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tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  June 13, 2009 2:30pm-3:00pm EDT

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faction. he no longer wavered on issues of four and independence but had committed himself for the duration my life and my health ought to be hazardous and because of my country he wrote abigail. . .
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>> hysteric had never been higher. he was doing something important. something that made him proud. altogether this was as capricious and experience as could be involved in boston attorney. he couldn't be a soldier, but he could participate in the planning and execution of the war. and think about how to frame and compose a new kind of constitution. he was aware of this direct
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dimensions of the project in which he was in gauged, with all his passions, intelligence and belief. he was exhilarated. the practice of law had never exhilarated john adams. he was fascinated by the study of the law. and the opportunity to read off with jeremiah gridley, and to participate in mostly meetings to discuss legal theory. but for some time even the practice had engaged him, but to a man of his instincts, his intelligence, passion, energy, the tedium of law had begun to wear thin. the days and weeks of traveling on the circuit, boarding at crowded and inhospitable in spirit the routine cases he handled, boundary disputes, found squabbles, portended a life of drudgery. aside from the boston massacre, john's practice involved the
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daily disputes that made up the domestic life of colonial americans. he longed for something greater. he wrote rarely on his 37th birthday in 1772 that more than half of his days had run out, and that the remainder of my days i shall rather decline in since spirit and activity. he complained. and yet i have my own and my children's fortunes to make. he hoped, he wrote, another time to provide for his children the foundation for a happier life than has fallen to my share. john had become bored, if not disenchanted, with his life as a lawyer in massachusetts. he continued its pursuit as his duty to provide for his family. and now, unforeseen by him and everyone else, he was running a revolution.
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his spirits were revived. his mind in gauged. his duty now became transcending to preserve the liberty and civil rights of his countrymen. this duty stimulated his brain. it appealed to his ego. it bolstered his self-confidence. he discovered that the talent that had earned him success as a provincial lawyer, his speech. suited him as well in this larger theater. he had arrived somewhat timidly at the first continental congress wondering how he would measure up to the great delegates from other states. to his satisfaction, if not his amazement, he measured up. now he had joined with them in an undertaking that consumed his attention and his energies in the best of the missions. he was liberated from the law. he said became liberated from most of his family responsibilities, because abigail his partner was a
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willing consort in this new mission and relieved him of family care. if not a soldier, john would still be a revolutionary. and now, abigail. as it was for john, independence was on abigail's mind in the spring of 1776. and this was after the declaration of independence had already been signed. i suppose in congress that you think of everything relative to trade and commerce, as well as other things, she wrote. demurring before she boarded her own recommendations irk she proposed that congress plays an excise tax on spirits liquors that would be equal among all the states. currently, she pointed out out, new england carry a heavier surcharge than others which
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damaged their trade. sensing thin, perhaps, that she was on a roll, abigail next introduced a topic that the delegates have purposefully avoided. i have sometimes been ready to thank him and she backed into her subject before delivering her blow, that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creature of errors. artfully proposing her comments in the conditional form, she then stepped audaciously into a hornets nest of slavery, that congress had cautiously avoided in order to maintain unity among the states while engaging in the war for independence. the one topic that would certainly spell the end of cooperation between the southern and northern states was slavery.
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abigail, however, reminded john that political expediency contradicted both morality and religion to say nothing of its hypocrisy. of this i am certain that it is not founded upon the generous and christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us. abigail's distress about slavery was not new. she had written to john at the time of the dysentery epidemic that it had been sent as a punishment for the sin of slavery. but even earlier, she had condemned the pervasive system that she saw practiced in her own state. i wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province, she wrote to john when rumors of a slave rebellion circulated during the chaotic days of september 17 74. it always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me.
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fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have a right to freedom as we have. and she added, you know my mind on that subject. abigail had given careful thought to the form in philadelphia from which she as a woman was excluded. and there were a number of issues about which she was irritated. slavery was one. and while she was ruminating on this paradox of the delegates talking and writing about liberty and freedom, while all the while excluding some groups from the benefit of ideological mission, she introduced another delicate topic. alone at her kitchen table at night, writing by candlelight, after households left, abigail had the time to focus her mind and her thoughts drifted to the form in philadelphia and to her husband. this was for a moment to
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consider issues that were important to her. and so she initiated another seditious topic. i love to hear that you have declared an independency she wrote. and by the way, in the new code of laws, which i suppose it will be necessary for you to make, i desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. do not put such limited power into the hands of husbands. this was an audacious move. again, as she sat, her thoughts carried her to a territory that was more revolutionary than any american, male or female, had wandered in the course of the rebellious consideration. slavery was the life specter that the delegates avoided. but the idea of the rights of
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women was so contrary to anyone's imagination, much less expression in the halls of congress, that issue would have been considered amusing rather than alarming. but abigail was serious, very serious. remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. then recovering her sense of reality, the reality with which she anticipated her claim would be met, she continued with a faint thread. and here we hear her teasing him. if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to format a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. she covered her tracks with satire. mocking the same phrases that john and his fellow delegates used in their debates as her method of demonstrating the limitations of their objectives.
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abigail's command to remember the ladies has resonated for more than two centuries. it was the boldest statement written by an american woman in the 18th century, and for much of the 19th. as a demand for political rights. it came from the mind and the soul of a woman whose life had been transformed over a long decade of rebellion, from the model of a new england matron recapitulating her mother's life and that of generations of women before her into a rebellion of her own. she was ernest. she had access. she made her move on behalf of women in an age when such a demand was no less radical than the state rebellion against great britain. nsu radical as her words were, as far out of context as they were from the mentality of most radicals who fought for american
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independence, they were still couched in the echoes that reflected her culture and her times. so, that's my abigail section. so i would be happy to answer questions, if you have questions. [applause] >> thank you. >> if you have questions, come to the mike. >> thank you for your talk. >> thank you. >> very, very good. i'm interested in all of the letters. it seems to me from what i know is that so much about the adams comes from the letters that have been written. how were they accumulataccumulated and saved for so long throughout history?
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>> excellent question. thank you very much. they were saved because of the adams' were a family aware that history was being made and that they were participating in history. john adams carried trunks of letters and papers around with him wherever he traveled, literally trunks. abigail, of course, saved all of her letters that she received from him and her friends. and so all of those family letters were kept by both of them. in that era, both men and women practiced writing letters before actually writing what they call a fair copy. so generally there were two copies of the letter.
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the draft and the fair copy. abigail rarely copied, so her letter under letters primarily are draft. and they were saved because john kept him and he had a sense of history. she very often wrote to him, burn my letters, i don't want anyone to ever read these letters. and she meant that because she had dared her heart in her letters. john's letters she kept but sometimes there are two copies. a copy that he wrote and sometimes either his secretary or one of the children would copy it over an affair hand. so sometimes with john's letters, there's either the recipient's copy or the rough draft remaining. there were many letters between abigail and her friends as well.
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and she had kept a lot of them. so what happened was, their house was filled with boxes and trunks of letters. and the family kept them. finally, in the second generation they started to build a library where they would keep these letters and sort them. and when charles francis adams sorted the letters in the 1830s and 1840s, this is abigail's and john's grandson, the son of john quincy. e2 out a lot of abigail's letters show her friends. which is painful to us women today because he said, those aren't really important. the important letters are the historical ones between adams' work. so a lot of correspondence between her friends was lost. but they were very careful, the adams family was very careful to
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keep all of those letters. and they were sorted by every generation was given the responsibility of sorting and then binding the letters. and they did. they sorted them by date and put them into bound volumes. in 1954, the adams family burdened with not just abigail's and john's letters, but for generations of adam's letters, gave all the letters to the massachusetts historical society. the first thing the massachusetts historical society did was microfilm all of the letters so that there was a permanent record. you remember microfilm, it came in the '50s and the '60s. it came before the computer. i read the letters mostly on microfilm, because once they
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were microfilm, the original copies of the letters were closed to historians. you can't see them in the mass historical. you can only read from the microfilm, which is what i get. and if any of you have ever read microfilm, you know it -- your tolerance wears down very quickly. and at first i could read for half an hour, and i would have to take a break and go outside and look at a tree or off to refocus my eyes and then go back. but i got good at reading them. and i got good at reading hand. now all of this is available on the computer. so if you go to google and youtube will adams, you can have these letters not only in their original hand, but typescript. so you can read the letters on your computer from your home with great ease. this is the transformation that
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the computer has made. that is the odyssey of the adams letters. other questions? >> several years ago i read the book of john adams. >> david mccallum said john adams. >> wonderful. >> it's a wonderful book. >> and he quotes a lot of john adams letters in there. and i'm wondering how much of a duplication is there in your book compared to that one with the letters. >> good. how do i get her from david mccullough? my emphasis -- i think david pocola, john adams has been not only a service to john adams but to all of us. john adams was the least known of all of the founding fathers,
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until mccullough's book. there were few biographies of adams, but mccullough's book got into attention, and since that time there have been a couple of television programs, as you know and so forth. so it's a very wonderful book. and he gets john adams spot on, from the first paragraph where he has john adams on a horse in a snowstorm writing from quincy, massachusetts, the boston talking and talking and talking. and that jimmy is john adams, spot on. the mouth talking in every circumstance. inventively creatively. michael also likes abigail a great deal. but she is a subordinate figure in the book. she shows up only as it
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complements john adams, and he doesn't give her what i call agency. that is, she reacts throughout the book. she doesn't -- you don't see her as an innovator. for instance, this passage that i just read to you about remember the lady, he does nothing with it. he does absolutely nothing. he quotes the letter and then goes on to something else. so his abigail and john are out of balance, for one thing. but the other thing is he has john adams in the political and diplomatic world, and i don't have to do that so much because he has done it. and i had john moore in the family world. and there's also a difference of interpretation. my background is i'm a feminist
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caller, i'm a scholar of women, i'm a historian of women. and it is most important to me that we understand that women were part of the historical past. and so much emphasis on abigail and on what women do and on the daily events in women's lives is recorded in this book in a way that it isn't in a biography of john adams. yes, sir. >> from what i understand, i watched the documentary on john adams on public tv. it sounded like jefferson plates and dirty tricks so he wouldn't get elected, so jefferson would. and i was wondering, i imagine
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that abigail played a big role in supporting her husband. did you find out much about that? >> yes, i know about that election. and the fact of the matter is that's correct. we came to think that we live in the age of dirty politics. and bad journalism. it was nothing like that age, or if anything, it is not worse now than it was then. politics was played in this country from the beginning, and journalism was dirty from the beginning. journalists, for instance, could make up their stories which provoked abigail enormously. she would be a very angry because she would read in the newspaper that she had attended a concert the night before. well, she hadn't been there for john had, or george washington
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had. they made stories up in the newspaper. and we know journalists don't do that today, right? affect. >> report the news and just news. so that was one thing, and journalism plays into politics. is very important in politics. jefferson became alienated from john adams. he was vice president in the early adams administrations and he left and he went home because of their politics had grown apart. and they came apart politically. they came apart politically early on when they were in europe, but they both tolerated one another. but during the adams is -- during john adams administration, what happened was france was a very great friend. and the french revolution had happened, and americans --
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americans were sympathetic with the french revolution. they saw it, and adams was particularly sympathetic to the french revolution because he thought it was going to be another american revolution that what was happening over there was the same thing that was happening over here, and it took a very long time for them to discover that heads were flying, that heads were being chopped off and that there was a reign of terror in france and that the revolution was different from our revolution. it was, in fact, a civil war. but jefferson was most sympathetic to france and it took him a long time to become disabused of france. and adams, during that time, exercise a kind of diplomacy that kept the country out of war. this was the end of the 1790s. his administration. jefferson and his party would have gone to war against either france or england.
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it was touch and go because both of them were stopping american ships on the high seas. and so adams wanted to pursue a policy of getting peace at any cost because he said this nation is in no position to have another war so soon after the revolution. we couldn't sustain another war. so there were different -- that is of the major reason for the breach between them. but jefferson also thought that adams was exercising too much power as president and wanted a strong federal government and he wanted a weak federal government. what jefferson did was, first of all, wrote a letter to thomas thank you had written a book about the french revolution, and jefferson's letter of sympathy for thomas spain got a tended to
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the introduction of the book when it was published in america. and everyone knew it was a criticism of adams and the person who really knew it was a criticism of adams was a adams. and so that made him very angry. this man of great passion. and then jefferson did write a couple of letters that got published in the journals of the time, which were critical of adams. and adam saw that as a betrayal. he did things that we expect politicians to do in our age, but which we don't think our founding fathers and mothers engaged in that kind of politics. the second component to your question was what was abigail's role. in campaigning for the presidency.
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abigail was not happy that john either took the vice presidency or the presidency, but like everything else she went along with it because he had a duty to serve and she had a duty to serve as well. so it was that sense of duty that really compelled her to go along with this and not prevent him from taking losses. did they campaign in a way that modern politicians, no. they didn't believe in campaigning. they didn't believe political parties even existed. there were differences of opinion, but they thought all of us are in favor of the new constitution and a new government, so all they should or should no political differences. there are shades of opinion or perhaps factions but not political parties. we look back and say, oh, they were political parties they just didn't know it. the consequence was that he didn't believe they had to
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campaign. they didn't believe, they didn't know yet. this is an experimental phase in american history. everything they did was experimental. and so none of them went out on the campaign trail. john adams went home and expected everyone would vote for him just on the basis of his record. .org jefferson was subversive, but john's arch nemesis, alexander hamilton, and hamilton was really hamilton's campaign against adams for the presiden presidency, was the -- the effective centrifuge that destroyed at his second candidacy because what he did is he supported someone else, and then a tie developed for the
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presidency and it had to do with things being competent, you know, the electoral college and all of this mess that we have today that was even messier at that time in history. and that's how john came in third as there was a tie. but john left the capital city before the inauguration of thomas jefferson. he left at six in the morning, at daybreak, and didn't stay for the inoculation of jefferson. he was so hurt. not only by losing office, but his son, his second son had just died. his son died the day -- he learned that his son died the same day that he learned that jefferson won the presidency. he was not a happy camper that day so he didn't stick around. other questions?


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