tv Pulitzer Prize- Winning Author David Blight Discusses Frederick Douglass... CSPAN July 16, 2021 9:34am-11:36am EDT
at sparklight it's our home, too. and right now we're all facing our greatest challenge. that's why sparklight is working around the clock to keep you connected. we're doing our part so it's a little easier to do yours. >> sparklight supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> c-spanshop.org is c-span's online store. there's a collection of c-span products. browse to see what's new. your purchase will support our non-profit operations, and you still have time to order the congressional directory with contact information for members of congress and the biden administration. go to c-spanshop.org. pulitzer prizewinning historian david blight
discussing frederick douglas and the constitution. >> okay, let's try that. that's better. well, welcome to the 21st annual james madison lecture, which is hosted and sponsored by the james mad kn fellowship foundation here in alexandria, virginia. and we see a lot of our friends and all those madison fellows are here at mary mountain university attending the summer institute these four weeks. we're pleased to have professor david blight from yale here to introduce the lecture this year. he'll be formally introduced in just one moment. we welcome you those who are alum to come. why don't you stand up all those
that are james madison alum. in the days of covid that's a miracle to get anybody come out of their house. we're grateful for mary mount university hosting the summer institute here in their fine facilities. the president of the university has been really generous to us and her staff. we also acknowledge that c-span is here recording this lecture, and it is going out live across the nation on c-span radio right now. and it will be available on c-span 3, american history tv shortly and you'll be able to check their guide for great broadcast dates. so we'll now have dr. jeffrey morrison to introduce our guest speaker today. dr. morrison.
>> so come to one of these two mikes. and when you come up, tell us your name, what state you represent. >> thank you, mr. larson. and i'll echo his well wishes, those of you watching by c-span, and i'm really pleased to see a number of former fellows here. you're in for a treat, i can tell you that authoritatively because i had the pleasure of spending the morning with dr. blight and we recorded one of our constitutional conversations. it'll be available on youtube in the coming months. this is a good day it seems to me for hearing this particular lecture on this day in 1964.
july 2, 1964, president johnson signed into law the civil rights act of 1964. it seems to me a very auspicious anniversary of which to hear a lecture of one of the great figures of the 19th century civil rights movement, and it'll be delivered to us by david blight. dr. blight is a self-identified teacher, scholar and public historian. and i'll note that he lists teacher first among those various roles that he fulfills. he's sterling professor of history at yale kufrt and director at the center for the study of slavery, resistance and abolition. he's also taught in various capacities at amherst college, harvard university, north
central college, saginaw valley state college. and for seven years at flint northern high school in his native flint, michigan. yes, now you'll applaud for that, too. so he's one of you, one of us. dr. blight has also held residential fellowships at the huntington library in california and new york library. in 2018 simon van shooster publish his biography of frederick douglas entitled "frederick douglas prophet of freedom." we've had two pulitzer prize back-to-back winners deliver
this for us. please join me in welcoming dr. david blight. >> thank you. forgive me for bringing all these books and notes up here. sorry, i was told to do that, forgot. my mike is on i presume. good. i apologize for bringing all these books and notes up here but it is the way i teach. there's no light on this podium but that's okay i think. that's all right. anyway, hello. yeah, i've had as you can tell from that introduction by jeffrey way too many privileges in this profession, fellowships here and fellowships there, and book prizes that don't even fit on my shelves and all that
stuff. but a few of you know me well enough and believe me there's really nothing more a thrill to me than to be with teachers, to speak with teachers, to teach with teachers. i've been doing summer teacher institutes for i don't know 25 years at least. mcmillen in the front row and coordinator of three or five of those that i've done. it's possible some of you may have been in one of those somewhere along the way. i spent seven years as a high school teacher. but i still think it is the most important teaching i ever did. some of my students at yale don't need me that much, brilliant kids. well, at least they think they are. they're way over-entitled.
but they're smart as the dickens many of them. but i used to take kids from this automobile town in flint, an industrial city who had never been out of the state of michigan, never seen a hill any larger than the pitching mound on the baseball field on field trips out east as we used to say to gettysburg and philadelphia and washington and for five years i did this. i was in my 20s. i could go sleepless and survive anything like some of you have. i wasn't doing parenting at that time which is probably why i can still do the teaching. i can remember the thrill of some kids and somehow have somebody interpret it or go out on a battlefield in gettysburg
and read poetry at night as the sun set in the west or read from a diary, a little round tap. or i used to march them up to the site of the 20th main monument and read passages from the killer angels, a book i bet a few of you have read. that was teaching. that was somehow putting together place with history with discovery, and all you had to do was kind of show up and it just happened. so you have no greater admirer than me, and hopefully my profession, historians in high places, are really going to have your back now because we need to. there's a whole lot of people who want to decide what you should teach, how you should
teach it, where you should teach it, in which manner you should teach it, what subject you should teach it. teach it. whatever it is. whatever they tell you. okay, but the subject i'm addressing today is primarily frederick douglas and his ultimately anti-soliloquy interpretation of the constitution. it's an honor to speak to the james madison foundation. i really enjoyed our taped interview we did this morning. jeffrey really read my book before he interviewed me. you can tell, believe me. he knew it better than i did at this point. when they start asking you a question and you think, i didn't
write that, and then you realize apparently i did. now, there's so many subjects one can address about frederick douglas. the oldest and most famous idea about douglas is that he was this former slave that escaped a at age 20, took the world by storm as an oriter, and had a big role to play by the civil war advising lincoln. not quite the case, but there's so much more to douglas. and it's really been in the last 20 to 25 years that he has -- 30 years if you push it. yeah, at least 30. it gets back to my first book. he's been taken seriously as a
thinker, very seriously as a thinker by political theorists, by law school professors. he's been taken seriously by literary critics for a long time. that's where it all started with douglas with one article after another about chapter one of his narrative where -- that must have stimulated 45acy as by literary critics. but all have discovered douglas as artist and thinker. and that was not always the case. if americans tended to know anything about douglas until relatively recent times, and that didn't mean they knew much at all if at all, they knew something about the young, heroic douglas the escaped slave. they might have known that through reading the first narrative because it's kind of the coming of age story of this
heroic slave. but that's about it. a mature thinker, the man who came to his politics by the late 1840s into the 1850s until the civil war era. the man who grows from a kind of radical outsider, abolitionist, born as an adult and politically as a moral persuasionest greatly admired to say the least but growing into a political abolitions who finds way to embrace the party more generally and indeed begins to read very carefully in political philosophy, certain kinds of it in particular and in literature, complete works of robert verns
and charles dickens and three complete sets of shakespeare by the time he was in his 50s and so on and all kinds of interpreter guides to the bible. this was a voracious reader. and as i said this morning in our interview, to begin to think about douglas as thinker you do have to sometimes remind yourself when you're reading him this guy never set one foot one day in his life in a schoolroom. how can that be? well, lincoln, didn't spend a lot of days there either. what, a year and a half. there's some real lincoln scholars here somewhere. maybe two years. he did a lot of reading out at new salem. that's wasn't a schoolroom either. it wasn't utterly uncommon for americans to not have a lot of education and yet turn out to be a lincoln or a douglas.
still rare. but this is a man with no formal education. so how did he come by with all this knowledge and learning and testing of his own ideas? partly through books. make no mistake. i got access to the national parks services collection of douglas' book collection which is out in a big house in landover, maryland. that's where the national park service keeps its treasures. if you ever get a chance, go. that's where they have lincoln's suit the night he was wearing when he was shot. they've got all kinds of lincoln stuff there. but they have douglas' book collection. it's in these accordion book shelves if you push a button they go back and forth. i was dying to see the collection. i was going to reinterpret
douglas through his annotations. he didn't annotate anything, which is actually typical of the 19th century. people didn't tend to write in their books much because books are precious. like today i scribble on every -- my bible is completely chopped up and bookmarked and underlined in three different colors and it's ridiculous. wou word underlined. come on. but that's when i discovered, oh, my god, did he collect books. you know, a lot of that collecting later in his life when he had the money to do it, although the bulk of his book collection began with his british friends sending him books. so books are a source, but with douglas, and this was the point i was coming to, he made people his teachers. he is a sponge.
when you're doing biography there are many things you never can quite perfectly say because you don't quite know it. you don't quite from the sources to say unequivocally this or that. this i know. this guy was a sponge. if he met you he would quickly try -- especially the young men -- he would quickly try to figure out what can i learn from you? what do you know that can help me? and he would probe you until you unloaded something for him. and then when he thought he might have learned everything he could learn from you he might just discard you which didn't lend itself to keeping good friendships. and he wasn't that good at friendships, which had many causes not least of which was his basic insecurity about who he could ever trust. but he was a sponge. what can i learn from you? everybody was kind of a walking
schoolhouse to him if he thought they knew something. and that was certainly true of william lloyd garrison and a whole bunch of other abolitionists from whom he learned, some of whom he ends up turning on, but don't we all sometimes, turn on our -- not our best teachers, you know, somebody we disagree with. so his learning is very bookish, but also it's experience and it's seeking it from people. now, the constitution. i could go on about that. i'd love to go on about that, but i'm here to talk about the constitution and i worked up a whole bunch of new stuff for this, so forgive me. it's no news to you all, you've been here for three weeks already, reading great works and political -- i'm amazed at your reading list, by the way. i want to come take this course
and maybe -- have you ever -- i mean, i don't know how many of you have had days in teaching where you think, oh, god, i just wish i could go get an education. can i have a year off to just go read? or think? or how about a week off or a month paid for by the medicine foundation. i'm serious about getting some kind of deal at a monastery. i'm not kidding. they exist. they still exist. i don't want a heavy duty monastery where i have to buy into a particular faith necessarily, i just want a place to go for a month. where no one knows where i am, no one knows who i am and there are no gadgets and there's just books. of course, it's going to be a full-time cook and great hiking trails and once in awhile a tv
hidden behind some curtains where i can watch some baseball. i was once at a conference of all places at bellagio in italy. have you ever heard of this place? owned by the rockefeller foundation. it's a place -- it's possibly the most beautiful place on earth, it's right on lake cuomo in northern italy. there is this big villa, this 15th century villa where they hold these conferences. you also get fellowships to go there for a month and write something. i've been to conferences there, i've never had a month there. but one time we were meeting in this perfectly idyllic ridiculously shangri-la-like place and it was during the world cup and this was a gathering of scholars from europe, from america, from south america, these were soccer fans and you don't get in the way of soccer fans.
somebody went up to mr. chellie who was the director of the place, got up to ask do you have a television? because there weren't any to be seen anywhere. mr. chellie found a tv, he put it behind a curtain up on a third floor room, said if you gather up in that room there will be a tv and here were about -- it was almost all men, but there were about 20 of us gathering around the tv while italy was losing to somebody. it was just one of those moments when you realize some things are transcendent. the world cup. anyway, my monastery needs a tv behind the curtain. it's a requirement. i will demand it. constitutions. you don't need to hear this from me, but the u.s. constitution as
majestic as it was, a small miracle that it was that it actually came out of philadelphia there 1787 and managed to get ratified in this very divided place called america was hardly the only constitution. this is an age of constitution ri. i'm sure you have learned all about that now. there is a wonderful new book out by linda cally, great british -- kind of british empire historian, but she's become this -- she's entered this field called world history where somehow they write about all parts of the world. i don't know how somebody can do that. i'm so parochial as an american. people are creating written constitutions all over the world, especially in the wake of the sevens years' world. some are monarchs trying to write down their power and keep it. they are not all gal tearian
constitutions. many are not. haiti gets a constitution by the first decade of the 19th century. the french keep trying to make constitutions and republics five, six times -- i don't know what -- which republic are the french on now? i've lost count. but this u.s. constitution comes into a world that is all but obsessed with this idea of somehow creating governments now with a charter. some kind of written charter. now, the brits are still there, you know, and still sort of proud of the fact that the constitution is not written. we'll see if the uk really survives a couple more decades of the 21st century and if they don't not only because of their constitution is not written but they might have thought about doing that at some point, you know, just write a few things
down. could have headed off brexit maybe. maybe not. so douglass once said -- and just to kind of drop -- drop of line in his great speech in glasgow in 1860, it's march of 1860, last major speech he gives in the british isles before he comes back home because his daughter annie has died, he says in that -- i will come back to the speech in just a few minutes, but it's this great constitution speech in glasgow, which has some weird stuff in it that i can't entirely defend, but it has some magnificent massages in it, too. one is this simple line, few people have been found better than their laws, but many have
been found worse. why do we have law? why do we have constitutions? few people are found better than their laws. most of us are much worse than our laws. we have laws because we're such fallible human beings, aren't we? i mean, you know this, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves. and why is democracy so hard? because we're human beings and our selfishness often marches ahead of all of our other impulses. i believe in democracy. i love democracy. now, wait a minute, don't take my taxes for that. whoa, wait a minute. i'm not giving up this so you
can have that. but that's what democracy requires. that's why it's so damned hard. it's why sometimes we have to have laws that make us do these things to even make a democracy function. yeah. well, the constitution came into this world full of now more and more and more of these written constitutions and as i suspect you know by now, and i'm not sure exactly what stage you are at the end of the third week of this amazing program, you're all still vertical and on your feet so you haven't been completely sub fused in all of this yet but the united states constitution in its original form was two constitutions, one pro-slavery and one anti-slavery. we want that constitution to just sit still, don't we? just be one thing, would you?
it's like the impulse so many people have about history itself. can't history just sit still? can't history just kind of stay stable the way i learned it? or the way i teach it? don't make me adopt a new textbook. all my notes are put together. damn. i mean, i know. hey, i review a book or something, oh, god, i have to change that lecture now. i read matt carp's book two years ago on the role of foreign policy and the coming of the civil war. oh, god, it's like two of my 1850s lectures have to have changes now. i don't have time to do that. then i just read james oak's new book on the anti-slavery constitution, here it is "the crooked path to abolition."
he is a very good friend of mine. i wrote a review for the new york review of books if they ever publish it. i have to change some of my lincoln lectures, too. i hate that. i don't want to do that. i want to get the notes out of the file, take them into class and have them say to me the same things they've said before so i can say the same thing in class. the public wants history to sit still, too. it's why we keep having history wars and we're having another one. i don't know where this one is going, i don't know what its duration will be, i don't know who is going to win. wars are less than won, though, and so are history wars. so buckle your seat belts. but we had two constitutions. there was a pro-slavery constitution which means that the u.s. constitution as mr. madison and his colleagues but especially mr. madison conceived it could have two fundamentally different readings. from the very beginning but
especially with some experience with it. nothing like a constitution that survives for 50rks 60, 70s, 80 years and now now or three generations have a lot of experience with it. that's called history. ideas can change the world as this u.s. constitution did but cause and effect never take a day off. we can lay down some ideas and there they are in writing. we have a written constitution, it's down in black and white, but, damn, this cause and effect thing. the fancy word for that is contingency. it just means cause and effect keeps happening. the roots of our civil war were in part in this constitution, not all the constitution's fault that we had this civil war, and some of those roots are still
sown in our political soil. they have not been scorched out of the earth. i would be happy to talk about a few of them, whether it's federalism or it's racism within the law or it's other elements. now, the pro-slavery constitution is probably the most familiar. this involves, let's just tick them off, you've surely talked this, it's the three-fifths clause, that weird segment -- how did that get in there. if somebody gets serious about studying the united states -- in fact, the two years i've taught abroad, i taught one year in germany and one year in england, traveling around and giving lectures, this was especially true in germany because it was the early '90s right after the war had gone down and, oh, my god, the world was changing and so everybody thought. i would get these questions
like, you know, we're great admirers of american democracy and american multiculturalism which was a term of the time, but why did you have a three-fifths clause? or even more, what the hell is the electoral college? why can't you just count the votes? which is what every modern democracy does. and i kind of nod and say, good question. and you spin all those lines about, well, you know, the electoral college came out of a different world, it came out of the 18th century world of deference, respect for class and station and pretty soon i'm swallowing my words and saying, yeah, it's a stupid institution, we should get rid of it. it belongs in the 18th century and never should have gone out of it. they should have reached 1800,
managed to let jefferson defeat adams because of the votes from the three-fifths compromise and then just said, no more electoral college. but they didn't. we have had long debates about this and you will read frederick douglass if you read him carefully even in that glasgow speech he is arguing that that three-fifths clause can be seen as anti-slavery. it's one of those moments when you say it's a cringe moment. you want to say, fred, no, give that one up. just put it aside. you have some other brilliant ideas, but put that one back in the drawer. and there's a fugitive slave clause. of course, it wasn't called that in the constitution. it says it's about persons held to service. and, yes, we all love to crack our jokes about they never used the word slave in the constitution, they had all these substitutes, servants, persons
held to service, laborers and so on. it's so easy to just poke at that from 230 years later and say, yeah, you see, they are all practicing denial. practicing denial is also a word from the age of psychology, not necessarily a word they would have understood in the 18th century, but there is a clause in the constitution, it's very ambiguous, that says these persons held to service can be recaptured and returned or shall be recaptured and returned at the same time the constitution is going to have the famous clause that gives everyone the right to due process. talk about two constitutions, a constitution divided against itself. which way are you going to
interpret it? oh, the proponents of the anti-slavery interpretation of the constitution you can rest assured are going to interpret it through the due process clause. and so did abraham lincoln and most of the republicans by the late 1850s. well, then there was the pro-slavery argument rooted in the constitution they said that slavery followed the flag wherever it went. to sea on american ships or to the western territories out of the jurisdictions of states. that slavery followed the flag. wherever the government's authority went, slavery was safe. well, that's got to be interpreted two fundamentally different ways as well because the constitution also says
explicitly no new state from a territory can be admitted to the union except by congress. and its domestic institutions can be decided by congress and, boy, does that set up a lot of history about the western territory and this thing called the civil war. the whole checks and balances business, madison is ingenious, subtle, idea about creating three -- well, three branches was not his idea, i've been around for a long time, although the supreme court thing that's -- that's kind of unique. i once had a professor when i was doing my ma at michigan state, doug miller, who left -- had to be provocatively left all the time no matter what.
he provoked us and said has the united states ever come up with an original idea? it's a hell of an opening question for a seminar, isn't it? okay. good morning, sir. we all had our ideas. somebody mentioned baseball. but in the end he was trying to lead us, bad teaching, actually, he was trying to lead us to this idea that, yeah, judicial review may be the only truly, truly, utterly original american creation. eh. i don't know. amazon. but checks and balances the way it was forged and then practiced is also itself of course a product of the divisions and problems between the slaves and the free states, isn't it? and this institution that we
have that now is so important such, again, a new problem in our -- this thing called the united states senate at a decidedly undemocratic institution is in this institution in part not solely in part because of compromises swirling in that room in philadelphia about what to do with the slave and free states. my god, in fact, linda cauley in her book -- she is a brit, she can get away with this, but she has had line that says if it weren't for the undemocratic senate and the extreme difficulty at ever amending the u.s. constitution that america finds itself in the mess it's in. i mean, it is extremely difficult to amend the u.s. constitution. we've had 20 some of them, it has happened, usually out of
great social and political turmoil or years and years of fighting like the women's voting amendment. generations of women suffrages had died before the women's rights amendment came, the 19th. the only way to get rid of the electoral college is the constitutional amendment. i know there is another method at work but it's not going to work. if you come up with a way to get rid of the electoral college you could really get rich as a political consultant. and then the pro-slavery constitution also, of course, boy, it laid -- it laid -- it just laid its eggs in the fifth amendment. the right to property. and the transport of property. the ownership of property is in
many ways the linchpin of the pro-slavery interpretation of the constitution. it's what gave them so much confidence about the debates over slavery in the west because they believed, and they were right, that if this ever got to the supreme court it finally would be adjudicated and decided and lo and behold it was in the dred scott decision, 7-2. as james oaks points out in his new book "crooked path to abolition" -- and he's right. again, i've done this. we tell that story that the dred scott case justice tawny the terrible language he use bd how black people would have no rights, have no future but we rarely ever stopped to look at the two dissents which were really anti-slavery. sometimes dissents, even if they really lose big, hold up over
time. justice harlan the great dissenter later on in the century, there have been some great dissents in the 20th century. justice kagan wrote a barn burner of a dissent just two days ago or this week about the 6-3 decision on the voting rights act. which is almost all gone now. they should have a funeral in arlington for the voting rights act. the course, the fifth amendment which guarantees your right to property has other parts to it, which the anti-slavery interpreters are going to seize upon. the due process clause. the fifth amendment is right -- the fifth amendment is itself divided against itself. now, the southern -- the pro-slavery point of view sort
of won the day on that one if you just kind of add up the votes and the numbers, but not in the long run. and then pro-slavery advocates of the constitution and they really believed with their greatest champion john c. calhoun that they had the charter on their side, and they did, didn't they, until they didn't. but they're also going to look to the tenth amendment. that tenth amendment which gets on the bill of rights there as kind of -- you retool the bill of rights, especially the first amendment and you get to that tenth and you think, what are they doing here? all rights not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved for the states. the reserve clause. reserved for the states. why such a concern for states' rights?
the whole thing was born out of states' rights, the whole thing was born out of the -- you know this -- this problem of holding the states together somehow other than the articles of confederation which utterly failed and now you're trying to build a stronger constitution that still honors state sovereignty. from the very beginning -- i get tired of hearing myself. that one of the greatest dilemmas we have in our entire polity and we cannot get rid of it is state sovereignty. yes, there are times when we are glad there is state sovereignty. women's rights, women's vote, the pro-abortion cause, gay marriage started first in states. you can look to lots -- depending on your point of view, you can look at lots of positives, lots of negatives, but we also have a horrible sorted history with states rights.
that which is not given to the federal government which could mean everything is reserved to the states. it's what our voting rights crisis is all about. it's why it is so significant whether we have or don't have a federal law about what states can do and not do about the right to vote. and last but not least the pro slavery interpreters of this constitution, and they were not just southerners, said that ultimately they had an ace in the hole and that was secession. that if you really believe as calhoun theorized, brilliantly theorized it, at least, that the constitution is a contract, a compact that you join and you can choose to not join, that
secession is legal and ultimately a last resort in this constitutional arraignment called -- arrangement called the united states. now, that's one of the most consequential theories and consequential ideas we have ever had on this soil because it was enacted -- it was acted upon in 1861 of course, it led to the civil war and this thing called the confederacy. and we had some right to believe that in 750,000 dead, a level of slaughter the world had never seen in a war, transformation of a society that we might have put states rights on the run, but we didn't. it's inherent in this constitutional system that madison and his friends invented in the 1780s and '90s. it still is. every day.
every day in our polity we are debating what are the powers of the federal government? what are the powers of the states and who decides? now, the anti-slavery interpreters, this other constitution, had its defenders. even early, very early when the constitution was being debated, you know, in the federalist papers even. i would recommend to you the new book by jim oaks which i've already mentioned three times. let me just run through a list, just a list of the ways in which this anti-slavery interpretation took hold over time and then eventually evolved into really this 1850s political coalition, testy coalition like all great coalitions, hard to hold it
together, but there it was, by 1856 running somebody for president in 1860, electing a president and suddenly it leads to war. why did the south secede from the union, oh, yeah, there are a lot of causes, but lincoln's election. you know, had a great deal to do with it. did they misinterpret lincoln's election? did they interpret it accurately? we can debate that. doesn't matter. the 11 states that seceded from the union interpreted it as an ultimate death note to their social system. and do you know what, they weren't wrong. i used to think otherwise. this is one of those things i had to change in my teaching. quick anecdote. i'm a graduate student at wisconsin. this is an argument for always listening to your mentors. i've been this high school teacher for seven years, i think i know how to teach.
dick sul was my mentor, the great richard sul, just died last year, wrote "ballots for freedom" among others. great scholar, political abolitionist and a fantastic mentor. dick came to observe my section. i was a ta in this course. and i had a great class i thought. the kids were on it, they were talking, they were -- this kitd was debating that kid and, man, i walked out of this thinking -- i gained three inches walking out of that class and dick walked me back to his office, he said that was really -- that was good. that was good. you've got experience here, i can tell. yeah, this was really good. can you come into the office a minute? i thought, oh, shit. what did i do? he sat down, he said, this really was a great class, but that moment where you said the south was misinterpreting
lincoln's anti-slavery, you need to rethink that. and he handed me a copy of his book "ballots for freedom" and signed it. i went home feeling like, i need to get a ticket home, i can't do this, i'm a terrible failure, but he was telling me something. be careful -- i had been teaching that for seven, eight years as a high school teacher, i had always taught that. i didn't know the scholarship yet. i really didn't. including his. read your mentor's book. god bless dig sewell, he made me a writer and he made me a thinker. any way, anti-slavery interpretation is rooted in six or seven elements of the constitution and i warn you here as you already know perhaps their argument at times is going to seem less empirical. it's going to seem less rooted
in the text, it's going to seem more interpretive, more abstract maybe. they first pointed to the preamble, we the people in order to form a more perfect union. we have heard that language so many times, we've seen it on too many place mats in bad restaurants, we've heard it in every political convention and we think, give me -- enough already. we the people in order to form a more perfect union. but, no, the abolitionists in the 18th century took that dead serious. they did. and then they went to section 4 of article iv and they said the federal government is bound -- it says is to guarantee to every state a, quote, republican form of government. representative government. a republican form of government. well, did the founders mean
white people representing? yeah, okay, they did, but a real republican form of government over time through history means we the people. i've got a douglass quote on that one, by the way. did he nail this one. he said its language -- this is, again, from the glasgow speech in scotland where he got so many things right but some things not so right. its language is we the people, he says, he's talking about the preamble, not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not even we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the people. not we the horses, sheep, swine and wheelbarrows, but we the people. we the human inhabitants.
and if negroes are people they are included in the benefits for which the constitution of america was ordained and established. he would challenge audiences back when he was first adopting this position in the early '50s, am i a person? and he would try to get some nods from the people, okay, where are you going with this, fred? yeah, yeah, you are a person. then what is we the people? okay. section 2 article iv they went there, that's the classic privileges and immunities clause, which anti-slavery interpreters said -- gave credence or authority or support to the idea of black citizenship. there was no american law of citizenship. there was state citizenship, there was -- you could be a citizen of virginia, even state citizenship didn't have a lot of
legal codification in antebellum america but there had never been a national definition until the fourth amendment in section 2. long before birth right citizenship possibly the first or second most important ringing clause in our constitution, long before that douglass and many others like him were claiming birth right citizenship. were you born here? you are a citizen. are you born here? you are an american. born here? you are part of we the people. and all that comes under that constitution. and then anti-slavery interpreters went to the fifth amendment, too, they said you have your fifth amendment, we have ours, too. they went to the part of the fifth amendment that said no person shall be, quote, deprived of life or liberty without due process of law.
life and liberty. and the anti-slavery interpreters had to -- had to embrace this idea that the constitution is its words. it has to be understood in its text, they're textualists. douglass became a real textualist. he would say if it's not written there it doesn't happen. it doesn't exist. but they interpreted, yeah, you've got your property stuff here in the fifth amendment, but look what that says. and from that the best move douglass had and many others was doing right back to james madison. douglass loved -- he did it several times -- loved quoting madison from his notes when madison famously wrote down that there could be no, quote, property and man. and the fact that it was james madison saying that, the guy who wrote the thing, can't be property and man. you can't have property in human
beings. so take your part of the fifth amendment and stick it somewhere. our part of the fifth amendment is its real meaning. a fifth amendment divided against itself. property and man. and then they also pointed to the war powers section, the executive section of the constitution. actually, for both president and congress and they believed it forged a theory of what they call forfeiture of rights. this may seem kind of arcane argument to us today but it wasn't to them. by forfeiture of rights they meant that if anyone in domestic -- if anyone engages in domestic insurrection, that is, is a seeds from the union they
have forfeited any rights they may have believed they had under that constitution and they are subject to the military power of presidential war powers. it was like a warning. they're doing this back in the 1840s already. it's like a warning from the anti-slavery interpreters to the pro-slavery interpreters if you ever put your money where your mouth s if you ever do that secession craziness you will pay because you will have no rights except the right of revolution. and then there is that clause which both sides are going to adopt but the anti-slavery folks kind of used it even more, the projection of the end of the foreign slave trade in 1808. remember the clause in the original constitution it says that they are going to put off the slave trade for 20 years, the issue. we love to poke holes in that,
too. we love to laugh about that. they were so afraid of what to do about slavery they just put it off for 20 years. under the rug. yeah, there is some truth to that. but when 1808 came they ended it. anti-slavery interpreters by the 1830s, '40s and '50s are saying the united states in its original constitution declared within this, you know, amount of time that it ended the foreign slave trade. that's anti-slavery by definition. it's at least an anti-slavery statement by the u.s. constitution. of course the pro slavery side is going to adopt this, too, and say, well, but the original founders said let's let the slave trade go for 20 years because they wanted to bring in as many as they kochlt they didn't quite admit that. and then finally the bill of
rights. the bill of rights was the anti-slavery interpretation sort of final case or could you coup de grace they hoped, especially the first amendment. the first amendment with its various rights to freedom of religion, assembly and so on and so forth. free speech, free press, became kind of like an anti-slavery star in the constitution. if they put this in the constitution how can this be pro-slavery? it didn't say that only white people have free speech. it's not in the text. it didn't say only white people have freedom of assembly and black people had churches. if you wanted to breathe the spirit of anti-slavery into the
constitution sometimes those arguing for it would just go here first. they would just start here. and they thought it, therefore, meant that despite all of its pro-slavery content and i know what you're thinking, what about the three-50s clause, what about the fugitive slave clause, what about, what about, what about. yeah, their politics was about what aboutism, too. nevertheless, the anti-slavery interpreters here, especially the more radical ones and that's where douglass planted his flag eventually came to believe that the constitution itself was a bulwark not just for anti-slavery but also for human equality. a beginning that would take a lot more law making to make it real. and, god, have they been right about that. or as, again, jim oaks argues,
he may not have been the first to have said it this way, but he said both sides of this debate for 80-odd years before the american civil war colonized the constitution. colonized it. kept getting beach heads in it. took this clause and that phrase and that article and said, that's ours. you can't have that. and the other side would take theirs and you can't have that. they kept colonizing the same territory. colonizing the same continent, colonizing the same islands. but eventually they were going to have to fight for those islands and fight for those lands, if you want to extend the metaphor for those colonies. let me end by just giving you a sense of douglass' own path to
this anti-slavery interpretation and here i want to use a couple of quotations really quickly. and i will end with this and welcome your questions. as i said already, garrison comes of age as an abolitionist when he is only 23 years old, he is discovered by the garrisonians out on nantucket, gives his first anti-slavery speech which is really just telling his own story and he goes on a circuit where he quickly discovered -- he is really a hell of a speaker -- he is not a writer yet, he is a speaker and he's got one heck of a story to tell about his slavery life. he's a garrisonian in mind and body. he is a believer in moral situation, he is a believer in nonvoting, he is a believer in
anti-politics, he is a believer in nonviolence sort of but not for long. and he can preach the pro-slavery interpretation of the constitution with the best of them. it's a covenant with death. he hadn't read much by then. but in his years in england -- i'm sorry -- year and a half almost in england and ireland and scotland where he encounters scottish idealism and he encounters the irish anti-slavery movement and british anti-slavery movement and encounters people who have grown up on sidney and john locke and oddly paradoxically aaron burns who was a great democrat, small d, as well as the author of lots of poetry about sex. douglass had two reasons he loved burns, but he's growing, he's becoming a man, he is in
his mid to late 20s now, he is reading a lot more. reading a lot of the british press. he comes back in 1847, founded his new paper, breaks with william garrison, the break took four or five years to run its course but he's coming under a set of all new abolitionists. this young man who is a sponge he meets garrett smith the wealthy an lissist from new york that bank rolled a lot of the anti-slavery movement and this guy with no money named fred douglass had five children in rochester needs money. so one of the accusations on him is going to be that he only -- he only sided with garrett smith because he needed money. follow the money. there is a little truth to that. his paper would have died without garrett smith's support.
nevertheless he starts reading the anti-slavery theorist, especially spooner, alvin stewart and william good dst ell. these are not great famous american household names, but these were the men in the 1840s, almost all new yorkers, who began to fashion a very philosophical argument about using the constitution for anti-slavery. and they used all those parts i just mentioned from the preamble to the, you know -- privileges and immunities and all the rest, but they ultimately fashioned this idea that not only was it possible to use the constitution, that they fashioned the idea that the federal government was obligated by the constitution to end slavery. when douglass first read spooner
and goodell he thought these guys are really out there, this is radicalism i don't get until he kept reading and kept reading and went to more and more meetings of the liberty party and then the free soil party and he spent more and more sunday afternoons in garrett smith's parlor at his mansion house in peter borrow where garrett smith would send him home with a $200 or $300 check and douglass began to realize, wait a minute, i need weapons. if i can use the constitution instead of always just arguing that it's utterly and hopelessly complicit with slavery and the covenant with the devil, oh, my god, any of what could be possible. maybe america could actually be reformed rather than totally overthrown. then he started reading salmon chase, you know your american
history you tend to know salmon chase mostly because he is a senator from ohio, he ends up in lincoln's cabinet and then he tries to run against lincoln in 1864, he really wanted to be president all the time and lincoln figures out how to get rid of him, he appoints him to the supreme court. good move. if joe biden ever wants to quiet barack obama down, put him on the court. i wouldn't predict that's going to happen. but salmon chase is -- there were many people arguing this but chase more than anyone else wrote this up where he said the intentions of the founders we are always arguing about the intent of the founders, original intent, there is originalism and then there is originalism. one person's originalism is another person's terrible
history, but chase argued that the intentions of the founders were that slavery should have a speedy end. maybe within a couple generations. sort of like a jeffersonian view. jefferson's idealistic idea that he never found to put in place, but this idea that american society especially its expansiveness would erode and then kind of end slavery. slavery couldn't survive this vast continent. jefferson wanted to believe. but chase took it even further. he said, you know, slavery because of states rights is a creature of state law, not federal law. it exists because -- and he pointed to all the abolitions that had happened in the northern states. the federal government never prevented vermont from ending slavery. nor pennsylvania. nor new york. nor connecticut by its 25 year gradual plan or massachusetts by
its edict of its supreme court and so on and so forth. all these northern states ended slavery and the feds didn't stop them. it was a creature of state law. it would never happen in the south of course where slavery was much more important. therefore, chase said among others and this becomes the guiding philosophy of the original republican party, that what you had to have was a political coalition, a political consensus that would agree to corden off slavery, stop its expansion, keep it where it already exists and eventually let it snuff itself out. what a grand idea. douglass a reading all of these people by 1849, '50 and 5e '51
and '52. he's happy to talk about it in his auto biographies because it's something he's happy to talk b douglass shows us how he slowly but surely comes to this point of view. at one point in late '51 he writes to garrett smith and he says i am, quote, sick and tired of letting the other side have all the authority and power on this argument. i want the constitution on my side and by god i'm going to get it there. and it's a little bit what this debate is like. i'm going to decide i not only believe these six tenets of the anti-slavery interpretation, i'm going to take it on the road and argue it to the world. i'm going to make it a part of the most passionate thing i do.
so he breaks with william lloyd garrison, it's a horrible breakup, it's a deeply personal scandal as well as you know if you've read my book or any other book on douglass, and their breakup is really permanent, but by 1852 douglass is a passionate supporter of the anti-slavery interpretation of the constitution without which he really wouldn't have survived as a political abolitionist and it gives him at least the preparation he needed to ultimately embrace that coalition which he had a hard time embracing at first of the republican party. let me end with this, though. it kind of comes back to our we the people idea as vague as that
may seem. one of the best ways to understand, i think, where this two constitutions idea ends up is not just in the blood of the civil war, because it did. i mean, the civil war is fought over and the consequence of many divisions in america almost all of which related in one way or another to slavery, but you can surely make the case there is no american civil war without this constitution divided against itself. so when you write a constitution down the road for a whole new country or company or school, make it fail-safe. make it perfect. because you don't want to have any civil wars. that's the moral of the story. but what happens in the wake of the war? of course you get the second founding. you get the second american
revolution out of emancipation of four million slaves comes the 14th, 15th amendment a new constitution rooted in section 2 of the 14th amendment the most important language in the document. i know, we can debate about that. corporate lawyers would argue for other portions of the document and -- and rigid conservatives would argue for other portions of the document and there are people walking around who will argue against birth right citizenship. some of them are in the u.s. senate. and every time they do it i want to -- i want to take a laminated copy of section 2 -- i mean section 1 of the 14th amendment and just ram it down their throats, but -- i'm sorry. but you've got the remaking of this american experiment and just like linda cauley found in
the 18th century in the age of revolutions all kinds of constitutions come out of that. so did a new constitution come out of armageddon in the civil war and it made frederick douglass for a short period of time the most optimistic he had ever been. this is the same douglass who when he returned from britain in 1847 and went out on the road, douglass was an incredibly angry young black man when he got back from britain. it's a classic sort of story. he is this young guy, he goes over there when he's 27, comes back when he's almost 29, he's been linized all over british reform, he can't keep his narrative in print, it sells out everywhere he goes. he's had quite a run. and he comes back to racist america, into the hot house of the late 1840s and america where the idea of ever ending slavery
looks utterly impossible. it's climbing mt. everest and beyond. he goes out in speeches and he says i have no country. i have no love of america. america hates me, i hate it back. at one point wendell phillips the great garrisonian abolitionist took douglass aside and in effect said, fred, tone it down. you are going to lose the audience, man. you are so angry. i don't know what douglass' response was that day. it was probably something like, wendell, what do you expect? i don't know. i don't know what he said. but that guy who was saying that in 1847 is saying something so different in the wake of emancipation. i will just give you this one example and then we will go to questions. he writes a speech, he first wrote this baby in 1867 the text we have of it comes from 1869
and it's by '69 and '70 he's giving it pretty widely on the lecture circuit, it's called the composite nation. composite nation. pull it up on the internet. i didn't write a lot about it in my book, it's one of the 312 mistakes in that book, i should have had a whole section on it. but this is the speech in which douglas stops -- it's not a long speech but he opens by the way by defining a nation. this was -- this man was a budding political scientist for those of you in political science or in political theory. here is his definition of what a nation is, it's as good as anything benedict anderson ever wrote. he said, a nation, quote, implies a willing surrender and sub jeks of individual aims and ends often narrow and selfish to the broader and better ones that arise out of society as a whole.
it is both a sign and a result of civilization. that's what a democracy is. and douglass in this speech is saying, america has been given this chance to create something no one else in the world has ever done, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious nation state made up of people's from all over the earth, all colors, all religions, all ethnicities, languages, all coming to one place and living under the rule of law. and name lit 14th amendment. which had just passed congress the year before he wrote this is a speech and was about to be ratified when he took it on the road. by the way, he takes it on the road in 1869 just as the 15th amendment the voting rights
amendment is about to pass and it will be ratified in 1870. douglass believes he is seeing the remaking of the united states out of the blood of the war and out of the reality of the emancipation of the slaves. he has a right to believe he's witnessing this. despite all -- he's not naive. he's predicting all the time the coming counterrevolution in the south and the resistance of res white southerners. he predicts over and over the proslavery sentiment will be greater now that slavery is gone. than it was when it existed. he's not naive here. he's saying look at the chance we have been given, no people in history have ever really tried to do this. now there is a reason he's so optimistic at the moment. he becomes become an american expansionist. he's kind of a soft imperialist.
he's arguing for american annexation of santo domingo. he thinks the united states should be, you know, expanding into the caribbean, it should be taking this new egalitarian republic out to the world. it should be sharing its ideals. it makes him -- if you bring him ahead to the cold war, it makes him sound like a thumping american imperialist and he kind of was. but he thought this is something we ought to share with the world. they're waiting for us. especially places with darker people who have no democracy. and by the way, grant is, of course, going to appoint him to the santo domingo commission. he goes as its secretary in 1870. spends four months on the tour around santo domingo and haiti and kept a priceless diary while he did it. he almost drowned, by the way, on the beach, once. but, anyway, in the middle of the speech, though, he takes
about five pages in the middle of this text, and he stops and he makes a ferocious argument for chinese immigration. which was just becoming a very big issue, partly because of the transcontinental railroads and all these chinatowns being created in california and elsewhere where the labor has lived, under wholly different kinds of laws, but nevertheless, douglass takes up this issue and says, america, get ready, they're coming. he didn't have neil diamond's song yet, ♪ they're coming to ameing to a♪ he didn't have that. he says they're coming over the rivers, they're coming over the hills. he says, stop worrying, yeah, they're alien people, they speak a very different language, but they have a 3,000-year-old culture, the oldest civilization on earth. they have been thinking things we haven't thought.
they have been inventing things we haven't invented. bring their culture and then he applies classic move by an american the assimilationist model. he says they will assimilate to our creeds because our creeds are so good. natural rights. life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. the doctrine of consent says we got the creeds, man. let them come. and stop worrying about how foreign they seem. as you know, i suspect, you know, the first chinese exclusion act came in 1874, the big one in 1882, first one was just about women. second one was for almost everybody. and then douglass shifts and ends the speech with a little section at the end, which is this tribute, this beautiful
statement of the natural rights tradition. that if you get your creeds right, and you believe in them sufficiently, if you believe these human rights are natural, they're, like, ore in the soil, you can even make it work with a multieverything population. it reads like -- that speech reads like a multicultural manifesto from the 1990s. we're all going to be the most diverse and wonderful laboratories of multi everything we can be and of course we believe that. we want to believe that. the composite nation speech
reads like that. what century are you in, man? i cannot find an example of him giving that speech after 1871. he put it away. he might have given it somewhere, but i don't -- i didn't find -- it doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it is a speech that fits this moment of high hope and imagination out of the second founding. but as reconstruction begins to erode and get defeated and by the great depression of 1873, and by the white counterviolent revolution in the south, 1770s, this speech doesn't fit anymore, he quits giving it. doesn't mean he gave up at all. on the victories of the reconstruction amendment. but it does show us how he
thought there was truly a new constitution at work and we ought to go out and show it to the world if we can hang on to it. thank you. [ applause ] now you can pepper me with comments and problems and questions. and you have to go to the mics, yes. i thought you were going to go with the first question. you looked to eager. come on. she's got a camera. so she's probably not coming to ask a question. here he comes. there he is. all right.
the man i saw over in starbucks who has to catch a flight soon. but i signed his book, so he's ready to go. sir? >> yes, thank you for doing that. there was a part in the book where you said modern republicans and their attempt to use douglass' words on self-reliance might want to read deeper into douglass as one who is a modern democrat. what maybe should i read more into or what maybe should we read more into about the way that we attempt to use douglass in a positive characterization? >> i love the question whether you're a modern republican or a modern democrat or just a modern. the problem is this, we do like douglass like with all the major figures in history, god knows with lincoln, people make
lincoln there are 45 different lincolns to choose from, pick one. jefferson, good lord, how many jeffersons are there? i wonder how many madisons have there been through time. where is madison's memory ebb and flow? but what modern right has done is seized upon many writings of -- by douglass, writings and speeches, where he expressed fierce support of self-reliance, that is he preached particularly to black audiences don't wait for handouts, create your own schools, especially after the civil war, create your own schools wherever you can, stay on the farm, get property, own things. it is a very -- seemingly very conservative sort of social philosophy. but what we can forget sometimes is that every black leader in the 19th century had to believe
in self-reliance. how can you not believe in self-reliance in a society that enslaves you, then brutally discriminates against you, and then kills you when you assert your rights, and so forth. what are the choices do you have in a society that will not build you a school, and then will segregate you if there is one you need to create your own. he also truly believes these things. he preached it to his own kids, his own three sons and his daughter. and it caused a lot of problems in that family too. douglass wanted his sons to own things, to create, to go into business, and they did not always succeed to put it mildly. the other problem with that argument, though, and this is where i think historians have to stand up and say it, douglass was also a ferocious believer in
activist, interventionist government. think about it. he believed in using the government to end slavery, fight a civil war, to destroy the confederacy. pass the constitutional amendments that remade the u.s. constitution, pass the reconstruction acts that made possible, possible the right of landownership and the right to vote in the south as long as it could be protected. there is nothing contradictory about believing in self-reliance, in certain aspects of life, and believing that government is a source of great social change, great positive social change. when used properly. he argued for both of those. i was -- when i wrote that passage, i don't really regret it but i've been reminded of it many times and emails and
elsewhere, i was reacting in part to a book put out by the cato institute called self-made man. they loved to point to his famous speech called self-made man, which was a much more complicated speech than they give him credit for. it is actually a variation of jonathan edwards' freedom of the will in some ways, at any rate, in that little book, what's his name, sandofer, he was supportive of the cato institute to write this book and all he did was cherry pick about self-reliance to show that douglass was a great proponent of limited government and self-reliance. i wrote an op-ed in "the new york times" about that book if you want to know what i think of it. but it is what we do with history. we appropriate those -- i'm guilty of it too.
i sometimes appropriated aspects of douglass' thought to a certain end in our own time. the job of a historian is to tell about the, you know, the ups and downs that rise and fall, the blindnesses and the possible foresight that a historical figure may have had. we love this debate in america, don't we? between this idea of making it on our own and making it because somebody gave us a little lift or a fellowship. [ applause ] or a gave us a reading where we had to buy our own books, carry these big thomes around.
that's an eternal debate, by the way. americans will never stop debating that one. yes, sir? and then we'll go over to the left side. >> -- colorado, we got three colorado -- >> okay. >> -- folks here. we're pretty excited. as someone who is taught in -- at the secondary level, knowing the difficulties of choosing content for a survey course for middle schoolers or high schoolers, what lesson or event or biographical details, what moment can -- would you want our nation's kids to learn from douglass' life? >> oh, you're going to do it all in one class? do i get two classes? you're going to sprinkle it through -- >> we can make some connections, maybe. >> tenth graders, 11th graders. >> i have the difficulty of doing 7th grade through 12th
grade. multiple classes. >> it is an impossible task, but you want me to have an answer. i got you. well, okay, number one, go to the narrative, whether you read it or not, i hope you do read it, and talk about it as a coming of age story. this is the coming of age of a human being in slavery. there is a sense in which it is more american than that. slavery helped make the united states. it helped shape american society. it was its greatest source of wealth, it was there at the founding and there at the refounding and middle of everything. talk about the coming of age that he tells about himself, that terrible obstacle he encounters, even though he's using himself self-servingly. kids are always talking about
themselves and they get that. somebody once -- i taught two years at harvard, as a junior faculty person, there was an article, late '80s, all this concern about self-esteem among students. and i understand that. i thought, these kids have self-esteem problems? we already know they're going to rule the world. why are they worried about self-esteem? make them read something. anyway, but the coming of age elements in there, you can kind of look at how he's remembering when he's 7 years old on the plantation, showing the metaphor when he remembers being a little -- he's a child, 6 and 7 years old, but he remembers the huge flocks of blackbirds that would come into the trees at the
plantation and how he would dream of being on their wings. their wings meant freedom to him. the reason that metaphor means so much to me is because i got to stay twice at the plantation house, if you've ever been there, the house is still there, the big mansion house is still there from the 1920s, it is owned today by the fifth generation descendant of colonel lloyd who owned it when douglass was there and they embraced douglass. they're happy to tell you douglass is the most famous person that ever lived in that place, took five generations to get there, but that's all right. they let me stay out on the kitchen house, which is where little fred lives. sort of lived. he got to sleep in the crawl space next to the fireplace. and it is in that crawl space where he watched his aunt hester beaten to a bloody pulp, fireplace is still there. same fireplace, crawl space
still there, little door on it. it is now an upscale two bedroom apartment. i got to stay there. and i'm already overwhelmed, but that's the fireplace? that's the crawl space. and in the morning i walk out, just a pristine spring morning, and there they are. a thousand blackbirds are in this tree. and making the loudest racket you ever heard. and i realized, damn, he didn't make that up. as an adult, remembering a child's memory, that i'm going to say has to be true. i saw it too. now, i guess if i had your class, i would tell him that story and i probably have them in my hand for about three minutes. and then wander off. coming of age, the coming of age
elements of douglass' youth, but then i think there is so many other elements of the life, i would like them to learn something at that age about politics, and how when you're outside of politics, on the outside, you're some kind of radical reformer, you're a radical outsider, trying to get inside, affect power somehow, you want to change the world, and kids want to change the world. or some of them do, i guess. i don't know. some of them just want a better phone. but how you do that, how do you learn the arts of politics, how do you learn to deal with people and there may be ways there you can tell douglass and garrison story of how they really came together and really came apart or how -- his relationship with lincoln or just his relationship with the republican party.
i think they would really get that. politics is sometimes a matter of sitting down with people you don't always like. and what are their lives about, kind of learning tolerance, you know, wonderful world we put on library posters. tolerance is a good thing. that means you get along with people you don't like. like your neighbor. or your occasional colleague or somebody, you know? but i do think lastly i would say can you just find some quotes and passages? i love teaching douglass this way and other people too. just pick out some passages and just put them up in front of them, and say what do you think he meant here? this man was so, so, so adept at capturing and two lines, three
lines, the meaning of an event, the meaning of a change in history, the meaning of a concept, and i had to give a speech, i have it here in my hands, i carry it everywhere, a speech, a book prize dinner, where i was getting the prize, and i didn't want to talk about myself. so i made a list -- what do i have on here now, 27 douglass quotations. and i got a whole bunch more if i want to. and i just spun together a little talk where i read the passages and i said, this is all going to be in douglass' voice. and i don't know if it worked except a bunch of people came up afterwards and said that's the first one i ever heard, talk about himself for 25 minutes and about his mother and third grade teacher and all this garbage that no one wants to hear. so find some passages in douglass that you particularly
like. my first one, education and slavery are incompatible with each other. what do you mean by that? to a bunch of eighth graders. or blackbirds quote. i used to contrast my condition with the blackbirds whose wild and sweet songs i fan sid them so happy. their apparent joy only deepened the shades of my sorrow. why does he see joy in blackbirds and sorrow in his heart? sounds very sentimental, but it gets them to the words and douglass is always about his words. that's what i would suggest. that's what i would do. go ahead. to the left, so to speak.
>> fellow tiger fan, i'll have to ask you after the discussion about how you feel about their season. >> terrible. though we had a sweep of the indians the other night. >> i'm happy about that. >> yeah, it's another bat bad rebuilding year. we can talk, but we may weep. yeah. >> we'll have that in common. so my question is, you know, when you look at douglass' life, he played so many roles. >> yeah. >> and i'm a seventh, eighth grade teacher, i'm always looking for that application piece, you know, to draw the history forward for them so they can better understand it. so if you were in the classroom today, how would you use douglass' life and how he educated himself to teach that piece to junior high kids so they can make that connection, because i think there is something there.
>> there is no doubt there is something there. this is a very challenging idea because we have our values, don't we, about importance of these books, importance of reading and writing and it is a given for us. right? you can't find enough time to read. come on. i know that's true. our kids don't necessarily wake up and wish for more time to read. however, there are so many moments in douglass' life if you want to find them in the narrative, you can, or the autobiography or point to a speech, you can take them to some portion of the fourth of july speech, there is a letter, i mentioned it in the book, where he says you worked for three weeks on that speech. that's the greatest speech he ever gave, the rhetorical masterpiece of american abolitionism, it is an incredible -- it is a classic illustration of the jeremiah
that the puritans gave such fame to, the idea of the alter call of the flock to come back to the faith that they have lost and they're risking their immortal souls and their nation and their society if they don't. there is a letter where douglass says i worked for three weeks on this speech. i was desperate to find out what was he reading? what were you work on. he didn't tell us. there are ways you can kind of point them to passage here in a famous speech and just try to get kids to understand so what would very to do to be able to write that, what would very to read? and can't just answer -- he was genius, no. no, he wasn't. no. that doesn't explain anything. i don't even know what a genius is. well, sometimes in music and the arts we kind of know, don't we?
some 12-year-old gets up with the violin and does magic we think there must be something called genius. but, you know, to get kids to the value this idea that here was somebody who had no formal school, these kids are going to go to school for 12 years least and then college and then they go on. always these years of our education and he didn't have a day in the school. so what does that mean? i'll tell you what, get a copy of the narrative on -- i don't have it here -- not sometimes -- i do this every year and i start my lecture class. i get it in front of the class, talk about the syllabus, we're going to do this topic and that topic and three papers and then they're going to -- whatever. walk through the syllabus and then at some point in the middle of it, i just take a copy, i
usually use douglass' narrative and i start holding it, and i start rubbing and really doing embarrassing things with it, and i walk out into the class, especially if there is an aisle in the middle and i kind of hold and then i ask them, what is this? they look at me like what is this idiot going to have a real class. i say, you know, it is a book. think what we do every day with these things. we throw them all over the floor in my apartment, all over the floor in my office, all over my life. throw them in and out of book bags, backpacks, but think how magical this little book was to a former slave when he could write it and then go out in the world and say, this is me.
i wrote it. my story. that's literacy turned into power. however you want to put it. turned into meaning. turned into a weapon. so, you know, they don't have to imagine themselves as slaves. they don't -- they don't have to want to go to prison to write their prison memoir or something, we don't want to do that. but literacy has changed the world. the pen can persuade. it -- it is like the old saying, ethics can't help you when you're faced by a grizzly bear. but when douglass was looking for a sentence to end his second
autobiography, go look at it, when he finally brings that to an end, in 1855, you can -- you read the last couple of sentences and, okay, i love to see how people write endings, endings matter to me, i want an ending of a chapter and already have you reading the next chapter. it has to have you reading the next chapter. but, anyway, douglass is struggling. i can tell he was struggling to figure out another way. and then slightly paraphrasing, as long as heaven allows me to do this work, i will do it with my voice and my pen and my vote. my voice, my pen, my vote. and you quickly realize when you read that, what else did he have? not in elective office, doesn't have any wealth, to speak of. and he has a voice. he has a pen.
and he now has a vote. i made a big deal out of that quote one year in the summer institute of teachers and by thursday morning they showed up in my class, they had gone online and they had t-shirts made. and the front it said, douglass in 2020, he was running. no, 2016. no, 2020, going to run in 2020. on the back, it said my voice, my pen, my vote. i should have brought that t-shirt with me. i think kids can react to that. what happens when the pen or a voice, journalism, is the only weapon you have to persuade people? how do you go about doing that? today if they think about that, they think of the internet, they think of social media, how people spend all day trying to persuade other people in social media. we're a species trying to
persuade each other on social media. we may all just die doing it. i don't know. i joined twitter for the first time last september, but i shouldn't say why, it was a partisan reason. so i, you know, seventh and eighth graders are tough. you're a hero for trying to teach them, but i here they're very impressionable. >> you always -- you always start off your seminars saying this week is about your academic life and we had three weeks of the first time in our life of having an academic life. it has been wonderful. i saw a presentation with -- mondays at the berneke. >> and your next subject is james weldon johnson.
can you talk about the research that you did with douglass and how different it is with johnson and how -- do they connect? >> wow. thank you. if these institutes are about your intellectual lives, which they are, you gave me a question to deal with my intellectual life. my research on douglass is basically been all of my adult life from graduate school on, first book on douglass, et cetera, et cetera. i did this new biography because i encountered as you may know if you read some of the book a new private collection of douglass' manuscripts which was almost unbelievable when i first saw it. a man in savannah, georgia, maimedmaim ed named walter evans. walter is a very good
businessman, waited until after my book came out to cut his final deal with the beneke leaders of resources, let's put that way. the beneke is one of the world's greatest manuscripts, treasures beyond your belief. they paid one of the highest prices ever for this collection on frederick douglass, which is, i don't know, says something about our times. james weldon johnson is a very different character. if you don't know james weldon johnson, you're not alone. people who are in the field of black history may tend to know him. but long story made short, he was a poly math. born post civil war, born in 1871, jacksonville, florida, his parents were both free, one parent was from the bahamas, one parent -- the other from the
u.s. he had a very good primary and secondary education, he went to edwin stanton high school in jacksonville where he later became the principal. he's deeply imbued with music early on from his parents, they owned a parent. grew up in a house with a piano. his brother became a great pianist and a composer. and if johnson had a first career, it was essentially as a lyricist on broadway. for about six years he and his brother moved to new york, his brother stayed. from 1900 to 1906, the johnson brothers with a man named bob cole, a black performer, musician, had a vaudeville act. and they also wrote songs for the early, early broadway. some of these what the world will come to call -- songs, some
are sort of old plantation songs, and they were sentimental southern songs in some ways, and under the bamboo tree is one of the most famous and stayed in the repertoire of these music companies for a long time. but they also went on the road, they traveled the entire country as a vaudeville act. that's how this man starts. but then he went into the foreign service, and he became a diplomat. how do you go from vaudeville to diplomacy? he served as u.s. counsel to nicaragua. he was in venezuela during a coup d'etat, he had to wear a gun all the time, day and night. he quits the foreign service around 1910, '11, comes back to new york city, although he had some periods back and forth in
jacksonville where, by the way, got his law degree. principal of stanton high school in the 1890s and went to atlanta university, black college, very pivotal in his life, where he really discovered jim crow, but then he becomes a newspaper editor in the teens, wrote all the editorials for three years, quite a journalist, political journalist. and along about in the middle of world war i, 1916, he was recruited by w.b. du bois and others to come to the end of the naacp. and he became first their field secretary, which meant he was the person traveling all over the south, the jim crow south, to organize chapters, branches, they called them, of the naacp. and the membership of the naacp
increased two and threefold during the time he was field secretary. by the early '20s he became executive director of the naa and was until 1930. he spent 14 years essentially running the naacp. but oh, by the way, along the way he wrote the most famous early modernist black novel called "the autobiography on --" published first in 1912 under a pseudonym and later he exposed it was his book. an absolutely fascinating book. sort of about passing and not entirely about passing, in 1912, this is way before what we called the harlem renaissance. and by the way, along the way, he's always been a poet. and i think at the end of the day he saw himself more as a poet than anything else.
published his first book of poetry in 1915 called "50 years and other poems" and the lead poem is a poem called "50 years" probably page one of "the new york times" and the 50th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. it is an absolutely brilliant 20-verse poem about the meaning of emancipation. he will go on then to write or collect and edit the book of american negro poetry, two different editions, the book of american negro spirituals and two editions, black and unknown bards, collection of poems and then the famous collection of seven poems called "god's trombones" which are black sermons imagined in verse. he was always experimenting with poetry. he retires from the naa in 1930,
and just wrap this up by saying he couldn't just, though, go. he bought a place in barrington, massachusetts, where the boys had grown up, bought a country house there, he and his wife grace lived their summers up there. but he couldn't sit still so he took a job teaching creative writing at fiske university in nashville. and later he also taught at nyu. so he went back to teaching in the last eight, nine years of -- eight years of his life. and by the way, kept writing, he wrote one of the great black autobiographies of all time, published in 1933 called along this way, i actually think he was a better autobiography than douglass. he's more revealing. he's not afraid to reveal some things that douglass was. i'll give you one little last -- i'm working in this paper. his papers are almost entirely
at beneke library. why i'm doing this. there hasn't been a modern biography since 1971. i find him incredibly fascinating character. he's a little buttoned down. straight laced. i keep looking for -- six years writing lyrics in vaudeville. what are we really doing? you and your brother and your buddies. they lived in a hotel called the marshall on 57th street on the west side, which was known as the black hotel, and they had the craziest parties in new york. i'm trying to get to that too. i don't know about these parties. but he eventually is seen as kind of the dean of black writers. he's seen as kind of the cultural broker of black
america, in the whole era of what we call the harlem renaissance, but by the way, he never called it that. it was this phenomenon, it wasn't all harlem to him, it was people all over the country. and they all write to him, i'm only in the ms and i've been at this since january, the correspondence is voluminous and gets endless, endless letters from young poets especially. they send them their poems. and for reasons i don't quite understand, he reads them. he reads -- people send them these awful poems and he'll read them and write back and sometimes he'll say you have potential. you have some poetic sensibilities. but you should read this, this that and that and read some of the classic poems and you need
to read about technique. they don't know what a sonnet is from whatever. sometimes they'll write back and say you need to find another thing to do. and he's very direct about it. i actually love that about him. he doesn't suffer fools. if the stuff is horrible, he tells them and says, you know, you got to do something else. or he'll say, you do not have poetic sensibility. he'll be like being told by your drama teacher, you can't act. get out of here. you know? so correspondence is full of that stuff. and i do think -- i will be arguing eventually that he is probably the most important sort of broker of black artist and writer. he gives them access to white publishers, he's connected to all of them. anyway, he had battles too with some of the other great leaders
of the time. and long, long from finished with this research, so we'll see. that's my next book. don't hold your breath. it will take a few years. but thanks for that question. i have yet to give a public talk except that beneke zoom thing where they made me show some documents about jwj and i got to eventually get practiced talking about him. there is my rehearsal. thanks. >> all right. professor, thank you for your time, your lecture, for thoughtful answers to the questions and coming and signing books. it has been great, thank you very much. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> you'll sign a few more books, right? >> sure.
c-span is your unfiltered view of government, funded by these television companies and more, including wow. >> the world has changed. today a fast reliable internet connection is something no one can live without. so wow is there for our customers, with speed, reliability, value, and choice. now more than ever it all starts with great internet. wow. >> wow, supports c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. sunday nights on q&a, jessica delong, chief engineer of the historic fire vote john j. harvey on september 11th when it was called back into service to aid firefighters following at attacks on the twin towers.
in her book "saved at seawall," she tells the story of the community of mariners who came to the rescue of thousands. >> the maritime evacuation that delivered nearly half a million people to safety is an incredible example of the goodness of people that when you are given the opportunity to help, you have the tools, you have the skill set, you have the availability that people over and over again made the choice to put themselves in harm's way, for the sake of fellow humans and that is very instructive and something we really need to continue to remember. >> jessica delong, sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span's q&a. you can also listen to q&a as a podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
former u.s. surgeon general jerome adams and other doctors testified on capitol hill about combatting vaccine hesitancy. this hearing of the house coronavirus crisis select subcommittee looked at how to encourage vaccinations through lotteries, cash payments, mandates from employers or schools, and other measures. good morning. the committee will come to order. without objection the chair is authorized to declare a recess of the committee at any time. i now recognize myself for an opening statement. we're here this morning to discuss an issue of broad bipartisan concern, critical need to overcome vaccine hesitancy so that more americans get vaccinated against this deadly viru