tv Historian Joanne Freeman on Alexander Hamilton CSPAN April 30, 2020 1:10pm-2:12pm EDT
c-span3 every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv. and lectures in history is available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. the national council for history education moved their conference online due to the coronavirus outbreak. the session up next features yale university history and american studies professor joanne freeman, editor of "the essential hamilton, letters and other writings." >> good morning. i'm a professor of history at the university of central florida and a proud member of the board of the national council for history education. i trust all of you are doing well and keeping safe. these are very strange times, bewildering even for historians who have a long-term sense of history. thanks for joining us today.
it is my pleasure to introduce our keynote session entitled ask the historian, alexander hamilton. our speaker, historian joanne freeman. dr. freeman is a professor of history at yale university. she specializes in the american revolutionary period and early national american politics and culture. she is the author of several influential award winning books. i will mention just two of them. "affairs of honor, national politics in the republic, 2001." most recently, "field of blood, congressional violence in antebellum america" which i found particularly helpful for my own work. if you look at these two books combined, it seems like a reverse echo of the current and contemporary political scene in the united states. from honor to violence.
i will leave it at that. dr. freeman is also known for her leading scholarship on alexander hamilton which she rediscovered, i would say, before broadway did just a couple of years ago. i asked dr. freeman about her relation with history, and she was kind enough to respond to my request for that information. it really reads like a love story. she fell in love with history beginning back in 1776. no, i'm sorry. she's much younger than that. the bicentennial, 1976. i do remember that time and those quarters that came out. i was fascinated by them as well. i developed the hobby of coin collecting. from there, she went to the hamilton papers, became a public
historian, consultant, museum educator, very active in what we now call public history. she received her ph.d. from the university of virginia and has had since a very distinguished career at yale. one last thing, because we want to give as much time to her as possible. dr. freeman is also profoundly grateful for her teachers, professors and mentors who led the way. i'm glad to see how over the years she's paid back demonstrating her very generous commitment to education and american's teachers. so please welcome dr. freeman. we're excited to hear what you have to say. thank you. >> thank you. again, we are very grateful for all the support he showed us. we're very excited to have you here. that was a great introduction.
we have got a number of questions that folks have posted on social media. i just want to say to everyone in the audience, we are still taking questions. when you have questions -- i know you do because you love hamilton and you love joanne, put your questions in the chat box. we will put them together. could you tell us a little bit more -- it sounds like 1976 was a pivotal time for you in your interest. tell us a little bit more about particularly what draws you to the early american period and alexander hamilton in particular. >> okay. i'm happy to do that. i wanted to actually first say that thank you for that introduction. i also want to say, taking -- looking at what's been going on to convert a real conference into an online conference has been amazing to see. even as a board member, i am applauding all the work that went into making this possible. i'm kind of excited for the
adventure of it. as far as what draws me to that period, i think in a way it's not -- in some ways, not that different from what drew me to begin with. i think initially what got me interested was the human component of it. i think that's what the bicentennial did for me was show me the people underneath the events that i had always learned about as events. i began reading biographies. that was my entry. even now as a mature historian who can pick my research agenda, what i'm really interested in this period i guess is two things. it's the human component of it and whether that means people behaving badly, which i seem to write about a lot, or just generally speaking, the underlying motives and emotions and intentions and things that drive politics that aren't just pure policy, aren't just
demographics. i'm really interested in getting to the root of that kind of behavior. >> that's great. alexander hamilton particularly. what is it about his character that make u.s you find him fascinating? >> well, i think initially i started reading biographies. i actually think i started at a. i remember reading john adams and kind of going. when i got to hamilton, he was different. again, i was, like, 14 years old. he was different because he had a dramatic beginning and a dramatic end as opposed to some of the other biographies i had been reading. and i think as a kid, what appealed to me was he was a young guy who wanted to achieve great things and i think i identify with that somehow. i want to do great things. also, oddly enough, there wasn't a lot written about him. that intrigued me, too.
so i read a biography of him, which i won't name, because i didn't like it. i didn't believe it. i don't know what in my 14-year-old brain drew me to draw that conclusion, but i didn't. i asked a librarian what the person who had written the book had read that gave that person the right to say what they were saying in the book. the librarian showed me the hamilton papers. the 27 volumes of the hamilton papers, everything they have collected he has written or received over the course of his entire life. it's 27 volumes. i started reading those. to me, that was the most exciting thing of all. this is when you could tell i'm supposed to be a historian. my response was, wow, this is the real history. this is the real stuff. no one is going to tell me what this means. i get to read it and figure out what it means. so i think sort of beamed into him because he was different. but then ended up being
fascinated by what i found in reading those papers. so i would read all 27 volumes and then finish and go back and start again. i just never stopped. i didn't know historian was a job. i didn't know anyone who had ever been a professor. i had no goal. it was just the thing i did because i was fascinated in hamilton. he is so flaws and self-destructive and yet so central to the politics of that moment that by being interested in him i became interested in the time period and in its politics. it was kind of like concentric circumstancele circles and eventually i was interested in that period. it all did kind of start with hamilton. >> many of us watching are history educators. we love primary documents, too. but that's a level of commitment i'm not sure all of us have. that's great. >> i don't know if i would do that now. >> more impressive for a
14-year-old. kimberly is saying that this is proof that librarians are modern day heroes. yes, i think we think -- librarians we are proud of you. look what you started here. that commitment and that early kind of almost a relationship with alexander hamilton i think is very fascinating. i think many of us might have the feeling we have come to know alexander hamilton. we may feel like we're close to him now, even those of us not historians who are just listening to the cd in our car, who have been lucky enough to see the play, which was very much influenced by your work. could you tell us, what are some things that we may not know about alexander hamilton, even if we feel like maybe we know him, what are we miss sng whing? what's doesn't the average american know? >> the biggest answer to that -- i guess the most serious answer to that is that the play draws a very particular image of him.
it does a good job of capturing his personality to some degree. he is difficult. he never shuts up. he doesn't know how to stifle himself in any way. he gets in a lot of fights. you see all of that in the play. what the play doesn't do so much of -- i'm not sure i would expect musical theater to do so much of this. but as a politician, he had very strong feelings. they weren't all progressive and they weren't all democratic. the play kind of makes him out to be -- raised himself up by his boot straps and was modern and forward looking and jefferson was this backward looking guy, attached to slavery. to a degree, that's true. but the other half of that is, jefferson was the guy who cass comfortable with democracy. hamilton was not. hamilton, one of the last letters he writes as a matter of fact, not long before the duel,
maybe the night before, he war s s a friend that the thing that might bring down is democracy. he felt democracy was mass popular participation on a level that wasn't controlled in any way. he was distrustful of the people. oddly enough, he was not thrilled with immigrants having a lot of political input, which is odd given that he himself came to the north american colonies from somewhere else. immigrants tended to vote jef r e jeffersonnian. can we do something so only american americans can vote? there's a side of hamilton that's more complicated. to me, really important because the founding is a big argument
or conversation. there was no one right answer. hamilton was not the right answer. jefferson was not the right answer. nor was anybody else, did they have the right answer. it's the banging up against each other of all of those ideas that ends -- causes us to end up with for what we have for better or worse. some aspects are admirable. some are not. to me, that's the part -- that's what's missing from the play. i don't criticize the play for that, because to be totally honest, the first time i saw it, one of my responses was, they are singing george washington's farewell address. they're singing about the assumption of state debts. how is this humanly possible? i was already impressed by the fact that any of that got on stage. i'm willing to talk about this more later. to me, absences and holes and
things invisible and shouldn't be in the play are teaching opportunities. because then our job as teachers is to say, okay, what isn't on that stage? let me show you what really happened. it's actually even more interesting than what the play shows. in one way or the another -- i'm sure so many of you out there have experienced this. there are so many young people interested in this time period to a degree that throughout my decades of teaching this i have never seen. my attitude toward that is excellent. it's the world's best teaching opportunity. even if we want to teach against it, no matter what we're doing, that's a great starting point. >> i think that's wonderful, too. i have to tell you we have young people watching this right now. i thought i would take some questions from our young historians here. thank you. that was very fascinating. we do have -- we have a number of people -- i do have a number
of you typing into the chat box. there's a q & a box you can type in. that may help me organize it better. we do have great questions. i'm going to take the ones from our youngest audience members first. we have a fifth grader. he would like to know if hamilton had a say in how the first money looked. >> oh. that's a really good question. there was certainly discussion about the amounts that it should be. hamilton thought that there should be very small amounts of money, like what now -- pennies. there should be things of low value. that would encourage americans to -- all americans, rich and poor, to use currency. he was kind of thinking in a practical way. there was a debate about what should be on coins that was in congress. it was not hamilton. but congress did debate, for example, should george
washington's face be on a coin. there was a lot of opposition to that, because that was moving into the territory of, are we treating him like a king. is he sooner or later going to become king george? we have to be careful. this is a republic. we don't have kings in a republic. let's not have his face on the money. your question is a good one because it was a big question. hamilton ultimately didn't influence that really. >> thank you. i will give you a question from an eighth grader as well. she's interested in -- i have a couple questions about aliza. our eighth grade friend says she would like to know what role she played in hamilton's death. the musical makes it look like she did a lot. did she really? >> as far as his death is concerns. >> we have a question of how did she organize the volume of his correspondence. if you could speak to the role
she played in his life and his legacy. >> sure. she's fascinating. in part, she's fascinating because she did what i think a lot of wives and sisters of sort of elite political guys did, particularly wives, which is hide her personal correspondence or destroy her personal correspondence with her husband to maintain their privacy. in the play, she talks about burning letters because of the reynolds affair and the fact she's angry at her husband. she did destroy a lot of her correspondence with hamilton, most of her correspondence with hamilton. to some degree we don't know some things about her role during their marriage, except it's there in those 27 volumes. it's there in the papers. you can see that she really organized and ran that household. you could see that she was the one who dealt with family finance. there's a letter of
hamilton's -- it's from the 1790s. i'm not going to be able to put my finger on the year right now. hamilton confessing to a bank that he lost his bank book, which i love. he's the secretary of the treasury and he lost his own personal bank book. she's the one who really i think maintained that family. he was not an easy person to be around for any number of reasons. so she had to be really strong, i think, to weather had a whole relationship. what's really one of the really interesting things about her, as you suggested a few minutes ago, is what she does after his death. really put herself at the center, along with one or two of her sons, of the effort to preserve his memory, collect his papers, get someone to write a biography of him and she -- mostly john church hamilton and
james hamilton, but mostly john, one of the sons, really dedicated themselves to doing everything that they could do to preserve and promote his reputation and what he did. so a lot of what we know now is in part because they were very carefully collecting together papers. if you think about it, we have a lot of letters from jefferson. we have a lot of letters from adams. those men lived a long time and they had a long time to organize their papers. hamilton did not. he couldn't leave his papers behind. he couldn't carefully arrange them. he did nothing. he just went off one day and then died the next. she was really important on that role. in addition to the work she did on her own. she was really active in new york city in a variety of ways. she was in charge of and significant in the founding of an orphanage in new york city. she's a really -- what's the word i'm looking for?
strong character. there's a story about her. she lived a really long time. she lived well into her 90s. she was one of the last people of that generation to live. there's a story at the end of her life, she was living in washington, d.c. with one of her daughters. there's a story that james monroe came to visit her, former president james monroe came to visit her. said something like, you know, mrs. hamilton, you and i are among the only ones left from that time. so i wanted to come and pay my respects. she blamed james monroe for leaking the reynolds affair. so she saw monroe as being cordial ex-president, here we are, let us shake hands. she said something along the lines of, if you think our being one step closer to the grave means i forgive you, i do not. she stormed out of the room. >> wow. >> that's a woman with umph. >> indeed. quite a person.
thank you for speaking to her and also we did have a question about -- especially in a short life, how you organize those 27 volumes of material. that speaks to it. hamilton did some of that but he did have the family members working on that afterward. kind of curating e ining that l. it's important for us to think about as historians and history educators. >> even one step beyond that. they ultimately sold his papers to the government. what is worth noting is that nowadays, there are all of these papers projects. washington papers, madison papers, hamilton papers. these are organizations of people, documentary projects. their job is to collect as much if not all of the correspondence and writings of these individuals, everything to them, everything from them. they hunt all over the world for these things. they track down all the names and references. they're -- it allows us right
now -- a lot is coming out in founders online from the national archives has the papers of a lot of the people. all of that comes from these documentary editor projects, these documentary edition projects. it's a huge amount of work. this is great. i get an opportunity to just appla applaud. so much of what historians do would be so much more difficult if not impossible without all that was work that these people do. >> those of you watching, if you want to raeead through some of e papers. joanne has edited two of those. one is a paper bark aback and a of. i believe, correct me if i'm wrong, but i believe the library of congress has many of the papers digitalized. there are many of you from the
library of congress in the audience. go to loc.gov and check out the hamilton papers. we have a lot of questions coming in. i want to get to a couple more of those. we have a question. my understanding of alexander hamilton is he was involved in corruption speculation with bonds. have we gone too far in presenting him? >> beginning from his lifetime, about him being corrupt, benefitting somehow privately from insider knowledge. when you lock at his account books and look at his finances, it's not immediately apparent in that happened. i don't know where that money would be. that said, it's entirely conceivable that -- i know this
happened. he would go to dinner parties and his wealthy and well-connected friends would sit at the dinner party and ask questions and watch his response so that they could judge what the government was going to do and so they could do whatever they wanted to do to benefit themselves. would i say he was out there speculating and collecting? no. would i say that somehow others benefitted from him, whether he intended them to or not? probably. i apologize. i'm sitting in new york city right now. you could probably hear the sirens. >> we have eva asking -- we have tougher questions. can you address hamilton's view on slavery and what stance he took? >> okay. that's a really good question because the play suggests that he was an abolitionist. i would not make that claim. when you read those 27 volumes, one of the things you see is that when hamilton took up a
cause as being an important cause to him, he went all out. slave rry he talks about from te to time. it doesn't appear in his papers as a major focus. he belongs to the new york manumition society. he is against slavery as a practice. he is helping create schools -- free schools for african-american new yorkers. he is on the cause, the side we would want him to be on. ending slavery i would say is not a main cause of his. if you think about him as the guy who is really concerned about property and property rights, it would make sense that that would not be a guy who would say, okay, let's just upset everything and free all these people and not deal with the pragmatics of it. other people might say, yes, that that's a good thing to do.
hamilton wouldn't have been one of those guys. there's a couple times when he talks about slavery. to me one of the most interesting ones is -- this is referenced in the play. his friend john does come up with this idea to arm enslaved people and give them their freedom if they fight for america. hamilton supports that. in the letter that hamilton writes on john's behalf to the continental congress, there's a sentence where he is talking about what he thinks about african-americans. you can tell he is trying to figure out how to say what he thinks. he writes something and crosses it out. he puts something else in. what he is struggling with is, what does he think about the capabilities of african-americans? it's interesting. you can see him on the paper not sure what he wants to say, maybe not sure what he is thinking. when you are studying generally
manuscripts from the period, the cro cross-outs sometimes are the most revealing. you can see people editing their thoughts in some way. there aren't that many more times when he talks about it. that's the most interesting one to me, because he is grappling with how to say what he wants to say. >> interesting. i think that's probably one of the questions lots of people have when they're looking at the play and talking about it with students. >> it's a big question. it's one -- students need to understand, number one, there's not just a pro and con, but there's a spectrum. people fall on different points as far as their views on slavery. you could be anti-slavery but not strongly anti-slavery. you can be really slavery. you could be kind of pro-slavery but unwilling to do anything really to promote it. some are positive. some are negative. boy is it complicated.
in the last book i published, "the field of blood," it has kind of a main character at its center, not quite a guide. not a narrator. kind of a guide. one of the interesting things is you see him based on diary entries trying to figure out what he thinks about slavery. there's a sentence somewhere in the book. he says, here is what i think. i think congress shouldn't discuss slavery at all. i think the matter needs to be settled. i think that it's really bad and i think we should have nothing to do with it. it's like a series of things that makes no sense in one sentence. you can see him -- he can't even make a sentence that comes up with how somehow or other he can be against it and then want to do nothing to end the practice. i think those complexities and failures on people's parts, including hamilton's, are crucial. i think that's one area where you can really use the play to
teach against and say there's a huge story that's addressed a little but isn't really addressed very much. for those of you who do know the play, in the song "the room where it happens" about the dinner deal that ends up helping hamilton pass his assumption of state debts plan and moves the capital to washington, there probably was an african-american servant in the room. think about that. that's a teaching opportunity to me. >> i think that's so important that we be able to tell kids that this is not a yes or no question. whether or not different people supported it. thank you. that's very interesting. i do have to say, we have lots of questions about the play. we know lynn manual miranda was influenced by the papers you edited. would you mind taking time to speak to the play?
what's accurate, what's not, what do you love, what makes you cringe. tell us a little bit about that experience of being this historian who sees your life's work kind of portrayed on stage. >> you know, i would say that obviously the play is based on ron's book. my work influenced the play. hamilton's writings, a good amount -- sentences from his writings appear in the play. at some point i handed lin manuel miranda the book. that i edited of hamilton's letters. when you went to see the play, i was probably the only person saying, that's the 1793 letter. that's the 1798 -- i knew, like -- i think at some point jefferson or madison says without numbers he is a host within himself or something like that. that's from a jefferson letter. best of wives and best of women, that's from a hamilton letter. i wish there was a war, that's from a hamilton letter.
when i went to see the play, one of the things i was doing in addition to being stunned they were singing about the assumption of state debts and hamilton's farewell address was recognizing all of the actual quotes from letters that had made their way into the play which kind of just dumfounded me. in and of itself, i don't know what i expected. i didn't necessarily expect as much history as there was in the play to get woven into it. did things make me cringe? i think initially i wasn't cringing. i was so stunned that someone had done that with history. the day i went to see it for the first time off broadway, and so when i knew it was coming to broadway, i immediately went as a p-- i went to a public theate. friends wanted to go with me. i bought tickets on different nights. at that point it wasn't a big deal so you could do that because it wasn't very
expensive. early on when i went to see it, there were a lot of history teachers in the audience. a lot of history teachers in the audience. i think they were having some of the response that i was having, which was like -- they are singing about that? there was a woman -- i'm not going to remember the details. there was a woman a couple of rows down that was teary because she couldn't quite believe someone had done that with the history that she teaches. that had changed the way people reacted -- interacted with it. you know, the things i don't like -- i don't like the hamilton good guy, jefferson bad guy story. i don't think that's right. i think they're both good and bad and in different ways. i think that's the point is that there are no just good guys in american history. there really aren't.
for us to understand how we got to where we are, we sure need to accept that in our past. there's no golden moment where everyone was good. there just wasn't. all of my work, i write about politicians fighting. i can say with authority, there's no golden moment. from the very beginning, it's been partisan, it's been angry. that's what a small -- our republican politics does. so the good guy/bad guy thing i didn't like so much. i suppose i did think about the fact that the play does suggest that eight guys sort of did everything. again, it's musical theater. some part of me was like, of course, eight guys didn't do everything. i in a sense took a step back. i could see that as a criticism of the play, that in a way that's an old-fashion way to
think about history. eight guys in a room did everything and eight guys in a tent did everything during the revolution. obviously, it's much more complicated than that. >> i would refer everyone to the post of the american history institute. there's different phases. i appreciate that. obviously, when you are writing a short play, there's only so much you can get in. i think it's important as history educators that we teach that complexity. thank you for bringing that in. that's very important. >> relates back to what i said. there's absolutely no way you can understand where we are now if you don't understand that complexity all the way back to the beginning. i know i keep saying for better and worse. we tend to ignore the worst part or downplay the worst part. we can't. we have to acknowledge the parts that are admirable, but not isolated. not in isolation. there's no country that has
those moments in absolute isolation. to understand the roots of how we got to where we are, we have to look at the roots. >> agreed. luckily, we have lots of young historians who are looking into all of this. we have a question from a third grader. this echos a question rich has. people are curious about the hamilton and burr relationship. how was the relationship different in reality than from the play? >> you guys are asking such excellent questions. it was different. on the one hand, they were kind -- i guess to use a modern term, they were friends and enemies. they were both president-elect trump -- prominent lawyers in new york. they did bump up against each other a lot. they were both fighting in the
revolution. they both were in the legal world. they sometimes in later years practiced cases together as co-counsel. they had a lot in common. that said, they weren't as absolutely sort of side by side as the play suggests. burr was not at hamilton's wedding. almost nobody was at hamilton's wedding. it was a really small wedding. it was in the living room of his father-in-law's house. there wasn't any big wedding. burr would not have been there. they knew each other but -- they don't -- they're not close friends. that said, over time, burr -- how do i put this? hamilton thought burr was an opportunist in his politics. willing to do anything if it would get him ahead.
he thought he was just as ambitious as he was. he saw burr as a dangerous man because he thought this was unanchored ambition. that burr would do anything to get what he wants and that was dangerous. in 1792, hamilton writes a letter. it says something like, i consider it my religious duty to oppose burr's career. that's a statement. my religious duty. from an early point, hamilton is opposed to burr and comes up against him. burr doesn't react or steps back and allows it to go. there's evidence in 1800 in the election that they almost fought a duel and came out of it before the 1804 duel. when they're negotiating the final duel, in their letters, i think hamilton says once before we almost did this and burr says, twice before we almost did this. at least once if not twice before they almost came towards
fighting a duel. that's a tangled relationship. hamilton had a lot of distrust and dislike. some was because burr came from these noble background of president of the college of new jersey, you know, his ancestors were the equivalent of new england -- for a bunch of reasons, hamilton decided that was the case. really never stopped opposing him. >> thank you. on that same sort of theme, rich wants to know if you could put the duel in context of the political role of duelling from before the american revolution through the civil war. i know you have done a lot of work on that. how was it viewed as a political event? >> that's a question.
i will give the kind of quick and dirty version of it. a lot of people like to say that duelling began in the colonies during the revolution and that the french brought it with them when they came as our allies and that suddenly all the young officers wanted to duel. there was duelling in the colonies before that point. maybe that helped fuel it. it was around. it wasn't just southern when it started. there was duelling on boston common in the early colonial period. it becomes southern over time. initially, i think -- well, an important part of this is, it's hard to separate personal and political in this time period. your reputation -- when you run for office, you are not saying, i'm a tried and true supporter of this policy. you are saying, i'm a man of good reputation who can be trusted. so vote for me.
to be a man of good reputation who can be trusted, you need to defend that reputation. politicians generally are worried about their reputation. hamilton is extra bonus worried because he has this questionable background, if he was poor, he was illegitimate. it's a little bit personal. but it also is always -- not always. to some degree political as well. in the 1790s, before the duel, people were already kind of throwing around dares for duels to kind of make a point or kind of show off and say, you know, look at me, i'm willing to fight for this cause and making political points with duelling talk, duelling language, duelling threats. what changes over time -- i hinted at it -- is that when you get into the 19th century, it becomes really more of a southern thing. northerners see it as a barbaric
southern practice. southerners praise it as one of their instu tieitutionnstitutio. they scorn politicians who seem to be willing to engage in that behavior.engage in that kind of situation and that becomes complicated and that's what my second book looks at, southerners taking advantage of that fact knowing that northern congressmen won't feel comfortable in the duelling culture and taunting them with insults knowing that they can get away with it because what's this northerner going to do, and it becomes a really useful tool that these southerners use to silence or intim date northerners, and after a while on the subject of slavery, so southerners will stand up and say, you know, really? you want to say that? want to say it to my face, really? are you accusing me of lying and, of course, that means it's a duel challenge and very often the northerner who is asked those questions sit this down,
so it becomes a really effective political tool until close to the civil war when there are some northerners who begin to fight back, so it's a good question because it shows a lot about sexualism in the united states. >> interesting. that's just a fascinating topic. so that's kind of the political arena. we do have another question about the personal arena of hamilton's life, and this is, again, from marie, our eighth grade historian. what was his relationship with angelica and peggy? maria is particularly interested in the family relationship angle. >> uh-huh. certainly, he was kind of taken in as a member of that family and, remember, he had no family really in the colonies and then in the united states so i think that mattered to him. he writes a letter to, a friendly kind of letter to peggy i think when he's courting elizabeth.
angelica is the one who he appears to have had a relationship with, and it goes, you know, early and it continues on. what's interesting about that relationship show it was a very flirtatious relationship, and it's clear that they -- that they played at that in public, so there's a story about a party in which they were joking about being knights of this or knights of that, like knights of old and hamilton got down on the ground in front of angelica and said something like i would like to be in the night of the garter, meaning the garter around her leg, and the thing is those were very public and there are even letters, flirtatious letters from hamilton to her in which eliza signs on at the bottom and she signs them. so i think that sneaky, you know, having an affair kind of
flirtation. i think that was -- they were both really smart, really public people who enjoyed being the center of attention in that way and enjoyed each other's intellect and personality, and so i think that that's what that is about. but the interesting thing that the play flips on its head. the play for those of you who know it, there's a moment in which angelica asks hamilton about a misplaced comma, you know. she says hamilton, you wrote me a let her and it said my dearest, angelica. meaning, like, me dearest, an gel characters and she wants to know if hamilton meant it. in reality the reverse is what happened. in reality angelica misplaced the comma and hamilton gets that left and he writes a left back as sort of like, did you mean to replace -- did you mean to misplace that comma, did you
mean it, really, and she basically answers no. i didn't mean anything special for it so it's interesting that for the purpose of the plot or character development the play flips that on its head but they were close friends, you know. he was close friends i think with the entire schuyler family. >> that's fascinating, and sometimes people say to me, oh, i didn't like history class. it was boring, and i would like to all hear this because history is the farthest thing from bore begun. this is fascinating stuff, both the larmer political history and also the complex fascinating personal history. >> you know, related to that, because, yeah, that's like a uniform, you know, thing that people say that makes you want to, you know, the history is boring. i think if -- if history were just a bunch of dates and event, i would be bored, right? anyone would be bored, but it's not. it's a human story, right? it's a story of people making
choices or not being able to make choices, but one way or another it's the human story. it's about people. the way i like to teach it and, you know, my american revolution course from yale is online. it's free. so it's like 26 lectures or something, and you'll see if you watch that lecture course, it's always centered around people at the time. what did they think? what were their possibilities for their -- for them in that world? what weren't their possibilities? and i think, you know, if you really convey to students that these are people looking ahead in time and not looking back, they don't know what's going to come. they don't know what's going to work. they don't assume there's going to be a declaration of independence. they don't assume that there's going to be a cons two. they don't assume it's going to work. they don't assume really anything at all or if they do it's not necessarily what happens, and that's the thing that the play does well is when you look at things from a human
point of view and look forward in time you're restoring contingency to american history. the play does, that too, because the play in a way by getting down on the ground and having a human sort of way of looking at things, you reveal -- you see in the audience that, oh, the revolution wasn't like oh, yeah, of course we won. we didn't know. this didn't necessarily happen. this didn't necessarily half. you can see people working through things. contingency is huge in teaching about the founding era because no one thinks it's there, and i think when you -- when you make a human perspective and look forward in time and realize they don't know what they are doing. they don't know the rules that they are following by and sometimes my first book, "affairs of honor," i write about politicians, the first politicians not knowing what an american politician is supposed to dress like, how fancy are they allowed to be. if they are too fancy they are going to seem anarcical and
there's something about politics that fascinates me and it's the idea that it's human and everything is contingnent. nothing is absolute. >> that's a fascinating angle. for a lot of us we're maybe feeling at this point in history that we're feeling our way forward. we're not sure what we're doing. i have a question from sarah. for a lot of reasons these are unique and set lynn times. what kind of advice do you think hamilton would give us in 2020 and why? >> when people ask me questions like that which is what would hamilton think now? my immediate -- where my brain immediately goes is hamilton is saying what is that talking box in your room snm are r there things flying overhead? what are these machines? they would never get past technology. they would never make it to polltics. i think probably he would be surprised that the constitution lasted as long as it did. when you look at his writings, and i've given one or two talks
that's probably floating around online about this, he was never absolutely sure that the american experiment would succeed. he writes a memo to himself right after -- lick ten days it after the constitutional convention, and it's like a lawyerly memo. no one else is going to see it about what comes next? what do i think comes next and he's laying out well maybe this and maybe this and, well, maybe, washington will become president and if he does he'll pick probably wise people to be around him and then probably people will trust those wise people and then probably they will cooperate with the this new government and then probably it has a chance or maybe one of those things won't happen, you know, he won't pick wise people or won't become president or people won't trust people he appoints or something in which case probably other nations will sweep in and begin to swallow pieces of the united states or all the states will turn against each other and that will be the end of the experiment, and what's fascinating is the kicker
at the end of that memo. he points to that sort of apocalyptic image and says that's probably what's going to happen so he -- and he says over and over again in his letters i am -- i am going to fight as much as i can for this whole republic idea that you guys think is going to work. i'm going to push it as hard as i can towards what i think is better which is monarchy, which is why he's so controversial, but i'm not going to try and -- by histologic i'm not going to overturn the republic but i'll push it in the direction that i think is important, and then if it doesn't work, then i'll just step in and help things get put back together again, so i don't think he's alone in thinking that, but i -- i don't know if he was fully convinced that a government that's that grounded on public opinion could survive, so he might be oddly enough pleasantly surprised maybe. >> great. >> that he lasted this long. >> well, i think that's a fascinating thing to consider.
a lot of folks in our audience are history educators, so, again, this is even this week, this is a particularly unsettled time. there's a lot going on. there's just a lot of people are -- are feeling their way forward, as we said. can you just tell us about the importance of history education and teaching history, in teaching government, in relating to students. just speak to that a little bit about the importance of history education. >> oh, sure. it couldn't be more important, you know. it -- not that it's not -- it's always important, but at this particular moment, you know, there are -- this is not the first time in american history that we've been kind of uprooted and redefining, right? there are other moments, like the civil war, civil rights. there are other moments when it felt like society was scrambling and something new was going to emerge and we didn't know what it was. this is one of those moments, and i think in those moments in
a general way it's really important to be able to look at the past and understand how you got to the present. so it's not useful to just look at what's happening now and say i hate this! you know, instead, okay, what -- what happened that got us to this point? what can we do knowing that to move ahead to something different? so on a practical level, that's important, but more than that i think, you know, we're watching in some ways on all sides, the president and the present being rewritten. right. politicians always do that. they create the past they need. they use a jefferson quote however they want it to appear. i always tell my students after they stud with me that they will never be able to look at politicians quote founders ever again because they will listen to that and they will say that's not what that means. that's true, always true, but i think we need our students to be aware of the fact that history
matters, that historical facts matter, that the way that we understand the present and the past matter, and we need students to be skilled at evaluating evidence, right, and this is a concrete thing, and i work on it with my students all the time and i'm sure so many of you out there do as el with. history have about evaluating evidence, right? finding evidence, evaluating it, weighting it and drawing conclusion. that's like the most important job skill, life skill that you can have right now, right? i mean, you can go online and there's seas of stuff and how do you know what to believe and some of what we're teaching as history teachers is how do you do that? how do you think about that? you have to think about where information comes from. you have to think about what is being said or isn't being said. you have to think about who is writing it and where is it being written to. you have to think about all the things that historians and history teachers think all the time with primary sources is. that's a pragmatic skill i think
that think need now, just everyone needs it, but to teach that to our students is so important, and then on another level, it's -- there's a remarkable degree to which people don't know anything about the constitution. that's -- so i -- i know that i am -- i'm mighty active on twitter, i will admit. the thing that brought me -- that initially got me sort of going rather than just being on it is i became upset by something in the 2016 campaign. i went online and i -- and i apologized, right, i was like i know this is really obvious, but i feel the need to say this because people should be thinking about this it, and i said what felt to me the most obvious thing in the world. there's three branches of government, you know. separate but equal, checks and balances and i explained all these things that we teach, right, when we talk about the
government, the obvious, checks and balances, balance of power, three branches, and at the end i apologized. i'm really sory is, i know that's really obvious but i felt the need to say that. what i got was a lot of responses from people who said thank you for teaching me that, but they didn't know it, and it was like my stomach dropped and then i thought, well, god, now i'm not going to shut up. now i'm in, now i'm going to talk a lot about what the constitution has in it, what the constitution doesn't have in it. why sometimes it matters what the founders thought and sometimes it really doesn't. you know, we need people towns the constitution and what it set in motion and -- and how it's a living document so it doesn't move through time as a block of marble and that we need to understand that, too. people need to understand the structure of the government, how it works, how different branches are independent, why checks and
balances are important. you know, all of those things that we've always sort of taken for granted, they are really important for people to understand, and so that's another way in which just, you know, in the old days, some of this would have come in classes called civics classes. when i was in school we took civics, but, you know, it's not some abstract hoity-toity let us just discuss political institutions way of thinking about things had. i'm talking about fundamentally how is this government supposed to work? you know, it's different. it's not a monarchy, so what does that mean? what -- why the checks and balances, you know? why the three branches? why the balance of power? what were they afraid of, and what does that tell us about tendencies of our government? all of that have stuff is beyond important and i guess since 2016 i've never shut up. of course, i'm sometimes saying ridiculous things on twitter
like everybody else does, but some of the time i'm actually really aggressively talking about thinking about history, thinking about politics, thinking about politics and asking good questions and that's what we do as history teachers, all of those things. >> that's very important. we do -- so all of our history educators out there, i know it's not just history educators in the audience but we do think it's very important that students learn to analyze documents and identify evidence and learn about the different structures of the government. that's very important no matter who you are. >> and, you know, i've been saying it over and over again, and i know there's some people assigning it in classes. explicitly because we're in this weird moment where no one knows what's going to happen to a greater degree and that's normally true and everything is up in the air. i've been encouraging people over and over again online to -- to make journals. to record what it feels like.
not to be like, well, today, this senator said this, but more like, wow, you know, i heard this today and this makes me nervous or scared or, you know, i wrote a -- not a journal but on 9/11, either that day or the day after, i realize that had in some ways i was experiencing a flickering of what some of my people felt in the early republic. the part-time write about tell that the republic was vulnerable and other nations could come in and take us away. 9/11 suddenly, like everyone else, i thought like everyone else america is really strong and powerful and all of a sudden whoa, whoa, whoa, we were vulnerable in a way i hadn't thought about before and i wrote a page reflecting on that which i ultimately ended up publishing because it captured when i went back and looked at it later what that felt like, what that felt like at that moment when all of
these assumptions were sort of blasted and had you to rethink things that you had always taken for granted, and i think for students and anybody else this is a great moment to do that. partly i'm thinking like a historian. down the road, those reflections had, some future historian is going to be singing hosanna's because you committed that to paper, and it will also be useful to you as students or teachers or educators to have that on paper to remind yourself what it feels like. that becomes historical evidence for you as well as for others. >> especially for all of you, i know some of you have your kids home with you. joanne i have to report in the chat box we're noticing folks are pulling the kids on to the couch with us and thank you for helping with the child care crisis at the moment. >> to all the kids. >> but i think this is a wonderful idea, this is a time where not only are our skills as
historians and history educators so important but that we can be -- we are a part of history and we can be creating the primary documents with the children who are home with us. >> yeah, cool. >> so thank you. i think this -- this has been a wonderful experience for us to hear about hamilton, about the play that we all are so excited about, but also about your role as a historian and how you address the primary sources. that's really been very inspiring for everyone. we really want to thank you and for work that you've done. this is wonderful. >> thank you, guys, for being there and for caring and for being willing to do this experiment. i was really worried about this because i will totally confess when i speak i very much engage with the audience and i like making people laugh and i was very nervous about this and thought no one will be laughing but i won't know but the point is i get just as excited as i always do even without the audience there so i learned something, too, but real thank you for what you do.
thank you for caring about what you do. i'm applauding you guys. >> and if but get a chance to look at the chat box afterwards we can share this with you later, they are applauding you as well. >> you're watching a special edition of "american history-tv" during the week while members of congress are in their districts due to the covid pandemic. it's a look at history through archival films. tonight the focus is health issues against with md international, a 1958 american medical association march of medicine program that highlights american doctors working at health clinics and hospitals abroad. it includes an introduction by vice president richard nixon. that's tonight at 8:00 eastern. american history tv now and over the weekend on c-span3. every saturday night, "american history tv" takes you to college classrooms around the country for lectures in history. >> why do you all know who lizzie borden, is and raise your hand if you had ever heard of of
this murder, the jean harris murder trial before this class? >> the deepest cause where we'll find the true meaning of the revolution was in this transformation that took place in the minds of the american people. >> so we're going to talk about both of these sides of the story here, right, the tools and techniques of slave owner power and we'll also talk about the tools and techniques of power that were practiced by enslaved people. >> watch history professors lead discussions with their students on topics ranging from the american revolution to september 11th. lectures in history on c-span3 every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on "american history tv" and lectures in history is available in podcasts. find it wherever you listen to podcasts. next on "american history tv," historian damien cregeal talks about his relationship with george w
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