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tv   Nancy Isenberg Andrew Burstein The Problem of Democracy  CSPAN  August 27, 2019 12:44am-1:56am EDT

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>> good afternoon with the massachusetts historical society and so happy that we
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celebrate historians as they present their book the problem with democracy with president adams confronts the cult of personality. nhs is on to the adams family papers and comprised of books and diaries and literary manuscripts and business papers of senior and the junior president as well as all members of the preeminent dynasty. of democracy and identity and the nhs on the entire 14 million it to be available to anyone with life and culture and history and we do that for free so if you value this i encourage you to
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support those workshops that they host so to have that calendar grab it on the way out and the problem of democracy for sale and get them signed by the authors such as bird dish introduce nancy eisenberg doctor eisenberg is a professor of history at louisiana state university the 2016 best-selling book white trash 400 year story of america is an international sensation tackling one of the most intense social scenes in america.
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as a professor of history how jefferson's life and legacy to support modern day politics on both sides of the aisle to be regular contributors to modern political and cultural affairs for a variety of national news outlets including npr please join me to balk on on - - welcome our gas. [applause] >> thank you catherine without the massachusetts historical society. thank you for coming. is the candidate likable enough? [laughter]
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and you come across as likable and that's what democracy has come to with the common touch is not the question of knowledge or judgment or a popularity contest this is one problem of democracy so why should that be the adams? presidents two and six.
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the feelings of inner satisfaction. perhaps they should not always be believed but nevertheless across decades any reader could see that move with self censoring. with a period in their public lives when they were diplomats in europe and as a teenager without parental supervision john quincy tracked across eastern europe and scandinavia to brave the crossings of the
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english coast on the obscure backwaters and johnny was subjected to all sorts of bodily ills expertly guided to civilization that bond father and son with their young country abroad literally citizens of the world and to a greater extent that anyone else they stood as proud americans not converts as many wrong lee indicated and those that promoted expertise over popularity but remarkably john quincy adams the first to pronounce in the 1825
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inaugural address deserve to be called the functional representative of democracy not typically seen and not andrew jackson either here he is as stringing up his hapless predecessor he could compose formal speeches and richly rewarded his friends that was his style. and to profit in the southern manner for jackson didn't read history and was not predisposed to democracy in any real way but john adams and john quincy adams is a better democrat than jackson. wrap your mind around that.
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democracy is proclaimed more than it is practiced. and on the basis of the comprehensive study of history. >> and psychology it as much of jefferson at the heart of the revolutionary movement like the divine right of kings to cultivate john adams held what could be found in every heart and to worship the riches. this is why he identified the danger of the cult of personality it is when the personality of the leader is equated with the nation but to worship the idols that we the
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people as the soul of the body of politics. as adam watched the cult of personal first when he was in france they are franklin seduced the educated elite as the first rockstar. adams understood the desire among human beings to bc and loved and on spectators ship and then it was the opposite the fear of obscurity of insignificance longing that every american wants 15 minutes of fame that was the danger of adoration at the center of the constitutional theory in the eyes of men and women was also superficial both the riches and the beauty
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that societies that political parties use that same method to candidates and a prominent name of a glamorous reputation if that was not enough he would keep supporters mesmerized. john adams understood politics was a crooked con game from 71 - - 1790 and then to emerge and all governments republics and democracies alike a society that rewards ambition cannot avert the mad scramble for public recognition but group psychology and since the
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majority of people would never take to the stage they lived vicariously through their idols. vicarious was his word to say the people felt a special kind of sympathy for the powerful not just corrupt politicians to inflate but that the voters lived for the show. these things are not drawn to simply resonate with the current political theme and people forget we started to research this book long before the current political scene left off americans tell themselves we value independent thinking but in fact they still swoon over the rich and famous enjoying
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crowds of adoring fans to extrapolate it is a dangerous force within democracy to be played by the partisan press and party organizers found a way to exploit the imaginary bond between voters and their leaders in the first presidential election hamilton made sure that senators elect one - - senators withheld their votes so that the new englanders could steal the election from washington so from the hamilton perspective that could only be one surrogate king one idolized star washington's presidency
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the chief executive was housed in a grand mansion in a lavish carriage with courtney receptions he had two grand national tours with the king of england and his birthday is a national holiday. a dignitary remarked to keep treasured portraits of washington in their home much like the russians. to be cleverly dissecting the cult of washington to have the worship of washington the first and most important trait was to empathize his fate and next the whole stature 6-foot three and it was evident in his elegant form and his
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graceful movements and as a man of few words adams joked his fellow virginians adored him because the geese are all swans. and even more than genius we know it to be true as well voters take manufactured qualities in character and adams suffered in comparison to washington and acquired the nasty nickname of a label started with vice president used in the election of 18 hundreds. political gamesmanship by the
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time the second adams entered a contest. in 1824 win then secretary of state john quincy adams is seeking the presidency they captured the foot race into this day of a presidential portrait this is relevant even tonight with the kentucky derby. john quincy adams is the head and with a military uniform coming up fast standing at the front of the crowd cheering on his son while spectators place wages on the outcomes. this is democracy at its worst in the spectacle the election
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campaign is about philosophy or policies. the excitement is what matters most. in 1828 adams lost the election and found himself not only running against a national hero but a far better organized jackson party machine van buren was the guru to build on the earlier new yorker hamilton's playbook his admirers tried to put them into the air of washington and the efforts failed because jackson was known to those concerned as autocratic. promoted with a lavish campaign the first of its kind the rash arbitrary behavior as a cardinal virtue to exhibit
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boldness and man the vigor but to be over the cerebral. there is something even darker at work. john quincy adams concludes - - concluded that his followers were really a champion of executive power. and jacksonian democracy of that conquest it was a smokescreen. slaveholders wanted slavery to expand and that was a union of land speculators. john quincy adams elected to congress 1830 after his one term presidency ended. it was an unusual move never
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to be repeated remaining in the house until he died until 1848 parties ruled the art of party drilling as he called it required a military. membership would be called to liberty among the southern democrats to that auxiliary support for slavery from freemen of the north that is a greater irony that the party now party of executive power and election-year rhetoric has john quincy adams as the princely error control the titles and rituals of the european court to be serving as a diplomat. somehow like his father before him a secret promoter of the
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monarchy but the truth is the cult of personality has the twisted truth that people often did not care and for john quincy adams the slaveholding oligarchy had taken hold of the presidency along with the illusion of jacksonian democracy. >> would be helpful at this point to elaborate on the two epigraphs from 1814 and the first is from john adams. remember democracy never lasts long it exhausts and murders itself there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. that it is lessening less selfish or ambitious than a monarchy aristocracy that all
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men under all forms of government left unchecked produce the same effects. what he means there needs to be healthy democratic elements in government force on balance there will always be money interest but to be contested within those institutions by those that are not so confined but democracy is inherently unstable because of the quality because those that emerge become privileged if it hasn't been morphed into aristocracy or oligarchy it implodes on its own accord devolving into anarchy. we say democracy - - democracy turns to civility social media in 2019. it is anxious because of envy and needs help and a survival
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plan that is what they met when referring to those tendencies democracy did not does not automatically produce equal educational opportunity for equal access to government therefore to require expertise representation that doesn't have to compete with those voices all clamoring for something. now here is j q a-letter also writing it was stockholm during the period of the negotiating and rights in truth human nature itself is little more than a compensation and throughout his political career the second president regarded capitol hill debate as a cool drama perpetrated that the moral philosophy that he upheld emphasize the dictates
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of the moral faculties of the command and it's what led them to go against the grain of the dictates of a party and have those two most disparaged and of the nature of authority in the character of those who will wield it people are ruled by the authority. we understand why they're not perceived as democratic in spirit the electable should not be the sole qualification but under the two-party system they get electability. those that are meant to perform a positive public
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service to sacrifice ease and fortune to be the eyes and ears. >> there a historical lens we have seen the presidential elections contribute little to advancing real democracy. the adams is praised the town meeting because for them it was the true ground where the elder adams put it all the inhabitants acquire a custom of discussing and deliberating with certain public affairs to speak effectively to their representatives so with this ideal to a deeper level practicing what he preached and after his four years of president to be in congress to praise the town meeting the sun became a champion and a petition was the most
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inclusive form of expressing the will of the people and john quincy adams to protect the right of petition for winning and for slaves and of course anti- slavery access blasted by jackson and the incendiaries. adam forced the house to debate slavery despite the southerners having passed the gag rule which made it a taboo topic. he believed nothing should be silenced in the people's branch and representatives should be accountable to their constituents. democracy. there is no term in any history book and maybe there should be. john quincy adams was known as old man eloquent but he didn't
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have his victories with a silver tongue he provoked his professional colleagues as he would expose them and that deeply undemocratic character of their belief one arch enemy from virginia 40 years his junior called him the hissing serpent which despite the nastiness captured the cat and mouse approach and then the snake. one of john quincy adams greatest performance came with a petition from a group of slaves which caused colleagues to explode waiting patiently until the feelings dissipated they drafted language to officially censure him.
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he revealed it was not a call to end slavery but to preserve it. this is a hoax and a joke was on his colleagues. but then he took it further. he made them even angrier when he conceded to a legitimate defense of the right of slaves to petition congress and said the feeling of a southern member of the house with no reason to silence a representative or refuse to hear a petition. he reminded his colleagues that consisted more of master. how could one favored class, the master class supersede the rights of everyone else? the gag rule gagging discussion of american slavery was a grand departure from american justice.
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jacksonian democrats were preparing democracy instead of promoting it. >> as i offer concluding remarks a little contentious to criticize democracy that is their legacy and what is that understanding? obviously they would see money in politics because it rejects the principle to defeat the interest of the american population of the whole nothing so much as the power that's over the rest of us and that the wealthy receive special favors under the law. the highly paid lobbyist for legislation to classify this as the oligarchy and this is the evidence which we find in abundance with adam's writings.
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but even some professional historians have overlooked or don't want to see. new interpretations always meet with resistance those predisposed to write off the adams or to become defenders of the adams making excuses for two loser presidents. and with a hard-working historian trying to overcome bad history. what do they say about the internet and democratic space? that is a place that demonstrably that in cyberspace although not quite equal that people would tend to seek out whatever confirm their existing bias they did not foresee the internet but they did foresee democracy run
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amok with irrational behavior spurred on by that information without russia interference. free-for-all democracy is a mes mess. but you don't jettison this altogether but the fact is through the lens every form of government is subject to corruption only to maintain balance through vested interest especially overcoming the balances and wealth to other resentments that they describe as identity politics. and then all the challenges incredulous responsive to fear tactics. john adams and john quincy adams believe the conduct of politics live their lives by these principles and did not see popularity or usher in the age of anything and did not go
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down in history as a significant president but their ideas until now call profound and profoundly meaningful today. the problem is democracy as we clutch on two principles into egalitarian not existing and never intended. to make the combined legacy cannot be summed up easily that it may be useful to think about as antiheroes. they were vain and too honest to be the left when most americans did not want to hear and they challenged what they had about democracy and distrusted with a passion but also believed analyzing problems that brought about
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constructive change they were obsessed with the masked deception. i likened them to sherlock holmes. because truth for them existed in the details. okay. turn off the phones ff they wore different intellectual hats as a satirist and psychologist cosmopolitan wanderers to cheer the skepticism of a historian to conclude it is the duty of
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government to check the worse excesses and furthermore something we bring out in the book we both fiction. that accessibility and tragic like the study of history better than abstract ideals we do not believe national greatness was inevitable the line we have all heard before that ours is a government of law, not of men that is the line john adams from james harrington. this perfectly captures the view of the cult of personality. to set up as a celebrity is completely drawn.
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only institutions can safeguard democracy only rules or principles can be trusted and in part as flawless leaders the favorite comic novel it relies on the power of impersonation as he borrows his master's clothing to facilitate to upend the social norms the satire exposes counterfeit democracy and reminds us the cult of personality as easily as the
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antihero through a polite society to fool everybody that he meets let's see behind the façade. let's be ingenious it is not futile to be within a healthy debate to keep democracy alive. thank you very much. [applause] >> we were trying to be provocative but to find out if we succeeded c-span would like you to approach the microphone in the center of the room the
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microphone in the center of the room so when you think of jefferson with those things that we revere more like the adams but their living practices but then they don't come off as well? the first problem with patrick henry give me liberty or give me death the one soundbite he is best known for at least the most influential biographer admitted the romantic truth
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was too important to him as a biographer to let it go so in corresponding with thomas jefferson jefferson came back to the biographer and said you know henry had a long train of abuses. >> i would like to raise that issue of slavery because as you may have seen the musical hamilton that he was someone who purchased and owned slaves part of the problem we have
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found her worship in each gets recycled and this is something that reflects but it is true it is a striking issue for today that john adams and john quincy adams were not slaveowners but john adams did not come from a wealthy background compared to the virginia dynasty but this is part of the legacy that we have but your enemy can define who you are and put the label on you. the fact he was targeted to attacked by being in a defender of a monarchy in a superficial fashion even historians don't have a
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contrast between the jeffersonian democracy in the backward looking political position that was tricky because he is vastly different from alexander hamilton so even party labels you are right we should pay more attention to the fact the adams need to be revisited to understanding with a critique of sliver one - - slavery abigail was horrified at only that it existed but she understood slave masters took advantage of women to use them sexually and that she pass that on to john quincy adams.
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spinnaker that colt is as important as you say that because of the house of representatives so did those things change in the years he was the president? did adams become something different. >> i do agree that personality is so important trying to decide how he became president. >> the popular vote did not matter we cannot make that direct court one - - correlation now but john adams lost narrowly to jefferson and beat him in the first election nearly also largely factor of
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what is later described as a section or divide adams was contentious but not as much as alexander hamilton and you get
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there buys as the movement and that ends up being the party of madison and jefferson but that is highly developed the art of organization of the spoils of the offices that washington is not being contested that now that we accept as cultivating and talking about personality using them in a campaign and
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really that began to take shape and really in the election of the 18 hundreds so the average voter will not know john adams personally but will get a portrait about what is repeated with the partisan newspapers so that begins to take a much more important role in the elections. >> it wasn't really a politician other than conducted through letter writing and some of these letters were intentionally being directed to someone in the newspapers so in many ways that vocabulary does not
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directly apply. so with that inevitability of the two-party system to refer to the spirit of party as a negative that meant faction or factionalism to be organized at best a democratic interest and the word democracy was rejected with the french revolutionary excesses and not until the 19th century even the term democracy to be identified was no longer pejorative. it all happens over time. >> i will say jefferson was
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becoming a head of the party to surround himself with supporter supporters, have better at that are much more negative to take on the role and basically when adams is president hamilton is taking on the role so there are personal differences and in the way they think of using power as jefferson was more capable to do and this is why he was criticized t doesn't take on the role to be ahead of the party but to him this was underlying for the executive to take on that party leadership role. >> and also understanding these questions in the
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historical context to pull on those extensive diaries and letters the adams not only did they retain so many books and diaries and letters and john and john quincy communicated about the issues that were political and ways that open us up to future historians all of this record and the newspapers that were available that can be readily searched so with that conduct of politics at the state and local and national level, this
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is an ongoing enterprise for all of us that were involved to educate ourselves and the rising generation so a shout out to the profession of history. >> you talk how much the understanding of democracy by the study of analysis in history and philosophy. can you comment why did a generation of other men who also analyzed and studied politics and democracy go misrepresent or misunderstand what they were talking about are getting in particular? those that studied about james madison throughout his whole
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life had contempt for adams for his understanding and his intellect particularly in the generation they lived in to be so misunderstood or misrepresented. >> all the way back when and john adams is a diplomat factions begin to form. like everything els else, information circulated. i teach a class and i show how the quotes are repeated from madison to jefferson and how and identity and what is interesting that i would like to add is by the time he is president, he changes his mind
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about john adams. and they write him a really supportive letter when he has his difficulties of the very struggled presidency with the war of 1812 and on top of that. >> jfk profiles encourage features john quincy adams because he abandons the party of his father as the federalist party to join with jefferson and madison the secretary of state. because as a nationalist john quincy adams was above party he felt he knew he would lose his seat by caucusing with the madisonian's and did that because of principle. 's father was wholeheartedly behind him to make that political shift he forgave
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thomas jefferson and have more than a decade of post presidential correspondence and madison and deeply respected so there is no simple answer their ideas and opinions and that personal hatred with change over time and we see that a lot john adams love people the wrong way. we see that. that is important to understand that generation and the generation of john quincy adams. there are elements to their
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personality that today we may have trouble with and we are not always perfect so the key thing is part of the reason it is distorted is as you know from politicians today talk about those that are nominated to the supreme court because there is tons of paper and documentation and this is what happens with john adams to publish a large book of the constitution and these materials were to be used against him.
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>> over the last couple of years on those john adams remarks made by wise and honest men. in that regard do you pick up the moment in which adams wisdom seems to have failed him when he acquiesces to party pressure &-ampersand the alien and sedition act into law? >> that was a very subtle way to give it to us. [laughter] we are not sugarcoating or to undermine the first amendment. if one more were to rationalize why john adams did
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not initiate, but he embraced i it, but to understand it in context the french revolution had an impact on the american national consciousness of how americans reacted after 9/11 so there was a fear among the federalist that the french revolutions and they use the word terrorism so it was out that extreme fear the aliens were regarded as untrustworthy in that they could be moved from american shores. there were newspapermen who
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were irish and scottish by birth who came here to shake things up. prior to that even president george washington even in his last glorious second term , went along with alexander hamilton idea of crushing the internal rebellion in western pennsylvania that was as large if not larger than what washington commanded during the revolution. only to find whatever resistance disappeared and there was no real reason. so that is the context of which we can look under the
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factious 17 nineties and what led to the alien and sedition act. >> this is the problem none of the early questions can be looked at as perfect presidencies and that's even true for thomas jefferson with the first term and then a second term. and madison has a similar problem to inherit his cabinet from washington they are not supportive of him but getting the directive from hamilton and then james madison by the time he is president puts people in his cabinet he is constantly having to replace brca1 as a drunk. it is not a weld oiled machine.
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so i would add john adams other problem it is strange and this is the question that i raise that he writes about government. one of the things he fears with the design of the american constitution that the executive will be too weak. because when he is in the office he does not act as a strong president and then on top of that he finds himself following hamilton's lead to engage in a war with france and then there is a series of diplomatic failures because america is humiliated and john adams goes along with this but then in the end he pulls back
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and decides the members of his cabinet were listening to hamilton and not helping him and he takes the action to find a diplomatic solution as opposed to going to war. now this hurts him in a serious way of the election of 18 hundreds. alexander hamilton a very contentious pamphlet finally is uncovered and published and he has to admit he's trying to undermine john adams reelection. so yes, being a president is complicated we don't want to say he didn't make crucial fundamental mistakes but to be put into context and you have to compare the presidency to other early presidents. none of them can be seen as perfect. >> but to believe they could
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be educated and rational as a more realistic psychological insights that people could be credulous or fearful. this seems like a contradiction but will this ever be an ideal or a cover story for the oligarchy? >> good question. yes. and this is another point i would like to make john adams helped to draft the first constitution of massachusetts. public support for public education. which did not make it into the virginia constitution he tried
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to get some boys to be educated and the elite shot it down so he did care about education and we needed public support and public funding for education. but those contradictions are they are. and with that instability of government you cannot just assume you write a constitution to put a government in place and it will magically solve these problems that is why they felt in the way they position themselves to unmask the superstition that is a distraction so you do believe in the importance of constitution of rules that you
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have to educate people and not just the common people but the elite and they might be the most educated people of the population and to find a way to check power. one of the quotes that i really like to save you put 100 men in the room in a very short time 25 gather the power to themselves. ambition is not pure. so that's why they put a lot of faith in constitutions because they believe in the potential of education just like the town meeting. to start at a very early age how to argue in a town meeting. >> the funding was not there.
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as early as washington's presidency for the citizens to be a national university established defined a great deal of resistance from the virginia legislators as to the value of having wealthy citizens support the institution of higher learning. and john quincy adams when he came to the presidency was hell-bent on funding public education and roads and infrastructure and to make a more dynamic national form of government believing in the institutions but raising money
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for public education he needed a lot more than the south. >> with those discoveries of democracy the divine right with european leaders or any leader. so any way that those spiritual qualities and that clarity of god's will it is this sort of thing hasn't shown itself when john adams and thomas jefferson when they both died on the fourth of july it was widely considered to be providential that george
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washington was sent heavenward on the wings of angels. >> actually it has jesus' body with washington's head. [laughter] >> so that cause i religiosity that accompanied the idea and even before the revolution there was literature that proclaimed america as the new eat in or jerusalem. so a lot was tasked in that religiosity not being attributed beyond god's providence. john quincy adams was more conventional with those
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correspondence that the fathers were comically engaging or poking to answer his questions. so it was part of their uncensored and open and loving correspondence over the years but i don't know beyond that it would be hard to say anything. >> there is that argument if he were established at a christian nation if you look at the towns they are careful not putting religion in the constitution and not endorsing
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that idea so as we know to have the separation of church and state he was so open and that he did something to go around and attend different congregations to see what was going on in there because he saw a religion as another part to understand human psychology because he is deeply concerned how people can be manipulated and clearly critiquing the cult of washington he is responding to the dangerous tendency to make washington into something much bigger than a human being like every other founder.
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>> if you're interested in pursuing this there is a book of this institution called household god. [applause] thank you
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