tv Abraham Lincolns Life Career and Legacy CSPAN May 8, 2017 1:10am-1:56am EDT
me? and i ams fred martin the president of the abraham lincoln student and the other of abraham lincoln's path to 1864, and i'm here to moderate the panel of distinguished scholars. and so we will keep it informal. i might say, i got into lincoln unclee my great, great was the head of a regiment of the volunteers and became a major at appomattox for cutting off lee's retreat.
my great aunt was a strong influence and came out to my -- montana in a covered wagon and they met lincoln and one of the daughters of one of the great ands -- aunts decided she would marry this fellow. and one said, he is a democrat. and she said, yes. said,e other and -- aunt we would rather you marry a dog. but lincoln was very much in the picture. anyway, you have already met all of our distinguished panelists. so we are going to have a about the and -- various topics that have been covered here. and i think, is somebody saying something? which one, let's -- of you, i guess we will take questions from the audience.
there is a question over there. yes, some of the lectures have talked about, in their lectures, looking back 150 years ago with 21st century glasses, and either making judgments or whatever. something has always interested me in reading from that time period, what the united states was like at that time, in the sense that it was incredibly provincial. most of what we would call americans today where first of all georgians or virginians or kentuckians, etc., before they were americans. would you speak to in your research how provincialism played into what transpired in 1860, along with the other
factors we know about -- slavery, tariffs, regional differences, etc. thank you. doug? >> ok. um. i know that there is -- thank you. doug: i know it is a time of westerly, people are moving to the west and lincoln's family is moving. it is typical. people are coming out of the east. geographers are fascinated by the fact that they -- they tend to move in the same latitude. not everybody, but it is a tendency. so illinois gets those from tennessee and kentucky, and lincoln's family is one of those. and it makes for a different kind of society. certainly lincoln, the illinois
that lincoln started out in is a really crude frontier society. you think he is a lawyer, but you have no idea what a lawyer did. and herndon talked about this all the time, you should have seen the way we practiced in those days. a very primitive kind of think mother they did have institutions. and they brought them along and they set up shot. -- shop. and it has to affect the kind of country it was. it is hard to characterize on-the-fly. maybe somebody has a better answer. miller and as of his works on lincoln compared lincoln's preparation for the preparation. --'s it is considered that buchanan was one of the best prepared presidents we had, a legislator
and a diplomat, yet he is considered a failed president. where as lincoln was considered to be utterly unprepared for the presidency, yet by most people with the noticeable -- notable exception of -- who thought lincoln in terms of personality, was one of the best prepared presidents. so would you, can either of you, -- any of you comment on those comparisons? >> i will take a shot at buchanan. [laughter] >> very good. >> few people seem to have greater credentials for the presidency than james buchanan, an opinion he shared. inhad long experience government and he had the advantage before running for president in 1856, of having been out of the country for several years.
he was not around to be interviewed. and people do not exactly know what his opinions were. he was very happy with that. experience and he seems to have all the attributes, but what he does not have is an undivided party behind him. he has to cope with stephen douglas. and stephen douglas, who believed the nomination should have come to him, made life as difficult for james buchanan as he possibly could. and one thing which conspired to assist douglas that way was the situation in kansas. the lecompton constitution came to congress, buchanan put all of his political muscle behind it and douglas did everything he could to stymie it. buchanan calls douglas to the white house, they have a very unpleasant conversation. and buchanan says to douglas, i
would like you to remember what happened to reeves, meaning somebody who had challenged president jackson and came out on the short end of things. to which douglas replied, mr. president i would like you to remember that general jackson is dead. [laughter] >> and the two of them faced off that way and really things spiraled downhill for james buchanan after that. by contrast, abraham lincoln comes in as this dark course. with -- horse. with no particular experience and an executive search form -- firm would have never given him a second look. the impression he makes on rough,is that of a intelligent farmer. so much so, and this is one of the finest moments i think in doug wilson's book, where he
quotes a newspaper editor asking, "who will write this ignorant man's state papers for him?" [laughter] le none of this -- peop overestimated buchanan and underestimated lincoln. in one of the most perceptive oneents made about lincoln, said, anybody that took him for a single -- simpleminded man it would wake up with his back in a ditch. there are a lot of people in that ditch by 1865. people found out that this man lincoln was a lot more sharp, a lot more intelligent than they give him credit for. but he in a way invited them to underestimate him. he would sit there with that kentucky upper border drawl. he would tell these hokey stories. and people would assume that
they are dealing with a more on. -- moron. boy were they wrong. [laughter] >> best illustration i know this was an occasion in which senator benjamin wade, an ohio radical, very impatient with lincoln one day found his impatient brimming over. came down from the capital to the white house, into the white house, into lincoln's office and began telling him everything that he was doing wrong. lincoln interrupts and says, senator, that reminds me of a story. [laughter] erupts, that was the wrong thing to say at that moment, wade even and says -- erupts and says, i am sick and tired of your stories. don't you know that hell is not half a mile off? lincoln replies, senator, isn't that about the existence between -- the distance between here and the capital?
[laughter] >> wade turns around without a word and walks out, down the steps and into the driveway, passes a friend in remarks, lincoln told me that time. -- sold me that time. anybody who takes lincoln for a simple minded man is up with his back in the ditch. buchanan was easy to overestimate, lincoln was easy to underestimate. >> thank you. we have another question out here? go ahead. was that your own question? make a comment? >> let me see if i can stir things up. it should be apparent that the professor and i are not quite on the same page. but i do think that it can be framed in such a way as would not cast -- on either one of us. my interest has somewhat more to
do with the period before the war when the old system was still in place and when the thought of being able to touch slavery was just unimaginable, the existing party system and existing power of the states in the union rolled out -- ruled out any involvement with slavery. but when the war started, and i believe the professor is more interested in the dynamics of wartime that creates the possibility that never existed before of emancipation and opens the door because the southern states had abandoned the constitution and left the union, of something that could not have been imagined before april, 1861, so that is part of it. i believe he is more tied to the wartime period, and i am more with prewar, but i will also say, as you heard the professor knows lincoln and said -- inside
and out it is helpful here with an audience of this sort, because we are fascinated with lincoln. and i'm fascinated with lincoln too. but my interests take me out so that i am also more interested as well in the political climate that produces lincoln. i associate with historians such as michael holt who has a wonderful forthcoming book on the 1860 election, which will argue that if you look at the lower north, especially pennsylvania, indiana and illinois, the three big states the rep. higgins: lost, and -- the republicans lost in 1856 and they knew they had to win in 1860, the republican campaign had little to do with the slavery issue at all. hotlt argue this is where the famous monitor "honest abe" played well, because the
republicans were running against the corruption of the buchanan administration and presented themselves as a way to turn the page and get away from that. i associate with the historians, certainly i am one myself, who has studied the broader political environment that ultimately leads to the war. i would also say i identify with the historians who look more at the broader social environment. i have a world of admiration for ed who has happily backed away from his 10 years as the president of the university and is back to writing again, doing a sequel of his wonderful book "in the presence of my enemies." that book is essential reading for everybody in the room, because it shows you that right down to the moment of crisis in the winter of 1860 and 1861, that there were very few people in the north who believed that
it was possible or desirable to interfere with slavery. he looks closely at a community, chambers berg, pennsylvania, where the republicans had a majority, lincoln carried, but it was not a vote to touch slavery. and he makes it very clear. so, i throw this out not with any effort to try to say anything unkind about the professor, but in the hopes it might motivate him to see if he can shed light on the issues i have tried to raise. perhaps -- >> perhaps, steve you want to comment on the nomination for president. i know a lot of the senators thought they should be president. >> fred, i am glad -- i'm glad he said that, because after
finished and i expected allen to respond, i kind of feel like a net in a tennis match sitting right here. [laughter] suppose i should say something then. i seem to recollect having written a book about lincoln in the 1850's, 1858 to be exact, so i do have some familiarity with the territory. but, i think the distinction that will probably be the most useful in this respect is to understand that when lincoln is talking about slavery, he really has two things to say about it. today --e believes it to be a fundamental, moral wrong. second thing is, he cannot touch
it in the states where it is legal. and he all the time is telling people, this is not what i am planning to do. i do not see that the constitution grants authority to touch slavery in the states where it is legal. where he wants to draw his line is slavery in the territories, that has been the issue for him from the very beginning of his entrance into active opposition, politically. and that is in 1854 in the kansas nebraska act, and his opposition to kansas nebraska is all bound up with the question of, shall slavery be allowed admission to the western territories? so lincoln never works with the assumption that his election is about dealing with slavery in the southern states. but he does insist that it has a great deal to do with whether slavery is going to be allowed to expand into the west.
that is the point he says is the nub of the debate. that is the point at which point comes to shove, where the tug has to take place and there can be no concession. so in a way, both professor croft and i are speaking to two halves of the same coin. it is true, the issue was not -- how shall we burn down slavery in the slave states? because there was no point in having that kind of conversation constitutionally, it could not happen. nor were white people in the north particular leaguer to burn down slavery in the south, because the next question that gets asked is, once we do that, what do you do with the freed slaves? and the answer that northern white people tended to produce to that question are not very complementary ones. so the question was always then,
what about slavery in the territories? this is the other half of the coin. he is correct, it is not a question of whether we do about slavery in the south. because whether temperamentally, in terms of racial outlook, or constitutionally, there was nothing that could be done about slavery in the south. but there was a great deal to prevent slavery from expanding to the west, that is where lincoln wanted to draw the line, that is where the republicans made their campaign position clear. incoln himself at one point 1864, when george steward complemented lincoln at a white house reception for all the work he had done about freeing the slaves, lincoln pointed out the window at the south window and said, i really do not deserve a complement. i could not have accomplished anything if not for the people down there and what they did. it was secession triggering the
war that permitted the destruction of an institution which otherwise would have taken an enormous amount of time to have dealt with legally and constitutionally. in that respect, the southerners, the slaveholding southerners signed the death for -- warrant of their own institution. >> let me follow that appeared one of the things i discovered -- that. one of the things i discovered is kansas keeps coming up in historical memory as lincoln becomes more popular and a lot of the documents that i sought repeatedly across the states, not just the newspapers but in letters to and from politicians, the expansion of slavery, and kansas provides the example of what can happen if slavery is going to continue to expand. and i think that really was among the most alarming, because what happens in kansas, and then john brown as he tries to
incite revolution in virginia, that is so fresh in the mind of what has transpired in kansas and now they relate this sort of revolutionary tendencies that were very prevalent in that region and how for example, new englanders and other groups within the, not just the new england states, but in new york were trying to promote retaining or restricting slavery to the slave states so they would not expand. >> go ahead. >> for the professor, professor silverman, can you expand on what lincoln thought about foreigners, foreign countries, etc., from his two trips to new orleans and what propelled him to be interested in other languages, for example. >> lincoln had planned when he finished his second term. to
travel -- term to travel. he wanted to go to california, he wanted to go to the holy land. he was looking forward to a time in his life post-presidency in which he would be able to sort of do the things that i think he was unable to do. the trip to new orleans was, the two trips to new orleans could very well have been the greatest education that lincoln had in terms of the topic of immigration. is a young man with his eyes wide open, and he is seeing all sorts of things that he does not see, certainly back in illinois for the most part, though his springfield neighborhood all things considered was reasonably ethnically diverse. he hired irish to work in the house. he also encountered on an
ongoing basis portuguese farmers, in springfield, who were produce, greengrocers so to speak. so it is not like he was completely ignorant about all this. but he was not travel smart or a great deal of book smart about civilizations around the world, for example asia. i do believe in my heart of hearts that lincoln was the kind of human being who tried desperately to see the good in everybody. rather than the bad in everybody. i do not think that lincoln drew any kind of broad brush, you know, paintings in which everybody was monolithically examined. so when he did encounter somebody like the gentleman i
mentioned during my talk, joseph, he was receptive and extremely curious. so the answer to your question, at least i think, is that whatever he encountered sort of bond in him curiosity -- spawned in him curiosity, not bigotry or discrimination, he was very curious about people of foreign nations. >> if anybody else want to add to that? >> anybody else want to comment on that? >> he made an important comment during the lincoln douglas debates, in one of the speeches, but not the debate. where he talked about americans and immigrants. he said, at least half of our population are from some place else. they are from scandinavia, from france, from germany and so on.
if you show them the law books of the states, then that is just somebody else's law books. but he said when they read in the declaration of independence that all men are created equal, them whichis that in resonates with that. and that is the moment in which they feel that they are flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone of those old men who wrote the declaration. yes, the elector court. this is the sort of thing that lincoln saw. he saw the american experiment as embodying something that was more than just american. it was universal. captured in the decoration of independence about natural rights and natural law being shared equally by all human beings. these were things for him that trumped immediate nationality.
he will go so far to say in his eulogy for henry clay, that clay loved his country partly because it was his country, but also because his country had shown how freemen could be prosperous. nationalist, but not a romantic nationalist as a so much of the 19th century was. he did not believe there was a mystical elements of race or blood or linguist or ethnicity that governed peoples behavior, rather what motivated everybody was the position of his natural rights. and the american experiment, by founding all of his political life on the equality of natural rights, had done something which was not just american but was natural to all human beings. so in that respect, he is a
nationalist who loves his country, but he is also somebody that believes that there are foundational characteristics of human nature, which is the american experiment in particular has captured. >> thank you. >> i have one thing to add to that. >> go ahead. >> i cannot resist saying the alan quotes is a terrific statement. and i believe it isn't, i believe it is sincere in respect his views. it is the first speech in the lincoln douglas debates, where they are on the same platform, they have not started the rigler series of debates yet. -- in the regular series of debates yet. but he got hammered on that speech over and over again and he did not say anything like that again. as much as we would wish, why
don't you give him that speech about the court, but he did not think it would be productive as a politician. he was a politician. so he took his lumps and tried to live with it. but douglas -- [laughter] >> you are taking too much time. >> ok. >> the commentary you made about lincoln's view of the united states being a great experiment and natural law as a beacon to the world, it sounded like ronald reagan's view of the united states. issue, the two of them differed a great deal. reagan often made the argument that the states preceded the federal government, created the federal government, and in a sense the federal government was diminishing in importance by that fact. lincoln on the other hand took the view that no, the states had given up a good measure of their sovereignty when they joined the
articles of confederation and a perpetual union, and in effect the federal government created the states. so on that chicken and egg argument, did the states create the federal government, or did the federal government create the states? any of you who would like to comment. >> this is the last question. >> keep it brief. >> i would say neither. it is not a question of the because thee union, actual process of the constitutional convention was ratification by state conventions, not by the legislatures. so the union is created by the people of the united states, something which of course is reflected in the preamble, "we the people." the effort of the founders was
in fact to circumvent the question of states forming things, states creating identities, state sovereignty versus federal authority. the federal constitution is ratified by the people of the united states as a whole. in that respect the real sovereignty always belongs you movably in the hands -- immova bly in the hands of the people. >> thank you very much. i think that is the last question. we have had a very distinguished panel and a great program today. [applause]
ultimately, lincoln's white house, the people's house in with itsook the prize combination of scholarship, fine writing, and the humanization of its subjects. jim conroy is a lawyer in the litigator, nobody's perfect. [laughter] 1980'she 1970's and while working on capitol hill as a speechwriter and press secretary, he earned a masters degree in international relations at george washington university and a law degree at georgetown. after the publication of his contraryk, "our one, country.," hemon was elected a fellow of the massachusetts historical society. i am sure we have heard, if only
this old house could talk, and there is no -- only the house for the most revelationary tales to tell would be the white house. that is why it is so surprising nobody has written the definitive account of the goings on in the white house during the most dramatic and definitive 40 years international history that is until now. i wrote this over two months ago, so -- [laughter] >> jim conroy has written a book that deals with events as they unfolded within the president's wartime home, using rich primary source material, he paints vivid portraits of the great, then your great, the villainous, and the day-to-day visitors that his term in to
office. when asked what drew him to the subject, jim replied that he became caught up with the idea of weaving together the scattered evidence of what it was like to work, live, visit and be entertained in lincoln's white house. tells writer of history his or her story and an accurate and intriguing manner. imd lincoln's white house, j has accomplished this to a find a great, to which a compliment the institute is pleased to present him with a 2017 lincoln book award. please join us in honoring james conroy. [applause] mr. conroy: thank you very much
for that generous introduction. it might be the first time i had an introduction that was better written than the book. i should say as well as i often do on the lawyer joke, i wanted to be a historian from the age of seven or eight and fell in with the wrong crowd and end up -- ended up in law school. i will make a few observations. it is a terrific honor to receive this award. especially as a rank amateur in this field, to join this distinguished group of scholars that precedes me. i will say as well, this is not the first time i have been here. the first time was in the summer of 1962, in the kennedy administration when i was 12 years old, my parents brought me here. it was an empty warehouse. were a few dusty exhibits, dioramas, and such.
i do remember the box where lincoln was shot was taped off. if i had known i would be standing on this historic stage getting this award, i would have fainted, dead away. i want to comment briefly on the description of the book. really did try to date out bits of evidence that can be sources, many of which, michael burling game had unearthed before i got involved. i try to weave them into a narrative that speaks to the life and experience of people who lived and worked and were entertained in lincoln's white house. i would like to tell a number of stories and i only have time for one. some of the audacity i have in making -- doing this work. lincoln spends an inordinate amount of time in interviewing
people who came down to the white house to apply for federal jobs. stateg from secretary of or near that, down to the level of a doorman. a story is told of one of lincoln's staff members who observe this interview lincoln conducted of a very simple man who had applied for the job of doorman, one of the doorman in the white house. tocoln would generally try disappoint people as gently as he could when he was unable to appoint them to these jobs. man, said to this simple my good sir, do you have any experience as a doorman? the man said, no mr. president, no actual experience. and you have any theoretical experience? [laughter] mr. conroy: no, i do not mr. president. have you read any books on the principles of door keeping?
no. any door keeping lectures? no, sir. my good man, can't you see you are not classified -- qualify for this important job? almost happy he had had this experience with the president. contrast that with the empathy of abraham lincoln in speaking with a young woman who was mute, and sat in his office conversing with him in pen and paper, laboriously taking the time to do that well two very distinguished gentlemen were waiting in the anteroom while he spent half in our with this young woman. mildlyhis aides chastised him for that and lincoln said, those are greatest in worcester men and they will not be troubled losing half an hour. that young woman will spend the rest of her life a little happier he cut she spent time with the president of the united states.
that is a kind of thing i try to bring out in this book to bring out that era, that person, that house alive. i appreciate the opportunity and him very grateful for this award. thank you very much. [applause] >> this year, the abraham lincoln institute is delighted to the stove for the first time an award, the abraham lincoln institute award honors the life and achievement of an individual or individuals who have significantly advance the study of abraham lincoln. it gives me great pleasure to announce the recipient is "la la land?"
i may have been given the wrong envelope. [laughter] mom'should mention my maiden name is waterhouse, which is funny given what has happened. pleasederiousness, i am to announce the inaugural recipients are douglas l. wilson and rodney o. davis. [applause] >> wait, i am not done yet. douglas wilson and rodney davis work at knox college in illinois which is devoted to the study, life and work of abraham lincoln. they publish scholarly editions. rod have edited books that have become invaluable to lincoln scholars. the 2008 study center addition of the lincoln that was debate mark the anniversary by offering
the most complete record ever assembled from a host of sources, not just partisan newspaper accounts. isnow today is -- it difficult for us to imagine the media ever being accused of being partisan. in collaboration with the library of congress, they worked for the transcription of the abraham lincoln papers, making thousands of documents, keyword searchable and accessible, readingly to those 19th-century handwriting can be a daunting experience. please make your children learn how to read cursive handwriting. [applause] havingse, we will not be these symposia in the future because no one can read the documents on which to base their articles. for many of us, it is the
volumes focused on lincoln's law partner william h herndon and givenitings that have wilson and davis the everlasting gratitude of scholars. they restored the original text andhe biography by herndon jesse white the you heard about earlier. mid-accessible the material by herndon the interviews of those that new lincoln. they knew lincoln in his early years and provided some of the only first-hand accounts of young mr. lincoln. 's performance was caused -- called a godsend. it is now available online through the university of illinois press, offering them herndonarchive to a wider audience.
i am glad he continues to bear fruit. the first of two volumes of herndon on lincoln appeared in 2016 and the editors are hard at work on a second volume which will include the herndon series. what can be said of all the books produced by the team of wilson and davis, they are thoroughly researched, particularly indicated, and worth of their weight in gold for students of abraham lincoln in accessing and accessing herndon's priceless collection of primary source material. is the first legacy award on behalf of rodney davis and himself, welcome douglas l. wilson. [applause] mr. wilson: thank you very much. i do not think i need to tell you what a great honor this is for me and my partner, rodney davis. havew grateful we are to
the lincoln institute bring it all about. nearly 30 year venture in lincoln studies has taken us on a marvelous scholarly escapade. bringing us into contact with the great repositories, great source material, helpful curators and librarians, and dozens of knowledgeable researchers, to compare notes with and learn from, both in and outside the academy. we are very much aware that we have been blessed in this endeavor with a superb audience for our offerings. evidence of which is this haverful occasion and we people to actually read our books and attend gatherings such as this one.
they give up their weekends and so forth, they think they will find something important. there are so many scholars who who do not get anything like that kind of treatment from their audience. [no audio] ideas were being offered, previous discredited views were credited and new voices were being heard. mean,rselves, rodney and all we wanted was a hearing. and thanks to organizations like the abraham lincoln institute and ford's theatre, we got it. thank you very much. [applause]
>> on behalf of the abraham lincoln institute, thank you for joining us at our 20th annual symposium. particularly the 300 of you who were registered and came today, plus all our audience online and subsequent online feelings on c-span in the future. in january, please check back with the website of abraham lincoln website and ford's theatre to register for the 2018 symposium. we hope you have enjoyed the day and we look forward to joining you again in 2018. think you very much for coming. [applause]