tv Historian Joanne Freeman on Alexander Hamilton CSPAN August 3, 2021 7:35pm-8:37pm EDT
>> so, would you say that we are wrapped up? all right. thank you again. thanks to everyone who sponsored this. and thank you all for coming out. [laughs] so long. >> due to the coronavirus outbreak, this session up next features yell university history in american studies professor joanne freeman, editor of the essential hamilton, letters and other writings. >> good morning, my name is
louise martinez fernández, i'm a professor of history at the university of central florida. and a proud member of the board of the national council for history education. i trust all of you are doing well, and keeping safe. these are very strange times. bewildering even for historians who have a long term sense of history and thanks for joining us today. it is my pleasure to introduce our session. and our speaker, a historian joanne friedman. dr. freeman is professor of history at yale university. she specializes in the american revolutionary period and early national american politics and culture. she is the author of several influential award-winning books. i will mention two of them. affairs of honor, national
politics in the republic. and most recently, field of blood. congressional violence in antebellum america. i found that helpful for my own work. if you look at these two books combined, it seems like a reverse echo of the current and contemporary political scene in the united states. from honor to violence. and bleak at that. dr. freeman is also known for her legal scholarship on hamilton. which she rediscovered i would say for before broadway digits couple years ago. i asked dr. freeman about her relationship with history, and she was kind enough to respond to my request for that information. and it really reads like a love story. she fell in love with history beginning back in 1776 i'm
sorry. she's much younger than that. the bicentennial, 1976. i do remember that time. those quarters that came out and i was fascinated by them as well. and i developed a hobby of coin collecting and from there she went to the hamilton papers and became a public historian and consultant and educator and very active and what we call public history she received her ph.d. from the university of virginia and has had since a very distinguished career at yale. one last thing because we want to give as much time to her as possible. dr. freeman is very grateful for her teachers, professors and mentors. they lead the way. and i'm glad to see how she's paid back demonstrating and it
generous and deep commitment to america's teachers. please welcome dr. freeman, and we are excited to hear about what you have to say. >> thank you and luis is on our board. and thank you. so, joe and we're excited to have you here. that was a great introduction from luis. and we have a great question somebody is asked on social media and we are still taking questions and i want to the audience but if you have questions please put your questions in the chat box and we will put them together. all right, so luiz shown on this a little bit, but can you tell us a bit more i think 1976 tell us more about what draws you to the early american period and alexander hamilton
in particular. >> i'm happy to do this, and i want to first say that thank you for the introduction. i also want to say, looking at what's been going on basically getting an online conference, even as a board member i am planning all the work that goes into making this possible and i'm kind of excited for the adventure of it. as far as what draws me to that period i think in a way, it is you know in some ways, it's not that different from what drew me to begin with. i think initially, what got me interested was the human component of it, and i think that's what it did for me it showed me that the people underneath the events, but i always learn about and i began reading biographies. that was my entry, even now as
a mature historian. who can pick my research agenda, i'm really interested in this period generally. and i guess it's two things. the human component of it, and whether that means people behaving badly. which i seemed to write about a lot. or just generally speaking, the underlying motives and emotions and intentions that mostly dry politics that are not just pure policy. that are not just demographics. i'm interested in getting to the root of that kind of behavior. >> that is great. >> and alexander hamilton in particular. what it is what is it about the scared to the you find fascinating? >> i think initially, i started reading biographies and i think i started at a. i remember reading john adams, and going on. and when i got to hamilton he was different. again i was 14 years old.
he was different because he had a dramatic beginning and a dramatic and. as opposed to some of the other biographies i've been reading. and as a kid will peeled me is that he was this young guy who want to achieve great things. and i think i can identify with that somehow. i want to do great things. and all the enough there was not a lot written about him and that intrigue me to. so i read a biography about him and i won't name it because i didn't like it. and i didn't believe it. and i don't know what's in my 14 year old brain maybe draw that conclusion but i didn't. and i asked a librarian what the person the person who had written the book what they had read that gave that person the right to say what they were saying in the book. the librarian showed me the hamilton papers. and this was everything that was written over his entire life. 27 volumes.
and i started reading those, to me that was the most exciting thing at all of all. primary sources were responsible and well this is the real history. this is the real stuff. no one will tell me what this means i get to read and figure out what it means. so i think sort of, i've been into him because he was different but i ended up being fascinated by what i found in reading those papers. so i read all 27 volumes and i would read it and go back and start again. and i never stopped. and i didn't know to be a historian was a job. i don't know anyone who had been a professor. i had no goals it was just something i did because i was fascinated with hamilton. he is so flawed and self destructive in some ways but so central to the politics of that moment but. but being interested in him i became interested in the time
period and the politics and it was sort of like concentric circles and eventually i was just interested in that period. but it all began with hamilton. >> many of us watching our industry educators and you know that's but i have to say that's a level of commitment i'm not sure we all have. 27 volumes wow that's great. it's really impressive for a 14-year-old. and they're saying this is proof that librarians are modern-day heroes. librarians tanks for the work you do. look at you started here. so, that commitment and that early relationship with alexander hamilton i think is fascinating. many of us might have the feeling we've come to know him and we feel close to him now. even those of us who are not historians who are just listening to this in our car or we are lucky enough to see the play, i think we're influenced
by your work. but could you tell us what are some of the things that we know we may not know about alexander hamilton. even if we know him what are we missing? one of the things that are fascinating that the average american doesn't know? >> well the base answer to that and i guess the most serious answer to that is that the play draws a very particular image of him. so it does a good job of capturing his personality to some degree. it's he is difficult he never shuts up and he doesn't know how to stifle himself in any way and he gets in a lot of fights. you see all of that in the play. with the play doesn't do so much,... i'm not sure i'd expect musical theater to do so much of this, but as a politician, he had very strong feelings. and they weren't all progressive, they weren't all democratic. the play kind of makes him out to be, raise himself up by his
birth straps. it was modern, forward-looking, jefferson is this backward looking guy, sort of attached to slavery. to a degree, that is true. the other half of that is, jefferson was the guy who is comfortable with democracy. hamilton was not. hamilton, one of the last letter he writes as a matter of fact, not long before the tour, maybe a night before the dual, he warns a friend that i think that might be in the republic down is democracy. because he felt that democracy in the way that, mass participation on the level that wasn't controlled in any way. so, you know, he had a more aristocratic kind of review. he is distrustful of the people, and oddly enough, he was not thrilled with immigrants having a lot of political input, which is odd given that he himself came to the north american colonies, you know, from somewhere else. but immigrants tended to vote
jeffersonian republican. this is not thrilled to him. there are things you wrote in the late 17 nineties about, can we do something that only american americans can vote? , so there is a side of hamilton not as attractive, more complicated. and to me, really important because the founding is a big argument or a conversation. hamilton is out the right, answer jefferson's down the right, answer nor was anyone else in a picture for better and worse. did they have the right answer? and it is the banging up against each other of all of those ideas that ends, causes this to end up with what we end up with four again, better and worse. add some aspects to it, and aspects that were really not to. so, to me, that is the -- that is what is missing from the play. i do not criticize the play for that.
because to me -- totally honest, the first i saw, one of my responses was, they are singing george washington's farewell address. they're singing about the assumption of state -- house this human lee possible? so, i was already impressed by any of that was on the stage. and i'm willing to talk about this more later. to me absences and holes, and things that should not be in the play, are teaching opportunities. because then our job is teachers is to say, okay, what isn't on that stage? or, let me show you what really happened. and it's actually, even more interesting than with the play. shows in one way or another, and i'm sure so many of you out there have experienced this, there are so many lay people interested in this time period to a degree that throughout my decades of teaching, as i've never seen. my attitude towards that is excellent. it is the world's best teaching opportunity. so, even if we want to teach
against it, no matter what we are doing, that is a great starting point. >> i think that that is wonderful to. i have to tell you that we have young people watching this right now. >> oh, great! [laughs] >> so, i thought that i would take some questions from our young historians here. thank, you that was all very fascinating. so, we do have a number of people -- i do have a number of you tipping into the chant, box that's wonderful. there's a cue in a box you can type into, let me organize a bit better, i'm organizing on the. fly but we do have some great questions. we're gonna take a lot from the youngest audience members first. so, let's see. we have a fifth grader here. and he would like to know if hamilton had a say in how the first money worked? >> oh. that is a really good question. there certainly was discussion about -- the amounts that it should be. hamilton thought that there should be very small amounts of
money like, you know, like nowadays, pennies. things are very low value. because that would encourage americans to -- all americans, rich and poor, to use currency. so, he was kind of thinking in a practical way. there was a debate about what should be on a coins that was in congress, and it was not hamilton, but it was congress they had that debate. sure george washington's face be on a coin? and there was a lot of opposition to that. because that was moving into the territory of, are we creating a king? is that a monarchy thing we're creating? as he sooner or later gonna become king george? and we have to be careful, this is a republic, there are no kings in a republic. let's not have our his face on our money. the question is a good one, because it was a big question. but hamilton ultimately did not influence that. >> thank you. i'll give you a question from an eighth grader as well. she is particularly interested, i have a few questions here about elijah.
and so, our eighth grade friend says she would like to know what role allows a played in hamilton's death. the musical makes it look like she did a lot. did you really? >> oh, as far as his death is concerned? >> i suppose, speak to a lies's role in general. we're also getting a question about how on earth allies it could organize the volume of his correspondence is afterward. so yes, can you speak to lies's role playing in his life, and in his legacy, and really. >> sure. he is fascinating. in part he is fascinating because she did what i think a lot of wives and sisters of, you know, elite political guys did. particularly why is, which is hide her personal correspondence, or destroy her personal correspondence with her husband to maintain their privacy. so, you know, in the play she talks about burning letters because of the reynolds affair, and the fact that she's angry at her husband.
and she did destroy a lot of a correspondence with hamilton, most of her correspondence with hamilton. so, to some degree we don't know some things about her role during their marriage, except that it is there in those 27 lines. it is there in the papers, you can see that she really organized and ran that household. you can see that she was the one to help with family finance. there is a letter of hamilton's, from the 17 nineties, i will be able to put my finger on the year, right now. but it is hamilton confessing to a bank that he lost his bank book. which i love. he is the secretary of treasury any lost his bank book, his own personal bank book. so, elijah is the one who really i think maintained that family. and she, he was not an easy person to be around for any number of reasons. so, she had to be really strong. i think, to whether that whole relationship. but what is really one of the
really interesting things about her, as you suggested a few minutes ago, grace, is what she does after his death. she really puts herself at the center along with one or two of her sons at the effort to preserve his memory and collect his papers. to get someone to write a biography of him. and she, and mostly john church hamilton and james hamilton to some degree, but mostly john church hamilton, one of the sons, he really dedicated himself to doing everything that they could do to preserve and promote his reputation and what he did. so, a lot of what we know, now is hard because they were very carefully collecting to get the papers. and if you think about it, they have a lot of letters from jefferson. there's a lot of letters from adams. those men lived a long time, and had a long time to organize the papers. hamilton did not. so, he could not leave his papers behind. he cannot carefully arranged them, he did nothing he just
went off one day and died the next. so, aligns it was really important on that role in addition to the work that she did on her own. she was really active in new york city in a variety of ways, and she really was in charge of, and significant in the founding of an orphanage in new york city. so, she's a really, what is the word i'm looking for? she is a strong character. there is a story about her. she's lived a long time, she lived with wellington in the 90s. she was one of the people from that generation to live that long, into her nineties. and at the end of our life she's living in washington d.c. with one of her daughters. there is a story that james thoreau came to visit her. and said something like, you, know mrs. hamilton, you and i are among the only ones left from that time. and so, i wanted to come and pay my respects. now, elijah blamed james for
leaking the reynolds affair. and so, she sought -- monroe sort of being cordial -- cordial ex president. here we are, let us shake hands and, she said something along the lines of, if you think that our being one step closer to the grave means that i forgive you, i do not and she stormed out of the room. >> wow. >> that is a woman with whom. >> indeed, quite a person. >> thank you for speaking to her and also we do have a question here about, especially in a short lifetime organizing the 27 volumes of material and i think that that speaks to it, because hamilton did some of that in his life but he also had those family members, and allies are working on that afterward. and kind of curating that legacy, which is interesting. looks like something, to think about as educators. and even one step with, they ultimately sold his papers to the government. but what is worth noting to is that nowadays, there are all of these papers, projects washington papers, madison
papers, and these are organizations of people, documentary projects, and their job is to collect as much, if not all of the correspondents and writings of these individuals, everything to them, everything from them, and that is -- they hunt all over the world for these things. they tracked down all of the names and references, i mean, they are amazing, amazing amounts of work that go into that kind of a project that allows us, you know, right now, a lot of it is coming out in founders online. but from the national archives -- this is, great again an opportunity to applaud, because so much of what historians do, would be so much more difficult if not impossible without all of that work that these people do. >> and if those of you watching
-- if you want to read through some of those hamilton papers, joanne has edited two volumes of hamilton's papers. the most recent one is paperback. and kind of a best-of, if you don't feel like reading it all online. but, i believe, correct me if i'm wrong joanne, but i believe that the library of congress has many of his digitized works. the library of congress is a great sponsor of ours. there are many of you from the -- gps construction on audience, if you go to yellow sea.gov and check out those hamilton papers. >> we do have a lot of questions coming in, which is wonderful. so, i want to get to a couple more of those. let's see. we have a question from elise. my understanding of alexander hamilton is that he was involved in some rather corrupt speculation with government bonds. i've gone too far in presenting an idealized view of hamilton? if so, why? why now? >> also, that is a good question. so, beginning from his lifetime, there was -- there were a lot of assumptions about him being corrupt in some way, corrupt speculation.
benefiting somehow, privately, from insider knowledge. when you look at he is account books, and look at his finances. it is not immediately apparent, if that happened. there is no, i don't know where that money could be, now, that said, it is entirely conceivable that, and i know that this happened, he would go to dinner parties, his wealthy and well connected friends would sit at the dinner party and ask questions, kind of watch his response. so that they could judge with the government is going to do. so, that they could do anything they wanted to do to benefit themselves. so would i say that he himself was out there speculating and sort of collecting? no. would i say that somehow others benefited from him, whether he intended for them to or not? probably. and i apologize, i'm seeing in new york city right now, i think you probably hear the sirens. so --
>> we have eva, asking, tougher questions coming in -- here can you address hamilton's view on slavery? and, what stance he took? >> well, that's a really good question. because the play suggests that he was an abolitionist. i would not make that claim. so, when you read those 27 volumes, one of the things that you see is that when hamilton took up the cause as being an important cost to him, he went all out. slavery -- he talks about it from time to time. it does not appear newspapers as a major focus. so, he belongs to the new york mission society. he is against slavery as a practice. he is helping create schools, free schools for african american new yorkers. so, he is on the cause, they said that we would want him to be on. but -- ending slavery, i would say, is
not a main cause of his, and if you think about him as the guy who is really concerned about property and property rights, it would make sense that that would not be a guy who would say, okay. let's just upset everything. and free all these people, and not deal with the pragmatic's of it. other people might say yes, but that is a good thing to do. but hamilton was not one of those guys. a couple of times, when he talks about slavery. to me one of those interesting once and this is referenced in the play, john lawrence his friend he comes up with this idea to enslaved people and give them their freedom if they fight for america. hamilton supports that. in the letter that hamilton writes on lawrence's behalf to the continental congress. there is a sentence in it where he is talking about what he thinks about african americans.
and you can tell he is trying to figure out how to say things he's write something it crosses it out and write something else in and what he is struggling with is, what does he think about the capabilities of african americans. and it is interesting. you can see him on the paper he's not sure what he wants to say are not sure what he's thinking. when you're studying generally you know the cross outs are sometimes the most revealing things at all. it's because you can see their thoughts in some ways. and that is interesting to me because he is grappling with what he wants to say. or how to say what he wants to say. >> i think when they're looking at the play in talking about i think that's a big question that people have. >> it's a big question and students need to understand
that there is not just a pro and con but there's a spectrum. and people fall on different parts of that spectrum on slavery. you know you could be anti-slavery but not strongly on anti slavery. you could be high on slavery. a you it's some things are positive in summer negative but boy is it complicated. in the last book i published which was the field of blood, it has kind of a main character and it's not quite a guide but not a narrator but maybe a guide. and the one thing is about it is that you see him trying to figure out what he thinks about slavery. there is a sentence somewhere in the book where he says here is what i think. i think congress should not discuss slavery at all and i think the matter needs to be settled. and i think it's bad i think we should have nothing to do with it. it's a series of things that
make no sense. but you could see him but, he cannot even make a sentence. and it comes up with how he can be against it and then want to do nothing to end the practice. i think those complexities and failures on peoples parts including hamilton's are crucial. i think that's one area that you could really use the play to teach kids. and say there's a story that's addressed a little but it's not really addressed very much. for those of you who do know the play, in the song the room where it happens about where it helps hamilton help passes plan and moves it to washington. there is probably an african american servant in that room. think about that. that is a teaching opportunity to me. >> i think that so important that this is not a yes or no
question. and whether or not different people who support it or didn't. that is really really interesting. so we certainly have lots of questions about the play coming in, and the manual was they're interested by the papers of hammered hamilton that you edited. so could you take some time to speak to the play like what's accurate, what's not. what do you love what makes you cringe? tell us about that experience of being this historian who has this work betrayed onstage. >> i would say the play is based on ron journals work and my writings includes the play. at some point i handed -- them the book and i the one i edited of hamilton's letters. i when i went to see the play i
was probably the only person in the audience saying that's a 1793 letter. that's a 1798 letter. so i knew you know at one point i think jefferson or madison says that's the jefferson letter. best of wives best-of women. i wish there was a war that was from a hamilton letter. so when i went to see the play for the first time one of the things i was doing in addition to being stunned that they were singing about the assumptions and debts. but it was to recognize all of the actual quotes from the letters that had made their way into the play. and that just really dumbfounded me. so in and of itself i don't know what i expected but i didn't expect as much history as there was in the play. but there's things was a things that made me cringe? i think initially i wasn't cringing because i was so
stunned that somebody had done that with history. the day i want to see it the first time it was off broadway. and so when i knew was coming to broadway i went and all my friends wanted to see it with me. so i got all of these pairs of tickets on different nights to go with all my friends. and at that time wasn't a big deal because it was a very expensive. but early on when i want to see it but there were a lot of history teachers in the audience. a lot of history teachers. and i think they were having some of the response that i was having. like they're singing about that? and there is a woman and i don't remember the details but there was a woman a couple of rows down that was tearing because she couldn't believe that someone had done that with the history that she teaches. and it had changed the way people reacted or interacted
with it. so the things i don't like i guess i don't like the hamilton good guy jefferson bad guy story. i don't think it's right. i think they are both good and that in different ways. i think that's the point that there are no just good guys in american history. there really aren't. so for us to understand how how we got to where we are we sure need to accept that from our past. there is no golden moment where everyone was good. there just wasn't. all of my work i write about politicians fighting. i can say with authority that there is no golden moment. from the very beginning, it's been partisan it's been angry. and that's what politics does. so the good guy bad guy thing i didn't like so much. and i suppose i didn't think
about the fact that the play does suggest that it guys sort of did everything. again, it is musical theater so some part of me was like ok guys didn't do everything so i innocents took a step back. i could see that as criticism of the play but in a way that's an old-fashioned way of looking at history. a guys in the room did everything. eight guys in a tent did everything during the revolution. obviously it's much more complicated than that. >> in fact for everyone they put out a post just added to a whole bunch of different faces -- when you're writing a short play is so much you can get but i think it's important for us as educators that we need to teach the complexity. >> yes it relates back to what
i just said there is no way you can understand where we are now if you don't understand that complexity all the way back to the beginning. and i keep saying for better or worse but we tend to ignore the worst part or downplay the worst part. but we really can't. we have to acknowledge parts of it that are admirable but it's not isolated. we are not in isolation. there is no country that has those moments in absolute isolation. to understand the roots of how we got to where we are we have to really look at the roots. >> agreed. and luckily we have a lot of young historians who are looking into all of this. we have a question from joe zion who is in third grade. and it echoes a question and that people are interested in the hamilton and burr relationship. so he lost no how is the relationship between hamilton
and we're in reality? >> it was different and i guess to use to use a common term they were friends and enemies so they were frenemies. but so they were both politically minded prominent lawyers in new york. they did bump up against each other a lot. they were bullfighting the revolution. they were both in the legal world and sometimes in later years they practice together as co-counsel. they had a lot of the same friends, they went to the same parties, and they had a lot in common. that said, they weren't as absolutely side by side as the play suggests. so first of all burr was not at hamilton's wedding. and almost nobody was at hamilton's wedding. it was a small wedding. it was like in the living room
of his father-in-law's house. there was not many people. but for sure but burr would not have been there. so they are not close friends, that said overtime that burr how do i put this. hamilton thought burr was sorry hamilton thought that burr was an opportunist. and he thought he was just as opportunistic as he was. he saw burr as a dangerous man. and he thought that burr would do anything to get what he wants and that was dangerous. so beginning in 17 1792, houston writes a letter and it says something like i think is my duty to oppose burr his career. so from an early point hamilton's really opposed to burr and keeps coming up against him.
and sometimes burr doesn't react. there is evidence in the election of 1800 they almost for a dual and came out of it. that's when they're negotiating the final dual and in their letters i think hamilton says once before we almost did this, and but burr says twice before we almost did this. so twice before they almost came to fight a dual. but hamilton had a lot of miss trust and dislike. and you know burr came from this noble background and he was president of the college of new jersey and his ancestors were the equivalent of new england royalty. and for hamilton he could be a demagogue. he was ambitious and people are following him but he was republican so is playing to the republic. so for a whole bunch of reasons
to he never really stop opposing burr. >> on that same scene, they want to know if you could put the burr and hamilton role into a position before they civil war. how do you view that? >> wow that's a question. ok it's the quick and dirty version of it. a lot of people, they like to say that dueling began in the colonies during the revolution and that the french brought it with them when they came as our allies. and then all the young officers wanted to duel. there was dueling in the colonies before that point. it was around and it wasn't just southern when it started. there was dueling at the boston calming common in the early
colonial period. but initially and an important part of this is, it's hard to separate personal and political during this time period. so your reputation, when you run for office you're not saying i'm going to try you know i'm a tried and true supporter of this policy, you're saying i am a man of good reputation and can be trusted. so vote for me. well to be a man of good reputation and to be trusted you have to defend that reputation. so politicians generally are worried about the reputation. hamilton is extra bonus worried because he has his questionable background and he is poor. so it's always a little bit personal but it's always arson say always but to some degree political as well. in the 17 nineties and before the burr and hamilton duel. people were already throwing around dares for duels.
and look at me i'm willing to fight for this cause and they were making political points with dueling threats. but what changes over time and i kind of hinted at it, is when you get into the later 19th century it becomes more of a southern thing. northerners came to see it as a barbaric southern practice. and southerners started to praise as one of their institutions. and northerners scorned politicians seem to be willing to engage in that kind of behavior. so that becomes complicated and that's part of what my second book looks at. southerners taken and that taking advantage of that fact. knowing that northern congressman will not feel comfortable taking part in dueling. and they were taunting them with insults. doing this knowing they can get away with it. because what is this north are
going to do? and it becomes a tool that these southerners used to intimidate northerners. so southerners essentially will stand up and say really, do you want to say that? say to my face. really? are you accusing me of lying? and that means it's a dual challenge and often a northern who is asked that question will just sit down. it becomes really effective political tool. until close to the civil war when there are some northerners who begin to fight back. so it's a good question because it shows a lot about sexual-ism in the united states. >> interesting. that is a fascinating topic. that's kind of the political arena and we do have another question about the personal arena of hamilton's life. and this is from our hate eighth grade historian. the and they are interested in
the family relationship angle. >> he certainly kind of was taken in as a member of that family. i remember he had no family really in the colonies and in the united states. i think that matter to him. he writes a letter to a it's a friendly letter to peggy when he is courting elizabeth. and angelica is the one who he really appears to have had a relationship with. and it goes early and continues on. what is interesting about that relationship is that it was a very flirtatious relationship. and it is clear that they played at that in public. there is a story about a party in which they were joking about being nights of something here like the nights of old. and hamilton got down on the ground in front of angelica and said something about igniting
her garter and those things were very public and they are flirtatious letters from hamilton. and she signs on the bottom. which means that she saw them. and i think that's not sneaky kind of having an affair kind of flotation. they were both really smart, really public people who enjoyed being the center of attention in that way and enjoyed each other's intellectual and their personality. i think that's what that was about. the interesting thing that the play flips on its head. the play for those of you who know it, there's a moment in which angelica asks hamilton about a missed placed coma. she says hamilton you wrote me a letter which says my dearest
coma angelica. and she wants to know if hamilton meant it. in reality the reverse is what happened. in reality it is angelica who gets who had misplaced become a. and he writes a letter back and says did you mean to replace or misplace that come? did you mean that really? she basically answers now. but no i didn't mean anything special by that. so for the plot or development of it you know they put that out but they were really close friends. and i think he was close friends with the entire family. >> fascinating. >> sometimes people say to me i didn't like history class i was i found it boring. and history is far from boring. this is fascinating stuff.
and those complex personalities and characters in history. >> and you know that's a uniform thing that people say that make you want to just go crazy that history is boring. but if history were just a bunch of dates and events i would be bored. anyone would be bored. but not it is not it is a human story. it's a story of people making choices or not being able to make choices. one way or another it is the human story. it is about people. the way i like to teach it and my american revolution course at yale is online and it's free. it is 26 lectures. and you'll see if you watch that lecture course, it is centered around people at a time. what did they think? what were the possibilities for them in that world? and i think if you really convey that to students that these are people looking ahead
in time and not looking back. they do not know what's going to come. they do not know what's going to work. they don't assume there's going to be a declaration of independence, they don't assume there's going to be constitution, they don't assume it's going to work. they don't assume anything at all and if they do it doesn't mean that is what is going to happen. and that is a thing that the play does well. when you look at things from a human point of view and look forward in time, you are restoring contingency to american history. the play does that too because the play by getting down on the ground in a human way to look at things, you see in the audience it's like oh yeah of course we won. well no. this didn't necessarily happen. you can see people working through things and contingency is huge. no one thinks there. and i think when you take a human perspective and look forward in time and realized
they do not know what they're doing. they don't know what the rules are there following by and you know affairs of honor. and sometimes a right about politicians and not knowing how an american politician should dress, if they're too fancy it's not good if they're not fancy enough. there's really an issue in politics that fascinates me. and that's part of the same idea that it's human and everything is contingent. nothing is absolute. >> it's a fascinating angle. for a lot of us we may be feeling at this point in history we are feeling our way forward. we're not sure what we are doing. and i have a question here but. what advice do you think that hamilton would give us in 2020 and why? >> when people ask me questions like that. like what would hamilton think now. where my brain immediately goes is that hamilton would say what
is that talking box in your room. why are the things flying overhead? one of these machines? they would never get past technology. they would never make it to politics. i think probably he would be surprised that the constitution lasted as long as it did. when you look at his writings and i've given one or two talks that are maybe floating around online. he was never absolutely sure that the american experiment would succeed. he writes a memo to himself and this is like ten days after the constitutional convention. it is a lawyer like mammal and no one else will see it. it's about what comes next. what do i think will come next. and he's laying out maybe this, or maybe this. maybe washington will become president and if he does, he will have wise people around him and people will trust those
wise people and then they will cooperate with this new government. so than it has a chance. or maybe those things won't happen. he won't pick wise people, he will become president, people won't trust the people he appoints. so in which case probably other nations will sweep in and small pieces of the united states. or all the states will turn against each other and that will be the end of the experiment. what is fascinating is the kicker at the end of that memo. he points to that apocalyptic image as that probability is going to happen. and he says over and over again in his letters, i'm going to fight as much as i can that this whole republic idea that you guys think is going to work. i will push it as hard as hard as i can to what i think is better. which is monarchy. which is why he's so controversial. but by his logic, i'm not going to stop the republic but if it doesn't work, then i'll step in
and help things get put back together again. i don't think he's alone and thinking that. but i don't know if he was fully convinced that the government and basically could survive. so oddly enough, he might be pleasantly surprised. that we lasted this long. >> i think that's a fascinating thing to consider. a lot of folks in our audience our history educators. so again this is a particularly unsettled time and there's a lot going on. there's a lot of people are feeling their way forward as we said. can you tell us about the importance of history education and teaching history? maybe a teaching government, relating to students just speak to that a bit about history education. >> sure and it couldn't be more important. not that it's not because it's
always important but at this particular moment you know this is not the first time in american history that we've been uprooted and redefining. there are other moments, like the civil war, civil rights, there are other moments when it felt like society was scrambling and something new is going to happen we don't know what it was. this is one of those moments. in those moments in a general way, it is really important to be able to look at the past and understand how you got to the president. it is not useful to just look at what's happening now and say i hate this. instead, what is it that happened that got us to this point? what can we do knowing that to move ahead to something different. on a practical level that is important. more than that i think we are watching in some ways on all sides to. the president and the past being re-written.
and a politician creates what they want to appear that you object they use a quote and but you will never be able to listen to politicians or founders again because it's like that's not what it means and that's not true. but i think but, we need our students to be aware of the fact that history matters. historical facts matter. the way we understand the present and the past matter. and we need students to be skilled at evaluating evidence. this is a concrete thing and i work on it with my students all the time and i'm sure many of you out there do as well. history is about evaluating evidence. finding evidence, evaluating it, weighing it and drawing conclusions. that is the most important job skill. it's the most important life school you can have right now. you go online and there's seize of things and how do you know
what to believe. and some of what we're teaching is history teachers, how do you do that we teach how you do that. let's think about where information comes from. what is being said and what's not being said. you have to think about who is writing it, and where is it being written to. you have to think about all the things that historians and history teachers think all the time. that is a pragmatic skill i think that you need now and just everyone needs it. but we need to study to teach that to our students because it's so important. and on another level, to a remarkable degree which people don't know anything about the constitution. so i know that i'm active on twitter, i will admit it. but the thing that brought me for initially got me going rather than just being on it is that i was upset by something in the 2016 campaign.
i went online and i apologized. i said i know this is really obvious, but i feel the need to say this but because people should be thinking about this. and i said we came to me is that separate but equal, checks and balances, in government and i talk about all the things that we teach. the obvious stuff. checks and balances balance in power, three branches. at the end i pathologized again, i said i'm sorry that's obvious but i felt the need to say it. but when i got the was a lot of responses from people who said thank you for teaching me that. they did not know. it was like my stomach dropped. then i thought well now i'm not going to shut up. now i'm in. and now i'm going to talk a lot about what the constitution has and what it doesn't have. why sometimes it matters what the founders thought, and
sometimes it really doesn't. you know we need people to understand the constitution and when it set in motion and how it is a living document so it doesn't move through time. and we need to understand that to. people need to understand the structure of the government and how it works. how different branches are independent? why checks and balances are important. all of those things that we've always sort of taken for granted, they are really important for people to understand. so, that is another way in which -- in the old days -- some of this much to come in to civics classes. when one school we took civics. but it is not some abstract, hoity-toity, let us discuss political institutions with thanking us -- i'm talking about fundamentally, how is this government supposed to work? you know? it is different.
it's not a monarchy. what does that mean? why the free -- well were they afraid of? what does that tell us about tendencies in our government? all of that stuff is beyond important. and i guess since 2016, i've never shut up, of course, i'm sometimes saying ridiculous things when twitter like everyone else does. but a lot of the time i am aggressively talking about thinking about history, thinking about politics, thinking about the constitution and asking good questions. and that is what we do. that is what we do is history teachers. >> so, all of our history educators out, there are no there it is not just history educators in the audience, but we do think that it is very important students learns to analyze documents, and evaluate evidence, and learn about this different structures of the government. that is very important, no matter who you are. >> and you know -- i want to add something to that. i have been saying it over and
over again, and some people were assigning it -- integrated degree, that is normally true. everything is up in the air. i have been encouraging people over and over online to make journals. to record what it feels like, you know? to go, well, today, this senators said this. but more like, wow. i heard this today, this makes me nervous, or scared. i wrote a -- not a journal, but on 9/11, i did that the day, or the day after, i realized that in some ways i was experiencing a flickering of what's some of my people felt in the early republic. my people, i talk about -- the republic was vulnerable. these other nations could come in and just sort of take us away. and 9/11 suddenly, like
everyone else i think i've been marching alone thinking, americas really strong and powerful. and all of a sudden i realized, wow, wow. there were to, paige reflecting on that, which ultimately ended up publishing. because it captured, what that felt like. we have to rethink things that we'd always taken for granted. so i think for students and anybody else, this is a great moment to do that. partly, i'm thinking like a historian, down the road, those reflections, some future historian is going to be singing hose anna in the highest because you committed that to paper, and that is the best of all. but it will be useful to you as humans or as teachers, educators to have that on paper, to remind yourself what it feels like. that becomes historical evidence for you as well as for
others. >> and for all of you, i know some of you have your kids home with you today, actually joanna, i have been recording a check box and we're noticing pulling kids off of the couch and watching. renounced, thank you for helping with the childcare crisis in america at the moment. >> [laughs] hello to all the kids! >> i think and this is a wonderful idea, that this is a time where not only are skills as historians and educator so important, but we can be, we are part of history, we can be creating this primary documents for children who are -- thank you. this is been a wonderful experience for us to hear about hamilton. about the play that we all were so excited about. but also about your role as a historian, and the way you address those primary sources. i think that that's been very inspiring for everyone. so, i really want to thank you for what you've done. >> thank you guys for being there, and for caring, and for being willing to do this
experiment. i was very worried about this, because i will totally confess, that when i speak i very much engage with the audience. and i like making people laugh, and i was never nervous about this because that the, no one will be laughing, where they will be, but i won't know. but now -- i get just as excited as always do without anybody, faces their. i learned something to. but really, thank you for what you do. thank you for caring about what you do. i'm applauding you guys. >> and if you get a chance to look at the chat box afterwards, you can share us -- share with this with us later. they're applauding it as well.
>> next on american history tv, historian damien cordial, talks about alexander hamilton's military career and his relationship with george washington. -- the site of washington's 1780 headquarters hosted this event. >> welcome to the dime mansion, washington's headquarters. i am so happy to see all of you here and joining us today for this program. if you have not been here before, definitely after today, please stay and take a tour with our staff,