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tv   Roger Lowenstein Ways and Means  CSPAN  August 8, 2022 5:20am-6:01am EDT

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most importantly is tonight's event. we have roger lowenstein. he's read in numerous critically acclaimed books including the new york times bestseller buffett when genius failed and the end of wall street all which we do have available for sale if you want to get signed at the end of the presentation, yes, three children and lives with his wife judy sloven in cambridge, massachusetts and tenants harbor, maine, please give a round round of applause for rogers thanks so much.
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it's great to see you here. it's great to be here where i lived in the mid-1980s when this tour was across the street, but was a haven for book lovers in a town where some people prefer to go to the beach now and then and it obviously the store has thrived so it's great to see all of you here. this book is is about the civil war as you probably know and the first point i want to make is really the main point of the book about the the tremendous financial burden that lincoln and his treasury salmon chase took on to finances war. i'll talk about them later in the talk, but they had what i would call a marriage. it was a very fruitful marriage. not a very happy marriage, but they got the job done much unlike the south and one of the points of the book. is that is that by taking on this tremendous challenge when when the united states from the
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union had no financial mechanisms. no currency. no bank, no taxation system doing everything in the south failed to do was really responsible for winning the war and in many ways for the country that that the united states became and that we live in today. i also want to talk about the great unexpected developments that sometimes flow from from great wars nobody who fought the trenches in world war one thought they were going to end the monarchies across europe and create democracies, but that's what happened at the beginning of the civil war. the united states didn't really have much. government, we had a postal service. we had some cavalry we had some custom houses and what came out of the war was something much closer to the government. we have today a government that would build railroads. that would create a homestead act that we create colleges and would take on responsibility for the quality of the lives that people lived in. that the people who live there
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and the last thing i want to touch on just by way of introduction since we've been living with a war our cells the past 33 days. i saw today going on in the ukraine. are these strange residences sometimes as i've been going on tour? i think that that we've almost lept forward from the civil war to today and to putin's war in the ukraine. i'm sure you've read a lot about his efforts to use his oil and gas cartel to frighten europe into staying on the sidelines and and his um, i would call overconfidence and thinking that his control of so much energy and gas oil and gas would give him an easy victory in the ukraine. we don't know how the story is going to end but after 33 days in which he hasn't gotten close to kiev and really has an achieved any of his objectives. it's obviously going a lot harder for him than he expected. well the same thing really happened in the american south
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in the 1850s the the oil and gas of the 1850s was cotton cotton was the big industry the first industry the industrial revolution and the american south produced three quarters of it around the world and they thought that because they had this cotton cartel this agulopoly. would touch them in fact a famous senator james hammond of south carolina went into the us senate and said cotton is king. no one dares lay a hand on us and when the south secede beginning with south carolina, the people were dancing in the street. they thought that that was the end of the story they would they were dependent now they wouldn't have to worry about anything else as one of those charlotte citizen charleston citizens said later war was far into the original plan another native of south carolina. i guess one of the realists commented at the time that his state was too small for republic but too large for an insane asylum, even when the war
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started the secretary of war leroy walker sold people not to worry if any blood was shed. he would wipe it clean with his handkerchief. that's how overconfident the south was. even then judah benjamin the attorney general proposed that the south ship a lot of its cotton to england. this is when the sea lanes were still open to finance. what could be a long war and everyone else in jefferson davis is cabinets. that would be necessary there would be no long award. in fact, they hit on a counter strategy, which was they decided to withhold their own cotton. this was the only source of their hard currency of their exchange which they needed to buy ammunition and other very necessary goods the strategy was they withhold it from england and france and that would make the british the french so desperate that they would intervene and stop the war and the south would live happily ever after as an independent
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nation exactly. how the british and french would end the war a notion away if they even chose to they didn't plan out. it was obviously a colossal miscalculation and i think it grew from the kind of seclusion and isolation, which are autocracies and cartels can develop we've seen that in russia also that we've read about how putin meets with fewer and fewer of advisors over the year over the years and even over the months and weeks. he's developed a theory about the west that were weak were subject to all of the tensions and efficiencies of democracy. i think it's it's fair to say that he's overplayed his hand the south had similar ideas. they believe that they had hit on the best labor system a labor system without conflict that was of course slavery because the north had all sorts of conflicts between labor and management and
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that they had nothing to worry about at the at the time of secession the governor of georgia made a very interesting comment the the south i should say that the south also misunderstood democracy, although they were democratic informed the confederacy. there was nothing popular or democratic about secession the purpose of secession was to preserve the institution of slavery three quarters of the white people in the south didn't own any slaves only 5% of southerners own a significant number of slaves. so most of the people in the south had no economic interest in the purpose of the confederacy. they didn't put secession to a popular vote. they knew it couldn't win at the time the secession the governor of georgia a man named joseph brown made a very interesting
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comment. said slavery is the poor man's. government slavery is the poor man's best government. so at the time lincoln and the republicans were proposing all sorts of things for the north for the union united states schools and railroads and a new a better financial system in georgia and the rest the south they did want that what they were promising the south where there were promising poor whites in the south with one thing and only one thing that they would be one rung above the lowest cast obviously the black slaves. they didn't want a government that modernized that helped industry that help poor people rise up. they didn't want any of it and really didn't want any of it for two reasons. one of them was exactly what you'd expect. they didn't want to encourage anything that there would be emancipation as far back as the 1830s north carolina politician said we don't want a government that can build canals. he said because the government
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that can build canals can more easily emancipate so they didn't want the strong. federal government, but there was another reason perhaps even more interesting and just as telling why they the south did want a strong federal government because the strong government would give hopes of rising expectations to the great mass of white southerners who were poor themselves in the early is the 1660s the governor of virginia said, i think god i think god he said that virginia has no free public schools. can you hear? okay, okay. i think god he said that virginia has no free public schools the aristocracy who control the confederacy the wealthy planters couldn't afford things like free public schools. they could afford them, but they couldn't afford to have them they couldn't afford to raise the hopes of poor whites.
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this was just the absolute counter philosophy of abraham lincoln. abraham lincoln obviously he grew up poor and for all of his life the most consistent philosophy. he had was an economic philosophy and it was it was the idea that governments was based was about helping those on the bottom rise up. he even took time in his very first address to congress in july 4th, 1861. it called it together to raise a special session to raise men in arms for the war, but he took time out from that emergency to say to remind people of why the north was fighting. he said the leading object of government the leading object of government is to elevate the condition of men and throughout his career in illinois before that. this was lincoln's theme lincoln was always against slavery.
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he had a visceral and moral objection to slavery but slavery was not the main issue in the first couple of decades of rear the 1830s and 1840s. all the issues were economic and they really flowed from lincoln's own background. he wrote a campaign biography his candidates for president due today. he talked about how hard it was living in frontier, kentucky and indiana and illinois where there were no roads or just the worst muddy roads, and there was no credit and businesses failed including one that that he worked for when it was cheaper to ship goods from england to the east coast and his issues were all economic issues a tariff to help american industry a national bank to provide credit so that ordinary people would be able to do business as lincoln had and not fail perhaps and really most importantly
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roads transportation was just this is the buildback better of their day and if you lived in the on the frontier back then to be able to get goods to market really spell the difference between having a chance to improve in life and and and even even in the slavery issue lincoln took an economic tack you couldn't in in the state of illinois. i know we have some illinoisans or native illinoisans in the audience here. you couldn't if you wanted a political future in illinois advocate for social equality among the races and and their famous lincoln douglas debates in 1858. douglas tried to bait lincoln as a -- lover only used a much less kind word a much less kind expression in that which i won't use tonight lincoln didn't take the bait. he didn't argue for a quality of the races or even an equal
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voting franchise without leave of anybody else. the black man is the equal of judge douglas and myself and of every living man and he said it again when he ran for president two years later in new haven he talking about the right of people to rise and then he added pointedly and i believe the black man is entitled to it his his program for black americans was really a smaller version of his program for all americans, which was he believed in opportunity. he the great great. pleasure or pride rather in being self-made talked about it a lot. he said he respected no man more than than one who has risen himself up. but unlike with with many people this didn't become a sort of a mean narrow philosophy of laissez-faire lincoln also
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talked about the importance of using government to help others rise up maybe others who hadn't have the opportunities even narrow opportunities that lincoln had when he became president he faces in his words a great rebellion and a bankrupt treasury. no one ever faced the economic challenges that lincoln did not even franklin roosevelt because the although we were in a depression when franklin roosevelt took over roosevelt had a federal reserve, we had a uniform tax system the day after inauguration in march 5th lincoln offers chase the job chases. well, he's going to have to think about it not so fast lincoln sense his name up. he doesn't have a time for that jason begins to give link a little pinpricks the battle of bull run is one of the early battles that goes terribly chase sends letters around his friends saying this was not a military
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failure was administration failure, you know, it's true sticking the needle to lincoln someone writes a very negative article about to be the way the north is pursuing. the war chase has the thoughtfulness to put it in envelope and mail it to lincoln himself so he can see what he's being thought of he begins to conspires not too strong a word to conspire with generals asking them if they agree with lincoln strategy and so on lincoln tolerates this because he needs chase's acumen. he's terribly bright and very hard worker and extremely dedicated to the cause but chase really puts them through a lot and any time he doesn't get his way. he acts like a spoiled child and resigned it was one moment at which he sells some bonds for the government. he writes lincoln a note saying i'm sure you'll be gratified to know. what a great job i did and and
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what a low interest rate. i got no word of lincoln's gratification arrives. so chase probably resigns lincoln has to walk over humbling himself. he puts a long arm around chase and with the other arm get some resignation letter back and says chase here is a paper with which i want nothing to do always very grammatical take it back and be reasonable. he's always having to mollify chase and soothe his heard feelings as though almost lincoln where the supplicant and chase for the balls, which of course is exactly the relationship to chase would've wished that the the man had in fact as as the world went on chase begins the plot a campaign against lincoln. lincoln's wife. mary says you've got to get rid of this guy, but lincoln tolerates him precisely because he's so necessary in the beginning of the war. chase goes to the only source he has for financing which the
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private banks so today when we think of bank financing we think of large institutions with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of millions of investors back then when you borrowed from a bank you borrowed from its president and a few closely held partners of the bank president bank chairman, and that's what chase did he demanded? they lend them all their gold. they were very reluctant. they preferred to lend them their notes banks the currency of the country then was one currency, but every banquet issue iou use and these ious with circulate some were good some were not so good chase didn't want these i use he wanted gold. and he convinced the banks to lend him 50 million in gold coin and at the end of that they had a celebratory dinner. the banks were tapped out and the rest of the war is really the story of how we got it by the january 1 of 1862 the second year the war. there was no more gold in the
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banks. the banks had shut the goal window and the north has to do the next specs thing. this is chasing the congress which is the issued something called legal tender paper greenbacks. this was just pieces of paper that were deemed to be the redeem to be money. this is a shocking thing back then people thought that only gold and silver coins could be money actually was immoral to declare anything else money. it was it was this honest to pass off. it was like crypto coin or something and but they had no choice and they issued 150 million. they were warned but you know, it's become habit forming. what are the senators said that the remedy of the republic should not be daily bread, but chase is very careful. he didn't limit himself only to paper currency. he in the congress did something else they created a tax system
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when i say created tax system. we had had none they created a tax system that went into every business every home throughout the union states, but congress and form the constitution precisely to remedy this defect of a lack of financial means the federal government. we're going to have federal officers go into homes and businesses the tax system enabled the government to do something else which was to borrow and to borrow at a scale never done before chase and the financier called jay cook organize the first grade bond drives the first really investment banking syndicates, but they were public they went to every city. they even went to concord southern territories and sold billions of dollars. just fabulous sums for those days in union bond. were the predecessors of the great liberty war drives or world war one and so on in? world war two and the final fourth step and they did all this while they were fighting a
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war was to create a permanent banking system that would last beyond the war not these individual notes from each bank some of them good some of them not so good but a national banking system so that there would be one currency that every banquet issue and it would be backed by a secure assets and and this survived well after the war and really allowed the united states to to become a nation an industrial financial nation of the first rank, so that by world war one we became the not the borrower from from europe, but the lender to the develop world industrialized world, but the the great changes the lincoln government affected didn't stop they weren't merely financial. they passed the homestead act, which was just a very farsighted piece of redistribution, which said that anybody who farms 160
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acres after five years. we'll take possession to the land. it's open to anybody. this is actually an idea of thomas jefferson the southerner back in the 1770s before the revolution in the virginia continental congress. it never got off the ground. they built the transcontinental railroad. it's just a tremendous. project that had been proposed and talked about for many years, but because there were democrats in the congress wouldn't vote for it never happened. i stress transportation and in a country that was as large as we are today 3,000 miles from coast to coast but without the communications obviously without jet planes or reveals or any of that. this was just a monumental work linking the congress that other things they passed the first immigration bill lincoln was very concerned that the economic strength of the country continue to grow even during the war. he wanted immigrants to come. and to fill in the places of
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soldiers and by the third and fourth year hundreds of thousands that were coming every year to the north. he created the government function the national parks the the antecedents of the national park system the same with the national science foundation and one the most remarkable bills. the moral land-grant college act which created colleges basically. nobody went to college in the 1860s intellectuals. didn't go to college mark twain didn't go to college while wibbon didn't go to college fewer than one quarter of one percent of americans were in college, but the republicans who had this ethos that the that the government should help to create opportunity for the common man believe that it should finance colleges not to teach a greek in latin and so on but what they call the practical arts and these colleges we're set up during the civil war i went to cornell were moral the namesake on that bill morrill hall still
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stands on on the cornell art squad and one more landmark development of the lincoln government with the agriculture department now that may not sound so exciting today. it sounds so to bureaucratic, but it was the first department that had a hand in private industry agriculture being the biggest industry. back then it was one of lincoln's favorite. he thought he called it the people's department. he thought it would have an intimate connection to individual farmers. the idea was the agriculture department was going to distribute seeds and agricultural know-how the latest techniques and so on particularly people on the frontier people in the east lived closer together closer to cities they were more likely to have read the most recent farm journals and all of that but not so people in nebraska where illinois even kentucky jefferson davis was born in kentucky about a hundred miles from lincoln one year before also in a log cabin,
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but the davises took a different route, they moved down south. they became cotton farmers jefferson. davis's brother gave him a large cotton plantation when the idea of the agriculture department came up for the first time, which is before the war davis. senator for mississippi and he said agriculture needs no teaching by congress agriculture needs no teaching by congress and it didn't not if your brother gave you gave you a plantation it did it was only for other people and i i think this this contrast really shows you better than anything that the contrast between the the government philosophies north and and south in the union. there was a belief that the federal government should play a much larger hand than it ever had before they wanted to create
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opportunity for people on the bottom. they wanted to create education. they wanted to create transportation. they wanted to attract immigrants they believed in growth. we can see at a distance that they were future-oriented all the things they were doing sound like things that came into full bloom later as the country further industrialized. they wanted to remain agricultural they refused any sort of robust tax system or financial modernization we can get in the q&a into some of the particulars but one of the huge differences in the results was inflation in the north inflation was the same as it was in world war one or world war two really remarkable given given the lack of experience and financial equipment that the that the north had in the south a barrel of flour being the war was five
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dollars and fifty cents by these third year the war. it was about 38 dollars seven times. so we're living an happily sort of with eight percent inflation today by then. it was seven times by the fourth year of the war was up to 220 dollars a barrel. maybe someone here can do the math and by the end of the war was the thousand dollars 9,000 percent inflation. overall the south wouldn't touch any sort of financial modernization much to jefferson davis agreement. the only currency there was respected in the south was the federal greenback which which they passed the law forbidding. so there's a deal in it, but the individual farmers there were too knew a good bill when they saw one and they much preferred the forbidden northern note to the southern one. and of course the south was built on this completely antiquated as well as immoral
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system of slave labor. the south is one newspaper editor in mississippi said when he was asked about why the south industrialized he said we don't want it. we like our slave labor. we want to remain sedentary and in the past and the thesis of the book, is that as much as whatever advantage or disadvantages the north might have had with its generals and a superior numbers of troops in the battlefields. the difference is in its governing philosophies and civilizations and in its dreary financial innovation, really determine the outcome. thank you very much. take questions. yep, so so if if the purpose is that the north one because you know more so because they're financial planning didn't at some point the south look at that and say well maybe they're on to something and we're losing
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this war and maybe we want to adopt or they were just too they were pretty aware of it people began to say there's a quote in the book from one southern leader. there's several but just one who said toward the end of the war we want whipped on the battlefield the yankees whipped us in the treasury department and some of the they were both sides are very where was going on. so when a when the north was legislating some financial act this is reported on richmond in atlanta and the south again to say we could use a salmon chase the chase chase treasure secretary when the last such southern port was closed down and they realize there at that point they were just you know done for somebody actually said one of the newspapers to develop machinery. our own now. i mean it was way. yeah, they was really done, but they they did kind of realize they passed they passed laws for taxes, but they were unwilling to pass large taxes because the planners controlled everything and and they had the money and
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when they did they insisted the collection be as i said before by the states and the states refused to collect it was just you know, they could get the they just couldn't see their way to federalizing and they had a very interesting debate towards the in the fourth third and fourth year of the war, which was should they free the slaves and enlist them and that of course one southern leader said well gee if slaves will make good soldiers this violates our whole philosophy of slavery. yeah, what do you know, but by this the north had upwards of 170,000 black troops fighting but so the top did raise these questions, but obviously never got there. yes, i have two questions. yeah, the first quick one is i learned so much from the book. so it's it's amazing. thank you dessert. is it not a coincidence then that the great legacy universities like the ivy league or in respect to this ethos was
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a little different in that in the south a university's existed. it was thought to provide a sheen of refinement to young people already a privilege now that wasn't so different in the north, you know there want too many scholarship cases at harvard, but but there was more of that and the man who and then idea of free education began in the north more to high school. most people in the north in the united states hadn't even going to high school then fatty stevens the pennsylvania representative champion free public schools in the 1830s at intermediate level secondary level and this was rare for its time. then it certainly came to the north. first and he had a great difficulty even passing this in in pennsylvania. he said at the time he said it's easier to improve the breed of hogs and the breed of men. he was had such trouble getting it passed but it it it there was more of a middle class in the
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north. yeah, and and so yes, the ethos came more but the south had universities they just weren't as open to. to people who aren't plantation owners they've i'm struck by the fact that the war in the so long-lasting and so bloody given all the structural advantages that the north had. and something else that you mentioned a moment ago that somebody said that we were fighting for a way of life. and they were fighting to defend their own home, and i'm wondering what financial advantage. or military advantage per se the south had a i call the book a custody determination on the battlefield. they you know, they fought with astonishing and almost alarming bravery as late as 1864 this summer grant was absolutely stuck in the mud in petersburg, virginia and lincoln was being told by all of his advisors. he couldn't win the election if
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you lost the election mclellan was going to sue for peace which would mean two countries and probably slavery continuing the south or who knows how long the south i think to get your question about purposes. it was driven by the fear that the republicans would end slavery. although the republicans were not about that. there was no they were not abolitionists. there was no mechanism be abolicious. no one thought the constitution allowed you to end slavery in the states for existed. i think the longer the war went on the more the south is just fighting for their own way of life what they perceived to be their own nation that they were losing their slaves. even you know with the emances of proclamation great numbers began to self emancipate fleeing to the north as the union army conquered southern territories with the emancipation revelation. they were free but the south
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even recognizing as many did that slavery one way or the other they they hated them they hated the black card republicans. they called them they wanted no part of northern republicans and the the north aims evolved almost. other direction when the north went to war there was no thought of emancipation it wasn't about that lincoln said that the congress voted in july of 1861 three four months into the war a referendum affirming. we were not fighting to change as they put it any southern domestic institution or some euphemism like that, but the war the more the war went on the more lincoln and others felt it had to have a more a greater purpose in the second year the war a southerner wrote to lincoln and said that he thought lincoln could achieve a reunion at the end of the war then on the basis of reuniting the states as they were meeting with slavery intact thinking a very
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irritated. he said broken eggs cannot be mended. he said we're tired of being one side the risk all and the other nothing meaning you guys are gonna have something on the line too, and that could only be slavery and obviously the next year when he put forth the emancipation proclamation that became explicit as lincoln was probably or considering laying out. what would be the proclamation illinois redid its state constitution and it had a referendum on whether or not black should be able to vote it was defeated seven to one seven to one. in fact, there was another referendum they vote on whether black should be able to move in. there was some blacks there. not many and that was defeated more than two to one. so and the the great worry for lincoln the emancipation proclamation is this it would turn off great legions of voters in the north and it did the republicans lost a lot of seats. the proclamation was announced in september of 62 in the
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elections in october. they lost a lot of seats and actually lost their majority and when chamber so what whites were nervous at blacks would come come north take their jobs all of that. so no embracing recruiting but no racing accident almost going back to this slave environment and fighting a wolf of the north who really wants them to be there, but it was giving them, you know more more people. i think the blacks new was better in the north and and frederick douglass said when lincoln was a gradualist he frustrated abolitionist who wanted him to move faster on slavery and frederick douglass at one point, a blind man can see where his heart is. we'll take one more okay, and ask if you could talk a little bit about lincoln's evolution, but for quite a while lincoln was supposed to slavery without exactly making room for the people who had been slaves or were expressing. welcome to them frederick douglas with paul by this so are
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other blacks the lincoln invited the first delegation of african americans the white house in august of 1862. he asked them to to rally their communities a free blacks to leave the country. they said mr. president, we're americans where we're going. hey, we're gonna have to get used to us now. it's it's been argued that that lincoln was trying to temper the negative reaction that he expected the emancipation proclamation. he may have just felt that there was such such terrible racism that the communities couldn't live together. he said to that same group of blacks. no community has ever suffered worse harm than my people. he spoke of whites as my people not americans and my people has it on you. nonetheless frederick douglass said despite all the ways in which they or the policies in which they have lincoln said he disagreed with he said he was the first great man as he put it who never may be conscious of the difference of race. without i think we're going to open to some signings if anyone
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would like to get a book. thank you for coming.
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i'm wendy nalani ek moto senior curator of american art at the new york historical society and it is my pleasure to welcome you to tonight's curator confidential i am eager to speak with you about our current exhibition monuments commemoration and controversy. but before we begin i would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our trustees our chairman's council and all of our members and other


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