tv Akhil Reed Amar The Words That Made Us CSPAN August 26, 2021 3:21am-4:24am EDT
>> good evening everyone. i am louise mirrer the new york historical society's president and i'm to welcome you here for tonight's virtual program. i'm particularly grateful this evening to je realty for sponsoring the program tonight. i'm also delighted to welcome -- and to thank you for your great partnership. before i introduce our speaker i want to recognize and thank the new york historical society for joining us this evening. first and foremost the outstanding chair of our board of trustees the chair for the executive committee and trustee store the goldman suzanne heck
and tonight one of tonight's speakers akhil reed amar who will be joining us momentarily on our virtual stage. i'd also like to thank the council. we are so grateful to each and every one of you for your encouragement and support especially during this challenging time. we are pleased to welcome akhil reed amar back to our virtual stage. a professor of law and political science at yale university he clerked for judge associate justice stephen breyer and the judge on the u.s. court of appeals for the first circuit. he's a regular visiting adjunct professor at columbia while -- columbia law school and the author of "the words that made us".
joining us is moderator is a fellow at the national review institute is senior editor of the national review and an author of numerous books including liberty if history of -- and john marshall the man who made the supreme court. he was new york historical alexander hamilton. i was delighted to be able to work with him and in 2008 president george w. bush awarded him the medal and a white house ceremony. tonight's program will last one hour 50 minutes with questions and answers questions can be submitted via the q&a function on your zoom screen. we have disabled the chat
function tonight but join the q&a. our speakers will get to as many questions as time allows and now i am happy indeed to share in our on the stage with tonight's speaker. thank you. >> thank you louise. thank you for joining us. it ties a pleasure and an honor to be at the new york historical society and it's always a pleasure to be with professor amar. he is a deer friend and has been for years and he has written a terrific book "the words that made us" america's constitutional conversation, 1760 to 1840 and your book covers a lot of things that you would expect to be covered in such a book. you talk about the federalist
papers and you talk about the constitution but i think a lot of the real richness of this book and what impressed me so much about it is its richness. it's a less expected and maybe a little surprising. i want to start with two words from your title and your subtitle. i want to start with words and conversations which maybe isn't the first thing that people would think of when i think of the constitution and its history and its development. what conversation are you talking about and who are the people in it? what kind of things are they saying? >> we begin in the new world and talking to each other in newspapers especially but in letters and face-to-face
conversations. they talk themselves into becoming americans. they begin to realize whether they are in massachusetts are down in virginia or in other colonies and my story begins with 1760. they begin to understand what they have in common with each other. they are talking to britain initially and they see themselves beginning in my story as british subjects in the new world. ..
people on the middle were looking at both sides, and newspaper of journalists, they are indispensable to this project. they are talking initially on what will become the declaration of independence, and then eventually they have talked themselves into becoming visibly americans. one nation, indivisible, not the
constitution. and they do it ethically through political cartoons, words and pictures, some very highest polluting stuff. and that includes an inclusive and robust and uninhibited wide-open distinctly american experience. cemented free-for-all. we are so we are talking about more than just a big name. and you do cover them. you cover the people on the presidential placemat and that is the cast of characters that is much bigger than that. >> yes, it is, for example in at number one in see number one, he is a pretty big name, but he is not a household name. and he is new england's patrick
henry and it was patrick henry before there was patrick henry. and i tell the story than that chapter of three people who are going to be significant over the next 16 years and one of them is skeptical that he actually is the most common loyalist by 1775 and what's stunning is that most people don't really know his name or his story. he's going to become the royal governor and he is american-born and if you had asked someone as late as 1770 or so definitely
1775 which of these two favorite boston were smart people would end up supporting american independence and who would end up siding with the kingdom of benjamin franklin, both of them boston boys really smart, people would have maybe said franklin, his illegitimate son is the governor of new jersey and hutchinson will side with the with his fellow new englanders. so lots of people that are more obscure, but i think hudson in particular because i want my audience knew there was another side even to the american revolution. if he were alive today and what does it mean that all? he is mitt romney, he is sober and he believes in hierarchy and his country is written and he loves his hometown with his
boston area, that he had been born 20 years earlier he would not have been picking between them, but he does and so i do try to widen the cast of characters beyond the first four credits in this and of course jefferson, madison, franklin and harrison. smack you also mentioned benjamin franklin. the way it almost selzer conversation, images are involved. can you tell us about this great cartoon that franklin generates very early on in the conversation. >> yes, so he sets a gene genius and he invents a lightning rod and social institutions in the first secular university and
he's also someone that invents the world's first real political cartoon and it's not from britain and it's a very democratic culture. and it is the picture of a snake that is cut up into pieces and he has a slogan. it is the first viral means in which we could say hash tag join. the colleagues after work together with the mother country to deceive the french in the early stages what would become the french and indian war. and i'm very same page, he is a newspaper madman. if he were alive today he might be rupert murdoch.
there is a picture of a snake and in effect he's also telling his audience about a young 22-year-old military officer from virginia who bravely is confronting the french named george washington and he is going to get the name and references to age 22. so if that car care, it is so simple, it's not just art. it is easy to replicate. and a cartoon that is up-and-down the continent, starting the coffee it which is kind of like three tweeted today. journalists -- printers don't really pay a lot more content yet. they are not paying those that scribble like you and me.
the publishing proceedings of local assemblies, grand jury pronouncements, judicial opinions, also republish essays appear elsewhere. if you are reprinted from philadelphia or boston or london and this is an image that goes viral, 10 years later they are against london, where the economies joined together, and then 10 years after that it has a rebirth. he hibernates and then he reawakens. he is like a phoenix. and in 177040 has been with the continental congress which involves joining against princeton, and the eventually it
is a single that federalist argument for the constitution. we have to hang together, otherwise britain is going to cut us to pieces. it is a geostrategic argument and, my god, franklin is seeing a version of that, a more british version of that, as early his earliest 1754 he puts it in the double picture that ordinary people can understand, and three simple words that make a powerful and political argument. join or die. he is imagining -- it's just how many characters. it's instagram, it is amazing. it is snapchat. >> he could've said could have said a lot more, but he's smart enough to stop his ahead.
obviously we want to get back to george washington. and i think this is one of the most striking point that you have made, which is the american constitutional development of conversation is not just entirely within our own forces, it's also the impact, over and over again, made by the world. so talk to us more about that. what is our position in the world have to do with thoughts about how we govern ourselves? we are protected by oceans. >> we are, if we join together, if we don't, we're going to have 10 borders between south carolina, north carolina, georgia and georgia and maryland and pennsylvania, the mason-dixon line and so on and so forth and so the genius of this and eventually washington
and hamilton, the atlantic ocean will be an amazing moat that will protect us if only reunite, the way that you can actually help lay off against each other in divide and conquer in that fashion, we have the policy for the west, making it an american domain international domain and not just virginia's backyard or pennsylvania's territory or connecticut on what becomes a piece of it. and so the western carteret and so yes, americans as early as 1754, franklin and washington are beginning to see the possibility that we are a world at war. and the constitution comes out of the revolution that is a part of, a large or global struggle.
and so our audiences are very impressive, very sophisticated, historically, and of course, if you ask one of the first world war start, they would say it started in 19 oh team in the baltic. but no, it started in 1754 in america's backcountry when a young officer named george washington got involved in confrontation between the two great superpowers of the world. france and england. eventually, that have been in 1754, in a thing called the albany congress, it is going to become the world's first global war. suck in the two great powers come in the two greatest powers and other european powers get involved in this war, which we
call the french and indian war, it has been involved on multiple oceans, multiple continents in the new world and the old world simultaneously, it's going to culminate in a mass of redrawing of the global map and it will move from the french into the british and no conflict in world history before, new and old, multiple oceanic struggle, it is the first world war and at the same time it is generating that world war, a world conversation because they can move trips more quickly than ever and in both of
them are being bred in philadelphia and you're beginning to have a genuine world conversation about constitutional first principles like what should be the rules for the empire. in britain having one candidate as well for this really expensive or they are going to start imposing taxes and that includes paying for that paying for that war and that is eventually going to be leading to the american revolution and
even though they are really sophisticated, it is one part of a larger global struggle. they have to defend far-flung colonies in india and africa and that includes every american, even saying that we are part of a larger world struggle and that includes 30 million french and the birds as well. >> commanding the american army and then an annex decade we will become the first president and
you talked to him as a constitutional thinker and this might strike some people is a little bit odd, we know that he's a great man, we think of him as a great general, obviously, we think of him as a great executive and he didn't write the declaration of independence, he was at the constitutional convention and yet you identified a very important constitutional situation. so what is his contribution to this conversation. >> he is the indispensable man. without him there is no constitution which is remotely like the one that he has. so taking this conversation and
he's not a great scribbler. he's not a big talker or agreed writer and he's a very good listener and he brings people who disagree and he listens to his advisers and actually he does a good job generating words, but he doesn't write pamphlets or our beds, he writes letters to people, he is a wonderful correspondent. and they are giving him
intelligence, information, from all parts of america. what's happening in lafayette, in france, he writes more and receives more letters than just about anywhere else in our audience can confirm this by looking at the national archives, which is free to everyone and word searchable. and so he is a wonderful listener, he is unanimously elected president, even if people vote against the constitution. he is unanimously reelected in part because he's trying to listen to everyone and unify the country and hold it together. now, substantively moving from this where he listens to everyone and he is sober, and john adams as well, he is not always the world's best
listener. you might think that jefferson is great that he is so ideological that he can't hear what he doesn't want to hear. does that sound familiar? we have that problem today and i'm on press that washington that doesn't have strong ideological commitments is like okay, let's get to the facts, i want to hear both sides carefully and i'll make up my mind. so jefferson is not the best listener and john adams is not the world best listener and in some of these people are better at projected, but now the union. just like franklin he understands this join or die appears in may 1754 on the same page, actually a to the young officer george washington and this is benjamin franklin talking about him at age 22. he understands from a military point of view and that unless
the colonies in together, they are done for. so it's big, he is a continental. and who is at his right hand throughout the american revolution? basically pretty early on as alexander hamilton. to borrow a phrase, alexander hamilton american. not just about massachusetts the way the john adams may be, he doesn't have a single loyalty to any one state, he comes from abroad and he loves america as a whole and the key idea is join or die national security and not
what washington is advocating in the early 1780s they will become the first, which is far more influential than anything that madison wrote and it is a geostrategic argument because all together and we have to get rid of this and so they have the 30 million people that they need to persuade, they need to have in this strong individual union
and they are different kingdom, very clean, getting involved and that is not conducive to living and washington's first draft, he has an army on the continent and he gives it up and he doesn't make himself king or emperor, he could have. but he understands liberty and union are one and inseparable. and that includes and the big idea and he's a southerner that
the last founder and he is continuing to have an impact into the 1830s were hamilton, and so franklin died in 1790 and washington dies in 1799 and hamilton is still in 1804 and famously they are going to die on july july 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence. so throughout all of this martial is vindicating martial vision. the great nationalist, sharing
the continental us flag of george washington, under whom he fought at valley forge and if the viewer at valley forge with washington and hamilton, you understand that we need to support the troops if we do not we are dead and adams wasn't there, they don't feel it in their bones. it is immense respect for washington and there is immense respect for hamilton with his brilliant lawyer and marshall uses him and his legal ideas about the bank and many other things. one other thing that he does as he is a national speaker and a good listener and i talked about relationships between the founders, so jefferson and madison team up.
and adams makes enemies, he is a loner, he teams up only with abigail, but then, you know, he is in a feud with hamilton, even though hamilton was trying to help him in various ways, and he starts off friendly, but then they become, you know, rivals and so it's important. jefferson and madison team up, hamilton and washington team up and marshall finds a team. and the team works particularly well when they combine more than south and in particular massachusetts and virginia. okay? so marshall is virginia and think about all the other ones, virginia and massachusetts, rhetorically the first president and vice president are going to
be george washington and john adams and so did jefferson and adams is vice president and eldredge is another massachusetts guy and so the answer your question is if the last founder, he strengthens the judiciary, he is a washington man, continental is, and he finds a partner from another region and together they make a very impressive team just as washington and hamilton do and just as madison and jefferson do. >> i think it's fair to say.
>> if we are not exactly members of the federalist party, we are sympathetic to it. but it's a very good word for thomas jefferson. >> i agree with what you said and after all, he is who he is. so what did he have those precious? >> well, like a young person, i adored jefferson and was very skeptical of alexander hamilton. the u.n. other people changed my ideas about him. and it changed my idea about hamilton and jefferson has done correspondents.
and if i would've said if i'm lucky enough to have a son i will name him jefferson. so my views about him have changed, but obviously a good word about him, especially the young generation he will become the northwest ordinance, not just in the northwest, but in all western territories and he dreams of an america that is open and he's going to help the smart kids that are not born privileged to be able to ride because of their academic aptitude, he inspires ordinary people and in his book it
doesn't get the common noun, he's a little bit too stiff and from a geostrategic perspective he talks about that. he tends to do smart things, one of the smartest things he ever does is double the landmass of the united states, an epic achievement. >> it is completely consistent with his geostrategic idea and i'm not sure that they could have done that as federalist because of the french that like jefferson and he's wonderful at uttering people up. and so i'm not sure napoleon ever would've done. so he might've found a way, he did find a way to annoy because he is so one spoken and it's
like okay, wow, you and i respect people who are good at what they do and he actually pretends that he's not appalled, he is more overtly political. they make an amazing political partnership creating a dominant political machine that will basically rip the federalist. but his partner gets it even more, madison, and the sedition act, they are going to form a political party that is predominant political party all the way, you and i have to respect that and he creates a newspaper empire and that includes his way of thinking about the world and he creates a
fact news network and he understands the democratic newspaper culture of america and always telling madison don't write the op-ed's against him, he is too good of a newspaper scribbler and sewed there is a reason that the guy is on mount rushmore. i criticize him because i know something is really important and he gets worse over time. he finds a political party that has a southern base and here's the relevance of this today and i think in the end you have to protect the soul of your party, the conscience and so i respect her for that and i see the poll
on the other side that we are going to lose votes, lindsey graham or kevin mccarthy. and that is a similar thing that confronts them. we know what's in their hearts and their bones. but in order to defeat john adams, they have to create this party which has a southern base because they are politicians and we are going to lie in it, and that is our part, it requires some compromises, okay, so they get more on slavery, they know that it's wrong but in order to keep their political machine operative, because of increasingly -- and this is a story that is not told by biographers in general.
but he is getting worse over time, he's like okay, let's send slaves to the west. like spreading the virus, which is the opposite of what jefferson and madison said early on, and that is what is eventually going to be part of the civil war. so washington gets better as time goes on and he realizes it is wrong and in his last will and testament he provides more context, franklin gets better as time goes on and. >> till that last story of
franklin. because it's so funny and it's just a great story. >> you know, i talk about these great man. and then in the last scene i told him off. give you the death scenes dramatically. and how each one, there is some deep ideas there. and for both washington and franklin, it's basically we should get rid of slavery. and who is franklin? he is a newspaper guy. and he actually first proposes to congress, he writes it and in
so. [inaudible] be appealed to a democratic culture, it is tongue-in-cheek, and he writes as if it's some of the arguments that i just heard about why we should preserve slavery, put me in mind of something that happened 100 years ago and there was this individual does actually extending the enslavement of the infidel christians. every argument that the georgians made, because he makes
this up, of course, is made by african arabs were enslaving european christians. someone has to do the work, they don't believe in god, they are better off here than their homeland and they want to intermarry with lesser blood and holy scripture authorizes this and actually this is good for them, they say, it is a positive so he takes every one of the georgian arguments and flips it around racially and it is the same that they pretended he was a middle-aged matron. at 15 years old he spoofs his own brother and doesn't realize that he has created this character and he does it at the end and he knows this. and he knows that america will eventually recognize that this
is his dying message to america. do we actually want to in 100 years still be defending slavery the way 100 years ago slavery was offended when people were enslaved when it came to work working christian. >> one of the funniest things is that he claims that this is in some book that was written 100 years ago that some english diplomat wrote and someplace. but you have done this and it was so well done, tom was certainly a fan and it was tongue-in-cheek. so how does literacy of the american people involved between 1760 in 1940, in other words, how literate were we, were we getting more literate, were we less literate? obviously there has to be a base
here. >> spectacularly that is widespread among whites. female as well as mail and partly because america is a protestant culture especially in new england, even in places like virginia, which is more cavalier and so if you are a protestant, you believe you have to read the bible and americans do so, even as someone as late as andy jackson, and i have good words to say about andy jackson, he believes in the union and
jackson talks about this, he is self-taught and he goes to church every sunday and he listens to the preach in the pulpit so from the bible. so it is a bible reading, bible discussing coulter, very famously somebody writes about the. publishing this, in the hands of an angry god, you know, so they are talking about this and by 1790 america has more newspapers and newspaper readers per capita than any country in the world including britain. and certain technological developments will facilitate that and so when you get the eerie canal, you can actually
now go all the way around america just how you can go all the way around britain, chicago to buffalo, albany, down to new york and the florida coast and over to new orleans and then up in mississippi to chicago, so ships can travel faster and eventually you're going to get it is by the end of the timeframe of 1840, it is still remarkable letter writing and franklin is a postmaster and so of all of these guys, five of them are newspaper scribbler's and george washington reads more newspapers than anyone around and they are also letterwriters and the audience can read these in the national archives, word
searchable to and from every major founder it's a remarkably literate culture. and that includes women as well. we haven't talked about women and i feel bad about that. we talk about abigail, and she is amazing and because adams is a public servant and he sacrifices himself virtuously for his country, he is a way from abigail for a long time, there are lots of letters back and forth. if they had been in the same place, they really love each other and they respect each other and she is really smart and fun to read so we have the amazing letters back and forth between everyone and everywhere else because it's really a
newspaper culture. >> diversity in the united states to what extent where they translated. >> because i don't speak german, one third of pennsylvania are made of german speakers so as late as what i think is the first congress is, at least translating this into german and i can't remember a couple of them, but you may know because of our mutual friends at the new york historical society. our man, lincoln, he is the
secret owner of a german language newspaper in springfield and they are about 10% of the population and secretly he is the owner of this newspaper and he doesn't have books in his home, but he reads newspapers wherever he can find them, early on he is writing op-ed after op-ed anonymously and many of them are partisan because the newspapers back then had a partisan affiliation or like the national review today or the new republican of the nation. [inaudible] >> yes, so we can reads newspapers, he writes op-ed's, he also owns a german language
newspaper, especially i have hundreds of citations to newspapers and that is one of the biggest things in the book. until until 10 years ago, five years ago, they were not online and word searchable and so i don't have to go to 40 different cities and find smoldering piles of newspapers, i can just find them online. but the truth is i didn't really look at too many because i don't speak german. >> one questioner is asking about religious diversity in america during this timeframe. is that a problem? or is it somehow a benefit? >> well, building upon
experience even in virginia between the baptist and the anglicans. but today they say okay, they are basic questions okay. i promise you that it only takes any two things to do. for 100 years. any two of them will do. catholics and protestants, dues and muslims, muslims and hindus, shia and the sunni people, and he too will do, and the america is way more than two. they have congregationalist and others in rhode island and the great great-grandmother of thomas hutchinson as well as roger williams and so freethinkers in rhode island as
well as some baptist as well. congregationalists in new england. you know, new york has many different situations and they are going to be new sets, the shakers and the method is and more baptist coming on board and then dad is a lot of religious diversity. and america further strategic regions, we have to hang together. so much so that the first
confederation actually writes a letter to that saying hey, why don't you join us and even though you are partisan, geostrategic situation as it will be useful to have you onboard while we are fighting the british said they extended it, saying okay, this is unlike any you membership. you have been preapproved and so benedict arnold comes close but
they fail, so religious diversity is one of the things that is going to make a hard for them to join or die. different colonies found at different times for different reasons, virginia is about making money, basically about religious freedom and so when my story begins, they are not american, massachusetts, tons of newspapers, we treat them all pretty badly, through those newspapers they talk themselves into being american and basically say, okay, it's a lot of diversity, but that can be a weakness. and that is where they said they can be part of this. but not many people were part of
this. the major one was washington and hamilton and others. and people are going to want to be a part of this. i don't know if i told you and that includes the breads after the act of union and the swiss and the swiss don't have the same language, german, italian, french, they don't have the same religion as the protestants and catholics, so what makes them worth the situation and defensible borders. england, were the only ones that is defensible, they have a
defensible border and if we can create a continental union, join or die, we will have no need for the english navy having to beat the spanish armada and so that is the idea. give strategically even though religiously we are not quite there, but it is working for the swiss and so in so we could make it work for america. >> just a brief time for a last question, but it is an interesting one, the constitution never mentioned the two political parties and lo and behold there were two political
parties submit that the story that i tell, his former friends and allies, they began to diverge and they make a crime to criticize adams and in response, and by the way, he would join adams and not, he is all in on the sedition act, but in response to that he takes a loose coalition and turns it into a much more organized political party that will become a sort of local party and a strong two-party system emerging and you're going to get the seeds of that when jefferson and adams and it's going to be constitutionalizing the 12th
amendment, we won't go into all the details now, but i promise in the book that i will do so. >> and still walking among us. oldest party in the world. >> one of the things that i said actually was i thought that it was something that captured him in that way. you know, hamilton was a lawyer, washington was a general in the survey are in the business person, and jefferson actually dabbled in law and this was the only thing that madison does from start to finish and he is a
party guy. and mitch mcconnell or lyndon johnson and then trying to keep people across the spectrum and he loves how he creates a party. and that is what you get distinctly about him we have to judge him and sometimes he kind of disappoints us, this is what we have seen today, lindsey graham or others, do you say hey, even if it goes against the party there are certain core principles that we need to abide by is a matter of conscience. that is the kind of thing that you will not understand if you think that these guys are
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