tv QA CSPAN December 18, 2016 11:00pm-12:01am EST
questions from members of the house of commons. then, new york senator charles schumer calls for a select committee investigation into foreign hacking. later, outgoing secretary of the u.n. ban ki-moon holds the ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," journalist robert strauss. he talked about his book, "worst. president. ever.: james buchanan, the potus rating game, and the legacy of the least of the lesser presidents." brian: robert strauss, author of "worst. president. ever." i will ask you about that in a moment. i want to read your dedication. to my father, samuel who may be
every historical marker we ever passed, thus assuring me of a lifetime of winning trivia contests and my mother for teaching me how to laugh, especially at myself. explain the father connection. mr. strauss: well, my dad, he saw when i was little, i would pick up a sports page and read every little statistic on it, and so he bought me this book called "facts about the presidents." it is still my favorite book in a certain way. would have every last line, however long they lived to the day after their inauguration, how long their mother's list, where they came from. anyway, it came this sort of thing for me, i was the "moneyball" kid for presidents
as a little kid and they would show me off at parties. but then my father, wherever we would drive would be these historical markers, right? we would have to stop and read it, whatever it was. it sometimes he would make me read it aloud and of course i my kids the same way. so, that of course gets you to jeopardy level thin but long at the top. brian: what about mom teaching you how to laugh? mr. strauss: that is really important because i do not think you can really be successful unless you can laugh at yourself. my thought is, especially writing a book like this, you have to sort of take the opposite view. you have to take the contrarian view. say, not everybody was an amazing success, not everybody can be like washington and lincoln. the reason why i chose to do this, not why i chose buchanan but why i chose to do this, i
do think you can learn from failure. i think if the next president wants to aspire to be like somebody, probably washington or lincoln. you cannot re-create the country and you cannot have the civil war, so what do you do next, aspire to be james monroe? i do not know. what you can do is aspire not to be james buchanan. brian: what number was he? mr. strauss: he was the 15th. brian: before we go any further, where you born? mr. strauss: philadelphia. he was in lancaster. about 60 miles away. brian: where was the first time he went to his grave or his home? mr. strauss: i did a story for the "philadelphia inquirer" for what you did there at the weekend, part of the amish country. i took my daughter who was in high school, not that long ago, really. she is a senior in college now , so maybe 5 years ago. brian: you give a lot of credit
to a guy named patrick clark. there is a great quote in here about what he said about james buchanan. who is he? mr. strauss: patrick clark is the keeper of the goods. he is the guy that runs buchanan's home he bought when he was middle-aged and lived most of his life. it is a beautiful home. if you like historic homes, period furniture it is great, too. he was very helpful to me. he knew i was not writing a most favorable biography of buchanan, and what is funny about it is he sort of acknowledges that buchanan is not the greatest president of the world, but he said, you can learn from anybody. brian: what does he do, what is his job? mr. strauss: he runs the estate and buchanan's legacy. brian: who supports it? mr. strauss: i believe it is a rather foundation but it is
lancaster history. it is all tied there. addeus stevens also came from lancaster and there are other star monuments around there. brian: i want to have you tell a story of somebody. this is a non sequitur but the story was so unusual. mr. strauss: that is a great story. what is great about history, of course you interviewed many historians, is we forget it. even people were relatively interested in high school or college know that washington found at the country, jefferson the declaration of independence, lincoln freed the slaves. we forget there is years and years past and things happen, daniel pickles was a congressman from new york but when buchanan was ambassador to england, he was his right-hand man. just before they left, he was in his early 30's, married a 15-year-old woman in washington
and got her pregnant and then left to england. going to england, he took a prostitute with them, a famous prostitute. i do not know how famous prostitutes were, but he even introduced her to the court. anyway, time passes and he comes back. he has gotten various jobs in the government here, and he gets a letter from somebody saying that his wife is having an affair with philip key. it was francis scott key's son. anyway, he is also said to be the most handsome widower in washington. well, anyway, at some point he sees philip key in the park
where he lives. it was another park nearby, but he runs to lafayette park and he shoots him, kills him. right there in front of everybody, however many people were there. he runs to the house of the attorney general and surrenders. so, they locked him up. he is sort of freer than many people and he gets to meet with dignitaries in the wardens lounge in one of the dignitaries is the sitting president, james buchanan. who can imagine the president going to see somebody in jail like that, but he did. anyway, he secures his defense attorney edward stanton , eventually becomes secretary of war under lincoln.
he tries a new kind of defense called the insanity defense. he gets him off. he gets taken from the courtroom on the shoulders of his friends. he reconciles with his wife, becomes a general at gettysburg, ambassador of france and has a distinguished career. brian: he gets the medal of honor? him in the civil war. mr. strauss: right. brian: the originally went to great britain as an aid to james buchanan? at what point was see the ambassador, the minister to great britain? mr. strauss: here is the thing about buchanan. he is most common in a certain sense, qualified man to ever run for president. he was a state legislator in pennsylvania and that he was in the u.s. house, the u.s. senate, ambassador to britain an prior was ambassador under polk. he had a long career in government service. pretty unusual, and so he was
ambassador to britain and not a particularly crucial time, but he was that. brian: what have you done in your life? what was your career? mr. strauss: i went to a small school in minnesota and studied ancient philosophy, which was great preparation to become a sports writer, which is what i worked in magazines and television. at some point i decided to freelance about 20 years ago and teach writing, nonfiction writing at penn, as an adjunct, not a full-time staffer. it worked out pretty well. brian: you were teaching when he discovered a precedent had gone -- a president had gone to the university of pennsylvania. who was that?
mr. strauss: wwilliam henry harrison. i was teaching his class and i said, well, you guys are not like harvard, yale. there are no presidents from penn. this girl pipes up we have a , president from penn. i said what you talking about? , she said, harrison. i said, really? we looked it up. he had been in philadelphia a lot, even though he was originally from virginia. harrison became a soldier but his father said, know you are -- no you are not, you are going , to study medicine with my friend, benjamin rush up in pennsylvania. visual rush started the first benjaminhospital -- rush started the first american hospital. he goes up, reluctantly and start studying medicine at what was originally penn and a month or two into that, his father dies and after that he becomes a soldier.
small case of a pin president. brian: you say, and you just went through this list in the beginning of what james buchanan has done in his life, that he ran for president how many times? mr. strauss: he was a mysterious -- serious candidate for president three times. prior to becoming the actual candidate in 1856. he was always at the top echelons but the cliché of "always the bridesmaid, never the bride." there was always someone had the ear of the bureaucracy that runs the party. eventually in 1856, he is the last one left standing and the 16th ballot in cincinnati, he becomes the democratic nominee and what i would say -- the recent elections hold no candle to the 1856 election.
just transformational in a way. brian: why? mr. strauss: in 1853 we had a president from the whig party, fillmore. by 1854, it had broken apart. they lost in the 1854 election to franklin pierce and they just broke apart. they essentially became two other parties. the know nothing party, and to think we had an election that call themselves the know nothing party sort of says a lot. and the republican party, the name taken from the democratic republicans of the jefferson 's time. the know nothings, their big platform was anti-immigration, which of course sounds familiar today, except they were anti-catholic information. they thought the pope was going to come over here and, i do not know, take up a seat on capitol
street, but they were against irish and german's taking our jobs. they did not quite have a candidate, but they found one in fillmore who basically wanted back into the white house. he never learned a thing about being anti-immigration, anti-catholic or anything but he wanted to be in the white house so he succumbed to their cause, -- took up their cause, so to speak. the republican party was supposed to be northerners, was entirely northerners who do not necessarily believe slavery should be abolished but that it should not expand into territories. as you know, during the years preceding, we tripled the size of our country.
they were looking around for a candidate. the obvious one was william seward, who was a senator from new york but he says, well, this is a new party. i do not know. i will wait my time. this is not really going to work out this year. so they picked a celebrity, john fremont. he would serve as nothing more than a celebrity. basically, he was called the pathfinder. they mapped out the west. they had 45 expeditions anti--- four or five expeditions. he had married a 17-year-old belle of washington, the daughter of the longest standing senator at that point, thomas benton, democrat from missouri. she is sort of the kris kardashian to his bruce jenner. she sees something in him. she is going to make him something. she gets this journal, take some around all of his father's friends in washington and
becomes what would be today a bestseller. he is suddenly a celebrity, and republican say, we could do all right with this guy, and so he is the man to run for president for the republican party. brian: keyword that popped out to -- the word that popped out to me that you described james buchanan was obliviousness. what were you getting at? mr. strauss: you have to start somewhere when you're researching something, so i started at the library of congress to research this. you know, you must around the internet and you find a page that comes out, and letter from the candidate to lincoln, presumably the only letter she wrote to lincoln. whether it is the only one, will have to be because i love the goofiness of history. it is a letter written in october of 1861 after lincoln had been in office and the civil war had started, a lot of
fighting in northern virginia, on a particular day that the letter gets written, so maybe buchanan did not know this, one of lincoln's good friends in illinois, a senator from oregon dies in battle. the only city member of congress to die in battle. mrs. lincoln was always prone to blue periods, probably wasn't this point, but even if she was not, would be prepared for this. -- would be ill prepared for this. a war is going on. but this letter says that he forgot a few books in the white house, could he get somebody to return them? i was thinking, oh, my god, he is not even thinking. to abram lincoln. -- two abraham lincoln. this is the first thing lincoln should be worried about? brian: you talk about a party that buchanan had when he was being considered for the supreme
court? mr. strauss: yes, he was always lawful, lawful about everything. he was waffling about the -- he always waffled. waffled about everything. he was waffling about the supreme court decision but he is known as the best partier in washington. he had a great party with a celebrity chef for everybody to come over and he keeps giving little parties to supplemented. -- to supplement it. at the end, he decides he does not want to be on the supreme court, so when a certain sense he has done all of this for nothing. brian: where did he get the money to put on parties? mr. strauss: he was a good lawyer. he was a star student at dickens college. he was always a top student. he was always very sure of himself. he goes to lancaster because it was then the capital of pennsylvania, the largest city in america was 6000 people.
he becomes the best lawyer there and even when he moves to harrisburg, he decides to stay in lancaster. he defends a lot of people and makes a big buck. brian: he was generous with his niece and nephews. did he ever marry? mr. strauss: he never married. there was speculation of what he -- whether he was gay or not. this is an amazing story too and how do we not know this? he gets engaged to his friend's wife's cousin, and coleman, her father was one of the richest men in america. he was an older man and this was his youngest daughter, next youngest daughter, but he was -- he looked after her very well. did not sort of approval this relationship with the candidate,
but he let it go. at some point, buchanan comes up from philadelphia to visit his friend. his friend's wife's cousin is there, and beautiful woman. he goes up toward lancaster. and coleman accuses him of, who knows what he is accused of, breaks of the engagement, sends -- breaks off the engagement, sends a note, breaks up the engagement. he says, if i let it go for a couple of weeks, it will all blow over. in that time, she goes off with her younger sister to see her older sister in philadelphia. they get to philadelphia. she does not feel well and the other to go out to the theater. i the time they come back, she was in convulsions and dies. presumably suicide. that is the speculation that she killed herself over this relationship not working out. whether she killed herself or
not, the idea that a guy that eventually runs for president has his fiancée dining when he is young --dying when he is young, that is a big story somewhere. brian: the cover of the book shows us, why did you name this book "worst. president. ever." mr. strauss: of course, i have to bow to my editor who is the one that thought of the title. it is sort of the way young people punctuate themselves now, to have these great pauses in the way they talk. if you said, worst president ever, sometimes that is not have the resonance of "the worst" or emphatic. i wanted to talk about the weight we rate things in general in our discourse. brian: how do we? mr. strauss: polling has become
ubiquitous. people poll about everything. you do not have to watch the election to know that there was going to be a new poll out. that became the topic of the day, who was ahead, how many points, this day, that state. there are basketball polls, football polls. i point out each week on monday morning, there comes out two college basketball polls and people move up and down depending on how the teams do, win or lose, but at the end of the season there is a 68 team tournament that decides everything. they do not need the polls because in the end you are not the champion. graduating from davidson
college, so they are on the fringe, the bottom, making up 24 points in one day. i will email my wife and my kids. we are just insane about ratings. brian: let's pick five, you pick five presidents you could put on the bottom besides buchanan. mr. strauss: ok. in the book, i do try to make a case for buchanan against these people. my next to worse, and i assure you i'm not going to write a book about him, his predecessor, franklin pierce who did virtually every stupid thing that buchanan did. i should not say stupid, but bad decisions, except the civil war did not start on his watch. he was able to forestall that. just for that one thing, he rates ahead. a lot of people will pick herbert hoover, the great depression started under.
hoover made great attempts to ameliorate it. he was not successful that he was trying to do something. buchanan's great fault was he stepped back. at a time when he should have been stepping forward, he was stepping back. hoover tried to do things. he brought good people into the government. he forestall any hostilities. i realize misleading and -- mussolini and hitler were moving along. another person that people pick would be jimmy carter. i could never put him at the bottom of the list. first of all, he negotiated the almighty middle east peace settlement that exist between israel and egypt. he brought consciousness to
environmental situations. people laughed at him wearing sweaters. at least there was some sort of consciousness. he had bad economy and screwed up on iran but he had a marvelous post presidency. so, i couldn't pick him. richard nixon, it depends on what you think. if you think that having to resign in disgrace is worse than starting the civil war, i cannot argue with you. also nixon did a number of things that lasted. opening china, starting the epa. he has his good qualities, too. if i have already done five, the six president would be warren harding. one of the things about warren harding is seeking to the presidency wanting to continue do business, the good business cycle that had started and he
was able to do it. in his administration, he had in -- an illegitimate child and died in office, but still, he did what he said he was going to do which is at least something. brian: how did you decide to write this book on the worst president in your mind? mr. strauss: thinking about presidents, i parked at 5:36 in the morning on a certain street corner and it is a notorious street corner in philadelphia. i will not get into why but it is. but on the corner there is a historical society were many of buchanan's papers are. i thought, james buchanan. i have not thought all that much about him, but then i went and sort of studied the papers. they were all bad decisions. brian: who said so? mr. strauss: of course, me.
they were decisions that started the civil war, in a sense. there was a passageway -- they were sort of non-decisions in some ways. many of his papers were there. as you said, he was very conscious of its nieces and nephews and his family took charge of his papers. brian: had he written stories before? mr. strauss: as a journalist, i have written a lot of stories, but i wrote one book before, and the more about being a dad of a girl athlete, but it was not like my kids were the greatest. it was sort of funny and sentimental. a totally different kind of thing than this. brian: you say james buchanan did not profit financially?
mr. strauss: well, because he was not the wealthiest man in the america but his desire was to give parties. there is always a positive aspect to every negative guy, and, two things about him. one, and all of his papers, he never says anything bad about anybody, publicly. at least in the papers, i do not know what he said in verbal terms, but even people he did not like politically, he never said anything bad about them personally. like i said, he loved giving parties. the inaugural ball of 1857 was the greatest party in 19 century america. brian: how did you find that? mr. strauss: ok.
here is the problem. after van buren, the next several presidents had not partying aspects to them. there was still an elite party scene. dolly madison was certainly invited to every party. after van buren, harrison dies after an office, the successor john tyler, his wife dies while in office. not a lot of partying. polk comes and his wife is a presbyterian, note drinking are dancing in the white house. next president, zachary taylor dies in office. fillmore comes into office, his wife is sickly, dying soon after his term is over. there is no first lady partying going on. the most tragic of all is franklin pierce. he was said to be the half mr. president. he was sort of the john kennedy of his time.
his wife does not want him to leave new hampshire, yet he runs and wins. he has two sons who die young and many as a third son and he is sort of taking his victory lap after winning on the train, in massachusetts and his son dies in front of him and his wife. the third son dies. she wears black the whole time during the presidency and barely appears in public. we have a long time of no parties in washington. certainly the great party of james buchanan as the president gives this fantastic inaugural ball, putting up a huge tent on lafayette square. 6000 people come. it is star-spangled, big orchestra. you can imagine oysters like that.
harriet lane, his niece is the jackie kennedy of her time. everything she wears, all of the young women want to wear. they name a coast guard cutter after her. they name a coast guard cutter after her, the uss harriet lane. when she fires the first shot of the civil war from the union side, it gets captured by the confederates. she is too popular. so these two together are just -- he starts out in such a favorable way. all the dignitaries calm. it is just wonderfully written story about the pomp and everything in washington. but then the dred scott decision
comes down. brian: before we get there, why is harriet lane known as the first first lady? mr. strauss: they sort of called dolly madison that, the first lady lady, because she was so prominent in society both while she was first lady -- while she was the president's wife and afterwards, after madison's death, she was the go to person. every party, dolly had to be at. but then harriet lane is the hostess in the white house, so what are you going to call her? not the president's wife, the president's niece, but they called her the first lady. brian: he was a state representative for pennsylvania? he goes on to be a congressman
to the u.s. congress from pennsylvania. he becomes a senator from their. he becomes the minister to russia, the minister to great britain. mr. strauss: and secretary of state. brian: and then becomes president. is he at that point the most qualified person? mr. strauss: if that is what you go by, yes. if you go by the number of years at major posts, he definitely is. but here is something about him -- he never proposed any significant legislation -- or never got any significant legislation passed. he was a conciliatory man.
that is why he was probably that she was extremely good in russia. andrew jackson sent him to russia and is said to have said on his deathbed that he would have sent him further if he could. he did not particularly like him, but he was sort of the don corleone a of presidents, he micromanaged everybody. he comes to office with a long resume. he was sort of boring, he was 65 when he was elected. nobody until reagan was that old after him. the the democrats have had quite a street in the white house with the first two federalists and won 10 of the next 13 elections. brian: he was a democrat. mr. strauss: he was a democrat. pretty good, 10 of 13, if your football team is 10 of 13 you are pretty happy. become stop is that a crucial time, but it does not seem any more crucial than pierce's term or fillmore's term.
brian: the first day that he is president, what does he do? mr. strauss: he becomes president in march, as they did then, instead of january, in 1857. he sees as his mandate to solve the slavery question. it is not get rid of slavery, it is solve the question. he was a southern leaning northerner, but he lived in washington. he went back to pennsylvania, but most of the time he is in washington. his friends are southerners. more southerners than northerners took up residence in washington. the railroads got the northerners back a lot easier. so he is predisposed to think like a southerner. he wants to solve the slavery problem to keep the union together. he sees the dred scott case going around. dred scott was a slave to a
military man and misery who for a time -- a military man in missouri who for a time when to minnesota, then came back to missouri. dred scott said, i was free in minnesota, i should be free. the case goes around. it comes up that it could be on the supreme court's docket, but the chief justice -- who like buchanan went to dickinson college, they had some sort of bond -- brian: you say he did not own slaves? mr. strauss: the justice did. brian: many? mr. strauss: i don't know how many or what you call many, but he had slaves his whole life. he was francis scott key is father-in-law, so that everybody
is sort of connected. you have this discussion before buchanan takes office and say you can just have a decision that southern northerners -- the court was split five southerners and four northerners. so buchanan takes it upon himself to find a northern justice that will go along with this. he finds a guy named roberts, who coincidentally enough went to dickinson college. they have this bond once again. robert says, i will go along with whatever tony does. another northerner from new york says he will write a concurring opinion so it is essentially 7-2. now you can have a decision that
might mean something, northerners going along with southerners. the decision comes out two days after inauguration. it is said that on the inaugural platform before the oath that they discussed something. buchanan had distributed a souvenir transcript of his inaugural address. there are a few lines that were not in it and a few lines allude to the decision that everyone would be happy about it. but the dred scott decision is generally thought of as the worst decision the supreme court has ever made. there are contenders for that, too, but in any case it essentially says that every state is a slave state. dred scott cannot sue in court, he is not free, he cannot sue, in fact he is still a slave and in fact, slavery cannot be outlawed by individual states. it three institutes them -- it re-institutes the most heinous parts of the fugitive slave law and negates the compromises your member from high school -- missouri compromise, compromise of 1850 -- and essentially makes united states slave country. brian: you say there was something called the panic of 1857? mr. strauss: we have had a 20
year expansion, things going great, company -- country opening up. we had a purchase of the oregon territories, texas, other lands. the american dream is going on. you don't make it in pennsylvania, golf to ohio, illinois, missouri. railroads finance this. people speculate on different railroads. but suddenly this decision comes out, and let's say you have got a factory in cincinnati that is doing pretty well. another one in dayton. oh, maybe this guy is going to come up from kentucky with his slaves and be my competitor if i don't do anything. i stopped expanding. the country immediately stops expanding. people who are speculated on railroads -- railroads are not doing so well immediately. they go bankrupt, take a ride on the redding lichen monopoly. -- like in monopoly. other businesses fail.
within months, we are in a tremendous economic panic. all the banks in york close for a day. they decide not to take scrip. in the south, it does not affect them as much. they are an agricultural society, you can feed and close your family at the very least. you can probably sell your cotton and lima beans. but in the north, where manufacturing is big, it is really precipitous. that divides the country evermore. brian: how did it compare with our problem in this country in 2007? mr. strauss: because it was so -- the moneyed class was so much smaller and were affected so greatly so quickly. our most recent recession -- i am not belittling it -- was not like this.
it was not a dive off of a cliff, it was a slower -- things happened in a manner of course as opposed to precipitously. i will give you one example. i like to tell stories that have something to do with me. i am out looking for a 25th anniversary present for my wife. i'm trying to think of goofy things so i go to a coin store. i will get a silver dollar from when we were married. i'm waiting for my turn and i look in the case, and people who look at coins know that coins were yeay big in the 19 century. suddenly in 1857, coins are like a dime. panic of 1857, that was the canons great idea -- that was buchanan's great idea, make the
coins smaller. the rest of his ideas were, heck with you, you speculated, you deserve it. why don't you be like the people in the south who work with their hands? he does nothing to ameliorate it. he lets it play itself out and it does because he eventually -- we had a lot of munitions to make in 1961. brian: americans have a lot of the trail toward their presidents -- a lot of vitriol toward their presidents. mr. strauss: they probably don't hate their mayor or congressman. they might not agree with them. but especially as the last election shows, and i think we can only go by polls how much the two main candidates were disliked as opposed to liked. i don't think that is any different from times in the past. we tend to have -- it is because
they are the top person. whether it is jealousy or we feel they have the ultimate say over us and we can't possibly agree with everything they say, and somehow we really have, like you say, vitriol. brian: if you had to say the four or five most interesting presidents that you have studied over the years, who would they be? interesting, not successful. mr. strauss: it is funny. i did write a story for "the new york times" once on visiting sites of lesser-known presidents. i knew the buchanan book was coming, so i put him in the top three. but i found as i look at the lesser-known presidents, i was more interested in them. coolidge was an interesting character. he was the whole silent cal thing. one of the things in my
statistical book was that he had three hobbies -- pitching hay, writing a mechanical course, and throwing indian clubs. who knew? they are like bowling pins. i always found these sorts of people interesting. i badgered my wife to stop at presidential sites. we live in new jersey and we would drive up to her mother's house in michigan and on the ohio turnpike, we would pass this sign constantly for rutherford b. hayes' house. finally, we are driving out this year and i say, can we please go there? she says, 90 minutes. i've got 90 minutes to cover rutherford b. hayes. it is a beautiful old house, 30
some rooms. his father died and his uncle was rich and build this house for his mom and him. anyway, we are going through it and there are only two other people on the tour. presidential history is fine, but most people stick with monticello and mount vernon. at the end of the tour, the woman says, would you like to see hayes' bellows driven harpsichord? i say, of course. she brings it out. as you might imagine, it is driven by the bellows at the bottom. she says, would you like to play it? well, yeah, and mozart's violin, too. for me, that is wonderful. i pump this thing at the bottom and play take me out to the ballgame. brian: what other presidents would you put on the list to visit? mr. strauss: of course the great ones.
i don't care how different their politics are than yours. george bush has the same birthday as me, the younger george bush. i'm waiting for him to invite me to his birthday party. brian: same age? mr. strauss: he is five years older than me. herb griffin also had the same birthday. -- merv griffin also had the same birthday. if he were still around, we could play jeopardy together. i would like to meet all of them. i met david eisenhower, ike's grandson, who is writing books about his grandfather's time. he was a pulitzer finalist for one of them. penn alumni magazine -- he teaches at penn, david -- he calls me up and says, will you
write a story? eisenhower, he is not all that well thought of in the scheme of presidents, so he starts telling me stories about him. once he starts, i say -- and david's father, was ike's chief of staff and they eventually retired to gettysburg. david was a teenager or less than a teenager and ike would come to his little league games. can you imagine that? wouldn't you want to sit with ike and talk baseball? i said, that must be a lot of pressure. he said no, my grandfather loved to play golf. that was the one time he would allow the press to come take pictures on the tee when he would invite some general or diplomat. often there would only be two other guys, so he would say, david, come out and play. that is pressure. all the nation's eyes are on me, a 14-year-old trying to make a good drive. the more you know about these people, you know that they were substantial people.
i have always admonished people who say how dumb george bush was or something. wait a second, this is a guy who went to yale and harvard business school. you might not agree with his politics, but he is not dumb. brian: what could our new president learned by studying pat buchanan -- that to, but james buchanan? mr. strauss: i think the differentiation of good presidents and bad presidents -- washington, lincoln, fdr are always at the top of the surveys -- they were decisive men. you cannot come to the top of the ladder and not be decisive. buchanan was a waffler. james polk hated him for being a waffler as secretary of state. he always went back and forth. that is how he was as president. i could go down the list of things that make him the worst
president, and all of them have to do with not making a decision when he had to. that is what the next president, whether it is this president were succeeding presidents, should learn. at some point, you have got to say, this is the way it is going to be. people who did not like reagan don't understand the reason why people like him -- because he made decisions. whatever they were. brian: go through a couple of decisions he did not make that led to the civil war. mr. strauss: the next upcoming state is going to be kansas. kansas has a problem -- is it going to be free or slave? the slave contingent comes over from missouri, gins up a constitution that allows
slavery. so non-slave people who come to topeka, they have a similar constitutional convention -- just the opposite, of course. there were six slaves and all of kansas at the time. but the south needed another slave state, they needed somebody on their side, so they are supporting it, especially missouri. buchanan has got to say something. he has got to choose one or the other. he's got to say -- there is got to be election, something that is going to resolve this for becomes a problem. but he does not. he makes no decision. he sends several people to be governors of kansas, does not listen to any of them saying this very thing. there are not that many soldiers in united states -- about 12,000 troops. one of the things that happens in this maelstrom is people start firing at each other. john brown, who becomes more famous later, he is said to have
murdered several slaveowners and their families. now it is called bloody kansas, but still buchanan makes no decision. brown sort of gets away. it is not like he was doing things in secret. frederick douglass and other anti-slavery people, and they eventually go to harpers ferry in 1859. if you go there now, it looks like a disney version of a 19th-century village, but back then, it was a big munitions maker. industry was 40 miles down the road from washington.
brown comes their not so foolish. if you can get some of these munitions, gather people under his cause, maybe he can have the slave rebellion that he wants. for two days, buchanan does nothing. he says, i can handle it in virginia. it was part of virginia then. until this prominent scion, robert e. lee, comes home from his post in texas arlington. he goes to buchanan and says, i think we ought to do something. he says all right, take some troops. of course, lee does capture brown. they have sort of a show trial, he eventually gets hanged. by this time, he is a martyr. victor hugo is writing about him, ralph waldo emerson, walt whitman. of course, that angers both sides, exacerbating any problem because of his inaction.
brian: when the kirkland art gallery shut down in washington, they had to get rid of a lot of paintings. you say the national gallery of art refused to take the buchanan paintings. mr. strauss: here's the problem. one of the great things about harriet lane is that into her dotage she was the go to woman for every party in washington. went to her first sons died, she endowed johns hopkins children's lab -- children's research lab, which is still in her name. she has this art collection, some of which is buchanan art. she gives it to start a national gallery of art. she essentially started the national gallery of art. one of her favorite paintings was the portrait of her uncle. ironically enough, when they dispersed the art, this particular portrait of the founder's uncle who is president does not make the cut. brian: do you have any idea why?
mr. strauss: probably was not a very good painting. it went into the portrait section of a lesser gallery. brian: you dedicate the book to your father and mother. for your father, for making a roadside historical sign. is your father alive? mr. strauss: no. brian: when you think back to your dad in the early days, how old were you in the early days when you first started fooling around with history, and what do you remember an incident or two , with your father? mr. strauss: i was about five or six, but we did not travel much. he was a local lawyer in camden, new jersey. but he was still fascinated with history. i have books and books and books -- president polk's letters are all these sort of things, so they were always around. we did take one trip to the south when i was 10, 1961. we started going to civil war
sites, because it was the start of the centennial. we made it to stanton, virginia, woodrow wilson's birthplace, and we would come up to the door and there was a sign it was closed. my father walked around, and it was the day that the second mrs. wilson died. how unlucky could we be? brian: the anniversary of mrs. wilson's death? mr. strauss: no, it was the day she died. he rams it up and decides, we are going to go to charlottesville. we don't go to monticello first or where james monro lived. we go to the library at the university of virginia. he storms up the stairs. my mother waits in the lobby because she is already rolling her eyes, but i go up with him. he's got a camera and he goes up to the librarian. he says, i am from new jersey
and i'm friends with judge -- he makes up a name -- in virginia. i need to photograph thomas jefferson's will. the guy is saying no, no. my father is berating this guy, mentioning this judge in virginia, who i'm sure is apocryphal. he finally gets the guy to bring out the pages of jefferson's will and he photographs them. he frames them in three frames, because i have them in my office. i have this framed jeffersonian will in my office. that is what i want to tell, stories of history. brian: you go back to the rutherford b. hayes home and your wife says 90 minutes. you have been married how long? mr. strauss: 1989, 27 years. brian: what has her attitude been about europe session with
presidents? mr. strauss: she is sort of does not mind it, because she had a fellowship at stanford and we drove across the country. there is a hoover institution at stanford and he went there. on the way, we go through iowa. we stopped at herbert hoover's childhood farm. we run to the chicken coop and look at the cats. she finds her side enjoyments in my bizarre nature of looking at history. we have two kids, one is 25 and one is 21, both went to davidson. there is a historical marker when you go there -- woodrow wilson attended davidson for one year. brian: what your kids think of this history stuff? mr. strauss: they pretend not to be like me, but i know that the younger one especially loves the nuances of history and almost studied history, although mostly
indian history. brian: about out of time, but what are the chances i could get you to write a book on hamilton? who is your favorite character? mr. strauss: i think it has got to be harriet lane. the knees of the president i never knew about who was -- the niece of the president who is one of the most popular women in washington for half a century. she would make a good musical. brian: robert strauss is our guest. the book is called "worst. president. ever.: james buchanan, the potus rating game, and the legacy of the least of the lesser presidents." james buchanan on the cover
there. thank you very much for joining us. mr. strauss: thanks for having me. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org. there are also available as c-span podcasts. announcer: if you enjoyed this week's interview, here are some other programs you might like.
evan thomas talks about his book "being nixon, a man divided" and thomas miller on his investigation into the assassination of president william mckinley. watch any time or search our entire video library at c-span.org. >> monday night on "the communicators" >> to strike to regulations to do so. which we have a lot of regulations that can go and we will have a lot of opportunity for providers to serve consumers. >> how the sec may change under the trump administration. >> there's a lot of concern about cyber security right now, while,re has been for a and it is getting a particular amount of attention with what happened in the last few months during the campaign. does the sec have a role in the, and what is it?
>> i think it's a very important congressd one that has been aggressive on in finding the right solutions. i think agencies are as well. the sec's role is fairly limited by the statute that governs us, the communications act of 1934. well i do believe the government has a role to monitor and potentially provide additional axes in this space they aren't authorized, by the law to do. >> watch of the the communicators" every -- >> on wednesday, british prime minister theresa may talked about the uk's role in offering humanitarian aid to syrians, quality health care for the elderly, and the ongoing brexit negotiations. this is the final question time of the year. it is 45 minutes. t and he will be hearing a lot more about it in the week to