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tv   Frederick Douglass Abraham Lincoln  CSPAN  May 29, 2021 8:36am-10:01am EDT

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>> up next on american history tv, john stauffer talks about his book, "giants: the parallel lives of frederick douglass and abraham lincoln," in this january 2009 program. he compares the two men to the recently inaugurated barack obama. the national archives hosted the event and provided the video. >> today in the midst of a very historic week with the inauguration of our new president, we have a most fitting and timely book lecture. over this week, as i view some of the different news programs, a continuously repeated refrain by many commentators was that president obama stands on the shoulders of key historical figures who paved the way for him.
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two of the most important of these figures are the subjects of dr. stauffer's lecture and book, which is titled "giants: the parallel lives of frederick douglass and abraham lincoln." john stauffer received his phd from yale university in 1999 and began teaching at harvard the same year. he writes and lectures on the civil war era, antislavery movements, and social protest movements. he is the author of seven books and more than 45 articles, including "the black hearts of men: radical abolitionists in the transformation of race," which won four major awards, including the frederick douglass book prize, the avery craven book award, and the lincoln prize runner up.
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his essays have appeared in time magazine, the new york post, the journal of contemporary photography, and the harvard review. he has appeared on national radio and television shows. currently he is completing a book with sally jenkins on the racialism and unionism in civil war era mississippi. the story "free state of jones" will appear as a major motion picture by film maker gary ross, with whom he served as a scholarly consultant. after this lecture there will be a book signing at the archive shop. without further ado, let's welcome dr. john stauffer. [applause] john: thank you very much for the wonderful introduction and thank you for coming. can everyone hear me in the back? i would like to speak for about 45 minutes and then i will open it up for questions and
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criticism and comments. i want to speak for a few minutes just about how this book came into being, the background of "giants," and then i want to summarize some of the key themes i describe in the book, hopefully to whet your appetite to read it if you have not. then i want to spend the last five or 10 minutes discussing the legacy of both lincoln and douglass on particularly barack obama. obama has been deeply influenced by both men. i have written about the influences in the new york times recently and huffington post and other places. i want to share with you some of my thoughts. i should say that i started writing "giants" around the time that obama launched his campaign, at a time when very few americans believed he could actually get elected. the book was published on election day, and having steeped myself in both frederick
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douglass and abraham lincoln during the campaign, i felt like i have a good understanding of what i refer to as the obama phenomenon. i felt, after hearing obama launch his campaign in springfield, that he had a very good chance of winning because of having steeped myself in douglass and lincoln. so i want to share that with you at the end. first, the background. this book began as a chapter in a larger project that i am working on which is on interracial friendships in american society. my previous work has focused on some aspect of interracial friendship. why do i think they are important? i think friendship throughout history, throughout western culture, has been a central theme for philosophers, political thinkers, and writers, because friendship was seen as a symbol of democracy.
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from plato and aristotle through the quakers, who self-consciously defined themselves as friends, to the founding fathers, through people like walt whitman, emerson, thoreau, frederick douglass. friendship was seen as a kind of test case of how well democracy was working. throughout western culture, people believed a virtuous society was one in which friendships flourished. in a new united states, which was unlike classical greece or rome, which americans were self-consciously patterning themselves, americans understood this new society was a multiracial one. so in thinking about how democracy functioned on the ground, people began exploring the concept of interracial friendship to see how democracy was working. people from, as i said, whitman, emerson, thoreau, frederick
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douglass -- interracial friendship was a key test case for how well democracy was doing. i published a version of that in time magazine in 2005 when lincoln was featured on the cover as a founding father. full as i continued to write that chapter, and after publishing in time magazine, i realized that chapter threatened to overwhelm the rest of my book on interracial friendship because of the significance of abraham lincoln and frederick douglass. i decided just to write a separate book just on those two men. by pairing them together, i felt i could accomplish a number of goals. i think a dual biography allows a writer or scholar to move the lens, so to speak, to change perspectives in order to see two famous men who had been written about in new and interesting ways. abraham lincoln is one of the
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most written about figures in american history, probably the most written about individual in american history. one of my objectives was what can i say that is new about abraham lincoln? i felt that by viewing him, seeing him framed or reflected against frederick douglass, i could offer some new interpretations. primarily i think one of the things i do with lincoln is i de-romanticize him. i de-mythologize him. i think lincoln continues to be written about in ways that suggest a mythological figure. what do i mean by that? a lot of writers see lincoln as essentially perfect, particularly during his presidency. he truly was, in my view, the greatest president, a brilliant politician, but i think too many writers see him as someone who never made a mistake, whose every action was a perfect one, so to speak. that is to create a myth, not a
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human. to be human is to make mistakes, to be deeply flawed. i felt by acknowledging and highlighting even some of the flaws, i would come away and hopefully readers come away respecting and appreciating him even more by understanding how far he was able to grow. by pairing him with frederick douglass, i also wanted to represent and show douglass in a new light, and especially by showing him in a light that sees him as an equal, as significant as abraham lincoln. most of my previous work has been on antislavery abolitionism, and i have written a lot about frederick douglass. he appeared in "the black hearts of men," i have edited the second autobiography. probably in the hundreds of talks i have given on frederick douglass, the first thing i ask to audiences is how many of you
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here have read anything by frederick douglass? the answer depends, among whites, just about every african-american has, but among whites it is very age dependent. most whites over the age of 50 barely know who frederick douglass is, much less read anything by him. most whites over the age of 35 are familiar with frederick douglass, which reflects the degree to which frederick douglass has entered the classrooms. i think douglass is a crucially significant figure, as important as lincoln. writing a book that pairs lincoln and douglass, i felt i would be able to show that. "giants" is a book about parallel lives that converge. frederick douglass and abraham lincoln, i argue, are the two preeminent self-made men in american history. douglass began life as a slave,
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he had zero formal education, and was the most famous black man in the world before the age of 40. his rise was truly extraordinary. ay, throughout the 1850's and even into the 1860's, douglass was seen as a better orator than lincoln. most people remember lincoln as a great orator, and he was, but in his time, he paled with respect to douglass. douglass could obtain greater royalties, greater speaking fees than just about any other individual, and the fact that he was a black man able to do that is extraordinary. most of you know that lincoln was born in a log cabin. to say it was a log cabin is to romanticize it, it was really a three sided hut with one side exposed. he was what his contemporaries referred to as poor white trash, who grew up to, emerged to
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become the greatest president. so the two preeminent self-made men in american history, who converged in the sense that douglass met with lincoln three times at the white house. he was the first black man to meet a u.s. president on terms of near equality, to advise him. they considered each other friends. the fact they considered each other friends was significant, given the importance ascribed to friendship in that time period in the 19th century. in ways i never could have envisioned before beginning research and writing the book, they led striking, surprisingly parallel lives. many common occurrences in their rise and self making, which struck me because one, it is a white man who grows up in
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essentially the south, born in kentucky and grows up in indiana and illinois. both states primarily settled by southerners. and douglass a slave. most people think of a slave and a white man as totally different at that time. what are the commonalities or parallel aspects of their self making or upbringing? probably first and foremost is the fact that more than any other factor, they were able to rise up because they learned how to use words as weapons. they understood the importance of literacy, the importance of being able to articulate their thoughts in order to convert their audiences to their cause. both of them learned to hone their skills of literacy and writing, both of them virtually memorized the same six books. long before they ever met, they both read and reread and virtually memorized the same six
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books. any of you have any ideas of what those books are? the bible is one, probably the most important. this is a period in which common education was not that well-known. particularly in the south, particularly in what is now the midwestern states. many young boys did not have formal education. if you only have one book to read, aside from the religious significance, the bible in my view is probably the greatest work of literature in western culture. both of them quoted extensively from the bible. they read and reread it. what else? shakespeare. lincoln loved shakespeare. most people know that. douglass could quote shakespeare almost as comfortably as lincoln could. you all are great. what is a third? any thoughts? pardon? close.
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close, very good. if shakespeare was the most famous writer in america in the day, which he was -- shakespeare now is read primarily by the well educated, but at the time shakespeare was read by yeoman farmers in mississippi. all classes read shakespeare -- blacks, whites, rich and poor -- everyone read shakespeare, which is a phenomenon when we think about it today. the second most famous writer at the time was lord byron. douglass in particular loved byron, but so did lincoln. byron's poetry was seen by americans as emblematic of american ideals of freedom. byron was seen as a great freedom fighter both in his poetry and in his life. he died for the cause of freedom in greece. that was another figure. another is the colombian orator, a collection of speeches for
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young boys to become orators. this was a time in which public speaking was one of the only forms of public entertainment. it was analogous to being a rockstar, movie star, radio personality today. no matter where you started in life, if you could be a great orator, there were few limits to how far you could rise and both douglass and lincoln understood that. caleb bingham wrote the introduction to the colombian orator and he told boys, how do you learn to be a great orator? here are emblematic speeches great speeches throughout , history. how do you position your tongue so you can lose your pronounced accent? both lincoln and douglass had what we would think of today as horrible accents.
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accents that betrayed them as being ignorant, as being stupid. part of being a democratic gentleman was to lose some of your pronounced accent. lincoln retained more of his accent or dialect when he entered the white house them -- than douglass. but caleb bingham taught young boys how to position your tongue so you can lose your accent, how to speak with the proper cadence so you can reach a large audience. that was a book both men learned and virtually memorized. people remember lincoln going into the fields and speaking to the crops in the prairie. douglass was forbidden to read, his masters would not let him read. he shined shoes, received some
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money, purchased a used copy of the colombian orator and kept it hidden. it was the only thing he took with him when he became free. that was a crucial book. another was aesop's fables. most of you are still familiar with it today. the best way to describe aesop's fables is it is oral tales of slaves, it is a slave narrative, a collection of oral tales of slaves from classical antiquity, from ancient greece. that was a book that was a bestseller, widely read then and is still read today. they read the same books and were familiar with the same examples of books that help them rise up through using words as weapons.
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another common parallel was they both defined a fight as a major turning point in their young lives. it is ironic because at the very time in which both men were describing or characterizing themselves as intellectuals or aspiring intellectuals, a fight became an important turning point. for frederick douglass, it was a fight with the famous slave breaker named edward covey. douglass grew up on the eastern shore of maryland and was fortunate to be able to go to baltimore because his master had died, and that is where he learned to read and write and acquired his copy of the colombian orator. he was sent back to the eastern shore of maryland and was literate and he gained a sense of empowerment. when he returned to the eastern shore, his new master considered him insolent because he looked him in the eye and talked back
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and stood up to him. so he decided that douglass needed to be disciplined, and there was a man named covey known as a slave breaker. by that, he was someone who broke the will of slaves so they would become good or proper slaves. douglass was hired out to work for covey for one year, and to do hard labor. douglass for the first six months of his tenure with covey was mercilessly whipped at least once a week. he said the welts on his back from the whip were as thick as his thumb, blood streamed down every week and he was whipped again before the old wounds were healed. after six months of this, douglass decided to stand up to covey. douglass was very big for his time, over six feet and very strong, very muscular. covey was about 5'7". when douglass decided to stand
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up to covey, he realized he was not afraid to die. that was essentially the cost of standing up to him. he stood up to covey, and they had a two hour epic fight. douglass was disciplined throughout this fight. he could have killed covey, in my view, or seriously maimed him. he chose merely to beat covey in the fight, and in the wake of the fight, douglass said he defined himself thereafter as a free man in form even if he would be a slave in fact. from the moment of that fight, douglass vowed to become free. covey never divulged the fight. douglass could have easily been sent south into mississippi or killed, or maimed. covey did not divulge the fight in part because he wanted to preserve his reputation as a slave breaker.
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this fight also highlights that douglass was a privileged slave . he was a privileged slave because he was born in maryland, not mississippi or alabama. if you were born in the deep south, your chances of becoming free were virtually nil. the vast majority of slaves who became free were in border states. he also suspected that douglass was the son of a white man and a slave woman. it is suspected he is the son of his master. there is some evidence for that given how well he was treated. he was not only punished because of the fight with covey, douglass before he ran away, attempted to run away and was captured. most slaves who attempted to run away and were captured were either sent to the deep south or whipped so hard they were permanently maimed. douglass in the wake of his attempt to run away was promised
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his freedom at the age of 21. so he was a privileged slave. lincoln, for his part, grew up and was also lucky. most people know how big lincoln was, he was 6'4". he was taller than most men by almost a foot. lincoln grew up, like douglass, in a vicious backwoods community. i think many scholars have romanticized the prairie background of lincoln. it was a vicious backwoods community in which the defining aspect of manhood was the capacity to fight hard and drink a lot. it's one of the reasons why both douglass and lincoln abstain ed from alcohol their entire life, because they understood the destruction alcohol caused in communities. lincoln had just moved to new salem, illinois at the age of 21. he described his first 21 years
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as a slave because technically he had to turn over all of his money to his father. he is finally free from his father, who he didn't like, because his father was not interested in education, not interested in literacy. he was a laborer, carpenter and farmer. lincoln arrives in new salem, and one of the local leaders was a man named jack armstrong. jack armstrong was essentially a thug and he and his buddies loved to lure strangers into poker games, steal their money and beat them up. jack armstrong liked to roast live pigs and hear the sound of squealing before it died. one of the most common forms of fighting in the backwoods of illinois was what people called a rough-and-tumble, a no holds barred rough-and-tumble. it was a kind of fight in which it was not uncommon for a man to lose a nose, part of an ear, a finger, to have testicles ripped
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out. the great prize in the fight was to liberate an opponent's eyeball and keep it as a prize. this was a brutal environment. armstrong wanted to fight douglasss -- or lincoln in a rough-and-tumble. lincoln said i don't want to do that, i will wrestle you, have a regulated wrestling match, a less real form of people came from all around to bet on it which was common in fighting. it is unclear exactly what happened in the fight. but, what we do know is they called it a draw. armstrong fouled lincoln. no one lost money. in the wake of the fight, lee
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can -- lincoln became a friend of jack armstrong. he was running for the state legislature and became the captain of his company in the black hawk war and rose up quickly. both men married up. their wives were central to their self making. douglas married a free black woman, which was very unusual, when he returned to baltimore. it was very unusual for slaves and free blacks to interact in that way. anna murray and her money were primarily responsible for allowing douglas to dress as a flea -- free sailor, to purchase a train ticket, and take a train north to new york city where he became free in 1838. without her help, his chances of becoming free would been -- have
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been profoundly limited. most people see mary todd as a crazy woman. mary todd was at least as sophisticated about politics as lincoln was. mary todd grew up in kentucky near the home of henry clay, the hero statesman for lincoln. she was a friend of clay. she was an aristocrat. lincoln, in marrying mary todd made a very wise political decision. mary todd advised lincoln in every step of his rise through politics. so, without their wives, i think the potential for them rising up would have been very slim. the first time that douglas ever refers to lincoln's in 1847. douglas has moved to rochester, new york and is now a
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newspaperman, already the most famous black man in the country, virtually a household name. he becomes famous overnight because his autobiography, which is a bestseller, similar to obama. he writes about lincoln in the context of lincoln's term in congress. douglas refers to lincoln as part of a rogues gallery of congressmen who oppose a bill of to abolish slavery in washington dc. why does lincoln oppose this bill? because it deviates from lincoln's vision for ending slavery. lincoln hated slavery. he said in numerous occasions that he hated slavery as much as any abolitionist and there is no reason to doubt that. but, his strategy for ending slavery was threefold.
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one, very gradual. very congenial so western not uproot society -- so as to not uproot society. in his debates with douglas, -- stephen douglas he said the ultimate extinction of slavery well not happen for at least 100 years. lincoln advocated compensation to masters for the loss of their property. this bill in washington dc did not call for that. that is one of the reasons he opposed it. lincoln also calls for subsidies for colonization of free blacks outside of the united states. in essence, his vision of america was a white one. douglas was outraged at
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lincoln's opposition to this bill to end slavery. probably the -- before they became friends, they were, quite friendly, enemies. -- quite frankly, enemies. this is highlighted in lincoln's first inaugural in 1861. the closest frederick douglass ever came to losing his faith in america, repudiating the possibility of america ever living up to its ideas in the declaration, was in the immediate wake of the first inaugural. why? because in the first inaugural, lincoln does two things in particular that outrage frederick douglass. one, now remember, when lincoln gives his first inaugural, seven states had already seceded, the confederacy had been formed and lincoln is appealing in his inaugural, primarily to southern states, the upper south, that
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lincoln hopes to prevent from succeeding. -- secedeing. lincoln vows to defend the fugitive slave law which many northerners viewed as unconstitutional. second, and more onerous the in the first inaugural, lincoln affirmed or embraced a new constitutional amendment that congress had just passed. a few days before the first inaugural, congress passed the first 13th amendment. most people member the 13th amendment as of the amendment that abolishes slavery. the first 13th amendment, which congress had just passed in an attempt to conciliate with southerners, was an un-amendable amendment that guaranteed slavery in the slave states
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forever. lincoln had run on a platform of prohibiting the spread of slavery with the goal for its ultimate extinction. that was his basic platform. now, excepting this amendment that guarantees slavery in the slave states, in frederick douglass's mind, lincoln was contradicting the basic platform. he plans a trip to haiti with the goal of integrating their and refers to lincoln as a slave hound at a representative of american racism. as a way to understand their differences at this point, the best way to summarize lincoln as a politician is to say that he, as president, saw -- sought first and foremost the preservation of the union based on the oath of office he took.
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he hoped to defeat the confederacy and preserve the union. the question of slavery was always secondary to that chief objective. frederick douglass, his fundamental identity was one of calling for an immediate end to slavery and racial equality under the law. throughout his life, those were the two things that frederick douglas champion. during the inaugural in the wake of southern states succeeding, -- secedeing, douglas thought the quickest way to reunite the nation was to end slavery. douglas chose not to go to haiti because this level war -- the civil war broke out. it offered a way to end slavery. douglas was familiar with john quincy adams loss statement -- john quincy adams's statement who said to southerners, if we
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keep being belligerent, there will be a civil war. if there is a civil war, the constitution allows under its war power clause the congress and the president the power to end slavery constitutionally. for frederick douglass, slavery itself represented a state of war. he believed that because of slavery representing a state of war, he called for the immediate end of slavery even before the actual war broke out because, in his mind, for constitutional reasons. douglas said, immediately after fort sumter, he started calling on the president and sending his newspaper to the white house saying, in slavery, that will be the quickest way to end the war because the slaves constitute the stomach of the rebellion. unless you emancipate the slaves, 4 million blacks, roughly one third of the southern states, are aiding and abetting the confederacy. they are feeding the
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confederates. they are building worlds -- roads for them. they are building fortifications and trenches. if you emancipate them, you will have, in theory, 4 million people on the union side. lincoln came to recognize the military validity of emancipating slaves as a war measure, which is precisely how the emancipation proclamation was phrased. he emancipated slaves as part of a war measure. so, in their divergence to convergence resulted in the fact that douglas and lincoln had two very different objectives that converged. their friendship was more than anything else utilitarian. when they first met in 1863 in the wake of the emancipation proclamation, douglas recognized
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that he needed lincoln on his side to help him achieve his objective of universal emancipation and equality under the law. lincoln recognized that he needed frederick douglass on his side. douglas was essentially the ambassador of african-americans. in order to achieve his goal of preserving the union. the details of their first meeting were that in august of 1863 douglas had been recruiting black soldiers. the emancipation proclamation effectively called for the arming of black troops. douglas devoted from january of 1863 to early august his full time to recruiting blacks. he virtually single-handed recruited the famous massachusetts 54th black regiments.
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his two sons were his first two recruits. douglas got fed up with recruiting because of the administration's policy, because black soldiers were being paid half of what white soldiers were not being promoted for valiant duty. so we decided to take his case to washington dc. he takes the train to d.c.. he arrives in the city on august 10 early in the morning. he goes right to the white house. there is already a long line of people waiting to see the president. lincoln was known as having an open-door policy and admitting just about all the callers. douglas stood in line. he thought he would have to wait all day, maybe more. he sent up his card. within two minutes he is called up by lincoln. as he passes the whites in line to go up to see lincoln, he hears one of them say, i see how it is your code -- "i see how it
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is." douglas states his case to lincoln. lincoln vows he will make every effort to pay black soldiers this aim white soldiers. he acknowledges he has been very tardy both in emancipation and giving equal rights to blacks. he also vows to promote black soldiers. at this first meeting, douglas and lincoln acknowledge that politically, they are very different. douglas, after all, is a radical activist and lincoln as a politician. douglas wants not only the immediate end to slavery but immediate racial equality. lincoln steve gold preserving the union. -- lincoln's chief goal is preserving the union. but after the first meeting they find themselves as friends.
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why? in part, because they both have enormous respect for each other as a self-made man. one of douglas's most famous speeches what -- was on self-made men. they recognize the dialect and accent of one another. in fact, after that first meeting, president lincoln told the next person he saw in the white house that he had just met with frederick douglass and said "i consider mr. douglas one of the most meritorious men in this united states." douglas said after meeting lincoln that he considered lincoln the king of self-made men. so, they had great respect for one another even though they disagreed politically. the second meeting occurred one year later at a time in which the war was going very poorly for the north.
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lincoln thought he would lose reelection in august of 1864. northerners were tired of fighting and lincoln felt sure he would lose to the democratic nominee george mcclellan. mcclellan ran on a platform of negotiated settlement with the confederacy, immediate peace, and leaving slavery intact. lincoln calls douglas to the white house for an urgent meeting. douglas comes to washington and meets with lincoln in the white house. lincoln tells douglas, "i would like you to plan and embark upon a john brown scheme in which you will invade the south with an army of black and white, bring as many blacks as possible to union lines, worst case scenario, i will lose the election to mcclellan. but, thousands more blacks will
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be in union lines and free before slavery remains permanent in the confederacy. best case scenario, the thousands more blacks that come to union lines will aid the union effort and lead to a major victory and turn the tide of war and convince northerners the war will soon be over and we can finish off this fight." frederick douglass was amazed at this request. douglas had been a close friend of john brown. john brown, if you remember, was the most radical white abolitionist of the day. john brown, with an army of blacks and whites in 1859, went south, rated, took -- rated -- took over the federal arsenal at harpers ferry virginia with the idea of inciting a massive insurrection. though frederick douglass
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opposed john brown going to harpers ferry, it was only because he thought john brown would lose his life, which he did. john brown was executed for treason. the harpers ferry affair was one of the last sparks that lead to the civil war. frederick douglass, however, considered john brown one of the greatest men in these united states. that is a quote from douglas. john brown wrote his provisional constitution, which would govern those areas that brown hope to liberate from slavery i've -- in frederick douglass's home. brown could not write a grammatically correct sentence. it is a grammatically correct document, which suggests that douglas probably edited it for him. he was in favor of brown if he thought it would work. lincoln and all republicans
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distance themselves -- distanced themselves dramatically from brownwood that occurred. lincoln said he agreed -- when that occurred. lisa -- lincoln said he agreed with brown in principle but disagreed with treason. years later, lincoln is calling on frederick bellus -- frederick douglass to embark upon a john brownstein. norther -- a john brown's scheme. douglas planned this john brown's scheme. a few weeks later, though, general sherman was victorious in atlanta and began his march to the sea that transformed northern opinion and essentially clench lincoln's reelection. so that scheme never went into practice. the third and final meeting was
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during lincoln's inaugural address. frederick douglass was invited to the address and the reception. he had essentially a front-row seat. he sat right in front of lincoln. lincoln saw douglas when he gave his address. douglas went to the reception at the white house in the wake of the inaugural address in march of 1865. the war was virtually over. there were almost 200,000 black troops marching throughout the south. douglass was initially barred from entering the white house because blacks were not allowed to enter. douglas says, there must be some mistake. he sends his card in and lincoln admits in. when lincoln sees frederick douglass he is with a group of whites and he says, "here comes my friend frederick douglass. it is good to see you. there is no man in this country whose opinion i value more than yours.
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what did you think of my address." frederick douglass responds "mr. president, that was a sacred effort or go -- effort or code -- effort." within a monthly can is assassinated but there is good evidence that if he had liz -- lived, he and douglass would have remained good friends. what is the lesson? one is that political differences do not necessarily correlate into social belay your -- behavior. lincoln and douglas genuinely got along with each other even though they never agreed politically. douglass's hope for reconstruction was more radical than lincoln's. he advocated immediate suffered
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for all blacks. lincoln, representative of his entire political career, wanted reconstruction to occur more gradually. but, they genuinely felt comfortable, in part because they shared a common background, common interests, and understood they were facing a common enemy that threaten their identity and livelihood. another crucial reason for their convergence relates to the very definitions of self-made men. but -- both douglass and lincoln understood that self making reflected the idea of the self in a state of continual evolution in flux, -- and flux. who lincoln and douglass were in 1840 was entirely different than how -- who they were in 1845.
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this idea of self making contradicts the very notion of racism. racism depends upon a self that is permanently fixed. it depends upon a self that is permanently superior and white to another self that is permanently inferior and nonwhite. by embracing this idea of self making or the self in a state of continual flux or evolution, it contradicts the notion of racism which is another important reason they were able to come together. what are the legacies of these two men? i mentioned that obama has been deeply influenced by both douglas and lincoln. obama has, on frequent occasions, acknowledged his debt to lincoln. he has not so much with frederick douglass, i think for two reasons. what is obama very much defines
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himself as embracing a post-racial america. frederick douglass has come down to us today as a race man. for that reason, he has not acknowledged his debt. to see douglass solely as a race man is erroneous. in his own day, he was very similar to obama. he thought that she sought -- he sought to move beyond the division of race and reach a common understanding. douglass's friendship of lincoln with one of numerous friendships with whites that frederick douglass had. he was a close friend of john brown and garrett smith and charles sumner, particularly at the end of the war and reconstruction. but because douglass has come down to us as a race man, obama has distanced himself.
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second, particularly during the campaign, and perhaps more significantly, obama understands that if he acknowledges this debt to frederick douglass, opponents will seize on that fact and say obama is associating with another terrorist. what has obama learned from frederick douglass? as he says in his book, the identity of hope, he says there are instances in which power will concede nothing without a fight question -- without a fight. that is what i have learned from frederick douglass. both obama and frederick douglass recognized that words are the most important weapon in fighting disappointment. another -- this opponent. another thing he learned from frederick douglass is true art
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will break down racial barriers. frederick douglass was one of the greatest writers and orators in his day, much as obama is. frederick douglass would get up to speak before an audience of whites. most of the whites in that audience, before seeing and hearing frederick douglass, assumed that blacks were subhuman. most whites in douglas's day believed blacks were incapable of self-government's. -- self-governance. they would listen to douglass and hear his eloquence and see his duty. he was majestic in his wrath, as one convert said of him. they would see him perform and essentially shed their racism and be converted to the cause of abolitionism.
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there are numerous examples of that happening. in one instance, frederick douglass goes to buffalo new york to speak on abolitionism. buffalo was a city when he arrived in which virtually no one was an abolitionist. all people wanted to do was make money. he was in buffalo for 10 days, and by the 10th day, over half of the city comes to hear him on the green. no editorial can hold the cash no auditorium can hold -- no auditorium can hold the audience and he has converted the multitude. there are numerous examples of obama, whites before they hear obama, saying, i cannot imagine myself voting for a black man. they see his eloquence and performance and they too shed their racism and vote for him.
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the best way to understand obama's political campaign is as an artistic performance, a very successful artistic performance. that is a crucially important thing he has learned from frederick douglass. in many respects, frederick douglass is the most direct descendant of barack obama. both men are children are one white and one black parent. both men became world-famous almost overnight on the strength of their autobiography. both men are among the great writers and orchards of their day during ironically, though, i think obama shares more in common with lincoln. like lincoln, obama defines himself as a politician. as a politician, he is constrained. for him to accomplish anything, he needs to get elected.
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no matter what he might think privately, he cannot publicly espouse certain things that would destroy his potential for getting elected. he has acknowledged his debt to lincoln about the significance and importance of being pragmatic. about the willingness to sacrifice one's moral certainty in the greater goal of reaching for common understanding over racial and social divisions. both lincoln and obama have been very effective at employing their pragmatic vision. another similarity or something obama has learned from lincoln that not many people has emphasized is lincoln had a brilliant sense of public opinion. he understood that the relationship between a politician and a public is a
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dialectic. a political leader should not simply internalize public opinion and echo it back. a political leader should also not put a stranglehold on the public. but rather, understand the large , diverse views of the public and through eloquence, through language, inspire them to move towards the collective goal. douglass and lincoln, like obama today, function more than anything else is inspiration. douglass and lincoln inspire us as obama has continually said, that he up to do. they inspire us to bind national wounds, to complete the -- the unfinished work of the nation, and by fulfilling the ideals of freedom and equality and opportunity for all americans. thank you.
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[applause] any questions, comments, criticisms? >> how long did frederick douglass lives after lincoln died? >> another 40 years. he gave numerous talks on lincoln. he considered lincoln the greatest american statesman. but, he was also very honest. i think the most accurate assessment of lincoln, to this day, it was when frederick douglass gave a speech in -- at the friedman's monument commemorating lincoln's assassination. it was the speech in which congress was all there, the supreme court was there, president grant was there.
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and the statue, in case you haven't seen it, there is a statue of lincoln with the emancipation proclamation in one hand, and his other hand outstretched over a kneeling slave. the kneeling slave had been an icon in the abolitionist movement. douglass did not like the statue. he begins his speech by saying, mr. lincoln, we, blacks, our president lincoln or mr. lincoln's stepchildren. whites are his children. that shocked his audience. because lincoln's chief goal was preserving the union. douglas did what he often did in speeches, he learned it from the colombian orders -- it is called a reversal. you start at one place and you end in another. he said, "we are lincoln's
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stepchildren." whites are his children," but because lincoln ultimately recognized that in order to preserve the union, he needed blacks on his side -- "although we are his stepchildren, through his transformation, we became accepted as part of a national family." it's a stunning, moving, brilliant speech. douglass gave various versions of that for the rest of his life. douglass gave various versions of that for the rest of his life. douglass was immensely inspired by his friendship with lincoln. he was proud of it. he felt like he grew as an individual because of it. there is evidence -- lincoln did not say as much. there's evidence that lincoln was profoundly moved and transformed through his friendship with douglas. douglass helped push him into directions that douglass wanted
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to go. yes? >> i appreciated your mentioning the readings i shared. how telling they were. you mentioned six. my recollection, you mentioned the colombian order, byron, aesop's fables, shakespeare, and the bible. what was the sixth? john: the bible, shakespeare, lord byron, colombian orator -- robert burns poetry. robert burns poetry. >> thank you. john: lincoln loved burns. because burns is a farmer. he embraces his rich dialect, and lincoln had memorized most of robert burns. >> lincoln was a poet himself. john: he was a poet himself. in the book, i argue that lincoln and douglass are two of writers in american history. the greatest yes? >> [inaudible]
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john: did lincoln and obama have a more optimistic view of the nation than frederick douglass? i would say not really. ,and it is a great question. the reason i would say not really is, it relates to their religious differences. frederick, one of the justifications for frederick douglass in calling for an immediate end to slavery, and racial equality, is because douglass defined himself as a prophet. douglass believed that he knew that god believed slavery was wrong. douglass knew that -- he believed that god knew that slavery was wrong and wanted it ended immediately, and douglass believed that one could dismantle sin. douglass understood that throughout human history, one of the justifications for slavery
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is that all humans are slaves in one form or another. because of genesis, because of adam and eve's original sin. all humans are slaves to their sin, they are slaves to god, they are slaves in life. and part of being human is that you can't overcome sin and all sin was a form of bondage. douglass essentially, as an abolitionist, inverted that relationship between sin and slavery. he said, slavery is a horrible sin, and humans have sin and the capacity to dismantle sin and become free, both achieving inner freedom as well as outer freedom. lincoln was, the best way to summarize his religious views was that he had a calvinist sensibility. lincoln continually said that it was hubris to try to know what god wanted, to believe that one could know what god wanted. the most one could do was to
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look for signs of what one thought god wanted. and because of that calvinist sensibility, lincoln acknowledged the innate depravity of humans. he acknowledged their capacity for evil, which is one of the reasons for his pragmatism. i mean, someone who had this vision of the perfect society and believed that it could be realized. racial equality and universal freedom. and that reflected his deep, enduring faith in humanity, endowed with god. in the book, i essentially say that frederick douglass embraced the idea of sacred self sovereignty. in other words, he believed that the kingdom of god was within you, and theoretically within all individuals. lincoln was much more skeptical of the potential for what i will call perfectionism. yes?
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>> [inaudible] john: i'm sorry. i didn't see you. >> obama's approach and [inaudible] the way he -- shifted politics somewhat. [inaudible] john: correct. >> is there anything equivalent to lincoln -- where did they come out? john: that's a great question. not any direct parallels. i mean, the similarities are that lincoln, like obama in the 1860 political election, was a real dark horse. lincoln didn't even enter the national political scene until the beginning of his debates with stephen douglas. the real similarity is both men's capacity for being such eloquent and elegant public speakers.
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and even critics acknowledge that of lincoln in his day, and that's true of obama. in terms of the kind of institutional, grassroots campaign that obama has successfully employed, there was some of that equivalent in illinois. but because times have changed so dramatically, it is hard to draw direct parallels there, so -- you had a question? >> i was fascinated by several things. actually two things -- actually, several things. [laughter] john: ok. good. [laughter] >> the one piece when douglass comes to washington and get to meet with lincoln, you actually -- [inaudible] john: yes.
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yes. >> i assume these are the douglass papers that are in the library of congress. john: they are. [laughter] >> [inaudible] it would be interesting to see what he did when he was a part of the military. and then my other question -- [inaudible] they didn't hunt him down, because he came back to the united states. john: right. right. two great questions. thank you. in that first meeting with lincoln, he actually, douglass goes to the white house with samuel pomeroy, who was an abolitionist senator from kansas, although he was really in the background. they first go to see edwin stanton. stanton was so taken with
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douglass' debating skills. he knew of douglass, that he promised douglass a commission as an officer, a black officer. which would allow douglass to go south and recruit blacks from the south into the union army. far more blacks in the south , which meant that his ability to recruit would increase dramatically. he then went -- the postmaster general, montgomery blair, signed a commission acknowledging that douglass is a union man, giving him a pass to go anywhere he wants. douglass tells lincoln he's just received a commission to be a union officer. douglass goes home and he ends his newspaper because he's already been promised this commission to be a black officer in the union army. he is immensely proud of this. well, the commission falls through.
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it's probably because edwin it never happens. it's probably because edwin stanton understood the symbolism behind making a commission with douglass as a union officer and outraging and alienating conservative northerners that reflected their conservatism, the comparative conservatism. douglass never really blames lincoln. but lincoln knew this failure of this commission because lincoln had to sign all the commissions. had -- and douglass thought briefly of going south anyway without the officer bars on his shoulders, the gold bars. when he decided not to go because he felt that it would be much more dangerous, and that he would be less effective at recruiting, so he continued to recruit in the north. but it was frustrating. when douglass ended the
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newspaper, it was the longest running black newspaper in the 19th century. and he had been very proud at the prospect of becoming a black officer. why was douglass not captured during and after john brown's raid? the short answer is, he almost was. when the news hit that john brown had been captured, there was a letter from frederick douglass to john brown in his knapsack. and president buchanan essentially granted all federal officers the license to capture frederick douglass wherever he was and send him for virginia for trial and almost certain death. and technically, douglass was a accomplice with john brown, because of his close friendship with him. douglass immediately got news of it, he immediately fled to canada.
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and in fact, it was from canada that he wrote a newspaper article saying, acknowledging his friendship with brown, saying that he does not oppose conspiring against the u.s. government as long as it will work because the true ideals of the government are for freedom. he then goes to england for six months. and when he returns, essentially congress has a senate investigation over john brown's raid. and they understand how politically combustible the raid is, and in order to try to prevent more sectional tensions, they essentially don't prosecute anyone. and when douglass returns, he's able, no one accuses him of being a conspirator. and then, once the civil war breaks out, increasingly, americans come to agree with frederick douglass. who said, in the wake of john brown's death, he said "john
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brown started the war that hopefully will end slavery," and increasingly, northerners came to agree with that. by 1864, john brown, who had been seen as this radical fanatic, by '64, he's mainstream. majority of northern soldiers are singing john brown's song as they go after battle. yes? >> in your estimation of the two men, at the end of the day, to what degree did the politician chasten the activist notion of the ideal, and to what degree did the activist elevate the politician's notion of the possible? john: great question. great question. i wouldn't say chasten. i think the relationship, again, is something of a dialectic.
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i think that the idealist and the politician should work together, acknowledging that they will never entirely converge. but the idealist can inspire the politician and the politician can highlight to the idealist the costs of trying to realize one's vision, or the practical problems of doing so. and douglass, i would characterize douglass as a prudent revolutionary during this time. it's one of the reasons he didn't go to harpers ferry with john brown. john brown spent two days trying to convince douglas to go with him. douglass said, no. i will die. i think you are going to die. douglass was very prudent and disciplined. while he was an idealist, he wasn't like john brown. john, i would argue reckless , a idealist. in that sense, douglass shares a lot with obama, immensely
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disciplined as individuals. >> you describe douglass and lioln as friends. i'm wondering, is there a mid-19th century ideal of friendship that you are drawing on here? john: yes. that is a great question. the characteristic of friendship , initially in western culture, through most of western culture, was that it was a likeness in a double sense. you liked the friend and you were like the friend. now there's a flaw in that basic definition for most of western culture, which is, that the friend had to be just like you. in fact aristotle, for plato, for thinkers, even for quakers for the most part rich and a , a poor could not friends. for aristotle, man and woman could not be friends because
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they were essentially different. and certainly, an ethnic, racial other end someone else could not be friends. that started to change in the united states soon after the founding of the nation because of this awareness of this friendship as a symbol of democracy. we need to think about the notion of interracial friendship. but the fact that douglas and lincoln, setting aside their racial differences, were like each other, very much in their self-making and background, they did come to like each other. i think that is significant. a second characteristic of friendship is equality that douglass and lincoln shared . the third is, at this time in the united states, two different understandings of friendship. one is spiritual friendship. the second is utilitarian friendship. utilitarian friendship is the friendship that douglass and
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lincoln achieved. that utilitarianism depends in part upon, i gain something from you, you gain something from me. which i spelled out. lincoln realized that douglass could help him preserve the union lincoln could help , douglass achieve his goals of ending slavery. spiritual friendship, the difference between spiritual friendship and utilitarian friendship is that spiritual friendship is one in which the two individuals share a common spiritual worldview and sensibility. aristotle and plato said essentially that a spiritual friend was as though two bodies united into one soul. the term that we would use today would be soulmates. and americans were very self-conscious about their use of friendship. and douglass, his
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correspondence in letters, after meeting someone, in the first series of letters with someone, he would say "respectfully yours." when he first uses the term "your friend," that's a significant moment. the whole tone of the letter has changed. in the 20th century, friendship has been much more used in the service of commodification, of commodities. so it doesn't have the same significant spiritual or political or otherwise. in the 20th century, the most common reference to friendship is through dale carnegie's "how to win friends and influence people." [laughter] friendship is used in the service of selling. there's a breakfast cereal today in the united states called "good friends," which features an interracial couple on the cover. unfortunately, i think friendship has lost some of its political, spiritual, cultural significance. yes? >> [inaudible]
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john: right. >> [inaudible]
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john: right, right. >> [inaudible] john: another great question. there is not very much material from lincoln describing his relationship with frederick douglass. i rely heavily [video clip] -- i rely heavily, though, on douglass himself. i've read all of frederick douglass's letters, and autobiographies. douglass, as an annexed slave, -- douglass, as an ex-slave and african american, he understood the significance and importance of truth telling. he had an amazing memory as well. he's even remembering incidents 10, 20 years earlier. he gets a few details wrong but the basic facts are right. so the characterization of lincoln's attitude toward douglass comes primarily from douglas. douglass had no reason to falsify or romanticize lincoln's perception of him. really. so douglass is the main source
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for my characterization of lincoln. and i want to emphasize that douglass, as i said, it wasn't till their first meeting that douglasss really started to see lincoln in ways that he felt he could really interact with. had douglass wanted to meet with lincoln in the white house before the emancipation proclamation, there is no way that lincoln would have admitted him, because it wasn't in lincoln's interest. so douglass recognized that lincoln was still very different, still a conservative, but douglass had the capacity to feel comfortable around lincoln even though they disagreed. the point you make about lincoln's other members in the administration, both in the cabinet and in congress, is also
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an excellent one, because i characterize lincoln as a conservative republican. the two front runners for the republican party, for the presidency in 1860, were much more progressive. both of them, for example believed the fugitive slave law , was unconstitutional. lincoln did not. lincoln thought it was constitutional. i argue that it was john brown's raid, with douglass' endorsement, his friendship with brown, that helped more than anything for lincoln to get elected. to see lincoln as a conservative republican who was pushed by circumstance to a place were he otherwise would not have gone is important. i lincoln himself said, events controlled me, i did not control them. i think that is important to understand, who lincoln
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fundamentally was was not a , radical. to champion universal emancipation or racial equality under the law was a radical stance. those were the two basic templates of northern abolitionists. immediate end to slavery. racial equality. lincoln, it is questionable how far lincoln ever went in terms of racial equality, given his vision of reconstruction. but he was pushed by events, and i think part of his greatness reflects that lincoln understood that. he understood that he was pushed in a certain position, that there was already a social transformation occurring in america in 1860. very few northerners believed in racial equality or equality under the law and the emancipation proclamation. by 1865, the vast majority of northerners embraced universal freedom and increasing numbers, large numbers understood the significance of giving black men the vote. and so lincoln, in a sense,
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reflects the social transformation which is a result , of the civil war. thank you very much. [applause] >> one century ago on may 31, 19 21, racial tensions in tulsa, oklahoma led to an armed mob of white men marching on the city was a predominantly african-american greenwood district. the arrest of a young black men with his interactions with a white woman in an office building triggered the unrest. under the next day, the area known as black wall street would be the scene of shooting, looting. historians now believe the toll -- death toll was as high as 3500. american history tv, and "washington journal," will be live on memorial day, may, 31st -- may 31 at 8:30 a.m. eastern
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to mark the anniversary and consequences of the days events. joining us from the tulsa oklahoma society in museum will be local author and attorney hannibal johnson. his latest book is black wall street 100, an american city grapples with its historical rasul -- racial trauma. tonight on lectures in history, james madison university professor rebecca brannon teaches about the concept of age around the time of the revolutionary war. here's a preview. >> the thing is, most of the american revolutionaries were young. even though we remember the founding fathers, certain ones of them, as old, and they were taken years after the accomplishments that they became famous for, that made this nation. think how young some of these were. these are how old they were at the time of the declaration of independence in 1776. you will notice james madison,
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who our university is named for, is basically an adult baby of 25 . he was especially frustrated in not reaching full adulthood by his society's expectations, because although he is the legal age of maturity, he still lives on his father's plantation, under his parents' thumb. he can read whatever he wants and he is widely read in ideas about government, but he is still living with his parents and he is frustrated because he cannot have an independent household. alexander hamilton is all of 21. thomas jefferson, who becomes famous for writing the declaration of independence, is 33 when he pens it. betsy ross is not so weathered hands make that flag -- betsy ross' not so weathered hands make that flag. a few of them are what we might call middle-aged, but george
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washington is not an old man when he leaves the continental army. through an eight-year war. paul revere is 41 and he rides to warn people, "the british are coming, the british are coming." patrick henry is not even 40 when he says, "give me liberty or give me death." this is not an old man's revolution. this is a young man's revolution. there's all he one old man in the bunch. benjamin franklin. the great-grandfather of the american revolution. he likes to play at his age sometimes. for a particularly important political meeting, he looks at the ornament on a chair and says, i used to wonder whether this was a rising sun or a setting sun, but now, i am
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reassured that this is the rising sun of america. so we have this vision that the american revolution is this stately process, i think, because all we look at is images of people who seem stately. but that is not who they actually were. >> watch the full program, tonight, on lectures in history, at 8:00 p.m. eastern, 5:00 p.m. pacific, on american history tv. ♪ [fireworks exploding]
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♪ >> for five weeks, we feature a first lady's symposium, hosted by the white house historical association and americans first lady's initiative. sundays at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3. next on our weekly series american artifacts. we visit the national gallery of art to learn about the shaw memorial the sculpture honors colonel robert gould shaw and the 54th, massachusetts volunteer infantry one of the civil wars first african-american units. the work specifically commemorates the july 18th 1863 storming of fort wagner in which one third of the 54th men and officers were killed or wounded. the exhibit tell it with pride seeks to shine a spotlight on the

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