tv Henry Clay John C. Calhoun Daniel Webster CSPAN October 6, 2020 12:04pm-1:26pm EDT
record for bringing in diverse and intellectually challenging and informed speakers. tonight's is no exception, and if you haven't heard bill brands before, i think you'll be delighted. if you have comments, in the past as i know many of you have, you're in for another treat. please join me in welcoming my colleague, glees whitney, to introduce our speaker. [ applause ] >> well, thank you very much, elaine, for that warm introduction. we really treasure our partnership with the ford. it's always a treat. we will continue to bring you excellent programs that stimulate the mind and the heart for public service and love of our history. happy washington's birthday to our c-span audience and also to
the audience here at the fort. it's really neat to be here recognizing washington's birthday. this is one of the reasons we wanted bill to be here on this special day. it's always a pleasure to host bill brands. we've had him back to west michigan so many times, i've lost count. but it's been enough that he should be awarded a lifetime tenure award at grand valley state university. i've probably personally introduced you, bill, more than a dozen times, and each time i check his buy iography, i learn something new. you've probably heard me say bill's formal name is h.w. brands, but did you know that the h.w. stands for history whiz kid. you heard me say bill earned his master's in phd in history, but did you know that he also had a master's degree in mathematics? he knows something that no
historians know, and that's that if you multiply two negative numbers, like a minus 3 and a minus 4, you end up with a positive. he understands things like that. you've heard me say that bill is the author of more than two dozen books. but did you know that they've been translated into french and german, russian and chinese, japanese, korean and haiku? maybe he'll explain. you've heard me say that a third of bill's books are devoted to the presidents. go back and look at jackson, grant, t.r. wilson, fdr, ike and reagan. but did you know he's also dined with the presidents in the white house? you've heard me say that bill met long-lived ralph halestine for the first time at one of our events back in 2004, and they got along famously, swimmingly. but did you know that ralph urged bill to revise his studies
of ben franklin and andrew jackson since ralph knew both of them since he was a child? and speaking of childhood, you've heard me say that bill has three children. but did you know that one of them, hal, is a historian in his own right who teaches at johns hopkins? finally, you've heard me say that bill has an enthusiastic fan base around the united states. indeed, i would say around the world because of all the translations. it's no surprise because many of his books end up being pulitzer prize finalists. but did you know that his most diehard fans are right here in west michigan. ladies and gentlemen, bill brands. [ applause ] it is. thank you, gleaves, for that
very animated introduction. you've taught me things i didn't know about myself. you mentioned my son hal who is a historian. some of you in the audience is appreciate this. there is nothing more gratifying to a parent than having a kid who goes into a field who, somehow, got a little bit of a boost and was somehow confused with me for going sbut fieinto field. now i get a boost because i get confused for him. it's a delight to be back. i see many friends from previous years. i'm thrilled that you liked it enough last time or the time before or something to come back. and i specialespecially like th that this is an audience where i can try out new things. gleaves makes a point of anticipating everybody else. he doesn't just wait until the book is out and i've already been giving the talk for a
while. he asked me to talk about the book even before it's finished. i wish, actually, though, gleaves, you had asked me to give this particular talk maybe a few months ago. i just finished proofreading the gallileelo galleys of the book, so it's already set in type. it's reached a point where i can't make any changes in it. one of the reasons i teach history, i teach history to 500 freshmen every semester. it requires me, encourages me, allows me to think in terms of the big questions of american history. very often i find that my teaching is a real boost to my writing. because when you try to explain something to someone who doesn't really know anything about it, and a lot of my students -- i certainly don't mean to disrespect -- the students that come from high schools in texas. i'm not saying they don't know any american history. actually, they don't know enough, but they know some.
i have a whole lot of international students who have never taken any american history at all, so i have to explain the civil war in 40 minutes. you really have to zero in on what the big questions are. so i like the chance to sort of work through these projects in explaining them to people who aren't specialists in the subject. this is one of the reasons i insist on teaching, one of the reasons i insist on teaching introductory students, and i like speaking to groups like you because most of you are not professional historians. so if i can make something understandable for you, then maybe i can make it understandable to my readers. but i've reached the stage with this particular book, because as i said, it's basically locked into type. i can't make any changes. so if, while speaking to you tonight, i come up with a brilliant insight that i could have used in the book, you will see a grimace pass across my face because i'll think, dang, i
could have used that. i will try not to be insightful tonight. it is entirely out of my own self-preservation. but i am going to tell you about this project that i've been working on. and as gleaves pointed out, i've written on presidents, and it is kind of ironic that here i am on the birthday of the first president speaking for one of the first times on a subject other than a president. because this book that is going to be published in november, available in bookstores near you, makes a wonderful holiday gift for all your friends who are interested in history and even the ones who don't know they're interested in history yet, bulk discounts are available. i'm just kidding. but it is a book about three members of congress, three senators. and these are three senators who were the rock stars of their era. it was at a time -- i could ask this question to you.
gleaves doesn't count because he's a specialist in presidents, but why is it of all the presidents in the 19th century, nearly all of them are quite forgettable? okay, some people will remember jefferson. but jefferson is really remembered not so much for his presidency, because he wrote the declaration of independence. then you jump forward to andrew jackson. he's a controversial figure, but we'll remember him, and of course lincoln. and then who else in the 19th century? and the answer is -- i'm a specialist in this and i have to think carefully, wait a minute, when was franklin pierce president? fillmore and zachary taylor -- was it zachary taylor or winfield scott? there's a reason for this, and the reason is that the american constitution was not written with the presidency at the center of american politics. if you pull out your pocket constitutions, and i assume you all have them, you'll be reminded that the presidency is
described only once you get to article 2 of the constitution. article 1, the most substantive, the longest article, is about congress. and the frames of the constitution assumed and intended that american politics, american -- the american republic and eventually american democracy was going to be driven by the representatives of the people, the members of the house of representatives and the senators. and the president was a chief executive. his job was to execute the will of members of congress. presidents were not expected to take the initiative, they were not expected to drive policy, they were not expected to be the centerpiece of american politics. that's what was fully expected, that's what was intended. so the fact that it's hard to remember presidents from the 19th century is exactly what james madison and alexander hamilton and george washington
and benjamin franklin, all framers of the constitution, would have said that's what we were aiming for. we want these people to be unmemorable. the stars of the show are going to be members of congress. so i decided to look in on the three most noted members of congress during the first half of the 19th century. and this was part of, i will admit, my continuing recovery from writing biographiebiograph. sof y some of you who have been here more than once will know that for a while, i had this long-term project of writing the history of the united states through biography. i eventually wrote six volumes in this collection. and the six volumes began with benjamin franklin and then went to andrew jackson, ulysses grant, theodore roosevelt, franklin roosevelt, ronald reagan. if you read those biographies, they link together to form a history of the united states
from the 18th century to the 21st century. when i started off, i thought this was going to be a great idea. i still think it was a pretty good idea. needless to say, i recommend it to all of you. every house should have the set. but one of the things that i concluded by the time i got to the end of this was that there are certain things that are hard to tell, there are certain stories that are important but hard to tell if you can find yourself to write a biography. i didn't intend to primarily write about presidents, but i eventually did because if you're trying to tell a story of the united states, the president is a very convenient character to hang your story on. but there is a lot going on if the presidents are your focus that you can't really get at. and some of it has to do with sort of the give and take, the thrust and parody of what goes on at the end of pennsylvania avenue. the other thing was that when
you write about a president, when you write a biography of any kind, you cannot help but give the impression that the world, or at least the world of your book, revolves around one person. and the world does not revolve around any one person. so i thought, let's broaden things out. now, when i was here last year, some of you who were here heard me speak about my first foray in this direction where instead of writing about one person, i wrote about two people. the book is called "the general versus the president" about harry truman and douglas macarthur and the fight they got in. this time i decided to expand even more. the nice thing about writing two people is you can sort of give two sides of the argument and you don't have to focus on one side and then just bring the other one in by indirection. so i could focus on macarthur and true mman, and they had thi titanic battle, and by allowing myself both characters and bringing both characters up, i can tell the story, and i think
do justice to both sides. so this time i decided if two is better than one, then three is even better than two. but there is another reason for this. and that is that these three men during their lifetime were often called the great triumphant of american politics. the term was not always intended complimentary. remember, the various rights were in rome when members are trying to reverse the public. this is the reverse of people who called them the great triumphant. if you remember your days from junior high school, you might remember that a relationship between two people, whether it's sort of friends or a romantic relationship, if there are two people involved, that's one kind of relationship, but it gets a whole lot more interesting when you add the third because there are all kinds of complications that ensue, who is up and down
and who is in line with whom. that's what i was looking for. that's the way it turned out in these guys' lives. from the standpoint of me as the author, they were very thoughtful in the timing of their lives. so i'll tell you a little bit about them because i realize that my three characters, although household names during their lifetimes, more famous than most of the presidents of their life timtimes, they're no exactly household characters these days. the three men are henry clay, john calhoun and daniel webster. they all began in the house of representatives. henry clay accomplished the feat never accomplished before and never repeated. he became speaker of the house, the most powerful individual in the house of representatives, on his very first day in the house of representatives. he was that impressive. and he was -- he essentially created the role of speaker of the house, a role that's very important to this day. henry clay was from kentucky.
he was born in virginia, but as a young, aspiring lawyer, after getting his training in virginia, he decided to he would have better prospects as a lawyer by moving west to kentucky, which originally had been the western province of virginia. and he set up shop in lexington, and he went into politics at a fairly young age. this is also what ambitious young men did. and there was an attraction of doing it in a place like kentucky because kentucky was a new state, it was writing a new constitution, it was electing new members to congress, electing new senators. one of the main reasons that people went west was the professions they were interested in was crowded in the east. it would have been hard to break into politics in boston or new york. but you go out to kentucky and everybody else is new, so you can get a start as well. so this is henry clay. john calhoun was from south
carolina. john calhoun, like clay, was a lawyer. he was born in south carolina. he was educated at yale. he went to law school but he returned to south carolina. south carol carolinians did tha those days. in the early 1800s, it wasn't unusual for a southerner to go north for education, but they rarely stayed in the north. usually they came back home. south carolinians are very proud of their south carolina roots and calhoun was one. calhoun, like clay, began by being a lawyer, but being a lawyer often involves people, it certainly did involve people in matters of public concern. so the connection between law and politics was well established in those days. and calhoun decided to go into
politics. he married well. married well usually meant that you married somebody with some money. so he didn't really need to make much of an income, and he could indulge his political interests. and he, like henry clay, was elected to the house of representatives. this is pretty much where everybody got started, and he was distinguished from early on by his very incisive mind. he was a member of thomas jefferson's party, the republicans. these days they're often called the democratic republicans to distinguish them from the republicans from the 1850s we have until today, but in those days they simply called themselves republicans. henry clay was a republican, john calhoun was a republican. the third member of my trio was daniel webster. daniel webster was born in new
hampshire. he was -- he became a lawyer. and he was probably the most gifted of the three. daniel webster is probably the greatest orator in american political history. one of the things that drew me to these three guys, all three of them, were very powerful speakers, very persuasive speakers. one of the things that drew me to write about them was i'm kind of a sucker for people who know how to use the language. now, i'm a writer, so that makes me interested in that stuff, but also one of the things that i constantly tell my writing students is, there are sort of styles of language, there are ways of writing depending on who you're writing for, what your audience is, what you're trying to accomplish. when i chose to write about the three guys, i knew that i was going to be transported back to a time when political rhetoric
was really important. now, this because -- well, to put it very bluntly, there wasn't a lot else going on at the time, and so when daniel webster was going to give a speech, this was high entertainment. this is why, for example, some of you will know or know of the lincoln-douglas debates of 1858. this was a big deal in the summer of 1858. now, how many of you have read any of the lincoln-douglas debates? a few. and those of you who have read will know, boy, it's a tough slog. because they would get up and speak for -- so one of them, depending on who went first. if douglas went first, he would speak for an hour. then lincoln would respond for an hour and a half, and douglas would get 30 minutes to finish up. it would take all afternoon. it was like going to a double feature of the movies. back in the 1930s when people
went to double features, nothing else to do so you might as well spend all afternoon in the movie theater. the same was true with political debate. but the lincoln-douglas debates, after a while they get kind of tedious. do you know why they get tedious? because they repeat themselves from one debate to the next. why did they repeat themselves? because they weren't recorded. the audience hadn't heard it before, so it was new, which meant that by the time you got to the seventh debate, you could really have this thing down. but the other thing was, and this is one of the reasons that i was so intrigued by my three characters, this was a time when political speech mattered. i don't know if any of you -- we're on c-span, so i should say all of you are fans of c-span, and you are glued to c-span when they're covering congress. you know you can turn on c-span pat a given time.
we of the week and see they are covering congress. when they pan around, there is no one in there. they are speaking to the camera. we have reached a time when american institutions have matured. one could say they have grown rigid, but they have evolved in a way so that political decisions are not made on the basis of speeches give nn the sena house of representatives. sometimes because of the effect of lobbyists, but decisions are not made there in the house or in the senate on the basis of who said what. we live in a very mature, again, maybe ossified system. in the days of henry clay, john calhoun and daniel webster, thf thfthis was not so. we had very immature
institutions, and when institutions are immature, the roles are different. when henry clay would debate john calhoun and daniel webster would rebut the both of them, people listened and they listened carefully. as a sideline, these speakers would write out their remarks after they had given them and put them into print and sell them as pamphlets. and they had a side income in doing this. so this was a time when, if you listened to henry clay talk about the need for a protective tariff -- he was pro-tariff. he thought the american industry needed to be protected from foreign manufacturers. then you listen to daniel webster oppose this. one of the striking things to me is how sophisticated these arguments were. in fact, i probably give more time to these speeches, to these arguments than maybe i should
have, simply because i was very impressed by the details by the insight of the arguments and how modern they sound. so if you listen to henry clay argue in favor of protective tariffs, it's essentially the same argument, although i will say with no disrespect to the president coming to the white house, a whole lot more sophisticated than the argument donald trump makes for protective tariffs. when you hear daniel webster say, this is a terrible idea, his arguments could have been used and have been used by advocates of free trade which has been america's general policy since 1945. so i digress a little bit to say one of the reasons i study history and one of the things i try to get across to my students is, and why anybody should study history is to be reminded that
we are not the first generation ever to walk the earth. it's really tempting to think that what happened before doesn't matter and our problems are going to be solved by us. well, you know, you can -- everybody wants a time machine. most people want a time machine to go to the future to find out what the future is going to be. that's not going to work. we don't have those, and even if we had such a thing, they are a contradiction in terms. if you could go into the future and you could see what the future is it, you come back and change this moment, and that would screw up that future. but we do have a time machine and it goes back to the past. and we can see how previous generations have dealt with difficult issues. now, the tariff was a minor issue for most of this time but it also became an acute issue at moment. i've introduced my characters. clay, calhoun, webster. now, notice that calhoun is from
the south, south carolina. so the most southern of the southern states. and from the standpoint of those looking ahead and knowing that there is tension between north and south, it's south carolina where the tension always starts. south carolina, of course, is the first to secede in 1851. daniel webster was originally from new hampshire, but when he tried to expand his law practice, he moved to boston. he is a member of congress, a senator, who is claimed by both new hampshire and massachusetts. but he is the spokesman of new england, which is sort of the most northern part of the north. so we've got the most southern part of the south, the most northern part of the north and henry clay is from kentucky. kentucky is a border state. kentucky was considered the west at the time. so we've got this regional arrangement among the three. and because, as i've said, these
three are kind of unstable. one of the striking parts of the story is the alliances, the shifting alliances among the three, because at any given time, two are lined up against the other. and which two it is depends on the time, depends on the issue. at the same time, each one is ambitious. each one -- well, each one would love to be president. now, this is kind of an interesting aspect of the story, because as i've said, these guys, the three of them, were more influential than all but a couple or three presidents of the united states. but there is something about ambition that says it's great to be one of -- well, so by 1850 there were 60 senators, so it's great to be one of 60. but to be one of one, to be president of the united states, even if the presidency wasn't as big a deal as it would become, nonetheless, it was tempting. and all three of them are trying
to figure out, how can i become president? so part of it is personal ambition, part of it is representation of their particular section. so john calhoun eventually becomes a spokesman among all spo spokesmen of the south. daniel webster is trying to bridge the gap between the two. these are my characters. my story unfolds in 1812 and the compromise of 1850. the war of 1812, believe it or not, begins in 1812. so two of my figures are in favor of the war. they're called war hogs. henry clay and john calhoun are beating the drums for war. the united states is going to confirm its independence to britain by going to war against britain because britain has been preying on american commerce and kidnapping american sailors and doing various things that annoy
people like henry clay and john calhoun. they believe it is necessary for american pride and american's sense of self-worth to confirm american independence. daniel webster is very skeptical of this project. webster believes that henry clay just wants to conquer canada to get moreland in t land in the w john calhoun is part of this conspiracy to boost the fortunes of his political party, the republican party. daniel webster is a spokesman of new england but also the wig party. excuse me, the federalist party. the federalist party is -- this is where things get complicated. this is one of the things that gleaves and i talk about, is that one of the things that attracted me to the study of history is the fact that history is like an onion and you peel it, and you think you see what
the situation is. you peel it and there's more inside. you peel it again, there's more inside. it's always more complicated than you think. but, anyway, so webster is a spokesman of new england which has close commercial ties with britain. and new england is very dubious about the project of war with britain to the point where -- and this is where the story gets complicated and interesting and important for the future. daniel webster becomes a spokesman for potentially the cessation from new england. we think of cessation as something the south did in 1861 to bring on the civil war. but one of the major currents of my story is that this idea of what does the union consist of? what are the obligations of the
states to the rest of the country? this was something that was in flux from the beginning. now, the fundamental question that gives rise to the civil war -- one thing i should say is that when i'm writing my story, i try forget that i know what's coming. i'm quite serious about this, because the only way you can understand history is to abandon hindsight. because if we know how it's going to turn out, then we don't pay attention to what it was like to live through it, to not know what's going to happen. now, i know that by the end of my story, the union is doomed. that the civil war is going to come, and that it's going to have to be fought over to be maintained. i know this is coming but i have to resist that knowledge, because my characters didn't know that, and they were doing -- two of them were doing
their best to prevent the wreck that they saw potentially ahead. the third, john calhoun was doing his best to make the wreck happen. but that's part of the story. anyhow, so when we look back on the 19th century. we talk about cessation, we talk about the south leaving new england. i'm guessing most of you are from michigan. i'm just curious, do we have any southerners in the audience? we have a couple. i won't expect unanimous vote on this, but it's probably fair to say that most people in the north today think that cessation was a bad idea. i've lived in texas for 30 years and most texans think cessation was a bad idea. but fa
but the fact of the matter is we associate this as something the south did. but the first part of the country to seriously talk about cessation was new england. it wasn't over slavery, it was about war policy, and the fact that the war against britain was destroying new england's trade. we had lived by trade. you can't farm well in new england. you can fish and you can engage in trade. new england traded a lot with britain. the vote in favor of the war of 1812 didn't include new england's votes. and new england states, especially when the war was going badly during all but its last two weeks, said, this was a lousy idea to go to war, and you know what, maybe the union was a lousy idea. and so daniel webster, who had a very keen legal mind, started making the argument for
cessation. after andrew jackson miraculously won the battle of new orleans, webster would start to backpedal quickly. but one of the broader themes is this question of is cessation legitimate, can the states interfere with foreign law? again, this is going to be pinned on the south in the 1860s, and this is the justification for abraham lincoln and the union fighting against cessation. it came up first for my guys in the war of 1812. it came up a second time in the early 1830s when south carolina threatened to leave the union not over slavery, not over war policy but over a tax, a tariff. you might think, people can get that worked up over a tariff? the answer is yes, because let me ask you. if you had to summarize the causes of the american revolution in a slogan of -- for
a slogan of four words, what was the slogan? >> give me liberty or give me death. >> that's not a bad one, but no taxation without representation. the american revolution was all about taxes. people took taxes seriously in those days. and south carolina was all set to leave the union because they didn't like a tax bill that congress had passed. and this because, well, people like john calhoun had this well-articulated theory of how the union had been created by the states. and calhoun laid the groundwork for cessation based on this theory of states' rights. the question, the underlying question here is, and it's a question that is still with us, although thankfully not in such an acute form. the question is, in our federal system, we have a central
government and we have state governments. which level of government is supreme? when push comes to shove, do the states get their way or does the national government get its way? well, the constitution is rather vague on this. and at the extreme end, can states leave the union? can states constitutionally leave the union? the constitution is silent on this. why is the constitution silent on this? do you know why the constitution is silent, everybody at the constitution convention knew this could be a difficult issue, this could be a problem. but they remained silent. do you know why they remained silent? by the way, why do politicians remain silent? politicians are not a silent group. why do they remain silent? they knew they needed to get it done. they knew if they wrote in, you know what, there is an escape clause here, that would ruin the whole project, because the whole project was to create a stronger
government. but if they said you cannot leave, then half the states wouldn't have signed. so they deliberately fudged this and they kicked the can down the road. they left it to my group, my three guys, and their generation. the title of my book is going to be "heirs of the founders," people who inherited this project. one fundamental problem with the constitution that they had to deal with is what is the nature of the relationship between the central government and the states? the second issue, which is going to be the one that dominates discussion starting in about 1830, is the other fundamental flaw in the constitution. p a lot of people like to revere the constitution and it's a big step forward from the articles of the con ffederation. but the writers of the constitution knew there were two basically pregnant silences of
the constitution. they said when there is a deliberation between two states, who wins? and the second one is how does slavery exist in a republic. slavery is based on the will of the people and political power is supposed to emanate from the people, but how can this co-exist with a system that says 400 people by the time of the civil war, or not people at all, they're not citizens and they're not represented. the framers knew this was a fundamental problem. why didn't they deal with it? why didn't they say let's get rid of it? again, they wouldn't have gotten their constitution in 1789 if they had answered this. what did they do? basically they took the position that benjamin franklin articulated when he came out of the constitution convention. he said, this is not the perfect constitution but it's the best we can do under the
circumstances and we will leave it to our heirs to fix the problems. they had come a long way since 1776 to get to 1787. they knew they hadn't finished it and there was work to be done. so the work was done by my guys. and i will tell you that they, well, i would say they did their best, maybe, to the extent that people who are ambitious, people who have strong opinions, people who are torn by the kinds of personal tugs on professional accomplishment do. these are strong-willed people. and my story progresses through from the war of 1812 through the crisis of 1833 to -- my story culminates with the compromise of 1850, the compromise of 1850. it's called the compromise
because, well, people on both sides, the north and south, had to compromise their issues to come to some sort of agreement that wouldn't blow up the union in 1850. and this gets at the -- what i'll call the underlying moral question of this whole story. and one of the reasons that this story, i think, continues to have residence, leaving aside the political aspects of it. but the question is this. it's a question that's most clearly personified by henry clay. henry clay is someone who, in our way of thinking, is a contradiction in terms. he is an emancipationist slave holder. he owns slaves and he does not believe in the institution of slavery. now, again, what? what about this? how does that work? well, henry clay inherited slaves, and henry clay lived in a society, he lived in kentucky
which was a slave state, where this was the way work got done. but he believed that slavery was bad for slaves -- no surprise there. he believed that slavery was bad for slave holders. he believed that slavery demeaned manual labor and that it was going to be a problem -- it was going to be worse than a problem. it was going to be a continued peril to the union. and he tried again and again to get kentucky to end slavery. but he didn't win. he didn't win the argument. yet he continued to work against slavery even as he worked to hold the union together. henry clay had to make this decision, and it's a fundamental question for anybody who lives in a democratic political system. it's really a question of anybody who lives in a community. what do you do when you believe
that your community, your country, your state is doing something fundamentally wrong? it might be simply misguided, it could be downright evil. what do you do? do you sort of throw up your hands and say, i had no responsibility for this and chart your own individual path? not if you are someone who believes that there is a role for statesmen. because henry clay believed that slavery would -- slavery must disappear from the union. it would. but he also was one who fundamentally disagreed with abolitionists who said that slavery has to end now. because clay understood that if the abolitionists had their way, if slavery were -- if congress could somehow vote to abolish slavery right now, then 30 seconds after that, a war would break out between north and south. henry clay believed that as bad as slavery was, and as demeaning as slavery was to the meaning of
republicanism, it wasn't as dangerous to personal liberty and to the wealth of humanity as the destruction of the union. for henry clay, almost any compromise was acceptable in order to hold the union together, because he looked at the union, the union that he and his other contemporaries had inherited from the likes of george washington and said, we need to preserve the union. the union is the surest guarantor of personal liberty. and if we have to compromise with the slave holders for a while longer, we will do that. i may not be giving much away when i say that henry clay was the model of what abraham lincoln wanted to become. abraham lincoln was one who also believed we have to hold the union together. if we hold the union together, we can eventually get rid of slavery, we can preserve american freedom. if the union falls apart, then
all bets are off. the story ends for me with the compromise of 1850, which is this great effort to solve all the problems confronting the country. it was this big package deal. and all sorts of issues were tied up and henry clay believed it was the great accomplishment of his career. he had held the union together. in fact, the union didn't hold together very much longer. my guys, they die. the three of them die within about 18 months, between 1850 and 1852. i'm not going to say if they had lived things would be different, but, in fact, henry clay's hope for the union was dashed on the rocks of the election of abraham lincoln and the cessation of the south beyond that in the civil war. so, well, i'll stop there in part because, you want to know
what? i told gleaves this, i haven't told anybody else this, but i'm working on a sequel which is going to carry us to the civil war. i'm going to leave you all hanging at the end of the book. what's going to happen next? hey, guess what? i want time for questions, so you're going to ask a question and i will repeat the question so everybody in the audience can hear and everybody in the television audience can hear. right here, sir. >> you're leaving out the third branch of government, john marshall. what's the relationship with him? >> i'm glad you asked the question. the question is what about the third branch of government? you mentioned john marshall. other people would call it the judicial branch, but in fact in this period john marshall is the judicial branch. in fact, this is a very important part of my story. because i devote a chapter to daniel webster and john marshall. john marshall was chief justice of the united states from 1801 to 1835. he essentially created the modern supreme court, and
especially he created the idea that the supreme court should stand in review of the actions of the legislative branch and the executive branch. the supreme court, the judicial branch, is the one that gets to say, yep, no, unconstitutional, who created, well, basically the supreme court we have today. and he did it, i'm not going to say out of whole cloth, but it was, it would have shocked and surprised the framers of the constitution, that what? the court gets to tell congress what congress can't do? it's not written in the constitution. john marshall has to work between the lines to come up with that. and his principal collaborator, almost the co-conspirator was daniel webster. daniel webster was the most celebrated and the most amply compensated constitutional lawyer of his day and in fact, webster, on some days, he would, in the morning, we go and argue
a case, before the supreme court, and then in the afternoon we go give a speech in the senate. and so the story of webster and marshall and the creation of what we call the modern judicial nationalism, the idea that the constitution really is as strong as it is going to become, owes to john marshall and owes to daniel webster. and it also demonstrates webster at his or tore cal finest. so i have webster arguing one of, he argued a whole bunch of important case, but one was the dartmouth college versus woodward case in which webster was an alum of dartmouth college and webster was basically a hired gun who would be brought in to argue before the supreme court. because he was such a powerful speaker. and he would follow the case fairly casually and then jot down a few notes and come and speak for four hours and would mesmerize the audience and the
court and would sometimes freeze the justices and in the case of dartmouth college, his speech was so poignant that there was a yale law professor who went to watch. he knew that webster was this very powerful speaker. but he also knew that john marshall wasn't a pushover for anybody. and he heard that webster sometimes tried to play on the emotions. his audience. and he thought boy, this isn't going to work with john marshall, so he goes down and he watches. and he just, he's mesmerized and he sees that the members of the court are mesmerized as well. and when it finally comes to the end, when webster says, it is a small college, but there are those who love it, speaking of dartmouth college, which he argues it had been beaten up, taken advantage of by the state of new hampshire and at the end, when webster has concluded, the skeptical yale professor looked
and sees to his amaze mat th that -- amazement that john marshall is weeping and daniel webster had that effect on people and it is a large part of my story. somebody else had a question. yes, sir? >> i just wonder, do you think as a society, we would be where we are today without the civil war? in other words the country was at at time when the cotton gin was changing and becoming more industrialized and the industrial revolution and the cotton gin eased the picking of cotton and also automation, with the automobile and people from the south going into the bigger cities like detroit and so on, and you know, we have the civil war, we probably wouldn't have the 13th amendment. but do you think as a society, we would be more or less where we are today without the civil war? >> yes, in fact, i think we would be farther along than we are today and i'll give you my reasoning. obviously, i can't prove it.
but i'm going to argue a counter fact. and this is something that henry clay was hoping for and was counting on. henry clay, again, being from a border state, kentucky, being a slave holder who didn't believe in slavery and hoped that slavely would go away, observed slavery in his lifetime go away in the north. when he was born, slavery was allowed in every american colony. and in every american state upon independence. but gradually, the north ended slavery. often, it was phased in emancipation. so new york, new york ended slavery but there was still slaves in new york as late as the 1830s. so it was a phased kind of, emancipation which was what henry clay was arguing for. immediate emancipation would be unfair to all sorts of people. starting with the slave holders but including some of the slaves themselves. if you're a 65-year-old slave and emancipate and thrown out of your house, can what can you do?
but henry clay believed that the north had emancipated its slaves not out of any fit of philanthropy, but because the northern economy no longer found slavery profitable. or to put it another way, every one of the framers generation, george washington, thomas jefferson, all the slave holders in the 1780s believed that slavery was a necessary evil. they believed it was an evil but they couldn't figure out how to run the southern economy without it and many northerners took the same view except they figured how they could run the northern economy without it and so they could focus on the evil part of it. but washington, jefferson, henry clay all hoped that slavery would become aknack nistic in time and this is what henry clay said after the compromise of 1850. he had been the author of the compromise of 1820, the missouri compromise that resolved the issue of slavery in the western
territories and held for over 30 years and says if this compromise hold force 30 years, then we will have resolved the problem. because he saw the industrial revolution coming. and the industrial revolution really was what ended slavery. more precisely, it ended slavery in other countries. think about it for a minute, in 1800, nearly every country in the world allowed slavery to exist legally, and most countries thought no big deal, that is kind of the way the world works, in 1900, essentially no countries in the world allowed legal slavery. so between 1800 and 1900, slavery disappeared. it was only in the united states that the ending of slavery required, or seemed to require this horrible war, that killed over 600,000 people. so you have to start thinking that maybe there was a way you could end slavery without a civil war. and clay thought there was. if we could simply keep the
union together for another 20 or 30 years, then southerners would have come to the same conclusion that northerners had already come to. we don't need this institution any more. and if you indulge me for a moment further, if the south had ended slavery, without it being imposed by the north, without the need for a 13th amendment, it didn't require a 13th amendment for massachusetts to create slaves or for pennsylvania, and so it wouldn't have for south carolina, or any of the other state. and if southerners had freed the slaves on their own, then opposition to things like education for the former slaves wouldn't have been seen as a badge of southern honor. anything that gets imposed by the, from the outside, by those northern aggressors, is something that patriotic southerners will be able to resist. and as you know, until the 1960s, southerners didn't like the idea of being told what to do on race relations. but if southerners had been
allowed the time to conclude on their own that slavery was a bad deal, then they wouldn't have had an incentive to invest for example in education, of the former slaves. so i'm not trying to guarantee that that would happen but there is an alternative scenario. and this is actually what henry clay was aiming for and i should say by the 1850s, it is exactly what by 1850, he died in 1850, this is exactly what john calhoun was hoping would not happen because by 1850, john calhoun had already concluded that south carolina and the south must leave the union. and he was simply hoping for an excuse to do it. and the excuse came with the election of abraham lincoln. more on the book that i'm writing about, i'm going to write about abraham lincoln and john browning. so it will be a two-some instead of a three-some. in the back, sir. >> a comment on the status of the current administration at yale, and the name of john c. cal tune from one of their in
tuitions, i don't know if it is a building or a school, or what. >> and now, i'll broaden that. so the question is, what about the campaign at yale university to eliminate john calhoun's name from one of the building's, or a college or something like that. and i don't remember how far along that road they are. but anyway, calhoun attended yale and so he was at one time he was considered a distinguished alumnus of yale college. and these day, of course, john calhoun is seen as the arch-apologist for slavery. i'll just tell you that my general view of erasing names from buildings, taking down statues is to be very skeptical of this. and i'll tell you why i'm skeptical. and i teach at the university of texas. and at the university of texas, there were erected in the 1920s a series of statues honoring heroes of the confederacy. and following the shootings at
charlottesville, the year before last, the administration at the university of texas decided the time has come to take down these statues honoring the confederate heroes. and my first thought was i do not like the idea of erasing history. because there is no end to this. and i predicted that if it's today, for the confederate heroes, tomorrow it's going to be thomas jefferson and then george washington and then how's that going to work with the capitol of the united states is named for a slave holder. if we try to go back and impose the standards of the present on the past, then there is no end, and very much, in the thinking of those that are most in favor of this, there is an incipient perfectionism, that if these people are bad on this score, then there's somebody else who is bad on another score, and then i would despair putting up
statues to anybody for anything. because however, however much a model citizen they might be today, i can guarantee you that the people who honor john calhoun, john calhoun is still unof south carolina's two statues in stat ware hall in the capitol and they're not trying to point a finger in the eye of anybody else or a bunch of white racists. john calhoun was an important figure in the history of the united states. i have this modest proposal that i actually proposed to the president of my university. i said don't take down the statues. just make a very modest change, to each statue and go around to each statue and put a small plaque, about this big, that simply has the year in which the statue was erected. and i thought do this, and all of a sudden, i've got this outdoor history lesson, and so people can walk around and they can see that the statue that was put up to jefferson davis on the u.t. campus was erected in 1929.
what does that tell us? jefferson davis was not a texan but texans in the 1920s, were trying to make a political point by recognizing jefferson davis. but that does two things. one, it tells us when this went up and it gives us an idea of the mindset of the people who put it up but it also absolves the present of the responsibility for these things that went up 100 years ago. and sort of this is the justification for taking down stuff, or changing these names. we don't want this generation to be seen as honoring these people whose values we don't share. and that's fair enough. if you're putting up something new today. okay. yale, or the university of texas, wouldn't erect a statue tof to jefferson davis or a college to john calhoun today but to pretend it never did it, does a disservice to my history students, if only because, so on the campus of the university of
texas, there used to be these confederate statues. since the confederate statues were up, there are statues to martin luther king, there is a statue to barbara jordan, a black congresswoman from houston, there's a statue to cesar chavez, and if these statues were all still there with the dates, then you could walk around and you could see what the administration of the university of texas valued at different times in history. but now, you go around, and you know, i like to make, i'm teaching history to my students and i think they do, but we learn a lot about history from our environment. and if the environment says there never was a civil war, there never was slavery, slavery never existed, you know, the fact that you can see jefferson davis honored in the 1920s, and then barbara jordan, the great granddaughter of slaves, honored in the 1990s, that says something about the history of the state of texas.
so that's my long-winded answer it a short question. another question? yes? >> what is the response to this idea that these statues, you mentioned 29, this is a time of jim crow, and this was, and they were put in public stations to make the statement to the black population, we're in charge, and those statues should be preserved, but moved from the public domain into museums, that preserve them appropriately there. what's your response to that? >> so jefferson davis, in fact, there's a separate argument as to the artistic merit of these statues and these particular statues included some that were by a very distinguished sculptor who did a lot of stuff in texas. and so it would be, it would have been an artistic shame, almost an artistic crime to have
them melted down. so jefferson davis was moved into a museum on campus. and there's something to be said for that, there are two things to be said against it. one is that my students, i'm not going to say, i'm going to say, they avoid museums like the plague. they will never see that statue. otherwise, they had to walk past jefferson davis every day. the second thing, this is maybe a minor point. but statues are designed, you know, the statues that go up on pedestals, they're designed to be seen on a pedestal. i'll give you one example. so my older son who now is a distinguished professor, he used to be a little kid and when he was a little kid there was a moment when texas, i live in austin, and the state of texas was refurbishing the capitol and on top of the capitol is this sort of, it's not quite winged victory, it's the goddess of liberty, and this white statue that is i don't know 14 feet tall or something like this, and it's designed to be viewed from,
well, the top of the capitol and you're down below. but it was a day when they were going to take the statue down, and they were going to get one of those wig double duty rotor helicopters and a big deal to lift it up and hall was four years old and i took him in the stroller and off we went. and the helicopter put the cables over the statue and tugging away and the rotor was going, and the statue was stuck and they have to go like this. and everybody is saying is this actually going to happen and finally they yank it through and they bring it around and fly it around a little bit and doing it very dramatically and then they lower it down on to the grass of the capitol grounds. and so i was able to make use of my little kid and say little kid here, can we get in the crowd so we can see, it he's short. worked our way to the front. and hal takes one look at this statue, and bursts into tears. because i don't know, are there
any lilotta fans in the house? so there is this song, i think the song is "she's hot to go" or something like this and sees this woman from hine, and boy she's hot to go, and ready and so on and goes on and on and at the end of the song he comes around and this probably wouldn't pass must ner this day and age, but he comes and and says but she was ugly from the front. actually, no. and then there is this female voice that comes in and says well you ugly, too. and that is hardly one to cast stones. butti but anyway, when the point is, when hal saw this statue, it was ugly. why was it ugly? it was designed to be seen at 400 feet at an angle of 45 degrees. it is like stage makeup. if you ever go up close. you know, it is supposed to be seen from the last row of the theater. so these statue, i've been in to
see jefferson davis in the museum and he's ugly from the front. but the larger reason is that you take them sort of out of their native environment, and it's sort of solves the problem, but not really. because you said, you said very aptly and there is quite true, that it was created to say we are in favor of segregation of the races, but i want my students to know that there was a time when the university they attended was run by people in their section of the country that was in favor of segregation, because it, you know, if you believe in progress, you have to know what you're progressing from, and there's no historical memory to again switch to judge, and -- on which to judge and otherwise the fact that martin luther king has a statue on the u.t. campus, big deal. that t-is a big deal. because that statue would not be placed there 60 years before. so my suggestion of putting the time stamp. it was reject and the statues
went down. yes? >> actually, i'm sorry, i need to get somebody else. we can follow up maybe later. yes, sir? >> you were talking about how it started in the house of representatives and the senate, and john c. calhoun became vice president, did that affect the relationship when he was vice president and then when he got back into the senate? >> oh, in fact they did. you're up on the story. so each one eventually went into the executive branch. and john calhoun was one who was kind of the sneakiest one in the sense of succeeding where henry clay was the one who came closest to being president. here we are in a presidential library sponsored by a presidential study center. trivia. no it's not trivia. it is an important question for you. there have been two people in american history who are three time losers for their party, as nominees of their party in races for president. and one was henry clay. who lost in 1824, and 1832, and
1844. who is the only other three-time loser in american history and i don't get to count harold staffen who is a 16-time loser. >> william jennings bryan. >> there you go. and there is actually important in this. this is no longer the case, but any baseball fans in the audience? there was at one time a phenomenon of, it actually did happen, you know, being a 20-game winner, used to be the standard of excellence. but what was really strange was, occasionally there were 20 game losers. now, you might think, how do you get to be a 20-game loser. well, you have to be good enough to be in the regular rotation. you have to be bad enough to lose 20 games. or at least play for a lousy team. so that is sort of a count for clay's three-time losses. but john calhoun managed to be vice president of the united states, he was one of five people running for president in
1824, five people running, yes, because the first party system, it had broken down, and the second party system of democrats and, i'm sorry, a federalists and republicans broken down and the second party of republicans and democrats hadn't originated, hadn't emerged so groups could nominate whoever they want and there were five people running, john calhoun realized he wasn't going to make the final, so he dropped out, but let it be known that he would be delighted for number two slot, and so he managed to leverage that into the support of both, he got the support of andrew jackson and john quincy adams. and they all agreed he was going to be vice president. and so he became vice president under john quincy adams. he wanted to run again in 1828, but 1824 is when jackson was the plurality winner of the electoral vote and the popular vote but didn't win, when the race went to the house of representatives. but calhoun is thinking, okay, i'm number two and you never know, the president might die,
or this might be a launching pad to something, so he manages to finagle his way on to the ticket of both john quincy adams and andrew jackson, when there is a re-run in 1828. so it's the only case in american history where a vice president under a president of one party becomes the vice president immediately of the president of the other party. but it gets complicated. because meanwhile, behind the scenes, calhoun is conspiring in the undermining of federal authority. and so as vice president, calhoun is secretly urging those south carolinians who want to secede from the union and jackson is doing everything he can to keep south carolina from seceding from the union and the climax of the tension occurs when it is on a jefferson day event, in april, jeffersonian,
about to be called democrats, they met every year, i think they gave it up a while back because it eventually became jefferson jackson day dinners and both jefferson and especially jackson become at least mildly toxic to most democrats. so i don't think they do it. do you know if they do jefferson jackson day dinners? washington's birthday. okay. so at the jefferson day's dinner when the crisis over south carolina is developing, they all, the democrats, we'll call them the democrat, they all get together and they toast thomas jefferson and the principles on which the union is based and these toasts indicate their position on various events of the day. so those people who support south carolina, they endorse jefferson, kentucky resolve. now we're getting into a little bit in the weeds. it's in the book. whereverson in 1798, argues in
favor of the rifts states to determine the constitutionality of federal law. it was the response of the alien sedition act of 1790 which were an egregious violation of the first amendment but the supreme court hadn't yet declared the principle that we get to determine constitutionality. so jefferson and james madison did the same thing for virginia, they say states get to be the ones to do this. and this is exactly what calhoun was claiming for south carolina. the right for south carolina to declare on the constitutionality of a law. in this case, the tariff of 1828. so some of the toasts are in favor of the kentucky resolution. and this is sort of an indirect support for calhoun. but the climax of the night comes when the president of the united states, andrew jackson, is going to speak, because there are these scheduled toasts, and then there are the unscheduled toasts, and the president didn't always attend this event, but
jackson did on that night. and he was, he made very clear, that he was not going to let the union be broken up. and so when jackson stands up, as president, he's the first one in the unscheduled toast, so everybody looks at jackson, what's he going to say and jackson by this time is showing his age, and he's not in good health, and he never was a public speaker, and so he didn't speak loudly, he didn't speak forcefully, he was no match for clay or webster or even calhoun, but he stands up and the audience is bigger than this, it's in a hotel in washington, and everybody is absolutely silent. to see what andrew jackson is going to say. and jackson holds up his glass and says, and while staring exactly at john calhoun, he says, our federal union, it must be preserved. so calhoun is up next. and he's the vice president, and
he's got to answer jackson. he sort of has to answer to jackson as well. so calhoun is trying to think on the fly, because jackson hadn't said what he was going to say, and he had a chance to prepare in advance, but calhoun has to figure it out on the spot, and everybody's looking at him, he really is on the spot, so he's thinking about it for a little bit, and he says, he raises his glass and he says, the union, and for a moment everybody thinks my gosh he is capitulating, andrew jackson carried the day but he repeat, the unioner, next to our liberty, most dear. >> well, that's quite a qualification. it is at that point that jackson decides that calhoun has to go. now, it's complicated by a story that is almost absurd when i relate it, even to you, but basically, the wives of the
members of jackson's cabinet could not get along. this, because one woman, peggy margaret eaton, was, i don't know how to say this without sounding kind of catty, but she was prettier than the other members, the other wives of the cabinet. she also grew up in an inn, and she didn't have a mother, so she was, her father ran the inn, the hotel, and she grew up there, and she was kind of flirtatious, she got better tips if she flirted, and so she was seen as this woman of loose morals. and because she had loose morals, and then she subsequently married a guy who became a member of jackson's cabinet, then the other wives of the cabinet members refused to attend her dinners, refused to be at receptions with her, and
the ring leader of this opposition to peggy was marida calhoun, john calhoun's wife. and this was, this was the start of why andrew jackson never forgave john calhoun. you might think it was a matter of high policy, and eventually it was, but it started because, well, as jackson saw it, that calhoun could not control his wife, and his wife, and therefore, through his wife, calhoun himself, was casting aspersions on peggy. now this requires to tell a little bit about jackson's fernl sto , personal story with women. his mother died rescuing him from a prisoner of war camp in the revolutionary war. and jackson believed that his mother was a saint. and then his wife died, because she had been slandered during the campaign of 1828, and under
the strain of all of this criticism, she had a physical breakdown that ended in her death. so as a result of this, jackson could not stand the idea that defenseless women would be defamed, and if jackson had been alive today, he would have said, i believe the woman, and this was jackson's view, and when peggy eaton said she was blameless, and john eaton who is jackson's personal friend, says my wife is blameless, and jackson says i believe you, and all of these women who say she's not can't be part of the administration, but jackson wasn't a zar and couldn't fire everybody, eventually he did but couldn't fire everybody at once and the cabinet was paralyzed and you might think, my gosh, the business of the united states, can't go forward, because there is this fight among the women. it was called the petticoat war.
and i should probably draw to a conclusion here. but i'll just say that andrew jackson is one of the major subsidiary character, and jackson's attitude, he didn't have much in particular against daniel webster, but jackson was asked on his death bed, he was dying in 1845, he was asked what he would do differently, could he live again, and he said, if i could live again, i would paint john calhoun and shoot henry clay. we'll leave it at that. i have one more thing to mention. you're about to hear from the, you're about to hear from a group that is going to honor ralph, and i want to say a word about ralph, what he has meant to me, and mostly through the hamilltine center, and i was
privileged as was mentioned to be able to meet rafael, this was now, what, 15 years ago, thereabouts, and i really didn't know anything about ralph. i'm not from michigan. but i came to learn about his fascinating and important career. and i was particularly interested in what ralph had to say about his commander during world war ii, about dwight eisenhower. because i, in my first book, was about dwight eisenhower, and i spent a lot of time studying eisenhower, at the eisenhower library, reading everything i could read about dwight eisenhower, and trying to sort of recreate the man from the paper trail that was left behind. and at the time i was writing, there weren't very many people left, who had known eisenhower. so i didn't really get a chance to talk to people who knew him. and for the historians, that can be absolutely crucial. there are times when it is utterly impossible. when i wrote about beng mijamin
franklin, nobody was alive who knew benjamin franklin so you do what you can. but when i met ralph, he could tell me what kind of commander eisenhower was and i heard it from other people but this was someone i could ask questions of and to fill in the personal human detail that often falls between the cracks, was immensely valuable to me. actually, i wish i had known him when i was writing the book about eisenhower. but he was wonderful to talk to. he was very approachable. and you'll hear more i think about his career, but i would just say that for all of the good work that he did while he was alive, his good work continued in the funds at the howen stein center. and i had a chance to know him during the last years of his life but i can say that i had been a great ben fish riff the great work he has done for
michigan, but grand valley state and the howenstein center and anybody who is interested in world war ii and about dwight eisenhower. you will hear more but that's my two cents. thank you very much. you've been a wonderful audience. [ applause ] weeknights this month on american history tv, we're featuring the contenders, our series that looks at 14 ples presidential candidates who lost the election but had a lasting effect on u.s. politics, we feature former speak of the house, james blaine of maine and served as secretary of state for three american presidents and the republican nominee for president in 1884. watch tonight. beginning at 8:00 eastern. enjoy american history tv. this week and every weekend, on c-span 3.
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podcasts. the competition is on. be a part of this year's c-span student cam video competition. middle and high school students, be the start of the national conversation, by making a five to six minute documentary. exploring the issue you want the president and congress to address address 2021. be bold with your documentary. show supporting and opposing point of views and include c-span video. be a winner. there is $100,000 in total cash prizes including a grand prize of $5,000. the dead lin to submit videos is january 20, 2021. there are tips and more information how to get started on our web site, student cam.org. up next on lectures in history, arizona state university professor jonathan