tv Alexander Hamilton Myths CSPAN February 12, 2017 8:54pm-9:51pm EST
and technology on her priorities for the subcommittee and how she expects communications and tech issues will change this year without republican administration and republican led fcc. representative blackburn is interviewed by a reporter from communications daily. >> what i view as having been on an opportunity to get communities who do not have broadband. not able to go in and extend educational opportunity for their students. they are not able to utilize technology medicine and health care information. they are not able to use new factories that can bring jobs to underserved areas. >> watch the communicators, monday night at 8:00 he spent two. -- c-span to.
>> how accurate are the historical accounts written about our founding fathers? up next week here from the altar of " alexander hamilton and the persistence of myth." the author sets out to examine the founders legacy and the month -- d baum the myths. he also highlights the musical "hamilton." this is just under an hour. >> good afternoon. to the methodist church. i'm the pastor of this congregation.
we welcome you to this exciting event sponsored by the alexander hamilton awareness society. an important event in their organization and unimportant event for our congregation. we are the oldest death congregation in the united states. we are celebrating our 250th year. in many ways it is fair to say that this congregation grew up with this country. it seems that our presence in american history have defined this congregation's history as well. when we consider the legacy, influence, and importance of what we can learn from the founding fathers of this country, i think that lends to my experience here today. i look for those themes. i look for the ways in which the threads and influences of this church and the way in which those things are impacted by the likes of alexander hamilton. whatever it is that brings you
here, whenever you hope to learn, whatever questions you bring, whatever insights you hope to gain, i hope that you you them -- i trust that will. i look forward to spending time with you this afternoon. [applause] >> good afternoon. president of the alexander hamilton awareness society. it is more familiarly known as the aha society. we just celebrated our fifth anniversary. thank you to the cognition of john street methodist church for event. this it is part of happy birthday hamilton 2017. we invite you to join us tomorrow for the wreath laying ceremony at hamilton is -- hamilton's grade. it will include the coast
guard's and officials. the first eight years of his life in davis and the second eight years in st. croix. it will be a nice event. knowld like to let you that the premier will be there as well. will be there as well. we look forward to have you there. presidentb white, the of the alexander hamilton society of st. croix. yes some special things that he is brought from alexander hamilton mother's grave. he will share that tomorrow. that will be a nice addition. our congratulations to the john street methodist church for the
250th year. this building is the third building which is seeing its anniversary.5th do you know what is right behind this wall? -- making lane. that is where thomas jefferson lived. that is where jefferson, madison, and hamilton got together to work out the nation's debts and where the permanent capital of the united states should be. musicalstarted in the where it said, i want to be in the room where it happened. it happened right through this wall. just 10 days from now, two years 2015, the show
debut. hamilton," un-american >> people are looking into his background with a positive spirit. been considered a less significant founder in the mind of the public? his characterization a convenient dylan -- dylan -- villian? many readers of the new hamilton musical go in and read this characterization and it is very confusing. hamiltont authors on would previously rely on other accomplished writers that ended up propagating a lot of mischaracterization. that is why hamilton was not so
well known and revered before the look he is getting now. our speaker today hasn't done the actual hard work of getting past the books and getting to the primary sources. he has written a monumental book, "alexander hamilton and the persistence of myth." biographies,e of if not the, is one of the most important books on alexander hamilton. ofphen knott is a professor national security affairs at the united dates enable or college and served as cochair of the university of virginia's court oralrld history program -- history program. phd from boston college and has taught at the university of virginia. he is the author of the book we
"ve just mentioned as well as covered secrets and sanctions." knott recently co-authored a book entitled "washington and " and if you will prepare concise questions, that will help for after the talk. help me in welcoming stephen knott. >> thank you. thank you all. thank you very much. i appreciate you coming out on this cold winters today. i particularly want to thank nicole and everyone involved with the alexander hamilton awareness society. you guys do terrific work in terms of keeping hamilton's legacy alive for your statuses -- for your fellow citizens.
i also want to thank the john's street methodist church for providing such a nice venue for our talk today. when i wrote "alexander hamilton and the persistence of myth," well over 15 years ago, that hamilton would be restored to his rightful place as a founding bother but would also become a broadway celebrity, i never dreamed in my wildest imagination that that would happen when i was writing this book back in 1998 and 1999. let me start by noting that i believe alexander hamilton was of the politics of personal destruction. thomas jefferson, james madison, james monroe and other lieutenants made it their life's work in the 1790's and even after hamilton's death to
besmirch his reputation and part of the reason for this was their objection on policy grounds to the federalist presidency of george washington. it was simply easier -- it was more politically palatable to attack alexander hamilton than it was to attack george washington the father of the country. so washington for the most part got off. the washington presidency was off-limits to the kind of personal and political attacks directed against alexander hamilton during his life. even after the duel, even after the death of hamilton at the hands of aaron burr, jefferson and his lieutenants understood the damage that a debt hamilton dead do in terms -- that a hamilton to do in terms of presenting a threat to the jeffersonian agenda.
a chain of correspondence goes between madison and monroe and snowquester -- noah webster and other jeffersonians expressing concern that the emotional reaction of hamilton's death and the damage it might do to the jeffersonian agenda. gaveton's death in 1804 ton adams some 22 years change the historical record. to spendthat time historical records in a direction favorable to the jeffersonians. outlives outfitter hamilton by 32 years and as we know he actually goes back and doctors some of the notes that
he took from the constitutional convention to make hamilton look bad in a sense. to be littleire and besmirch hamilton's reputation continues apace throughout the democratic party. in the 19 century, andrew jackson believed that hamilton was the tribune of the moneyed aristocracy and jackson comes to see the bank of the united as as and nicholas biddle personification of all that was wrong without xander hammel -- alexander hamilton. jefferson plays the class card to the hilt and hamilton is a key figure in terms of appealing to populist sensibilities in terms of generating animus towards the bank of the united states.
during the american civil war, he briefly see a kind of resurrection of hamilton's reputation. his anti-slavery stance, his strong nationalism appeals to many in the north in the new and especiallyy future presidents such as james garfield, rutherford b. hayes, regiment harrison and others all revered out of vendor hamilton as the father of the american union and perhaps the greatest of the founders to george washington. free0th century, variably hamiltonriefly, retains his status as an impressive founder at least for those who consider themselves regressive. i'm thinking particularly of teddy roosevelt, henry cap and mostly in the republican party these are people who revere alexander hamilton.
he is not particularly well-liked in the populist wing of the democratic party. william jennings bryan sees him as the founding plutocrat. 's reputation in the 20th century begins to decline nearly rapidly. while he is revered by presidents such as warren harding and calvin coolidge, those it to presidents are not a revered to make him figure in the academic circles. st is heartening -- harding' secretary of the treasury who erects the statute we see to this day on the grounds of the 1923 but wheny of the great crash comes ssa in my book, alexander hamilton might well have been the chair of the republican national committee in terms of his reputation in the media.
because he was so warmly embraced by harding and coolidge and mellon come of that perception of wall street -- you begin to see a radical decline in hamilton's reputation in the late-20's and the new deal year. it is franklin roosevelt more who any other president elevates thomas jefferson into the pantheon of american greats. it is roosevelt who erects the jefferson memorial. a beautiful memorial in washington dc and in so doing there is an iron law and oriograpy, one falls another rises and jefferson comes into his on in the american mind in the 1940's.
the only book review that franklin roosevelt ever wrote was of a book called "jefferson and hamilton and the struggle for democracy in america." and if i can be blunt, this is a that took the nation somewhat by storm and fdr found this book to be brilliant in his review in "the new york world." it was a glowing review. if you look at this book, hamilton is for trade as a dictator or a budding dictator. he repeatedly uses the term dictatorial when characterizing hamilton and he says hamilton considered himself to be quote part of the right of military masters end quote. fascist was a budding
during the era and this resonated with millions of jefferson'sncluding most famous biographer who says that the work is a brilliant to getnd inspired him into the business of writing biographies. his famous six volume biography of tom's everson. it is fdr that directs the jefferson memorial in the -- washington dc and even has a hand in the quote that adorns the wall of the jefferson memorial. it is franklin roosevelt who invites a staff sergeant in the united states army by the name of sidney kingsley who rides the most successful broadway play of 1943 "the patriot." in this play, and it was the
hamilton of its day -- hamilton the musical of its day. if you go back in read the script, you can see why fdr loved it. you have a cigar chomping fdr -- alexander hamilton referring to the american people as a drunken swine. all the while eliza hamilton sits beside him in a sort of marie often it output best outfit popping bonbons and expecting the approval of her husband's content for the american people. it is really the on belief. fdr invited to stage a command performance in washington dc. general george marshall is in attendance and all of washington to society -- washington society attends the play and kingsley is
ofited to the dedication -- the jefferson memorial. i say this in my book and i don't think this is a overstatement. by the time of the second world war, alexander and in many quarters is seen as a joseph goebbels in a white coat and reaches. maybe a bit of an overstatement that not by much. "fortune magazine" have to write a quote in which they say if hamilton were alive today, we think he would fight the nazis. inngs to do begin to change the late 20th century in terms of hamilton's reputation these of the jefferson. that is partly due in good measure to the back to that civil rights and the whole african-american area becomes of the scholarly and political agenda of the
1960's. also due to the fact that hamilton was the lone immigrant amongst the key founding fathers. that also begins to play in a sense to hamilton's flavor -- worksand you see this in -- eventually working its way --o lynn marie alamance of the musical. to thishs still persist day regarding alexander hamilton and i believe these myths persist partly due to the ideological agenda of various scholars and writers. for instance, i go to great lengths in "the persistence of myth" to chip away at this idea that alexander hamilton referred to the american people this way.
this goes back to a book written in 1889 "history of the jefferson administration" and pull is the first one to this quote hamilton allegedly said at a dinner party around 1800 that the people are a great beast. memoirulls this out of a of an secure jurist in massachusetts. the point i'm getting at here is the quote was allegedly uttered in 1800. source a told source of the who told source c who then published a book 60 years later with that quote. no scholar worth his salt should cite that quote.
it is a fourth hand account published 60 years after the fact by a person who despise hamilton, close friends of the adams family. this quote has taken on a life of its own and scholars who should know better continue to cite it. some will say something to the effect of you may have not vetted but down like him and that in my view is very professionally your response -- professionally your responsible irresponsible. the idea that alexander hamilton was an opponent or a foe of liberty. this was another mid-first propagated by the jeffersonians and by jefferson himself.
jefferson is the source of the quote that alexander hamilton believed that julius caesar was the greatest man who ever lived. jefferson reports this 20 years after the fact in 1811, long after alexander hamilton is a dead and not in a position to refute it. i would urge you to look at the work of a historian who has done a great job in terms of dismissing that quote as fiction. again these things have taken on a life of their own. i have to jefferson credit. jefferson and his lieutenants. they were masterful in terms of spending the historical record. they're spinning process to this to -- percent -- persists this day are very myths
resilient. another myth is hamilton was only concerned with the well-being of the rich and the wellborn and bankers in particular. it was true that hamilton was not a friend of breast of the of precipitated or a democracy. he wanted as many elements of stability and purpose as he could possibly infuse into the system. he did propose a president elected for life and a senate elected for life but i believe hamilton himself even made this case, what he was trying to do with the constitutional convention was pulled his fellow delegates as far in the direction of permanence and stability as he could. he staked out what seemed a
more extreme position and made the nationalist positions seem more palatable and acceptable. others charged that he faced in his -- other charges he faced in his lifetime was that he was a monarchist and others that pushed this line with site that hamilton june where makes the case of a president elected for life. you if aave it to president elected for life who could be impeached -- i want you to consider the possibility that hamilton is trying to push the position as far as possible in the direction of stability. accusing someone in the 1790's
of being a monarchist was the equivalent of calling someone a communist in the 1960's. it was not an attempt to engage in any sort of debate, it was an attempt to end the debate, to destroy your deponent -- your opponent. that was what jefferson and his lieutenants attempted to do in the 1790's. as jefferson would put it, he wants to sink the federalist into an abyss from which they would never emerge. are those that portray him as a people hating founder, they will focus in on the rebellion. this was an ongoing series of protests in western pennsylvania of whiskey distillers. hamilton and washington for a
time lead a force of 12-14,000 men to suppress this rebellion. you will frequently find and there are a number of books out there where the whiskey rebels are per trade very sympathetically. these are grassroots folks merely trying to stand up or s and embrace the spirit of 1776. but if you look at it from president washington's position and secretary of the treasury position, this was one of the first test of the new look,ment in terms of -- this government is 4-5 years old, there is a real question of whether is going to survive. to law override the armed resistance of a minority. it was a question of should the majority government. hamilton made repeated
concessions to the whiskey gotls and in return he only escalating violence. threats to burn pittsburgh to the ground. harassment, violent harassment of hamilton's revenue. one guy was kept locked up for three days and they promised him his freedom only in return for grinding his nose off on a grind them -- grind stone. this was violent and have the potential to spiral out of control and it was president washington who made the decision down the whiskey down the whiskey rebellion. washington referred to that as the army of the constitution. for hamilton and washington, this was a test. the first test of the american constitution and was law going to prevail in the united states or the use of force?
another myth that still percolates out there and he saw it in the book on john adams. this notion that hamilton was attempting to use the quote i i-warwith france as -- quas with france to -- that somehow uazi-army that hamilton led -- that this force was going to be used to march into the south and to deploy the bayonet and destroy jefferson and his party. this of course leads a jefferson to write the initial draft of resolution. makes a clear statement in favor secession.ion --
this is overstated by a lot of hamilton's critics. phase and adam strikes a deal, hamilton is in command of that army. what does he do? he disbands it. a real napoleon would have taken advantage of that situation to enact his dastardly scheme. he disbands the army in his usual professional fashion. i think there is a tendency even azi-war with france to look at hamilton in the worst possible light. what you increasingly seen the story do is refer to hamilton's letter that he wrote when he was 14 years old or so in which he says i wish there were a war.
boys that wayge -- think that way. they had dreams of military glory to get them out of their groveling situation. frequently you see with that , thati wish there was war has been pulled up had evidence of hamilton's warmongering dictatorial street. with no reference it was written by a young teenager. -- myth, thiste idea that martha washington ndy tomkat alexander meilton, it is amazing to how much of that is cited.
there is no evidence whatsoever. it is fiction that martha washington named her horney tom and that mythlton was on and unfortunately it is propagated in the musical, which i love, by the way. finally let me conclude. i think one of the final minutes and i think this is the most important of all. the fact is, alexander hamilton was george washington's closest advisor. he is more than staff person when he becomes treasury secretary but he is his most important advisor in manners of war, the revolution, and peace. washington's right-hand man.
that should get far more attention than it does. the fact is that the george washington should have had more in common with his fellow slave owner, fellow virginian thomas jefferson but he did not. he instead bonded with this immigrant from an obscure speck of an island in the caribbean and the two of them, hamilton and washington, i would argue, parochialism to create a great nation of the united states of america and to the end of his life, george washington had nothing but positive things to say about alexander hamilton, including hamilton's character and hamilton's integrity. washington rallies it to hamiltonside when
confesses to the affair with maria. the last two of washington's life, he has nothing to do with the thomas jefferson. ,e has completely cut him off rightly so because it jefferson hadreceived 10 and -- deceived his own president on multiple occasions and lied right to washington's face. washington finally agreed to confront jefferson about this deception. the fact is that while serving of secretary of state for president washington, jefferson was organizing the opposition and jefferson was leading the press campaign to go after first hamilton and ultimately george washington. i would urge those of use in the atience today to look
washington's take, his assessment of alexander hamilton. washington's reliance on alexander hamilton and if you do so you will be able to move beyond any of the myth i discussed this morning and the of to see that alexander hamilton, despite the arguments of jefferson and his lieutenants, was as american as it could get because the george washington certainly understood that. thank you and i would like to take your questions. [applause] i have i left enough time. hope i left enough time. >> please wait for the microphone to come to you.
critics that hamilton is the father of big government. that hamilton will be happy with the new deal or the great back to theh is federal government we see to this day. i think that is a myth as well. i would urge those of you in the audience to examine the work by political scientists name carson holloway who has written extensively on this subject. hamilton was not a believer in big government. a believer in energetic government particularly in the realm of national security. he says explicitly in the federalist papers that the federal government will be responsible for matters of work, peace, foreign policy, international commerce. that is basically it. , whether responsible
you like us or not, it is not responsible for the welfare of individual americans citizens. in fact, i find it hard to believe that a man who wrote in the federalist papers that a power over man's subsistence is a power over a man's will would be a believer in the kind of modern welfare state that has been around for a hundred or so years. i do think that is one of the myths about hamilton. what he wanted was a united states of america. he wanted people to think of themselves as americans, not as new yorkers or virginian and he wanted to invest enough elements of permanence and stability in this new national government, particularly in the round of for policy and national security. i think a number of regressive historians in the 20th century
began to distort that record as a kind of justification for the kind of modern behemoth that we have today. i would urge you to take a look iscarson holloway's work who more effective on this issue than i am. >> i think it was interesting when you mentioned people not wanting to quote the rest of the letter. -- butnt to leave out at even at a young age he was confident of his character. >> you mentioned a few times the success and their openness of how jeffersonians spun hamilton. as a researcher and scholar, how did you start to untangle that to try to find where the truth was. >> the inspiration for my book, i have to admit, was merrill
"theson's work jeffersonian image in the american mind." he is an admirer of jefferson. behought it would interesting to look at this man alexander hamilton who, when i'm beginning to write this in the late 90's, is still seen as a malevolentforce -- force. it proved to be fairly simple. i had to make sure that i understood hamilton's record as best i could. i had to make sure i went through his writing extensively and the writings of his contemporaries and then the distortions begin to appear very quickly. including the i wish there were quote.
you're going to take a 14-year-old and apply that thinking to a man in his 40's and people not pointing that out. very quickly i began to see this campaign of distortion that jefferson and his lieutenants launched in the 1790's and how it carried on for decades. jefferson believed hamilton was a colossus. they took him seriously, i will give them that. they took him so seriously that he decided -- that they decided he needed to be destroyed both in life and in death. it was not as difficult as you might imagine to start dissecting things. as long as i felt i was on solid ground knowing hamilton's actual record. own.have a question of my part a and part b, which in this
do think was most damaging to hamilton while he was alive and which do you think is most damaging as it continues to persist? >> while he was alive it was the monarchist angle, the british agent angle. lieutenantsd his argued that hamilton is a monarchist but they also explicitly state that hamilton was a british agent. burned at have really veteran who has put his life on the line as opposed to some other folks. angle, the monarchist he'sh is closely tied with part of the british fashion, that was incredibly damaging through the 1790's and the rest of life. in our time, maybe due to the
renewed and increased sensitivities surrounding issues of gender, perhaps a visit notion that he was a serial adulterer, which is fiction. he had a next her marital affair affair, but was he a super adulterer? for whatever reason, the jeffersons were -- the atoms were obsessed with hamilton sex life. lyn manuelcontact --he stopped at one point saying martha washington named her randy tom cat hamilton.
not true. i think that is more damaging today. >> i think there is a gentleman upfront. you mentioned the names of several of our presidents and their attitudes towards hamilton. what was woodrow wilson's attitude towards the hamilton legacy? >> good question. a little bit torrent. -- a little bit torn. admired hamilton's embrace of an energetic executive but he certainly bought into the idea that hamilton dislikes the great masses of people. , whether itt to be is accurate or not, objectionable.
a younger wilson seems to have some positive things to say about hamilton but the older wilson does not. he embraced what is going to become a 20th century democratic party orthodoxy that jefferson was the champion of the common man and hamilton was the champion of the wall street plutocrats and that has been the defining issue in american life. you are going to find far more inspiring statements from teddy roosevelt about hamilton and you will from woodrow wilson. >> first of all i would like to say, i loved this book. thank you for writing it. there haveublication been a spat of articles about hamilton xenophobia. have you read any of them? >> i've seen a few pieces in
zi-war with the qua france and tougher immigration standards. i think many americans were scared during 1797-98 with what they saw as the back channel or fifth column influence inside and hamiltonates did advocate for tightening immigration restrictions. xenophobia -- no. this is one of the few founders who grow up in a completely different world than most of his peers. a legitimate concern for national security at a time of a with a greatflict power strikes me as legitimate and not in a phobia -- xenophobia. the'm troubled with
president for life and a senate for life. how would you choose a good president and good senator? >> senators would have been chosen the state legislature doors -- legislators. we would be in the year whatever of the jimmy carter presidency. to me that is too long. again, hamilton wanted -- he wanted to infuse as many elements of stability and permanence into the system as he could. especially for security reasons. i think he felt the longer you -- he writesebody, he would be opposed to the 22nd amendment which limits the
president to two terms. he wanted as long a term as possible and as he did with many of the things he disagreed with in the final constitution, he -- he swallowed hard and work to get it ratified. i'm hedging a little bit on your i am notbecause entirely sure if hamilton himself believed that. in other words was it a tactic designed to make the more moderate nationalist proposals more palatable to the delegates? endorse aing to president or senate for life. he did of course say you could be removed or impeached as a president even if you were elected for life. there were checks.
>> the present development of the american government and policy -- you -- have believed that alexander hamilton was pretty much finished by 18 and four. he was planning on writing a philosophical treatise. as a political force, i have a lot of respect for her work, but i don't know what she is alluding to there.
i do think hamilton and his party were pretty well done by 18 and four. they hold on until 1816. the -- 1816 is the last federalist candidate. they are getting their clocks cleaned by jefferson and madison and monroe. they have been politically outmaneuvered. jefferson was a much better and muchlitician better political tactician by far than hamilton and they constantly outmaneuvered federalists. hamilton was hoping to create this christian constitutionalist society as a grassroots network to check the jeffersonians, but i think it was too late in the game. in my view hamilton was spent politically by 1804. i think he kind of knew that too.
one of the reasons he accepts the duel with burr is this is his last patriotic act. he's going to finish burr. he had a good sense he would across the river and that would finish ehrenberg. hamilton was going to throw away his shot, this would be burr's last shot. it did finish him politically. forcehamilton as a spent by 1804. that's about as far as i can take it. have hamilton witnessed the war of 1812, he would have told them i told you so. you have to make strong military and a national bank to fund a war. you can't just talk about war
and declare war and not be prepared for it. that is committing national suicide. i think he would have felt very vindicated by the events related to the tragic mismanagement of the war of 1812 under madison. >> thank you and we have our last question back here. future ofyou see the alexander hamilton's legacy in of all these legacy appreciation that is been going on in the last few years? >> i think hamilton's legacy is in good shape not just because of the great work of the alexander hamilton awareness society but we live in a very diverse country. there is a great appreciation for issues related to immigration. i would think and i haven't
touched on the fact and i will be recommended if i don't, hamilton was one of the founders of the new york society for the manumission of slaves. in contrast to jefferson, madison, monroe and some of the stalwarts in their party, hamilton's position on matters it ise, the fact that pretty clear he does not own slaves themselves and the -- fact that he was the founder of one of these manumission societies, it will hold well that he was a progressive. as one falls the other rises. the 21st century will have a good chance to be hamilton century. [applause]
the alexander hamilton awareness society would like to provide a partial designation for the work that stephen knott has a done and to provide that -- if you could come and present the award. good afternoon, everyone. as we have heard from this talk, for the past two centuries authors have taken up the task of writing about alexander along the life but way stories of the political -- itnts who outlived him wasn't until stephen knott that anyone took the time to examine the narrative behind the narrative that have been told. it is a tribute to his in-depth
research that we now have an understanding of how hamilton's story has been reshaped over the centuries and his particular study has helped hamilton offers to tell a more accurate story. snd by debunking many myth about alexander hamilton, he is helped us be introduced to a true version of him. since his monumental book "alexander hamilton and the " wasstence of myth published, he has remained active in publishing new material on hand including writing articles and publishing an additional book and co-authoring a book on hamilton and washington's partnership. he is also remaining a present force for public question. morethese reasons and many the alexander hamilton awareness society is proud to the show of home dr. stephen not -- dr. stephen knott the designation of hamilton scholar.
[applause] >> thank you. >> thank you and he will be available to meet with you afterwards and we thank you so much. >> thank you, everybody for coming. >> thank you. this is beautiful. >> thank you. announcer: interested in american history tv, visit our website c-span.org/history you can watch a recent program. american artifacts, wrote to the white house, rewind, lectures in history and more at c-span.org/history. this year c-span is touring cities across the country, exploring american history. next a look at our