tv Conversation With Historian Joseph Ellis CSPAN February 25, 2017 12:21pm-1:16pm EST
at about 1:08 the museum staff will start chasing you this way. thank you. >> this is american history tv on c-span3. we will continue our live coverage of the symposium from richmond, virginia on civil war monuments after the lunch break. the next hour, pulitzer prize ellis talksoseph about what inspired him to study the founding fathers and what he likes most about each individual character. he talks with american studies professor robert watson at this focus by the society of arts in florida. [applause]
>> thank you. it took a village. dr. watson has published more than 40 books, hundreds of scholarly articles, and encyclopedia referenced essays. he has co-convened national conferences on the american presidency, moderated political debate, and delivered within 1000 keynote addresses. he has founded three nonprofit think tanks dedicated to civic education, political reform. he is a frequent media commentator on cnn, fox's special report with britt hume, msnbc, usa today, the new york times, and the bbc. dr. watson has lectured at the four arts numerous times and will do so in the future. we again welcome him as he works his magic with our formidable historians. there you go. [applause]
dr. watson: can everybody hear me now right? most importantly i have my coffee. thank you, again, molly, dr. brenneman, and the entire team at the society. and congratulations on yet another important and successful and exciting program. i would also like to thank c-span as was mentioned earlier, for covering our program, and acknowledge the generous support. the opportunity to sit and talk history, if everybody -- if anybody knows me, i never miss the opportunity. i never miss a nice history talk. to sit and talk with one of my heroes and arguably one of the preeminent historians of our time or any time, a man that has t, historian of
the founders, the dean of revolutionary war scholars who will be here in one week. >> i paid him 100 bucks to say that. dr. watson: i would like to thank joe ellis for coming for the remarks. we have about an hour, we may go over. we will try to keep it tight to an hour. i thought we would tub of dish cover a few topics, one being dr. ellis' books and his writing process. i want him to take us behind the scenes. we want to get back on the founders and get back to their eternal and important legacy, contributions up to today, and the meeting today, the relevant. we want to talk on historical to open uput i want with getting to know joe ellis as the person.
could you tell us, what sparked your interest in history and what age were you when you first realized this was your calling? joe: i do not have a canned answer to that. usually i have already heard the questions and i am scripted to do this. i went to college at the college of lame and mary. before -- william and mary. before that i went to a jesuit school in d.c. called gonzaga. i was classically trained in terms of latin and greek. i did not really take much in the way of american history. i majored in philosophy at lehman mary, and when it came time afterwards -- at william and mary and when it came time afterwards, people come up to me and say what are you going to do, that horrible question, and
you have got to have an answer. my answer was, i going to law school. i have not thought about it but i knew that was a good answer because everyone would accept that answer. my senior year i realized i did not have the money to go to law school. i was on my own, and william and mary was not cheap. i was working as a head super lifeguard in the d.c. area overseeing pools. anyway, i could not afford to go to law school so i thought, i can get into graduate school. then i really did not want to go on in philosophy because philosophy was heading in this direction of semiotics, and i was interested in ideas. people said, you can go on and do history. so i applied and i got into yale, which nobody could understand however got in. watson: did you ever ask them how you got in?
ask i did not know who to think i wrote an essay that somebody thought was good, but all of the people at yale at the same time as me were much better at it than i was. at the end of a year i sort of thought, i am not cut out to do this. i was supposed to write a certain way and did not want to do that. so i sort of started saying, i am not coming back. what was i going to do? i was going to run swimming pools. woodward, amed prominent historian at yale called me into his office and made me promise i would come back. , iaid to him, mr. woodward do not think i am as good as all these other people. he said, joe, you are right, they actually know more than you do from reading but you can
learn that. you know something that they do not know, and they can never learn. i spent the last 40 years trying to figure out what that was. [laughter] [applause] joe: i was leaning forward waiting for that moment. i don't know. hanging off the edge of a cliff here. i think it has to do something with writing. if you were not a writer and a historian, would you be an attorney? joe: i think i would be a lawyer but not a corporate lawyer, i cannot, iike -- but i would not be happy i have lawyers making a lot of money right me and say, i want to do what you are doing. and i say, give up. because it is not going to work for you. i am really, in other words,
like most things in life, most of the big decisions i have made in my life to include what i want to be when i grew up in who i want to marry, you make those decisions before you have enough information to really know whether they are good ideas. [laughter] joe: isn't that right? so sometimes they work out. like in this case it worked out. i'm really happy. and i get up in the morning go down to my study and drink my coffee and try to scribble away. i write longhand. i am not technologically committed to anything, other than a rollerball black ink pens. say it is always fun is not true, but it is fulfilling for me in a way that is really wonderful. teaching for me, i had retired
formally from teaching. i taught at williams last year, but most of the time in the five college area, the five college area, amherst and hampshire university. writing is a solitary activity. it is lonely. teaching is a social activity. i like the combination of the two things. >> right. >> and i miss the teaching. i don't miss grading papers. >> right. >> and one of the things that is happening out there in the world of undergraduates and if you don't know this, you need to know this. in the last couple of years, i know that students would give me their papers and i would make all kinds of comments on the margin, and labor intensive process, but it is important of the central part of the education, because you are
playing with the minds of the syntax of the sentences, you are talking about the way they think. i spent a lot of time doing that and they come up after class and they say, i can't read cursive. >> cursive and roman numerals. >> it's like -- so you can do that because it's interlinear on paper. i'm anacronistic. >> a few years ago at our university we had smart boards installed in all the rooms. you have seen them on cnn when you can open up the electoral college map or whatever. i am trying to think how can i use the smart board to teach about the battle of gettysburg. i thought i would show him original letters. i pulled up -- i can't remember whatever i pulled up and it was written in cursive.
i asked the first student, would you read it. the first student looked at me sheepishly who said i can't. i thought maybe the student had a learning issue so i moved to the next student who said i can't and it dawned on me date couldn't read cursive and about a semester later, i had an outline for the historical period we were going to cover and i had it in roman numeral's and dr. watson said why do you have a "v" in your syllabus? i want to get back on the writing and your approach in just a moment. all historians -- i think all of us have a favorite historical place or site we like to go to. i know during your research, you devote a lot of time to pouring through these letters.
>> i do everything myself. >> which is rare today. >> which you know is not -- i mean it's rare -- >> for people of your caliber. >> who are trying to produce works -- >> i don't have research assistance either, but it's different. >> it's because i -- in doing research, and reading, i discover things that i would not be able to tell a research assistant to look for. >> right. >> so like general howell in the battle of germantown returned washington's dog. >> right. >> who he found on the battlefield and had it permanently returned. that's not going to change the direction of the american revolution. i would have never found that. >> right.
>> but the -- i think it's letters. i mean it's a real interesting fact that what's going to happen with the history of the 21st century major political figures. >> because no one writes anymore. >> because there are no letters. in some ways, there is too much information because e-mails proliferate in ways that are infinite. reading letters. the adams family correspondence is to me the most -- one of the most richest, perhaps the ripest -- richest source. what i said at the end of my talk, the adams/jefferson correspondence. >> sure. >> and you assign that to students. i've assigned the whole thing to students at holy oak and amherst, and they almost always begin with the assumption that they are going the like jefferson and that he's going to write much more elegantly. then they realize they don't like him as much as they like
adams. >> right. >> and that jefferson has a style that floats. his style is like his mind. it's rhapsodic. it's romantic. it floats above the details of ordinary life. and it's attractive in that regard. it's beguiling. i had this one student who said, this is jefferson. this is adams. >> right. >> it's pujellistic, it's aggressive. watching that -- for me, that's a source. that's a place. i mean, i love to go back to mount vernon. i'd love to go back to monticello. those are the two places that i love to go back to. mount tellier is being recreated in a big way at the at this moment, madison's home. i respect the work that they do. theed a 578s -- i like the adams
-- the adams -- i like the adams homestead in quincy, which is run by the national parks service. ok? it's not run by a private thing. >> right. >> and it's a real home. the other places have become museums in some sense. people actually live, you know, for the next three or four generations in the adams' home. i like that. i like that kind of -- but if there is anything creative that i do it happens when i'm reading , a letter and i see things in me thinkn it that make about an issue in a way that i had not before been able to think about. >> i think it's fantastic that you do your own research. i would agree that the story about the dog in germantown in october of 1977, a research assistant would have said i'm not going the pass this along to the professor. if you read it yourself, both howell and washington were dog lovers. it's almost an endearing moment. imagine two leaders in battle exchanging a dog that was
running around lost on the battlefield. >> if you wanted to probe that you could go like this. you could say, howell didn't believe in this war. howell didn't want to be fighting washington. he hoped they would be able to defeat the continental army in long island and end it. >> that was it. >> he really, really, didn't want to be there. >> right. >> and he had a relationship with washington in which he saw him as on honorable coequal. and honor exists in a way that we have a difficult time understanding now. i mean, think about this. why is it in a revolutionary war battlefield when the two sides approach each other they don't lie down? i mean, why would you stand there while somebody is about ready to shoot you, right? because that's dishonorable.
like generals in battles in the revolutionary war, even though they are being annihilated, will not retreat. >> right. >> why? retreat is dishonorable. >> dishonor. >> stupido. ok? just get behind a rock, you know? >> right. >> so that one little incident can be a device that gets you into a whole mentality that -- and one of the things i wanted to say, because i was going on too long in the talk, we are talking about a world, late 18th century that is pre-democratic. gordon comes next, you tell him i said it's predemocratic. he is going to go nuts. >> they get along, but they have their disagreements. >> it's pre-darwin. it's pre-freud. it's pre-picasso.
it's pre-canes. it's pre-internet. it's even pre-donald trump. >> yeah. >> so it's a really different world back there. >> right. >> now, does that mean it's lost forever? i wouldn't go there. if it was lost forever, what had -- what in heaven's name are we bothering ourselves to go back there? >> right. >> there are things to learn from that world. >> right. >> but in the same way that -- let's say that you are an anthropologist and you go to samoa. you shouldn't expect the samoan parents to raise their kids according to dr. spock. right? we all know that that would be wrong to do that. it's similar to go back and expect -- and you get into fights about undergraduates about this. >> sure. >> there was a young woman at williams last year. we were talking about slavery. and the constitution.
and the constitutional convention. she said, look, they made the wrong case choice. they made the morally reprehensible choice and that's the end of the story. we can't talk about it anymore. i said, what do you mean we can't talk about it? this is this trigger thing, this notion -- that you have got to recognize that this is a different world and come to terms with that world and understand in fact if they had actually tried to insert an article ending slavery or saying slavery should be on the road to extinction, the constitution would have never passed. >> right. >> so what happens then? >> right. >> so you get your way. you know, what happens then? the south ends up being separate. they make an alliance with england because of the cotton trade. slavery probably lasts longer. it's hard to know. you can't go back and play the tape, but i feel strongly that you can't impose a politically
correct identity politics agenda on -- >> from a 2017 perspective on something -- >> yeah. >> yeah. >> and there were founders opposed to slavery, hamilton, franklin, and others, but it was politically not going to happen. you had mentioned john adams is one of those founders that is hard to like according to at -- a lot of historians and probably not that popular. yet you have been enamored with him. >> yeah, i don't like him. i love him. >> in terms of that, adams getting right to the point, is a part of the reason why you like adams. because i've always seen him like truman and grant. i can read truman, i can read grant, they were blunt, got right to the point. whereas i'm still working on figuring out jefferson and washington. is that part of the charm of adams, his directness and bluntness? is that why you love him? >> >> that's true, but only partially the reason.
i mean, compared to truman and grant, adams is a genius and it's also funny as hell. he has a real sense of humor about himself. >> grant never did. >> grant doesn't have that. neither did truman. he understands himself psychologically much more than any modern politician i've ever seen. he understands what love means. he understands what a realistic -- and he's a contrarian. >> yes, he is. >> who thinks that the fact that he lost the election of 1800 to jefferson is the single most important contribution he ever made to american history because he was right to keep us out of a war with france. he lost the election for that reason. >> because of it. >> and that his definition of
leadership is a definition that's unenforceable in our modern political culture. >> rather do what's right and lose than suffer the consequence. >> the people, the public. what's the people? the people is the, you know, the swoonish thing that changes its mind and can be unpredictable. the public is the long term interest of the people. >> right. >> which at any given time most of the people don't understand. your job as a leader is to understand that. in the case of washington -- passed the jay treaty. very unpopular. the right thing to do. lines us up with britain economically for a century. adams, avoid war with france. right thing to do. would have been devastating to the american economy, et cetera. those are acts of leadership by washington and adams as president that would be unthinkable in a contemporary
context because everybody would be poll driven and they would say you can't possibly do that. so it's a form of leadership. it's like when mark twain went to the holy land. he said christ has been here once and will never come again. [laughter] to -- thesegoing people aren't coming back. just to know that that form of leadership actually existed -- people did that. that's really wonderful. >> you mentioned the adams-jefferson letters, which we would both agree are one of the most important sources to understanding the founding period and anybody who writes on this topic needs to go back through them. there's a great story about adams and jefferson having a falling out -- having a fallout over the election. come back together, dying on the same day. >> dying on the same day. if you made that up, nobody
would accept it. >> hollywood agents wouldn't put that in a film. would >> say, you can't do that. the 50th anniversary of the signing of the declaration of independence. they both passed on july 4. >> same day. 50th anniversary to the day of the declaration. >> remarkable. almost to the hour. >> again, you can't make this stuff up. >> is there something about the adams/jefferson letters that you particularly like or you particularly find relevant or important to your work on the founding? >> i alluded to it on -- in my remarks. they are a summing up of the revolutionary generation. the generation is passing of it's 1812 to 1826. they are old. they are getting to be old guys. they are looking back together at what they've done and the way it's -- they have shaped the
revolution and the way it has shaped them. and as adams said, you and i ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other. they were bitter enemies throughout the 1790s. jefferson was a duplicitous son of a gun. he hired several scandal mongers. >> james calendar. >> also he is eventually that blows the whistle on the sally hemmings thing with jefferson. it is watching two of the preeminent founders think about what has happened and what it don'tand the fact is they burglary. two men lived the same experience and don't agree about what it means. it is what i would call the american dialogue that i find and thenmpelling reinforces my notion that history is an argument and an
argument -- you can see the american argument formulated with them. is why the, correspondence is seminal. >> what i like about it is you have these two elder statesmen late in life reminiscing. these two old bulls reminiscing about their hey day and taking different perspectives. jefferson to me has been remarkably enigmatic and plants evidence and tries to be above the fray, but he is duplicitous in the fray. these letters, i think jefferson is more direct. >> he is forced into it. if you want to depict it. jefferson liked to stand with his arms folded to sort of protective himself from intruders. adams pacing back and forth and periodically grabbing him by the lapel. i think both of them are performing.
they don't know we are going to be here in palm beach, but they know they are going to be -- they know these letters are going to be read for several hundred years after they write them. they are writing them to us as well as to each other. a point that i was going to bring up in the talk. that is, they get into a discussion about why there is a toeafter and adams writes someone else after writing to jefferson -- we have been talking about whether there is a hereafter. if it ever can be proven conclusively there is no hereafter, my advice to every man, woman, and child on the planet is to take opium. [laughter] so both of these guys are having doubts about whether traditional christian definitions of life after death are credible.
adams die as unitarian. jefferson dies a deist. sort of a lukewarm this to episcopalianms -- as far as his daily practice. for them, the only absolutely certain form of immortality is secular immortality. it's us. it's us thinking about them later. part of the reason they are on their best behavior is there time to win fame, and fame is everlasting. it is not just fortune, it is everlasting and we are going to bring -- build monuments to them and we are going the name streets after them and we are going to name lakes after them. all that's true. more for jefferson of course.
there needs to be a memorial to adams on the mall or maybe the title basin near the jefferson memorial and positioned in such a way that it casts shadows across the jefferson memorial. >> that they are both look at one another, keeping an eye. >> that would be great. >> they are both coming to grips with their mortality but shaping their legacy to the end. there is, i sense, the profound respect and admiration among the two that they were able to repair this vitally important relationship. maybe the most enigmatic of all the founders, one that i still think is far more monument than man and more myth than flesh and blood is george washington. washington did a marvelous job of taking that veil off of him. you talk a little bit about washington's letters and about him almost crafting or creating this persona -- almost acting the role. he is the least noble of all the
founders. >> he's difficult. and i spent six years reading and writing about him. i wrote a book called "his excellency pickup -- his -- "his excellency." the day he leaves the presidency in april 29, 1797, and about ready to recognize adam as his successor, you look into his diary and you wonder what he is going to say. this is the end of his public career what is he thinking. you get to the diary and it says april 29th, 1797, a day like all days. temperature, 37 degrees fahrenheit. so most of the entries in his diary are about the weather. >> sure. >> with adams, it is about the weather within his own soul, about the gusts that are surging
through his soul. he is talking about what he feels. he is talking about how ambitious he is. then he feels guilty about about how ambitious he is. i think that washington -- at some point in his life during the war, washington comes to understand that he is a public actor and from that point on, everything he does is orchestrated. to tell he is not going you stuff and it is the reason why -- there are probably about 600 letters between martha and george and one of the things he told her when he was writing his will a year before he died -- six months before he died, i want you to destroy all our
correspondence. she did. >> she did. except they were three letters that survived by accident. >> he didn't want us to know him. as he was. in other words, if you had those letters, you would have a wholly different perspective on washington. we have 1200 or 1600 really letters between abigail and john telling you everything. if you are a historian or a biographer, if you don't have that you don't have what you , need. i think when washington is a asng man, during his career a soldier in the french and indian war and as master of mount vernon before the war, but especially during the early years, there's stuff there that allows you to see the ambition and the emotional dimension of
his personality. >> which was more complicated than i think you realize. >> massive ambition. gargantuan sense of what he wanted to achieve. interiorped an muscularity to control that and conceal it and there is this space around him nobody gets an except martha and lafayette. that's it. maybe hamilton. maybe ham ton, too. -- maybe hamilton too. , there are times when henry knox might get in there. there are only a few people that would really. seven the war, the war is and a half years long. they are out there in the field for seven and a half years and he's got all of these people aged to camp, hamilton being a
primary one them. 11 or 12 of these people throughout the course of the war. when they meet at night to talk about the war, the battle, the day's events, the understanding is it's all confidential. he lets his hair down. they swear allegiance that they will never talk. they never did. they never did. they would have all talked now. they would have all gone on "oprah" and they would have made a million bucks and i can tell you what washington really said about -- all this stuff. we know from what they said that he was behaving in ways that don't fit the iconic image of what he was. -- what isdepiction
the name of the artist that painted -- >> trumbull? >> no. who? stewart. gilbert stewart. gilbert stewart's painting washington. it's not the one on the dollar bill. i was going to say, washington is in your wallet all the time. when he is painting washington for what is called the lansdowne portrait in 1796, he writes a letter the moment he is doing it. he says i'm a painting george washington. he describes this facial thing and said he had the widest set of eyes i have ever seen and in his eyes he is the wildest animal i have ever seen in the forest. he is primal and what he paints is exactly the opposite. what he paints is exactly a controlled thing.
but what what he saw, he knew we needed to believe. all of those patriots are forgeries and misrepresentations of the real character of washington because that is what he thinks we need to believe in the artist know that is the way they make money. >> like the writings about him from some of the soldiers and those that knew him that describe the physical washington, his size, how imposing he was, and he could stay in the saddle longer than men half his age. he just had a -- i guess we would call it charisma or andence, but also a power muscularity. when he walked in -- he was a head taller than everyone else. >> i talked to one of the former members of the -- is young -- all the portraits of him are as an old guy. what if we were only known by
the porches of when we are old? -- portraits of when we are old? i can make it easy for you. young washington, think john wayne 1939 "stage coach." that's what he is, that is what he looks like he is a tough hombre. >> i'm going to borrow that, by the way. >> you can have it. >> and mount vernon, everyone, there is recreations of him, life size, accurate based on this exsentencive research that joe mention. you can see him at different points of his life, the teenage surveyor, french and indian war, wore a size 13 shoe. >> they measured him when he died for his coffin and it is controversial about this -- but
they measured him and he was 6'3" and a quarter and 202 pounds. when people ask, how tall was washington, if you go to mount washington they say 6'2" inches. the instructions to his taylor andhe was six foot proportionally made. he is not six foot and not proportionally made and that is one reason his close never -- his clothing never fit him. [laughter] -- goes with six feet and i have argued with her about it. 6'2" is kind of the middle position. i say he is 6'3" 1/4. the people say they bent his toes when they measured him for the coffin and that added an inch or two. i would go with the coffin, man.
>> his scottish physician, dr. craig and his revolutionary buddy had measured him once at six foot numeral -- 6'1" and once at 6'3", there is accounts all over the place. >> one of the things, they don't don't -- don't think -- if people asked adams and his old age, nobody sees these people. they are not on tv. adams is famous -- but can you describe? i am 5'6" or 5'7", i know not pounds, i145 or 168 know not which. they don't know specifically how big -- their weight and height in the same way we do. precise. considered as what is clear -->> what i have said in one of my writings is george washington would have a great tight end in the nfl. big guy, flat chested but broad shouldered, big hands, big feet. big strong man.
would you say that john adams is your favorite of the founders? if you could meet the founders, is there one of them that you think you would particularly like? is there one of them that you think you would particularly not like? >> i like adams for the reasons i specified. i also feel he will tell you the dirt. he will tell you the truth. most of it he has already told in his letters. franklin next. franklin probably would be the most capable of understanding our world. if you just take adams to a mall, he would go nuts. adams would say, yeah i could see how this would happen -- franklin would say, i could see how this would happen. all interesting and i
think the most boring would be madison. madison just doesn't tell you everything. what do you want to hear? i will give it to his -- give it to you. >> the descriptions are always the great, little madison. >> that doesn't do justice to the power of his mind. the person i would have the toughest time with his jefferson . i spent seven or eight years working on him and i won the national book award for this. i wasn't supposed to win. >> great -- great title of the book "american sphinx." >> i went down and accepted the thing and i said my wife ellen told me i should never write this book because i don't really like jefferson. well, take that, ellen. [laughter] don't like them, it's that i don't respect them.
he is duplicitous. hiss hypercritical and reputation depends on accepting the lyrical quality of this prose and franklin is the best writer, but he has up there. -- he is up there. all these people are world-class letterwriters, a lost art. for reasons that are there in sphinx, -- "american jefferson is always going to disappoint his most ardent fans and i hate to have to sit down and tell him that. >> let's talk about your writing process in your writing style. would you take us into the tricks of the trade?
you mentioned you spent six or seven years with jefferson -- how long does it typically take you to write an research and had you approach your actual writing? you said you are not a computer guy. you said you had a ballpoint pen. >> rollerball. black ink. matter -- not a felt -- not an 18th-century leather -- feather quill pen. there is a guy that created "60 minutes" named don hewitt who is now dead and what hewitt said always struck me as absolutely issue is obvious, the
always, what is the story? what is the story? >> did that drive you from the beginning? >> it is not what is the argument -- they have to -- there has to be a story and how do you tell it? how do you tell it in a way that is true to the 18th century and the body of evidence you have distilled and digested and yet, accessible to an audience. who is your audience? i'm not a historian who is only writing to another few specialists in the field. >> right. >> though i'm writing books with end notes that specialists can look at and allegedly i hope can inform their understanding as well. who are you writing to? my ideal audience, the audience i'm writing to are the same people i've taught for 40 years. it comes out of the teaching. who are they? they are very smart and they know nothing. >> ok. [laughter] >> perfect.
to get thembe able to comprehend that this particular world you are re-creating for them. my mind is sort of falling off into sideshows and i don't want to do that. >> where you get your ideas? do you sit and say there hasn't been enough on mattis or john james or do you do research and something sparks you and say that is a book? llis: there is no single thing. it is improvisational. if you look at the bodywork -- -- that things are out of order. they do the founding brothers before i do the revolutionary --
and itamerican quartet is the way they came up in my -- in termsy that of sources. i am driven by primary rather than secondary sources. instead of saying what is the current scholarly agenda, which is out there that is what you are supposed to do -- gordon is really good at that. he really knows that. >> next week. >> next week. gordon knows most about the secondary literature than anybody. i know more about the primary literature than anybody. well, who can say. .t comes from that i wrote a book called "founding brothers." one of the first chapters is called "the duel."
five years later i get this letter from the columbia school of journalism and he says we want you to come down and talk to our students this is a class they are taking and they are reading "the duel" as a kind of model of how to tell a story. i said really? well, what is it about it? well, you begin at one point you cut back, and then you go under, and you get background without telling the reader you are doing that, but somehow bringing the reader along in any go to the end and come back again? i said, really, i didn't know i did that. a lot of what i am doing is not thatetical, it is just -- is the way it comes. i said i can't come down and talk to you about this at columbia because i don't really know what you are talking about. i -- annk having and
eye for a good story and how to tell it in a way that provides case ofing -- in the the dual, it is almost then agatha christie mystery story and it's part of the way to do it. can't define what a good story is, but it is like pornography, you know it when you see it. >> jesse holmes line. yeah, knew it when i see it. would you mind telling us what you are working on now? what's the next book? about the last two years i am working on a book called "then and now a meditation on : the reflgs of the american founding -- on the relevance of the american founding." i've written more than half of it. some of it is going to have to
be redone. what's risky about it. and also for that reason it is interesting and exciting. it is foreign policy, income inequality, judicial philosophy, race, and leadership. those are the chapters. each chapter has one founder. foreign policy is washington. race is jefferson. income inequality is adams. i know how to do the then. then i've got to do now. how can you read about the present historically? --t is technically theoretically impossible to do, but i am trying to do it. i'm trying to say let's connect -- what i said to you in our remarks today, none of the founders believed -- except for jefferson -- believed that the values the americans create in
the american constitution and the american republic are transferable to fundamentally .ifferent cultures >> can i ask on that note? >> go ahead. > you had said and written and we talked about this at another time that the notion of american exceptionalism today, that a lot of people that write about it or talk about it evoke george washington. i agree with you that washington -- you had said and written that washington would not agree with the notion of american exceptionalism today. could you explain that? >> there is a letter he writes in 1783, the last of his circular letters to the states. it's probably the most profound letter washington ever wrote. he actually wrote it. washington did not write the farewell address. hamilton wrote it. ideas buthington's , nevertheless. that he says that we are coming into existence as a new nation even though we are not a nation
yet and we have these enormous advantages. we have the oceans to protect us. we have this boundless continent. of course, he is not talking about the fact that there is all these native americans there. we begin with the biggest trust fund, he says, than anybody -- that is my version of what he says -- of any new nation. we have all these advantages, ok? it is our very uniqueness that means you shouldn't expect other countries to be able to duplicate this is really -- of this easily. that is the exact opposite of the meaning that most people using the term american exceptionalism. washington's view, which is most clearly expressed by john quincy adams in the next generation who is adams' son, but really is pursuing the foreign policy
created by washington said america goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. george cannon, the great diplomat of the 20th century always used the like to cite that, especially in the wake of our tragic involvement in vietnam. washington believed in some version of a city on the hill of -- and reagan believed in what he called the shining city on a hill. he thought that meant we needed a big military. it doesn't. john winthrop is the real origin of the city on the hill, 1630. it's actually the perfect city on the hill is a medieval city of any quality it's not what we want. the idea is that americans can influence the world not by invading with other armies, but by perfecting the values and institutions that we have here.
it is an isolationist posture. washington, you know, washington's farewell address is the isolationist message. i don't think isolationism is feasible now. i think it is impossible for the superpower to retreat from their responsibilities of the world. neo-think some form of isolationism, meaning we are going to stay in nato and play a role in the world bank and play out our responsibility to the world, but the highest form of influence we can have is not military, but the soft power and the strength of our own political institutions and our own economy. >> you can watch the rest of --tice -- just a ballast comments on our website. monuments toe many
lieutenant general robert e. lee. >> he is best known in the civil war community as the author of a fabulous book called "a black confederates and afro yankees in civil war virginia." the book came out 22 years ago and is still the best scholarly work on the subject. professor jordan has served on many boards, including the board of the museum of the confederacy. currently, he is on the state historical records advisory board ofmestown trustees, the jamestown yorktown foundation 2019 commemoration steering committee. 2019 is when the first slaves arrived in north america.