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tv   Harlow Giles Unger First Founding Father  CSPAN  March 17, 2018 4:00pm-4:46pm EDT

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programming at 11 p.m. with former clinton administration labor secretary robert like who talks about the economic and social cycles societies experience and their effect on the common good. that all happens tonight on c-span2's booktv. 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books every weekend, television for serious readers. .. i'd like to recognize and thank
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our leading museum members who are here tonight, including presidential patron peter hines. some quick announcements from the museum. the last tour will begin this saturday at 3:00 p.m. am new special tour will be offered everys at 3:00 p.m. in the celebration of women's history month in march. the next evening lecture is may 8th. tonight we have historian harlow giles unger. he has biology grooves the founding fathers including washington, hancock, lafayette and patrick henry, veteran journalist, broadcaster and educationor, former distinguished visiting fellow in american history at george washington's empty vernon. cited by florence king as the most reedable -- readable
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historian. he has spoken at george washington's mt. vernon, valley forming, yorktown and historic sites in boston, new york, philadelphia, and washington, dc. mr. unger is a graduate of the yale university and was a editor at the new york her herald times beforecoming an author. you can find books on his web. he'll discuss "furniture founding father." >> thank you, ladies and gentlemen. nice of you to come out in this rain and it's always an honor for me to stand in the footsteps of george washington here at fraunces tavern museum. as the lady said, my views may not reflect those of the museum, and nor do they reflect the
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views of the president or the members of congress. actually he don't know whose views they reflect other than own. >> america hat many founding fathers but unknown, william withel, joseph hughes, 56 who signed the declaration of independence, each of them of enormous importance to their community and state in the 1770s, '80s and '90s. most of them are forgotten today along with the 39 founders who signed the constitution. most americans don't know their names either. but as i wrote in the introduction to my new book, one of to the founders, richard henry lee, was the first of the
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founding fathers, and deserves as much or more attention than almost all the others. before washington, before patrick henry, jefferson, franklin or adams, richard henry lee was first to call for independence from britain. he was first to call for union of the states. right up there, lisch -- liberty and union. hi first to call for union, the first to call for amending the constitution with a bill of rights and first to call for abolition of slavery. yes, he was a virginian, and he owned slaves but he nonetheless was the first of the founders to call for abolition of slavery. now some of you i'm sure are wonder, why didn't he free his own slaves? that's what they say about washington. well, they couldn't. first of all, they didn't buy any slaves. they inherited them. they were part of the properties that they inherited.
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washington opposed slavery as much as any man in america, called it a savage system, but british law in virginia and the other british colonies, this was britain at the time these founding fathers lived. british law made slaves part of the properties where they worked and it was against the law to free them. had lee or washington or other plantation owns in the south who inherited slaves, freed them, they, the slave owners, would have again to prison and the slaves would still be part of the land where they worked. there was one loophole to the british law and that was they could free slaves, they could leave any property they wanted to, to anyone they wanted to, in their wills.
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wills bypassed the law, and many of the southern plantation owners, whom everybody castigates today for having slaves, many of them did just that. lee did, washington did, and many other enlightened slave owners. that and many other historic steps made richmond henry lee as much the father of our country as george washington. early on when other founding fathers still hoped for reconciliation with britain, and that included washington, called on americans to bind ourselves to each other and these are his words -- to bind ourselves to each other, to our country, with our lives and fortunes. if those words sound familiar, jefferson copied them in writing the end of the declaration of independence ten years later. but richard henry lee spoke and
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wrote those words at the end of february 1766, as part of a lee's town resolves which he led read to the town, protesting the stamp act. the stam act imposed the first ever direct tax on american colonist by britain's parliament. the parliament was supposed to be a representative body of legislators, but several million american colonialist were unrepresented. not a single member of par him represented americans and richard henry lee led a group of more than 100 virginiaians, including three of his brothers, and four members of the washington family, to protest taxation without representation. for the very first time. his complaints would spur the nation to declare independence a decade later. remember, this is nearly ten
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years before patrick henry's famous give me liberty speech. later throughout the long war of independence, it was lee who master minded the the.complex, political and economic victories that ensured washington's military victory and after the nation took shape issue was lee, not james madison, who first conceived of the bill of rights our nation enjoys today. he was truly our first founding father. well, why, asked the member of the audience a few minutes ago, why -- wasn't he recognized as such in i'll get to that later emt keep you on pins and needles. ripped henry lee was born in begun r virginia's and north america's wealthiest and more most powerful familiesment one of those fabled dynasties at the time, lime the haspburgs in
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europe. the lees ruled over hundreds of thousands of acres across the colonial virginia, maryland, and pennsylvania. their fleet of ships carried american tobacco to all corners of the earth. at the peak of their wealth and power, thelee controlled virginia's government and economy and made it north america's largest, richest, and most populated british colony. new york was nothing then. virginia was the heart of our country. but needing nothing to fill his person needs he studied and traveled in europe and return to his virginia home to absorb a huge family library of learning before deciding to enter public service. what started as an avocation in public service became a
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life-long commitment and turn him against many of his own social and economic class in the south, as he ran into government corruption and widespread deprivation of individual rights. his conflicts with corrupt officials and petty tyrants in virginia, grew into demands for individual liberties, for human rights, and eventually american independence from britain. as a fledgling member of the virginia legislature he shocked the south by declaring black people entitled to liberty and these are his words -- entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature. in doing so, richard henry lee planted the first seeds of emancipation in virginia. 12 years before britain's colonies declared independence, lee was first to threaten king
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george iii with revenge if he did not annull the stamp act tax. it didn't amount to much nor average taxpayer, penny here or there a stamp had to appear on every every legal document. wills, bills, contracts, and consumer products. when i was boy there were stamps on decks of cards, on cigarette pacts. that's the stamp act, northwestern stamp act anyway. all those personies -- pennies added up to what the british said they needed to pay soldiers to protect the americans against indians and attacks. americans said they could protect themselves. they said taxation without representation was no better than confiscation or theft of property. they had never before been taxed directly. lee felled so strongly he rotes to the fire brand activist,
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samuel adams, and together they organized committees and correspondence in each colony, uniting the independence movement and bringing colony leaders to philadelphia for north america's first continental congress. although many of the delegates, including lee, had been to mother england to study at oxford or cambridge, almost none of them had ever been to any of the other colonies. there was no transportation. each colony was a self-sustain little country. richard henry lee brought theming to for the first time. in 1775, at the first continental congress. he stood with patrick henry, demanding war with britain if necessary to obtain redress of american grievances against parliament's governing ministry. in april of that year, british troops fired the shots heard
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around the world at lexington and concord. and the year after that, lee invited his own execution on the british gallows for the trainous treasonous resolve before the congress that the these uunited colonies -- his word -- are and of right ought to be free and independent. his writing, his document, illustrated in this back. if those words sound familiar, they should, because they are the key words in the declaration of innocence and richard henry lee, not jefferson, who first wrote, and then spoke those words in congress, urging independence. three weeks later, on july 2nd , congress approved these -- lees resolution, declaring independence from britain. newspaper sent the news treatmenting in banner headlines
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across the world. proclaiming america and her people free of british rule and hailing richard henry lee as father of american independence. john adams wrote to his wife, abigail, that july 2, 1776, would become -- these are adams' words -- july 2nd, 1776 will become the most memorable day in the history of america with pomp and parade from one end of the continent to the other forever more. oops. what happened? well, why doesn't he get credit? that's what asked when i started writing this book. i learn that after passing lee's resolution on july 2nd, congress decided that a few dozen words weren't grand enough to announce the birth of a huge
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and great new nation. so congress appointed a committee of five, including franklin and jefferson, to write a more grandiose document. four of the final, live franklin, were old and tired after week of debate and told young jefferson to stay up plate extend lee's document. he opened the new document with a magnificent preamble. then filled the heart of the document with dozens of grievances written in pretty boring prose, the king did this or that, a bad boy. he ended by repeating the stirring words of richard henry lee that i just read to you. he gave lee no credit. and that's pretty typical of jefferson throughout his life. a year later when british troops seized the capitol of philadelphia, it was richard
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henry lee, not jefferson, who rallied a band of 20 courageous congressmen and while jefferson and all the rest fled to their homes, jefferson to his mound home in charlottesville, virginia, lee led the remnants, 20 members of congress, westward to lancaster, and then to york, pennsylvania, before the crossed the river, a safer place. washington meanwhile held the remnants of his armying to at valley forge. lee kept the remnants of congressing to through the rest of the war, and re-established a government. it would have been no government had he not done that. assuming leadership of the de facto chief executive he ensured the rebel government survived. he supervised military affairs, foreign affairs, and financial affairs. john adams called lee the cicero
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of the revolution in contrast to george washington, the unquestioned warrior, cincinnatus. three of lee's brother, with the love of country, and francis lee stood with henry in debates in the congress, and the two youngest were surrogates in europe and provided intelligence found financial aid and worked out secret deals to smuggle french arms and ammunition to washington's army. the surreptitious shipments arranged by the lee brothers would supply washington with 80% of his army'd needs for more than a year until fresh king louis xvi recognized the american independence and sent
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his army and nave to america to seal she victory and independence from britain. until then americans had been on their spoken washington could count on only richard henry lee and lee's brothers to stave off defeat. john adams hailed the lee as the band of brothers, his words, a band of brothers intrepid and unchangeable who like the greeks stood in the gap in the defense of their country, from the first glimmering of revolution to the perfect day. the four lee brothers were extraordinarily close and no governor reason. their father had died when they were still children, leave thing oldest brother, thomas, as their legal guardian. barely an adult himself. just too much for him, running a huge plantation and trying to raise a bunch of youngsters. he
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hired a fueltime live-in school teacher to take care of the kids and he was a good school teacher and but the byes invented a complex secret code only they could understand to communicate secretly behind the teacher's back, and i religion tell -- i'll tell you more about the code later. tell you all the other things later. when the boys were ol' enough, richard henry went to boarding school in print. arthur lee went to medical school and law school in britain, and william lee learned accounting and set up a london trading office as exclusive agency for the lee plantations to sell the produce in britain. both the twolee mingled in britain's highest political and social circles, accumulating friends who would send them and their brother, richard henry, during the revolution.
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some willingly, some not knowingly. william won election as a london sheriff, and then a member of par parliament. nothing wrong at the time. he was british. all the people in america were british. it was in london that arthur lee suddenly used their childhood code to notify his brother, richard henry lee, of a stunning plan to win the war of independence. lee had met the great french playwright, pierre. he wrote the plays of marriage of figaro and the barber of seville and they had a close friendship. pierre revealed
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himself not just as a sympathizer of the american cause but of all people, he was also an espionage agent for the french king and hi was in london trying to find an american contact through whom the french could help the american rebels undermine english rule in the new world and do it secretsly. the british hawed uhad hugh mailated the french in a war and seizes land from france, including can da, and france wanted canada back and was seeking ways to weaken brian without engaging in a war. they couldn't afford it. the -- at the time were cautioning the americans who were facing starvation at valley forge. washington score a couple of victories, he forced the british
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out of boston and surprised german mercenaries the british vanquished the british arms and seized philadelphia, america's most important city. washington had fewer than 4,000 able bodied troops left at valley forge in the within of '77. to make matters word, the third powerful british army was streaking out of canada and slicing through upstate new york. its plan was to combine with a second british force marching north from new york city and cut all off new england off from the middle and southern colonies. washington feared the war would be over. and then suddenly, the tip of a mast bobbed up on the horizon off of port smith, new hampshire. then second mast and then a crow's nest and a french flag
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from atop -- now from the top of one mast. port smith villagers raced to harborside, cheering historically. the mayor grabbed every man he could reach, screaming at each to bring his horse and wagon to the pier and then the french ship arrived and the cheering subside as french sailors and new hampshire villagers, men, women, children, unloaded an army's worth of arms, ammunition, and other military supplies from the ship on to a miles long wagon train that left on the road westward towards saratoga, new york. these were the french supplies that arthur lee, richard henry lee's younger brother, arranged to ship to america. the first of the wagons reached saratoga battlefield as american minute men were firing their
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last bullets and preparing to surrender. they had fresh food and water ask the americans turned their french guns on the red coats and scored the greatest military victory of the war. they captured nearly 6,000 british troops, including the british commanding general, the fabled general john bur burgon, a former member of par him who voted to tax americans. richard henry lee sent a coded message those brother to direct one of the three bon marche ships to part ports smog to resupply the northern army and the other ship headed to delware capes to resupply washington's arm but but the british sank them. the only ship to arrive was the
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bun to forths smith bit changes the course of the war because the victory at saratoga proofed that the american army was skilled enough and willing to win the war against the british. hoping she could recapture canada, france declared war on britain. spain then joined in, and holland made the essential loans of money to the american government. in 1779, richard henry lee, 47 years old, with four fingers blown aaron by a flintlock explosion, kale out of congress to display his heroism in battle. he led his home county militia in a charge against british troops, lanning along the potomac river near lee's home. tv after the revolution and he celebrates ended, the founding fathers split apart, geographically, of course, all went to their separate ways to their old homes, but politically, as well.
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they began a political conflict that would raise throughout the 19th century, reaching a climax with the civil war but continuing long after, into and throughout the 20th century and now even in the 20th 20th century, its embers continue to smolder. this was the conflict over who and how to govern. although the founders wrote a new constitution, it divided government powers between the central government and the states. giving the central government powers to tax, powers over national defense, international affairs, and many areas of interstate affairs, and they added ten apple, the bill of rights that banned government abridgement of certain fume rights, free speech and 0 soing for. the tenth and last amendment of the bill of rights went a step further, speak identify --
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specifying that any and all powers not grandded to the central government were preserved to the states. it's very short, very clearcut. and i quote, the powers not delegated to the united states by the constitution nor prohibited by it, are reserved to states respectively or to the people. now, that's pretty clearcut. at the time they wrote this constitution, the founding fathers agreed that the articles of confederation, which had governed the nation during the war, just wasn't working. america needed a stronger central government than it had during the revolution. individual states remanned sovereign then -- remained sovereign, leaving the congress unable to tax, unable to raise troops or money. membersmembers of congress couly their own eyebrows without
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unanimous consent of every state legislature. was impossible and we almost lost the war because of that. the battle of the constitution didn't solve anything at the time. the tenth amendment did not -- was not clearcut enough for richard henry lee and he joined patrick henry as the leaders in opposing ratification of the constitution. both men feared that as written, it would concentrate the nation's power and wealth two in the hand of oligarchs, that the rich would get richer and the poor, poorer. the first maxime of a man who loves lisch do-dish themeter mam jim of a man who loves liberty should be never to grant to rulers an atom of power that is not clearly clearly clearly and.
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to the word warring were meant for every congress that followed. the lees and patrick henry lost their struggle and at the federal government useniored power -- usurped powers in almost every area over the american life from them items your kids can take to kin degaren to the doing-peat you can use in the privacy of your bathroom. lee continued the fight, winning election to the very first u.s. senate but after two years of fighting to events federal uusurpations, the struggle wore him down. spend and ailing he retired to his virginia home and died in 1794. words on his grave stone expressed his family's loss, and that of the nation. we cannot do without you.
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of course,ers and americans have done without him and all but forgotten him. it's appalling but most americans have never even heard of this great patriot. the first to call for union, the first to call for ending slavery, every american knows the name of his great revenue, robert e. lee, who tried to shatter the union. few americans know the name of richard henry lee, who spent his life creating the union. how could that be? after you read about him in this book you'll be as shocked as i was after i wrote it. several factors beyond anyone's control came into play. first of all, lee's home. his plantation. was on a desserted stretch of -- deserted stretch of lan on an isolated cliff over the potomac ure if. downstream from neighbors, schools, churches or town.
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and mt. vern mon was and is only about ten miles from alexandria. jefferson's monticello in charlottesville and the university of virginia. both homes were centers of political and social activities during washington's and jefferson's lifetimes, and became the targets of vast restoration efforts after the deaths of their owners. jefferson's daughter formed a foundation that exists to this day. preserving and protecting monticello. washington's home was sold to a group of ladies, patriotic ladies from the south who organized into a group called the ladies mt. vernon, and they started taking charge of mt. vernon, restored it and run
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mt. vernon to this vary day as one therefore greatest group of american is have ever met in my life. they're absolutely marvelous. even lee's wife didn't want to stay at the isolated lee plantation of a his death and move her and her sons to alex damp leaving the plantation home deserted. abandoned and isolated, it became an easy target for british gun boats sailing up the o'tome mick during the war of 1812. one of the fired and set the house ablaze in what would be the next to last british victory of support on the mesh soil. not an ash remains today to identify the spot where richard henry lee's our house once stood. i hope, though, that this little book will help restore his legacy and remind you here tonight how much of our freedom and liberty we owe to richard henry lee. he was after all our first
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founding father. thank you, ladies and gentlemen, god bless america. [applause] >> i'll day quick. >> when the excision was formed -- wasn't a member. why would that be? that was his rodriguez luigs. >> dididn't hear the question. >> i said henry lee was the person who actually made the motion for the resolution calling for the independence of the united states -- of the christians. since he made the resolution it would have made sense he would have been part over commission toe draft the declaration of independence. why? >> he had to go home on family business. and so he was not on july 4th.
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he didn't cast his vote until early august, actually. >> yes, sir. >> um. >> oh, ma'am, i'm sorry. >> how did you become interested in him since he -- how did you become interested since he is so little known? >> well, he -- wasn't little known at the time. these were the greatest american in american history '. they founded our country. that's why they're cold the founding fathers. i don't see hoe anybody wouldn't be interested in them job but there's so many founding fathers. >> and i'm trying to get through them. i've done -- i'm working on the 26th right now. [inaudible question] >> he was deeply involved in running the war. he was washington's man in congress. eisenhower couldn't have won the
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war if he didn't have roosevelt and the leaders of congress behind him. eisenhower could not good out and buy arms and ammunitions. the same with washington ask the story of the revolution just told through washington's eyes and deservedly so but ignores the fact, how did he clog and feed his men? it was richard henry lee who did that. yes, ma'am. [inaudible question] >> that's lightfoot. harry lee was his have no few, hero in the revolutionary war, great commander and later became governor of virginia and was the father of robert e. lee. >> is there a book on the family history? a history on the family?
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>> yes, loads of books called the las of virginia -- >> which one would you recommend? >> i wouldn't. i'd recommend my book. yes, sir. >> you talk about how the french ship provided supplies -- at lease one ship provided supplies at the battle of saratoga. i'm interested in what the kind of real-time communications at the time were when they were dispatching the ship. what's for the purpose of providing supplies for the american forces in the -- that general area or just happen stance that the supplies were unloaded and got there in time. >> ripped henry lee sent a secret code missionage to arthur to have one ship go to feed the saratoga battlefield at portssmith. to shorten the talk a little
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bit, i said went trying saratoga. actually the first stop was in vermont and they absolutely crushed the british there who we retreated back to saratoga. but that was one of three shipped that bon marche arranged to sale to america seek yetly with french arms and the other two were sunk unfortunately there was spies everywhere in britain in france. this only could have happened at a party with two guys talking secretly to each other. >> in the broadway show "1776" done he come off as very vain is? that based on anything? >> no. it's based on good play, good music. it's like hamilton speaking rap.
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there,. >> you indicated that lee was espousing independence ten years before at the declaration of independence, and his family was very prosperous in america. he was benefiting. was the ideology of his spirit of wanting freedom and independence from england? when we went into a freshman called the house of burgesses, the state -- provincial legislature of virginia under the british, the chief of the house of burgesses, the chief assemblyman, john robinson, who instead of retiring, used british currency as he -- he was also treasurer. this double job, at the president could also be secretary of treasury.
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woo. he funneled all the used -- instead of having burned he funneled it into his little cubbyhole at home and whenever his friend needed money, we're lend it to him. so he was stealing, and ripped henry lee couldn't believe it when he stumbled on that, and so he -- that was his first crusade to unseat john robinson and robinson actually died but the inquiries were going own and he was already being shamed and would have been forced to resign. >> i read your book and -- [inaudible] >> -- and the speaker of the house. >> i'm sorry? >> that he passed a law separating the duties of the speaker of the house and the treasurer because it was conflict of interest.
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>> this was before the war, when he was a young man, before the war. >> yes, ma'am. >> did he have sonned that were active -- hello -- did he have sons that were active politically? >> no. he had seven sons and they went into business and law and things like that. >> yes, sir. >> i'm curious. would you comment on a person that is so prominent and so visible in history, how did he lay doorman and fly under -- dormant and flyer in the radar so long and not get a biograph? maybe publisher -- >> i thought i explain it. his home was not in the center of action at the time, and after the died the home disappeared, his wife and two sons went to
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alexandra, didn't renew interest in what he had done. each generation forgets the previous generation as quickly as they can. none of you walk around with the label, my father was joe something i. and this is with public figures as well. it's tragic and unfortunately schools only have, what, seven months, eight months to teach american history? come on. in a become this thick, you have to leave something out. and you can leave george washington out, can't leave abraham lincoln out, can't leave woodrow wilson and franklin roosevelt out. can't leave the first world bar and the second war. where is the room for the other characters? there is none. if you want to study american history, and i think american history should be taught in more than one year.
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that high schools should spent two years on american history and a little bit less on home economics. >> well, if that's all your question, thank you very much for coming through the rain tonight. i appreciate it -- there's one more? >> i wanted to -- did he have any aspirations to become president? >> no. >> any backing. >> no. he let washington -- he -- no one would have even breathed a breath of ambition after the passage of the constitution at a time came to name a president. it was one man, one huge hero, and everybody -- nobody believed the nation would survive unless he took the reins of the presidency. [inaudible question]
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>> he was given powers after richard henry lee and the little congress that was left in york, pennsylvania, after the -- there was a military -- trying to overthrow washington as leader because he was losing a lot of battles, and richard henry lee led the congress to end that effort, and in effect they gave him dictatorial powers from that point on. so he really had power -- absolute power over the nation until the end of the war, and lo and behold he goes to congress and gives back his commission and says, i'm retiring to my farm, which is what cincinnatus had done in ancient rome and john adam called him the cincinnatus and called richard henry lee the cicero because cicero was the great statesman
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and orator who was the legislative leader that provided cincinnatus with all the necessary forces to win that war. yes. >> what was the code like they used ten at the brothers? >> i'm sorry. >> the code they used between the brothers. >> it's too complicated. you can see a little bit in my book. thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. [applause] >> this sunday booktv will we live from the museum of the bible in washington, dc. to look at the bible's influence on literature, and its impact on issues ranging from government
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and legal systems to education, human rights and more. we'll take your calls, questions and comments. that's live at 1:00 p.m. eastern time this sunday on booktv. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]


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