tv Conversation with Lynne Cheney CSPAN December 17, 2020 9:53pm-10:41pm EST
american history tv continues now with a look at the life and career of james madison. lynn cheney is the author of james madison, a life reconsidered, she discusses her writing process and josh madison's relationship with other -- this is 45 minutes. before we begin, i want to acknowledge and thank the former vice president of the united states, cheney for coming to the program today. [applause] let me also again acknowledge gay and molly, the entire team at the society of the for earth for hosting the significant series. most importantly, i would like to think doctor cheney for sharing her views on the president and madison. thank you.
we visited some of the issues that you discussed, let's jump right into your writing style. tell us a little bit about how you pick your topics, and how you approach the research process. during the writing of the book madison i was in tran's -- by the notion that for the first 36 years of the republic, the virginians who are in charge of 32. i was interested not only in how this came about, and that's a good story, but in the interactions between them. the personal interactions. i won't give away too much, but there are some surprises there. and how i right. i was a teacher in english for quite awhile. i was getting my phd. i tortured these poor freshman. i made them take note cards. every node card had to have a separate i.d. on it. you organized no cords and you
wrote. i don't do any of that, i'm -- i start writing. and i research while i right. it's the most efficient process possible. but i don't know what i want to see until i right. and i go back and look at what i had written and it helps me more to know what i had said, then and what i want to say next. it's not a very orderly process. as my assistant nicole who is here will tell you, it doesn't make for a orderly office. there are papers everywhere. books everywhere. >> you should see my office. >> one of the things about james madison is that as a young man he took copious notes during the constitutional convention, historians know much about the constitution because of madison.
of all the founders he's easiest to study just in terms of there's just a volume of information there. as reports of the documents of this young man sitting at the front row seat of history, do you feel like you've got to nor him better? as i read, him i felt like i was almost sitting there in philadelphia. >> it is surely compelling. i was fascinated with his ailment. and how it was regarded at the time. and how he overcame it. it's hard not to be fascinated with dolly. think of it. madison was the most reserved of the founders. and he married the most flamboyant women. i think they truly enjoyed one another. there's one story that sticks in mind of dolly. it's almost bizarre. dolly and james, running across
the -- in front of montpelier. then they would go the other way, and sometimes dolly would carry him on her back. the great little madison. or sometimes she would said darling. one of the founders once wrote that the quote was that they could defeat madison if only it wasn't for dolly. so she was quite a firecracker. >> there was a senator who wrote home to his wife. senator mitchell, in the lead up to the election of 1808, who pointed out what a great advantage madison had over george clinton, because dolly was entertaining everyone. >> sure, sure. was there anything about their marriage? it's certainly a odd couple when you look at it in every single way. but i think that they had a very strong and productive as you alluded to marriage. was there anything about the marriage that you found particularly inspiring or
interesting? >> the way it started. it was in the beginning eighth marriage of convenience on dollies part. he fell head over heels. i think she saw him as somebody who would be a good support for her son, someone who would provide that base level of sanity that all of us want in life. and there is a fascinating letter that she wrote to her sister on the day of her marriage. and she says something of the order of i was married today, alas, alas. [laughs] she wouldn't have written that five years later, three years later, it did become a love story. >> there was a strain in her relationship. that was her son. pain turned out to be true to him's namesake. >> paint todd, someone who said he was the serpent in the garden.
he just grew up as a completely irresponsible young man. madison was forever bailing him out of debt, indeed bailing him out of prison. they tried everything. they sent him to europe with a very orderly and disciplined man, hoping that he would learn better, but he never became any better. toward the end of madison's life and then after he died, payne todd pilfered things from montpelier and used in -- sold him to support his bad habits. it's a reason why if someone tells you i have a letter of james madison's, you should take them seriously because some of the letters are still out there, most of them have been gathered beautifully. i have a friend on the eastern shore of maryland who said to
me i have two letters or -- letters of jay madison's. i looked and, by gosh, they were james madison's letters. payne helped put him into debt. it's an interesting that all the virginia founders died either in poverty or not well off. but madison's debt was in large part due to payne todd. >> madison tried his best to be patient and care for him because of his great love for dolly, but it was just not meant to be. what surprised you most about madison and dolly in your research? was it the healthy number of ailments that madison had? invariably, you spent five years digging through primary documents. we have a view of madison. but i think our view of him is very simplistic and monolithic, and he was in it infinitely more complicated person. so what surprised you as you were going through the madison papers?
>> his dedication. his hard work. i think we all know about the constitution in one way or another. but the flight for religious freedom, it was once said that he could not account for jefferson's adhesion to this cause or his fidelity to this cause. for madison, it is easy to trace, beginning with the prosecution of the baptist's in virginia. madison was a really good politician. he did not hesitate to use the loyalty of the baptist's in virginia when it came to thompson election monroe once ran against him. monroe was running around saying that madison needed to be replaced, he was the old school and that monroe was the new school. madison started writing letters to the baptist's. as they should have, they
recognized that he was the one who would be best for office. >> one of the most important relationships to the founding, and you just alluded to it so i will pick up on it while we are here, was madison's relationship with jefferson. it was a friendship, but it was a complex and political relationship. piggybacking on your cup comment on madison's political skills. when madison needed to do something, he went to jefferson and vice versa. can you talk about this remarkable relationship between jefferson and madison? >> it is remarkable. i think it is one of the great stories of the history of the republic, they first met when madison worked on the council of state of virginia. he was very young, maybe 22. then jefferson became governor. and from that time, this wonderful friendship developed. they also lived in the same
boarding house. you can just imagine their conversations in that boarding house. i think that each of them was probably the brightest person that the other had ever known or would ever know. each of them loved books and they bought books even when they could not afford them. they just had this fascination with knowledge. it was in light mint fascination with knowledge. think about it, not only are they really bright, but they are well schooled, so they have this bright source of knowledge they can build on and converse about. they are both reserved, but very different otherwise. jefferson had this soaring intellect. you can see it in his pros. this magical prose that raises you up. madison was much more matter-of-fact and practical. they balance each other.
there's a historian named meryl peterson who said the account balanced. if you were to give credit for who most deserves the audience or the appreciation for this friendship, it would go to madison. jefferson was a difficult friend. at one point, when madison is busy at work getting the constitution ratified, and this was no easy thing, jefferson, who was disappointed, really upset that there was no bill of rights on the constitution, started writing letters to people. behind madison's back, saying here is what we should do. don't ratify the constitution. let four states withhold ratification until there is a bill of rights on it. this was a fine thing to say this from paris, but madison is in the conflict to get the
constitution ratified and there was no way to amend it until it had been ratified. it had been hard enough to get to the constitutional convention where you had all of these people fighting over so many subjects. but if you started letting different states put different amendments on the constitution, you would just end up with a mess. everyone would have different suggestions for what it should be. jefferson did not understand any of this, and he was writing letters to maryland and virginia, opposing the ratification, the full ratification of the constitution. madison never said a word, but he did send jefferson a copy of the federalist. it was madison's patients that let that happen. during the period of adams this presidency, during the time of the sedition act, this was an act that made it a crime to criticize the government.
during the time of the sedition act, madison and jefferson decided that the best way to combat this was to turn to the states. so they wrote something called the virginia and kentucky resolution. madison wrote virginia, jefferson wrote kentucky. jefferson was far more forward leaning than madison was. jefferson said that a state had the right to nullify a federal law. you can all see this leading up to the civil war. that was jefferson's idea. he even suggested the idea of secession. now, along the way, various people held jefferson back including madison, from making such a bold and damaging statement. but jefferson just kept going. when madison's more moderate, more thoughtful statement went forward to the virginia assembly, jefferson got a hold
of it and changed it and made it more amenable to his way of thinking. madison found out, he got it changed back and he did say a word, but not a grumpy one to jefferson. he just pointed out to him that these words like nullification and secession were not going to be very helpful if you wanted to get a whole bunch of states to come together and oppose the sedition act. so i think that madison's patients accounted for a great deal. >> i could not agree more. of the two, madison was clearly the better politician. i know there are a couple of graduates here. >> madison is a virginian as well. >> yes, and i went to school in virginia as well, but madison is the far better politician. on the idea of the bill of rights, it was charles pinkie
who said we should promote such rights against the cornering of soldiers. you talked about the liberties of the press. but we were not ready for it at the time and jefferson almost unraveled everything. madison comes to the rescue. interestingly, madison is initially opposed to coming up with a list of the bill of rights. he thought it would undermined it, but madison comes on board. not only can we call him the father of the constitution, but perhaps the father of the bill of rights. could you talk a little bit about his leadership role in putting together what would be known as the bill of rights? >> he just knew the importance -- the importance of talking to everyone and making his case convincingly. as you point out, he was worried that if you listed a bill of rights that had ten and minutes for example, the rights of people to do this and that, you were implying they did not have the right to do anything else. we are pushing every other right aside. so one bit of his genius is the
way he phrased at the bill of rights. he wrote, well, you know the bill of rights, that the government shall not a bridge the right to free speech and to a free allegiance to religion. think about that. the government shall not a bridge. that left the implication that there are a whole lot of other things that the government should not do as well. he knew how to pick his words carefully. >> you can see the political scale coming out and the fight that ensued. madison is willing to work across the aisle. probably know better example than the federalist papers that you alluded to. while jefferson and hamilton seemed incapable of speaking to one another, it is madison who works with hamilton on the federalist papers. could you talk a little bit about his great contribution in terms of the federalist papers in helping to get this ratified?
i think earlier your point was well taken, how he literally travels to visit with congress. he travels and sits down with people even though he does not have the charisma of what washington had, he knew the value of sitting one-on-one behind doors and working to get support. >> he and hamilton did cooperate on the federalist papers in an amazing way. writing at this breakneck speed the just seems impossible to most people today i think. they made the case for the constitution, and they made it for new yorkers, but madison understood the importance of what they had written and had copies sent to virginia before it was up to virginia to ratify the constitution. after a while, i'm not sure that madison was any less partisan than jefferson. he and hamilton, jefferson and hamilton, became great foes. i'm so sorry to tell you this,
they even became great photos of washington's. washington sided with hamilton on almost everything. hamilton's idea was a strong central government. people like madison and jefferson used to call him someone who wanted a kingly government that could tell people what to do and keep the whole thing knitted together. so that was the fight. jefferson and madison did not want that. they wanted a more power to the states approach. that was the fight. in the course of that fight, the first political parties were created. great enmity grew up as well. >> some of madison's high points and some of his low points all occurred at the same time, and that was the war of 1812. you alluded briefly to it. i wonder if you can expand on that. madison was initially opposed
to this, and a couple of hawks who came in on the 1810 election pushed him in that direction. his mishandling of it was incredible, as ivan adams would in mid. can you talk about war president adams? >> in the adams administration, there was this half war with france. presidents in those days, whether they were military men or not, thought they should dress up and put on a sword and put on a hat with a ribbon that is made to look like a flower. adams did that. madison did that. there are many things when you look back at that you find odd. his greatest contribution, i think, as a wartime president was not prosecuting people who wildly disagreed with them. like the new england or's, even
threatened to secede. but his leadership, his calm, keep calm and carry on, he did that when the land battles were going south. i think he was elated though at the naval battles, the great naval battles of the war of 1812. >> i'm so glad you mentioned that because i know i have used in my own ridings, that we give credit to lincoln for his magnanimity. we give a lot of credit to washington for his magnanimity and not being more aggressive to those opposing his command. i always put madison up there with them as well because new england it was close to succeeding. new england fishermen were outraged. there were factions, but madison top everyone calmly and help this country come together again. >> i think about it, the
freedom of religion issue, which both madison and jefferson pushed mightily, thank how different our society would be if they let it go the other way. if we had let it go unchallenged, the government can't prevent people from speaking up against the government. washington and people who supported him had this idea that the government is the government, and if you criticize the government, you are trying to divide the people from the government. and in fact you're guilty of sedition. it put so many news per editors in jail. this is the adams administration. washington supported the adams administration and doing this. it was as martin markey set about freedom of religion, this idea that it was okay to
criticize the government, was like a hinge between the ages. before that, not so much. after, it you know what we have today. it's okay. >> madison would also be a wartime secretary of state, and a wartime president with hiring conflicts. that remains a contentious issue. could you talk about maybe going back to war to get again and if we are seeing this interesting effect? >> madison was very confident in himself. i think jefferson described it best. he just had confidence. he wasn't only willing to go to war, he encouraged the congress to declare war in 1812. madison also had this gift of leadership, he knew how to change his mind. a friend of our said to me once, of course you want total
consistency without -- throughout your life. when the situation changes. you change. i guess the best example of that is madison and the constitution. when he left the constitutional convention, he was very disappointed. he did not think that they should have done all they should. he sat down, and decided that nothing better could be created, and then went to work on the ratification. he thought that when hamilton proposed a national bank that was the worst thing he ever heard of. then he supported a national bank within his own administration. some, people i think gordon, would wrote in the book revolutionary characters. one of the chapters is called is there a medicine problem. you know, with the back and forth. i think he would agree with me that, now you, know you change
your mind, when the circumstances change. and so that is what madison dead. >> i've also felt that one of medicines greatest contributions occurred when he was secretary of state, and that is something that jefferson gets all the credit for. jefferson deserves credit, but medicine was one of the negotiators, that's the louisiana purchased that everyone is familiar with, in the jeffersonian perspective. it's madison who secretary of state and played a role, can you tell us a little bit about him being the secretary of state and his negotiations in this remarkable event. >> it's a good example of madison, the father of the constitution, changed his mind a little bit, because when france made the offer to let us have this vast territory, at a really good price, jefferson started to worry that this was unconstitutional. you know, there was nothing in the constitution that says that the government has the right to acquire territory. to buy land. so medicine took him aside and said it's okay.
if he hadn't been there, i don't know if we would have purchased louisiana or not. >> we're talking about all of these virginians. can you tell us a little bit about our next book on the virginia dynasty. by you selected a topic. i don't want to steal the thunder. a hint of your direction. your focus. >> i'm interested in the fact that these are man sitting around the table. agreeing amicably -- amicably about issues. they fought like cats and dogs. the newspapers were part of the battle. you can findings in the newspapers of today. i think they are as bad as you find in the newspapers today. and in the political rhetoric that we used today. so it, it was such a remarkable time. i mean you think of how different it was.
and how many ways it's the same. and we do owe them a great deal. >> why this extraordinary collection of talent in that one place in virginia? is that something that you will be looking at. >> you know many great historians have done this. i follow in their footsteps gladly. i stand on the shoulder of giants. but it's interesting. all four of the virginia founders were born within a 60 mile radius. >> extraordinary. >> at fairy farms. that's the center of the radio so to speak. and education plays apart for some of them. more for medicine in jefferson then for washington and monroe. so that's part of it. they also. jefferson in particular, nurtured a growing talent. you know they mentored and brought people along. jefferson brought monroe along.
the fact they were together so much. you know i think that wisdom comes from the clash of ideas. not even clashing, but these long discussions about constitutions and laws. jefferson and madison were fascinated with explorers. they were fascinated by explores. if you look at their book list, you know they were delighted to learn about the first guide to go into -- and the people who sailed around the world. and that's a purely indictment thing. they not only have the vast knowledge that each of them had studied. they had this whole environment in which it was thaw important to explore. and to explore ideas as well as countries. there is one last thing. i haven't quite got this together yet. one of your. lectures was it gordon wood?
talked about how modest a man in the united states was compared to -- for example. no relationship. i mean the one is tiny. the other is huge. they were on the periphery of civilization. you know they weren't at the sensor -- center. they weren't london. they were on the edges. i think that made the more creative. you know, you don't have this gassed layer of tradition over the top of you that you have to fight through. if a new country. you can have new ideas. and you can bring them to the surface. i am playing with all of this but that is the idea. >> can't wait to see it. another set of your books. it's very appropriate that you are here as part of your series as key mentioned in her introduction. one of the initial introductions that gay, molly, and everyone had is that maybe we're not doing as good enough
as a nation of teaching our children about history. many are historical. i've been a historian for 17 years and although i've always been thrilled in a history contest to see what children have done. you are a series of books on civil and history education books for kids. what inspired you to write? them what is that moment where you said wow. was it being in the classroom? was it serving -- >> that is also very inspiring. when i was chairman for the humanities there was survey after survey that showed how youngsters growing up didn't know anything about history. it's interesting. they don't know about history. but they know about something very important that the older generation does not know about. something really important. they know about technology. and how often have i heard people say i will get my granddaughter to fix this. the iphone goes down.
but they don't know about history. so that was perhaps the primary purpose. but the second purposes that dyck was elected vice president. and i'm wanted to stay out of trouble. so you know if you write a book that's a deep history about adults, someone is going to be mad. but who could be upset about these books? they're lovely. >> tell us something about america patriotic primer. by the way i recommend these books for your grandchildren. i will tell you but one of the books that i bought a viewers. tell us a little bit about american patriotic primer. i worked with a wonderful illustrator. her name is robin. she is, she was my professional ballet dancer. but she became a book illustrator. her drawings are funny and moving. and they are so great. the idea was to go through the
alphabet. you know a is for america. the land that we love. you could clear through the alphabet doing. that ex was a little bit hard but we got through it. we were working on this right after 9/11. and robin drew this wonderful picture. and we used a line from america the beautiful. it was thy alabaster cities shine by human tiers. she true this beautiful picture of the world trade center towers. it was a book and sparred with a lot of emotion. >> another book that i strongly recommend is that a is for -- as a fan whose into abigail adams, and i've written all about them. i was pleased to hear you and your top with some of the women about medicines lives.
tell us a little bit is for abigail. who are some of the other women that you just put into that book and why? >> sojourner truth is in there. we wanted to make the buck inclusive. the suffragettes are in their. the women who have achieved in technology are in their. sally is in there. so we tried to make the book be about a group of women which was as inclusive as possible because you want little girls and little boys to read this, and understand that the girls growing up are full of potential just as the boys are. >> the other one is a family guide of you traveling around the united states. on that note, do have a favorite national park or
scenic -- vice president is looking at me as a start of the question. do you have a favorite, or a favorite national parks? >> how can i not say grand canyon and yellowstone national park. it has just been such a part of our lives. but i've never been to glacier. and that something that i should do. when i see that it has been for arizona i want to go to the park. there are many things left to do. >> what about a favorite historic site? that's also included. is there a battlefield? a home? historic site? there are folks from montpelier here. it's a historic site. you've obviously this is that and melbourne in. are there favor historic sites that you have? >> this thing that's going on with monroe's home is very
interesting. if you go to montpelier and monte carlo and then you go to monroe's house you would say this is modest. from what i saw it was unbelievable how modest it was. so through archeological digs the theory now is that what we looked at as monroe's house was a little guesthouse. he had something much bigger there that he and his wife and family lived in. and it burned. and the record of that is a little hazy. but it makes sense. this whole theory that the house burned. and as i say, excavated a large part of the foundation for. it so that just tells, you you know, the past is not totally understood. there is always more to learn. >> each one of these homes, mount pelley, a -- they are wonderful for bringing children to them. they have so many child
friendly programs. my kids have suffered through need dragging them to all of these places. when we were in the green room earlier, and the vice president and i were talking, i always knew that he was a great military and civil war buff, do you share his enthusiasm for visiting the revolutionary civil war and various civil rights battlefields in the country? is that something you discuss? >> now. but dick has made the lives of our children richer. when we first moved to virginia, those many years ago, they were little. dick loved the idea of being in the middle of all the battlefields. he would get them up every saturday morning and take them to a battlefield. still, one morning he tried and i said no more battlefields. so frankly, i don't have much geographical sense.
to understand happened you really do need to know north and south. >> sure. >> of all the books you've written, we've talked about several, was there one that was the most difficult and challenging for you? >> sure, madison. nothing else took me five years. >> just because of the sheer scope of trying to capture everything? >> i like the denis walberg example because ... >> i have to say i've never heard that analogy before, so i appreciate. >> if you watch blue bloods, you will know what i mean. donny walberg is not five foot four. he must be five foot seven or five foot eight. the point is we do not have a whole series of photographs to look at. you've got gilbert stewart, you have rembrandt appeal, and every president tried to get their portrait done because
people did not know what they looked like. so these portraits would be made and then copied and copied and copied so people would now. but i look at gilbert stewart's, thomas jefferson, i don't think it's right. i think it makes him, he was a handsome man, but i think it makes him more handsome than he was. i'd like the portrait of james madison and washington. one example. do you want to -- i was so stunned the first time i went to mount vernon and saw the young washington. it was not the first time i went to mount vernon, but it was the first time i saw it. we all know about the guy who has no teeth. can you imagine he had one tooth when he became president? he lost that one in his second term. i think it was john adams who left the white house with just one tooth. first of all, the trial that was, but secondly, the paintings.
you see washington as this aging person with his map sunken in, and he complained one of the portraits made him look swollen. we know washington two well as an old man. the portraits don't often show him enough in his prime. >> he was oftentimes in pain because those dentures were so ill fitting and he complained about them chronically. there's paintings of washington where he is bigger than horses and cannons and battlefields. washington was a big fellow, but if you were to extrapolate, he would be about 14 feet tall from some of the paintings. >> my favorite painting is the apotheosis of george washington. someone in your series said, it was important that we worship the great men in the early days of the republic.
it helped knit us together. there is no better example of this in washington. i can't remember where the apotheosis of washington is, but it shows him being taken to have been. it's a religious kind of symbol. or washington in the roman toga. that's a sculpture. >> washington in marble looking like a cesar with his toga. >> right. so the worship-ing attitude of people in those early days was a remarkable. but i think it is also important, i mean, you understand washington better. what's happened was he lost that tooth in his second term and no longer had anything to tie his false teeth to. so they were very uncomfortable and made his face swollen. while it gives us a wrong image of him at his peak, it helps us to understand him as a human being. >> it sure does. so madison being the most challenging all your books, did
you find one -- i mean, riding is never easy, but was there one that was the easiest of all the books you've written? >> probably my autobiographical one, blue skies, no fences. it was just a treat to write about growing up in wyoming and having an excuse to get back in touch with old friends. someone i knew in fifth grade and find out what linda was up to. that was the most fun. >> what's the difficulty about writing about yourself? as someone who has lived in the public eye for decades. >> well, you have to figure out what you don't want to say. [laughs] >> [laughs] we are almost out of time. as a scholar and a teacher and a political spouse and author, what are some of the rewards of this distinguished public life and some of the challenges of it? >> when you reach higher levels, the challenge is you don't have
any privacy and you don't have the ability to be spontaneous. if you want to go to the drugstore, you have to call the creek -- secret service agents. that is the disadvantage. on the other hand, we were always surrounded by people so nice. i can't say enough good things about the secret service. not only did they do a great job, they were great people. that's a kind of disadvantage. the advantage is you get to meet remarkable people. before he died, we got to visit with pope john paul. he was truly, i mean you just felt holiness. he was just amazing. the other person that i remember just being stunned by was the embrace of japan. just this total zen and beauty and calm. but pope john paul was just the
most amazing. >> who were your heroes growing up and today? any heroes? >> wonder woman. >> understandably so. one last question. what do you point to, what's sparking new this lifelong passion for history? what was it from your early life that helped to forge that? >> you know, i got my phd in english literature, which is not history, but i kind of thought it was at first. >> sure. >> so i kept going with it and going with it until i finished my dissertation. then i realized it wasn't history. i don't know, being able to delve into life's stories and being able to delve into the history of this amazing country. i mean, how did we come to be? that is such a mystery in some ways, but such a tribute to the people who founded this country. >> absolutely.
before we break, let me just remind everybody that next year, the team is hard at work putting together another program. again, let me thank the society for hosting this wonderful five part series and c-span for covering this. not only airing it, but we put together curriculum to correspond with this and they are putting it out proposed to dr. cheney's focus, making it available to schools so students can watch and learn from it. i want to thank doctor cheney for coming out today. >> it has been a great pleasure for us. thank you very much. [applause] >> there are signed copies of dr. cheney's books in the lobby. thank you, everyone. >> thank you.
up next on american history tv, remarks from jeffrey rosen on james madison and democratic ideals. he currently serves as president and ceo of the national constitution center in philadelphia. held by the james madison memorial fellowship foundation, this is an hour and 45 minutes. >> we welcome you to the james madison lecture which our foundation sponsors every year. seated in our seats today are 49 fellows who are here at georgetown university studying the foundations of american constitutionalism. they are all high school teachers or middle school teachers of american history and american government or civics. then we have several of our alumni who have come. i would like not to