BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bernard Bailyn, author of "To Begin the World Anew," Jonathan Yardley, in a recent review of you in "The Washington Post," wrote this paragraph.
"For approximately half a century, Bailyn has been the country's most distinguished and influential scholar of the Revolution, the author of numerous books and the winner of prizes by the cartload. As professor of history at Harvard, he trained many of the younger scholars who have done so much to enhance our understanding of the period before, during and after the Revolution. It is no exaggeration to say that his influence on what the nation knows about its own beginnings is immense, if incalculable."
How do you respond to something like that?
BERNARD BAILYN, AUTHOR, "TO BEGIN THE WORLD ANEW: THE GENIUS AND AMBIGUITIES OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDERS": It's very flattering. I think I had great good fortune with the students at Harvard, the graduate students, who have gone on to wonderful careers. And it's been a continuous process for about 50 years, as I've worked at these problems, interpreting 18th century history and other parts of American history and broadening out now into broader areas of Atlantic history in general, which we've been working on at Harvard.
LAMB: Where did you get started in history?
BAILYN: Well, in the Harvard Graduate School. After World War II and I was discharged from the Army, I entered the graduate school and started work on the Ph.D., and I've remained there ever since.
LAMB: Can you remember what specifically interested you about history?
BAILYN: Well, all of it, really -- the stories of it, the importance of it, a way of interpreting what's happened to us and to the world, and the craft of it. History and the writing of history is a craft, and the craft of writing history -- it's not a science. Sometimes it's an art, but it's always a craft. And the craft of it, of how history is put together and the way we reconstruct from small pieces of evidence of one kind or another and illuminate dark parts that hadn't been seen before -- that craft of history interested me, and still does, enormously.
LAMB: Take the Revolution. If you're a person that's never read much about the Revolution or you're a young person that's just starting out, what would you recommend they do to start?
BAILYN: Well, it depends at what level.
LAMB: Well, at the -- you know, at the beginning. In other words, how do you begin to learn, in your opinion, correctly about the Revolution in this country.
BAILYN: Well, you should have, in the first place, an outline of events, to begin with, so you know approximately what happened in large terms. And then you go into some of the more critical writings on it that get to the heart of the issues. And there are certain books all along the way that would seem to me to come very close to the great issues involved in the Revolution, but I think you have to have some kind of a general background of the structure of the story, the chronology of it, to begin with, in order to make sense of any of the details that follow.
But I think a general outline is necessary, and then to be able to pick the issues that are critical for understanding what really happened.
LAMB: Is there a person from Revolutionary days that you think is the most important?
BAILYN: Oh, I think there's a whole group of them, and I've written about them in various ways, who are critical, it seems to me, to understanding what happened. But there are shared qualities among this group. And when I tried to write about the ideology of the Revolution, it was really trying to put together what was in the minds of the leaders of the whole Revolutionary movement, to see what they shared and to see what the motivation was that could be seen in what they wrote and what they did.
It seems to me you can pick out certain people who are obviously critical in the whole process, but there's also a group phenomenon and general issues and problems that are involved. And I've tried to write about them in different ways, and this current book is one of them.
LAMB: In this book, one person that pops out right away is Thomas Jefferson.
BAILYN: Well, Jefferson, of course, is one of the most complicated people of the entire era. And I wrote this piece in an effort -- he's come under so much abuse recently. The criticisms just pile up, and I enumerated them there. But my aim in that essay was to understand why this happened, why his reputation is what it is and what he did and what he didn't do. And I find him a very complex man in ways I tried to explain.
And Jefferson is -- it's not easy to explain Jefferson, but he certainly had two dominant characteristics that seem to me to have created the problems of his life. In the first place, he really was an ideologue. That is, he believed in principles that he derived as a young man about a kind of enlightenment situation of reform and betterment that could be achieved. And this was high ideals. It was really ideological. And it -- he never relented in following those principles.
But at the same time, he was a tough politician. He was a good administrator. He knew what the world was all about. And the problems of his career seem to me to be the way in which those two worked together and didn't work together. And he kept qualifying -- all the way through his life, he kept qualifying the principles in order to accomplish something in a very real and practical way, so that it's full of contradictions.
That's why the essay is called "Ambiguities." There are ambiguities all the way through his career, and it is fascinating to see the way he clings to the principles of his early commitments and then qualifies them in practical terms as he goes through difficult problems of politics, of economics, international relations and all of those grand affairs of practical affairs, which, as an administrator, as president, as secretary of state and just as a manager of plantations, he sees he has to do.
And the problems of his career and the complications of his reputation come from his effort to do both -- namely, to maintain those principles at the same time as dealing with the real problems of politics, of the economy and of international relations.
LAMB: You say that he wrote 19,000 letters.
BAILYN: Well, they've found that many. The people doing the Jefferson papers in Princeton have identified at least 19,000. He was extremely diligent. And as I think I said in there, he was incapable of boredom. He did the most difficult kinds of things, like treatises on the whale fishery, at the same time as he's dealing with problems of high political theory, of economic theory, of plantation management. His capacity was extraordinary, and his diligence was extraordinary. But he's caught up in the ambiguities between the real practical world and those ideals that he started with and never gave up.
LAMB: I wrote this down that you said in your book -- "His loathing of slavery was sincere."
BAILYN: Yes, I think it was.
LAMB: How do you explain, then, what he did with his own slaves?
BAILYN: Well, it isn't a matter what he did with his own slaves. That is a question, but the real question is what did he do about slavery, as such. And the answer is he had no solution to this problem. His condemnation of it goes all the way through his career, and it is involved with racist views -- there's no question of this -- which he shared with most of his compatriots in the plantation world.
But the interesting thing about this, in a way, is that he felt it as he grew older in the 1820s -- he came to see that he may have been wrong about some of those racist views, though he never fully changed. He had no solution to this problem. As he said -- and I quote this -- "Sometime this has got to go from the face of the earth. It's an abomination." And he knew it, and yet he lived in that. That was his world. And he had no solution to it.
At one point, he tried to confine it, and his contribution to the Northwest Ordinance, for example, in a memo -- I think it was in 1784, which set up the north of the Ohio states and with those states an abolition of slavery -- was already an indication of his views on this, but it was easy, relatively speaking. The hard thing was what to do with the existing institutions. And he had no solution to this.
LAMB: The numbers of -- the ages of these folks that you write about -- there's one point you talk about in the year 1776, that Thomas Jefferson was 33 and that James Madison was 25 and that Alexander Hamilton was 21.
BAILYN: Yes. And...
LAMB: I mean, could that happen today? I mean, could people that age today get this kind of...
BAILYN: Well, in the 18th century, of course, 33 was a fairly advanced age. But what struck me about that is that though the age differences are not that great, in fact, Jefferson was of an older generation. He had already -- by the time he was involved in affairs in 1776, he was already a very experienced parliamentarian. He had been involved in major drafting of major documents in Virginia. And the others were just emerging. Hamilton was still in college at the time, and Madison had just recently got out. And they're of a different generation, and they thought differently.
The thinking of the three of them -- I try to work that out in the book. The thinking of them is really quite different. Madison shared a great deal with Jefferson. They were collaborators. But they thought differently. And Madison's...
BAILYN: ... mind was different from Jefferson's.
LAMB: How did they think differently?
BAILYN: Well, Jefferson thought in very large terms about public affairs, and he tries to -- as I said before, he tries to adjust those large thoughts to the practicalities of life, but he had a lyric quality in his writing. He wrote -- some of his documents are superb in the cadences and the way the words are put together and the way the -- but they swing. They're -- they're lyric. And Madison had none of that. It's not easy to read Madison. It's easy to read Jefferson. He was -- it's such a lyric kind of prose. But Madison had a tight-grained mind, and he wrote in very tight prose. And I found in reading some of Madison's writings that I have to read it two or three times to really get the meaning of it because it's so compressed.
And he was also, it has to be said, more original than Jefferson. He saw problems that Jefferson didn't see. And he explained things to Jefferson, especially in a very famous letter that he wrote explaining the Constitution, when Jefferson was in Paris -- he explained the Constitution to him, and there are problems involved in it that he saw that Jefferson never grasped. Madison had a tightly drawn mind, original in seeing difficult interior problems to what was happening in politics.
As for Hamilton, he was much younger, and he saw a different kind of commercial economic world opening up that Jefferson didn't see but adjusted to gradually. Jefferson was still back in an agrarian ideal state, and Hamilton was moving out more and more into a more modernizing commercial world that I don't think fully Jefferson ever grasped, though he did try to adjust to it.
LAMB: You spent how many years at Harvard?
BAILYN: Well, all in all, about 50 since I was a graduate student.
LAMB: In 19...
BAILYN: Well, after I got out of the Army, this was 1946, the fall of '46 I entered graduate school and have remained there.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
BAILYN: In Hartford, Connecticut.
LAMB: Into what kind of a family?
LAMB: What'd your parents do?
BAILYN: Literate. My father was a dentist. Not academics. And went to Williams College and then to Harvard.
LAMB: And why did you stay at Harvard after you'd -- what'd you get your Ph.D. there, too?
LAMB: Why'd you stay there?
BAILYN: Well, where was I supposed to go?
LAMB: Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher, a professor?
BAILYN: Yes, and a historian. The only opportunity or the only invitation I had to go elsewhere was when I was invited to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, but -- which is a marvelous place. But I didn't want to give up teaching because the professors at the Institute don't formally teach, and the teaching that I was doing at Harvard meant a lot to me, both the undergraduate and graduate teaching, and I didn't want to give that up.
LAMB: Are you still teaching?
BAILYN: Well, I'm not in regular classroom work, but I'm running an international seminar on Atlantic history, which brings in people -- young historians from all of the areas surrounding the Atlantic basin, Western Europe, West Africa, Latin America and North America, coming together in groups to discuss the interactive history of the Atlantic region. And I run that seminar every summer, and we have workshops through the year on more specific topics. And the idea is to bring young historians from all over the Atlantic area together and have them discuss work in progress on big issues of the common history of the Atlantic world, such as migration, governance, cultural encounters, and so forth.
LAMB: Over these years, over these 50-some years that you've been in this business, what, in your opinion, has happened to American interest in history?
BAILYN: Well, I think it's -- it's gone up and down and taken various phases, and it's gone through different kinds of permutations. One of the interesting things, of course, is currently how much interest there is in the 18th century, and not only biographies but other kinds of histories of the 18th century. And it raises an interesting question of why that's so. Why are Americans so fascinated by the 18th century? How close are we to the 18th century? And it seems to me we are close in a way that other nations aren't to that far back in their past.
LAMB: In what way?
BAILYN: Well, we find a kind of relevance to these issues that were at the heart of the founding of the nation in ways that I don't think you find easy parallels to. You might find a similar kind of thing in some kinds of Irish history, where they're still struggling over the issues of the 17th and 18th centuries, the relation of the Irish to the English.
But with us, there is a kind of relevance to it that I think is quite unique. And that's the reason why in this book, I traced out the references of the Supreme Court to the Federalist Papers because the Federalist Papers -- I find this just a fascinating story. That's why I wrote that piece.
The fascinating thing about the Federalist Papers is it's unlikely that they would ever have been remembered in this way and have seemed to so many people to be important. The Federalist Papers, first of all, while we think of them as a great treatise of political theory, in fact, the Federalist Papers were thrown together frantically in a political battle over ratification in New York that lasted from October, 1787, until June or so, 1788. And they were simply thrown together. Some of the papers are drawn from other things the three people -- actually, two, Madison and Hamilton -- had written. And they're put together frantically to meet printers' deadlines.
And furthermore, their world was totally different from ours in social terms, in economic terms. The interesting thing is that the Federalist Papers are considered to be relevant to us. That is, they say something to us. And that essay is an effort to explain why. And as I say, the appendix to the essay is to track through the use of the Federalist Papers by the Supreme Court. I find it extremely interesting.
LAMB: I was looking for the number. Do you remember the exact number of...
BAILYN: Well, you know, the -- I don't remember the exact...
LAMB: It's 200-and-something, I think.
BAILYN: Yes. But in the 18th century and early 19th century, it was understood that the Federalist Papers were really political polemics. Everybody knew that they were part of a big argument about the ratification of the Constitution. And there are relatively few citations. It grows through the later 19th century. And then in the early 20th century, it starts to balloon. And in the latter -- the second half of the 20th century, there are a remarkable number of citations.
The point is that it's authority as a comment on the Constitution has grown with the distance from the event. And I find that very interesting. And that essay is an attempt to suggest some of the reasons why that's so.
LAMB: And what you're talking about is the citations in the decisions by the Supreme Court, the number of times they referenced the Federalist Papers.
LAMB: Let's go over the basics on the Federalist Papers. How many were there?
LAMB: What were they written for?
BAILYN: Well, they were written for the Federalists to get New York to ratify the Constitution. This was part of the great ratification debate. And it started with three people -- John Jay, who dropped out after five papers by him, and then I think twenty-nine by Madison, all the rest by Hamilton.
LAMB: Fifty-one by Hamilton.
BAILYN: By Hamilton.
LAMB: One thing you point out is that the first thirty-six were written by Alexander Hamilton.
BAILYN: Yes. He started -- he really was managing this. And in fact, he started it, and he managed most of it. And as I say, the large majority of the papers were his, not all the most important ones, but he wrote a large number.
LAMB: Today, if something like this were to happen, would we see these, like, op-ed pieces in one of the papers?
BAILYN: Yes. It would be something of that kind. But the Federalist Papers are part of a group of these polemics that are going on through this period. I counted 24 series like this, of which this is the longest and, of course, the most important. But some of the others were very important, too. And the most important on the other side -- we don't know who wrote it -- it's by so-called "Brutus." But that's an extremely interesting series of papers against the ratification of the Constitution as it was written.
And so the Federalist Papers are part of a polemic. It's a political argument to convince the ratifying convention in New York to ratify the Constitution. And in fact, the ratification in New York came only at the end of the whole process, after nine states had already ratified. It was a terrible fight in New York, and that's why it was carried on this way. And as I said before, these people -- Madison and Hamilton were turning out these papers two a week, then four a week, and meeting printers' deadlines.
And the, to me, radical thing about it is that they are now seen, when grouped together, as a comprehensive commentary of an almost theoretical nature about not only American politics but about politics in general and about freedom and power. But in fact, they were thrown together in this way at a time that was very distant from ours and very different from ours in its problems.
LAMB: Why do you think of the 24 different sets of these kind of things that people -- different people were writing -- why did the Federalist Papers survive so powerfully?
BAILYN: They're better. I mean, there are just more. They're more comprehensive. They're full of details that the others don't have. And they're written by people who were seeing the large picture and trying to put the whole thing together in their very hurried way, and they're just better in the intellectual content of them than others. There are others that are interesting, too. And there is now in Madison, Wisconsin, at the University of Wisconsin, a project to publish all of the documents related to the ratification process. And there are -- is an extraordinary number of such documents. I think they've got out something like 20 volumes already.
The Federalist Papers are in the center of that huge effort, and I don't know quite what to compare that outpouring of political thought in the year between September, 1787, when the Constitution was published first, and the ratification, the final ratification of nine states, which I think was in June, '88. And during that time, there is this huge outpouring. It's a population I estimate at about a million voting members in the whole -- in all of the states. That's a very small number. The participation in small places, in newspapers, in letters, in books, in all sorts of expressions, is just remarkable. And the core of it, as we now think of it because of the quality intellectually and its comprehensiveness, on the Federalist side, are those papers turned out by Jay, Madison and Hamilton.
LAMB: You say that Alexander Hamilton wrote the first number on board a river sloop traveling from Albany to Manhattan.
BAILYN: That's correct. He did. Yes. The whole thing was put together frantically, and he set this on foot, and then he wrote this in that -- under strange conditions. And all the way through, they were writing it in strange conditions. He was carrying on his law practice, which was very profitable. Madison was at Congress most of the time, involved in many things. And somehow, they put all this together.
LAMB: So go back to the Revolution again, something you spent a lot of years on. What were the people that were leading the Revolution wanting? What were they fighting for? Why did they want the Revolution?
BAILYN: Well, the issue really was power. That is, they were faced with the problems of a kind of power exerted against them which they took to be a violation of the liberties they had enjoyed as British subjects. And they thought that there was a turn, which they could interpret by the history they knew and what they knew of the contemporary world -- there was a turn towards tyranny, as they saw it, by the exertion of central power against the liberties they had enjoyed. And they were attempting to retain those liberties against whatever force was put over them.
And then it expands. That -- they have to justify it. They have to understand why they're doing this. And that leads to this whole expansion of their ideological commitments, as they grope to explain what it is they're trying to preserve and what it is they're trying to oppose. So that by the time you get to 1776, there's an elaborate structure of thought that's worked out that justifies this and that really sets American constitutional thought on its path.
LAMB: In one of your books -- and I've got a bunch here -- I remember you writing that this was not -- this was a prosperous place during the Revolution. I mean, we weren't -- this wasn't -- the country wasn't broke. It wasn't -- didn't live in poverty. And so it wasn't as if they revolt for a better life.
BAILYN: Well, I think that's right. I mean, there are plenty of problems, but after the depression that followed the Seven Years' War -- so that's in the early 1760s to the mid-1760s, where there was a depression...
LAMB: What was that about, by the way, before you go on?
BAILYN: Well, after the Seven Years' War, which ends formally in 1763, there's a contraction of the whole military operation that they had participated in, and the subsidies from the British government that came in to support the war against France, and that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a wartime prosperity which collapsed after -- basically, after 1761. There was a period of readjustment that was difficult. Those were difficult times.
But by 1770, it had come around in different ways and wasn't the same acute economic problem. So that by the time you get to 1773, '74, it's not so much an economic squeeze that can explain the events of those years, which start really at the end of 1773.
LAMB: On the picture -- I mean, the cover of your book, you have a famous portrait of a man -- they cut his head off. What's the purpose here of Ben Franklin.
BAILYN: It is Franklin, of course. It's the Martin portrait in London in 1766. And the reason it was cut off was that it was an attempt to show that this is not a person so much as a general. This is rethinking of the big problems of public life. And you see there Franklin leafing through papers that are presumably of some importance in public life, nose to nose with Newton. I mean, the statue that he's facing is Newton. I don't know if you can see it on...
LAMB: You can't.
BAILYN: ... on the cover. The interior picture -- it's in the middle of the book -- shows it better. But the reason it's cut off is to impersonalize it. That is, to show that you're really dealing with a general issue, rather than a single individual, thoughtful as Franklin is. There you see it better because there you can see Franklin nose to nose with Newton, as he thinks through, presumably, these problems of public life that he was so involved in.
LAMB: Now, you have, I think, five chapters in this book. All lectures, at one point?
BAILYN: Yes. They were all written as essays and all given as lectures in a somewhat different form.
LAMB: Now, Jonathan Yardley says this is your valedictory effort...
LAMB: ... that this is your last book. Is that possible?
BAILYN: I don't think so! At least, I hope not.
LAMB: I wondered what you would think when you read that.
BAILYN: I hope not. But at the moment, I'm involved in a number of things which I hope will survive these years.
LAMB: In the book, you have a lot of photographs of portraits and all.
LAMB: I'm just going to hold a bunch of them up and let you tell us what they're about. What is this series right here?
BAILYN: Well, that series is on Franklin and that essay is on American foreign policy. In its most effective form, it is a combination of realism and idealism and it's an essay that takes off from comments by Felix Gilbert who was a German refugee scholar in this country whose background was in Prussia and renaissance Italy, the subject of his studies.
He came to America and published a book in 1962 called "To the Farewell Address" in which he argued that the uniqueness of American foreign policy is its combination when it's effective of hard realism and idealism and I illustrate that.
I think he was certainly right about that and it's illustrated in the career of Franklin in Paris in those years, ten years after 1776 when he arrived in Paris and negotiated the treaties with the French which really determined the outcome of the revolution.
He was keenly aware of his appearance and his image and he used it in the portraiture that was made and there's an enormous list of, and I have many of them in there, of the portraits of Franklin and they say something beyond mere pictures of his face.
LAMB: Where is this portrait from?
BAILYN: That was the Duplessis portrait which was done just after he got to France in early 1777 and was an ideological statesman if there ever was one and it circulated wildly in many different forms and became a statement of American innocence, its naturalness, and its capacity to reform in a way that carried those ideas out as nothing else could have done.
And, Franklin was keenly aware of this and he promoted these kinds of what you might call iconographic views of himself in many different forms, encouraged them, and it ends with this very great portrait by Duplessis in 1778 which I have in color in the inset there, which is the last portrait of him and which he understood correctly was the most profound visualization of him that could be made.
LAMB: You have this small picture in here of Rousseau.
BAILYN: Well, that's because when making that medallion which was very popular and which he circulated through Europe, the person who made it had no idea how to capture that fur hat. And so, he simply took the hat off that popular portrait of Rousseau and carried it over into the medallion for Franklin since he had no idea how to draw in the medallion form that original fur hat, that Martin fur hat.
LAMB: Did Rousseau and Franklin know each other?
BAILYN: No, I don't - there's no significance in that.
LAMB: What's the significance of this?
BAILYN: Well, that is a statuary form that shows Louis XVI giving documents to Franklin. They're receiving - he's passing over, I've got an exact document.
LAMB: The Constitution? Let me just, I'll drop it down and read what. I'll see if I can find that figure. It says Franklin's two scrolls, one inscribed "Independence of America."
LAMB: And the other "Liberte Des Mers."
BAILYN: Liberty of the seas, yes, which was part of the reform in international relations that Franklin promoted and that was a sign of friendship between France and America in these critical years. The other...
LAMB: Which one do you want? Oh, this one?
BAILYN: That's it.
BAILYN: That is a little - it came in a glass case and it shows the experiment of the scientist at work and the hat comes off and the hair was apparently real and the little machine would work and this was popular. It was circulated. There were a few copies of it around which I think again the idealization of Franklin as the great scientist and experimenter meant something ideologically.
LAMB: In one of your footnotes, you refer to the fact that Benjamin Franklin when he went to I think it was Paris had a copy of one of the original 80 - one of the early drafts. They had 80 copies of the Articles of Confederation.
BAILYN: He did.
LAMB: I mean it just rang like today when there was a leak of a document coming out. How much of that went on back in those days?
BAILYN: Well, there was a lot and that enters into this Franklin story a great deal. That was, he took with him to Europe when he went in 1776 an early draft of the Articles of Confederation. It was not what was finally accepted and there are significant differences.
But he was so eager to promote the constitutional forms that had been worked out in America that he took it and had it published, as he did many other documents from the states, had it published and translated and it was in that form actually that it reached an English audience through the translation of this draft form that went into French first.
It was typical. I have a good deal of this in the book. It's typical of the kinds of complexities in the dissemination of American documents during that period.
LAMB: You also write about the Constitution circulating around Europe being translated back in those days.
LAMB: How much of that went on and why did it go on?
BAILYN: A great deal. There was a great interest in this and it enters into the thinking of people working through reform movements all over Europe. The book begins with an argument about American provincialism.
The first chapter tries to explain something we don't often think about that at the beginning of the revolution these people were provincials. No one knew of their importance. We think of them now as Mount Rushmore, I mean these vast figures.
They weren't vast figures and their provincialism, their removal from the center of the heart of cultured Western Europe was part of the power that they could develop in thinking through new ideas.
The last chapter, which kind of wraps this up in a way, the last chapter shows the way in which these provincial ideas become cosmopolitan and circulate through so much, not only of England where it would naturally circulate, but France as well into Switzerland, into Latin America and the way these ideas played out in complex ways all throughout the Atlantic world.
And, it seems to me that one of the big stories in this is the way in which these provincial efforts then succeed locally and then radiate out into the whole of the Atlantic world.
LAMB: I was reading in your book "Faces of Revelation". When did this come out by the way?
BAILYN: That came out first - I've forgotten now.
LAMB: Maybe I can look in the cover. How many books have you written?
BAILYN: Gee, I've forgotten.
LAMB: Well, let me just see if I can get the time for this, 1992.
BAILYN: '92, yes.
LAMB: What I was interested in asking about was Thomas Payne because that's one of the personalities you write about.
LAMB: And you say it's one of the most - "Common Sense" is one of the brilliant pamphlets written in English, in the English language, and you went on later to say that it was written by an enraged man. Now, what role did this Englishman's common sense have on him?
BAILYN: Well he carried with him, understand that "Common Sense" was written shortly after he arrived in America. He hadn't been here for very long.
LAMB: What year?
BAILYN: Well, it came out in January, 1776, the pamphlet, and he had arrived months before and had undertaken some kind of history of what was happening at the time, then switched to this document. But he carried with him the attitudes of someone of a kind of marginal situation in England, very much in an enraged state of mind about the establishment carried over into this situation in what is really brilliant prose.
It is a point of view which many Americans, like John Adams, loathed because of the arguments in it which they simply both on constitutional and social reasons disagreed with. But the prose is brilliant and the metaphors carry a great deal of force and it's little wonder that this pamphlet circulated in tens of thousands of copies in 1776.
I don't think it's right to say that it really precipitated the revolution but it did give a kind of rationale for fresh thinking on dependence and independence that we hadn't had before.
LAMB: You also write this. You say "Payne was an ignoramus both in ideas and in the practice of politics, next to Adams, Jefferson, Madison, or Wilson", an ignoramus?
BAILYN: James Wilson.
LAMB: Yes. Oh, I know but I mean an ignoramus?
BAILYN: Well, he didn't have the sophistication and learning of these other people who are really remarkably learned in what they (unintelligible).
LAMB: Why did anybody pay attention to him then?
BAILYN: Well, because it is a brilliant pamphlet and because it serves the cause that they were working for, some of them anyway, to think through the situation of dependence and independence, and whether they should move towards independence.
They had, after all, organized an army the year before. They had invaded Canada unsuccessfully the year before but they had not declared independence. They were already moving in that way.
A year before they had already organized themselves into a quasi independent country but it hadn't happened and therefore the issue was whether they would go forward and this pamphlet, which swept through these colonies, made a great deal of difference in the way people thought. I don't think it determined the outcome but it was written in such a way as to compel attention.
LAMB: Now, I know this is maybe a silly game but I know you talk about the Originalists, the people believe today that everything that was written in the Constitution ought to be adhered to fundamentally. But, what if you brought back all these characters you write about and they were sitting around in this room here looking at what happened to this country based on what they wrote back then, what would their reaction be?
BAILYN: It's impossible to know. The circumstances are so different.
LAMB: Would they be happy about the superpower thing that we have now?
BAILYN: Well, some things they would be happy about. Some things they wouldn't. But first of all, their world was different. It was a completely different world in social and economic terms. They would have to adjust to the great differences here.
But at a high level of abstraction, I think they would have considered the operations of the national government with which they were so involved successful. I think they would have thought despite the fact that we have a party system they never dreamed of, they were in fact against parties, even Jefferson who organized one, but our party system is necessary to the way the Constitution works.
I think on the whole they would be pleased with the way the national government has worked even in its tensions and difficulties through the years. But on more specific issues that relate to the kind of social world we live in, I don't think there's any way of knowing how they would have thought.
LAMB: What about the, you know, the cyclical nature of how much of what they wrote in our Constitution and the Federalist Papers came from Europe and how much original thinking was put into this that nobody else has ever done?
BAILYN: Well, a good deal of both. They, and this is another part of what I've written in this book. There is a passage, I think it's on page 23, where Madison's statement is just to that point. I think I quote that little paragraph there.
LAMB: I'm having trouble finding 23, it should be right - not 23.
BAILYN: Do I have that right?
LAMB: I don't think it's 23. There is a Madison quote maybe that I underlined and I want to ask you about. Go ahead and make the point and I'll try to find it.
BAILYN: Yes. Well, what Madison is saying is that they paid attention to the great names and the great thoughts of the past. The historical documents they were familiar with and the great names like Montesquieu, but as he explains, and that paragraph is exactly to the point, they did not revere them to the point where they dominated their thinking and that they - the fact that they were able to break free from these dominating ideas was one of the keys to their success and Madison was keenly aware of that.
LAMB: What's original about the work that they did?
BAILYN: As I enumerated in there, there are a whole series of basic ideas about public life which were considered at the time to be illogical, for example that you could divide sovereignty. Well, nobody believed you could divide sovereignty but we do between the states and the nation, and no one believed that that was possible at the time and they showed in ways, Madison especially, the way in which this could operate successfully.
Nobody believed that a free republican state could exist on a large scale. It would just fall to pieces because there were no controls over it if people were simply governing themselves. Again, they showed the way in which this was not so, that you could - it could operate successfully over a large expanse. And so, there are a number of these key issues that they're discussing which are original.
LAMB: The quote that I wanted to ask you about was from the Federalist Papers by James Madison and you say it's the most famous passage of the Federalist Papers. What makes a passage famous?
BAILYN: That passage comes from the tenth Federalist Paper and it is an argument about how in a large scale republic factions will in effect not cancel each other out but balance out in a way and, in fact, the expansion of size increases, multiplies the number of factions and rather than tearing the place apart will tend to stabilize the system.
Why it's famous is an interesting question. It was not famous until about 1908 or 1913 when it was caught up, there was a book by Arthur Bentley in 1908 on interest group politics, the theory of interest group politics, and this seemed to fit these modern views of interest group politics.
Then Charles Beard picked it up for the wrong reasons because he thought it was a kind of Marxist interpretation which it isn't, and so in the 20th century it became very famous. It was not famous in Madison's own time. In fact, there's a very interesting essay written by Larry Kramer, a lawyer at NYU, showing that no one at the time really knew anything about this famous tenth Federalist Paper and nobody paid any attention to it.
In the 20th century it's become very famous because of the way it fits into our views of interest group politics as a balancing corps of the political system. This was not quite what Madison was talking about. He was dealing with the problem that they were faced with whether you could have a large scale free republican state.
LAMB: Let me read the passage. James Madison wrote, "And you take in a greater variety of parties and interests, you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens or if such a common motive exists it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other."
BAILYN: See, that goes to the heart of one of things that mainly concern Madison and of which I think on the whole he thought he had failed, namely the protection of minority interests. He was on the one hand a Majoritarian, of course, that majority in a free republic should rule.
On the other hand so should the interests of minorities be protected and the problem he struggled with is how do you do both? And he tried in the Philadelphia Convention he tried to introduce the idea of a congressional veto over state laws which was defeated.
He tried again at different stages of his career. He tried different devices to find a way to control what the states were doing in what he considered to be oppression of minorities. And, it was only really until we got to the Fourteenth Amendment that that power became possible for the federal government to supervise to some degree what was happening in the states.
He considered this a failure on his part that he was never able to organize in a way that would prevent a majority, which of course he believed should dominate, from oppressing the rights of minorities.
LAMB: What do you say when you hear people today, and we hear a lot on our call-in shows, calling up and saying this is a bad country, that justice isn't taking care of very well in this country. You know all the criticisms about the people, it's a country that only the rich do well and they go of course into the slavery and the minorities in this country are upset at the way they're treated. What do you say to them?
BAILYN: I happen to agree with much of that. I mean there's - this is no perfect country but the question is do we have the capacity to do anything about it and does the system allow it and it seems to me that it does.
I think these criticisms in many cases are right that we have - this is no perfect system and no perfect society and the question is whether, and this throws back in a way to the 18th century, whether the system we live in is capable of reform in this way in these matters and I think the answer is yes.
LAMB: Anybody else in the world live better, not from an economic standpoint but that's a fairer system?
BAILYN: Well, I don't know about what's going on in the whole world.
LAMB: But I mean from what you know when you look around the world and, you know, the people - I'm sure - don't you have a lot of internationals in your classes?
BAILYN: Yes. Well, I think, I don't know quite what you mean. The English have a system that's free too in a different way and they have a constitutional system that also allows for reform within it but it's different from ours.
LAMB: Well, maybe ask it this way. What's your reaction when you hear an American politician stand up and say we live in the greatest country in the world? We have the greatest system in the world?
BAILYN: Well, I happen to think that there's something in that but I don't want to work out some kind of comparison rating system, but there are other free countries and there are other countries in which the capacity for change and improvement are permanent, which we have, and I just don't see any way in which you can say that we're exclusive in this but I do think it is a very, if I may say, a very great country.
LAMB: What about the checks and balances in this country versus others that you know?
BAILYN: Well, I think our system really does have - sometimes it can become paralytic of course when the system doesn't quite work right. But, the design that goes back to the 18th century, the design it seems to me was well thought through and on the whole successful but it did need the party system to bring the parts together.
And that was not foreseen and, in fact, it was only really until the 1820s, 1830s, that one saw the way in which a party system would bring this disparate parts of the Constitution together to make the system work smoothly and I think on the whole that has been successful.
LAMB: So, well I want to ask you about this before we run out of time.
LAMB: You give two pages to this.
BAILYN: Yes, I do.
LAMB: And this woman on the right-hand side of the screen is in this portrait, 36 years old having already had nine children?
BAILYN: Yes. It's Mrs. Ellsworth and that's Oliver Ellsworth on the left and it is a picture of a provincial couple. It's part of the argument that these people were deeply provincial at the time. Ellsworth was a very successful lawyer, a diplomat.
He became chief justice of the Supreme Court. He designed the Judiciary Act that created the federal court system. He was a very accomplished and sophisticated man and he lived in Connecticut and that is where he lived. That's his house through the window.
And, another part, another picture shows the house in large form, and she is a country gentlewoman and that's the way they were depicted by Ralph Earl and I think accurately. I think that is the kind of people they were. They were proud, self sufficient, unpretentious, and accomplished in their way. And there's a picture next to it of Roger Sherman which shows it even more.
LAMB: Who was Roger Sherman?
BAILYN: Roger Sherman, who came from - another Connecticut man who came from practically nothing as a farmer, as a shoemaker, as a merchant, and who dabbled in law became one of the significant constitutional thinkers of the period and nobody could be more provincial than he in that wonderful portrait by Ralph Earl.
LAMB: What I started to ask you earlier is about your own career. You've won two Pulitzers, at least one what, National Book Critics Award. When did you start to know that what you were writing mattered to others in the general population?
BAILYN: That's a hard question. I don't know. I know when they mattered to me.
LAMB: When did it matter to you?
BAILYN: Well, when I could see that these things were coming together right and that it seemed to me I was saying something that was interesting to me and that seemed to be fresh and useful in explaining the way things developed through this period.
When they became important to other people I could only track in the responses I had from students and responses from reviews of the book and what people said about the books.
LAMB: Then one of your big awards was in 1986. There was one in 1965 I think was the earliest.
LAMB: Did you change the audience you were writing for as you got more popular?
BAILYN: Well, I don't think I changed the audience but the books are very different. The themes are very different. One, the first - the one you're referring to was on the ideological origins of the revolution which, as I said before, I tried to work out - that followed it.
The ideological origins book was an attempt to show the thinking of the leaders of the revolution and that little bit on the origins of American politics showed the way in which those ideas peculiarly related to America, the way in which in the developing political system in the 18th century those ideas mattered in ways they never did in England.
And that book, which came out in I think '86, was a different thing all together. It's on demographic history. It's a study of 10,000 people who migrated from the British Isles to America in the two or three years just before the revolution, and an attempt to track their origins and their destinies in North America.
And because of the records are peculiarly available I was able to track a great many of these and this was an attempt to depict the lives of these migrants in different forms, to do it statistically, in narrative form, in visual form, and otherwise and the book really is an attempt to use different devices of historical study concentrated on this single migration.
LAMB: What year were you the Jefferson lecturer? Within the last couple of years?
BAILYN: The Jefferson lecture which is in revised form is the first chapter of that book was in '98.
LAMB: And what did it mean? I know it's a National Humanities lecture. Who did you speak to?
BAILYN: Well, there was a very large group here in Washington and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to work out that essay that's the first one in the book with the slides that made the point of provincialism through what became the chapter in this book.
And, it was a good opportunity because the facilities were there for showing these slides in large form and commenting on them and interpreting the provincialism in that way. It was a wonderful opportunity which I enjoyed.
LAMB: And you were a Millennium Lecturer.
BAILYN: Well, that was in the White House. Mrs. Clinton, I think, and the president started a series of millennium lectures they called it to celebrate the millennium and the first of those I gave and it was an interesting evening in which I presented some of the ideas that are in that book in a somewhat different form on that occasion.
LAMB: Do you get a sense when you're out making these talks and these speeches that the public knows what you're talking about or I mean what's your reaction to what you see in the audiences?
BAILYN: Well, there's nothing very esoteric about any of this kind of history. I mean there are parts of history that would be very strange to people. They would not be able to respond to. There's nothing in this of that nature. These are open public issues. They're familiar and they deal with people of great reputation. I don't think there's anything difficult about explaining about recognizing what these issues are.
LAMB: So, as you look back at all of this, whether it's the "Common Sense" by Thomas Payne, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, what of all the things that happened back in those early years do you think - is your favorite, your favorite presentation that's meant the most you think over the years of keeping the structure together of what we are?
BAILYN: How do you mean on their part?
LAMB: No, as you look back at history.
LAMB: When you - I mean I don't want to put words in your mouth, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the "Common Sense" which of those had the biggest impact to bring us to where we are today?
BAILYN: Oh. Well, I think the most permanent creation of that period, since they were not - the revolutionary generation were not social reformers. They didn't set out to change the structure of society. They did set out to change the structure of public life and the uses of power and the most important thing they did I think is to set that up in permanent form.
The most obvious expression of it is the Constitution. But the Constitution rests on 20 years of thinking about this and it rests also on the experimentation of the state constitutions that were put into effect from 1776 on through the early '80s.
They had a great deal of experience in this, so it isn't just the federal Constitution. It's that whole effort of constitutionalism that runs through the generation.
LAMB: This is the book we've been talking about "The World Anew" by Bernard Bailyn who is a professor emeritus at Harvard. Thank you very much for joining us.
BAILYN: Thank you.
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