Jack Rakove

  • Aired:  05/10/10
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To bring America's founding fathers alive, Jack Rakove says you have to think of them as political actors. (7:13)

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK MY GUEST TONIGHT A PROFESSOR AT STANED FOR, UNIVERSITY AND AN AUTHOR.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM JACK RAKOVE.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

>> HAPPY TO BE HERE.

>> Jon: I'M VERY EXCITED.

THE BOOK IS CALLED "REVOLUTIONARIES." IT'S AN INTERESTING TAKE.

YOU DO NOT TREAT THE FOUNDER AS A HOMOGENUS BLOCK THAT WAS OF A BORGE LIKE MIND AND A SINGLE

NAWRP COULD BE USED LATER AS THOUGH THEY WERE JESUS.

>> THEY WERE A GROUP OF POLITICIANS LIKE ANY OTHER GROUP WE KNEW WITH SOME EXCEPTION

EXCEPTIONS OBVIOUSLY.

THEY HAD EXPERIENCES HEAD TO WORK THROUGH AND THINGS TO BUILD ON.

TO BRING THEM ALIVE YOU HAVE TO THINK OF THEM AS POLITICAL ACTORS WITH THEIR DISAGREEMENTS

AND THINGS THEY LEARNED IN THE PROCESS.

>> Jon: IT ALMOST MAKES THEIR ACHIEVEMENT MORE IMPRESSIVE.

BECAUSE AS YOU READ THE BOOKS YOU SEE THOUSANDS OF PIVOT POINTS WHERE IT SEEMS -- MAYBE

IT WASN'T AS FRAGILE AS IT MAY APPEAR BUT THOUSANDS OF PIVOT POINTS WHERE IT COULD HAVE

FALLEN BY THE WAYSIDE.

>> STARTING WITH THE BOSTON TEA PARTY WHICH ONE HESITATES TO MENTION THEE DAYS BUT IT WAS A

MAJOR EVENT.

PEOPLE WERE NOT SURE WHAT THE OUTCOME WOULD BE.

THERE WERE A RANGE OF POSSIBILITIES OF WHAT THE BRITISH COULD NOT HAVE DONE.

>> Jon: WHY WERE THEY FIGHTING SOCIALISM BACK THEM?

>> THEY KNEW A COUPLE HUNDRED YEARS DOWN THE ROAD THE SITUATION WOULD GET AWAY FROM THEM.

>> Jon: I UNDERSTAND.

YOU RARELY SORT OF THING ABOUT ENGLAND'S MISSTEPS.

THINKING ABOUT HOW THEY HAD JUST FOUGHT IN THE LATE 1600'S THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION WHERE THEY

HAD THE PRIMACY OF PARLIAMENT AND THEY FORGOTTEN THE LESSONS OF TYRANNY AND IMPOSED A TYRANNY

ON THE UNITED STATES.

DID ANYONE DRAW THOSE CONCLUSIONS IN ENGLAND LIKE, HEY F WE TREAT THEM THIS WAY, IT COULD HAPPEN --

>> I THINK THE ENGLISH WERE DETERMINED NOT TO DRAW CONCLUSIONS.

THE POINT I'M TRYING TO MAKE IS THAT THE BRITISH MAKE A SET OF MISTAKES AT THE BEGINNING

PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY LACKED POLITICAL IMAGINATION.

THEY WERE AN EMPIRICAL POWER.

THEY DIDN'T HAVE ASSETS IN THE COLONIES.

THEY FELT THEY HAD NO RESORT OTHER THAN FORCE.

IF THE BRITISH STOPPED AND SAID LOOK, THIS IS WHAT THE AMERICANS ARE AS A PEOPLE.

THIS IS WHAT WE OUGHT TO LEARN FROM THEM.

THE BRITISH HAD WAYS TO AVOID IT.

THEY WERE COMMITTED TO THE PARLIAMENTARY SUPREMACY, THE IDEA THAT IF PARLIAMENT SAID

IT'S LAW, THAT IS THE LAW.

THEY COULD NOT THINK OUTSIDE THAT BOX.

WHEN THE AMERICANS SAY IT'S NOT THE WAY WE'RE GOING TO GO ABOUT

THE POLITICAL OBLIGATIONS, THEY DIDN'T GET IT OR.

>> Jon: IT'S ALMOST AS THOUGH THEY ENSHRINED MONARCHY WITHIN

THE PARLIAMENT THE IDEA THAT WE CAN DO NO WRONG.

IT'S ABSOLUTIST BECAUSE WE VOTED ON IT.

>> IT WAS A CORE PRINCIPLES OF THE 18th CENTURY.

THE AMERICANS NIBBLED AND CHALLENGED IT MORE DIRECTLY, THE BRITISH HAD NO RESPONSE.

THAT GOT THE PERSON AMERICANS TO THINK MORE CREATIVELY ABOUT WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO.

>> Jon: YOU TACK ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONARIES BECOMING REVOLUTIONARIES DESPITE

THEMSELVES ONCE THEY GET INTO IT THEY REALIZE THEIR PLACE IN HISTORY AND ENJOY THEMSELVES.

ADAMS WOULD HAVE BEEN MAYBE A TEACHER AND A LAWYER BUT THEY GET LIKE HEY, WE'RE REVOLUTIONARIES.

EXCEPT FOR SAM ADAMS WHO WAS APPARENTLY LIKE KWR-S" LET GET THESE GUYS. ".

>> JOHN ADAMS IS A GREAT CASE IN POINT.

SOMETHING LIKE JOHN JAY, PEOPLE THAT ARE HOUSEHOLD NAMES FOR MOST OF US.

IN THE 1770'S THEIR MINDS WERE ELSEWHERE.

THEY WERE WELL VERSED IN POLITICAL ISSUES.

THEY REMEMBERED ALL.EVENTS IN THE EARLY YEARS, THE STAMP ACT CRISIS.

THAT'S ON THEIR MIND.

BUT IN THE EARLY 1770'S YOU GO BACK AND INTERVIEW AMERICANS AND

ASK WHAT WAS IT LIKE, THEY WOULD NOT HAVE PREDICTED THERE WAS A REVOLUTION ABOUT TO HAPPEN.

>> Jon: DO YOU HAVE A TIME MACHINE?

>> I WISH I DID.

>> Jon: YOU ARE AT STANFORD.

THEY HAVE A TIME MACHINE DON'T THEY?

>> THEY ARE WORKING ON IT.

>> Jon: THEY'LL LET TIGER USE IT FIRST.

[LAUGHTER]

YOU TALK ABOUT WASHINGTON, ADAMS AND JOHN JAY.

THAT'S THE SPLIT NO ONE ELSE SEEMS TO DEAL WITH, THE OLD GUARD FOUNDERS VERSUS THE NEW FOUNDERS.

THE GUYS IN THEIR 40s,

WASHINGTON, ADAMS AND THE YOUNG GUYS LIKE MADISON AND JOHN JAY WHO DID NOT HAVE THE EXPERIENCE

OF FRENCH INDIAN WARS OR SOME OF THE OTHER THINGS.

HOW DID THAT SPLIT PLAY ITSELF OUT?

>> IF YOU WRITE THE HISTORY IN 20 YEARS YOU HAVE THE MEN WHO MADE THE REVOLUTION, PEOPLE IN

POWER OR POSITIONS OF INFLUENCE WHEN IT BREAKS OUT AND SOMEBODY LIKE MADISON WITH WHOM I SPENT A

LOT OF TIME INTELLECTUALLY.

HE WAS A YOUNG GUY STRAIGHT OUT OF PRINCETON.

DOESN'T HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE.

GOES BACK TO VIRGINIA.

HE IS SOMEWHAT AIMLESS.

THE REVOLUTION COMES ALONG AND GIVES HIM A CAREER.

IT DOESN'T JUST GIVE HIM A CAREER AND A COMMITMENT TO PUBLIC LIFE, IT GETS HIM

THINKING ABOUT ISSUES.

YOU LOOK AT ALEXANDER HAMILTON WHO WAS WASHINGTON'S AIDE DURING

THE WAR THERE'S A GENERATION COMING OF AGE TO THINK ABOUT IT IN A CREATIVE SENSE.

CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE THEM MORE INTO PROBLEM SOLVERS.

YOU KNOW, IN THE 160 -- 1960 BOOK ABOUT THE KENNEDYS TALKING ABOUT THE GUYS IN WORLD WAR II

SOUNDS LIKE THE GREATEST GENERATION THEY SOME HOW UNDERSTAND IT IN THE WAY THE

YOUNGER GENERATION DID NOT.

>> Jon: DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD BE SURPRISED TO SEE THEIR WORDS TAKEN BIB LIKELY NOW?

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE FUNDAMENTALISTS WHEN YOU LOOK AT SUCH A DISPARATE GROUP.

>> THEY WERE REMARKABLE SCRUPULOUS ABOUT KEEPING THEIR LETTERS WITH THE KIND OF ZEAL

THAT VERY FEW GENERATIONS HAVE DONE.

A BIG PART OF THAT STORY ATHEY WERE THINKING ABOUT WHAT HISTORY WOULD HAVE MADE OF THEM.

THEY WERE LIVING POLITICAL EXPERIENCE.

NO ONE PREDICTS THREE WEEKS OR THREE MONTHS OR THREE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

THE SENSE OF NOVELTY THAT THERE WOULD BE ISSUES COMING ALONG WOULD NOT BE SOMETHING THAT

WOULD SURPRISE OR HE IS STRANGE THEM.

>> Jon: IT'S AN UNBELIEVABLE STORY.

WELL TOLD.

I ESPECIALLY LIKE THE PART WHERE WASHINGTON GOES, "I GET TO BE ON THE DOLLAR BILL."

THAT WAS MY FAVORITE.

|| MINE, TOO.

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