DIRTY POLITICS: REVOLUTIONARY STYLE

If you think today’s politicians hit below the belt, find out how our Founding Fathers battled it out. Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” Gordon S. Wood,  joins MetroFocus to discuss dirty politics.

Aired on January 25, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> BEST OF FRIENDS AND BEST OF ENEMIES, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AMERICA'S FOUNDING FATHERS THOMAS JEFFERSON AND JOHN ADAMS WAS ONE OF MUTUAL AS MIRROR RATION, RESPECT AND AT TIMES HATE TRESZ.

ADAMS A NEW ENGLAND PATRIOT AND OUR FIRST VICE PRESIDENT AND SECOND PRESIDENT WAS THE WORKHORSE OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS.

JEFFERSON, STATESMAN, WAS THE PRINCIPAL AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, OUR NATION'S THIRD PRESIDENT AND AN ARISTOCRATIC SOUTHERN SLAVE OWNER.

THEIR RELATIONSHIP HELPED TO BIRTH OUR NATION, WHILE THEIR SUBSEQUENT FALLOUT DID MUCH TO FIX ITS COURSE.

NOW FROM THE GREAT HISTORIAN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 'NEW YORK TIMES' BEST SELLING AND PULITZER PRIZE WINNING GORDON S.

WOOD COMES A NEW BOOK, TITLED FRIENDS DIVIDED WHICH EXAMINES THEIR COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THEM.

LET ME START OFF WITH YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE PERSONALITIES OF THESE TWO TOWERING, BUT VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

LET'S START OFF WITH JOHN ADAMS.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIM?

IRASCIBLE, FACETIOUS, HE LOVED TO MAKE JOKES.

HE'S A VERY DIFFERENT CHARACTER FROM JEFFERSON, HE COULDN'T BE MORE DIFFERENT.

HE LOVED TO TALK, HE TURNED HIS CONVERSATIONS INTO ARGUMENTS.

HE WAS EXCITABLE, SHORT TEMPERED.

BUT HAD A -- HE LIKED TO RAZZ PEOPLE.

AND THAT WAS NOT JEFFERSON'S STYLE AT ALL.

TALK ABOUT JEFFERSON THEN.

HE TALKED WITH HIS ARMS ACROSS --

REALLY?

IT'S PART OF HIS RESERVED NATURE.

HE WAS UTTERLY POLITE.

HE MADE THAT PART OF HIS PERSONALITY.

OF COURSE HE DIDN'T ALWAYS LOVE THE PEOPLE HE TALKED ABOUT.

SO HE HAD A REPUTATION FOR BEING TWO-FACED.

BECAUSE HE WAS POLITE, YOU DON'T SAY WHAT YOU THINK IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE POLITE.

AND ADAMS TENDED TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT WAS ON HIS MIND.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THEIR POLITICS THEN AND HOW DIFFERENT THEY WERE FROM EACH OTHER.

LET'S START AGAIN WITH JOHN ADAMS.

THEY HAD TWO THINGS IN COMMON, ONE SUPPORT FOR THE REVOLUTION, AND SUPPORT FOR AMERICA AND THE OTHER THING THEY HAD IN COMMON WAS THEIR HATRED OF HAMILTON.

THAT REALLY BONDED.

WHY?

WHAT WAS IT THAT GENERATED THAT INTENSE DISLIKE?

OF COURSE FOR JEFFERSON, A LOT REPRESENTED EVERYTHING HE DISLIKED, AND HAMILTON REPRESENTED A MODERN FISCAL STATE.

JEFFERSON IS THE ULTIMATE OPTIMIST, HE'S A POLLY ANNA ABOUT EVERYTHING, HE'S A REAL AMERICAN INNOCENT.

HE THINKS IF YOU COULD JUST GET RID OF THE MONARCHAL GOVERNMENT EVERYTHING WOULD WILL FINE.

WHAT ABOUT ADAMS.

HE'S A FEDERALIST, HE BELIEVED IN INEQUALITY, JEFFERSON BELIEVED THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUALLY.

LITERALLY.

AT LEAST ALL WHITE MEN.

AND ADAMS SAYS NO, THAT'S WRONG, ALL MEN ARE CREATED UNEQUAL.

ADAMS IS INTO NATURE NOT NURTURE, THE OPPOSITE FOR JEFFERSON.

JEFFERSON BELIEVED LIKE LOCKE THAT WE WERE A BLANK SLATE AND EXPERIENCE ETCHED ON THAT BLANK SLATE AND MADE US ALL DIFFERENT.

EXPERIENCE.

SO HE'S INTO NATURE NOT NURTURE AND THAT'S WHY EDUCATION IS SO IMPORTANT.

THEY'RE BROUGHT TOGETHER BY THEIR PASSION FOR THE REVOLUTION.

AND THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS.

AND ESTABLISHING A NATION HERE.

WHAT THEN BREAKS THEM APART?

WELL, POLITICS OF THE 1790s, ESSENTIALLY AND THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, THEY DIFFER COMPLETELY ON THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

JEFFERSON FEELS THE EXTENSION OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, IT WILL SPREAD AND IT WILL BE A FIRST OF A WAVE OF REPUBLICAN REVOLUTIONS, OR MAYBE YOU WOULD CALL THEM DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTIONS THAT WILL SWEEP THE WORLD.

AND THE GREAT HISTORICAL IRONY OF THEIR DEATHS?

THEY DIED ON THE SAME DAY, JULY 4, EXACTLY TWO YEARS, ON THE CELEBRATION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

THEY'RE DYING, THEY'RE BOTH ILL, AND THEY WANTED TO DIE ON THAT DAY.

THEY DIDN'T KNOW THEY WOULD BOTH DIE.

BUT JEFFERSON SAYS TO HIS DOCTOR, WHAT DAY IS IT?

AND THE DOCTOR SAID, IT'S JULY 3, AND JEFFERSON SAYS, OH, HE HANGS ON.

AND HE MAKES IT.

AND ADAMS DOES SOMETHING OF THE SAME SORT.

HE HAS NO IDEA HIS LAST WORDS WERE JEFFERSON SURVIVES.

TECHNICALLY, THAT'S NOT TRUE, BECAUSE JEFFERSON DIED FIVE HOURS EARLIER, BUT IN A LARGER, IMAGINATIVE SENSE, JEFFERSON DOES SURVIVE IN A WAY HE DOES NOT.

JEFFERSON IS A WORLD CLASS HERO.

HE'S GOT WORLD HERITAGE SITE MONT MONTICELLO, HE HAS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VISITORS EVERY YEAR TO MONTICELLO, HE HAS THIS HUGE MONUMENT IN WASHINGTON, D.C., HE HAS A MODEST HOME UP IN QUINCY WHICH IS HARD TO GET TO, IT'S RUN BY THE NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE.

AGAIN, HE KNOWS HE'S NOT IN THE SAME LEAGUE WITH MR. JEFFERSON.

BUT HE'S OKAY WITH IT.

AGAIN, IT'S CALLED 'FRIENDS DIVIDED, JOHN ADAMS AND THOMAS JEFFERSON.'

YOU ALMOST GET A FEELING THAT YOU'RE READING A NOVEL ABOUT THESE TWO MEN.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US AND YOU BE WELL.

©2022 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489