Sunday, December 31, 2023

AR-SP23 American Triumph, with Tom Hand

Hello, and thank you for joining this special edition of the American Revolution.  I had the opportunity to speak with Tom Hand, author of An American Triumph.

Tom is a graduate of West Point.  After leaving the military, Tom ran the Gilman Cheese Corporation.  Now retired, he serves on the Board of Trustees for the American Battlefield Trust which protects battlefield lands from development.  He also publishes Americana Corner, which covers the American Revolution through articles and videos.  His new book, An American Triumph, looks at the founding era through the perspectives of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.  I spoke with Tom over Zoom.

Michael Troy (MJT): Tom Hand, welcome to the American Revolution Podcast.

Tom Hand (TH): Thank You. Pleasure to be here, Mike.

MJT: We're here today to discuss your new book, An American Triumph, which is a discussion of the American Revolution generally through the eyes of three men, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and John Adams. As I understand it, this is your first book. Is that correct?

TH: It is, first, good Lord willing, not my last.

MJT: What in particular drew you to the subject of the American Revolution?

TH: Well, I love that era of our nation's past. I think I wanted to remind my fellow Americans about how exceptional our nation's history was, and especially our founding era and how inspirational it is.

I tell you, I'm a little bit concerned that we're starting to lose sight of that. And so I wanted to write kind of a history of our nation's 1st century chronologically. And so obviously we start with the period. Even some colonial era stuff is in the book, and we talked about that a little bit. And then book number two, which I finished about a month ago, and I hope to come out next summer, will be on the war itself.

And then from there, we'll take it into Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe and so forth.

MJT: The book looks at the American Revolution through the eyes of Washington, Franklin and Adams, why did you pick those 3 people? I mean, they obviously are central characters of the event, but what elements gave them dimension to the war that you found particularly interesting.

TH: Yeah, that's a great question. I wanted the book to focus on service to country. The model on my website is “Your love of country leads you.” And so I wanted to focus on the men that I thought best exemplified that. And in my opinion. Ben Franklin, George Washington and John Adams are those 3 men. And so I selected them.

I selected the events that they touched. It's not a book that's comprehensive of all events in the American Revolution. It discusses the things that they touched. And so we'll talk about Yorktown because Washington was there, but we won't talk about Saratoga because none of the 3 men were there. We talk about the Continental Congress and that sort of thing because Adams, Washington, Franklin were all there. And so that's why I selected those 3. I've read biographies on almost all the founding fathers, the more well known ones. And I have not found anyone that matches those 3 in terms of service to country.

MJT: Yeah, and it seems that all 3 men came to it from a different direction.

I mean, George Washington was a, well, he was a soldier, perceived himself to be a soldier for most of his life, although he was a gentleman farmer, I guess, more than he was in the field.

TH: That's right. 

MJT: But he had his early actions in the French and Indian war and saw himself as a militia leader throughout peacetime.

And of course, wanted to be in the Continental Army. Benjamin Franklin was really, it did a lot of things. I mean, how can you summarize up Benjamin Franklin? He -- a lot of his life was as a diplomat, even before the wars as a colonial agent. A guy who was just very interested in starting lots of new organizations and inventing things and just a very creative type, very active person.

And then you have John Adams, who does not seem to make a lot of friends in his life. He tends to be a little more standoffish. Well,

TH: that's well said. That's right.

MJT: He's very much, I think, the person most responsible for encouraging all the states to declare independence when they did. He's obviously a great advocate for the founding of the country.

But as I said, all these men were very different, very different personalities, very different life backgrounds, all those things. So was that part of bringing these disparate ideas together?

TH: It was it. Yeah. And that wasn't the core idea behind it. But when I dove into it deeper. I found it a compelling discussion that all three provided service to country in their own way.

Franklin was so civic minded and all the things he came up with, first hospital, the first medical school, he invented the lightning rod, the first fire brigade. I mean, he did so many things. All civic minded, making civil society better in America. George Washington, the military angle, and of course, the presidential angle.  

And John Adams, just so many things that people don't know about this devoted patriot. He just bled red, white, and blue. He was a supreme patriot. And, uh, we'll talk about that, I suppose later on, but, uh, yeah, they, it was interesting that they were all able to do it from different angles. It means that other people out there today can do it from different angles. They don't have to be soldiers.

They don't have to be statesmen. They can be whatever they want to be. And still provide service to the country. 

Do you have a favorite founding father?

MJT: I mean, I almost hate to admit it because it's George Washington. Who's always the obvious choice for everybody. I, for a long time, really studied George Washington thinking this guy really can't be as great as everybody thinks he is, you know, he's got to have some faults and he does have faults, but he really is such an impressive person and so impressive in the way he conducted himself, the way he interacted with others, the way he dealt with adversity. It's really amazing. And, you know, I'm not even talking about his military skills. I don't think he was that great of a field officer or a strategist, but the way he mixed the military and politics and all the interactions that especially creating all this stuff almost from scratch was just amazing to me.

TH: Well, yes, and then to have the humility to surrender power twice.  He's almost too good to be true. And yet he was true. And so it's, it's, we're so blessed to have. Him at that particular time, you imagine if the, if the war had started 10 years earlier, 10 years later he's too old 10 years earlier, maybe he doesn't have the credibility.

It all happens at just the right time. And then, like I said, almost too good to be true.

MJT: Yeah, I always say we have his two greatest moments in my mind. One was the crossing of the Delaware, which was an obvious one. It's difficult to imagine that a lot of military leaders would have actually done that because it was such a desperate action at the end of the day. He did pull it off amazingly. 

The other one is known, but less so, I guess, and that is his speech at Newburgh. At the end of the war, when the army was just fed up with Congress lying to them, not fulfilling their promises, essentially leaving them to hang out to dry and essentially almost starved to death. Washington gave a speech where he basically convinced all of his officers that they needed to defer to civilian authority regardless of anything else and that doing anything else would just destroy everything that they had worked for. I think most leaders in that situation would not have reacted that way.

And we have lots of examples of that; Cromwell before him, Napoleon after him, Julius Caesar. I mean, When people are handed that much power, even if they have very good intentions, because they want to get rid of the chaos and bring order and peace and all that, they tend to seize power for themselves thinking I am the only one who can do this. And Washington was certainly not that person.

TH: No, and in the book, we talk about Newburgh address. It was a critical moment and crossing the Delaware from a military standpoint in my mind, but that doesn't happen. Nothing else happens because the army is going to fritter away the enlistments are going to expire and so forth.

But that Newburgh address doesn't get talked about much. You're right. Mike, he was being told by officers. We'll follow you. If you want to basically be in charge and he said no, and then, then he follows it up December 23rd, 1783 with when he goes to Annapolis and resigns his commission. It's unbelievable.

And we can't relate to it today because we don't live in a time when most countries are run by monarchs or military dictators. For that to happen back then -unbelievable. Yeah, I agree with those 2 things. And yeah, in the resignation, maybe that makes it to trifecta.

MJT: I use the address as an example, but really his whole experience in the war was a continuum of an amazing amount of deferring to civilian authority.

There were many times he could have taken more power, done more things on his own, brought Congress to ridicule and at every step of the way he did not do it.

TH: Well, you're right. And other great men like Nathaniel Greene, Daniel Morgan comes to mind. They weren't happy either with Congress. Daniel Morgan did resign for a while, went back home to Winchester and Nathaniel Greene threatened to actually, I think he submitted a letter resignation concerned about whether being treated.

I think it had something to do with promotions.

MJT: Yeah, he had a couple of real brushes with Congress. One was when Lafayette became a general, and they were considering several other Frenchmen as generals, and Greene was one of several continental generals who basically said, if you put all these French people above us, we're quitting.

Yeah, there was another time, I think Washington had forced Greene to become the, um, forget the title. 

TH: Commissary General. 

MJT: Commissary General, thank you. That's right. Didn't want the job. Absolutely hated. And then Congress had the nerve to investigate him for waste, fraud and abuse. I know. After he'd been serving.

He resigned at that time as the head of the commissary generalship, but he did it in such a way that Congress wanted to take it and say, well, fine, you're, you're resigning from the army. You're out of here. That was actually his almost closest brush with leaving the army. And it was only because George Washington intervened and said, no, we really need this guy.

He's a youngster who's a little hepped up on things, but let's just be calm and keep him in place.

TH: Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, so George Washington, but he put up with it and people are talking about replacing him with Gates, just remarkable man, just remarkable man.

MJT: Well, before we get too much into the revolution, I did want to take a step back.

I mean, the early part of your book talks about another war, the French and Indian War. Which all three men had a role in, particularly Washington and Franklin. Washington, I guess, has the privilege of being the one who started the entire war. He was a kid at the time almost and given command of the militia army under the authority of the colony of Virginia, of course, went up to promote Virginia's claims in Northwest territories. I guess it was more around the area around Western Pennsylvania today, and ended up starting a war with France.

Tom Hand
TH: Yeah, it's, remarkable. He was 21 when that happened, maybe going on his 22nd birthday and. They have that sort of responsibility at that age. And, and, you know, he went up there as Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia regiment, got promoted to Colonel, I think sooner or after, but pretty remarkable.

Then, in my opinion, I've been asked what event had to change to have the American revolution not happen. And in my mind, at least it's the French and Indian war that doesn't happen. I think England's policy of salutary neglect, some people call it benign neglect, continues. The colonies were happy as long as they weren't being imposed upon by the mother country and, uh, without the, the debt incurred from the French and Indian War.

I'm not convinced that, uh, the stamp act happens or some of these other things to me. That was the one catalyst that, you know, from there, everything pointed towards going to this to the American revolution. All roads led there. I think. Any thoughts on that, Mike?

MJT: Alternative history is always difficult to predict, but yes, obviously, yes, that the French and Indian war did have a major impact on the way Britain was thinking, but my suspicion was that Britain would have begun implementing taxes, even if there hadn't been that particular war.

I think the salutary neglect was a time when the colonies were still growing. They weren't ready to really produce for many, many decades after they were created. Britain was incubating them, to use a modern term. And then at some point, The British were expecting their investment to pay off and that they were going to start collecting at some point. And then that was going to start a dispute whenever it happened.

TH: Yeah, you might be right. And you're right. The what ifs in history can take you down a lot of different roads. Can it,

MJT: But the French and Indian War was certainly the catalyst at this time that encouraged the implementation of the taxes and the ensuing disputes and all that good stuff.

What did you think of Washington's? I want to call it behavior, but is the way he acted during the French and Indian war as an officer?

TH: Well, I don't know exactly what you mean. I thought he served admirably, especially in the engagement at Fort Necessity. I think by all accounts, he preserved the remnants of Braddock's army at the Battle of Monongahela in 1755.

It was about that time I think he wanted to become a regular British army officer. How about that twist in history? If you become a British army officer, he was turned down, I think twice and didn't do much after that. I think he resigned in 1758. And so I guess  I would say that I thought he served well, uh, in the French and Indian war. What, what are your thoughts?

MJT: Well, I think he showed himself to be a very brave leader in the field and capable in a lot of ways.

But I was not impressed with his behavior during that war. Stumbling into the war in the first place and the massacre of the French officers by people under his command, whether he was aware of it or not, didn't sit well with me. After Monongahela, he attached himself to another officer Forbes for a while, and basically spent most of his time arguing with Forbes that Forbes was advancing on Pittsburgh the wrong direction, and that he wanted to do it from Virginia rather than from Pennsylvania to, to the benefit of Virginia essentially.

Because you had a nice road from Virginia to Pittsburgh. Virginia was much more likely to claim Pittsburgh. So he was looking at it from a much more provincial view than others were. And then he quit. And as you said, it's 1758, and there were still several more years of war to go. 

I don't know. It's not particularly impressive, but I think what it shows for me is that Washington was really growing and improving his whole life. And he really grew and matured following that experience in a lot of ways that helped him be. A really great leader in the American Revolution.

TH: Yeah, you raised great points. I mean, he did give a lot of unsolicited advice to General Forbes, as I understand. And I think he did that with Braddock also, if I'm not mistaken.

Yeah. What makes us good makes us bad, right? And he was young when he resigned and he was still only 26, shudder to think what I would have done at 26 with that sort of authority, but you're right. I never really thought about that. He did resign when the war was in terms of the British. It was really starting to go their way after that after 1758.

MJT: Well, the war essentially left Virginia in 1758, in Washington's favor. It was really being fought with the New Englanders against Quebec at that point.

TH: That's right. I really thought about that, but that's a good point,

MJT: But for somebody who wanted to be a career officer to just go home halfway through the war and not volunteer for other positions, and get more combat experience. It just seemed an odd choice for me, but he was thrust into this position at an extremely young age with very little experience and he never shirked from trying his best, whether, you know, he had some immaturity there at the beginning. He was always willing to push forward and do what he thought was the best thing to do at the time.

TH: Well, now you're going to force me to do some more research because now it makes us to dive into why he didn't serve until the end. And when I find out, I'll give you a call. 

MJT: Well, the impression I got was really because it was Virginia was dropping out of the war. He figured that he was not going to get an appointment as an officer of the regular army. And so he was kind of frustrated by that. And he had an offer for a partnership with a young widow with, uh, very large tracts of land. 

TH: Yes, he married up. He married up. Good for him.

MJT: Absolutely. I mean, people, you know, he came from a fairly good family, some landed wealth, but he really gained his fortune through the old fashioned way.

The death of relatives, Martha Washington came to the marriage with a ton of land. And it was, it was actually, she wasn't from that bigger family either. She had married. Well, And her husband died very young and left her all this land, which made her a very eligible widow.

TH: Yeah, I think she got 17, 000 acres, didn't she?

MJT: I don't know the exact numbers, but yeah, she was one of the wealthiest people in Virginia after the death of her husband, certainly the wealthiest unmarried woman.

TH: Yeah, it's interesting. He was 20 some years older than her - Daniel Custis. His father was opposed to the marriage. Daniel's father was, and, um, and then he passed away, I think maybe from a heart attack or something, suddenly it wasn't like a lung illness, her parlor filled up pretty quick with suitors. So I think she picked the best of the bunch.

MJT: Yeah, she picked a good one. So, yeah, I mean, that was George Washington's early war experience. And then he, as you said, became a gentleman farmer and, didn't do a - I mean, he was involved in politics, local Virginia politics and stuff like that, but he really doesn't come back to the center of the historical realm until, until the war breaks out.

I want to turn now to Benjamin Franklin, who also had a role in the French and Indian War. Do you want to talk about that at all? 

TH: Yeah, certainly Benjamin Franklin, in my opinion, was the first guy who thought of The United colonies, predecessor to the United States, he conceived the Albany Plan in 1754, which looks very familiar to the articles of confederation and Ben Franklin came up with it first.

Political cartoon, uh, at the same time, join or die and, um, and so he was thinking globally when everyone else was thinking provincially and Ben Franklin saw that we were stronger together. And I think he tried to bring that together. He got the - he got the delegates at the Albany Congress. To approve the, uh, the resolution, the Albany Plan, and then every colonial legislature shot it down.

They were looking at their own power. They didn't want to surrender anything to a central authority, but yeah, Ben Franklin very much was involved in that. He organized a militia in the state of Pennsylvania, when he got back to Philadelphia. Very much an advocate for uniting didn't happen, but not because of a lack of effort on his part.

MJT: Yeah, the raising militia in Pennsylvania on its own was pretty impressive because that was a Quaker state that didn't like to have a militia at all. But yeah, he really had the foresight to see that the colonies had to unite together to be an effective force against the threats that were lining up against it.

And it wasn't England at this time, it was France, but even so. Most of the colonies were simply relying on Britain to be that unifying force, and Franklin was moving toward America having its own, essentially its own government, even if it was under the British crown, but something that would unite all of the colonies in one political Leadership. 

TH: Yeah, I think a lot of people who read American history, uh, you know, the arguments about states rights versus central government. I don't think people really understand the foundation of the United States and the colonies that they were all individual charters. They were never established by England as a united organization.

They were all individuals. And so every single founding father, every single one. Was raised in an area where their home state was not their home country, but essentially their home country.  Whether it be Rhode Island or Virginia or New Jersey or South Carolina. And so they went into this to the American revolution, kind of feeling through Americans, but more feeling like their South Carolinians.

And that same sort of mindset, that's not easily dismissed as generational and it happened again and again. And so, you know, through the nullification crisis in 1832, uh, all the way up to the Civil War, where we finally had nations or states leaving the nation, it was part of our DNA, part of the way we were founded.

And that, you know, those, divisions, uh, Well, they certainly led to a very segmented group of people at the Second Continental Congress, which is why slavery wasn't addressed. I mean, they had a different outlook on things. And it continued, as I said, up to the Civil War, when it was finally, uh, it really came to a head.

MJT: Any thoughts on that? Yeah, I think that's true. I don't think the colonists thought of themselves at all as Americans. They thought of themselves as Virginians or Massachusetts men or whatever. 

And in fact, it wasn't that there wasn't that general allegiance. I mean, they hated each other in a lot of ways. I mean, New England was at war with New York for all intents and purposes. The only thing that was really holding them back from all that war was Britain being a moderating force on the matter and other states too. I mean, Maryland and Virginia never got along. You know, there was a lot of tension and a lot of it had to do with land and borders and things like that. But a lot of, you know, New Englanders thought of New Yorkers as the enemy.

TH: Just across the border, right.

MJT: So it took a lot to unify the colonies / states. Despite their differences, I mean, we all have differences. We all have different self interests and views and at times they erupt more than others, but the founders, almost all of them, uh, understood that we need to compromise and overcome these things or our enemies will defeat us.

And I think that's a view that we're still fighting to this day. 

TH: Yeah, you know, it's interesting. Most Americans probably don't know that two of our first four presidents wrote resolutions that basically said, if a state doesn't like a federal law, it doesn't have to comply. Madison's Virginia resolution and Jefferson's Kentucky resolution.

The first secession movement, if it was a movement, was by the Federalist Party, as they were on the decline in New England talking about leaving the union and so it's. It's kind of in our DNA, this, this, this separateness by regions and it's amazing we've been able to overcome all of that and survive to this great country that we have today.

MJT: Yeah, I think you're right that Franklin was one of the first men who really saw this and really did seek to unite the colonies. Even in a very limited way, he was starting the process toward creating what eventually became one nation. I don't know if he anticipated that at the time he was doing the Albany Conference, but he certainly wanted much more cooperation,  unity within the various colonies.

I don't think Adams really had much of a role in the French and Indian War. Did he? John Adams?

TH: He didn't. John Adams, he was born in 1732. He was a young man. Anyway, when the militia started mustering for the French and Indian war, and, he saw them marching off. And, he wanted to join them. He never did.

He resisted the temptation. I think he kind of always regretted it. At least he said he did later in life. But no, I didn't have any kind of real role. He was almost too young to participate in it. But yeah, I made up for it with the American revolution being, uh, in my mind, the key player as a second.

Continental Congress and, uh, without him, I don't know that the Declaration of Independence maybe gets passed. It certainly doesn't get passed unanimously.

MJT: Probably not on July 4th. It might have happened at a much later time or something. 

TH: Yeah, right. Um, it's hard to say, but, to me, he's probably the most underrated of our founding fathers.

If you take a look and compare the list of John Adams accomplishments next to Thomas Jefferson's, there's no [00:25:00] comparison just. Objectively, it's all Adams Jefferson was a part time participant in the Continental Congress. And that's no criticism of his. A lot of guys didn't participate that strongly, but John Adams was on 90 committees.

He chaired 25 of them. No one else was even close. He fought for the passage of the Declaration of Independence. He nominated George Washington as a commander. He got loans for us from the Dutch. He's really the mastermind behind getting the terms we got for the Treaty of Paris in 1783 - he and John Jay.

And then he's the only man that served two terms in the Washington administration. Everybody else resigned after the first term and Adams stayed with them. And so on and on and on, I can go about John Adams. And Thomas Jefferson, brilliant writer, wrote one of the most beautiful documents I've ever read: the preamble, the Declaration.

And so, but side by side, it's all John Adams and that Jefferson has the memorial in DC. So I just don't get that sometimes.

MJT: Well, to be fair to Jefferson, he was much younger than Adams. So he actually came to the Continental Congress as a very young man in his twenties, I think, and he was a very junior person.

So I don't think he had the leadership or gravitas that Adams did at the time. Certainly Adams was a very dedicated public servant. I will give you that. Adams really didn't even have much of a role in the years leading up to the war to the extent he was involved at all. I guess he represented the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre.

His cousin, Sam Adams, Samuel Adams was the real rabble rouser in Boston at the time. John Adams obviously was a patriot and I think was more quiet and lived outside of Boston during much of the run up to the war. But once the war got going. You're right, he dove in and he did all these amazing things.

TH: Yeah, John Adams was a man of character and a thoughtful man. He's also very, he had other issues too, stubborn and that sort of thing. You think about John Adams, he was the leading attorney in the city of Boston in 1770, when the Boston Massacre happened, or the incident on King Street, as they called it in England.

He had a lot to lose by defending those soldiers. And yet he was such a conscientious man. He was more principled than anybody I've read about, except probably George Washington. And he just felt like everybody deserves an attorney. And so he risked his law practice to defend these British soldiers. And that just speaks volumes about John Adams’ character.

Yeah. Anyway, so I'm just so impressed with him, but you're right. He didn't have a big role. He was not a rabble rouser as Samuel Adams was. Or Patrick Henry.  He was much more measured in his thoughts on that. And, uh, you know, probably a bit brighter maybe than some of the other firebrands. Very instrumental once it all started up.

MJT: Well, yeah, I think once he sunk his teeth into something, he didn't let go. Other people may have, as you said, wanted to do that of Congress or, you know, lost interest in things John Adams never did. And he was with it all the way till the end. I mean, he was obviously a big proponent of the constitution. 

I mean, it's kind of understandable that he was a big proponent of independence because Massachusetts and maybe New England were kind of out there on their own against Britain. And he had obviously a great incentive to bring the rest of the colonies into the fight, which was a big part of what declaring independence was all about the fact that he did it. 

But he didn't have to have an incentive to, to create the constitution. A lot of people wanted to go their own ways after the war ended, including his cousin, Samuel Adams, and including Patrick Henry, who you also mentioned were both anti federalists and didn't like the constitution. Adams, like Washington and Franklin, saw the need for national unity and how it was going to be an important thing for the long term. And, of course, continue to fight for it.

TH: Yeah, you're right. And, uh, some people will criticize Adams for being monarchical, if that's, if I'm saying the word right, or favoring monarchy. I don't think he favored monarchy, certainly not. He liked some of the trappings of monarchy. He liked some of the pomp. And I think people will conflate that with wanting a monarch. He didn't want a monarch. He'd worked too hard to not have that happen. He liked the pomp and I think people, yeah, they confused the two.

MJT: Yeah. I think he saw the importance of having a strong executive, probably not nearly as strong as we have today, but much stronger than a lot of people wanted at the time. And the criticism of that was, well, you want a King. And it was always the way people criticize that. I don't think. I agree, he didn't want a King, but he did want a stronger Executive power, because you saw that it's necessary to keep the government from falling into chaos. 

TH: John Adams was probably the leading advocate at the continental Congress for the army. He was the head of the Board of War as they called it back then. And, he saw firsthand how the Continental Army was being underfunded and partly because they couldn't raise taxes.

They couldn't, they didn't have the authority to raise money to buy the provisions to support General Washington's army. And it's interesting, the strong Federalist Alexander Hamilton served in the army as a colonel, General Washington, obviously a strong Federalist. John Adams didn't serve in the army, but because of his contact with the army through the board of war committee.

He knew how important it was to have some sort of central authority, taxing authority, especially, and yet some of the other guys, the guys that, or the, the anti federalists, I mean, that's sort of Jefferson wanted strong central authority. He didn't serve. Patrick Henry served minimally, I think it was in the militia for a little while. I think the guys in the army really saw the need. Or some sort of stronger central authority, so they could man the army if nothing else, but the, uh, the tax needs as well. 


MJT: I think, like you, I have a tendency to look at this through the eyes of certain people, especially George Washington. You see how he grows in that idea throughout the war, when he first takes office as the commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775.

He has a very provincial attitude. He looks down on the New Englanders for being different, and he called them dirty. He had a very provincial view, a very Virginia view about black people and wanted all the slaves kicked out of the army and things like that, but he had a capacity for growth. 

He had a capacity for changing his mind when things made sense, and he grew to appreciate New Englanders, and he grew to appreciate black soldiers, and he grew to appreciate the need for a strong central government. He had a capacity for real growth and change in his life, despite where he was coming from.

TH: Yeah, you're right. He grew throughout and that's a mark of a great man. I think, especially in his position, that he recognized that he didn't have all the answers. And he, and he modified his, I guess, his thought process.

And yeah, I think by the end of the war, he was fully developed. He knew where he wanted to be, where the nation had to go. And probably played a role in his decision at the end of the war to step down and say, you know what, this, the civilian authority has to dominate in this country.

MJT: Well, he developed a lot of patterns that helped him become a better leader over time.

I think one of them was that he realized that a commander didn't have to have all the answers. And he was very big on holding councils of war with his officers to let them give him input on what strategies. And he was very careful about not announcing his opinion at the beginning of a meeting. And letting the officers freely speak about what they thought were good ideas. And he could digest those good ideas and come up with the best solution. 

And he carried that idea through to his presidency, where he began holding cabinet meetings, letting his subordinates talk about what they thought was best before he came to a conclusion. And I think that's something a young George Washington would have done, but something that he.

TH: I think you're right about that. That was one of John Adams greatest regrets isn't the right word, but he was Or the fact that Washington didn't include him in the discussions. But it's interesting, Henry Knox and Hamilton left his administration and as his wartime associates, the colonels, the generals that kind of fell off from his administration.

The last man standing was John Adams. George Washington turned to John Adams more and more in his second administration. And, uh, I think he saw the worth in John Adams, but it's interesting. He turned to John Adams only after the military guys left his administration. I think he could have used John Adams more.

But George Washington was just figuring out the whole thing. What's a president supposed to do? And I don't think he saw the vice president in that role as an advisor. Even constitutionally, he didn't really say it was that it worked out that way. So I think it took time for that to develop. Just one more example of George Washington's development over the course of his two terms.

MJT: Yeah, I think that's true. And my understanding really is the vice president was never really part of the executive branch until probably after World War II. It really began to change a little bit. Washington saw the vice president as being President of the Senate. He was in charge of one of the other branches of government.

That's right. I think he probably would have thought it inappropriate to have that person sitting in on cabinet meetings anymore than the Speaker of the House would. I think also, Adams, I think, gave him some bad advice really early on when he was asking some questions about how the president should comport himself. And I think that might have soured Washington a little bit about making him a close advisor. 

TH: That's right. I don't like the idea of being called your, your highness or whatever John Adams wanted to call the president.

MJT: I mean, one of the big criticisms I always hear about the founding fathers is that they didn't end slavery. What are your thoughts on that?

TH: Well, I don't agree with that. Seeing 1776 through a modern lens. And you can't do that in 100 years. I hope people aren't judging what we did today because we're doing the best we can. 

And the reality was that you could abolish slavery and end the union, or you could keep slavery and keep the union, but they were going to go the same direction. Whatever they did was going to. It was slavery was going to happen with the nation. 

They all recognized it was wrong and they all recognized it was a stain on our, on our American, uh, culture and lifestyle. And yet if there had been a roadblock, an insurmountable impasse, then they wouldn't have formed. South Carolina was going to walk Georgia, North Carolina. They all would have left - Virginia. 

And so they created this great thing. The United States of America, the founding fathers. Recognizing they had work left to do and they kept at that work. They didn't they didn't just stop it. And obviously we had 600,000 men died to finally answer that question.

What do you do about slavery? But the founding fathers. They had no choice, and those that are critical of it just don't understand that what would have been the consequence of drawing a red line in the sand at slavery and saying it has to go away. We wouldn't have this country today. We always have to remember that. So they did the best they could. I think that's all we can ask of them. What do you think?

MJT: I think that's true. I think you got to appreciate how far they really came. If you look back, to maybe the 1750s, there was no anti slavery movement anywhere. It just, it wasn't a thing. People didn't think it was an unreasonable thing.

I think when you think about how society existed prior to that; you were born into a particular life, which gave you certain rights. If you were born an aristocrat, you had certain rights that other people didn't have. If you were born a freeholder, you had certain rights that other people didn't have. If you were born a freeman, versus a slave, you had certain rights that other people had. That was kind of just considered the natural order of things. 

Even the Quakers, who very much became strong, leading abolitionists, did not oppose slavery in the early 1700s. William Penn had slaves. I think the Quakers didn't really ban slavery among their own members until the 1770s. So that was the world that these men were coming from.

And I think that one of the things that really gave birth to the abolition movement were the ideals that were set in the independence movement. Um, the idea that all men are created equal, uh, that men are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Those were radical new ideas that were not widely held, uh, a generation earlier.

So these people were setting a new bar. No, they didn't cross over that bar and implement it as a policy in all cases, especially in slavery, but they were the ones who set that bar for future generations to go across and without them taking that step. That seconnd step never would have happened.

TH: That's right. And we have to remember all things in life are relative and we have to remember that this country, the United States of America had 5 states abolish slavery before any country in the world did that. We had states in the 1700s abolishing slavery. I think it was 5 of them and I can't name all of them, but the 5 and 40 years before England did.  So America, the United States of America, parts of it were a generation ahead of the rest of the world in abolishing slavery. 

And some of it was done incrementally over time and that sort of thing, but it was happening here. Before it happened any place else in the entire world, and the fact that it didn't happen in South Carolina and North Carolina and some of the other states, that's unfortunate, but it's not like the founding fathers weren't going down that path ahead of everyone else and setting and blazing the trail for that.

When you look at our nation's history, I wish people, rather than focus on what they didn't do, I wish they would focus on what they, what we did do and how revolutionary that was in our founding era.

MJT: Right, well, that's the difficult thing for people is they don't realize that you can't just change society on a dime.

I always, I always make the counterargument. Well, why don't we criticize Abraham Lincoln for not giving the right to vote to women? And why don't we criticize FDR for not recognizing gay rights? I mean, these just were not things that society was ready for yet, but those men, along with the founders, did great things to move society forward, to move us in the right direction, even if they didn't get as far as we would like them to get.

And the fact that a few radicals may have Been on the right side of history at that time, and we're calling for immediate abolition everywhere. Doesn't negate the fact that. The majority of society was not ready to make that change, and that we would have had a lot of problems had we gone the other way.

And I always use the example also of the French Revolution, which did try to change a whole lot of things really quickly. And it ended up becoming a huge bloody mess, literally blood running in the streets, and a return of monarchy after a time. Because you just can't change that many things that quickly in a society.

We'd love it if you could, but history has shown us time and again, that it doesn't work

TH: I think that's exactly right. It's a long process. Isn't it? You're in it for the long haul.

MJT: And I think, you know, we have to take that today. I mean, we have to think, well, okay, how are we moving society forward?

What are we doing to better society, to make it better than the world we were born into rather than looking at? Well, the people before us didn't move it forward enough. What do we need to do today to move society forward in the right direction? 

TH: Yep, look forward instead of backward, right?

Although it's great to look backwards. So you can learn, you know, the, uh, you think about stuff like Washington's farewell address. I wrote three chapters in my book on that. To me, that was a blueprint for America. For all time, in my opinion, he doesn't talk about entangling alliances. I think that was Jefferson's term, but he talks about the, uh, not, not being too closely aligned or permanently aligned in permanent alliances was his term.

Because all nations work in their own self interest, even your allies. It's really in their own self interest. And that's why they ally with you. He talks about not having debt. He talks about the importance of religion and morality as a foundation for civil society. The Enlightenment ideas all came from, uh, you know, the Judeo Christian ethics.

And so Washington just, he got in that farewell address. I think I wish more people would read that. I think it's a great blueprint for us moving forward in the world. And, um, anyway, I won't get on my Washington soapbox too much, but I just think that's a beautiful document. In fact, you know, they still read it in the Senate every year.

MJT: Well, I think that's true. I think this was at the very end of Washington's career. This was when he was leaving the presidency and he was essentially giving us the benefit of his lifetime of wisdom and experience. Nobody was in a better position to do that. And I think he did have some, some very good ideas that unfortunately haven't always followed.

TH: And two of the most brilliant minds in American history, at least from our founding era, largely wrote that James Madison, though, the first part of it,four years before, and then Alexander Hamilton kind of concluded it. At the end of Washington's 2nd term. But it's beautifully written. It's logically written. And, uh, yeah, I wish more Americans are familiar with it.

MJT: I’m going to on the spot here. Because this isn't in your book, but you're writing a book about it. Now. You say, what do you think about Hamilton's vision for America versus Hamilton Hamilton's versus Madison?

TH: Well, if you're talking about the Madison, uh, who came into, uh, office with Jefferson, that Madison or the one who vote federalist Madison, you know, it's a 180. I guess I'm more of a Federalist than Anti Federalist, and so I guess I'm more of a Hamilton view of the world. I think you need a strong central authority.

Although, that being said, you know, I've modified my viewpoint a little bit on that over the course of the last, say, 10, 15 years as different administrations have come into Washington. And it seems like the administrative state is telling us to do a lot of things that maybe aren't their business. And so I've started to think maybe Jefferson was right.

Maybe Madison was right that a central authority should be weak. You know, those guys wanted almost no power in the central authority. They didn't have an army. They didn't have a navy - it cost us in the Barbary wars, but I don't know. I think a strong central government Madison warned about that. If all men were angels, there'd be no need, I think it was Federalist 51, he talked about that. There'd be no need for a government, but we aren't angels. And so how do you, you have to give the governed power to govern and yet control them in the same instance. And it's tough to do. And I think we're seeing that today. What do you think?

MJT: I agree. There has to be some kind of balance. I'm a big, big fan of a separation of powers and divided government and limited power going to specific people. I am a Hamiltonian in the sense that I think his vision was certainly correct for America. I think the strength of government that Hamilton wanted would be an extremely weak government by modern standards.

Jefferson and Madison wanted virtually no government. They wanted the states to be doing everything. Hamilton said, no, there is a role for the federal government to be doing a lot of things. And I think that's true. There is a role. Hamilton had more of a vision of an America that had banking and commerce and infrastructure.

And I don't think Jefferson and Madison were really headed in that direction. I think they were more, yeah, life's good. Let's just keep enjoying it the way it is.

TH: Well, I think you're right. And, I guess I'm a Hamiltonian too if I have to pick one of those two camps, but my goodness. It's hard to reign in the excesses of a powerful central government, isn't it?

MJT: Well, it is, but I think we're looking at this in light of, you know, the Civil War amendments and the New Deal changes to the way the federal power structure was vis-a-vis the states. I think we had a reasonably powerful federal government in the 1850s by the standards of the founding fathers. That's right. But today we'd look back on that government in the 1850s and say, my God, these, this was a weak, in fact, less government against the states.

So our standards have changed over time. The fact that we had a very weak government and needed a stronger government in 1770 or 80 or 90 doesn't mean we still need to strengthen our government even more today.

TH: That's right. I suppose it's a pendulum though, isn't it, Mike?  and maybe it's going to swing back. At least I hope it does at some point.

MJT: Yeah, and I think that's the way Hamilton saw it. I think he saw that we needed a more powerful federal government, but there were going to be certain powers that the states would still have. 

And Madison even talked about that a little bit too in the Federalist Papers. The idea of divided government, but both Hamilton and Madison brought up this idea of, we don't want to get too much power in any one person or cabal's hands. We want to have the power spread out so that nobody can abuse that power. That's something, again, we're still working on and fighting about today.

TH: It's interesting at the, at the, uh, constitutional convention called the Philadelphia convention, Alexander Hamilton wanted an elected president, but elected for life. Ben Franklin, his counter proposal was a three to five man committee to act as the executive branch, and they would rotate on and off every year.

It seemed too much of King George the Third to want that for our country. And so we have some compromise even there between, I think, where Hamilton might have gone and elected monarch, essentially to Benjamin Franklin's idea for a really a committee around the country.

MJT: Well, that's a nice thing. Compromise among men of goodwill and intelligence and experience will come up with a good solution, even if one of the other of them didn't agree 100 percent with it.

TH: Yeah. We don't have a lot of that going on today, do we?

MJT: No, hopefully we'll get back to that at some point. What we have to know about America is that it is an ongoing project, that these people pushed us in a particular direction, and it's proven to be a very good direction, but it's up to each generation to maintain that and to improve on it where they can.

TH: You know, I, uh, I watch some of the news channels, not much, but every once in a while when I'm exercising, I'll watch them in the morning. I'm 63 and it seems like for as long as I can remember, politicians saying, oh, this is the worst crisis in American history. Oh, this is the worst crisis in American history.

Every generation thinks it's the worst thing in the world. They clearly haven't read their nation's history because, uh, you know, as far back as the election of 1800, the mud they were slinging was pretty muddy. It's a rough and tumble country. And that's what you have when you have a free society where people can speak their views.

And it seems extreme and there's some crazy ideas. Every generation thinks that.  This, I don't know, infighting, but this debating back and forth, that's part of our DNA as well. And people just have to accept that. And it's going to continue as long as we have. We're able to speak our mind. 

MJT: That's true. Well, we've reached the end of our hour. Is there anything else you want to, uh, add at this point?

TH: No, it's been a pleasure talking with you, Mike. This has been a lot of fun. Yeah. Thanks for inviting me on. Thank you for sharing your views with me as well. And, um, yeah, for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

MJT: Well, thank you too. I've really enjoyed this and I hope our listeners will enjoy it as well.

Do you want to give a plug for your new book?

TH: It's a really high end book It's full color. It's got a dozen new maps that we created. I guess that I created with an organization up in Wisconsin, 130 images in it. It's, uh, it's one of those coffee table variety books. That's something, but only 35 bucks.

We created our own printing company, publishing company, Americana Corner Press. So that we could cut the cost in half and what it normally would list that so that more Americans can buy it. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Please take a look at it. It's An American Triumph. Available on an Amazon.

MJT: Yeah, it's a really good book. It's for somebody who's really just wants to learn the basics of how this country was founded. And I think it does a really good job with that. You also, you have a YouTube channel, which is also called Americana Corner.

TH: We do. Yeah, I should tell you a little bit about puts out a 800 word story every Tuesday and a corresponding 2 and a half minute video every Friday, and we have a library of about 150 to 160, uh, stories and videos right now. 

We're also very proud of our preserving America grant program. We give away grant money to organizations in America, so they can tell their part. For the great American story, we'll be announcing our 3rd set of recipients on Washington's birthday, 2024 about two months away.

I'm reviewing all the applications right now. We feel that this is maybe the greatest thing that we've done because we're putting money in the hands of the boots on the ground who are willing to do the work and want to continue our nation's history.

MJT: Yeah, I know you serve on the board of American Battlefield Trust. And as you said, you've given out grants to a lot of great organizations who are doing good work on preserving this nation's history. And I thank you for that. I think it's, been a real boost to the history community.

TH: Well, thank you. It's a, blessing. I've been blessed and trying to share some of it.

MJT: Tom Hamm, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for joining me today.


 Once again, I’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to speak with me.  His book, An American Triumph, is on sale now.  As always, I’ve included a link on my blog entry for this article.

You can read more of Tom’s articles at his website,  A search on YouTube for “Americana Corner” and subscribe to his channel and watch his videos about the American Revolution.

Well, that’s all for this week.  Please join me again next week for another American Revolution Podcast.

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Next Episode 294 Dogger Bank (Available December 24, 2023)

Previous Episode 292 Dog Days Campaign

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Further Reading

Tom Han's website:

YouTube Channel:

Hand, Tom An American Triumph: America's Founding Era Through the Lives of Ben Franklin, George Washington, and John Adams, Americana Corner Press, 2023. 

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