tv The Presidency The Presidents CSPAN May 26, 2020 9:29am-10:47am EDT
right? the tools and the techniques of slave owner power. >> watch profressors give lectures on topics. american history tv and lectures in history is available as a podcast. >> tonight on american history tv, more from purdue with a panel on the correlation between violence and u.s. political change. from the time of the american revolution watch american history tv tonight and over the weekend on c-span 3.
john maynard. with the 2020 election filling our news feed, what better time to look back at the history of the presidency and to examine the character and the dignity of the men that have been in the office. we dive in deep today. we rank the best and the worst chief check tiexecutives. in just a moment you will hear from susan swane. co-ceo of c-span who will discuss how the book came together. following her presentation i have the distinct privilege of speaking with brian lamb, the founding ceo who over the course of many years conducted
interviews with presidential historians. in addition we're joined today by historians ken acraman and ken stewart. so at this time please welcome susan swane. >> we run it, it is almost as hold as cspan.1,b talking about a project that c-span took on a year and a half ago. it was the 40th anniversary. it was live coverage of the house of representatives. thank you. so about a year and a half ago, i went to brian lamb's office and i said i have a great idea for a project.
we have done nine books of collected works of interviews and the most recent one was actually in 2015 which was a collection of biographies of the first ladies. it felt like if we were going to do anything special we ought to add the president's to our book shelf and collection. but the idea was to use two resources when we were putting it together. and the idea was to merge two significant resources. one was a collection of brian lamb's 30 years of interviews for sunday night programs. some of them were the top presidential historians alive today and the books they have done spending often years of their lives. that was one idea to use the
basis of his interviews for the election. it is it was a survey of presidential leadership. we spent an entire year on the ro road. we were live from the location doing a big production indoors and in houses they are telling the stories of the presidents. these three historians who have become deer friends, doug last brinkly, richard norton schmidt who has been on pbs and c-span. he is currently living in grand rapids michigan working on the biography of gerald r. ford.
and edna greene medford who is the dean of the department and is a specialist of reconstruction era of american history. we went to them and said we spent all of this time amassing these really anecdotal stories about the president and it would be nice to put a capper on this, so we devised a survey. and the question was how would we measure them. a lot of debate ensued and we decided on ten qualities of presidential leadership that would be the metrics. first it is public persuasion. the next one, crisis leadership, third economic management, the fourth moral authority, then international relations. after that administrative kills
that includes the selection of your candidate. the next is relaces with congress. the next vision, setting an agenda. i always remember george h.w. bush talking about that vision thing when he informs office. the category that did in a number for our founding fathers, and the final is the performance within the context of their time. the idea is that it is very difficult for us to take our 21st century eyes and judge back. we said take into account the circumstances of society at that time and try to give them some credit for doing the best they might have been able to do in the circumstances surrounding them. so there is ten metrics that went out to 100 historians and professional observers of the presidency. we really try to mix them
demographically. it could be as broad as possible. as i mentioned we did the first one in 2,000 and it was such a sdhaesz we decided it was at the time when backgrouill clinton w leaving, and the we did it again when barack obama left, we have three extensive surveys of historians. so who is up and who is down? first andrew jackson. he is down. maybe our historians can tell us more about why that has happened. woodrow wilson also down from sixth to 11th place. another one who is down, rutherford b. hayes. i have a soft spot for him and
his wife. and the only president to be elected in the popular vote for three times. went from 17th place over the 20 years to 23rd. but there are some who have gone up. dwight eisenhower made it into the top five. interesting to think about what we're observing about that presidency and what more we have learned over 209 years about how he conducted it. people are rating him higher. bill clinton started out in 21st place. it was in 2000 after the impeachment. and then by the time we did the survey, eight years later, he moved to 15th and he stayed in 15th in the last survey as well. ulysses s. grant. he moved up 11 points. i'm sure we'll learn more about our historian's perspectives,
and why they're raising up in their estimation. there has been a big grant biography recently published. and it is an interesting impact on the view that we have in society of presidents. think about david mccollaugh. so now we're going to go to the 2017 survey which is the organizing principal for our book of collecting interviews. we put them in order of how they faired in our survey. so let's look at the top five. sorry, modern presidents, ronald reagan it the only one in 2017 that made it into the top ten. next up, george w bush. the 20th spot. it will be interesting at the next survey at the end of the trump presidency if george h.w. bush will move up at all.
he passed away and we had three days of celebration. that has an impact. historians are people, too. bill clinton we just talked about in 15th place. george w. bush is 33rd. the first time we had him he was one point lower. he moved up one, but he is pretty close to the bottom ten, and not only are they -- they are certainly, the reaction to 9/11 is important, but the economic crisis, the wars, and his response to hurricane ka y katrina are all things that well see how they fair. barack obama came in at 12th. here are the top five in 2017. dwight eisenhower as we talked about before making it into the top five for the first time.
theodore roosevelt in fourth place in this survey. that is fairly common throughout ours and also other surveys that are done. you won't be surprised that the next in line is franklin roosevelt. he is frequently number one, two, or three. the fdr biography that we chose to highlight was "no ordinary time. anyone read that in the audience. the one on theodore roosevelt is known as wilderness warriors. and george washington came in second place in ours. 868 points out of a possible 1,000. his lowest score and i referenced this before it 13th place for pursued equal justice for all. we were down on mount vernon,
and they have been doing a really terrific job of telling the whole story of the slaves that contributed. and no surprise because he seems to be number one in every survey, is abraham link con. -- lincoln. his lowest score is fourth place and that ask on relations with congress. our featured biographer is harold holzer, is it 52 books he has done? 53 books about our 16th president. it is what they will think about what app ra habraham lincoln diw he organized himself to get to washington which he had only
been in for a short term. he went and we did nothing to help president's financially. he had to finance his way to washington. he had a yard spring in springfield, illinois to sell his belongings. he could not bear to sell the family dog so he gave it away to someone who was interested in taking it on. >> john tyler from tide water, virginia. he argues he establishes success. and everyone treated him as such and it was not accomplished as that at the time in the constitution. he got pretty low scores. his highest score, 28th in international relations. that is his highest.
next one warren harding. we learned a lot in the past few years. he was quite an ardent letter writer. he knows a thing or two about presidential scandals. he argues because he got access to more of hardings paper's that he deserves a second look. his highest, 33, was in equal justice for all. that category keeps coming back and i was talking with jack before about how we look at president's through our own eyes and we're having an important conversation this country about demographics and racial relations. it certainly appears in these presidential ratings. next up a featured president today, andrew johnson.
peter wallner. he got 315 points and a testify ri -- terrific story. two of three sons. and they are making their way after winning the election. they had a horrific accident and the son was thrown from the train and killed. and the president elect carried his dead son's body to the train. his wife pabarely recovered fro that. she spent a lot of time writing letters to her dead son. he had a difficult time organizing for the presidency.
42nd out of the 43, and his highest point was in economic management. but here we go, dead last, guess who it is? james bucanan. i'm a pennsylvanian so it pains me a little bit. he is so bad that he is 30 points below andrew johnson and all of these folks are below harrison who died after one month in office. think about that. it is a bit of a net negative presidency. the bu canncanan presidency. there is lots, lots more about all of these ratings. you will find the complete video of every one of the interviews
that we used for the chapters of the book. more about their individual ratings and categories. if you're reading the book and you don't know about a particular war or an economic panic we have a link there and if you want to learn more you have an easy stuopportunity to that. we did not rate the incumbent. we hope that all of you as we're thinking about what we want out of a leader will look to these ten attributes as judging the democrats vying for it and the incumbent in office. they're a great conversation starter and a great way to think about what do i expect out of the person that leads this country. here are the two presidents being featured today. his highest category is economic management, his lowest category, not surprisingly, relations with
congress. 275 out of 1,000. james garfield, and this is so interesting he was in office for six n six-and-a-half months. he pursued equal justice for all. in 20th place, and lowest category was international relations which he came into office with virtually no experience in, he is in 36th there. it is fully doubled. so lots and lots to talk about why these ratings have happened. i'm going to turn it over to our wonderful panel. >> thank you so much. great presentation. i'm going to get the conversation rolling and we want to hear, of course, from all of you. when i'm ready for questionsly
just ask you to please stand. we have ken acroman. he has a long time position in government law. he authored five major books on americana including "dark horse." as you just heard, garfield is 29th on the survey. he specialized in agriculture risk management. and a lawyer arguing before juries the u.s. senate and supreme court before becoming a bestselling writer of history. he includes james madison, the western expedition. he is also the author of
"impeached." finally we're joined by brian lamb, the c-span founder and man. basis of nine books with public fairs including, of course, "the presidents." brian has visited every presidential grave site as well as every vice presidential grave site in the country and we will have to ask him about that during the course of the interview. please join me in welcoming our panel. [ applause ] first a question for our historians, ken, along with your biography of garfield, you've written about abraham lincoln, 1860 convention. you have a day job as a practicing lawyer. what draws you to chronicling presidents and history in general? >> i've been writing history for -- since the 1980s. what drew me to james garfield was when i was a young lawyer in
washington, i was working for what was then the senate governmental affairs committee, back in the 1970s. i was working for senator chuck percy from illinois. as a junior lawyer i was assigned to work on a bill that became the civil service reform act of 1978. that was the project that was put on my desk. during the course of the year, writing and working on that that bill, every speech, every report started with almost the exact same sentence. this is the most important update of the civil service laws since president james garfield was shot by a disappointed office seeker in 1881, resulting in the pendleton act of 1883. i must have written that sentence at least 100 times. as a result, i always assumed it was true. then some years later, i started researching. i had an idea for a book, to write about a political
convention, back when political nominating conventions were the super bowl of politics. that's where parties came together, all the factions. they had it out and they picked a nominee. we haven't had a multiballot convention in america since the early 1950s. in the 1800s, early 1900s, these were the great events. some of them went for dozens and dozens of ballots. and the convention that caught my eye was the republican convention of 1880. 36 ballots, the longest ever on the republican side, which was dominated by a very ugly factional fight between two sides of the republican party at the time, a group called the stalwartz and the group called the half breeds, supporting james gillespie blane, known as the controversial lawyer from the state of maine. very controversial figure. james garfield was not a nominee.
he was not a candidate. he came to the convention as the campaign manager of somebody else. he ended up getting nominated and, in order to get him elected, to soothe the speech in the party, he would be the nominee, nominated with the support of james blane and his faction. his vice president was a follower of the opposite faction, the stalwartts that deal create aid chain of events that the stalemate from the convention carried over into his presidency and resulted in him being shot in the back four months into his term. that connection, for me, made a damn good story and got me
started. >> david, what was your role into presidents and you've also written about madison and thomas jefferson, adam burr. >> my first book was about writing the constitution and i have always loved history, because the best stories are there. fiction writers write great stories and i do that, but you can't beat real life, particularly zaininess, referring to our current situation. i was looking for another occasion where the constitution mattered, where it made a difference. i thought the impeachment trial of andrew johnson was a time when, really, after the civil war, the nations, whether it would stay together, whether it would have a second civil war really turned on how the constitution was applied in the impeachment proceeding, and it
was an event that riveted the nation for a long time. it was a hard book at some level because of andrew johnson. he's not a sweet guy. wasn't a sweet guy. difficult person to live with. he has earned his spot at number 42. i had to find other people to sort of root for, but it has proved to be an enduring interest. >> brian, feel free to weigh in here. why do you think a survey the presidents as portrayed in this book is valuable? >> reading the survey over closely the last few days, preparing to be here today, i think it's striking, what it tells you about the country and our history. the pattern that jumped out at me when i saw it was the way the
modern presidents are treated. the 12 presidents who served since world war ii, 12 out of 43, so that's barely one in four, those are represented very heavily at the top tier. five out of the top ten are modern presidents. seven out of the top 15 are modern presidents. and when i first saw that, i kind of wondered whether there was a bias built in that would tend to overestimate, exaggerate the good and the bad about people from our lifetime, people we get to know by seeing them on tv every day. but thinking about it, it really represented something more. it represented how the presidency has changed, that modern presidents are, in fact, much more consequential than
early presidents in this sense. none of the 32 presidents before the world war ii era had to deal with nuclear exchange and people being killed within a couple of hours. none of them had to deal with international relations on the level we do now. yes, there have always been newspapers and publicity and often negative publicity, going back to the time of john adams, but the modern presidents have had to deal with the television age, which has put their face in our households every single day and has resulted in the public knowing them in a very derch way. and as a result, they really are more consequential. how someone like james garfield or teddy roosevelt or rutherford
hayes would stack up if they are challenged the way the modern presidents are, we don't know. it's something interesting to think about. but they weren't. it was a different era, and that jumped out at me when i saw the list. >> david, on the importance? >> in a lot of ways, the surveys are a mirror of our times as much as they are a reflection of what went before. you see race and inclusion. andrew johnson started out, the first survey was done in 1948, johnson was 19 out of 33. he was doing okay, you know, since people have become much more conscience of his racist policies, the way he really abandoned the freed slaves after the civil war, he has dropped like a rock. and i think appropriately.
andrew johnson has taken a lot of heat for his alcohols as a slave holder and slave trader but also his actions toward the indian tribes where he was quite ferocious as a military figure and then sending them off to the west, and taking their lands. so it tells us a lot about who we are or who we think we are or want to be. and i think it runs the risk. ken has created a nice story for why we have so many presidents it's rife. i don't think it's rife. james k. poke, who acquired 40% of our land mass are being
forgotten. we need to sort of preach the sermon a little and help keep these stories alive. >> brian, you conducted all the interviews that appear in this book. i'm wondering, seeing them all together, did anything surprise you or stand out as you kind of read it as one book? >> yes, i would say the most important thing that i learned, putting them all together is how much i had forgot nen the time since the interview. and the beauty of this is that you can go back and read what they had to say. some of what they had to say. as susan said our archive allows you to go on and listen to the interviews. i listened to both of the interviews i had done with these
gentlemen in preparation of this, and they were fantastic. not because of me, but because of them. some people will look at this book as a book of precedens pre. i look at it as a book of presidents but just as importantly, the fabulous historians we don't give enough credit to, because they spend weeks and years going over all the little details. if we didn't have historians, we wouldn't have this kind of information. frankly, sitting here, me talking is driving me crazy right now. i would just as soon listen to these two guys, because they've got stories to tell. >> ken, let's get back, since your chapter is on garfield from the tribute that you did, you said his assassination was one of the more misunderstood events in american history. tell us why. >> well, a couple of things. first this. what -- charles gateau shot
james garfield. arguably, he was killed by the doctors. he was hit by two bullets. one grazed his arm, the other hit him in the back. there were a lot of people, particularly in that era -- this is just after the civil war. a lot of people had gunshot wounds and lived, lived to tell the story, but garfield, in fact, died of infection and blood poisoning caused by his doctors examining his wound without washing their hands and without cleaning their instruments. the germ theory existed, but it was still a new idea from france. it hadn't been totally adopted. but most doctors on the western frontier, from the civil war, doctors who dealt with gunshot wounds knew that you don't examine a wound with your unwashed hands. there was direct testimony of that at the time. even by the standards of the time, it should not have
happened. the other thing i'll mention briefly, the garfield assassination was different from the others in the purpose of the sensati assassination. john wilkes booth shot abraham lincoln in order to kill abraham lincoln. john kennedy was shot in order to kill john kennedy. what charles gateau was trying to do -- he had nothing personal against james garfield. he liked the man. he met the man, he met the man, met his wife. he wasn't so much trying to get garfield out of office as to put someone else in office. he was trying to make chester alan arthur and his circle of friends the president and ruling circle in the united states. it was a regime change. that's a very scary thought when you think about it, and he was
successful in doing it. >> and getting back to andrew johnson, i'm going to steal a question that was asked of other historians. abraham lincoln, of course, is ranked the number one president. james buchanan, who preceded him, and andrew johnson who came after him, are consistently ranked the last two. how do you explain that? >> lincoln is sort of historical kryptonite. you don't want to be close to him. he had the greatest challenges of any president, i think, and did such a wonderful job, it's hard to look good next to that. but both buchanan and johnson were cosmically unsuccessful. buchanan slid into war and did almost nothing to stop it. it was almost tragic. and johnson remade the nation after the war.
historical reputation is a fascinating thing. first half of the 20th century, he was celebrated for having brought the south successfully back into the union and knitting the wounds of war back together, healing the country and then finally around the 1950s, people started saying, well, actually, there was a part of the country he didn't heal very well. and that has -- that awareness has grown and has caused him to decline. it is worth noting, and i think it's not the sort of thing this sort of survey can correct for, but it was a really hard set of problems these guys had to deal with.
civil war is tough. it was a really hard job. >> as susan explained there are 10 leadership qualities that the survey is based on. i'm wondering as we sit here in the museum if there was a category of relations with the press, who would rank near the top and near the bottom. and i would love to get your thoughts because you have interviewed so many historians. >> i'll be very quick. there are stories about each president and how they related to the media. one of my favorites is calvin coolidge. during his time that radio came into being and he did 22 speeches into the radio microphone and for people that remember his imagine, it wasn't -- it would not have been terrific for television, but it was okay for radio. and it was during the time that he was on radio, the audience
built, it grew. like c-span started out with 3 million homes and went up to 100 million. he started out with very few radio stations and went up to several hundred more. those stories exist in each -- with each president. >> kennedy was brilliant at it. he charmed everybody. he charmed the press, too. i think of franklin roosevelt, too. he would have the whole white house press corps in his office once a week, sit at his desk, field questions and duck questions. he knew how not to answer. >> right. >> but, you know, when you spend that much facetime with the president, it's very effective in getting them to pull their punches. >> this is one we'll all be very curious to see how our current president fares when the next
c-span poll comes around. kennedy and fdr stuck out on the positive side of the equation. probably nixon would stick out on the negative side of the equation. the current president has made this a signature issue. it will be very interesting on how, in fact, it works out. >> is it too early to think where trump might fall on the survey? >> i'm hoping johnson bumps up a little bit. [ laughter ] >> i'll let that stand. david, you touched on, and susan showed how people would go up and down. i know grant went up, geez, 11 points. any others you want to point out? >> just a couple. and i'm picking on them. and i don't mean to. but some relatively current
presidents who, one is john kennedy. he was president 2 1/2 years. hard pressed to point to a lot of achievements and some problems. he didn't do a great job on civil rights. lyndon johnson cleaned that up. eisenhower as number five. it's hard to point to some massively thing that happened that made us delighted that he was president. seems a surprise to me. >> with eisenhower i would point to the massively wonderful thing or massively terrible thing that didn't happen. eisenhower faced the toughest period of the cold war when we were at laggerheads with russia, nuclear weapons were
proliferating. and the fact that eisenhower kept the peace so effective ly. the fact that he kept the peace in a very quiet way, calm way in those eight years, to me, justifies that one. if i may, i have a quibble with both at the top and one at the bottom. the one at the bottom, i always thought that warren harding gets a raw deal in these polls. yes, warren harding brought us the tea pot dome scandal. it almost pales next to the scandals going on in the justice department under warren harding. so, yes, that's bad. but on the other side, warren harding became president in
1921. he stabilized the national economy. he calmed the country down from an anti-red, anti-immigrant period. he is the one who pardoned eugene debbs, got him out of prison as a very important act of goodwill. he did not get the country into any war at all. and the actual tea pot dome scandals generally affected other people, did not directly reflect on him. so i would not argue he belongs in the top two thirds. however, from the last compared to some of the others, i would quibble with that. on the upside i have a problem with lyndon johnson. and the reason is this. yes, his record on civil rights, his record on domestic policy, the creation of the great society, these are all extremely positive things that would put
him in the upper tier. my very first involvement in politics, when i was a junior in high school, was working as a volunteer for the campaign of eugene mckararthur. vietnam hung over the country for many years. and of the five presidents who had fingerprints on the vietnam war, going through nixon, he was the most responsible for getting the country involved on a military quagmire on a large scale. that's not a small thing. c-span survey, i note that lyndon johnson got extremely high marks for bringing equal
justice to people and so on, but on foreign affairs, he is one of the bottom couple. >> if i might flag an issue for the next survey, we've had this cycle of realizing that racial issues should be part of this, looking at treatment of the indian tribes. i wonder if now it's going to be a focus on presidential womanizing. there are, in fact, some pretty tawdry stories. are we going to make distinctions between presidents who had stable extra marital relationships or serial abusive extra marital relationships? because we've got them both.
you know, it's going to be interesting. it would be question number one. >> i would love to hear from the audience. we have mics on both sides of the studio. please line up. c-span is here with book tv. you'll be on c-span, asking your question. as people line up for questions, brian and susan both mentioned that harold holzer has written 53 books about lincoln. are there presidents we need to learn a lot more about? are there any you want to tackle in the years to come? >> i'm writing one about george washington so we want to learn about him. and i'm focusing on his earlier years, which i think are not well understood. you know, with all of these characters, a friend uses the phrase that so much information is hiding in plain sight, that's known to the people who know this stuff, but most people don't know it. >> yeah. >> and that's part of the job,
is to help people understand that. >> ken? >> just briefly i've been straying far afield since my garfield book. my last book was called "trotsky in new york 1917," about leon trotsky and the time he spent in new york just before the russian revolution. on a rating of the comisars, i would rate trotsky in the top three. >> any q & a's that you would welcome from presidents you would like to learn more about, brian? >> of course. these three men -- these two men have already written so much that we could just continue this until 5:00 this afternoon. i would love to hear you tell, again, the story of gateau and lafayette park and the fact that garfield was shot half a block from here, and that story about lafayette park, i can't get it
out of my head. >> just very briefly, what brian is alluding to, james garfield was shot in july 1881. charles gateau, the assassin, was stalking him for several weeks. he had made the decision to remove garfield. again, it was a regime change as opposed to a vindictive assassination. so he -- one of the things that he would do, he would read in the newspapers what was going on with the president, the president's schedule. the secret service existed, but it was still in the james west artemis period. for those of you who like the tv show. so gateau would go to lafayette park across the street from the white house. he would sit down on a bench where he could get a good look the things and he would watch all the comings and goings. he could see who was coming, who was going in, who was going out.
and he had his gun with him. at that point, james garfield, as president, thought nothing of going outside alone at night and walking a few blocks on his own. james blane, his friend and secretary of state, lived at, i believe it was, 15th and i street, a few blocks away. one night shortly before the murder, james garfield wanted to talk to blane. he went outside. he crossed the street. it was at night. he was alone. gateau saw him, followed him with his gun, thinking he might very well shoot him that night. he followed garfield all the way to james blaine's house. he saw him go inside blaine's house. then he thought he would wait outside until garfield left, catch him going back to the white house and shoot him there. luckily for garfield, blaine, a very good friend of his, decided
that he would join garfield for the walk back to the white house, just because there were a few things they wanted to talk about that night. when gateau saw blaine with garfield, he decided to put it off and not shoot him that night. what he ended up doing was wait about a week or two later. the shooting took place literally across the street from where we're sitting. and when you go outside of the front door of the newseum building, you'll see the national museum of art across constitution avenue. at that point, 1881, the potomac and baltimore railroad station sat in the middle of what's now the street. the shooting took place in the front foyer, front reception area of the train station, what today would literally be in the middle of constitution avenue. we've been trying for several years to get a marker on that spot but the national park
service came through and put up a marker on the mall about 100 yards away. the bureaucracy of putting a marker in the middle of the street in washington, d.c. is predijous and still in progress. >> you mentioned the implicit weight we give to modern presidents, but i also wonder about the point system itself, because i see reagan in the top ten and i think particularly of his failure to respond to the aids crisis in the '80s as something that i assume falls within equal justice for all. and i wonder if that's a category that ought to have more than ten points, for instance, as compared to some of the others. i'm just curious about whether and how that type of calculation comes in for both the people who organize the book and the
historians who participate in the survey. >> i would just say that on any of these categories, in any of the point systems, you could find yourself running around, chasing your tail forever and never have a perfect survey. we don't think this is a perfect survey at all. this is just a way, frankly, to talk about this kind of stuff. we don't put -- we had nothing to do with how it came out. we did try to balance out the hundred people we invited, unlike some of the other surveys, where they only picked left of center political scientists from major universities and that's the way arthur schlessinger did it, senior, years ago. there's a balance to it. you can find out who did this by going on our website, finding the whole story on the presidents and you'll be able to find out who they are. it's a good question but i don't have an answer, i'm sure, that would satisfy you on that. this stuff is not perfect.
>> question about chester a. arthur. when there's a reference to kennedy not moving ahead as far as civil rights and then lbj was able to, i thought that somewhat true of chester a. arthur, moving ahead of civil reform, having a change of heart and morality once garfield was assassinated. wondering what your thought was on that, and your research. >> we were talking about this before coming here today. >> you should have been there. >> yes. it was a great conversation. next question. and the food was very good, too. chester allen arthur was actually an underappreciated president, in my mind. and i think david would agree with that. as i mentioned, chester allen arthur was chosen to be vice president because he represented the rival group within the republican party opposed to james garfield. he was traditionally under the thumb, really, of a new york
political boss named rosco concord. gateau, when he shot garfield, said publicly and in writing several times, i am a stalward and arthur will be president. when arthur showed up at the fifth avenue hotel in new york city, there were death threats against him. many people thought there was something to it, he might have been involved. he wasn't, but people thought that. chester allen arthur did a lot of soul searching in the weeks between the shooting and when he became president, and giving credit where due, he really recognized the problem created by the very harsh partisanship that led up to the shooting. and when he became president, he refused to go along with this notion of regime change. rosco, shortly after arthur
became president, came to him and asked him to follow through on reversing some of garfield's political positions, and arthur refused to do it. he also surprised many of his own friends when he signed the civil service reform act. his faction, he was elected -- excuse me, his faction stood for patronage, yet he signed the civil service reform act and ran one of the notably less corrupt presidencies of that era. good shout out for chester allen arthur. >> i recommend the biography by scott greenburger, featured in the book called "the accidental presidents." up there. >> i always heard there was a plaque to garfield that was in the b & o railroad station. >> yes. >> when it was torn down by boss shepherd, the plaque was then offered to the national gallery, who didn't want it, because it wasn't artistic. >> right. >> when it comes to the question of womanizing and whatever,
there's that category of moral authority. what's in that category, and does that handle things that david was concerned about? >> i was wondering about that on one. >> it's again an opportunity for these people who we ask to do the survey to put a face on it that they believe in and all that, what moral authority is. again, do not try to make this a perfect survey. can can i jump in just very quickly, because i want to ask a question of mr. stewart when it gets to the impeachment of andrew johnson. should he have been convicted? you say, of course, he missed it by one vote, but should he have been convicted after he was impeached? >> i thought he was -- he deserved to be impeached and removed from office, yes. he was a catastrophic president, and i think it would have been
excellent thing for the political system to introduce the notion of, you could get thrown out of office. there's presidents now seem to survive impeachment. we start talking about impeaching them as soon as they take office. and i think if somebody had actually gotten tossed, it would have been awfully good. >> we visited philadelphia last weekend, the constitution museum that's there. i'm wondering if there are some examples in your research about the contention between the president and congress that would inform us for what's going to be happening over the next couple of years, let's say. >> impeachment is the ultimate confrontation between congress and the president. frankly, they're trying to
decapitate the government of the united states. it is a compelling drama. it's also a massive distraction from anything the political system might actually -- or the government might do for the people. and i think that's something that needs to weigh more heavilheavy ly than it does. there is an obsession today with how polarized we are. it is a very polarized time. it is expressed in congress. there are all these mechanisms, gerrymandering and what have you, to exacerbate it. we have had a lot of polarizing times. researching right now in the 1790s when frankly there were riots in the streets. people opposed president washington. we -- you know, the civil war, people were killing each other. that was pretty bad.
and the civil rights era and the vietnam era, which you alluded to, was very polarizing. the system has survived all of these. it does require people observing some basic rules and that feels like that's being abandoned and it's a shame. >> i wanted to ditto david's point but add one other thing to it. we've had a number of periods in our country when relations between presidents and congress have been very poor, but there's one way in which this period is different. the book we're talking about is rating the presidents. it would be interesting if there
were a parallel book called rating the congresses. arguably, the congress today, both the senate and the house, have reached a point -- the word dysfunction is thrown out quite a lot but there's something very real behind it. the fact that our congress is no longer able to manage the basic functions of appropriating money to run the government on a regular basis year in and year out. the fact that that process doesn't work. the fact that congress no longer views itself as in power to declare war. our country has had troops overseas for almost 20 years steady now, and congress has not issued an authorization since shortly after 9/11 and a resolution shortly before the invasion of iraq. many members of congress have called for congress to reassert its control over war, but congress has refused to do so.
the demise of congress, to me, is a very important part of that equation and is something that's different from these prior period periods. >> everyone ought to know that ken. >> the other nixon. >> who was impeached and convicted in the senate as a federal judge. we've got a lot of talent right here. >> go ahead, sir. >> my question relates to the survey and lyndon johnson, primarily relationship with congress. i think, i wonder any significance given to the fact, of course, he served in both houses and he, of course, had been the majority leader of the senate, and what impact that had on the survey.
>> the fact that he served as majority leader gave him an understanding of how to get through congress. there would not have been a civil rights bill in 1964 unless lyndon johnson had an understanding of how you cleared the decks in the senate, get around a filibuster, build a coalition, how you lean on members and force people to vote your way, how you reach out to the leader on the other side. all of those mechanical, political things, he knew how to do, because he had that experience on capitol hill. where it broke down was later where vietnam came to dominate his presidency. and his inability to bridge that gap. yes, i think it had a very important impact. >> i recommend to you, if you haven't taken the time, we have
this on our website. since our radio station has been in business over 20 years, we've run thousands of interviews -- not interviews. oval office conversations of lyndon johnson that were recorded by lyndon johnson that are the greatest civics lesson you could ever imagine. you can see there, very clearly, why he had this top relationship with congress. he could talk to everybody in congress about everything, about their family, about their -- i won't go that far. anyway, it's fantastic, if you have never listened to it. >> highly entertaining at times. really, really. >> how did you decide where to rank william henry harrison? wasn't he in office for a month? >> 30 day. >> it's hard on the presidents
who became below him. >> relations with congress, foreign fairs, all of this stuff, and he was in bed? >> that's a question that will have to remain unanswered. i have no idea why these 100 people would put him where they put him. it's probably because of their dislike for the ones below him is all i can think of. >> fair enough. >> it's a good question, though. there are a lot of other questions that can be asked and not answered if you study this survey closely. >> a quick comment on it. it was a lot easier to think through the top five and the bottom five, at least to me, than to try to figure out who ranked 37th and who ranked 38th. the middle ones really required some research and some thinking to figure out who would go with whom. with someone like william henry harrison, no, he has no track record at all. so you don't know what he was going to do. but you do know a little bit about his wife, his leanings,
but it's conjecture. >> as somebody who was born and raised in indiana, i suppose it might be because he was the governor of the indiana territory is the only thing i can think of. >> would that track into the presidential ranking? >> his chapter, the historians, ronald schafer, great chapter to read in this book. two more questions. >> hi. can you hear me? >> yes. >> first of all i'm a c-span junkie and brian lamb is my hero. [ laughter ] secondly, i want to know, can we perhaps look back in history through the lens of our modern day and rank some of the presidents of the past through skewed eyes, skewed perspective? we're talking a lot nowadays of social justice and how we treat
each other, which is fine, but it seems like you have to take the presidents within the context of their times. is that something we could have a broader discussion about? >> that's a very important point and something that everyone who participated in the poll had to wrestle with, how do you rank someone? take andrew jackson, for instance. andrew jackson, for many years after he lived, up until the arthur schlessinger period, was considered an important progressive and it was under andrew jackson that the franchise, the right to vote was expanded traumatically. he established the power of the presidency through his veto of the national bank. he established the democratic party as the party against big business. he established a number of things that for many years were considered very progressive and
that's the way he was ranked until the last 20, 30 years, but -- but you can't overlook the other side of the coin. and i don't think it's a bad thing that modern historians and modern analysts are more sensitive to that bad side of the coin. the fact that his record on race was so poor. the fact that his treatment of indians, native americans was not just poor by our standards, but even by the standards of the time was extremely cruel and hard-hearted. so it's something that we have to struggle with, but it's certainly there, certainly something that can't be ignored. >> david stewart wrote a book called "the summer of 1787" i would highly recommend to you. it has so many interesting statistics about it. but i would ask him if that crowd came back today, what would they think of all of this?
>> they would be amazed that it lasted this long. some of them thought it would be great if the country lasted another 50 years. so they would be delirious about that. they would not be able to recognize the government, it is so gigantic. it plays such a large role. and we expect it to do so much. when washington took office, there were about 500 soldiers and maybe 30 clerks. that was the whole thing. it would largely be unrecognizable, in a lot of ways. i think they would be tickled, though, that it was still here. they knew it would have to change. they put the amendment process in there for a reason. >> before we get to our last question, i want to remind everyone we're selling copies of the books outside the studio and
i'm sure our historians and brian will be happy to sign copies. go ahead, sir. >> i would add to the ten items in terms of ranking presidents, and what do you think of this, but also i would have the ability to learn from mistakes and actually ability to grow in office. and what i had read -- for example, talking about kennedy and his position on civil rights. when kennedy assumed office, he saw civil rights as a thorny political issue, having to navigate between the southern conservatives and the northern liberals but 2 1/2 years later, kennedy saw civil rights as a moral imperative. and i think that's what he learned in office. and i think that the bay of pigs fiasco greatly helped kennedy in dealing with the cuban missile crisis. one more thing. i have a history professor at brooklyn college that would take issue, okay, with any higher
ranking you would give to warren harding. he said warren harding looked like a president, and from that point on that's where the resemblance ended. again, sorry, sorry to interrupt you. >> are you done? >> yes. >> i just wanted to suggest that although i admire the effort to have ten categories and try to get people to think in a disciplined way and not just react reflexantly, something gets lost in that process in terms of the overall impact of the president. and we start slicing and dicing these different categories. for example, i was glad to hear what administrative skills was supposed to mean, but i wasn't sure when i read it. so, i think that's something we all need to bring to this, is to think about what we can figure out about the significance of
the presidents and the times that they had to live with and figure out how to deal with. >> i think that talking about where presidents are ranked, books that historians write have a great deal of impact on those presidents. we're talking about eisenhower, and the steven ambros ebook. i wrote a book by evan thomas that came out recently that gave ike real credit, okay, the course of his leadership during the cold war, that was greatly underrated. but i didn't really know that. learned that from reading that book. so that elevated my opinion. and some author wrote a book about calvin coolidge. i forgot her name. >> annalise slate. >> and my opinion of calvin coolidge rose also. with that same history professor
at brooklyn college had said calvin coolidge, the reason he was known as silent cal is because he had nothing to say but gave credit, as a lot of other politicians had nothing to say and never shut up. at least calvin coolidge had nothing to say and didn't say it. >> ken you had one last point? >> first, i think i would have flunked the course with that professor. my view on warren harding, i recognize, is a minority view. i recommend the john dean book to you on the series on warren harding who speaks to his defense. just about very briefly, we talked about the ten standards, the ten categories used to judge presidents. one thing that's always struck me about it is that one of the books i wrote was a biography of boss tweet of tammany hall. old ethnic politics and machine politics and the expression 100 years ago or 150 years ago among
the political bosses was that number one way you judge a politician is, are they loyal to their friends? loyalty to your friends, the number one trait. right up to the gates of state prison, loyalty to your friends, as one of them put it. that used to be the standard among political professionals. it's not one of the ten anymore. arguably, it shouldn't be. but i've always wondered if perhaps we lose something by not having that as one of the standards, given that it was so central to the way our politics have worked for many years. >> let me say in our audience is john alouiscius. there's an enormous amount of talent in this room. >> brian, if i may, let me ask you one last question. 40th anniversary of c-span, not only endureed but expanded in
terms of networks and the digital space. to what would you attribute its endurance and success over these years? >> two things. one, an industry that finance this had, spent over $1 billion in the last 40 years on this public service that has no advertising, stars or ratings, and two, the public that watch it. if we didn't have a public that reacts and our call-in shows are stimulating and different, and somewhat balanced, we hope, we wouldn't be here today. those two things. >> excellent. the book is the presidents. i want to thank ken ackerman, brian lamb, david stewart and susan swain, of course, for joining us. and thank you all for your wonderful questions. [ applause ] selling books outside. you can also join us for a book signing. thank you.
the presidents from public affairs available now in paperbook and e-book. biographies of every president, organized by their ranking by noted historians, from best to worst, and features perspectives into the lives of our nation's chief executives and leadership styles. visit our website, c-span.org/the presidents, to learn more about each president and historian featured and order your copy today, wherever books and e-books are sold. tonight on american history tv, beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, more from purdue university's remaking american political history conference, with a panel on the correlation
between violence and u.s. political change, from the time of the american revolution to present day. watch "american history tv" tonight and over the weekend on c-span3. next on the presidency, discussion at philadelphia's national constitution center with three contributors to c-span's book "the presidents," noted historians rank the best and worst chief executives. jeffrey rosen, author of william howard taft, michael gerheardt, and michael straws, "worse president ever" about james buchanan. [ applause ]