tv Henry Clay John C. Calhoun Daniel Webster CSPAN October 6, 2020 4:55pm-6:18pm EDT
you today by your television provider. discusses 19th censure political figures henry clay, john calhoun, and daniel webster. he explains why they were critical to american politics between the war of 1812 and the compromise of 1850. he is a history professor at the university of texas in usa b. the gerald r. ford foundation, and the howenstein center at grand valley state university. it's about 90 minutes. >> now, tonight, as i said, partnering with the hollenstein center, as as you know, they have a distingished record for bringing in diverse and informative speakers. tonight's program is no exception, and if you haven't
heard bill brands before, you'll be delighted. if you have come in the past, as i know many of you have, you're in for another treat. so please join me in welcoming my colleague, greaves whitney to introduce our speaker. [ applause ] >> well, thank you very much, elaine, for that warm introduction and praise of the howenstein center. we really treasure our partnership with the ford. it's always a treat. we will continue to brick you excellent programs that stimulate the heart and mind. happy washington's birthday to our c-span audience and also to the audience here at the ford. 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 grant valley state university. [ laughter ] now, i've probably personally introduced you, bill, more than a dozen times. and each time i go back and check his biography i learn something new. and i wanted to share some of those new things with you tonight. you've probably heard me say that bill's formal name is h.w. brands. but did you know that the h.w. stands for history wizz kid? you've heard me say that bill earned his masters and ph.d. in history, but did you also know he 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. so 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 they've been translated into french, german, russian, 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. you go back and look at jackson, grant, wilson, fdr, ike and reagan. but did you know that he's also dined with the presidents in the white house? you've heard me say that bill met long-lived ralph howenstein back in 2004 at one of our events, 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 when he was a child. [ laughter ] 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 hop kins? finally, you heard me say that bill has an enthusiastic fan base around the united states and around the world because of all the translations. it's no surprise, because many of his books end up being pulitzer prize finalists. did you know his most die hard fans are right here in west michigan. ladies and gentlemen, bill brands. [ applause ] >> thank you for that very kind of introduction. you taught me some stuff i didn't know about myself. you mentioned my son, hal, who is a historian, and some of you in the audience perhaps can
appreciate that there's nothing more gratifying for a parent who goes into a field to, well, initially hal got a little bit of boost from sometimes being confused with me, because he was doing into the field. now i get a boost from being confused with him. and i'll get questions from reporte er reporters, and i say you got me confused with my son. but it's a delight to be back. i see many friends from frooef use years. i'm -- from previous years. and i especially like the fact that this is an audience where i can try out ideas -- where i can tell you about new stuff. to some extent you owe this to gleaves, because 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 before it's finished.
i just finished proofreading the galleys of the book. so the book has been set in type. and it's reached the point where i really can't make any changes in it. one of the reasons i like to teach history, i teach history to 500 freshman every semester. and it 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 know anything about it, and i certainly don't mean to disrespect my -- 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. but i have a whole lot of international students, and i have to explain the civil war in 40 minutes. you really have to zero in on
what the big questions are. i like the chance to work through these projects in explaining them to people who aren't specialists in the subject. this is why i insist on teaching introductory students, and i like speaking to groups like you. most of you are not professional historians. so if i can make something understandable to you, maybe it can make it understandable to my readers. but i reached the stage with this particular book, because 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 brilliant insight that i could have used in the book, you will see a grimace pass across my pace. oh, dang, i could have used that. i will try not to be insightful tonight. [ laughter ] 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 i'm -- that's going to be published in november, makes a wonderful holiday gift for all your friends who are interested in history, and even the ones that don't know they're interested in history yet. book 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 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 remembered not so much for his presidency, but he wrote the declaration of independence. then you jump forward to andrew jackson. we'll remember him and 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 about, wait a minute, when was franklin pierce president? millard filmore, was it zachary taylor? there's a reason for this, and the reason is, 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 ii of the constitution. article i, the most substantive, the longest article, is about
congress. and the framers of the constitution assumed and intended that american politics, american -- the american republic 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 policies. they were not expected to be the center piece of american politics. that's what was fully expected and 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 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. and 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 add mitt, my continuing recovery from writing biographies. some of you who have been here more than once will know that for a while, i was -- i had this long-term project of writing theis try -- writing the histor the united states in volumes. and the six volumes begang with benjamin franklin, then jackson, grant, roosevelt and reagan. if you read those biographies, they link together to form a history of the united states. and i started off thinking this was going to be a great idea. i still think it was a pretty
good idea and 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, there are certain things that are hard to tell. there are certain stories important but hard to tell. i didn't intend to write primarily about presidents, but i eventually did, because if you're trying to tell the story of the united states, the president is a very convenient character to hang your story on. but there's a lot going on that presidents don't -- if the president is your focus that you can't really get at. some of it has to do with sort of the give and take, the thrust and perry of what goes on at the other end of pennsylvania avenue. when you write a president or 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 evolve around any one person. so i thought let's broaden things out. when i was here last year, some of you who were here heard me speak about my sort of first foreray into this direction. the book is called "the general versus the president" about truman and macarthur and the fight they got in. this time i decided to expand it more. one of the nice things about writing about two people is, you can give sort of 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 both, and they had this titanic battle. and by allowing myself both characters and bringing both characters up, i can tell this story and do justice to both sides. so this time i decided if two is better than one, then three is better than two.
but there's another reason for this, and that is that these three men during their lifetime, were often called the great -- of american politics. the term was not always intended complimentary. in rome, members were trying to subvert the republic. so in fact this was the intention of being called that. so also because, 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 more interesting when you add the third, because there are all sorts of complications that ensued. and that's exactly what i was looking for. in fact, that's exactly the way it turned out in these guys' lives. from the stand point of me as
the author, they were very thoughtful in the timing of their lives. so i'll tell you a little about them, because i realized my three characters, although household names during their lifetime, more famous than most of the presidents of their lifetimes, they're not household characters these days. the three men are henry clay, john calhoun and daniel webster. they all begin in the house of representatives. henry clay accomplished a feat never accomplished before and they have repeated. he became speaker of the house 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 that he
would have better prospects as a lawyer by moving west to kentucky, which had originally been the western province of virginia. and he set up shop in lexington, and he went into politics at a fairly young age. this also is 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 and senators. one of the main reasons that people went west was the professions they were interested in were crowded in the east. 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 carolinians did that in those days. in the early 1800s and the 1790s and early 1800s, it wasn't out of the question. it wasn't that unusual for a southerner to go north for education. but they really stayed north. usually they came back home. south carolinians are very proud of their south carolina roots, and calhoun was one. calhoun began by being a lawyer. so the connection between law and politics was well established in those days. and calhoun decided to go into politics. he married well, which usually meant you married somebody with 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, his ability to make forceful arguments. he was a strong partisan. 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 that we have until today. so henry clay was a republican. john calhoun was a republican. the third member of my trio is 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, very powerful speakers. very persuasive speakers. one of the things that drew me to write about them was that 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. but one of the things i tell my writing students is, there are sort of styles of language. there are ways of writing, depending on who you're writing for and what you're trying to accomplish. when i chose to write about the three guys, i knew tifs going to be transported back to a time when political rhetoric was really important. now, this because, to put it
bluntly, there wasn't a lot else going on at the time. 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. this was the big deal in american political life in the summer of 1858. now, how many of you have read any of the debates? okay, a few. and those of you will know that boy, it's a tough slog. because they would get up and speak for -- one of them, if douglas went first, he would speak for an hour. lincoln would respond for hour and a half and douglas would get 30 minutes to finish up. it was like going to a double feature of the movies. well, back in the 1930s when people went to double features, nothing else to do. same thing was true with political debate.
although the lincoln/douglas debates, they get kind tedious. you read all seven of them. you know why? they repeated themselves. from one to the next. why did they repeat themselves? because they weren't recorded. the audience hadn't heard it before. so it was new. by the time you got to the seventh debate, you could really have this down. this is one of the reasons i was intrigued by my three characters. this is a time when political speech mattered. i don't know if any of you -- well we're on c-span. you're all fans of c-span. i'm sure you're glued to the cameras when c-span is covering congress. you'll know that you can turn on c-span most of the time during the week and you can see people giving speeches in congress. now, i'm probably not giving away any state secrets to tell you that if they pan the camera, you'd realize nobody is in there, they're speaking simply to the camera because we live in
a time when american political institutions have sufficiently matured, one could say they've grown so rigid, they've evolved in a way so that political decisions are not made on the basis of decisions given in the senate or the house of representatives. political decisions are made for other reasons, sometimes because of effect of lobbyists, but they're not made there in the house and in the senate. on the basis of who said what. we live in a very mature, again, maybe ossified system. but in the days of henry clay and john calhoun and daniel webster, this was not so. we had immature institutions and when institutions are immature, then the role for individuals is much greater. and when henry clay gave a speech, he really did change minds.
when henry clay would debate john calhoun and then daniel webster would rebut the both of them, people listened and they listened carefully. as a sideline, the speakers would write out their remarks after they had given them and put them into print and tell 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 american industry needed to be protected from foreign manufacturers and then you listened to daniel webster oppose it, one of the striking things to me is how sophisticated these arguments were. in fact, i probably would 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 have been used by advocates of free trade, which has been used since 1945. i'm going to digress a little bit to say that 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. now, most people want a time machine to go to the future to find out what the future is going to be. that doesn't work. even if we had such a thing, they're contradiction of terms. if you could go into the future and see the future, you come back and change this moment, 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 a very acute issue at a particular moment. i've introduced my character, 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. daniel webster from the north. originally from new hampshire. when he was trying to expand his law practice, he moved to boston. so 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. henry clay is from kentucky. kentucky was considered the west at the time. so we've got this regional arrangement among the three. and because, i said, these threesomes 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 said, these guys, the three of them were more influential than all but a couple of three of the presidents of the united states. but there is something about ambition that says, it's great to be one of, well, so there 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. all three of them are trying to figure out how can i become president? part of is personal ambition, part of it is representation of
their particular section. so john calhoun eventually becomes the spokesman among all spokes men of the south and be daniel webster is the spokesman and he's trying to bridge the gap. these are my characters. my story unfolds between the war of 1812 which is how i begin the story and the compromise of 1850, the war of 112, believe it or not begins in 1812. two of my figures are in favor of the war. they're called warhawks. it was a relatively new term then. henry clay is beating the drum for war. the united states is going to confirm its independence by going to war against britain. they believe that it is necessary for american pride, american sense of self-worth to take on the british and confirm american independence.
daniel webster is very skeptical of this project. webster believes that henry clay just wants to conquer canada, get more land in the west and john calhoun is part of this conspiracy to boost the fortunes of his political party, the republican party. webster is a spokesmen of new england. but also the wig party. sorry of the federalist party at first. the federalist party is the party that, well, this is where things get complicated. it's one thing we talk about. one of the things that attracts me to history, the study of history is the fact that history is like an onion. you peel it and you think you
see the -- 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. webster is a spokesman of new england which has close commercial ties with britain. 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 secession of new england from the union. now, we think of secession as something that the south did in 1861, 1860-'61 that brought 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 to the states to the rest of the country? this was something in flux from the beginning. now, the fundamental question
that gives rise to the civil war, oh, one thing i should say is, when i'm writing my story i try to forget that i know what's coming. [ laughter ] 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 -- well, 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 think of the south leaving the union. and if most of you perhaps, i'm guessing most of you are from michigan. out of curiosity, do i have any southerners in the audience? okay, we got 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 secession was a really bad idea. now, i've been living in texas for 35 years and most texans even today, they acknowledge secession wasn't such a good idea. i might overstate this. i don't want to speak for you. growing up in texas. but the fact of the matter is, we associate this with something that texas -- excuse me, the south did. but the first part of the country to seriously talk about secession was new england. and it wasn't over slavery.
it was about war policies. and the fact that the war against britain was destroying new england's trade. new england lived by trade. you can't farm very well in new england. you can fish and engage in trade. in new england, they traded a lot with britain. the vote in favor of the war of 1812 didn't include new england's votes. 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. so daniel webster, who had a very keen legal mind, started making the argument for secession. new england secession. now, after andrew jackson miraculously won the battle of new orleans, webster would rethink and start to back pedal
really quickly. but one of my broader themes is that this question of is secession legitimate. can the states interfere with the enforcement of federal law? again, this is going depend on the south in the 1860s. and this is the justification for abraham lincoln and the union fighting against southern secession. 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 policies, but over a tax. a tariff. and 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 four words, what was the slogan? see that's not a bad one.
no taxation without representation. the american revolution was all about taxes. people took taxes seriously in those days. 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 secession based on this theory of state's rights and the question, the underlying question here is, and it's a question that's 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. 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? you know why? everybody at the constitution convention knew this could be a difficult issue, this could be a problem. but they remained silent. you know why? by the way, why do politicians remain silent? politicians are not a silent group. why do they remain silent? because they needed to get it done. they knew if they wrote in that you know what there's an escape clause here, well, that would ruin the whole project because the whole project creating a stronger government. if they said you can't believe,
leave they'd have to stay assigned. they deliberately fudged this and left it to my group. my three guys and their generation. the title of my book is going to be errors of the founders. the people who inherited this project. so 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 state. the second issue which is going to be the one that dominates discussions is the other fundamental flaw with the constitution. a lot of people like to revere the constitution. it's a step forward from the articles of confederation. the framers of the constitution knew there were two huge basically pregnant silences in the constitution. one is a question of when a conflict arises between the state and the feds, who wins? they deliberately left that silent.
they knew whatever they said it would screw up their project. the second one is, how does slavery exist in a republic? a republic is based on the will of the people. political power is supposed to emanate from the people and the government is supposed to represent the people. how can this co-exist with a system of labor mobilization that says that 4 million people by the time of the civil war, are not even people at all, they're not citizens. they're not represented. the framers knew that this was a fundamental problem. why didn't they deal with it and get rid of it? again, because they wouldn't have gotten their constitution in 1789 if they answered this. so what did they do? well, they basically took the position that benjamin franklin articulated when he came out of the constitution convention and said this is not a perfect constitution. but it's the best we can do under the circumstances and we will leave it to our heirs to fix the problem. they've come a long way since 1776 to get to 1787. they knew that they hadn't
finished it and there was work to be done. the work was done by my guys. 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 accomplishments do. these are strong willed people. and my story progresses through from the war of 1812 through the crisis of 1833 to it culminates with the compromise of 1850. the compromise of 1850, it's called the compromise because, well, people on both sides, north and south had to compromise their issues to come to some kind of agreement that wouldn't blow up the union in 1850.
this gets at the what i'll call the underlying moral question of this whole story and one of the reasons that this story continues to have resonance leaving aside political aspects of it. but the question is this. it's a question that's most clearly personified by henry clay. henry clay is somebody 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 have i said? 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 he believed it would be worse than the 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 slay had to make this decision. 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 down right evil, what do you do? do you sort of throw up my hand and say i have no responsibility for this and -- not if you believe there's a role for statesmen? henry clay believed it should disappear. he fundamentally disagreed with abolitionists who said slavery has to end now. clay national guard that if the abolitionists had their way. if congress voted 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, it wasn't as dangerous to personal liberty and to -- for the welfare of humanity as the destruction of the union.
for henry clay almost any compromise was acceptable to hold the unions together. 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. if we have to compromise with the slave holders for a while longer, we will do that. maybe i'm not going to give much away when i say that henry clay was the model of what abraham lincoln wanted to become. 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. a big package deal. all sorts of issues were tied up and henry clay believed that 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 died. the three of them die within 18 months, between 1850 and 1852. i'm not going to say if they lived things had been different. but in fact, henry clay's hope for the union was dashed on the rocks of the election of abraham lincoln and the secession of the south beyond that and 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 that. but i'm working on a sequel. it's going to carry it up to the civil war.
i'm going to leave you all hanging at the end of the book. what's going to happen next? guess what? i want time for questions. you're going to ask a question. i will repeat the question so everybody in the audience can hear. right here, sir. >> you're leaving out the third branch of government. john marshall. what's the relationship? >> i'm glad you asked the question. the question is what about the third branch of government. you mentioned john marshall. other people call it the judicial branch. in this time period, john marshall is the judicial branch. this is an important part of my story. i devote a chapter to john marshall and webster. john marshall was chief justice of the united states from 1801 to 1835. he essentially created the supreme court. he created the idea that the supreme court should stand in review of the actions of the legislative and executive branch.
the judicial branch is the one that gets to say yep, no, yes constitutional, unconstitutional. he created basically the supreme court we have today. he did it, i'm not going to say out of whole cloth, but it could have shocked and surprised the framers of the constitution that, what, the courts get 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, his co-conspirator daniel webster. webster was the most celebrated and amply compensated constitutional lawyer of his day. of the in fact, webster on some days, he would in the morning he would go and argue a case before the supreme court and then in the afternoon he would go give a speech in the senate.
so the story of webster and marshall and the creation of what you call sort of modern judicial nationalism, the idea is that the constitution is really as strong as it's going to become goes to marshall and daniel webster. and it also demonstrates webster at his oratoriccal finest. i have webster arguing one of the -- argued a whole bunch of important cases. one was the dartmouth college versus woodward case in which webster was an alum of dartmouth college. webster was basically a hired gun to argue before the supreme court because he was a powerful speaker and he would follow the case fairly casually and he would come and speak for four hours and mesmerize the audience and the court and would sometimes freeze the justices. in the case of dartmouth college, his speech was so
poignant that there was a yale law professor who went to watch because he knew that webster was this very powerful speaker, but he also knew that john marshall wasn't a pushover for anybody. he heard that webster sometimes tried to play on the emotions of his audience. he thought, boy, this isn't going to work with john marshall. he goes down and he watches. he just -- he's mesmerized. he sees that the members of the court are mesmerized, as well. when it comes to the end and webster says it is a small college, but there are those who love it. speaking of dartmouth college. he arks that they've been beaten up, taken advantage of by the state of new hampshire. at the end when webster has concluded, this skeptical yale law professor looks and sees to his amazement that john marshall is weeping. that daniel webster had that effect on people. so it is an important -- it's a
large part of my story. somebody else had a question. yes, sir. >> i just wonder what your thoughts would be -- do you think as a society we would be where we are today without -- in -- without the civil war, in other words, the country was eli whitney, the cotton gin, becoming more industrialized, the cotton gin would ease the picking of cotton and the -- in the south, bigger cities like detroit and so on. if we didn't have the civil war, you probably wouldn't have the 13th amendment which freed the slaves. do you think as a society we would be more or less where we are today without the civil war? >> yes. i think we would be farther along. i'll give you my reasoning. obviously, i can't prove it. i'm going to argue a counter fact. 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, hoped that slavery 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 were still slaves in new york as late as the 1830s. so it was a phased kind of emancipation, which is 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 you're emancipated. you get thrown out of your house, what can you do? anyway, henry clay believed that the north had emancipated its slaves not out of a 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 that they couldn't figure out how to run the southern economy without it. many northerners took the same view. they figured out how to run the northern economy without it so focus on the evil part of it. but washington, jefferson, henry clay, all hoped that slavery would become anacranistic over time. this is what he said after the compromise of 1850, he was the author of the missouri compromise, that resolved the issue of slavery in the western territories and held for over 30 years. he said if this compromise holds for 30 years, then we will have resolved the problem. because he saw the industrial
revolution coming. 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. most countries thought no big deal. they thought this was the way the world works. in 1900 essentially no country in the world allowed legal slavery. 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. 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 free slaves or for pennsylvania, and so it wouldn't have for south carolina or any 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 about being told what to do in race relations. but if southerners had been allowed the time to conclude on their own that slavery was a bad deal, then they would have an incentive to invest in the education of the former slaves.
so i'm not trying to guarantee that would happen, but there is an alternative scenario. this is what henry clay was aiming for. by the 1850s, it's exact -- he died in 1850. this is what john calhoun was hoping would not happen. 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 brown. it's going to be a twosome instead of a threesome. in the back, sir. >> i'm wondering if you would comment on the intent of the current administration that yale to remove the name of john c. calhoun from one of their institutions. i don't know if it's a building or a school or something. >> okay. i'll broaden that. the question is, what about the campaign at yale university to
eliminate john calhoun's name from a building or a college. i don't know how far along that road they are. anyway, calhoun attended yale. so he was at one time, he was . calhoun attended yale. at one time, he was just the -- considered a distinguished alumnus of yale college. and these days, of course, john calhoun is seen as the arch apologized for slavery. i will just tell you that my general view of erasing names from buildings, taking down statues, is to be very skeptical of this. i will tell you why i'm skeptical. and i teach at the university of texas. 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, was it 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. 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 confederate heroes, tomorrow it's going to be thomas jefferson and then george washington and how is that gonna work? if the capital of the united states is named for a slave holder. if we try to impose the standards of the present on the past, then there is no end. and very often i'm going to say that in the thinking of those people who 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's that on another score. and then i would despair of putting up statues to anybody for anything. because however a model citizen they might be today, i can
guarantee you that the people who did or john calhoun, john calhoun is still one of south carolina's two statues in the capital. they are not trying to poke a finger in the eye of everybody else and they are not a bunch of white racists, but john calhoun was an important figure in the history of united states. i have this modest proposal, that i actually propose to the president of my university. i said don't take down the statues, just make a very modest change to each statue. go around each statue and put a small black maybe about this big that simply has the year in which the statute was erected. i thought do this and all of a sudden i have this outdoor history lesson. people can walk around and they can see that the statue that was put up to jefferson davis on the utah 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. that is two things. one, it tells us when it went up and the mindset of those who put it up. but it also absolves the president of the responsibility for these things that went up 100 years ago. sort of this is the justification for taking down all of this stuff and 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, gayle or the university of texas wouldn't erect a statue to jefferson davis or name a college for john calhoun today. but to somehow pretend that it never did, i think it does a disservice to my history students. on the campus of the university of texas, there used to be these confederate statues. well since the confederate statues went up, there are statues to martin luther king.
there is a statute to barbara jordan, a black congresswoman from houston. there's a statute to cesar chavez. if the statues were all still there with the dates, then you could walk around and see what the administration of the university of texas valued at different times in history. but now you go around i ... i like to think i'm teaching history to my students, but we learned a lot about history from our environment. if the environment says there never was a civil war. slavery never existed. the fact that you could see jefferson davis honored in the 1920s and then barbara jordan, the great granddaughter of slaves who argued in the 1990s, that says something about the history of the state of texas. so that's my long-winded answer to a short question. other questions? yes!
>> what is your response to this idea that these statues, you mentioned 29, this is a time of jim crow. they were putting public stations to make the statement to the black population, we are in charge. and those statues should be preserved, but moved from the public building into a museum and preserve them appropriately there. what is your response? >> so ... there is a separate argument as to the artistic merit of the statues. the statues included some that were by a very distinguished sculptor who did a lot of stuff in texas. and so it would've been an artistic shame to simply melted down. so jefferson davis was moved into a museum on campus. there is something to be said for that.
but there are two things to be said against it. one is that my students, they avoided museums like the plague. they will never see that statue. otherwise they had to walk past jefferson davis every day. the second thing is, this is maybe a minor point, but statues are designed, you know the statues that are designed to go up on pedestals, they're designed to be seen on pedestals. i will give you an example. my older son is now 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 capital. on top of the capital is this goddess of liberty, sort of waned victory. so there's the statue that's 14 feet tall or something like that and it's designed to be viewed from the top of the capital and you are 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 big heavy duty double
rotor helicopters. it was a big deal, they announced they were going to take it off. my kid was about four years old and we went. we watched as the helicopter took off. they put the cables over the statue and they are tugging away and the rotors are making noise and the statue stuck. everybody is wondering if this is going to happen or not. so they finally yank it free and bring it along and flight around a little bit dramatically, and then they lower away it onto the grass of the capital grounds. i was able to make use a model kid and say, my kid wants to get to the front to see it. he said sure. we work our way to the front and how takes one look at this statue and bursts into tears. are there any lyle love it fans in the house? so a love it has this song, i think the song is called she's
hard to go or something like that. he sees this woman from behind and he says, she sought to go and ready and so on. but then at the end of the song he comes around and, this probably would not pass the stay in age, and he says but she was ugly from the front. there is this female voice that comes in and turns to him and says well you're ugly too. but anyway, the point was that when hal saw this statute, it was ugly. why was it ugly? because it was designed to be seen from 400 feet away at an angle of declaration of 45 degrees. it's like stage makeup if you ever go a close. it's supposed to be seen from the last year of the theater. the statues, i've seen to -- then up to see jefferson davis and the museum and he's ugly from the front. but the larger reason is that you take them out of their
native environment and it's sort of solves the problem, but not really. he said very aptly, and this 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. if you believe in progress, you have to know what you are progressing from. and there's no historical memory against which to judge, otherwise the fact that martin luther king has a statue on the uk campus. it's a big deal. that statute would not have been placed there 60 years before. that's why my little suggestion of putting these time stamp, it was rejected and the statute went down. yes? actually, i'm sorry. we can follow up maybe later. yes, sir.
>> (inaudible) >> so each one eventually went into the executive branch. and john calhoun was one who was kind of this new just one in the sense of succeeding. henry clay was the one who came closest to being president. here we are in an event, a presidential library sponsored by presidential studies center. it's an important question for you. there have been to people in american history who are three time losers for their party as nominees of their party in races for president. one was henry clay, who lost in 1824, 1832 and 1844. who is the only other three time loser in american history? i don't get to count harold
hassan who is a 16-time loser. >> william jennings brian. >> yes. are there any baseball fans in the audience? there was at one time a phenomenon of, this actually did happen, being a 20 game winner used to be the standard of excellence. what was really strange was there was occasionally 20 game losers. 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 and you have to be bad enough to lose 20 games, or at least play for a lousy team. so that sort of accounts 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 had broken down and the second party system of
democrats -- a federalist and republicans broken down, and the second party of democratic and which had not emerged. so there's five people running. john tell whom realized he wasn't done to make the finals. so he dropped out, but let it be known that he would be delighted for a number two slot. so he managed to leverage that into the support of andrew jackson and john quincy adams. they all agreed that he was going to be vice president. so he became vice president under john quincy adams. he wanted to run again in 1828. 1824 was when jackson was the plurality winner of the electoral vote and the popular vote, but did not win win the race went to the house of representatives. calhoun is thinking i'm number two, you never know, the president might die. this might be the launching pad to something. so he managed to finagle his way onto the ticket of both
john quincy adams and andrew jackson when there is a re-run in 1828. it's the only case in american history where a vice president under a president of one party becomes 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. so as vice president, calhoun is secretly urging those south carolinians who want to see from the union. and jackson is doing everything he can to keep south carolina from succeeding from the union. the climax of the tension occurs when it's in a jefferson dinner. jeffersonian's, they are about to be called democrats,
jefferson and jackson had become mildly toxic to most democrats. >> it's called a legacy dinner. >> like presidents'day instead of washington's birthday. so the jefferson dinner when the crisis over south carolina is developing, the democrats all get together and the toast thomas jefferson. the principle on which the union is based. these toasts indicate their position on various events of the day. so those people who support south carolina, they endorse jefferson's kentucky resolves. we're getting to where jefferson in 1798, argues in favor of the rights of states to determine the constitutionality of federal laws. it was in response to the alien
sedition acts, which one egregious violation of the first amendment. but the supreme court haven't yet declared the principle of we get to determine constitutionality. so jefferson and james madison, who did the same thing for virginia, they say it states good to be the ones to do this. that is exactly what cal whom was climbing for south carolina. the right for south carolina to declare on the constitutionally of law. in this case the tariff of 1828. so some of the toasts are in favor of the kentucky resolution. 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. they are schedule toast and then there are unscheduled toasts and the president did not always attend the event, but jackson did on that night. he made very clear that he was not going to let the union be broken up.
so when jackson stands up, as president, he is the first one in the unscheduled toasts. so everybody looks objection and wait to see what he will say. jackson by this time is showing his age and he is not in good health. he never was a public speaker. so he did not speak loudly or 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. jackson holds up his glass and says, while staring exactly at john calhoun, he says our federal union, it must be preserved. so calhoun is up next. he's the vice president and he has to answer jackson. he has to answer to jackson as well. so calhoun it is trying to
think on the fly. because jackson had not said what he was going to say. he had a chance to prepare in advance, but calhoun has to figure it out on the spot. everyone is looking at him while he's on the spot. so he thinks about it a little bit and he says, he raises his glass and says, the union. and for a moment, everybody thinks he's capitulating. andrew jackson is carried the day. and he repeats, the union next to our liberty most dear. well that's quite a qualification. it's at that point the jackson decides that calhoun has to go. 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 eaten, was, i don't know how to say this without sanding kind of caddie, but she was prettier than the other members of the other wives of the cabinet. she also grew up in. she did not have a mother. her father ran the hotel room she grew up there and she was kind of flirtatious. she got better tips if she flirted. so she was seen as this moment of loose morals. because she had loose morals, and then subsequently married a guy who became a member of jackson cabinet, then the other wives of the cabinet members refused to attend her dinners. they refused to be at receptions with her. and the ringleader of this opposition to peggy was john
calhoun's wife. 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. this requires me to tell a little bit about jackson's personal story with women. his mother died rescuing him from a prisoner of war camp and the revolutionary war. jackson believed that his mother was a saint. then his wife died because she had been slandered during the campaign of 1828. 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. if jackson had been alive today, he would've said i believe the woman. this was jackson's view. when peggy eaton said she was blameless, jackson said i believe you. and all these people who are saying she is not, they can't be of my administration. jackson was an eight czar so he could not fire his whole cabinet, but eventually he did. he could not fire everybody at once. the cabinet was paralyzed. 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. so this is part of the story. but i will just conclude ... i should probably draw a conclusion here. i will just say that andrew jackson is one of the major
subsidiary characters. jackson's attitude ... he did not have much in particular against daniel webster, but jackson was asked on his deathbed, he was dying in 1845, he was asked what he would do differently. could he live again. he said if i could live again, i would hang john calhoun and shoot henry clay. so we will leave it at that. i have one more thing to mention. you are about to hear from a group. i want to say a word about ralph haunestein and what he has meant to me. i was privileged to be able to meet ralph. this was 15 years ago thereabouts. i really did not know anything
about ralph hauenstein. but i came to learn about his fascinating and important career. i was particularly interested in what ralph had to say about his commander during world war ii. about dwight eisenhower. because in my first book, it was about the white house and our -- eisenhower. i spent a lot of time studying eisenhower at the eisenhower library and reading everything i could read about him. trying to recreate the man from the paper trails left behind. at the time i was writing, there weren't very many people left who had known eisenhower. so i did not really get a chance to talk to people who knew him. and for a historian, that can be absolutely crucial. there are times when it's utterly impossible. when i wrote about benjamin franklin, nobody was alive under benjamin franklin, so you do what you can. but when i met ralph hauenstein
and he could tell me what kind of commander eisenhower was ... i've heard other people talk about it, but to hear someone i can actually ask questions up and who could tell me about ... basically, to fill in the personal human detail that often falls between the practice of the paper record. it was immensely valuable to me. actually, still a bit too late, i wish i knew him when i was writing the book about eisenhower. but he was wonderful to talk to. he was very approachable. you will hear more about his career, but i would just say that for all the good work he did while he was alive, his good work continues in the hauenstein center. i had a chance known in his final years, but i had the say that i have been a great beneficiary of the great work he's done for michigan, for grand valley state and for the hauenstein center. also great for anyone interested in world war ii and
white house and how are. thank you very much. you've been a wonderful audience. tonight, we feature former speaker of the house, james blane of maine, who also served as secretary of state for three american presidents and was 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.
up next on lectures in history, arizona state university professor jonathan birth teaches a class about the rise of andrew jackson and his presidency. he focuses on andrew jackson's clashes with weak party members such as henry clay and daniel webster in the bank wars of the 1830s. this class is about 55 minutes. well, good morning everybody and welcome to american history. my name is jonathan, barth. you all know me is professor birth. i am a history professor at arizona state university. in conjunction with two very