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tv   David Mc Cullough The American Spirit  CSPAN  October 14, 2017 12:00am-12:56am EDT

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>> it was raining and i thought, booklovers are going to want to stay in bed and read. but, here you are. thank you, good morning. [applause] welcome to the 2017 national book festival. carla hayden, i'm honored to say that i'm the 14th library of congress. as you can see, i'm pretty excited to open this event. our 17th consecutive celebration of books and reading. it's wonderful to see if house and our largest presentations space. not only will have a full house
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here at the convention center, but we have millions of people joining us live on facebook. so, thank you wherever you are for joining us. [applause] we have a fantastic lineup of mainstage off authors to share. what better way to kick off the festival then with one of our nation's most beloved historians. mr. david mccullough. [applause] mr. mccullers here for his six national book festival appearance and we hope you'll continue to make this a habit. he will be followed by diana -- [applause] she's the author of the outlander series and she's here
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for her fourth festival. next is jd vance. who's hillbilly elegy has struck a chord in the national conversation about poverty in america. thomas friedman barely needs and introduction. [applause] is an internationally recognized writer the middle east on affairs in the environment. michael lewis' famous for his books about finance such as flyers poker, but it's equally famous bodice topic says it diverse versus adoption in baseball. the screen adaptations have been enormously popular.
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i miss condoleezza rice was the secretary of state of the united states. she is now on the faculty of stanford university traveling from california to be here with us today. finally, mr. david -- his back for record-setting eighth time at national book festival. his thrillers and bugs have been read by millions. very pleased to turn this over to the person who is help make this list will possible start cochair. mr. david rubenstein. [applause]
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a true believer in the power of literacy and reading what it can do for all of us. would not have been possible to the event thank you. [applause] please welcome to the stage mr. david mccullough mr. david rubenstein. [applause] [applause]
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[inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] >> this is the very first how many people are at the very first book will? how many this is the first time? how many people like the price of admission? [applause] so, were honored to have david mccullough. let me give you a brief background of david. he's a native of pittsburgh, crip is one of four boys in the family where his father had a small electrical supply company. not quite general electric but very impressive he said. david went to you where he did
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well. graduated in 1955. he then went to new york, did not go back to pittsburgh despite his parents interested doing so. when joined "sports illustrated" and ultimately came to work in washington at usia. while there he got interested in something he was interested in at this time in pittsburgh and then wrote his first book about the flood which was a bestseller. that was his first book. he's now written the american spirit 11 books and working on the 12th book that will talk about shortly. everyone of his books is still in print. that's very unusual. his first book is almost 50 years old. [applause]
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so david has won the pulitzer prize twice for his books on harry truman and john adams. he's won the national book price twice and given the presidential medal of freedom by president clinton. spent asked to speak to congress and given every honor citizen can give. he's been given 55 honorary degrees which must be a record. that's very impressive. more impressive is that he is five children, 19 grandchildren, and the love of his life is here, a wife of 63 years. stand up. [applause] so, did you ever think when you're growing up in pittsburgh that you would one day become the most famous chronicler of american history? >> of course.
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[laughter] no. i never imagine such a thing. >> what was your ambition is young boy? >> i wanted to get good grades in school, but not spent too much of my time worrying about that. and then i got interested in girls that took up a lot of my cotton and preparations. once i got to college i knew i either wanted to be an artist, a writer, an architect, or an actor. but i couldn't make up my mind. so when i finish college i thought i'll go to new york and see what happens. so i went there and a lot happened. >> did your family say go to new york or come back to pittsburgh? >> my father would call me and he would say after my book was
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published now it's time to come back and get a real job. he never understood, but i go back to pittsburgh all the time in a very grateful i grew up when i did. then at that time in that city. it was a lesson in history itself, it was a simulation for the arts in the literature, the principle of our school was one of the founders of the first pbs station in america, carolyn d patterson and katie ka was the first radio station in america and i was invited to do a voiceover for that when i was in high school. that interested me to. >> you went to "sports illustrated" that is in american history exactly but what did you work on there?
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>> i worked in the circulation promotion department. we had these test mailings they called them with a would write for five different letters to people asking them to take an interest in the new magazine. i asked if i could contribute a competitor in the test and i was told yes but you have to do it on your own time. don't waste office time doing it. i was a training. so, i wrote the letter and submitted it and they decided to use it and it won the test. from that point on i was looking good. but the one thing thing about "sports illustrated" was it was brand-new and no one really knew where it was going.
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the whole spirit of the city was amazing. i went to work for $5000 per year, they allowed me next $10 a week because i was married. so the stereotype for women was not just in salaries is expressed in other ways too. but i also found how many wonderful women were working there and later when i came to washington i found some of the best people i work for women at the u.s. information agency. when kennedy ran i thought it was exciting. he was going to give us all a chance to take part. when he gave his magnificent inaugural address and said ask not what your country can do for you but you can do for your country i took that to heart.
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i quit my job. i knew no one in the kennedy graph came down went door to door looking for someplace in the federal government for my training and education would be appropriate. i wound up as luck would have it and that's a big factor not just in our lives but in history that's not paid attention to. i ended up working at the usia. it was an exciting time. as stated in exciting time for the three years until the president was killed. during that time i was in the library of congress doing research for articles we're going to include. i chanced upon this big table at
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the library and the princeton photographs division for the graphs take johnstone right after the disastrous flood of 1889. heard about the flood all my life but i knew nothing about it. i looked at the photographs and so the devastating destruction i couldn't believe my eyes. i thought, what happened. so i took a book out of the library which was okay but the author didn't understand the geography of western pennsylvania which i did understand. the other book was full of inaccuracies and so forth. while i was in college i had the good fortune to cross paths with -- wilder. the great playwright and novelist. he was asked at one point, why do you write the place you do, the subjects you choose and he
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said i imagine the story i like to be able to read and if i find nobody has written so i can see it on stage or read it in the book i write it myself so i can read it in the book or see performed on stage. and i thought why don't you try to write about the book that you wish you could read about the johnstown flood. i knew then this is what i wanted to do. >> did you quit your job? i did not. when kennedy was killed i was asked come back to new york to work at american heritage. and that was published by the hardcovers and no advertising. bruce was the editor, it was an exciting and marvelous time. i worked there for six years and
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i wrote the johnstown flood at night and weekends. for three years carrying on my job as usual. after i had written the book then after i got the idea for the next book i thought, i have to quit and see if i can do a full-time and because i was married to brave, wonderful woman. [applause] she said if that's what you want to do, will do it. no outside income, all we had was to advance on the new book. after my book was published several publishers came to me and one wanted me to do chicago fire the other one way to do the san francisco earthquake.
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terry's hardly 30 years old nice always been typecast as the bad news fella. i wanted to symbol of affirmation symbol of positive affirmation. it took me a while to come up with the idea. i get my ideas from all over the place. i was having lunch with two friends, one was a science writer the other an engineer. we started talking about all of the builders that the brooklyn bridge didn't know that they were informed when they first set out to do it. i thought, there's my subject. i came out of that lunch at the lower east side went straight to the new york public library and up the stairs up the stairs
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field card catalog and i pulled out the drawer there were over 50 cards the subject of the brooklyn bridge but not one describing a book just describing what i wanted to write. was on the basis of that idea and the willingness of my publisher to go behind me and give me an advance that i was able to stop working full-time. i've never changed publishers. is figured if i was loyal and faithful to them they would be to me and they have. >> one wife and one publisher for 60 years. [applause] you might describe your style of writing. it's unique in the sense that
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your wife is involved in the process of helping you the writing. can you describe how you do that? >> i've been confessing to this true morris lately than before. but i don't consider myself a historian. i didn't major in history, i majored in english i only took the history courses that were required. and i always believed one out to write for the year as well as the eye. when you hear what you've written you hear words that you use too often in sentence structures become repetitious and you hear when you're starting to be boring. i had two or three wonderful writers help me a long the way. conrad is a great novelist whose
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work is beyond imagining still. still, paul's a wonderful writer and charles, i don't know if you know his work is a wonderful man and writer and they help me a great deal understand that you have to cut back. you have to write and rewrite. i'm a rewriter. all the best of them have been that way. she sometimes reads a chapter three or four times because i be writing it three or four times. we're working on my book about theodore roosevelt, man tell the story? >> were at the next to last chapter she was reading and she said something about that sentence and i said read it
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again. she read it again i said there's nothing wrong with that said yes there is a night read it aloud to her and i said c said no there's something wrong with that sentence. i said just keep going. she kept going and i didn't do anything about that sentence. the book went to the publisher and they publish it and it came out got wonderful reviews could in a fine review by gorby -- up until he was about ten the review he said, sometimes he doesn't write very well. [laughter] consider this sentence. [laughter] >> so some historians do a lot
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of research on the right. you perhaps research and write, research and write, why do you do it that way? >> i never undertake a book but a subject and know much about. i know about it i wouldn't want to write the book. the process would not be an adventure. for me, each subject is a new experience. i'm setting foot on a cotton and i've never been to before. i really don't know much about the research from the last half of the book and i don't want to know that yet. i want to be involved in the people in the story. i want to be inside their time. people say you're working on a new book and i the lease and working in a book. have to get in that other time. history is not about statistics
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memorizing dates and born quotations. it's about people in human beings. were in the course of human events only have to put ourselves in the shoes of those people and know what the life of the life was like what the hardships they face was spoiled brats we're that we have so much that we all to them that we don't bother to know who they were. it's not right. [applause] >> so, do the research is a global and as you learn more you have different questions. you have to ask questions have to ask questions all the time. what were they worried about, and you have to keep learning
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more from the original sources. letters, diaries, on published memoirs and the like. of course, that's where the gold is. it so much is right here in the library of congress. all those letters that they wrote to each other into their father and mother and sister are all here the library of congress. read those letters, these two young fellows who grew up in a house that had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no central feet no telephone, and you can put ten of them in this room a tiny little house, but it was full of books and their father insisted that they all read and they read above their level of those letters they wrote express
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what he drummed into them. learn how to use the english language on paper and on your feet. their vocabulary, it's breathtaking and they never finished high school. when i see the writing produced by college students today. when i learned that nearly half of all the law schools in our country require incoming freshmen for all college graduates to take a basic writing course because they can't rate a respectable letter or report or proposal of some kind in the work that they're going to have to be doing, we have to knuckle down and get back to learning how to write, learning how to read and with
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concentration and understanding and teaching history. were raise raising generation of young americans and i know this because i lecture teach at universities all over the country. there by march historically illiterate. and it's not their faults. i think some of the brightest people i've ever met of the students i'm involved with in colleges and universities. we have to stimulate curiosity. don't think yours have to have the answer. i don't have all the answers. in curiosity, i forgot who said this one of the great writer said, curiosity is what separates us from the cabbages.
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>> when you're writing to type it, to use it word processor longhand? >> are you ready? >> i'm proud to say that i work on a manual typewriter. [applause] and when it breaks were to get the part? >> it's never broken i bought it secondhand in order to write my first book. i've always worked that time in life with the issue typewriter on the job which was a manual oil typewriter. so, i went to typewriter shop and brought a secondhand typewriter that was 25 years old. i paid $75 for it. i've written everything of it ever written. on that typewriter for over 50
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years and there's nothing wrong with it there never has been. by no means did the notion that in the minds for the manufacture of that machine. it's fantastic. now, why this typewriter? why not a word processor? goes too fast. i don't think all that fast. and if you hit the wrong button you can eliminate months of work. i have a friend, joe, very good book writer lost 5000 words because he hit the wrong button. also, i love to take the paper out of the typewriter after i finish a chapter put it on the clipboard and if it's a good
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weather find a comfortable place to take an outdoor chair and sit under the chair and let the editor and me show the mug who wrote the stuff out should be done. with the machine that's eliminated. you never see that again. with this, you can see the process. the only other average devoted typewriter man i know is tom hanks. he writes all his letters on the typewriter and he has what must be the world's greatest typewriter collection. and he understands perfectly why work on the typewriter. i urge others to do it. i urge others to remember how much work goes into writing a
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book. >> how many words to do a day before you say that's it? >> well in the old days when our's full of beans. i do four pages a day when i was underway. now, i try to do two pages a day. two pages is ten pages a week or more. and by the end of the month you have a chapter for the beginnings of a chapter. amassed how much my time i spend writing and how much i spend doing research. nobody has ever asked me how much of your time to spend thinking pgh so, to be time to spend thinking? >> a lot. if you're looking in the window where i work you might think that guys asleep. but i'm thinking deeply.
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>> and one of my roles at the smithsonian, whenever you do retire can you give us that typewriter? >> i'm not sure, have to talk to the boss. >> you have now written ten books before i will talk about the pioneers which will be on 2018. this book is a compilation of your speeches and honorary degree talks and you got 55 honorary degrees. when you give a commencement speech what you have left to say? are they really listening to these. >> the setting of every talk like everyone you meet is different. so you want to know something about the verse two where your speaking or fear invited to speak at an event at the white
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house you have to do the homework. >> i do a lot of research and a very conscientious that what i'm saying is going to go on the record at that university. >> this is a highly readable book and i recommend it let's talk about one of the first speeches. you're asked to give a speech at the joint session of congress. how did that come about and what did you want to talk about with the members of congress? >> there is a gathering of historians and biographers that spoke at a conference at the library of congress and after that was over when it came time for the bicentennial i was asked to come and give a shorter version of the speech i gave at
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that gathering. >> shorter version because congress is unlike long speeches? >> i imagine they were afraid i would run away with my excitement but is a very high honor and i worked hard on preparing this. >> one of the people you talked about was john quincy adams. what is you talk about him and what do you think was so appealing about him? >> john quincy adams had been a diplomat who served in several diplomatic post the senator president of the united states. after he left the presidency he was asked if he would run for congress and he said certainly.
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so he went back and served in congress until his death. he died on the floor of the congress. died in what's now the statuary hall. he died in harnesses they said them. he didn't have to be a congressman as he was. but he had a mission. not only to represent as best he could his constituency in massachusetts but to represent the country. i more that really the constituency and he was against slavery. so he was battling on the floor of congress until the day he fell down and died a few days later. talk about integrity and truth and honesty and loyalty, his
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father john adams was the only founding father president who is a founding father who never owned a slave. out of principle. his wife abigail was even more out of it. the next president never owned a slave was john quincy adams. it ran in the family. is also brilliant and was interested in everything. he spoke many languages. in many ways he may have had the highest iq of the more versatile mine including the greats among the founders as chance would haven't he was only one term
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president and they don't get the attention the others too. >> i want to ask about another president. he spoke on the fourth of july and immigration ceremony at monticello. thomas jefferson gave us the creed that all men are created equal wrote the preamble to the declaration of independence. how the square that with the fact that he's a slave owner and how did you address that issue. >> i don't, i can't. i don't understand it. no door i understand the fact that he destroyed ever c wrote to his wife in every letter she wrote to him so we know nothing about her that even what she looks like. i can understand that. we don't understand that he kept close track of every time he
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ever spent on anything using incredible financial record but he never added it up. >> test flash was bankrupt. he was never out of debt. from the time he was young man. by also don't understand where that genius come from. if he had done done nothing but an architect he would been someone we should all know about. had he served a brilliant service to all of us with this idea that all men are created equal but he also said something not been sufficiently played out in that is, his absolute belief in education. he said everything should expect
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to be they expect whatever it was think be. we have to be educated and understand that there are no easy answers to big problems. nobody has lived solutions to big problems. they have to be worked out i wish i'd had the chance to know him. >> if all the people you've written about, john adams and harry truman and john quincy adams and thomas jefferson if you could have dinner with anyone president is not a live who would you like to have dinner with? >> john adams because so many questions i want to ask him. >> you gave a speech at the university of massachusetts and talked a lot about john adams. of the founding fathers he gets
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less attention, what he thinks so few people pay that much attention until he became a why do you think there's still no money meant to john adams in washington, d.c. >> yes there is. >> where? >> it's on the mantelpiece in the white house strength john adams was the first president to reside in the white house and the first night he was alone abigail had not arrived yet the next morning after the first night he wrote a letter to what he wrote in the letter franklin roosevelt had carved into the wooden part of the mantelpiece in the east room when sherman was in charge of redoing the white house he made sure that quotation state there.
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when kennedy became president in a carved into the marble of the mantelpiece i would stay forever. and what he said in the letter tab again was this. they none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. [applause] and i think it's very important to understand and think about that he puts honesty first ahead of wisdom. honesty. >> in your pulitzer prize-winning book on john adams which is made into an hbo series and one awards you went through about a thousand letters between john and abigail adams. have you ever experienced
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anything like that between husband and wife before? >> no. the quality of use of english language and the use of the mine, how well read they both were, john adams advises young son at the time about ten years old when they went off to his father in europe, diplomat he said, you'll never be alone if you have a poet in your pocket. in other words, carry a book. that was part of the relationship and attitude toward life. they were incredible readers. and abigail is right there. her letters are phenomenal. >> she was not college-educated. >> no. she never went to school. was tutored at home, but she never stopped reading.
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she was brilliant and brave and patriotic should put up with incredible difficulties running the family and household trying to stay afloat financially when he was serving overseas. those children were raised by her in a way that they would never forget that dinner party you're asking me what i have, i would definitely want abigail adams there. and i would definitely want catherine wright, the sister of the wright brothers. you can't understand what they did and how they did it if you don't understand the part played by catherine wright. oh, where she something. she kept adam made him toe the line and behave himself in a way that we all need.
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>> you gave a speech at dartmouth. one was teddy roosevelt, you wrote a book about about his presidency but the time that he left new york and went west. what was most important lesson you took away from that book? >> theodore roosevelt is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. he was a child not expected to live, he suffered terribly from seizures of asthma which were life-threatening. he was afraid of everything, you are full of everything. he outgrew it. and he outgrew it by facing adversity. he took hold of himself and he
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worked hard at it, all the way through college and then on into life. his father's death was a devastating experience and then his wife and mother died on the same day. he was shattered. that's when he went west. this idea of going west so american it's the way of healing and escaping the many historians obviously have written quite profoundly about this. he is the essence of the but he never forgot who he was aware he was going back to. he then remarries and gets involved in politics in a serious way. >> he was brilliant and a wonderful writer and historian. none of our great presidents
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have ever been one with no interest in history. >> true. he wrote many books including a very good book on the naval war of 1812 which he started when he was in college. woodrow wilson was a professor of history. dwight eisenhower's crusade in europe was one of the best books about world war ii ever written and he wrote every word of that himself. and kennedy wrote several works in history not just profiles of courage and kept citing history and bringing it into the dialogue of the presidency of the executive office. >> we also talked about harry truman.
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why was he so unpopular when he left the presidency. 15% popularity rating now is everybody's favorite presidents. what happened since he left the presidency, other than your book? >> it began before i wrote the book. i grew up in an old-fashioned republican family. the night of the 40th election is a high school student interested in politics. i tried to stay awake to see who won. the fan final tally didn't come until about two in the morning and i can stay up that late. i fell asleep. my father was shaving the next morning and i said one and he said, truman, like the end of the world. while 20 or 30 years later i was back home where having a chat after dinner. he started in on how the world
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in the country were going to hell. he paused and said, to bed old areas is still in the white house. [laughter] harry truman is a great american story. this wonderful gathering is about the american story. if there ever was a story that so american i don't know. he's harry true man from a place called in dependence. he never went to college he had to go it on his own and yet all kinds of bad luck in defeat, but he never gave up. my favorite people are those that never give up. george washington in 1776 had every reason to say we can't win this war. but he would not give up and he convinced others the wright brothers never gave up.
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they had many reasons but they wouldn't give up. >> you gave a speech at ohio university about people who helped build the northwest territories and you're working on a book called the pioneers. what was so unique about the u.s. territories so why did they not give up? >> i was invited to speak at ohio university of the 200th anniversary commencement. i thought i better learn something about it. i found out you'll this building on campus was called cutler hall. and i thought, whose cutler and oh so there was the oldest university college building west
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of the mountains. well cutler's name was a cut classic 18th century -- he was a medical dr., a lawyer and a minister. the minister of a small church in massachusetts. a group of war veterans in massachusetts, revolutionary war veterans got the idea that because they have been paid in worthless money all the time that they served freight have fierce one way to compensate that would be to get land in this new northwest territories. is by the british at the treaty of paris. and that land was fertile in the way that nobody had ever
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imagined. it belonged to the government and there was. so this man cutler was picked by these officers from the war to go down to the capital which was in new york sell them on the idea of creating a northwest territories ordinance whereby new seats could before and they had never lobbied anything in any way in his life. the word lobbyist hadn't entered language ship. he never been to new york out of new england. but off he went down to new york to convince the continental congress to go ahead with it. it was the summer of 1787. they put the ordinance through. he did a, one man.
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on the ordinance stipulated three things. one of the most important bills ever passed by congress even before we had a president one, derby complete freedom of religion. number two, the government would be involved in education. public educational way through college. hence the beginning of the state university system. third and most important of all, there be no slavery. this territory was all because the 13 colonies. their slaves and all 13 colonies. and that this new empire would be free to everyone. all you had to do was get across the ohio river. now constitutes the states of ohio, indiana, illinois, michigan, wisconsin.
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it's as big as all of france. no slavery. so half of the country would be no slavery. mansion with one vote of congress, one man put it through. yet, i never knew about it and most people know nothing about it. i go back again to thorton wilder. he was once asked about how he got his ideas and so forth. i thought our town was one of the greatest things i do ever saw on stage. i've always wanted to write a book about people you never heard of. to see if i could get you in without relying on historic celebrities. of the characters except one or two in the periphery of people
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you ever heard of. but all their letters and diaries have survived and are in the archives in marietta ohio. it was if i came into king tut's tomb or something. in my goodness what they talk about what they reveal and the adversities they face. there give up. >> so as we wind down of two final questions. what is the great pleasure of your life today? is it exposing all these things so americans know more about history? what is giving you the greatest pleasure in your life. >> being an american. [applause] and when people talk about you,
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the legacy you would like behind not that you're going to leave anytime soon but was the legacy you'll be most proud of having achieved? [inaudible] the final thing about the library of congress. it's a place you've done a lot of research. how important is that too? >> the library of congress is indispensable. to me professionally. but, i also see it as a shrine on our acropolis devoted to the idea of education. it's available to all. our whole public library system is something that's of america american creation. [applause]
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the library of congress is the greatest library in the world. and we did it. if you ever get down about american culture, you might like to remember that there's still more public libraries in this country than there are starbuc starbucks. [laughter] >> thank you very much. this is been a great conversation. >> thank you. [applause] [applause] >> david, his most recent book is called the american spirit. who we are and what we stand for. if you want to talk you can call


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