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tv   The Presidency Most Hated Presidents in American History  CSPAN  October 13, 2021 4:05pm-5:37pm EDT

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presidency" highlight the politics, policies and legacies of presidents and first ladies. what do jefferson, lincoln, roosevelt, johnson and nixon have in common? they faced not just political opponents but american who's hated them. what were the reasons? and american historical association panel tries to answer that question. >> jeffrey engel, i'm the founding director for center for presidential history at southern methodist university and you already know because you signed up for this, we're here to talk about presidents and hatred. two points, i think that, might be helpful from a start. i mention this to my daughter today what i was doing and her first question was, are you doing that because of president trump? and i said, well, i suspect that's why we wanted to do it in if the first place. but we're not talking about president trump. we're talking about presidents in history. no doubt he will show up in the q&a.
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but obviously this is aha. we're going to keep focused on for those whom have a greater husband torical perspective. then she asked another interesting question. she said, well, all presidents are disliked. how do you decide which ones to focus on? i said well that's really what we're going to be exploring. that, you know, obviously even in the best of cases almost half the country probably didn't vote for you. but that doesn't mean that we don't have the special cases where we have particular elements of the country who, shall we say, hate and despise more than simply dislike. we're going to explore what the difference is between presidents who simply are opposed and presidents who are against the american way of life according to their critics. we're going to proceed in chronological order. the presidents we're discussing today are thomas jefferson, abraham lincoln, franklin roosevelt, lyndon johnson and
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richard nixon. and we're going to begin with thomas jefferson by starting out with our guest who is the class of 1954 professor of history and american studies at yale university. she is the author of "affairs of honor, national politics in had new republic." she's the editor of and works on alexander hamilton, who seems eminently fashionable. and her most recent book, which i highly recommend, is the field of blood. so without further ado, joanne, please tell us why we should hate jefferson. >> okay, and i always check when i do everything here, everyone can hear me, so live is good in audio land. excellent. i will now discuss why certainly why some people hated thomas jefferson. i want to begin by saying that in recent years, when i have been asked what moments in
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american history share echoes with our polarized present, one of my responses typically is the late 1790s. now, as an early americanest, i'm aware that the late 1790s does not have some of the pizzazz potential for polarization as say the 1850s and the civil war. but the intense polarization of federalists and republicans, the extreme othering each of the other as un-american, the press predictions on both sides of chaos, tyranny, and anarchy, the bursts of violence that president john adams later described as terrorism, using actually that word, the echoes of polarization and hate between past and present clearly are very real. so what can this kind of historical hate offer in the way of insights? part of what i'm going to be discussing in my brief comments this afternoon is that there are different flavors of presidential hate.
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some more intense than others. some more personal than others. some more prone to weaponization than others. so and that idea, i want to say that there are different flavors of presidential hatred, and i have used that word because there's something sensory about real hatred for a president. i'll be really curious to see how that does or doesn't make sense as we continue with this roundtable. now, jefferson certainly was not new to hatred when he became president in 1801. as the supposed head of the republican party, and a leader prone to speaking large, as a friend once said about him, meaning prone to making these very broad, sometimes extreme idealogical pronouncements, people who disagreed with jefferson often hated him for his ideas and for the seeming likelihood that his ideas often
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seemingly extreme could lead to the collapse of the infant republic. generally speaking, federalists believed that republicans favored a dangerous degree of democracy, meaning ongoing above and beyond elections, popular participation, protests and otherwise, in american politics. and certainly among the many things that jefferson spoke large about, democracy was one of them. fears about ungovernable democracy intensified in the mid and late 1790s with the explosion of the french revolution. the period that spawned adams' remark about terrorism in the streets. and he describes in this later letter, servants in the presidential mansion arming themselves and standing by the door because everyone was afraid of what was going on in the streets, so for him, the fear of that moment was very real. then came the presidential election of 1800, when the
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federalists versus republican polarization came to a peak. then, as now, selecting a president was seen as something of a referendum on what the nation wanted. during a time of extreme polarization, it felt like a turning point. so not surprisingly, hatred of jefferson shortly before and after the election of 1800 was newly emotional, even hysterical at times, premised on the conviction that jefferson, described by federalists as a french loving anarchist infidel radical would take the name at this key moment of decision down a path of destruction. given that jefferson was a soon to be president and a just became president at the time we're talking about here, this hatred was largely grounded on prediction, symbolism, ideology, and campaign rhetoric rather than any actual actions that he had a chance to take as president. and you can see this kind of free-floating us versus them hatred in some letters sent to
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jefferson within his first year as president. like the one informing jefferson of an assassination plot supposedly brewing in new york, and as the author wrote, shocking to relate, shoking, shocking. nothing seems to have come of it. it might not even have been real, but jefferson received that in the mail, not that long after becoming president. or like the anonymous hate mail that jefferson got a little after that former letter that referred to, among other things, quote, you and your tribe of foreign outcasts and, quote, tommy jefferson's bosom friend, france. so there you see france is kind of standing in as the ultimate other. with jefferson really literally throughout the letter being the other's representative and thus one of those outcasts as well. so we're looking at hatred borne of, as i mentioned before, prediction, symbolism, ideology, and campaign rhetoric.
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and that kind of fear, it's sort an extreme example of this that i can't resist mentioning only because it showed you the degree to which, and i suppose there are some echoes of familiarity here, that boiled down to minute things that had broad political and cultural influence. one federalist focused on jefferson's shoes as being an indication of his ideology and the ways in which he was a threatening president. they mocked him actually in the statement they made is the philosophic president prefers shoestrings when other folks wear buckles. in one way or another jefferson was saying buckles are superfluous and anti-republican. shoelaces apparently were in style in france so that actually is another anti-french statement on something as trivial as shoelaces, but again, othering jefferson. that prevailing hatred changed dramatically in jefferson's
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second term, which included his much hated 1807 embargo act which cut off american shipping exports in an attempt to punish french and english interference with american trade. not surprisingly the act had a disastrous impact on the commerce driven north and you could feel, really feel the impact of that hatred. in jefferson's hate mail from this period. like the anonymous letter from boston that read, "i have agreed to pay four of my friends $400 to shoot you if you don't take off the embargo which i saw pay them if i have to work on my hands and knees for it. you're one of the greatest tyrants in the whole world, you're worse than bonaparte, a great deal, i wish you could feel as bad as i feel with six children round you crying for victuals and be half starved yourself." that is a profoundly personal kind of insult there. less specific but clearly bursting with a similar sense of personal outrage and suffering
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are two remarkably concise letters and i'm going the read them in their entirety. one read in its entirety, quote. you are the damnedest fool that god put life into, god damn you, period. that was it. the other one read, go to hell, you damn booger. go to hell. that was all he said. so that's intense hate. and that's intense hate driven by a policy and the impact it was having particularly in the north. these are people who were so outraged at what was going on in a personal way that they just spilled that out onto the paper. that's intense hate driven by very real personal circumstances. that kind of hate it seems to me is not as easy to weaponize as the hatred of us versus them symbolism. vague, fear-driven polarizing hatred the kind in the 1800 election that had new englanders burying their bibles so the
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infidel jefferson wouldn't steal them. that kind of hatred, particularly because it is not necessarily personal and not grounded necessarily in fact. that is very easy to weaponize, and that can thus have a great impact during, and long after, an election. and i'll be very interested in seeing whether these sort of whatever other people want to call them. these flavors of hate and the weaponization of hate in more modern times, how that plays out in the comments of my colleagues here, particularly given the new forms of media that we're going to see introduced that were increasingly effective at spreading that hate around with great ease. i will stop there, thank you very much. and i will turn things over to manisha. the phrase of the year is you are muted. in case anybody wondered. thank you, joanne, and thank you
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for giving us that concept of flavors which i think is actually going to be very helpful as we go forward as a ways to increase this discussion. and let me remind everyone this is a round table discussion so we're genuinely interested in fielding questions. you can go to the q&a function in chat or zoom and offer those questions. we're going move chronologically forward to the civil war, abraham lincoln, which brings us to manisha sinha. who is the draper chair in american history at the university of connecticut and mellon schlesinger fellow at the radcliffe institute of advanced study at harvard university for this current year. she's the author of the counterrevolution of slavery, politics and ideology in antebellum south carolina, and subsequently, in 2016, the slaves cause, a history of abolition. again, another book that's remarkably easy to recommend.
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so thank you, manisha, for joining us, and please tell us about a not insignificant figure in the annals of presidential history. >> thank you, jeff, for inviting me to be a part of this roundtable, and for that introduction. and i am going to share my screen with you so that my presentation is enlivened by a few slides. to start off, i have a confession to make. for the last few weeks, i have been rather confused about my charge today. blame it on countless zoom meetings and the pandemic, which have been quite disorienting and on the roundtable that jeff devised, team hate. for some reason, i thought i was supposed to speak about andrew johnson, lincoln's successor, rather than abraham lincoln. when one thinks of the most despised american presidents, one usually does not think of lincoln. but presidents like johnson continually at the bottom of
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historians' rankings for american presidents. lincoln is usually in spot one or two. luckily i read the description of the roundtable and the description i had sent jeff before preparing my remarks today, and i realized that i was supposed to talk about lincoln, arguably one of the most beloved american presidents not just in the united states but around the globe. this of course was not the case when lincoln was elected president in 1860. he remains the only president in american history whose election caused nearly half of the states in the republic to secede and a inaugurated bloody civil war that claimed nearly 800,000 american lives, according to the latest count. just that fact alone, i think, wins him the most despised category of u.s. presidents.
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abraham lincoln was not an abolitionist, that is, a person who believed in immediate abolition of slavery and black citizenship before the war. and i should say, before i continue, the slide that i'm showing right now is an extra from the charleston mercury from south carolina that shows, or that announces that the union has been dissolved. south carolina of course seceded from the union a month after lincoln was elected followed by other deep south states. so lincoln was not an abolitionist though. he was a moderate anti-slavery republican elected on a platform on the non extension of slavery into the territories. that program, some historians have recently argued could lead to abolition. but it was not abolition. throughout the 1850s, lincoln, a moderate anti-slavery politician, and this is a picture of him from the 1850s, with the famous book on him,
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"prelude to greatness." i thought i would title it that. this is the young lincoln lawyer. he was a moderate anti-slavery politician. he had adhered pretty tenaciously to the platform of the nonexpansion of slavery. a constitutionally defensible position since the federal government had the constitutional part to end slavery in the federal territories but not in the southern states themselves. lincoln balanced his competing loyalties to anti-slavery, the union and the constitution. even though in his speeches starting out early as the 1830s, he had expressed his moral abhorrence of slavery as evocatively as any abolitionist. now his balancing act was expressed in his qualified support for the draconian fugitive slave law of 1815 -- lincoln argued that protections for northern free blacks must accompany the constitutionally mandated fugetle slave rendition. during the famous lincoln douglas debates in 1858, lincoln
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due to both political expediency and long held beliefs made clear his opposition to equal citizenship and voting rights for african-americans. and adhered to colonization of free blacks back to africa, a position that both abolitionists and rabid southern secessionists opposed. after the secession of the lower south states on his election, lincoln was willing to compromise on abolition in the south but not on the platform of the republican party. abolitionists nonetheless hailed his election as a victory for their cause, and certainly, most southerners viewed him as just perhaps a step better than an abolitionist and actually an abolitionist in disguise. wendell philips who had become one of his most ardent critics argued for the first time in history, the slave has chosen the president of the united
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states, unquote. most slave holders and democrats agree, they had regularly race baited anti-slavery republicans calling them quote, black republicans, but reserved their special ire for lincoln. for them there was no difference between an abolitionist and anti-slavery republican like lincoln who desired as he put it, quote, the ultimate extinction of slavery in the american republic. in the 19th century version of woke politics, in the north, paraded their support for lincoln, democrats argued with the racist elegance they were known for, his, quote, n-wordism, has as dark a hue as that of william lloyd garrison or frederick douglass. >> the south carolinian secessionist claimed lincoln's running mate of maine was, quote, a mulatto, and had african blood. the black abolitionist douglas ing of illinois who knew lincoln personally concluded, quote, i love everything the south hates. and since they have evidenced their dislike of mr. lincoln, i
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am bound to love you republicans with all your force. with the slaveholders rebellion and the start of the civil war, hatred among northern copperheads, northerners who sympathize with the confederacy, democrats and confederates peaked. using states rights and state sovereignty arguments they had long used to legitimize nullification of federal laws and secession, rebels and copperheads often berated lincoln for, quote, federal consolidation and for making war upon the confederacy. lincoln came under a fair amount of criticism for suspension of civil liberties during the war time emergency, including from the sitting chief justice of the supreme court, roger tawny of
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dred scott fame. as a historian pointed out, lincoln's record here compared favorably with that of most wartime presidents. in comparison to the confederacy which executed and tortured and enslaved people, german and southern unionists, union soldiers and confederate deserters with impunity, the lincoln administration's record was admirable. a more legitimate criticism of lincoln stems perhaps from the biggest blot on his presidential record. 1862 after the sioux uprising in minnesota the state's governor condemned 300 of them to execution. lincoln commuted the sentences of most of them but let 38 be executed. it still constitutes the largest mass hanging in american history. but lincoln was reviled by many of his contemporaries not for his policy towards native
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americans but for his adoption of first emancipation and then black male citizenship during the war. and here is lincoln as we all know him with the beard. and this is the picture i am displaying right now. and it shows what i think was three principles that guided him. usually it is always put as anti-slavery versus union. but really anti-slavery, union and constitution which lincoln's lawyer was mindful of. the civil war allowed lincoln to finally align his commitment to the union and constitution with abolition. for lincoln, abolition, union, and constitution went from competing to complementary values. the slave holders rebellion solved the dilemma for him.
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the manner which lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation as a military necessity and invoking his war powers made sure its constitutional bonaifieds would not be challenged. this did not prevent copperhead, northern conservatives and racists and southern slave holders and confederates from accusing lincoln to treason to the constitution and the union. it nearly cost him the presidency in the 1864 election. it is not that clear that moment whether emancipation would further divide the nation rather than save and unite it. lincoln called emancipation the central act of my administration and the great event of the 19th century. his battle to secure the passage of the 13th amendment was testimony of his determination to embed abolition in the constitution and make it irreversible. lincoln's constitutionalism was a source of not just his anti-slavery moderation before the war but it was also the manner in which he promulgated
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emancipation during it that showed his commitment to the constitution. it shaped his various proposals for compensated gradual emancipation, the form and content of the final proclamation, his advocacy of the 13th amendment, and finally his support for limited black male citizenship. every step he took however made anti-slavery the dominant principle of his politics and brought him ever closer to abolitionist ground. here is an illustration of lincoln's handwritten version of the emancipation proclamation and also a cartoon made by a pro-confederate german cartoonist, not thomas nast. but another german cartoonist who is actually pro-confedacy, and you can see lincoln, a very famous cartoon of him as being inspired by the devil who is holding the ink pot and his foot is on the bible. there's an image of nast on the
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chair behind him. so if you talk about hate, that's one way of portraying an american president. and this was an image that was actually quite widely circulated in the confederacy and found a lot of sympathy amongst them. now, lincoln's proclamation had allowed for the arming of black men and the recruitment into the union army. this provision, more than anything else helped convert the civil war into a revolutionary war that paved the way for black male citizenship. the enlistment of black men supported and led by abolitionists raised the question of racial equality.
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as black soldiers and the abolitionists and radical allies successfully fought for equal pay and access to officer ranks. even though black soldiers fought in segregated units, the value that lincoln attached to their military service helped move him towards the idea of black male citizenship. in 1863 he wrote and this is a photograph of the famous 55th massachusetts. one of the first black regiments recruited during the war. in 1863 lincoln wrote that black union soldiers could aspire to the ideal of american citizenship better than secessionists and copperheads. when peace arrived he wrote there will be some black men that can remember that with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye and well poised bayonet have helped mankind into this great consumation. while i fear some white ones unable to forget that with malignant heart and speech they
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have strove to hinder it. so if they hated lincoln, he's saying they have malignant hearths and exercised deceitful speech, rather a good touch, i thought. now lincoln made his last pronouncements on the subject of black citizenship just before his death. in a letter to louisiana's military governor, he suggested that, quote, the very intelligent and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks be given the franchise. it would help, quote, in some trying time to come to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom.
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pressured words. in a speech of reconstruction in louisiana lincoln argued he would quote prefer if suffrage was conferred on the very intelligent and those who have served our cause as soldiers. he stated the same in an informal speech from the balcony of the white house to a crowd gathered below the day before he was assassinated. he became the first american president to publicly endorse black male citizenship. and the audience was his assassin, john wilkes booth, the confederate sympathizer and actor who pledged to kill him for his championship of, quote, the n-word citizenship. that is the last speech he will ever make, unquote. so really lincoln's championship, not just of emancipation but of black citizenship that ultimately gets him killed and talking about despised presidents. if you get assassinated, yeah, you are pretty despised by some people. hatred of lincoln reached dangerous levels after his adoption of emancipation and on
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the eve of his assassination. his pronouncements in favor of black male citizenship. during the 1864 presidential elections, race-baiting reached new proportions with lincoln's opponents calling him abe ruhan africanist the first, and quote, a general agent for the negroes, and this is a cartoon from harpers. i don't know if you can see it clearly. it's lincoln doing a tightrope walk with the constitution as his balancing beam. and an african-american man astride on his head. this is from 1860, the early election. the cartoons and the race-baiting got even worse in 1864, after emancipation became the official policy of the union army. this is the time when, of course, lincoln and the republican party were accused of, quote, misaugination or racial intermixture. this odd word was coined during
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these elections in a notorious anonymous pamphlet and became part of the american political lexicon trotted out by white supremacists in the south throughout the jim crow era. now, in lincoln's death even as a majority in the north and african-americans mourned the martyred predassassinated on good friday, many of lincoln's opponents and confederates as the historian martha has shown, openly celebrated. in fact, if you did a google map search for towns, schools, buildings and streets named after lincoln, you'll find still that a predominantly and overwhelming majority of them are north of the mason-dixon line. now, one researcher found a few in a predominantly black county in mississippi, but that is the exception to the rule. it is perhaps an irony of americans history that one of its most beloved presidents remains for some people,
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certainly for neoconfederates its most hated, and i apologize to jeff, but i must end with this bumper sticker that had become quite popular the last few years. it's an image of lincoln with the sticker saying, it's my party, and i'll cry if i want to. and with that, i will stop share and hand over the floor back to you, jeff. >> thank you, manisha. that was wonderful. and i really enjoyed the bumper sticker at the end. and i know all of us as historians enjoyed president trump's reminders that abraham lincoln was in fact a republican which as he told us many times most people don't know. but we do because we're historians. so thank you for that. i'd like to turn now to fdr and matthew sutton who is going to tell us about that president who of course was president longer than anyone else. matthew avery sutton is the edward r. meyer distinguished professor and chair of the history department at washington state university. latest book is "double cross, the missionaries who spied if the united states during the second world war." he's the author of numerous other books including ones on american apocalypse, a book on jerry falwell, and another on
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amy simple mcpherson, and he's been a fellow of the wilson center and a guggenheim fellow and he's working on a new brilliant interpretation for a textbook for american history that you should all expect to be purchasing in the next 18 months or so. so without further ado, matt, i turn things over to you. >> thank you jeff. and thank you to the panelists and the a.j. for putting this together. it's been interesting hearing how religion popped up because that is a topic i'm going to be focusing on in my paper today. as we all know, religion can inspire lots of great behavior and it can also inspire lots of bad behavior, and in fact what i'll be discussing is how religion at times can inspire presidential hatred, and this is not a surprise to anybody in this room, i'm sure. we can see how groups of religious activists have hated hillary clinton, barack obama, joe biden. and i'm going to talk a little more about the roots of that,
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where some of that hatred comes from, by focusing on franklin delano roosevelt. one of the reasons this has not gotten as much attention from historians as i think it probably should is that there's been a real problem in the historiography. there's been this sense that when jerry falwell came on the scene in the late 1970s and organized the moral majority, that it was at that point that white evangelicals began to politically mobilize. that's wrong. anyone who has read the literature knows this is wrong, but the myth continues to perpetuate itself and spread that evangelicals were apolitical until the last couple generations, but what i'm going to show you today is how the rise of new deal liberalism inspired a new kind of evangelical political activism
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which organized itself or fomented itself into hatred for franklin roosevelt. why did they hate roosevelt? the real issue behind this is they believed franklin roosevelt was ultimately setting the stage for the rise of the antichrist. this diabolical world leader who was going to take power in the end times. so they believed, they were convinced that we were living at the end of history, and that we are living at the end of history. and so in their minds, in their churches and in their magazines and on their radio stations, they were continuously looking for signs that would tell us how close we were to what the bible describes as the rapture, the battle of armageddon, the rise of the antichrist, and the second coming of jesus. and ultimately they came to believe that fdr was really preparing the united states for
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those events and there was debate as whether or not he was doing it consciously and explicitly. was he purposely working with the devil or was he just a naive dupe, just not really aware of the geopolitical spiritual events behind the decisions he was making, and they never really did settle on that. but nevertheless it was clear to them that roosevelt was a problem. and that new deal liberalism was a problem. so why? let me talk a little about what was happening in the 1920s and '30s as white evangelicals were growing in power, in prominence, and i'll try to be careful with my language. i'll probably use the terms fundamentalist and evangelical interchangeably. i tend to use the terms they use for themselves so in the '20s and '30s, they called themselves fundamentalists, and today, they tend to call themselves evangelicals, but it's the same group, same people. many are exactly the same as you trace them from the 1930s to the 1950s. but what they believed is the way they were reading their
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bibles, they thought you could see signs that the bible had laid out, especially in the old testament and also in the new testament, a series of events that would tell us when we were living near the rise of the antichrist and the apocalypse. some were hard to track, like loosening morals, the rise of the darwinian evolution, women getting rights in the 1920s, worried that prohibition wasn't being enforced, but far more important and much more interesting to me, they were also closely watching global events. they were excellent students of
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foreign affairs. better than almost any other group of americans, they understood what was happening in europe and asia and africa and around the world. and they had laid out a number of expectations in the 1880s and 1890s that they were preaching and preaching and preaching, and then they began to see some of these predictions fulfilled. one of the important ones was the rise of a new restored roman empire. they believe that one of the things that would herald the end times was a revitalized rome. when they saw mussolini taking power, expanding his influence, for them this was a huge sign they were living near the end times. they also looked at what hitler was doing, and they were very conscious of hitler's anti-semitism. a number of them had read mein kampf in german before hitler came to power in 1933, and they believed another sign of the end times would be the return of jews to palestine. they saw hitler as facilitating that. they believed god was using hitler to move jews back to palestine to set the stage for
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the battle of armageddon that would happen in palestine. all this stuff was going on in the background, which takes us to franklin roosevelt. they looked at him and understood him in the context of all the other things going on. there's no doubt his campaign in 1932 got off to an ominous start. on the first set of ballots at the democratic national convention, roosevelt received 666. 666 votes. when i first read that in the fundamentalist magazine, i thought it was too good to be true. that couldn't really be true. but i went back and looked at the records and sure enough that was absolutely the case. this already set fundamentalists on edge that believing there was something weird going on here that is linking roosevelt to the antichrist. after the election they began to view him in the same light after other totalitarian leaders. i often talk to me students about this, that roosevelt has become such a revered person in american history, mostly because of world war ii that americans don't realize how much those who hated roosevelt in the '30s really truly despised him, just couldn't stand him. i saw this in letters written to roosevelt, in letters shared
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among various american citizens. but what they saw was roosevelt consolidating power in the executive branch. but they also saw him essentially controlling congress. and if you add his efforts to pack the supreme court, this looks like somebody who is a fascist, this looks like somebody who is trying to do exactly what stalin and franco and mussolini and hitler had all done, and then in 1940, when he runs for a third term, defying american traditions of stepping down after two terms, this further re-enforces their sense that hitler is not just a regular american president -- sorry, roosevelt is not just a regular american president, but that roosevelt is up to something far more sinister. so this framed the way they understood what he was doing in the new deal liberalism. they looked at specific programs and became particularly concerned that those were helping prepare americans for the end times. one was the national recovery
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act for businesses that participated in the nra. they had to show its symbol, the blue eagle. so they believed one of things that would prepare for the end times would be showing a symbol. the mark of the beast and thought the blue eagle was possibly the mark of the beast the mark of the antichrist, or perhaps if it wasn't that, it was at least preparing americans to understand you're going to have to show this mark to do business. and looked of the social security and they were horribly critical of it. they told roosevelt, there are letters telling him it is a socialist and communist program, that it was, quote, contrary to the teachings of the word of god. they were very worried about his internationalist sensibilities, his efforts to join the world court disturbed them. anything that threatened american autonomy and sovereignty to them was a stepping stone to some kind of global confederation which will then be led by the antichrist, so they had opposed the league of nations at the end of world war i. they opposed roosevelt's
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internationalism in the 1930s and they also oppose the united nations in the 1940s. they were never indifferent. they never believed just because we were moving toward these cataclysmic events they shouldn't act, so they got very involved in politics and they were very conscious, very explicit about this because they believed when jesus returned, he was going to hold them responsible for their actions. he was going to ask them essentially if they had been good and faithful servants. and part of being a good and faithful servant is waging war against the antichrist and the tools of the antichrist, people like franklin roosevelt. so in 1936, 1940, 1944, they're very act, mobilizing, getting people to vote. they're not partisan, though. many are southern conservative democrats. and in the north and west, many of them are republicans. but their goal is to defeat new deal liberalism, to go back to some kind of more limited government, antistatus conservatism, and that becomes
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the political ideology that will drive them as the american political parties change in the 1960s, '70s, '80s. evangelicals change with the parties but they maintain these core values of being anti-government, anti-federal government, anti-statist. and also informed policy, believing in the importance of american action abroad because they want their missionaries to have access to foreign lands but want the u.s. acting unilaterally because they are afraid anything but unilateral action is going compromise american sovereignty. world war ii, and i'll end with this, becomes a bit of a turning point for them because they begin to realize at that point that, or they begin to argue that when jesus does return, he's not just going to judge individuals but he's going to judge nations. so they were able to blend this political activism with a new kind of christian nationalism, something they hadn't done in previous decades or generations so they became increasingly focused beginning world war ii
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not just fighting the allegiance of the antichrist but also trying to remake the united states in their own image believing as we move toward the end times, toward the battle of armageddon that they can sort of protect themselves and protect their fellow christians abroad with a strong united states that represents their ideals. what this means is fdr is a stepping stone that needs to be pushed out of the way and a thread that will continue through every other new deal president all the way to this present day. with that, i am out of time, and i'll turn it back to jeff. >> thank you, matt. very insightful and helpful. i'm still trying to get my mind around the idea that a relief program could be contrary to the word of god. so we'll hopefully get to that, perhaps not in this panel, but you and i on another one. let me remind everyone there is the option of offering your questions at the bottom of the screen.
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also a function where you can give a thumbs tupe other people's questions, kind of bump them up the queue, let us know what you find fascinating. the questions so far have been great. iant wait to get to them. i'll hand it over to mark lawrence, fellow author and historian. he is -- i know, sharron, you're next. sharron is a postdoctoral fellow at southern methodist university. her research interests include civil rights movement, public history, and the presidencies of john kennedy and lyndon johnson, and she's currently finishing up her first book, the trinity, john kennedy, lyndon johnson, and their civil rights legacies in african-american imagination, and let me say it's really good. so without further ado, the webinar is yours. >> thank you so much, jeff.
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and thanks to all my fellow panelists. this has been so riveting so far. as jeff said, my interest has been in african-american civil rights and specifically the presidencies of john john kennedy and lyndon johnson. and point of privilege i'd like to swipe joanne's formulation of how she wanted to talk about flavors of presidential hatred. i think that that's a really terrific way of kind of narrowing our focus. just to note all of these presidents have their haters and they come in different flavors. and one of the things i wanted to do with my session today was to just talk a little bit about the way that lyndon johnson was hated in particular by african-american voters, and to really focus in on that. even though there will be lots of parallels to the reasons why
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other constituencies hated lyndon johnson. i wanted to do this by just starting with the obvious point of how lyndon johnson came to be president. of course he became president. linden johnson came to be president. of course he became president -- he's one of the accidental presidents. he emerged and ascended to the presidency with the assassination of his predecessor, john kennedy. and for african-americans in particular that way that linden johnson emerges as president is particularly problematic. and it fans certain long-term concerns african-americans had about linden johnson going back to his time in congress. when john kennedy selected
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johnson as his running mate african-americans were particular concerned and upset by that choice, and it had to do with linden johnson's long history of being seen as someone who was willing to compromise with his fellow democrats in the south in order to thwart progress on civil rights. so while linden johnson was senate majority leader he made sure that was actually passed was watered down or doing the bare minimum. so this is something african-americans watched with great concern while he was senate minority leader so when john kennedy selected johnson as
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his running mate there was an outcry from african-american delegates to an extent where the kennedy campaign had to put nrgt a special breakfast in order to try win over the black delegates that were there, to assure them even though linden johnson had been a person of concern in terms of his advocacy of civil rights, he would come along with the platform of the party. and so that concern was there in 1960, and it didn't go away over the course of johnson's time as vice president. even though he was playing a role in the kennedy administration as head of the president's equal employment opportunity committee, which was looking for ways and working with african-american constituents to ensure the employment sectors was as
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desegregated as possible, only the people who were kind of in the room with johnson were won over and could see he was making a concerted effort. meanwhile the populace really didn't know linden johnson was making these efforts. the concern black voters had over linden johnson never went away so that by 1963 justice john kennedy is making the case for why a new civil rights bill had to be passed, and that doesn't happen until june of 1963, that john kennedy finally makes a public plea based on the morality of the civil rights movement, that there should actually be a civil rights bill
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passed in congress. by 1963 when john kennedy is assassinated in texas, african-americans are incredibly concerned about linden johnson's kind of emergence as the nation's new president. in fact, many black reporters and observers and letter writers are indignant that linden johnson is the person who is now in charge, and there's a lot of concern about johnson. for one point many of them believe that the fact that john kennedy was killed in texas was not a coincidence. many african-americans blamed linden johnson and founded theories as to why linden johnson was involved. and letters came into ms. kennedy, condolence letters that would make this point from black
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letter writers and telegrams senators would essentially say that they believe linden johnson was involved in john kennedy's death. so this is the state of things when linden johnson becomes president. now, he does everything he can in order to try to reassure black voters. he realizes that he needs to win them over because from the very beginning linden johnson is very aware that the elect is coming up just under one year from when she's sworn in as president. so he's looking to build coalitions and reassure liberals and african-american voters. so he calls people like martin luther king, the southern christian leadership conference. he calls whitney young of the urban league and wilkins of the naacp to try to reassure these folks. and he goes to congress five
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days after president kennedy's death, and he tells congress and a nation and a world that let us continue john kennedy's policies on civil rights. so he's trying to turn a page and trying to win over black constituents from the very beginning, but there's this nagging concern, this feeling he just can't shake from black voters that he is conniving and he's truly only doing this because he has to and because he's desperately trying to win their vote, not because this is something that is, you know, innate in him but this is something he truly cares about. for black observers linden johnson is an opportunist. he's trying to use the same
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techniques john kennedy has used, symbolic acts like hirer people, appointments. he is seen in photographs with african-american civil rights leaders but linden johnson really falls victim to a number of issues. number one, he is seen as someone who many black observers believe was involved in kennedy's death. and secondly, there is this sense that he is, again, this opportunist. but over the course of his administration, the movement itself is changing quite a bit, so whereas there's a belief in august 1963 some nonviolent movement led by dr. king could actually make the changes. things are beginning to shift where a more militant younger activist crowd in the movement
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is less and less patient with the kind of legislative approach that linden johnson is so comfortable with there's a sense it's taking too long, it's not going to change peoples hearts. and even though laws are being called for, that those laws are not going to make real change in peoples lives. and so when linden johnson pushes for passage of the civil rights act, which it does pass in july 1964, there areeme like john lewis who are saying, yes, you know, that's great but down here on the front lines, it's not making a real difference, you know, we're still on the battlefront, so there's a disconnect between what's happening in washington, d.c. and what's happening on the front line for many in the movement. well, by the time linden johnson is up for election, he is running against barry goldwater, a true conservative and someone
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who is against a lot of the policies that progressives are interested in, and african-americans are terrifies of this. but i want to read a quote. one of the things that even though he gets this incredible percentage of the black vote, there's a poll that's taken in 1965, so just a year after the passage of the civil rights act, and this poll basically says, look, though negroes do not regret the support they gave, their support is cool, logical and loveless, and their hearts still belong to john f kennedy. so black voters have made a choice, a pragmatic choice to vote for linden johnson but
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their hearts are really not into it. so that this poll, which i want to correct myself was published in 1966, two years after the vote of the civil rights act and just a year after the voting rights act is supported and passed by linden johnson african-americans still when asked which of the last five presidents has done the most for negro rights, 69% of them choose john kennedy and only 15% choose linden johnson, and so there's a whole host of reasons as to why this is the case. and this will continue to play out for linden jaunsance, but certainly you have the shifting nature of the civil rights movement where these legislative victories aren't deemed quite as important in some ways when things are faced on the ground. but also you have the vietnam
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war that is forcing more and more african-american men into war even though african-americans comprise about 11% of the population. they are being drafted at a higher percent, and they are being pushed into combat roles at a much higher percent of overall percentage of those folks in the war effort. and so the war effort is taking a toll not only in the fact that young black soldiers i heading out of there but also the war on poverty that he believes is going to change everything, these kind of social programs kind of in the vein of fdr's social programs. you begin to see that the
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promise of the great society program really isn't funded in quite the way that, you know, benefit a lot of african-americans and i want to point folks to a couple of books. one being a book on selma to saigon, which deals with kind of the african-american role in the vietnam war effort. but also the last point i want to make about kind of why this doesn't play out for johnson in quite but in dealing with just the way that the war on poverty -- moves from the war on poverty to the war on crime is the way that these unintended consequences of things such as these programs that are funding not only social reforms but also
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policing reforms in ways that the federal government is essentially funding the local policing behavior which is leading to the difficulties and issues with policing and expands the problems with policing but also the mass incarceration of african-americans. and so african-americans are looking at linden johnson and see the promise of the war on poverty. they view it as being left at johnson's door so he's partially responsible. then you start to see things like the vietnam war's impact on the community and the increased policing in the black community
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that results from this war on poverty and johnson's war on crime. and so over time johnson's legacy is really quite problematic among african-americans to the extent that in the end as we all know 1968 linden johnson who opens up his presidency with almost 80% approval rating drops to 35% by the time he is considering run for election again in '68 to the extent he has to drop out of that race. but ultimately african-americans they still support linden johnson in some ways, but at the same time this kind of long history of concern about him and the sense he's not a true advocate for african-american rights continues to play out, and you see this even today in
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things like the way johnson is being depicted in the films like selma, for example, seen as being confrontational and created by an african-american director and presented in that way. so i will leave it there, but hopefully that's enough to spark some conversation about the ways in which linden johnson has been perceived and the history behind that. >> thank you. and your reminder of what we learned from elizabeth henten's book and also from our conversations reminds me one of the most important things that you and i have done over the last year is to co-host a podcast on presidents and race relations going from abraham lincoln all the way up to joe biden looking at every single
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one. he teaches on international american history and the author among several books of "assuming the burden," "europe and the american commitment to vietnam." and also he's the author of a marvelous short history of the vietnam war, which i use in my classes and i highly recommend to others. and now he's coming out with another book so look for it soon entitled "the end of ambition, the united states and the third world in the era of vietnam." and today he's going to tell us about a president from the era of vietnam, one who has no reputational problems whatsoever, richard nixon. >> thanks, jeff.
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i'd like to start with a story that takes us into the arena -- the arena of the nixon presidency that may not be terribly familiar. the subject is the relationship between the united states and brazil, and the story begins on december 13th, 1968. that was the day when the brazilian military eliminated most remaining elements of brazilian democracy and crack down on just about every facet of brazilian society. and beginning too of widespread use of torture. and nixon's answer came pretty
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quickly. in may of 1969 his administration restored aid to the brazilian regime. the decision grew partly it seems to me from the new administration's broader efforts to sort of lower american ambitions, reshape brazil and for that matter lots of other developing countries in the world. nixon said in a nationally televised speech the united states was entering into a new era in which it couldn't hope to do everything, couldn't hope to promote democracy and development all over the world and his democratic predecessor had done. and not only that but he promised that the united states was going to as he put it deal realistically with latin-american governments no matter their character. he made clear to say the united states had moved on from the burden of the era that had come only a small number of years before.
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nixon's decision also may have flowed from a sympathy. he said on one occasion captured on a taping system, it should be he said in order to cope with the disorders both internal and throughout latin america. now, even as human rights groups increasingly seized on the situation in brazil and congress opened investigations into support, nixon doubled down on his partnership with the generals. when the brazilian president visited washington in 1971, the administration praised brazil as a staunch ally and welcomed the country's determination to fight communism throughout the hemisphere. documents declassified only about ten years ago reveal the full extent to which nixon and his brazilian counterpart went to overthrow castro but also --
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in chile. and from this relationship of course sprang the seeds of operation condor, this hemisphere-wide scheme that went onto wage a counter terrorism campaign. this is the kind of story that has long it seems to me infuriated critics of richard nixon and i hasten to add his partner henry kissinger. his focus on the president's amoral approach to foreign policy, his prioritization of stability above all at the expense of a concern with dem augeracy or human rights, what counted was the extent to which a foreign nation served
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geostrategic interests. in which hardheaded notions of national interests trump allegedly soft-headed notions of democracy or social justice. so this kind of thing is of course one of many reasons why richard nixon has been the folk of so much disdain if not in fact hatred over the years. now, it's true that all the news as i suppose not bad for richard nixon and his legacy. recent polls of presidential accomplishments and presidential standing reveal that nixon sometimes falls in the lowest quartile but usually lands somewhere in that third
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quartile. i'll cite just one quote which comes from the political strategist rick wilson who sums it all up by saying nixon is simply the modern exemplar of a dark and vindictive president. of course at the heart of this judgment stands the sheer dishonesty, the illegally indeed epitomized by the watergate break in and the cover-up. the number of length of prison terms meted out to nixon's cronies speaks to this
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criticism, but of course there's more to it than that. the anti-semitism, the racism revealed from the tape recordings from the nixon white house attest to a deeper kind of character problem that has fueled a lot of nixon dislike or perhaps hatred. and then there's also it seems to me a third piece of this. there's nixon's distinctively paranoid style of politics and indeed the anti-democratic instincts. public opinion was for nixon often a force to be held in check or maybe even bypassed in order to free himself to proceed as he wished. so my brazil story speaks to some of this, but speaks to something a little bit different than richard nixon, something i think that muddies the waters a bit and enables us to see the phenomenon of nixon hating in a
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somewhat complicated light. it's here that as many champions would point out he achieved great accomplishments including of course the opening of china and the super power de taunt with the soviet union. and yet nixon hating has also been fed powerfully over the years by uglier developments in the international arena. in vietnam, for example, nixon claimed to have carried on the war for four years longer than it really had to be carried on at enormous human cost only to achieve basically the same peace deal that was achievable when he first came to office in 1969. nixon's expansion of the war to
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cambodia it is often pointed out opened an entirely new theater of horrors on a scale that the world has rarely seen before. elsewhere, meanwhile, nixon threw american support behind or doubled down on american relationships with authoritarians in places diverse as brazil, chile, pakistan and on and on one could go. for many commentators this tolerance for brutality and this turn away from democracy provides a major if not always the main, certainly a major reason to despise nixon. jimmy carter gave this view, one of his classic formulations. he said in part for too many years we've been willing to develop the tactics of our
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adversaries sometimes abandoning our values for theirs. vietnam he said -- but he blasted nixon's decision making more generally to indulge in what carterer called an inordinate fear of communism and the embrace of any dictator who joined us in that fear. this kind of criticism perhaps piqued in the early 21st century with the publication of the trial of henry kissinger for the nixon presidency. what these share i think is the sense that seeking stability in the third world nixon had departed from honored american traditions both in the content of his policies especially his low regard for democracy as
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either a practice or a goal and the cynicism that lay at the heart of his political style. this was something that critics on both left and right seem to have agreed on. the criticism from the left is certainly easy to see, bullet it's worth pointing out that nixon's record particularly in the foreign policy realm lay in pretty deep disrepute in some republican circles as early as 1966. and over time the gop would move away from nixon's realism but at the heart of this lay this sense nixon's amoralism laid outside as jimmy carter would have put it, the enduring american values. the unfortunate outcome as i think many analysts of nixon's
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presidency might say is to throw into very deep disrepute any reason sense of limits and interest that may have served the united states well at many points across united states history but especially during the era of 1945. the real tragedy of the hate surrounding nixon may be the sheer difficulty of fundamentally resurrecting sound policy decisions. so encrusted have those ideas become in the reputation of the 37th president. so i will stop it there, jeff, and turn it back over to you. >> thank you, mark. always fascinating. we never have as much time for discussion as we want. so i'm going to start us out with what i call a semi-speed round. i'll ask a question to the group and feel free to answer if you think it's pertinent to your president, and after that i've got a couple of questions for
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speed round where i'm going to ask each of you to comment on your president. so this first section is volunteer, if you will. dan dean asked a really fascinating question about an hour ago. he said attacks on these were published in newspapers and gazettes. give an idea how americans both literate and illiterate -- obviously the question was directed at professor freeman, but i think it really speaks to the question of mass media and the ways in which broad assessments of character are developed within a political electorate. and so for all of us how did the media, how did the public image of the president alter peoples sense of like and dislike? >> that's a great question. i'll say a couple of things.
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one of the fact uzthey were worrying about in this earlier period their confronting it on a really basic level, and that is public opinion governs a republic. but what does that mean? who's the public? what do they think? how do you figure out what they think? and so there was kind of a hyperawareness in this early period as to what the public was thinking and also a hyperawareness as to an inability to define who that public was. so people like jefferson would have been very aware of what was being said. the public would have known. there were cartoons about his relationship with sally hemmings, for example. so the public was aware of things that were being said. presidents and politicians were aware it mattered, but there
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wasn't a meeting point as to what that meant yet. so for that reason i think those early presidents were hyperalert to it and not sure what to do with it yet. what's interesting in listening to what everyone else is saying as media is becoming more sophisticated these presidents understand with a more pragmatic realism the public in what they think has a dramatic and pollable impact in an early period was hard for them to judge. >> colleagues, also want to jump in on the media question in forming president's hatred? >> they were really successful at crafting their own media, and that's what gave the movement shape and life. some of it was pretty esoteric
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theology. they really ran the whole spectrum in communicating their message. >> so by the 19th century i would say it's being absorbed by large masses of, you know, the public. and this is not just white male citizens and a few african-americans who have the right to vote in the north, but it is both sides, the newspapers, the printing press. it's enormous, more than we would imagine today a production of political cartoons and even racist ones. and african-americans and other disenfranchised groups have their own print culture which is pretty rigorous, and so there is a mass consumption of these. and by the 19th century you have
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the, you know, raids, 70%, 80 ers pof those predominantly men vote at that time and politics is mass inentertainment. press members, members of congress will use their privilege to send out thousands of pamphlets to their constituents. politics is absorbed in a sense that not the way we do but it is far more than i think most people are aware of. >> i would only just add to that when it comes up to the 1960s and i think everyone knows how aware johnson was of the media
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and the role it played and he had televisions everywhere, and that he was constantly commenting on what was written about him. but also these issues he was dealing with, civil rights or vietnam, all of that's playing out on television. when you have protesters outside of the white house screaming hey, hey, lbj, how many boys did you kill today, that's going to make a difference. i think for linden johnson in particular that kind of the give-and-take with what he's seeing on tv and how it's influencing him and impacting him and then him also trying to control that message is really something that continues to resonate i think today. >> on nixon i think there was
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clear overattentiveness to media like lbj. one could say there was a kind of mishandling of the media in a way that ultimately redoubled their problems with reputation and image. and it's interesting to maybe think about these two characters as people whose early political career took place in the context of a very different relationship between political elites and the media through the middle parts of the 20th century. of course new technologies, the vietnam war. >> again, semispeed round. jump in if you like. i'm going to abuse a question offered by one of your anonymous attendees and transform it a little bit to ask if any presidents and certainly those on our list have received a lot of hatred from within their own party?
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clearly we're seeing today there's a lot -- there's a split in the republican party at the very least. and i'm curious if you have other historical precedents for presidents being despised not so much without but within? >> if i can quickly just on jefferson, there were northern republicanps of his party that were not really thrilled about the idea of that embargo. but i wouldn't say they were venting hate in the same way. they were sort of politely internally trying to tamp that down. partly for vat very reason the boundaries weren't as clear so people were a little less easy about that kind of of people
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being held together informally. >> as far as lincoln is concerned, you know, he had his critics within his party, too, especially amongst the radicals and the abolitionists who thought he wasn't going fast enough both on the issue of emancipation and black rights. but interestingly the relationship with him was pretty constructive. they saw him as part of an anti-slavery alliance. very few of them, you know, had the kind of visceral hatred of lincoln that his opponents did. and that later on some conservatives started backing off a little bit when they realized lincoln was going to move ahead with emancipation and recognition of black rights.
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in 1864 there was kind of a romp group affabolitionists who flew to the idea of replacing lincoln on the ticket. but that went nowhere because ardent abolitionists were so far that in the end-all the abolitionists fell in line. he said lincoln is the only american president who's given any recognition to african-americans and has met with them in the white house and has listened to us. so the idea of replacing him seems foolhardy. >> fundamentalests, many of them in the north and the west were republicans so it was easy for them to hate fdr.
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but there was a real discussion about southern fundamentalists, basically said you can still be a good democrat like your father and grandfather and not vote with fdr. >> i think linden johnson certainly was getting pushed from the left from those who felt he wasn't acting quickly enough or, you know, responding soon enough to issues that were happening in civil rights, but i think just across the board, you know, he was catching it from the left for sure from progressives but also from the right. and this is partly -- largely why, you know, his poll numbers just sink over the course of his administration just because he is losing support on both ends, which is, you know, ultimately
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unsustainable. >> as i mentioned in my presentation nixon was certainly criticized from his own party. you can see that as the watergate crisis develops. but you can also see it in a broader sense as the 1970s advances and a different brand of republicanism comes powerfully to the fore is in many ways quite critical of nixon's policies. i think it's a fairly wide critique of this relatively moderate style and goes in a different direction. i wouldn't call it hatred. i think i would call it something like indifference or a desire to distance one's self. barry goldwater, for example,
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gives us some of the most colorful language anyone has given us in criticizing richard nixon. >> let me offer if i may a bonus of a president. bill clinton obviously he was despised by his enemies during his presidency, but once he was impeached i think the senate democrats in particular i wouldn't say they went so far as to say they hated clinton for what he did, but they certainly were disgusted by it. and i think it's one of those cases not unlike our recent impeachments that where the votes secret and were the vote, you know, less prescripted by party i think we would have gotten a much different vote. in the final analysis was it primarily the person and his style of governing or the
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policies that the president espoused that led them to be so hated? we'll go in reverse chronological order just to spin things up. so nixon. >> i'd say mostly it's the policy but the reason has been emphasized as the reason for most of the hatred over time. >> i think it's a combination of both, and for example, johnson commissioned this group to look into the -- the reasons for some of the riots that happen in american cities, you know, with the best of intentions but ultimately ignores the findings. so it's like the policy seems to be there but ultimately the personality gets in the way. >> roosevelt.
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>> i would say it was both he smoked and he dranked. his kids divorced their spouses and all those things caused problems, also the particular policies and also the context. >> and abraham lincoln? >> yes, so southerners did make a lot of fun of lincoln for being the person who chopped wood. i would say it is far more policy and here i'd take an opportunity to address one of the questions about race. there was a lot of criticism of him was really racist the way it was for abolitionists early on and for radicals. i think those are sort of interconnected because when it came to policy lincoln was very much identified with the politics of big government, of
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what they call federal consolidation in those days the federal government intervening. but in the state's right to do what? to perpetuate and extend slavery. so i think that connection between conservatism, racism, big government and racially liberal policies, it takes place exactly during the lincoln administration, kind of reaches its apogee during reconstruction and when it comes to people like johnson and nixon. >> jefferson? >> i would say i'm going to offer a third option. jefferson very much in his person portrayed his politics not necessarily policy but politics, he put himself forward as kind of embodying his sort of more small league democratic politics.
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so i think he was hated in a sense for that combo. >> interesting. as is the case there's so much more to say. i want to thank our panelests for joining this round table. obviously we'd much rather have done these things in person and we look forward to doing them in person. and my thanks for doing these virtual webinars for the last several months of the year and they've been a real joy for all of us. >> i just wanted to thank again our generous sponsors, the national endowment for the humanities, the stenten foundation, the history channel and oxford university press. thanks to everyone who submitted questions today, and finally a special thanks to our panelists. have a great afternoon. thank you. c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more including
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