tv Abraham Lincoln and Economic Opportunity CSPAN February 13, 2016 1:00pm-2:01pm EST
watch the entire program with dennis frye saturday 6:00 p.m. eastern here on c-span3's american history tv. >> up next, lincoln's outlook on economic opportunity and equality. we hear about his belief that every citizen has the ability to "rise up," including slaves, who says wentty he against the american promise. he compares modern economic policy to lincoln's economic philosophy. cottage hostcoln's this event. hosted this event.
>> good evening and welcome to lincoln's cottage. please silence your phones. the 2015-2016 cottage conversation series was made possible by david bruce smith and james and matthew. at the conclusion, we invite you to join us downstairs for the book signing. our next conversation will be on thursday, march 3. it will discuss the life of frederick douglass. we are pleased to welcome back harold holzer. he is the chairman of the lincoln bicentennial foundation and is the co-author of books on the civil war, as well as hundreds of articles and chapters and additional volumes.
he received the lincoln prize in 2005 and was awarded the national humanities medal by george bush. a prizer, he received for his book, lincoln and the power of the press. he is an on-air contributor to c-span, the history channel, cbs, nbc, msnbc, and the bbc. harold and his co-author challenge our understanding of the causes of the civil war. the book traces economic opportunity develop through lincoln's life and how later presidents invoked and carried on the economic legacy of lincoln. his own work has been critical to understanding the republican party's commitment to economic opportunity. he says that holzer reminds us that the devotion to the union
rested on the bedrock belief that a free society and activist democratic government could offer free labor the opportunity to climb the social ladder. please join me in welcoming harold holzer. [applause] >> harold, there are 1000 books written to address the question of why the civil war was fought. one might think that all that could have been said was said. that is exactly what you and garfinkel went out to sort out. your thesis is that lincoln's response to the southern secession was a result of the his commitment to pursuing economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hard-working americans and this drove all of his decisions. you have been studying lincoln
for all these years. at what point did you come to this conclusion and what drew you and garfinkel to work together on the book? harold: the first part of it is -- i will do the second part first -- we are not questioning lincoln's abhorrence to slavery. or his devotion to the union. it always seemed to be abstract. partnerepend on his law must famous and much quoted union by that the lincoln was assumed by divine proportion. lincoln loved the union more than anything. what does that mean? is it a contract between states? no. when he was in trenton, he said, when i was a boy, i read the life of washington and something
about that story affected me, not just the fighting, which all boys love to read about, but the ideas behind the revolution, the questioning of the divine right of the king to rule. what lincoln meant was what the union of offered. he was trying to create a rationale for resisting rebellion. everyone has an equal chance in the race of life. i have always thought that. and i will say that garfinkel, who has been a friend for 10 years or more, and i have had a series of discussions where we discussed politics, government and lincoln.
he has written on economic opportunity for americans. this is what we talked about. he would generously invite me to lunch. anybody who knows me knows that that is irresistible for me. out of these experiences, we challenged each other on what union and lincoln meant. frankly, the lunches helped me see the light and crystallize my thinking. that is the anecdotal and philosophical underpinning of how we got to where we are. host: lincoln's background with the "right to rise" and his commitment to economic opportunity, how did that apply to the issue of slavery for him? harold: lincoln espoused the idea of american opportunity and lived it.
that is what he pointed out in the book, lincoln and the economics of the american dream. lincoln started with nothing. with people among them who did not have much ambition and was obviously gifted. he developed a credo that suggested that anyone, with or without gifts, who was hard-working, willing to toil, would or could rise from toiling to working for himself and hire people who go in that trajectory. slavery, which we are not totally sure when lincoln was first exposed to it -- he lived for a time in indiana along a dirt highway where human beings were transported without
challenge. there was a famous trip to new orleans when he was 21 and he saw enslaved people on the auction block and was haunted by it. others were not. it made a difference that it affected him and it affected him in complex ways, which i will get to, i am sure. although he was never quite equality mode, , he saw it when he died that slavery goes against the grain of the american promise and that black and white needed the opportunity to earn to their potential. host: lincoln experienced
economic equality. at what point did he begin to realize economic equality could not stand alone and was dependent on other factors, like political and civil equality? -- after acoln said largely unsuccessful or unremarkable term in congress devoted to resisting the mexican war, even though it was over. a good position. he was trying to prevent new slave territories, which would prolong the slave majority in congress by giving them new representatives and new senators. he was a one termer and was always going to be. after that, he faded into
private law practice. i try to make the point that lincoln's retirement from politics was never 100%. he was dabbling. in 1854, stephen douglas engineered passage of the kansas nebraska act in congress, which he thought would end the crisis by giving people a chance to vote in new territories on whether or not to allow slavery in the areas. the problem was that he was only allowing white people to vote on the fate of people of color.
this aroused lincoln back into politics. if the american dream and opportunity was to be preserved, he believed they had to be free for free labor, which he defined as "free white labor." at that time, to be fair. 99% of the populations in 1854 in the western territories was white. it was going to be a place where people got their own land, brought personal industry to bear, there were limited opportunities. popular sovereignty, as defined by stephen douglas, was the opposite of democratic choice and meant that the possibility of slavery was going to be brought into a pristine territory where america had proved it was democratic.
at this point, theory became politicized and he realized he had to take action. for the next five and a half years, he railed against the idea of popular sovereignty as his main, almost exclusive, focus and it carried into the lincoln-douglas debates and into the presidential nomination. host: other than the civil war and trying to contain slavery, what are some ways that lincoln's economic philosophy impacted his political agenda? harold: if you look at the legislative accomplishments of the lincoln administration during extraordinary times, when he had the most friendly super-majority in the history of american politics -- forget about lbj when he was enacting
the great society -- if you think about the precursors of red and blue states, lincoln had a congress with no grey states. no red states. it was terrible. ofnk of the super majority republicans and fairly-acquiescent democrats, in many cases. lincoln's support of immigration acts that supported open borders and an open golden door to citizens to enter the workforce, a national banking act, a unified currency, a homestead
act that gave land to adventurous pioneers, the transcontinental railroad, which we would call infrastructure, , whi which congress passed. think about how hard it is to today because everyone resists government investment in infrastructure. lincoln grew up with the idea that governments should only do for people what people cannot do for themselves, which includes canals, bridges, and railroads. he believed that government ought to do that. when he had the chance and he was focused exclusively on war to end the rebellion, he managed to sign the most extraordinary -- maybe not the new deal, but the original deal, "the real deal."
host: let's talk about what followed. immediately following his assassination, confusion, corruption, new economic realities, and assess the u.s. presidents who followed lincoln invoke him for policy decisions. evaluating the political history through lincoln's history, does it impact your view of the events? harold: a great question. i will get to it. [laughter] i have to lay some groundwork. this is the part that is the most controversial aspect of the book, which i think is unfair. not the book. the criticism. book, try ton this
project what lincoln would think in the 21st century, even if we really think we would know what he would do in iowa today as we sit here, rather than just sit here and talk about it. what we did was assess how true subsequent presidents were to the legacy of lincoln. we thought it was fair, because of the extraordinary number of presidents who invoke the lincoln legacy. it is like the fifth amendment, if you do not plead it right away, you have to and to the -- you have to answer the question. if you invoke lincoln, you are judged on lincolnian standards. starting with ulysses s. grant, who is being reassessed by historians right now. was a child of the lincoln administration. he was the first to go from a
good first-term and he moved towards the gilded age republican love of industry. that marked the republican party in the late 19th century, great fealty to lincoln and little recognition and recollection of what lincoln said about american opportunity, that the principal responsibility of preserving and passing on the dream was to make sure that people had an unfettered chance in life and that barriers were removed. andrew carnegie's philosophy was darwinian. that people with special talents had to be recognized and, if they were recognized and
unfettered by regulation, the ir success would bring the bottom up, rather than the bottom coming up and getting rich, which is the lincoln way. we pointed that out. darwinian economics versus colnian economics. arguments have been going on. we look at all the presidents who invoked lincoln. theodore roosevelt loved lincoln and had lincoln's hair and a in a ring. we know about his trust-busting. woodrow wilson, a complicated but interesting case. was he racist? sure. everybody said he was a virginian.
he had a home in columbia, south carolina. the town that william sherman bombarded and burned. they did not like the yankees there. it was a city that flew the confederate battle flags until a few months ago in 2015. wilson's progressive agenda was extraordinary. child labor laws, state taxes, graduated income tax. it is the other part that he missed. he re-segregating the federal bureaucracy, taking away the rights of african american who achieved that status. they were all demoted. fdr got it.
the 1912 election was the first to include primaries. 13 of them. a rollicking season. i know everybody is tired of presidential primary talk. taft loses in ohio. they have battled all the way to california. they all say they are the natural inheriter of the lincoln legacy. his son, robert, has as little to do with his economic views as carnegie. so, going up to manchester, he sealed the deal of the endorsement by playing golf with robert lincoln.
he gets the blessing. theodore roosevelt is wearing a ring and goes out to lincoln-land and communes with lincoln in the log cabin area, telling everyone he is the natural inheriter. in the middle of the campaign, he comes out for women's suffrage. wilson again has these progressive policies. he presides over the battle of he 50th anniversary of the battle of gettysburg, never mentions slavery, never mentions what led to the civil war, just talking of reconciliation. he inherited the lincoln log it a nationals
park. the republicans outpolled the democrats. fdr loves lincoln. we uncovered a moment where he brings his staff together and says, we have to take over the party. the party of lincoln. we are the lincoln party now. he made the concerted effort to steal the lincoln legacy. when wilson and william jennings bryan talked about lincoln, republican-owned newspapers like the chicago tribune and new york times attacked them viciously. a democrat cannot identify with lincoln, because they are the party of the white south and 19th century repression. fdr is the guy who turns it around. i'm doing this chronologically. i'm getting to 2015-2016. fdr was the first democratic candidate for president to win
a majority of african-american votes. he did extraordinary is not do so in 1932, in the midst of the depression. the african-american vote went to herbert hoover. because of the depression in the south which was so powerful and stagnating. african-americans defied poll taxes and means testing and remained loyal to the party of lincoln. roosevelt defined himself as the man for equal opportunity, with eleanor pushing him along. in 1940 -- 1939, a play opened on broadway called, "abe lincoln in illinois."
i'm sure many of you have seen the movie version. fdr like the play and called up the playwright. he said, enough of the plays and the pulitzers, come to work for me as a speechwriter. that is where the action is. and he did. all of a sudden, the character of fdr becomes the character of lincoln in a play. "i do not want to organize the world against this threat. please don't make me!" like this. stop and do this. it was brilliant. one could say that roosevelt invoked lincoln to face down the fascist threat to the free world, like the confederacy.
it could not occur in this continent. i will leave this at roosevelt. did i ever answer the question? host: if fdr comes closest, does, who contradicts the vision the most? harold: i will get into trouble. [laughter] coolidge's statement of "the business of america is business" reflected a pushback against unions, bad way situations, -- bad wage situations,
unregulated banking, the "good old times of the 1920's," and america paid a price for that kind of indifference and that kind of belief that the super rich would encourage everyone to come along, that it would be a top-down prosperity, rather than bottom-up. you can certainly carry that into reaganomics. and we do come in the book. -- and we do, in the book. we say that reagan, and lowering the top rate of income tax and beginning the path of lowering the estate tax and creating huge estate clauses, diminishing national income and making it easier for the rich. and harder for the working class. it is controversial, because
ronald reagan has achieved mythical proportions in american culture. on economics, he was the reversal of lincoln. he quoted him all the time, as did bush 1 and 2 and clinton. we are sitting here on this day, after the state of the union message in which obama quoted lincoln twice. once brilliantly and one ce over-hopefully. are we more divided now than the civil war? i don't think so.
he is still on the lips of american leaders. in a presidential campaign that is still in formation, as we speak, he has been misquoted more than any other campaign. he is still out there. you cannot say that about any 19th-century figure, with all due respect to ron. no one is saying, "as hamilton said." we know what he sang but not what he said. lincoln is still in the political dynamic, word for word, and that is extraordinary. host: obama invoked lincoln twice. he noted that the growing divide is one of his regrets.
he says that he has no doubts that a lincoln or a roosevelt would have better bridged the divide. harold: roosevelt entered with and sustained a big majority. until subsequent congresses started chipping away at the new deal. he was riding high on his ability to reinvent american policy every few weeks, if it did not work. it was an adventure and it was exciting. i think that lincoln had a harder time and i think obama knows that. i think, of all the presidents that i have gone to talk to, no one has had a stronger and closer identification with
lincoln than obama. first, for the obvious reason. obama announces candidacy on the steps of the state capital where lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. he invoked lincoln in the candidacy and this is a continuation of the unfinished work of lincoln. he repeated the inaugural journey from baltimore to washington. lincoln did parts of it in secret. he visited the memorial before he took the oath of office.
do i have time for another obama anecdote? so, i find this story to be the culmination of the association. the lincoln message of equal opportunity was sincere. the president wanted to take his oath of office on lincoln's bible. mrs. obama is the first person to touch the bible without gloves. it is carefully protected. the library of congress got the bible out and the president will put his hand on it and take the oath of office in 2009, the year of lincoln's bicentennial -- i should remember!
what is extraordinary is that it was not lincoln's bible. somebody did not do the advanced work. somebody said, did you bring the bible? she did not. they had to go downstairs to the supreme court to get a bible. the supreme court was in the u.s. capital. they had a bible. every day, a different justice would read from the bible to open the court session. this is not the lincoln bible. it is better. it is the bible that roger, the man who said that people of color to never be equal, never be citizens, never have any rights that a white man is bound
to respect, that is his bible. when obama put his hand out, he literally closed the book for ever. that is the dream. >> the nation has been criticized for being partisan on andselection of quotes perception of lincoln's quotes. harold: i think it is somewhat partisan at the end of the section. norton and i are not principally academic historians. we have both had complicated and adventurous lives that, in my case, i have been in politics, , i have worked for
mario cuomo, i imprisoned andrew cuomo -- i am friends with andrew cuomo. norton garfinkel and his wife are reporters of women in politics and have made that a cause. so, we think we are right. [laughter] we are not always successful, but we think we are right. we do not ever say -- and here, i criticize the critics, who are pretty nice -- they say we are projecting lincoln onto the 21st century and that we are saying this is what lincoln would say about global warming. we know what lincoln did about global warming, he came up here. that was global warming.
he did not say, "we should stop using fossil fuels." if there are modern figures who say they are continuing the lincoln tradition, they are judged by our standards and, i think that others can try to do their own assessment and they will come up with differing conclusions and we can have another debate. i say, to the critics, "ha!" host: i want to quote a critic. if this lincoln was around today , he would lower barriers to immigrants, raise taxes on the rich, bolster labor unions, and provide subsidies for health care, supporting bernie sanders, if not running to his left.
for his time, lincoln was a moderate. >> andrew is doing the projections. i am not. lincoln was a moderate on race issues, until he was mature. he was a realist on slavery. he had no power, constitutionally, to change the constitution, until he decided that a commander in chief, in a moment of rebellion, could and should do it. i think he was not a moderate. i think that has been overstated. there was a faction of the republican party that was to his left. he was moving slowly to those goals they espoused.
what would he be today? i have no clue. i have an instinct, a belief, a hope. anybody who wants to discuss with me later which woman -- which candidate he would have supported -- i would be happy to discuss. lincoln would have said, a woman running for president to succeed an african-american president, how could you project that? maybe he would come back and say, we still have unfinished work, but we have come a long way. host: as you point out in this book, there is a widening gap, a sign that we have strayed from lincoln's ideal, but there is a small percentage of people in poverty.
was lincoln's vision specific to the united states? if this experiment fails, it's suggests that democracy ultimately fails. harold: he said what america offers to hope for the world for all time to come. he believes that, if american democracy fails, kings and dictators would rule around the world and american success would light the world. one thing i am sure about today is that he would have continued to say that these shores back in
people, they do not -- beckon people, they don't restrict people, join the smelting pot, come join the mosaic. he was a strong believer in immigration during his presidency. he boasted about it. he had the temerity to go before congress -- actually, not before congress -- but imagine him hovering, imaginary. he was saying, people have died and we know they are sacrificing their lives in the cause of freedom, but we have replenished with irish, german, scandinavian, english, people from all over the western world.
that was where immigration was coming from and being opposed bitterly. he created an immigration bureau, signed an immigration act, resisted any efforts to give people a waiting period to vote. that is one area i feel comfortable saying to democrats or republicans, if you want to quote lincoln on immigration, look at his policies. it was embracing, inclusive, and not restricting. host: if you have not seen the exhibit on lincoln and immigration, i encourage you to do so. thank you. i will turn it over for questions. [applause] >> two-part question.
on immigration, at the beginning of his and administration, he tried to convince the african-american community to consider going back to africa. he was a big supporter of that, was he not? harold: that is a fair question. yes, for a long time, from the time he first admired henry clay and his policies, part of the clay agenda was voluntary colonization of africa. i think, for a long time, lincoln believed that whites would never allow blacks to be part of the expanded society.
whether he was worried about the emancipation proclamation and wanted to couch it in terms that would not send alarms to a white citizenry, that is open to question. lincoln believed in colonization. when african americans took up arms and for the union and the restoration of the union, there was never a hint in his lexicon that people in the union should not be in the united states. it is a huge issue that should not be shunted aside.
i'm glad you brought it up. >> my second point is, on college campuses, like princeton, taking wilson's name off, where does this end? does this concern you as a historian? harold: the rewriting of history concerns me. the monumentalizing of bad people also concerns me. certain people have been on a pedestal for generations and it is open for question and re-examination. when i first visited with my wife in st. petersburg, we did not expect any vestiges of the czars. we thought they had all been swept away. it was all there. peter, the czars, they had not been destroyed, like saddam hussein statues.
there is preservation of relics and the tearing down of statues of mussolini or others. it is a serious issue, not just on college campuses, where we remember changing the world and the activism is tempered. woodrow wilson's role is a tough one and he had an international agenda for world peace and was a racist, who loved birth of a nation. he loved the book, the klansmen
and he was racist. that is a dual legacy. the statues of forrest in the south, a man who was not only a general, but a slave dealer, a person who killed african-americans after they surrendered, i have problems with that. that is as bad as using the confederate battle flag as a symbol of resistance to integration and pretending that it is a symbol of heritage, which it never was. i have not answered the question. it is really complicated. historians are organizing conferences on heritage. if you move a town square to a museum, does it give a different
ability to understand what people are lionized and still invoked? it is a really important conversation. >> sorry. ok. my wife and i went to a program with steve roberts and they talked about the primaries. they were talking about, in the republican primary, the republicans are looking for a second choice after trump. i said, this is the strategy that lincoln took and his managers went around saying, i know you want lincoln. can he be the second choice?
that is the lincoln strategy for the managers. harold: it was all over in a day, not a year. i will tell you the difference. lincoln told his people and his people told each other that the goal was to lurk as a second choice by being loved by everybody. i would argue that there is not a candidate in either party who is making an effort to be loved. >> the establishment is looking for a second choice besides donald trump and ted cruz.
harold: lincoln could not have imagined the primary system. he was a convention man, believing in convictions, rather than old-fashioned caucuses. part of me wishes that we still had conventions. it is unbearable the length of time this all takes. >> to what extent would lincoln have supported the welfare state? harold: well, lincoln adapted with the times. lincoln, the idea of homesteading was new, government investment in canals, roads, bridges, remember, when lincoln was a lawyer, one of the test cases about government expansion
took place under his watch, if a riverboat plows into a bridge, can't you sue the government and the people who build the bridge because it is an unnatural impediment built by the welfare state of the day? the court ruling changed a lot of attitudes and legal precedents about government investment in infrastructure and validated the existence of bridges. it sounds archaic. to the pilots of riverboats, watch out where you are going. lincoln adapted all of the time. book, i can find
it. he did say, the responsibilities of the government are to build roads, bridges, and to protect the poor and the indigent. this is a man who did not give to charity. he got lots of requests to. maybe because there was no deductibility. so, when you stretch that to a 25% unemployment rate in 1932, does that extend? we don't know how lincoln would have reacted. >> most of the major roads that i think of during the civil war were turnpikes.
do you have an idea of what proportion of roads? >> that is back in the news because of the scene in the movie where the guy comes into the office and says, my family has had a tollbooth for years. i have no idea what the percentage was. the movement towards free access was growing and the civil war probably ended a lot of the archaic tolling system. our version of downton abbey was the toll road. some of it changed. >> invading armies did not usually pay. >> if they knew where they were going. >> you can make a case that the prevalence of state tolls on freeways is a continuation.
i prefer to talk about the building of the roads, rather than a taxing. that is my way out of the question. >> i am a huge fan. >> thank you. >> every time i get a book of lincoln, i will always learn something new. you never know! i am reading "lincoln and the press." and a lot of new information. [indiscernible] harold: every time i open a book, i find something. i would say, the emphasis in 1864 in his state of the union on the replenishment of population through immigration -- many people probably have not read it that often.
read it again and focus on that part of the message in the midst of the current hysteria of immigration was significant for me. sure, there are little tidbits. people are nice enough to call me when they discover things. they correct my previous books. i got a call on an article i wrote 12 years ago. it is always good to correct. >> back here. >> lincoln made a moral case against slavery and you have a case that there is not a moral argument there.
it was that slavery would push out free labor and free labor was part of the slogan of the campaign. do you think this is the fault of memory that we have forgotten this? or, was lincoln more successful about making a moral argument, rather than the argument about free labor? harold: i think he was good at both arguments. he made the argument to the election of the presidency and it was all about economic opportunity and he went to new haven after giving his right makes might union speech and he said that labor is more important than capital.
the working person is more important than the investor and the working person has the opportunity to spread the opportunity and this unfettered chance with the welfare state and the opportunity. i think he was always resistance in the early days because he understood that it was a fringe movement for all of the references to the abolitionists. it never had any support outside of the northeast. there was not any voter support and lincoln wanted to be elected and make changes when he was empowered.
so, i think the fact that he resisted the moral argument and made the moral arguments when he did, it made them more powerful about accepting the consequences of either inflating human beings and the institution denied so many. that is what makes that speech so unforgettable. it was the culmination of so much different thinking on slavery and he saw enslaved people on a riverboat shackled together and it has haunted ever since.
visiting this house and coming to this house has -- as a commuter, those people were the syrian refugees of their day, fleeing in danger to find opportunity, not knowing where they would go and how they would survive. facing that, you develop more moral fiber. that was part of his living experience in this house. >> make this easy. these are tough. >> he created the national academy of science. how does that relate? >> a book came out and a wonderful young person, does anyone remember this person?
yes, lincoln signed the national academy of sciences enabling legislation and what did it mean? he wanted investigations into the unimaginable future that could be harnessed by study and research. the smithsonian's runs by a board that has been in place for years. when the abolitionist is scheduled to speak, the chairman actually said, i am not sure, unless we consult all the board members, and it is hard to
contact jefferson davis. it is true. they have to finally convinced him that maybe we cannot get in touch with him after all, he has a new role. i want to do more research on tos, it was another avenue research and accepting the research of people of science. if you want to bring that into the 21st century, i invite you to take a look. >> thank you all for joining us. [applause]
you are watching a good history tv, all we get, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. the 130thar marks annual meeting of the american historical association. these meetings include panels of historians and scholars discussing a variety of topics. up next on american history tv, historians debate the 1916 reelection of president woodrow wilson and u.s. foreign-policy in a session titled turning .19 16, u.s. foreign relations before and after the kept us out of war election. their observations in this hour and 45 minute program include america's relaon