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tv   Stacy Schiff The Revolutionary - Samuel Adams  CSPAN  December 28, 2022 11:40pm-12:29am EST

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the author of several books including the last american aristocrat,os paradise lost a le of fitzgerald and richard hofstadter an intellectual biography. positions the president firmly in the forefront of the
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country's populist tradition. and let me move on to the author ofcy the moment the author of te pulitzer prize-winning era and a biography that is a poster prize finalist. franklin france and the birth of america also cleopatra a life and the witches salem 1692. this book the revolutionary, samuel adams looks at the ideals and tactics adams used to lead what could be called the greatest campaign of civil resistance in history. the book returns to a seat of glory introducing us to a shrewd eloquent and disciplined man who
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supplied the moral backbone of the revolution.el amplifying the boston massacre p he helped mastermind the boston tea party and employees every tool in an innovative arsenal to rally a band of colonies creating a cause that created a country andmo in doing so became the most wanted man in america. pole riviera road in 1775 toas warn him that he was about to be arrested for treason and brings the schools to the improbable life for the transformation from the aimless son of a well-off family to a tireless radical who mobilized the colonies. welcome, please. [applause]
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good evening and thank you for coming out tonight. let's begin with a question. who was samuel adams? how much time do you have precisely miami monsoons are kind of up there. samuel adams is an astute and enterprising ingenious politician and a bit of a political operative. he's a downwardly mobile educated graduate of harvard who had an obsession with politics and the rights and liberties
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that we can talk about where that comes from and who has at his disposal rather unique qualities tremendously fluent and comes toen prominence becaue he is varnishing other friends pros. the tremendous change of mind. they need to stand up for thewh rights connecting people who would otherwise not be connected into who will ultimately design them various efforts and civil resistance. he is a champion persuader.
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>> for george washington independence in 1774 you mention mentioned john adams in 1776. >> that's kind of the million-dollar question. the founders for obvious reasons wants to go near the word independence. everyone dances around it and people refer to the last alternative without really wantingnd to embrace it. it's kind of the fingered rail in many ways. samuel adams until that point stresses unity above all else and when troops marched into boston and 68 to calm the town
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but there's nothing on the record where he suddenly saying there needs to be a rupture with another country. initially around that time to saygr independence is something for which great britain should shrink and that great britain is forcing ati separation between mother country and colonies but neveri himself really embracest then the resistance and where that adds up to revolution is close to 1776. the one time he finally says independence is in the wake of lexington and concord he thinks that should have been declared the following morning and that is earlier than most of the other m founders. >> i can't help but think of
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this for some other reason. >> i don't know what you're talking about. >> it is a disappointing story. it's a a disappointing to say so but out ofof this role the father's small business would run into the ground. he is a champion at mingling accounts and works for an
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accounting firm after several months because he's a capable young man his mind is truly obsessed with politics. largely because of that he needs to make a living and one of the easy ways to do so was to accept the commission of year a few other people wanted which was tax collectors if he didn't collect a sufficiently, he was liable for those that were uncollected. samuel adams manages in the course of a few short years to dig himself into a hole like eight times greater than that of any other tax collector. you want, so was he in fact elected this because he was going to be very indulgent and it isn't a position that other
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harvard graduates accepted. they were shipbuilders and innkeepers which speaks to something that's a very able-bodied collector of the high and the low the boston elite. >> i think it is a good recipe for popularity. you said adams was a perfect failure until the middle-aged before the most remarkable second act in american life. what was the key to this career? >> that was one of those lines
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where you don't see the invisiblean fight and i wanted e book to begin with that and my publisher said it should be thomass jefferson the most acte and persevering to make clear that he was a complete failure. i'm glad we are having this taped and ith hope he's watchin. it's hard to say how at the moment so perfectly he makes the moment to ant great extent but this bundle of political gifts that he brings in boston in a town that is for various reasons more sensitive to british overreach than our other towns where he is obviously able to make his mark more than elsewhere in a town that is religiously' fairly united that
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has an idea already that's independent-minded and takes very easily to embrace the republicanism very easily it's all very comfortable for him. why those come together during those years and seemed to abandon him leader is another thing i find most befuddling but also fascinating. he is very good at resistance. his stress is on people expressing their views and demanding that their voices be heard. after the revolution very important to shuffle the revolutionaries off the stage. he seems ambivalent about some of those as they have an extraordinary correspondence about the proper political
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architecture and samuel very much on the popular sovereignty. to build a people's government and adams was perhaps too much of a revolutionary to be useful in that project. >> he'sun aged out in a funny wy at that moment. >> part of the challenge of putting a jacket on this book because the only compelling portrait we have and yet you needed him closer to his heyday so the solution was as you see when you buy your multiple
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copies was to make the modern engravingng that looks like old-fashioned based on the statute that stands in front of samuel b hall so it is a re- creation t of that younger adam. >> so what do we remember him for, is it opposition to the sugar act, the stamp act, what made him such a compelling revolutionarys figure when it didn't seem like independence was as you mentioned earlier something even perhaps remotely what was he doing at this point? >> we need a 152nd introduction to the land bank which was a very short-lived attempt at the currency crisis in new england in which samuel adams father was
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involved in 1740 and becomes one of the directors of the bank that attempts to issue currency backed by land and defend the royal governor supports and immediately refers to the position on and rights to say you must shut down this veteran or it's goingto to topple the people's effort and they moved to shut down the bank and in doing so including adams' father who bankrupted in the shuffle. this is vital adams is getting his masters degree at harvard it's difficult to divorce that moment where the families fortunes changed virtually overnight through the later activities he will spend a great deal of the next decade as they attemptss to repossess his father's house, after his
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father's death because he had been liable for the deaths. so there's this kind of wonderfuls irony at these times when america is being further taxed but it does seem to leave him sensitive to who is in charge in new england and massachusetts at this point. and the thesis that he writes at this moment is in fact the questionwe to which he poses the answer is one that obliged to if they overreach to honor him and the public cannot otherwise be preserved and its right to the heart of the question of the land bank as a several times and in many different ways they had as much say as they did appointingre the emperor of chia they are completely
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disenfranchised andth i do think that a sensitivity to some extent comes from the land bank fiasco but there's other reasons once the legislation has been passed to feel that way. >> so this isn't a dual biography but there were other times when i was reading about thomas hutchison wherere i was really taken, such a figure, so compelling and in some respects a tragic figure that is the way that i approached it. i was enjoying this biography and the negative thomas hutchinson between he and adams and it's just it was an incredible duel between the two. who was hutchison and maybe this is a personal thing maybe it's not such a tragic character.
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>> i'm with you. adams was running circles around him like a cartoon character. eleven years on the other side of boston is born thomas hutchinson who is the two of them are with fifth-generation sons of massachusetts with identical educations and while adams is digging himself into an economic hole is thriving and begins to add to a very wealthy family and a member of the house of representatives by the time he is 26 and everyone's estimation is the firstst man of boston. this tends to gravitate in his direction he is a distinguished looking man, dresses beautifully which w we know. there's a great deal of resentment against him on which he doesn't quite understand because of his very success and
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the fact this constellation of titles attaches themselves to him. titles he doesn't clean for himself but distributes to family members. that oligarchy and easily to families is something that irritates samuel adams tremendously and john adams even more or he's more eloquent about it but at different junctures in their life they write up these paragraphs about thomas hutchison and each half a page long with a litany of titles but many people for the tremendous success. hehe means well and loves the colonyto but writes a very objet of history off these years which
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he writes of himself in the third person which is a good thing otherwise he has so many titles you wouldn't know who he's talking about but it's hard not to feel sorry for him and this comes around the time of the act when they float around boston thatha hutchison has in fact endorsed the stamp act which is false but he can't exactly deny as much as he doesn't believe in the act as much as he thinks the colony is still too young and fragile to pay this kind of tax he can't oppose it because of his n'position and thomas hutchisons house and the stamp act riots. we don't know the feeling on the subject but we do know thousands of people stood outside the house watching it be demolished without lifting aa finger so it tells you about the tight rope that he. was walking but it is a highly appealing figure and an incredibly competent public official he just doesn't understand that the world is
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changing around him. he's clinging to what he considers to be familiar landscape and at no point realizes that that is actually the future. >> so maybe in this sense he is he's adecade or so ahead of adad that in a sense he will age out in his last years will be challenging. >> the last years are particularly poignant because after the boston tea party, he realizes heto has no choice buto go back to london and he's received like this adversary from another world hears someone from the front that can explain to us what is going on with these diluted colonists and everyone comes to see him and he's immediately rushed off to see the king and the man of the hour and slowly as the contest begins to look a little bit more dire, there's a question of wait a minute, did hutchison screw up? how much of this is his fault? how did this get so out of hand and he becomes a little bit of
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an embarrassment and he longs only to come back to massachusetts and will ultimately die i think of a stroke in london. >> so in the colonial period all theon colonies had slave men and women. did adams? and more generally, what was his reaction to the institution of slavery that persists in massachusetts until just after the revolution? >> it is astonishing how many had slaves. there's two wives, the first guys very early after she has two children and he will wait to seven years until he remarries and at the time of the second marriage, his first mother-in-law will try to send the new couple and enslaved woman which wasn't a typical wedding gift atg the time and adams balks at the idea and says she cane come and live with us
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but she must come as a free woman which is what happens as she becomes a close member of the household and there's a number of points where petitions will be circulated and efforts will be made in massachusetts to object to the stamp trade, to the slave trade and adams is clearly a point person for these petitions. nothing obviously comes of them. later when the constitution comes to massachusetts to be ratified, he will hesitate and most people think he's not going toof ratify and one of this objections is that it doesn't include the bill of rights because it should have not only something mentioning freedom of speech but also something which abolishes the slave trade. >> i will ask t the question jefferson said of adams that he was truly the man of the revolution and that was coming from the man with the declaration of independence
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presumably he would know so in what sense do you think jefferson meant that complement? >> jefferson is a much younger man. he clearly is watching adams with enormouses respect. i think of which we have relatively little. very little got out of the rooms much of what we would like today didn't make it out of the rooms but jefferson and others make it clear that adams is doing an enormous amount of wrangling and politics behind the scenes and is referred to as the most influential person in fact at those first congresses. but jefferson will write adams a letter later after the second inauguration, which i think speaks perfectly to this where he says i don't know how you heard my inaugural address but i hope what you've heard is that it wasn't addressed to you because i wrote it as a sort of a letter to you and he basically refers to adams as a sort of apostle of liberty at jefferson
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in trying to articulate the republican spirit is trying to channel as he puts it the spirit of samuel adams and it really is this idea that adams stands from another eraki a sort of relic kd of way as a fundamental touchstone of those, of that kind of thinking. the two of them do clearly see iti on that front and very poignantly in that letter he says to adams i hope you could offer me some advice and adams writes o back saying when old mn are asked for advice they tend to fight to the last war and give lousy advice but i offer you my blessings. >> andnd in some respects we haven't really i guess followed jefferson's lead. we don't call him washington or jefferson but the other adams. why is that the case? was he not useful to the new
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republic? this man who did so much has not come into the kind of recognition that we customarily talk about when we talk about the founding fathers industry. >> tsuch a great question. i first want to say about john adams because i must, john adams is brilliant and can be withholding but john adams spends years and i think somebody should write about this relitigating thein revolution ad horeassigning responsibility deciding who was really important and in the particular, john adams is attempting to prove new england had primacy over the south and patrick henry wasn'tpe even born when samuel adams was busy raising in massachusetts but john will over and over again say here are the pivots of the revolution and the primary prime movers and the
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fundamental figures and samuel adams is almost always first on his list. i think the reasons are fairly good ones. first and foremost, he's an extraordinarily modest man who doesn't put himself at centerstage and is much happier moving john adams or john hancock to the limelight while he moves to the background. and for no other reason than as a recruiter but he b should be remembered because he was always sort of finding the most able-bodied and most fluent men in boston and bringing them to the cause. it is of much higher power. john adams meanwhile is collecting his letters, writing over and over again what has actually happened and will write
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to samuel adams himself and say you owe it to history to write about these years. you're 40 years of writing will explain the revolution in a way that nothing else would. you need to assemble your papers and so there is that. we also know from john adams for reasons of security while the two of them are sitting in philadelphia at the continental congress, samuel adams throws papers to the fire so that one of the confederates can be compromised. the documents go missing which obscures the trail and this is a no fingerprint enterprise he's involved in so the idea that responsibility should be diffused and should be very vague especially with something like the boston tea party is usually important and there's a lot of obscuring of the trail going on there. >> so history was kind because he wrote it? >> you know this as well as i do. the victor is the more eloquent man.
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nobody writes an astringent s john adams. >> that's true. >> that's a good way to put it, irresistible. you mentioned piety with sam adams and i think of this man as someone who is tremendous and political theater and yet to someone that has a couple degrees as you mentioned from harvard. he seems like he's a very modern individual and the revolutionary and yet the family, several generations, massachusetts, puritan roots, was there anything about the past, about his own past that came through that was still recognizable? >> i think you can see the puritan thinking and a lot of the letters early on and definitely in the newspaper pieces. this has been said to so many times that the republicanism is
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a more secular form and you see that and a lot of the early essays. we know he always had a sort of religious story for every occasion and often spoken sort of religious algorithms but you see it and a lot of he is writing synonymously in the newspapers over many years under at least 30 pseudonyms and some of those are actually quite religious in their founding's so anyou see that across the board and it's another reason i should say by the way that he's forgotten is that he thinks very much that after the revolution, things will go back to a more simple and pious time and of course the country is rushing into a more mercantile future and he's harking back to what has been called the sort of christian sparta. that real fundamental sense of religion being at the base of everything is gone by then. >> i thought that was a strong
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part of the book and in fact i've got to read this because this isnd tremendous. inseparable from governing themselves but a certain he wrote and them after anthem to the qualities quintessential to the republic. integrity, selfless public service, qualities that would become more military than civilian so he's this revolutionary but in the otheren sense itt sounds like he's an d republic, an old republican like thomas hutchison in some sense and yet he has to come to grips with this new materialistic culture that's going to be moving towards becoming eventually a republic of consumers. >> which is yet another reason why he falls off the map that he falls so deeply out of step with where america is headed. the federalist future doesn't appeal to him. there's definitely a bit of new england chauvinism still at wok
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in those years as well continue for some time and fundamentally, yes this sense that piety has been lost in the shuffle will seem to be disturbing to him. we relatively know little of him in those years because he has trouble writing. he has palsy in his hand which people write about earlier and you can see as the years go by how much trouble he's having with a pen and at a certain point boost revolution he will say i can write only a few paragraphs and then very shortly it's like iar write a paragraph and my hand is no good anymore than shortly after that someone else's writing the letters for him so it's almost a closing off of material add to that point as well where he's veering one way into the country and another and we have relatively little to go on. >> we want to leave time for q-and-a so one more question or a couple. as was mentioned earlier, you'v'
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written several biographies, so i'm curious how do you come up on your subjects and perhaps more particularly how did you come upon a samuel adams? >> i am going to answer you but it might be completely misguided. i w think you don't always expln these things as well as you might or you come to understand them differently a decade later. i had gone back to my book about ben franklin because it was made in a series so i was working on that material quite a bit and it occurred to me that i knew embarrassingly little about samuel adams who makes a cameo in the book and so i started reading i was researching somebody else and the papers were to the right in the library and adams published volumes were to the left and i kept winding up s by three in the afternoon sitting on the floor in the left and not the right and finally my agent said are you trying a to write a book about samuel adams and i said maybe. but there was this sense about
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without him you really can't understand the revolution that answers soio many of the questis like how did the resistance spread so quickly. how after the boston tea party to the colonies immediately cohere and a lot of that in the committees of correspondence but in so many ways he seems at the center of things as this kind of missing piece i in a way like negative space where he was always named and clearly close to the room if not in the room and yet there was no description of him. at the same time, you have these attributes by thomas jefferson andho john adams to help paramot he is and a i should add to that i've just written a book about the salem witch trials and i was consciously looking for somebody who was heroic or in some ways was looking for someone who sheds light because i thought i spent a very dark couple of years in salem massachusetts and
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i felt like i wanted someone who resembled thomas and that is one of the first people to raise his the end of 1692 after the trials galloped out of control andg said something is amiss here. there can't be many witches in massachusetts. this court isn't doing us a service if these young women who say they see witches are seeing witches with their eyes closed and imagining things they n are not seeing something must be done. he could do that anonymously because he was wealthy and wasn't religious and wasn't part of the establishment, but it was a really, difficult and precarious thing to do and he reminded me in many ways of samuel adams. >> we are going to go to questions now. for the next few minutes if you would like to line up in the middle and take advantage of the microphone. two questions. one is what makes somebody more
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interested in the american revolution versus the civil war or other periods? there's always a little bit more civil war and have trouble sort of getting into the american revolution so thatt is question number one and number two is do you like samuel adams? [laughter] >> you're the first person torl ask either of those questions in particular the second one. i don't have an immediate answer except following photographs. could that be what makes the civil war feel more immediate and the revolution still the greatest figure of the revolution can feel like stock characters especially washington can be very wooden at times. i wonder if it isn't because the material is more color and more immediate to us in terms of the civil war. i recently asked one of my children why at a certain point people begin to read about the american revolution and she said
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all men begin tori read about te revolution and all women do pilates. [laughter] i love samuel adams. probably in a way that a biographer should never come to love the subject but i had an attachment when i was writing and i h find it hard to come out from under this book because it was a refuge i started in 2016 it was a refuge in a way i found it to be thrilling writing about ideas and profoundly very golden in many ways. just as there was something very crystals about his thinking and ability to articulate these ideas and especially his tireless mess in disseminating them so i found it surprising and as the lion that david mentioned, the selflessness and tirelessness were extraordinary and i hadn't quite managed to get him out of my office. >> thank you.
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>> is john adams correctly perceivede as being more radical than most of the other founders and if so, would that account for thes reason that he is less well-known than the other founders? >> john adams were samuel adams? >> john adams.ll >> i'm not sure i could say who was more radical, john or samuel because again we have the problem john puts everything on paper andor samuel doesn't do so for example the animosity with thomas hutchison they clearly both despised thomas hutchison. each of them think he's the greatest threat to american liberty and that is before the stamp act. and there's a reason for this violent hatred but john commits that to paper and a samuel doesn't so sam seems as if he's the more intemperate of the two. my guess we saw eye to eye on this kind of things so they were probably about the same temper
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about the samuel who can be a champion of restraint shows that less and i would say in all things we could agree that he was a fairly impulsive and impetuous player. one thing that distinguishes him as a revolutionary is at various junctures he will make a case for slowing things down as a moment to be patient and not resist openly and i would say more even-tempered. >> two questions. one is simply john and adams were cousins? >> second cousins. >> can you say a little about the family background, grandparents, whatever if you think of any bearings in terms of what each of them did and
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secondly, such a, seminal figue has he been much less addressed in biographies hereto for and how would you explain that? if he was reticent that's one thing but everybody knows his name. why wouldn't historians have addressed him more thoroughly in the past if they haven't? >> i'm not sure how much the background comes into play. what is interesting is this is a fifth-generation they are second cousins. john is younger. samuel clearly plucks him by the sleeve there's an early letter from the sons of liberty to john adams where they want him to do something. immediately he is a brilliant young lawyer so they write to him because they want to get him to do something and it is worded isyour cousin sends his regards. of course you will do this for
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us because samuel is involved in the effort. to the question of why he's not much written about i think part of the answer and i would have given this answer for cleopatra as well the record is faulty or very punctuated so there's so many questions we can't answer. what i ended up doing in large l part is to spend a lot of time with the documents of the crown crownofficers and lieutenant governors and the governor where they are explaining to us and describing this no good individual if he could be arrested and committed right away the resistance would then cease to exist. there is a misconception that there's agg couple of bad eggs d if they could be corralled or eliminated everything would go normal and be peaceful
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might have been true in the wake of the boston massacre. so we get a better sense of adams, more colorful than we do from him so he's not writing down at the boston tea party yesterday but when you see the depositions of the people that were and they write about who was leading the meetings, mr. adams was the most active parties so that may be part of the answer. there have been previous biographies though. >> thank you. i've been a fan for a very long time. i want to make a comment and i think it will address questions before mine. i will make some statements and what i would like you to do is comment on your opinion and my opinion. [laughter]
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so i think first the revolutionary war seems far more distant than the civil war because as you mentioned all of the. figures are very virtuous e can't believe they were so virtuous given even their puritan background that they would stand on integrity and things like that that we don't even recognize anymore and in the civil war its divisions now whereas theus revolutionary peoe are so distant we can't relate to them but it's all based on morality because of that we couldn't possibly consider that is far more important than the differences between samuel adams and john adams. john was very emotional and you can even quote some of the romans and greeks of the scholarships and he was so
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virtuous to a fault he was becoming annoying that way where sam adams didn't have a lot of writing. in fact before your book i thought sam adams was a pain in the neck and seems to me as you say he is more even than john adams so it makes a distinction between civil war and revolutionary and relevant to the two men we are talking about. they are both puritans and it's understandable why integrity and so forth is important. we don't dishonor but at the same time we don't duplicate the actions because we think we can. >> that is a fascinating point about morality and to that i would say the words benjamin franklin who i think is more human to us in many ways like a
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modern figure because he was always soal good at enunciating his own flaws as well as those of everyone elseh that was at ease with the fact we are creatures who error and others are monuments in stoneham sometimes in some ways. one of the revelations for me was to see in descriptions by john and others how he's often described as a man of exquisite humanity. he is very polite. john speaks of him with enormous compassion as a man who is very gentle and likes to sing two children which doesn't tally with this idea of the flaming firebrand in any way but your is good andmorality in part because this is so bound up in fact with religion and they have become such antiquated
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concepts. >> we have time for one more question as long as it is a question. if you and i went to dinner tonights, and invited to sam ads to join us, what would he find shocking and tell us about? i'm very impressed with his wisdom and foresight. what about the comments that we see in america today? >> i think that he would find the menu at taco bell surprising. [laughter] there are two things that would jump out at him. p political parties would astonish any politician not the fact we are so divided but the fact that they exist.
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it is not anybody's plan so tha would come as a shock and a disappointment. i think the fact that adams had ait very little in terms of a political philosophy except the belief that ethnic voices should be heard and governments should respond to the people and was there to represent the people and the government shouldho have little and people should have all and the political elite should have no part of that process that the entrenched lead was a flawed idea in a democracy so i think today that would be a little right. education' and virtue were the pillars of what the democracy required and the entrenched elite the world in which a millionaire could buy a social media company that wouldn't compute with what he had in mind for how and what democracy consistedd of. >> thank you so much, stacy and dave. [applause]
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