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tv   Learning from the Founding Fathers  CSPAN  August 29, 2021 1:00am-2:02am EDT

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opportunities joseph ellis is really looked at as a top scholar about the group of people who formed our country and one of the fascinating things if you review his book for which he won the pulitzer prize the founding brothers. or you look at his most recent
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book, which we're going to talk about today the american dialogue the founders and us which is a conversation about what would the founding fathers have think have thought about some of the actions that are going on today and the issues of today is clear that what was so much a part of the founding of our country was? political discussion political dialogue political debate that we were founded by a group of people any one of whom would have taken us in a different direction than all of them together took us and so we are honored to have a conversation today with joseph j ellis talking about what does the pursuit of happiness mean? what does we the people mean?
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what did it mean then? what does it mean now? and how do we look at race in economic inequality jurisprudence and foreign policy with the eye to what might our founding fathers have said? i could give you. dr. ellis's bio, but we would if i went through his bio we wouldn't have time to hear his talk. and so let me just give you a quick perspective. he won the pulitzer prize for the founding brothers the revolutionary generation the national book award for americans thinks a biography of thomas jefferson. and his in-depth chronicle of the life of our first president his excellency george washington was a new york times bestseller. what dr. ellis has been able to do is to master the craft of history with all of the
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documentation necessary but to present it as a story that comes alive and captures our imagination. and so that is why we are so honored to have him with us today. and i want to tell you that one of the most interesting and exciting things about today is that dr. ellis has said he wants this to be yes a conversation with you all our readers our listeners. hopefully, you're also readers of his book, but if you aren't now you will be at the end of the time. so to get us started dr. ellis, why don't you tell us? why did you write a book called american dialogue the founders and us? well, what were you trying to say to us as we come upon the independence day of our country? jane thank you for that gracious introduction. i think what i was trying to do.
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was use the dialogue between atoms and jefferson or towards the end of their lives the correspondence 155 letters. they exchange between 1812 and 1826. as a model and i thought it was a model that we needed to have before us because in my judgment. when i started writing this book in 18 19 in 19, excuse me, 2015. i'm his story and it keeps going back to the 18th century. it seemed to me we had been. for many years a deeply divided people. and became more so over the years as i was writing this book 2016 and 2017. and that we had lost the capacity to argue. the constitution itself isn't a collection of timeless truths. it is a framework in which we argue about what those truths are and um, and i came to the
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task believing that to well here's a couple things i believed. that the founding generation in the united states was the greatest collection of political talent that we ever had and and have had since that the british historian and philosopher offered lord north whitehead once said, they're only two occasions in western history that he knew of. when the political elite of an emerging nation behaved about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. one was rome under caesar augustus, and the other was the united states under this group of people. we call the founders. i think that's true. the second thing i believe is that. the founding founders are not and should never be regarded as
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demigods. they were imperfect human beings. it seems that new nations need to create mythology mythological heroes rome has romulus and ramos spain has el cid britain has king arthur. but the heroes of america's founding are all real people. um, and we need to put away childish things and think that they were in any way for example inspired by tongues of fire when they sat in philadelphia during the constitutional convention or before that. this day. we're about to celebrate the declaration of independence in 76 not so. ralph waldo emerson coming right after the founders said they saw god face to face. we can only see him second hand. well, nobody sees god face to face including the founding generation. i also assumed.
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based on a lot of reading. that when we talk about the founders and jane alluded to this. we presume their a single political ideological collective. and they're not they're diverse. they thought differently. if left to his own jefferson might have carried us towards anarchy you have left to his own hamilton perhaps towards. some more autocratic form of government. and so we're familiar with the doctrine of balance of powers inside the constitution itself. and i'm saying there is an equivalent balance of power within the generation. um, and that's the reason the dialogue and argument becomes important and crucial. um, it's that capacity that we've lost. third final assumption and i
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promise to cush up soon so that we can do go to the dialogue itself. the third assumption is troubling to a lot of people but shared with you that the founders were brilliant and gifted. but they were flawed. um, they succeeded triumphantly in many respects. they could imagine and successfully bring off winning a war against the dominant military power on the planet at that moment great britain and if you think about it, how many wars did great britain lose between 1750 and 1950? one they could imagine a nation-sized republic it never existed before. they could imagine. the separation of church and state the creation of a secular society from the point of view of government authority that had never happened before either.
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and finally a principle that political scientists think is crucial and an invention of the creation of the family the doctrine of federalism. meaning that they're shared sovereignty there's no single source of sovereignty in the american republic which everyone up from aristotle forward thought you had to have. all those were great triumphs and admits the triumphs. there are two enormous tragedies. one is the failure to reach a just accommodation with the native americans and the other is the failure to end slavery. on and in that sense the great achievements of the founding are built upon two enormous crimes. um the founders could imagine all the things i mentioned earlier. but they could not imagine a biracial society. we're now a multi-racial society.
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that they're part of a lost world in that regard. so you need to recognize you the willingness to listen to that. and not to make the mistake of an anthropologist who goes to samoa. tells the indigenous people of some other they should practice that child rearing guidelines of doctor spock. they're not going to be able to do that. and yet um in my view there's much to learn from them, especially in our own divided time. the founders went back to the greek and roman classics. lucidities cicero tacitus plutarch and i'm going back to our classics. atoms jefferson. washington franklin madison hamilton. those are the big big names.
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the book i wrote. self-consciously attempts to identify four issues on which i think they share wisdom that might help us. one is race. heavens know we know we need help here and the major figure is going to be jefferson. who speaks to both sides of the racial divide? the other is income inequality. the car, is that the united states which invented? the middle class society and tocqueville described that when he came in the 1830s a new thing under the sun. we were the crystal ball for the world. a society where wealth was distributed from the middle out. we no longer are middle-class society. and we're it's a second gilded age for living in here. where wealth is unevenly distributed. the third area is the law.
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and here i'm talking primarily about a failure of government to do all that it should do. or to be harnessed in ways that it should be harnessed. but i bring it down to a discussion of the doctrine of originalism in the court system and have some critical things to say about that tradition and how it's been used. and finally foreign policy. um washington is my lodestar here and the farewell address which has meanings now. i think that it didn't have throughout most of its history. and those are the four areas that i focus on when i started writing the book. and i haven't told people this before so i'm sharing the secret with you. i thought another area that i knew we should learn about is climate change. and i thought i could use franklin who was a scientist the
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leading american scientist of the day the equivalent of a nobel project scientist to talk about climate change because i think we're failing to address the existential threat to our society and to the world. i found i couldn't do it in a way that was historically responsible. much as i wanted to i dropped it after trying for several months to make it work. um the book i've written is been out there for a while and it's and the reactions to it have been themselves divided, but i hope one this conversation that we can continue the dialogue that i try to start there. argument itself is healthy. john adams thought argument was the highest form of conversation. um, and i'd like have us try to recreate that dialogue in the time that remains to us on this zoom session right now.
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so back to youtube. there we go. um well, you certainly have given us a lot to think about now before we get into the questions from our our pan, you from our distinguished listeners. there's one thing that we were talking about as we were getting ready and that is the painting that we all see at the capitol. and we're coming up on the fourth of july and people go that's the declaration of independence. is that is that the fourth of july? here's the picture? oh, yeah, it's called the declaration of independence. it was painted by john trumbull. it's it's a classic. and i think most tourists who come through the rotunda. think understandably plausibly
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that it's the signing ceremony on the fourth of july. you can recognize at least three of the five people coming up to the desk. the person at the chair is john hancock the three people that are recognizable. that's hancock. there are ben franklin off to the right the tallest man six two. it was jefferson and off to the left. of him is the stout his rotundity. they called him john adams. and the play 1776 feeds the notion that this moment is the signing moment. and that's why we celebrate july 4th. the truth. is this the painting depicts the moment when the committee the five-man committee that drafted the declaration presents the draft to the the full congress on june 28th. it's really june 28th. not july 4th.
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adams himself writes to his beloved abigail on july 3rd and says yesterday july 2nd is going to be today that is celebrated in speeches and orations and parades and illuminations even gets the fireworks, right? but he thinks today we're going to celebrate as as independence day is july 2nd. and the reason he thinks that is the july 2nd is the day that the congress voted on the resolution from virginia written by richard henry lee that said these colleagues are and have every right to be independent states. that's the declaration of independence legislatively. and that's the second the day they voted. so why the fourth? the fourth is the day they sent. the document to the printer um, and he put on the top of all
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copies july 4th. the fourth is the day the rest of the world knows what we've just done. there is no signing ceremony most of the members of congress signed the doctor the parchment copy one august 2nd, but there were people coming and going into the congress and were signing as late as october. um, so we got the date sort of wrong, but i've developed it's my theory. that atoms and jefferson together decided to make the fourth, right? because 50 years to the day later. they both died. and when when jefferson died the last thing he said is is it the fourth?
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he knew he was dying on schedule. and the last thing that adam said was thomas jefferson still lives and actually jefferson had died earlier. later monroe dies on july 4th 1831 madison's trying to make it a quartet but he misses he dies on june 28th. 1836 um henry david thoreau decides to really put the clamps on it by going out to walden on july 4th 1845. so it really wasn't the right date, but we've made it the right date and we celebrate this coming forth appropriately because the founders and their own way have decided to make it. okay. what a great story now. which return to the comments that are the questions that are coming in from the from the
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listeners and i remind you put your questions in the q&a box. we have someone who is asking for you to give a perspective on how do you think about today's supreme court decision that upheld the arizona restrictions on voting? how do you think the founders would have? perceived that um that's going to be difficult to answer. the founders in their original formulation in philadelphia in 1787 didn't believe the supreme court was supreme. that is to say the notion of the supreme court ruling in ways that had authority over all the states. didn't exist comes into existence later. john marshall begins the process so their first reaction would
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have been how you doing this. why are you doing this? the second thought that i have is i think the founders would be surprised that the electoral college still exists and that the presidential elections are held in the way they are held. they didn't like it at the time and i think they'd be stunt to believe we've retained it. in the end, i guess what i'd say is the founders would disagree amongst themselves jefferson would tend to agree with the right of the state to go about its business without interference hamilton and washington would find that difficult to accept john marshall would find a very difficult concept but did in the end they would believe that the supreme court rules then you have to go along with the supreme court. fascinating now. we have a ray of listener. who said that. she has not been previously aware of your work and is now looking forward to it and his
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her question. is this where you assert that there were two failures at the country's founding not acknowledging the rights of the native people and not abolishing slavery. and you've been writing for 50 years about the founding founding of this country at what point in your in your research and your writing. did you come to that conclusion that there were those two critical elements or had was that something early on? how did you how did you come to that? and how do you think that history teachers should share that information today? it depends on what level you're teaching of teaching grade school. it's different from high school. it's college is different from anyway, but that it came to me early on as a teacher because if you teach this material one of the reactions you get from students is oh, wait a minute if
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in fact these men endorsed slavery and refuse to provide justice for the native americans then why should i read anything about them? why should i take them seriously? um, that's a moral failure. and once that the moral failure is noticed or acknowledged then all else. dissolves and and one of my tests as a teacher then from the beginning was to try to say look. the world there's a pass that existed before you were born that you have an obligation to understand as best on its own terms. um, and so early on i was aware of the fact, especially on the issue of slavery that trying to have a discussion about the founders and not calling them the deadest whitest males in american history was a challenge that as a teacher i had to take
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on and on the one hand embraced the idea that they were gifted politically talented people and in effect, they created the liberal state. that has come to dominate the world or at least until recently has so dominated the world that they are responsible for. overthrowing the monarchies of the 19th century and saving western civilization from the autocracies of stalin hitler and mussolini in the 20th century, but get ready for irony time to grow up time to face facts that the good and evil can coexist. the thing about the founders that i found interesting that i came to later. is that most of them agreed that the cause as they understood it their values their values they were fighting for in the revolution were incompatible with slavery.
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they knew they were living a lie. washington put it really eloquently towards the end. let me see if i can read it here. i don't know. it's that it was the most. unavoidable failure. he said of his whole life. um that the kind of arguments you get for slavery in the 19th century from southern defenders of slavery. you don't get that from the founding generation. a lot of them also thought that slavery was going to die a natural death. jefferson himself believed that slavery was incompatible with the modern world. the slavery was a vestige of the medieval world that we were throwing away. this is a basic enlightenment view and that you don't have to do anything. it's going to happen. it's going to happen naturally because slave labor is incompatible with freedom and free labor.
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it doesn't work that way and in the end jefferson's going to let you down because jefferson also believed that african-american were inherently inferior. if you want to look through the prison of race, jefferson is not going to look very good if you look to the prism of freedom of speech religious toleration. um a belief in the ordinary human mind he's going to look very good indeed. but you have to develop an affinity for paradox and irony and that's probably something that comes later in life. well, one of our listeners wants to know. do you think there was really any way that the founders could have resolved the slavery issue given the time that is i've greeted that she's asking the question. i keep asking myself every day and i'll give you the succinct summary of where i'm at in that.
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and let others look this listener and others who share the concern. i've said these are two tragedies. the failure to resolve the native american question with justice and a failure to end slavery. there's no question in that sense american history is morally irresolvable. on the other hand were they greek tragedies or shakespearean tragedies? by that i mean greek tragedy sick vulvarie park cost is the will of the gods. it's embedded. it's unavoidable. no amount of leadership could have changed. or is it a shakespearean tragedy? with the proper leadership namely the founders could history have gone the other way. i think my judgment and this is my judgment each person needs to think about this for him or herself. i think the native american dilemma. is a greek tragedy? i don't see how it could have
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gone the other way. because it was driven by the desire of ordinary white americans to get their own land and pursue their happiness, and it was driven by disease. mostly smallpox that eliminated the native american 90% fatality rates in native american tribes as we they encountered the white population. i don't see how it could have gone the other way. um slavery i think could have gone the other way. um, there were moments in the 1770s 80s and 90s when if things had gone if opportunities had been taken. i think virginia is the key state here. remember virginia in the 18th century included both. what is now west virginia and kentucky? it's the largest state and it had the largest number of quote founders, you know prominent founders there. if it had gone the other way,
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but the great tension is the tension between facing slavery frontally and forcing the issue. and in the process risking the union. because that was the issue. if you raise this question, south, carolina, georgia north carolina and maybe virginia are going to leave the union. and get that early stage. that would have been fatal to the american republic as we know it. nevertheless i think that's the book. i want to write next by the way. why they failed? and and help us understand that. and so and that will you answer the question about? the the 13 cup do you believe the 13 colonies would have approved the constitution if it had abolished slavery you just
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asserted that there were several that would not. by then their states by 1787 the colonies have become states on. in the constitutional convention the representatives from south carolina are the most outspoken georgia goes along with them, virginia is questionable virginia seems to straddle this but the south carolina represents his pinckney and others rutledge basically say if you do not assure us that our of labor and notice the word slave or slavery is never mentioned in the constitution. it's it's not kosher to do that. but they say if you don't give us what we are asking for here in some protection of our labor source. we are going to lead the union. and i don't think they were. bluffing and then you have to
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play the tape and say what would happen if they decided to to present them with that issue. i think what should franklin wanted make a proposal? and that he was persuaded not to do it because it was considered two politically risky. the proposal was to say for the time being we recognized that the south the states of the deep south who are dependent on slave labor. and they were georgia and south carolina, especially 60% of the population in south carolina with african-american 60% um we will temporarily recognize your right. as long as you recognize that in principle. slavery is incompatible with the values of the american revolution and over time. we all agree it needs to go away. for now, we'll we will end the slave trade and but that the principle itself needs to be established.
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he was persuaded not to do that. it's brought up in the first congress and they have a big debate about this but that the original question what would have happened i think south carolina and georgia and maybe virginia. would have decided not not to join the union that was created in 1787. so let's turn to we have two related questions and they really are about the fact that to reach a consensus that brought us declaration of independence. there was a significant compromise between the founding band of brothers with who had many things on which they disagree but they compromised to create the nation. how do you see that kind of? deliberation compromise what's happened to it today? and what can be done to?
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bring honor to compromise and collaboration well, you're you're putting together two things that are different here one is deck one is 1776 when they come together. to declare their independence and the other 1787 where they come to get together to declare their nationhood. the first sentence of the most famous speech in american history by abraham lincoln is historically incorrect. four score and seven years ago. that is 76 our fathers. what forth in this continent a new nation? no, they didn't. they brought forth to confederation of sovereign states provisionally united to win the war against great britain and then go their separate ways. which is what they did in the articles of confederation the form of government, which is not much of a government at all is really a kind of league of nations sovereignty resides in the states.
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in fact the bulk of americans and most of the founders not all of them. believed that if you create a federal government that has power over the states you are replicating the tyrannical power that parliament existed that create exercise and therefore to repudiation of the revolution. others washington included hamilton included believed that nationhood was implicit in the american revolution and if we didn't become a nation, we would eventually fall apart. so you got this big argument at the end of the revolutionary war? in the in the constitutional convention the issue you raised is really salient that is to what extent? is the compromise reached? to assure the union and thereby permits slavery to codes to exist in the deep south especially.
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to what extent that is that a covenant with death? that's what later abolitionists will call and some historians now still call it. it's a covenant with death. um, the problem is if you don't make the compromise, are you a union that will exist at all? and the answer to that is probably not. i think there's no comparable choice that we as a nation face now, that's as morally resonant. is that okay? that's it, but that compromise as a principal can be an extraordinarily. helpful, and absolutely essential factor as we see now, let's say on the infrastructure bill. on the other hand if it's a compromise based on a principle that leads to something. truly tyrannical um or morally
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reprehensible, i would say the denial of the vote to black citizens is morally reprehensible. um, then it's not acceptable. um, and this is what need to argue about. let us take the argument in a slightly different direction where you talk about the issue of law jurispute prudence and the doctrine of originalism. right. can you? explain what the argument is between the the founders and how does that affect today? what? where do you where do you see? we've got quite a conversation about you know is a supreme court overreaching underreaching, you know, all that play. the doctrine of originalism
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trades along the reputation of the founders as special group of people in its purest form. it seems the doctor of originals and argues that all supreme court decisions and federal court decisions should be made based on what would they originally said was the original intent of the framers and the founders or later said the original meaning of the words the founders used in 1787 and the ratification process in 1788. so this is a doctrine of jurisprudence that is originally developed by bork at the university of chicago and then yale. and is the basis of the federalist society which is a informal organization of lawyers who share originalist convictions all of the republican nominees to the court since 1985 have been members of
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the federal society. and in fact, that's become if you're a republican president you go to the federalist society for your nominees. um i think that there are a couple of problems you one is founders didn't all agree. so if you say the original antenna the founders, which ones are you talking about? madison is not going to agree that which madison are you talking about is done the same thing that madison says in 1786 87 he doesn't say in 179697. he's different. and are you assuming that they're divinely inspired and they'll say no to that not to that? but um and if you want to argue about what the original intent of a particular piece of legislation is you are claiming to be historians. very few lawyers are trained in history. and lawyers tend to argue on on the one hand or on the other
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hand basis because of their training and in the in the legal system that we developed. you're a prosecutor or your defense attorney? and you you shape the evidence according to your client. if your client and you suppress evidence as much as possible against the cut you as a historian you can't do that. okay, and therefore it seems to me the originalist the originalist decision that i find most questionable and this will upset many of our listeners is dc versus heller 2008. it's the decision on the second amendment. and the decision by justice scalia who is misophon lifetime member of the national rifle association a five to four decision. essentially argues that the second amendment provides the
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right to carry and a weapon and the right that right is almost. as as open-ended as the writer free speech that's not what the second amendment said. that's not what madison thought he was doing. that's not what the congress thought. it was doing when an endorsed it. that's not what the states thought. they were doing when they ratified it. the term bear arms doesn't mean carry a weapon. it means carry weapon in a military unit. serve in the army or the militia. um, and the second meant was written by madison in april of 1789 with a specific purpose. it was designed to assure the states that had recently ratified the constitution, but did so with recommended amendments they will wanted certain changes made. and six of the states were worried about what they call the standing army. national defense would be the
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hands of a standing army. the second amendment was designed to assure them that was not going to happen that national defense would be in the hands of militia state-based militia, and that's what they thought they were doing the militia act of 1792 which implements the second amendment essentially required that all able-bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 49 must purchase a musket and an outfit. the original meaning then of the second amendment is not that you're a right to bear arms that you have an obligation to serve. um, so meaning has been twisted. and as we experience on a daily and certainly weekly basis massacres and people purchasing ar-15s, and it's i'm sure that madison is rolling over in his grave that is language has been twisted into the shape of an ar-15 and the rest of the world
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thinks. we're out of our minds on this we have over 300 million weapons in the united states and guns were rifles. we have the highest homicide rate in the world. and and it in my judgment at supreme court decision. i think that if you remember of the national rifle association you have nra rights. if you believe in the supreme court decision you have scalia rights. you don't really have second amendment rights. and so the question that our writer our listeners are saying is originalism complicates complicate things i surely the founders could not have envisioned guns that can fire 900 rounds per minute. right right 1776 could fire about every second not only that yet, but all the founders who
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commented on this issue said the same thing for god's sake. don't freeze the constitution based on our opinions. none of the founders believed in originless. jefferson said if you you know, the the constitution should evolve in its understanding and its interpretation. he said if we go back to to the try to go back to us, it'll be as if i tried to put on the same coat i wore as a child. so that the irony is the doctrine of originalism is something that the founders themselves found unacceptable. and they would be surprised that that's what and think about this in great britain. let's say nobody says what did william pitt think of that? or what did edmund burke think that meant? um part, that's because great britain doesn't have a written constitution. you can always fool
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undergraduates by say where in london should you go to find a british constitution? it doesn't exist. but that my point here is that the the doctrine of original all judges just as all historians are writing and deciding from the point of view of the present. we can't help but be that that's where we're living and we carry those convictions with us. um, if you really want to recover the the mentality of ordinary americans in 1787 88 they believed the indians should be removed. they believed that blacks were inferior. they believe that women should not get the vote. they believe that you had to have property to have a vote. a lot of things that nobody believes in now i would think and and so that it's that i think that what's called the living constitution is an inherent. that's what you have to do the
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condominium of those words has expanded in time. and and that we have to recognize that and try to adjust the meaning of those words to our own 21st century conditions, and that's a tricky thing, but don't claim to be doing something historically, correct when in fact you're doing something that's more driven by your own political principles, and i would say that about the left or the right. and what do you think would the constitution been different if jefferson and adams had been? there convention you're right. they weren't but adams was in london. jefferson was in paris. atoms was upset it not being there. so he waited he spent his time writing the three volume. we're called the defense of the constitutions of the united states using his knowledge of the state constitution.
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what do you think would be a model? um, i think that atoms later on becomes a strong advocate of executive power and i think he would have wanted the presidency to be more empowered if you actually read article 2 of the constitution, it's hard to know what a president can do the actual powers of the presidency and more shaped by washington's administration and the language of the constitution. jefferson is a much trickier subject. because the people that opposed the constitution the so-called anti-federalists. especially patrick henry in virginia said if jefferson would he was here he would be with us he would have opposed this. and madison who is jefferson's closest friends has no no, he's my man. i know him and he's told me he would have endorsed. well, he didn't quite say that and jefferson was more interested in the bill of rights than he was in the constitution
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itself and i think over time it's clear that jefferson. did not believe that the constitution created or should have created a nation. jefferson went to his grade believing we were still a confederation. where the power ultimately resided in the states that domestic policy was the social province of the state's and in terms of the federal government, the federal government was a foreign government. he did believe that and so if he had been present, i think he would have kept his mouth shut and left madison talk for him. but over time jefferson's views worked with were comparable with the values of the confederacy. and adams's views were comparable with the values of the union. so now we have couple questions that i'm going to try to put together because we're running out of time we could obviously
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do this for a day, but i'm many historians steeped themselves in the minds and the times of the study that they're trying to do. so, what is your personal like, how do you get into the mind of the founding brothers and who are historians that you look at? did you watch hamilton and find that inspiring or not inspiring or give us a sense of you know, how do you get where you're going? okay, just on hamilton. i'm inspired by hamilton. i think miranda's a genius. i would have never imagined hamilton being the hero of a broadway play. i thought it would have been somebody like jefferson much more, you know, but miranda is a genius and i'm jealous as hell of ron chernow because he's been beneficiary of that. but all that by the body i think and i think hamilton is wonderful because hamilton is like the harry potter series for kids and for and young people
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readers, you know that that they've learned more about the 18th century from hamilton and they from anything else and so but the answer to your question is my daily schedule is to get up in the morning get my coffee sit down. and read and try to bring myself back not just as a tourist. but as a resident of a foreign country called a past. and the founders created a body of information. it's almost endless. think about it that why did they do that? because they knew they were important and they knew they were president to creation. they weren't sure about the hereafter. they weren't sure there was a heaven or hell. and but the only way for them to live forever was in our memory. they're writing to us. the writing to posterity and
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i've spent my you know, 35 years spending three or four hours a day when my dogs don't bark at me and drive me away trying to live in that world. and then when i come out bring as much of the knowledge that i can with me to the ongoing promise citizen alive at the 21st century to and as a teacher i think what i conveyed was a recognition that until you are prepared to understand. the past and this moment in the past on its own terms. you can't make judgments about it you have to learn how to think differently. and so like you don't go to london. criticize the british for speaking with a foreign accent right, you've learned how you
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know you and and historians are doing anthropology through todd. and and the ability to think in terms of a different culture is like learning to speak with a different language. and it's it's a very very good thing to have it seems to me especially in our own time. and now let's look at this. i'm going to give you two questions that are not quite related, but you can figure out how to put them together. the founding fathers you assert were doing dealing with revolutionary ideas for their time middle class elected officials democracy. what are the revolutionary issues of our time? that we got to be debating. and how did that their understanding of the revolutionary nature of their work? hmm cross when they chose the
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term we the people as opposed to be the states. let me just grab one that one. it's a great question. and it's it's the kind of thing. we should all be arguing about every day. and the term we the people was written by governor mars. nobody knows who governor morris is he was representative from pennsylvania, even though he lived in new york. he was a peg leg guy was famous for his wit and his unfortunate interest in other people's lives, but there was a committee on the to drafting the constitution and every state was represented represented camera, rhode island wasn't there because it both boycotted so his 12 states, but they appointed madison hamilton agreed to a point governor mars to rewrite the document. here's how the document read before he rewrote it. we the people of the states of
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new hampshire. massachusetts connecticut, rhode island and then down the atlantic coast, we the people of those states. he changed it. it's the single most important editorial change in american history. it just says we the people of the united states. that's the whole issue at debate throughout the convention between the nationalists and the confederationists whether we should think of ourselves as citizens of the united states war of particular states. or even particular counties within states so that that's a react that's how right now. one of the legacies of the founder is an ongoing argument? about whether government is us or government is them.
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that's an ongoing argument. it's it's the central argument that it be quick to us. it's still with us. ronald reagan used to say and it was in reagan was crucial and altering the american narrative from the new deal to a republican conservative point of view. namely if someone from the federal government came to you, you know, it's how can i help you start to run away. a little bit suppose somebody comes with a vaccine to give you an inoculation suppose someone comes with $4,000 to help you get through the the pandemic what we're facing in the biden administration and it's disagreements with the republican major or senate is a disagreement about whether the government is us or them. we are also facing a challenge. to what we perceive to be assured. go common goal.
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as a biracial society the founders couldn't do it, but by the middle of the 20th century the united states committed itself. to becoming a biracial now multiracial society we now know. after the trump presidency that a much larger percentage of the white population. does not want that to happen. um and regards martin luther king's dream as a nightmare. there are more of them than we realized. and that's what's going on in the various states that are attempting restrict voting right now. those are legacies of the founding that we still need to argue about. and and i'm not my prejudice are clear. i mean, i'm on the side of us and i'm on the side of martin luther king. now i have sorted this out so
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that our very last question goes comes from our distinguished board member ron elvink. and i think he gives us a question that really frames. where do we go from here? most of us have presumed for all of our lives are most of our lives that the union as we know it will continue in this present form. but that seems less certain now than at any time in living memory. can you imagine a future where the current arrangement would break apart? and what would that mean? the union if you capitalize union, you know, the only time we've faced a set of challenges which are as threatening as a peer to be now is the civil war. i and i'm historians are great
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at prophecying the past but they're no better than anybody else at the future. we're really almost on this and prophecies. i can tell you what's going to happen in the civil war. i can tell you he's gonna win the debate in the constitutional convention. i can tell you who's going to win the american revolution. i can't tell you who you know how the how the senate's going to behave on the infrastructure issue or whether the group of people who invaded the capital are going to be declared insurrectionists or not. i think they are but um that i think that if you historians look at patterns. and the pattern that i'm trying to read into the present is that we come together. in crises we're going through a political crisis now. um, but i think the crisis that
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is going to hit us. it is already hitting this that's going to force we and to some extent the nations of the world to come together. in a way they never have before. is the threat to the existence of the planet? and i think that climate change. global warming is going to force that. and i think that most of my descendants and maybe yours are going to look back 50 years. when the coats are flooded new york's evacuated new orleans is underwater and miami's underwater. the middle west is dry. and they're going to say what were they doing? in the in the tooth in the beginning of the 21st century to to avert this were to make it help happen and to take action earlier. and the same way that we look back at the founders and say what were they doing? when they let slavery stay and
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stay in place. it will look just as impossible to them that we've we were delinquent as the founders now look to us with regard to slavery. but that's an encouraging note. in the sense. we are going to come together because we're not gonna have any other choice but to so do well, dr. ellis, you are fascinating. so the final question is mine. will you come back and talk about your next book when it comes out? i'd love to and i really enjoyed this conversation. i hope i didn't upset too many people and i hope i created a framework in which different people can come together and continue to dial. we will continue this for sure. this is exactly the kind of dialogue that the united states capitol historical society is dedicated to when we were created next year will be our 60th year the authorizing
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legislation charged with with creating an inspired patriotism, and it's not an informed patriotism and you have given us information to inspire that debate and to inform us as we move forward because as we celebrate the fourth of july whether it was really the fourth or the 28th, they're august second. the fourth is the birthday where we honor the values of this country and we thank you very much for and and you're really everybody won the fourth. just read the following words to each other we hold these truths to be safe evident that all men are created equal. adele by their creator with certain inalienable rights that are among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. that's what we shared together as americans. follow american history tv on twitter facebook and youtube for schedule updates to learn about what happened this day in
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history watch videos and learn more about the people and events that have shaped the american story find us at c-span history. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including charter communications. broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions building infrastructure upgrading technology empowering opportunity in communities big and small charter is connecting us. charter communications along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service our weekly series the presidency highlights the politics policies and legacies
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of us presidents and first ladies up next we hear about george washington's friendship with elizabeth powell of philadelphia hostess whose political salons attracted among others constitutional convention delegates a surviving eight-page letter provides a glimpse into her role as confidant. she implored washington to stand for a second term as president though. he had expressed his own doubts. hi everyone. my name is samantha snyder. i'm the reference librarian at george washington's mount vernon, and i'm so excited to be with you here today with a colleague of mine kayla anthony, and we're going to be discussing elizabeth willing powell and her husband samuel powell two of george washington's very closest friends and we figure with this being the year of the woman. why not? talk about a superpowerful woman that really helped shape the founding of the the republic so i myself am a all scholar and i have been working on the project that i've been doing for about three years and i will have a


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