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tv   President James Madisons Life Career  CSPAN  December 25, 2020 10:15pm-11:06pm EST

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eastern. lectures in history is also available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. next on american history tv, author and former second lady of the united states, lynne cheney, discusses president james madison personality, health problems and political career. she also talks about the influential women in madison's life. her book on the president, first published in 2014, is "james madison: a life reconsidered". the society of the four arts in palm beach, florida, hosted this 50 minute lecture which was one in a series on the founders. >> i put it down for me and it has to come down a little bit more for dr. cheney. welcome history lovers, good
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morning. i am thrilled you are here and i am particularly happy to welcome students from the fifth grade and their teachers. and also students from palm beach atlantic university and faculty. thank you for being with us. this, after all, is about the future. dr. cheney has focused much of her life on teaching children american history, so that the next generation can learn from the past. but before i introduce her, we had a surprise guest fly in from wyoming last night and i would like dr. cheney's husband of 52 years, dick cheney, to please stand up. vice president cheney.
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thank you so much for coming. it means a lot to me. well, i am honored to introduce this morning a distinguished speaker. when i called her last year to invite her, she said, gay, am i the only speaker who hasn't won a pulitzer prize? i said yes, but you are the only speaker who is chairman of the national endowment of the humanities for seven years and you are the only speaker who was second lady of the united states of america for eight years. if you google dr. cheney, you will be blown away by all of her awards and accomplishments. but as always, i am not going to list all of that, i expect you to do that. while she was head of nah, she
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published american memory, a report that warned about the failure of schools and institutions of higher learning to transmit accurate knowledge about the past to future generations. she said, quote, a system of education that fails to nurture memory of the past denies students a great deal. one of the most successful series she funded when she was there was the civil war series by ken burns, which we all loved. but she said nah is a difficult place to be and some projects were good and some were not. dr. cheney has authored 15 books. her most recent, "james madison: a life reconsidered" is a masterful insight into one of the physically smallest of the founding fathers, but one with a most towering intellect and certainly the one
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with the most fun wife. i asked what she most liked about madison and she said, gay, i am fascinated by people who work hard. she is an example of that, as well. she compared him, and i want to quote, she compared him to mozart. both were geniuses, who, with their gracious works, changed forever the way people think. she is currently working on a book about the virginia dynasty. washington, jefferson, madison and monroe. that will be out in about two years, but what fascinates her is that for the first 36 years of our republic, with the exception of four short years of john adams, the virginia dynasty was in power. of the 15 books she has written, five of them are history books for children and we have bought them for all of our grandchildren and i read them,
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over and over, with the grandchildren who loved them. i will just mention a few, because you might want to purchase them. america a patriotic primer celebrates the ideas that are our country. one of my favorites, a is for abigail, tells about the accomplishments of women in america and of course, the one that i love the most is "when washington crossed the delaware" and it tells about general washington leading his ragtag army of across the frozen river for his surprise attack. it teaches children about courage, heroism, and dedication to your dreams. she was also a baton twirler as a child. she required hours of discipline and practice and was known across the state of wyoming as flamboyant, because her batons were sometimes set aflame at both ends. in 1954 she was wyoming's
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junior champion and in 1956 she won the state senior champion metal. i asked her if she would be willing to show us a few of her tricks. she said, you couldn't pay me enough. although i have heard that she still might do it for a big charity that is willing to give a lot of money to the charity. she met young dick cheney in high school and the vice president told me that his father was choosing between two jobs. one was in casper, wyoming and one was in great falls, montana. he said you know, if we had gone to great falls montana, i never would have met lynne. she would have met another fellow in high school, fallen in love and married him, and he would have become the vice president. dr. cheney wrote that the high school was the most beautiful building in wyoming and the
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most beautiful building in casper. the second most beautiful building was the carnegie library, which opened in 1910. she said by the time i started going there, some 40 winters of hot water heating had worked to combine the scent of varnished wood with the slightly acidic odor of aging books. to create a wonderful smell. one that was unique in my experience. in the 1950s, it was a haven for kids like lynne vincent, who loved books. this was a different time back in the 1940s and 1950s and a lot of us in the audience can relate to it. i remember, too, teens and kids were free to run around and come and go and their parents didn't even know where they were or worry. there was no pervasive fear of computers or cell phones
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blaring something ugly from around the country or the world. there was a feeling of optimism. when i was the regent at mount vernon i invited dr. cheney to come is the second lady to talk to 350 students on constitution day, september 17. as you know, it is the date that celebrates the adoption of the american constitution and her talk captivated the students. she, in turn, invited the entire board to come to the vice president's mansion and, as you know, it resides on the u.s. naval observatory grounds and the ladies were deeply appreciative of the talk she gave us, the tour she gave us, and all we learned from her. when i spoke to her a week ago, i said what is something you do we might not know? she said well, every day i do the daily merriam-webster vocabulary quizzes on my ipad. i did not even know they
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existed, but ever since i have done it every morning. a fascinating fact is people in their 60s and 70s score higher than those in their 30s and 40s. as our second lady of the united states, dr. cheney lived at the highest level of national life, but she remains what she grew up to be in wyoming. a curious, hard-working scholar, down to earth, great fun, a beautiful and brilliant woman. the columnist george will calls her the really indispensable cheney. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome dr. lynne cheney. >> you are taller than i am.
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well, thank you for that nice welcome. and let me thank gay for that terrific introduction. i've got to get a printed copy, dick, so you can read it a lot. and gay for all the hard work she has done to put this series of speeches together. so, gay, thank you and thank all of you for being here today and loving the idea of listening to stories about the past. it took me five years to write the book about madison and that is not an excessively long time. i think if you asked your other presenters, it is a long process, but when you tell someone who isn't a rider that it took you five years, they are stunned. after being stunned about how long i spent on the book, they are stunned that i spent five years on madison.
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and i completely loved the time i spent working on it and i explained that i like madison, because he wasn't a flamboyant character. he was reserved and he got things done, without making a lot of fuss about it. and i think that is an achievement to be valued. the folks who aren't pushing toward the microphone today, but the ones who are just quietly moving ahead and getting things done. and boy, he got a lot done. one of the things you will read often if you read about madison, is that he was reserved. he wasn't a fellow who ran around patting people on the back and chatting them up. he was so reserved that he sometimes intimidated people on first meeting. there was a young man named
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george tucker who described his first meeting with madison this way. the impression made on me was concerned that, rather than the mildness which i later found to characterize him. madison was assisting james monroe when tucker encountered him in tucker later wrote it is possible that he and munro were discussing something very serious and that may have accounted for it, but it was also possible that madison reserved a stern look for strangers. tucker said he never perceived madison that way afterward. now, tucker wasn't the only one to note how stern madison could be on first meeting. he gave away nothing to strangers, nothing. it was often observed, as well, that he was very different in private than he was in public.
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in private he was witty, known to like madeira and appreciate jokes that aren't fit for the drawing room. i tried to say it fast, because of the fifth-graders. once, it said, his humor left a british ambassador utterly scandalized. madison wasn't tall. no more than five foot six, i said in my book. as i think about it, 5'6" was reported by a man who admired him very much and may have exaggerated. 5'4" may be closer to the mark. he was a nice looking gentleman. small, compact, nice looking. and he had a receding hairline, but he made up for it in a very stylish way. he combed his hair forward into a point, like this. now is there anybody in this audience who watches
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"bluebloods"? okay, gosh, well, i got dick, for sure. on "bluebloods" there is a player named detective danny reagan and if you ever watch, he is the one who jumps over a car at least once per episode. he is played by donnie wahlberg, who, as those of you who have watched it might guess, combs his hair exactly like james madison. now if i ever get the opportunity to do casting for someone writing about the founders, i am going to suggest donnie wahlberg. so, madison wasn't physically impressive in the way that the six footers were. as gay knows, six footers, jefferson, monroe, washington, in particular. and i am struck, time and again, when i read about
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washington, how important his physique was to his accomplishments. when abigail adams first met him and john had told her about washington, she scolded john, for, she said, not preparing her for the phenomenon that the general was. i thought the one half was not told me, she wrote. doctor benjamin rush described washington this way. there is not a king in europe that would not look like a valet by his side. what madison, though, lacked in stature, he more than made up for in brains. his presence, as jefferson described it, came from a habit of self possession, which, placed at ready command, rich resources of his luminous and
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discriminating mind. in my book, as gay mentioned, i call madison a genius. this caused some heartburn among some critics. i am happy, however, to stand my ground on that. madison not only saw the world he was born into, he saw how it could be different. and, at age 36, he arrived at the philadelphia convention, later known as the constitutional convention, full of this idea. intent on creating a nation from the 13 states, such as never had been seen before. just four years before, they had thrown off the rule of great britain and went through a rocky time with the articles of confederation, but along comes madison and he is ready to change things. he is ready to make this
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totally new kind of nation. he imagined a vast republic, where people were sovereign and their fundamental rights are respected, as nowhere else on earth. now at that time, anyone who is thinking about such matters believed that a vast republic was impossible. a little republic, maybe. you know, one where all the citizens were homogenous. a little republic might make it, but one that covered territory as large as the 13 states was sure to be pulled apart by all of the interest and ambitions of its many inhabitants. that was the idea. that was montesquieu's idea, that a vast republic was impossible and people believed that for a very long time. madison's insight was to perceive that all of those different interests and ambition that other people had been afraid about, that in fact those were crucial to a
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republic's survival. clashing viewpoints would keep anyone viewpoint, even that of a majority, from becoming tyrannical. now it is so stunning to read about someone who changed the way people think and read further about how important his insight was. how transformative it was. in part because it brought the idea of a republic down to earth. it didn't require angels to make it work. it wouldn't be a place where everyone has to stifle his or her ideas and aspirations for the sake of unity. ordinary people could live there and pursue their dreams. because of madison, a republic was no longer a distant idea,
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but something to which people around the world could aspire. bringing the idea of the extended republic to bear at a time when a great nation was to be created. it was madison's first act of creative genius, but by no means his last. he, more than anyone else, would be responsible for the united states of america as we know it today. his time of great achievement came after years of intense focus, deep concentration, and nearly obsessive effort. behavior that describes most lives of genius, from sir isaac newton to moz art to einstein. let me just give a few examples of how hard madison worked in the run-up to the convention in philadelphia and in the convention itself. first of all, knowing it was coming up, he began an intense
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study of laws and constitutions. he had been interested in this idea since he was in his 20s, but with books that jefferson shipped him from paris, where jefferson was our envoy, he began this really intense study. and a relative staying with the madisons -- i am smiling, because virginia was one big cousinry. he stepped back from this constant socializing that most virginians participated in and started working really hard. a relative that came to see him wrote in his diary that madison came to breakfast, at which he ate sparingly, and then would go to his room until a little before dinner. so while everyone else was riding horses and playing, madison was in his room working. now he knew that washington's
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presence at the convention would make all the difference. washington was so admired, so loved by the american people by this time, that if he were there, the convention would have a greater chance of success than if he weren't. so he wrote letter after letter, urging the general to attend. he also traveled through a snowstorm, a blizzard really, to the confederation congress in new york, to be sure that the congresspeople were on board. and while he was twisting arms there, in his own subtle way, he spent hours in a boarding house. studying the issues that were bound to come up. he worked really hard. he also left for philadelphia early from new york. he was the first out-of-state delegate there. that meant he could greet the other delegates as they arrived in particular the delegates
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from virginia. because madison was there early, he brought them altogether and altogether they produced the virginia plan, which as you all know, set the agenda for the constitutional convention. during the convention, madison was one of the delegates who spoke most often and he made crucial, critical interventions. when the convention was about to write into the constitution that congress had the power, quote, to make war, madison stood up and successfully changed it to declare war, thus making the president commander in chief. now if you think about it, we would not have ever done so well -- i am sorry, dick, to mention this -- but if all the congressmen were in charge of war, it would not have been successful. so this was a really important intervention. while he is speaking and
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understanding how important it is to get the words just right, madison is also taking notes. he sat at the front of the room and wrote out the notes in shorthand and then went back to his room at night and transcribed them. now i can go on. i can talk about madison central role in getting the constitution ratified. his working at breakneck speed with hamilton to put out the federalist, a series of essays defending the constitution. madison described this effort as having to get the papers to the printer, while the printer is still working on the last one. he wrote, i think it was 40 essays in 20 days, but it was just an amazing, amazing accomplishment. i can also cite his work as a leader to add the bill of rights to the constitution, but i think i have made the point that madisons genius, like most genius, was a product of hard
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work. like mozart and newton and einstein. 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, to quote thomas edison. like mozart, newton, einstein, and edison, james madison changed the world. his hard work makes another point, as well. he was often ill, leading many historians to say he was sickly. you come across that again and again. that he was even a hypochondriac. but when he was well, he was very, very well. traveling 1000 miles through new york with lafayette. traveling through the blizzard to new york. indeed, simply getting from montpelier to philadelphia was quite a challenge. his trips were over roads that would not be called roads today. he often traveled in the rain.
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i am struck by how often it was muddy on those roads and one time it was worse than that. he was forced to dismantle his carriage, take the whole carriage apart, make three trips with it in what he called something like a boat, over a swollen pond. and then he had to swim his horses across. so this is an extraordinary amount of energy to spend if you were sickly. now it is true that madison had gastrointestinal problems that plagued almost everyone in the 18th century. this is a time, remember, when people believed that illness was caused by bad air and doctors did not wash their hands. but in addition to the common ailments of the day, madison suffered from what he called sudden attacks. which he described as somewhat resembling epilepsy and suspending the intellectual
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functions. madison's most influential biographer described these attacks as hysteria. now he was writing in a time when freud was very influential. in fact, madison's description fits today's understanding of epilepsy. his sudden attacks may well have been complex partial seizures, which leave the affected person conscious, but with his or her comprehension and ability to communicate impaired. with the intellectual functions suspended, as madison said. such attacks last just minutes and may leave the affected person tired and confused for a short time after, but they are not necessarily disabling. nor do they prevent exertion. madison was lucky enough when
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terrible things were prescribed for epilepsy, mercury, for example. madison was lucky enough to encounter doctors who told him to exercise. what a modern thing to think. it is often recommended today for people who suffer from epilepsy. as he rode and walked over the phils hills of the virginia piedmont, he became bitter, ready to take a 1000 mile journey with lafayette or to hold high office. now i find research like this fascinating. i could happily spend days reading 18th-century medical manuals. they make me feel very lucky, that we aren't prescribing those same remedies today. but when you are writing a book, you have to ask yourself, is what you are doing important? does it offer insight into the person you are writing about? in madison's case, i believe it
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does. a hypochondriac or someone given to hysterical episodes is quite different from someone who has an identifiable ailment and manages to achieve, greatly, in spite of it. understanding madisons ailment also explains certain things he did and did not do. he wanted to be a soldier, as the revolution was coming on. he wanted to be a rifleman and he was a good shot. he told a friend that he could hit an eight inch target at a distance of 100 yards, which is the length of a football field. and this, with an 18th-century weapon. but his military career came to a sudden end, when, during training, he suffered what was likely one of his sudden attacks. madison had several chances to go to europe and always turned them down. i just realized a day or two ago that through the first five
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presidents, he was the only one who never set foot out of the united states. medical manuals of the day recommended that people with epilepsy avoid deep water. presumably because a seizure could cause you to fall overboard and drown. that is when jefferson suggested that madison visit him in france. madison declined, writing to jefferson that he had, quote, some reason to suspect that crossing the sea would be unfriendly to a singular disease of my constitution. madison was a long defender, a lifelong defender, of religious freedom. when we try to answer the question this lecture series proposes, how does the past influence the present? it is his battle for religious freedom but i always think of. the constitution was absolutely essential, the ground floor.
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but this fight for religious freedom was inspired in part by the treatment of baptists that he witnessed in virginia when he was a young man. they were arrested, charged with preaching without a license, and thrown in jail by people subscribing to what madison called that diabolical principle of persecution. at age 22, in a note as angry as anything that he ever wrote, he declared religious bondage shackles and debilitate's the mind and unfit set for every noble enterprise. he spoke with the authority of a man who knew the misery of being bound to a received viewpoint. probably because he had experienced it firsthand. the standard religious view of the time was that people with epilepsy were lunatics. they were called that.
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by the most orthodox religious people, that they were unclean, sinful, and even possessed by the devil. it is easy to understand madison being indignant about such notions and he determined to free people from having to exceed them. he worked with his longtime friend, lifelong friend, thomas jefferson. they worked together in this cause and one of their proudest achievements is the virginia statute for religious freedom. if you have been to monticello, you know it is one of the three accomplishments that jefferson put on the center cap over his grave. jefferson was the author of the statute and he declared that neither religious nor political leaders had any dominion over the faith of others. punishing people for their religious belief or declaring them unworthy of public office was depriving them of advantages
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to which they had a natural right. our civil rights, jefferson wrote, have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions on physics or geometry. again, madison and jefferson were on the frontier of thought here. it had long been believed that there should be an established church. the anglican church, in the case of virginia, and that religious conformity had to be imposed. but madison and jefferson saw it differently. another statute failed to pass when they first tried to get it through the virginia assembly. then jefferson went off to paris for five years and while he was gone, madison, who was the sharpest politician among the founders, he saw an opportunity and he got it passed. he wrote an exultant letter to jefferson, in which he declared
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that the statute had extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind. madisons high regard for the statute has been shared for generations. martin marty, a much admired theologian, called the statute, i quote, and ethical shift in the western world's approach to relations between the civil and religious spheres. by dividing them with the state on one hand and the church on the other, the virginia statute is, in martin marty's words, a hinge between the ages. i think sometimes when we are on this side of the change that the founders accomplished, it is hard to realize it, because they have become so much a part of our lives. well, madison made many decisions, but perhaps the wisest was to mary dolly.
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he was walking on a spring day in 1794 when he caught sight of her and was instantly smitten. this happened regularly to men who saw her. she was nearly five foot eight. a shapely figure. she had black hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion, which she had learned to shield from the virginia son. she came from a quaker family, which had not, for her, been a good fit. she was inclined to the gaieties of the world, one quaker woman wrote. this is my favorite story. the quaker matron recalled that it was during an effort to convince dolley of the seriousness of life that the young girl first smiled and afterwards fell fast asleep. the 26 real dolley was recently widowed. her husband, john, had died in the yellow fever epidemic the year before madison saw her and
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so had her three-month-old baby, leaving her with a son who was two and his name was payne todd. madison, who was 43,
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>> some of the items on her list were thought to be good for breaking a fever which suggests that madison may have had fever -related seizures as a child they are not regarded as epilepsy today but could be part of a syndrome, several seizures as a child, epilepsy
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seizures as an adult. the more i learned about her the more interesting i found her. she and her husband were -- not long after they moved there, it was the frontier, she died, poisoned by slaves, the records say. she had to learn the details of growing tobacco. --
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>> she ordered axes, hydrometer, a pair of boots, but while she was in the boots -- she also upheld her eras standards of -- as were two good days, that is important, size small. as i say, francis was quite a woman. another woman, i am not sure i would call her quite a woman, but she was important to history, her name was kitty floyd. kitty was 15 years old, a round faced young woman, she lived in the same boarding house that --
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31 fell in love. i should not make much of the age difference because -- this was 1783 when 15 was considered quite a marriageable age and madison wanted to marry her. i love the idea of these two friends interacting this way and they went to -- it turned out not, jefferson was always the optimist. kitty had seemed minimal but she and her family traveled to new jersey -- he poured his
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hurt and his heart out to jefferson who gave him great advice. -- this is my favorite. -- >> he later became a clergyman and kitty was -- in a will her father wrote that he had given kitty and her husband substantial sums of money -- he ordered his son nicholas to give her $70 a month.
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it is quite possible to think that as disappointed as madison was, -- he was about to enter the most consequential years of his life and they were lonelier without kitty and they were probably more productive and if you will pardon me for reading history backward, i would also like to observe that had madison married kitty floyd, there would be no dolly madison. i have done my best to get the women into the story, and they have fascinating stories as well, but i just want to thank all of you for being here today. -- who is the president of montpelier is here today, and i appreciate all the great things that have been done for montpelier and i recommend that you visit it and see the evolution, -- and covered it
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with pink stucco, so the challenge at montpelier has been to get it back to what it might look like when the medicines were here and the efforts have been remarkable. thank you for arranging this, and thank you all for being here. >> [ applause ] >> up next on american history tv, --


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