolve to speak till the audience arrives and i won't allow it. [laughter] >> that's why henry clay is on the cover of my book and the reason i'm here today. clay not only refined and defined that role and those powers, he became the greatest speaker in american history. sadly, our most recent speaker either didn't understand the role or refused to accept it. he put interest of his ohio districts and the interest of his political party ahead of the nation's interest, which would
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be fine if he were an ordinary congressmen, but he wasn't. once the house of representatives elect its speaker, that person is no longer committed to debate or even to vote in the house. he is no longer there to agree or disagree. he is there to engineer compromises that will bring a majority of congress, a majority of americans together in the interest of our nation. now, we are often a very difficult people to bring together, which is why in the more than 200 years since first congress convened, the house has only enacted 5% of all proposed legislation. 5%.
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95% of most laws are rejected. some say that's dysfunctional. [laughter] >> if a new law helps you and doesn't hurt me, i may be for it, but if it hurst me, i'm against it. so congress is not dysfunctional , congress reflects the views of people like you and me. that's what the founding fathers intended when they wrote the constitution. and that means few new laws would ever get passed. that's not dysfunction. that's democracy. alexander hamilton said that if you want a government that acts quickly, efficiently and does
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things absolutely perfectly, get a dictator. otherwise, embrace the system we have. few new laws will ever get passed, and those that do will mean huge sacrifices for some and benefits for others. the laws that get passed will be huge compromises that will seldom satisfy everyone. a lot of people get a little, very few people get a few they want. james madison helped write the constitution and explained the interest, and these are madison's words, not the rich more than the poor, not the heirs of distinguished name, nor the humble names, the electors
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are to be the great body of the people of the united states. and that's what we had in the house of representatives, and the person who is supposed to reconcile the conflicting views of that great both of people is the speaker of the house. as i said, henry clay was the greatest statesmen in american history. and americans in his day called him the great compromiser. he was both speaker of the house at fist -- first and then became majority leader for later in his life. he saved this nation by engineering five monumental compromises between divided
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congressmen and he started with the missouri compromise in 1820. and like his other compromises, the majority compromises prevented succession of the south. and by postponing for that long a period of time, he allowed the nation to mature and survive the civil war that eventually came. when missouri applied for statehood in 1819, it applied as a slave state and had it entered the union at the time would have actually threatened national existence. it would have given slave states a majority for the very first
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time in the congress and the power to pass laws perpetuating slavery in the united states. a few northerners weren't going to happen. new york representative james demanded a writer, he wanted to band entry of slaves in the country. in other words, the writer would have converted missouri into a free state and given the free states a majority and the power in congress to emancipate all the slaves in the nation forever. now the southerners rose in outrage. george thomas shouted back let
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it be so. civil war has come. i can only say, let it come. only speaker henry clay remained calm in this storm. his wife almost from ear to ear made him look like he was grinning. he knew the desolution would not lead to civil war, certainly not over slavery. john brown was only 20 year's old. hehe just got married. he was thinking about making babies and not the war.
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they would not have gone to war and certainly not risk death to free a bunch of black people in the south. northerners had many slaves as southerners did. new york wouldn't emancipate slaves until 1827 and mobs there rioted. all had entered state trade and blocked of private property without due process. so clay did not fear civil war in 1820, but what he did fear was the breakup of his dream and that of president monroe at the time. his dream was to see this potentially huge american empire stretch from sea to shining sea
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and become the richest grandest freest nation in the world. had the south succeeded at the time, it would have broken up the nation into two parts and possibly three parts because the central states might have succeeded as well. and these three small volnarable little nations would be open to conquest by anyone of the ambitious world powers at the time, france, spain, and great britain. so as the debate over missouri state hood raised, clay sought and pounded an opportunity for compromise. he offered main a chance to separate from massachusetts and join the union as a free state
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by linking its admission of that of missouri and no strings attached to it. he allow it had -- allowed missouri compromise and continue living together in peace in the same union. compromise and the importance of clay's compromise didn't begin to come clearer until more than a decade later when a new younger generation of northern began to emerge. they had been raised without slaves, schools by preachers who taught them to detest slavery as sinful. as abolishist grew, many called
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for a war. the compromised of 1833, originally tried to tie northern states with southern states. northerners has imposed high protective tariffs on goods coming in from the south, goods that were made with slave labor and priced so low that northern goods couldn't compete. northern goods manufacturers were producing goods by workers paid by the peace. they couldn't compete with free slave labor. so they slapped what they thought was a killing high tariff on them. 20% on all southern goods regardless whether they came from the south of other countries like england who took
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cheap southern cotton and converted to textiles. tariff was so high. southern congressmen began to threaten succession again until civil war until clay came in instead of forcing south to choose between high tariffs and low tariffs. he proposed a gradual approach. that would give each side partial protection for a long enough period of time for their production to adjust to the tariff changes and to keep
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trading with each other and stay in the union, which is all he wanted there. the next compromise came three years later in 1836 after texas rebelled and declared independence from méxico and it applied to be anexed. texas statehood would have given majority in congress. it might have provoked méxico to declare war in the united states. clay had to work out another compromise more complicated this time. any compromise had to maintain senate to keep them all in the union. and also avoid war with méxico which claimed texas had its own and had not recognized texas
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independence. clay's compromise rejected texas texas would not be part of the union. now, he had to satisfy the southerners. he did so not by recognizing texas but by granting letting it be and granting all the privileges of statehood. he opened the borders and people go back and forth just like they would in any other state line. texas was not a slave state or free state, it was nothing. as with all other state compromises, the compromise in 1836 had nothing to do with slavery, it had to be with preserving the union by
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extending the peaceful existence and integrity of the union, clay was now able to put -- translate his dream into action. his dream was economic and social scheme, in american history. in transfer with john boehner that couldn't work with one president that he didn't like, clay worked with ten different presidents, many of them bitter political foes and with feuding states across the nation to bring all these feuding entities, federal and state officials together to make the u.s. the world's most prosperous
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nation, to fulfill his dream. under clay's leadership, they built a network of roads, canals into a huge transportation network, until then everybody had to go on horseback. no one crossed state lines. the average american would say virginia, new york, delaware. now suddenly vast numbers of people and businesses could move about the union freely and easily. they had established agricultural, commercial, financial, political and social connections that soon made the 20 states of the union one.
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thousands, tens of thousands moved west but returned regularly to visit families they had left behind and vice versa. businesses and banks had branches in different states. had important clients and sources of supply in states other than their own. they were not about to let a handful of southern plantation owners destroy businesses and livelihoods. clay's last compromise, compromise of 1830 admitted california as a free state and finally texas as a slave state. the balance remained equal. among other things the compromise of 1850, expanded the number of free states linked by
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the american system to 20 states with more than 20 million people. that compared to only 5 and a half million in the 11 southern states. unionist, whatever their states of origins had now become americans. clay explained the purpose of his life, and by the way, he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency four times. that wasn't his primary goal to become president. he explained his life's goal very simply, if anyone desires to know, these are henry clay's words, if anyone desires to know, the object of my public life, the preservation of the
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union was the key. abraham lincoln used clay's words to express his own views. this islingon talking. i can express all my views by quoting henry clay. i worshiped him as a teacher and leader, he loved his country and gave the death to paternal stripe and peace to a distracted land. again, abraham lincoln talking. another fact that most americans don't realize, abraham in-laws were close to the clays. and then married mary todd.
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clay became lincoln's friend and mentor. now clay died before the war began, but when he died, lincoln gave this stirring looking to having and cocking his ear. lincoln said, i recognize clay's voice speaking today for the union, for the constitution, for the freedom of men and when lincoln sent forces to war, he explained why in words that might have been easily those of henry clay. my paramount object is to save the union, president lincoln
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explained. it is not either to save or destroy slavery, if i could save the union without freeing any slave i would do it. if i would save it by freeing all the slaves, i would do it, and if i would free it by leaving some alone, i will also do it. what i do for slavery is because i believe it helps to save the union and what i don't do is because i do not believe it would help to save the union. abram ham lincoln listened to henry clay throughout his political life as have all the great statesmen in american history. we must now pray, hope that congress will elect a speaker who will do the same and help save and preserve our union and
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bring us together as the people instead of dividing us. thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. god bless you all and god bless america. [applause] >> thank you very much. i am open to questions and i will be signing books a little later on. yes, sir. >> it's interesting to hear you compromises foundational value that underpins the constitution and as founding fathers because today the word compromise is branded as a weapon against democrats and republicans who seek to compromise that they are not acting with a purpose on behalf narrow constituencies, what can the country do, what can citizens do -- >> those who oppose compromise
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do not believe in the american way. our -- are enemies of this country, on the borde of treason. that selfish group should dictate to the majority. that's communism. that's not american democracy. that's not what this republic was built on. a strong speaker should get these people under control. he has failed to do that. that's why we need a good speaker now who will unit us with the people and dismiss extremists and we have presidents that faced this, eisenhower faced it and dismissed them from political party. roosevelt united us as a people, lincoln united members of the union, at least, the states of the union, so we've had great
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leaders in both executive and legislative branch that truly believe in the values of this country and bring us together as people. >> what would it take for a people to assert that principle without being driven out? >> remember that speakers are elected by the entire house. he's nominated by his political party. the force of his personality is basically -- no one should run for speaker unless they know they can unit people. i mean, what was it that general was able to do to bring people together, it was the force of personality. and we've had great speakers. most americans don't know the names of our speakers because when they get elected, they're elected by a little tiny group and a little constituents no one has ever heard of.
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it's elected directly by all of us. speaker it's elected by a little constituency. it's in the house. eventually building up a large enough constituency, showing them how they can come together. engineering and compromise is an art. it's not something anyone can do. most people try to end compromise and all sides walk out and make enemies of everybody, but a man like clay was able to bring them all together and that's the kind of man that should be running for speaker, a man whose object is to bring different sides together, not whose object is to further the interest of his community. hi loses his status as a representative if he wants to be speaker. he has to be speaker of all the
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united states, not just for fellow constituents. >> in history you got men and times, so you have henry clay, in history you have men or women, you can't divorce the two. clay had this idea of union but slavery which most people kind of felt in sam way a -- same as split. compromise is really a bad word. was there something specific about the times today that makes compromise more difficult than clay's time where we don't have a henry clay that rose above that, that's the first question, the second question is, if we believe as you do, if we believe
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as you seem to claim and some of us agree, the people that we've had right now in congress are not doing that and you want to show them henry clay, what other two speakers would you suggest that they study or understand how compromise is reached if they don't understand how? >> i will just touch on the second question but one of the most famous is sam ravern. democrat who campaigned and worked very well with eisenhower. they both loved their country and worked for the interest of their country. i would ask the first question and, of course, i can't prove it, no, it was more difficult then. the deep south, remember, was run by a handful, a handful of plantation owners and bitterness
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between slave states and free-soil states was intense. and it touched every area of life not just social life and religious life. it touched as i mentioned before, touched commercial life because these barrens in the south. we are talking about two dozen people were swamping markets with cheap goods made by slave labor. [laughter] >> and that inflamed the commercial and the moral interest of the north. this was an impossible reach. clay never solved the problem but held the nation together by
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finding enough common ground to build this american system and truly unit the rest of the nation, sifl war, -- civil war was inevitable. any given state, you could call any given state you could call it a dictatorship. john calhoun was a dictator effectively. at one point, clay worked with calhoun and calhoun's worst enemy webster of massachusetts and the three of them came up with the compromise of 1833, so much so that the nation called these three men the great and didn't last long but for a while
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it was remarkable. clay was able to bring these two men together. you know, clay's influence on kentuckians was rather remarkable. when civil war did break out, slavery was legal and clay himself had slaves. that was kentucky law. kentucky law banned emancipation. you would be fined and possibly sent to prison. kentucky remained neutral and tennessee, the jerks who reason tennessee decided to invade kentucky. that was a mistake. kentucky was not going to have anybody invading their state and they now joined the union and fought with the north in the civil war. if ohio had done it, they would have joined the south.
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they were neutral. they would have stayed neutral. thank you for your questions, by theway. yes,-- the way. >> had the house at any time considered electing a speaker from a nonmember of the house? >> the rules don't permit that. elect of the elect. >> you say the constitution doesn't prohibit, does it? >> sometimes the fight for the speakership goes on ballot after ballot, but that happened with the presidency also. the election of thomas jefferson went on for 33, 34, 35 ballots. >> as i unit, tell me if i'm not correct, the speaker does not have to be a member of the house. >> no, he has to be a member of the house, yes.
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[inaudible] >> i'd like to say that i was under the misunderstanding to because when mr. boehner announced resignation some were reporting that you could, thank you for setting the record straight on that. >> the names i've seen are all members of the house. >> okay, my question is, is it only the party with the majority that can nominate the speaker? >> i'm sorry? >> is it only the party that is in the majority that can nominate? >> well, they have the most votes. >> so it's just logical. >> if they can come together, they usually nominate -- make the first nomination who has -- who then has the most votes. it's like a convention. democratic national convention or a republican national convention. the one with the most votes gets voted on by the entire convention first.
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sometimes he wins and sometimes he's voted down. we saw mrs. clinton get voted down when president obama, mr. obama then had more convention delegates. it's the same. >> okay. >> convention with built-in split. >> so you really have to win the nomination within your party. if you're in the majority party you need to get enough votes from them? >> exactly. that's what representative mccarthy thought he had last week and then now he's running into opposition within his own party. it's going to have a tough fight because -- if any of the candidates are truly patriotic speakers, they are not going to become slaves to little minorities within their party.
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so they have to find a way to calm everybody down and -- and really teach them that this is in the interest of your country. you're here to serve constituents and represent their views, but you are here to serve the country. yes, sir, do you have a question >> i was aware that you had to be a member of the house, but your comment earlier is the first i've heard that the speaker loses his right a chance to vote as representative of the district. when did that come about? much earlier you had said that once the speaker is elected, he no longer is allowed to cast a vote in the house, which would mean that right of vote representative of district and has the opportunity, when and how did this come about? >> these are standard rules of
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order. it's like the vice president who was president of the senate. he cannot vote in the senate. he has no vote and now in his case, he's not even an elected senator, but in the case of the speaker and in the case of all presidents, these are rules of order that predate our nation at the constitutional convention. george washington was elected parking president and elected by virginians and could not longer vote or take sides. that's the role of the president of any convention he presides, he does not participate. >> thank you. >> does the rule --
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>> i'm sorry? well, it has -- the constitution gives each of these branches a government, certain leeway in determining their rules of how they're going to fulfill their obligations to the american people and to the nation and one way to do it is to keep order, not to shoot each other. you to get along somewhere and you need someone to maintain order because, remember, as i said when henry clay went into the house of representatives for the first time it was betlum and hi participated in several duals
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and was nearly killed. yes, ma'am. >> could you explain why the senate doesn't have more -- why the speaker of the house has more power than any leader or the majority leader on the senate side? >> you know, that's a very good question. the senate was originally a body to represent the states, the states until 1917, i think, in the first two decades of the 20th century. the two senators were appointed by the state's legislature. they were not elected by the party. they were not part of the people, they represented state interest, so their whole purpose was different, and the compromise in the constitution because state legislature, of
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course, were controlled by the big financial interest of each state. this was to give the people representation, they gave the house of representatives equal powers, even greater powers in certain areas than the senate, the senate was considered equivalent of the house of lords, body of patricians and they were given powers over foreign treaties. the house was given powers of spending our money because they are our representatives. so they have our hands in their pockets. sorry to say that. [laughter] >> the purpose of the senate was different from the purpose of the house and that was one of
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the greatest compromises, creating a legislature, one representing the people because the constitution begins, we the people of the united states. and the other representing slightly more interest, foreign affairs, things that ordinary people would not understand or have any knowledge about. but even in the senate, the constitutional convention had to compromise because it was a major, major fight over how many senators each state would have. originally constitutional convention, the three largest states in the union at the time were virginia, pennsylvania and massachusetts and the congress
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that had preceded the constitution gave each state one vote so that all states were equal. now the big states said, no more of that. we have far more people than you guys do and we want proportional representation. well, they got that in the house. but the senate said no, if we give the big states more votes, we give them proportional representation in the senate, three states will be able to dominate all the other states of the union at the time. the nine other states, and those nine states basically rebelled and threatened to threef -- leave to convention. they did not want to be dominated by the three states. nine states with fewer people than us are going to tell the majority of people what to do. so this went down to the wire
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until washington stepped in and they basically -- he had a way of intimidating people, the way i did too. i guess all commanding generals have that as part of personality because he said he couldn't vote because he said he couldn't express views but he did so at the city tavern. he made his views pretty clear. you have to settle this or i will have to settle it for you. they had to compromise. washington, lincoln, roosevelt, eisenhower, probably the four greatest compromiseers in the presidency. you may think of others and you'll probably be right. but washington brought those and
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force them to compromise. i want to thank you very much for coming today, ladies and gentlemen, it's been an honor to be here and talk to you. [applause] >> don't forget book signing one level up in the bookstore, we will be up there in just a few minutes. >> you're watching book tv, nonfiction authors and books every weekend on c-span2. television for serious readers ,
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