Joseph Hernon
Joseph Hernon
Profiles in Character:  Hubris and Heroism in the U.S. Senate, 1789-1990
ISBN: 1563249375
Profiles in Character
Hernon's title is a deliberate take-off of Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. Unlike Kennedy's patriotic portrayal of various Senators, Hernon takes the position that the best-known U.S. senators throughout history don't deserve their renown as much as some lesser-known (or completely unknown) ones who served at the same time. Each chapter of his book pairs a famous Senator with his lesser-known counterpart. Over the course of ten biographical chapters, arranged chronologically, Hernon tells the story of sixteen men's lives in the Senate in relation to each other, in what amounts to a history of the U.S. Senate.
—from the publisher's website
Profiles in Character
Program Air Date: February 15, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Joseph Martin Hernon, author of "Profiles in Character: Hubris and Heroism in the United States Senate, 1789-1990," what is your book about?
PROFESSOR JOSEPH HERNON, AUTHOR, "PROFILES IN CHARACTER My book is a--a Plutarchlike study comparing and contrasting the lives of two senators for each era. And it--it runs from the beginning of the Senate up until 1990.
LAMB: What's a Plutarchlike study...
PROF. HERNON: Well, a--Plutarch...
LAMB: ...or type study?
PROF. HERNON: ...was a Greek historian who compared a--a famous Greek with a famous Roman. And I decided that I would attempt to compare and contrast the lives of two contemporary senators for each era that would provide greater continuity for understanding American history, because many of these people were in the Senate for up to 30 or 40 years or, if you look at Senator Thurmond right now, in since 1954. And you get a better view of American history over a longer period of time than focusing on individual presidencies of four to eight years or whatever.
LAMB: Fifty thousand pages, you say you read.
LAMB: Over a period of what time?
PROF. HERNON: Well, mainly from about 1988 till '91, '92, when I really started to write in earnest. Of course, I was still researching those papers, at least 25 or 30 collections in the Library of Congress. And then there's some that I gave special attention to where I wanted to see--since many of these senators have multivolume biographies, the most famous ones, I wanted to--to zero in on someone like William Pitt Fessenden, who's almost completely unknown and whom I raise almost to the level of Lincoln. I call him the Down East Lincoln. And I think my views on Fessenden and Sumner provide a new view of the Civil War and Reconstruction, especially the Reconstruction era.
LAMB: How many senators have there been in history?
PROF. HERNON: Let's see, there have been over 1,800. I don't know the exact account now, but I--I looked at over 1,800 lives and--and selected two for each era. Of course, I had--as a reference point, I had the survey that Senator Kennedy did back in the 1950s shortly after he wrote "Profiles in Courage." And this is a kind of updating of that, I hope, in greater depth. And he selected--well, he polled 150 scholars, professors of history and political science principally, to decide who were the greatest senators up until that time, 1957. And they selected a variety of people. I didn't see the results until after I had selected mine, so I--I had that kind of scholarly approach.

But the top vote-getter was George Norris, who got 87 votes, but he was not selected as one of the five greatest senators whose portraits are hanging in the Senate reception room now. But he is one of my great senators, George Norris of Nebraska, who was in the Senate for 30 years and the House 10 years before that.

The K--the--the Kennedy committee selected as the five greatest senators: Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Robert La Follette Sr. and Robert Taft of Ohio. And they were very diplomatic about it. They selected two Whigs, one Democrat, one Republican and one Progressive. So it was a kind of compromise. But I'm prepared--I think I argue well in my introduction why I selected my senators.

For example, Thomas Hart Benton I consider more significant than Webster, Clay and Calhoun put together in his 30 years in the Senate, the--one of the first two senators from Missouri, the man who inched his way towards opposition to slavery, the man whose son-in-law was the first civil governor of California, John Charles Fremont. Benton was involved in almost everything over that 30-year period, and he--he finally came to oppose slavery. And this was the principal issue from the annexation of Texas in 1845 to 1850 between him and John C. Calhoun, whom I do use in the book, and it was one of the five senators selected.

But I point out how if the Democratic Party had--well, the--the whole question of a Civil War would have come up earlier if they'd a--accepted Benton's position as opposition to the extension of slavery into the West. They--they selected Calhoun's position and nominated Northern Democrats like Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan to appease the South and postpone the Civil War for another 10 years. But I might just allude to that in studying these senators, one can see clearly the role of race in shaping our politics over the last 200 years.
LAMB: Let me ask you ab--about yourself before we go on to some of the senators.
LAMB: One of the things that--at the end of the little bio in the back, it says, `He has pursued an independent voting pattern during the past 20 years.' Ford you voted for in '76.
LAMB: Anderson, '80; Mondale, '84; Bush, '88 and Clinton, '92.
LAMB: What's the message there?
PROF. HERNON: Well, I tried to be independent and objective, and--and the only votes I regret casting are the votes for winners, like Lyndon Johnson in '64. So at least--'cause I--I--I feel a special responsibility when I vote for a winner and how that person turns out. I must say--it's not mentioned there, but in--in '96, I voted for Ralph Nader, so that's--so I'm not--I--I grew up as--I was one of--on the first executive committee of the College Young Democrats back--so I'm basically a Democrat, but I think of myself as an independent.

And one of the reasons for this book--I'm basically, for my academic career, an Irish historian and a British historian. I've--I've published principally in those areas. But this has been a work I've been thinking about for over 15 years, and it's a work of love because I was born here just a few blocks from the White House at Columbia Hospital for Women and, as a student, had a lot of jobs on the Hill, including, for example, for several months, I answered hate mail for Wayne Morris of Oregon, and elevator operator in the House. So I had a feeling for these politicians as human beings, and I hope that comes across in the book that they're all human beings.

But we're dealing with character; it shows the role of character in shaping legislation. And that--I believe in political redemption. For example, you know, we have many books out now dealing with virtue, but they focus on people as kind of plaster saints, and really no human being is that way.

And Thomas Hart Benton perhaps profited from an early sin or mistake of his when he was expelled from Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina, at the age of 16 for petty thievery. And that haunted him for the rest of his career and perhaps prevented him from ever running for president. He was--Van Buren wanted him as his vice president, but he turned it down. And it made him stronger in the Senate. And that's another theme of this book, that many of these people who were in the Senate for 30 years or so are more significant than most of our presidents. And I think I was writing this with--with posterity in mind, and I hope it'll hold up 100 years from now.
LAMB: Now you were--in 1991, '90--1992, were the Ted Sorensen fellow of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
LAMB: What's that?
PROF. HERNON: Well, I got a grant from the Kennedy Library because I'd mentioned "Profiles in Courage," and it--it--they were very generous in just assisting, you know, a small amount of my research. So it was nice to--to--you know, to get some assistance that way.
LAMB: Well, let me read...
PROF. HERNON: But most of it, I--I dealt with on my own. Yes.
LAMB: But let me read, though, what you say in here about "Profiles in Courage."
LAMB: You say, `A clear case of hubris, an arrogant abuse of history, was the awarding of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize in biography to John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."'
LAMB: Why did you write that?
PROF. HERNON: Yes. I wrote that because I felt that the--the book "Profiles in Courage"--Kennedy can claim authorship as a kind of general editor, and everyone agrees that he wrote the chapter on John Quincy Adams, although, as I point out, that chapter is wrong-headed and the chapter on Reconstruct--on Andrew Johnson's impeachment is wrong-headed. And he even--he overlooks the role of Fessenden in the--that whole period, although he quotes Fessenden at the end as the ideal senator, a famous speech that Fessenden gave. But Kennedy--I felt that the hubris was involved in winning the Pulitzer Prize. And as that...
LAMB: What does the word `hubris' mean?
PROF. HERNON: Hubris means insolence in--in--that results from arrogant pride. And hubris, you might say, is from the--the classical concept of the--the god Janus. Hubris would be one face, heroism would be the other, of the god that looked two ways. And we can--for--for some people, what hubris is is heroism to others. And I felt that it was really the hand of the founding father as--as Joe Kennedy, the father, was known as, you know, manipulating the Pulitzer Prize when it wasn't even one of the top final nominees, and suddenly, out of the blue, it won.
LAMB: Well...
PROF. HERNON: I give another--on the Republican side, I give an example of--of--of hubris disguised as heroism in Ollie North, I think, you know, and--and just his...
LAMB: Well, let me go back to this just a moment, 'cause I wanna read...
LAMB: ...a little bit more of what you said about the--the--John F. Kennedy. `He was not about to share the prize with Ted Sorensen...
LAMB: ...and the team of professors who did most of the research and writing. In accepting the Pulitzer Prize for himself, Senator Kennedy exhibited a--a hubris just below the level of Napoleon's during his coronation as emperor when he seized the crown from Pope Pius VII and crowned himself. But the arrogance of power would appear in more virulent form in later imperial presidents.'
LAMB: Did you like John Kennedy?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, I--I liked him very much. And--and I was an early volunteer, one of the earliest for him. But I felt that I had to be fair, and I think all the evidence indicates that there was some kind of manipulation in winning the Pulitzer Prize, with this proviso: There's manipulation all the time in the--in these prizes behind the scenes, you know? And so is it wrong for Joe Kennedy to--to make every effort to use his influence to win the Pulitzer Prize for his son to help in the presidential can--campaign? That's--I'm just pointing out that this is a kind of hubris in a way.

In the same way, to put in a positive note about one of the Kennedys, Bobby Kennedy--some people would say that when he entered the presidential race in 1968, his act as a senator from New York--his act itself was one of hubris, seizing the limelight from Eugene McCarthy. But in the--on the other hand, those last two months, Bobby--Bobby Kennedy demonstrated a kind of heroism from the assassination of Martin Luther King until his own assassination; he was kind of freed up with this sort of realization that he may not win the presidency, but he was addressing issues that were really important in the country.
LAMB: Let's quickly go through who you pair up. The first one--the Patrician Age, 1789 to 1820, is Rufus King and James Monroe.
LAMB: Who were they?
PROF. HERNON: Yes. Rufus King was a senator from New York. James Monroe, of course, was president for two terms. King was his--was the last of the Federalist nominees.
LAMB: Is that King on the screen?
PROF. HERNON: That's James Monroe on the spring--on--on the screen. The--anyway, what I tried to point out in that chapter, even though the Senate wasn't really that--there is Rufus King now on the screen. King was more significant as a senator than Monroe serving two terms as president because King led the opposition to the Missouri Compromise on the slavery question. He rang that alarm bell in the night, as Jefferson called it. And I think, you know, that's just the--the principal point I wanted to make there.
LAMB: The second pair is Thomas Hart Benton and John C. Calhoun.
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. This--Thomas Hart Benton was from the border state of Missouri. Calhoun was from South Carolina, 1820 to 18--that's Thomas Hart Benton.
LAMB: At what age, do you know?
PROF. HERNON: That would be an old age, in--in the 1850s. So let's see, he was--1780 to 1856--no, '58, he died, I think, something like that.
LAMB: And then the picture of John C. Calhoun--do you have any idea what age he was there?
PROF. HERNON: I'm saying that is in the 1830s, so he's probably about in his 40s there.
LAMB: Wh--why did you pair those two up?
PROF. HERNON: Because of the slavery question--and they became the principal focal points between 1845 and 1850 for the struggle of the soul of the Democratic Party over the slavery question.
LAMB: And then you have two full-page pictures, and this William Pip Fessenden of Maine.
LAMB: And you mentioned him earlier. What is it about him you think is so much like Abraham Lincoln?
PROF. HERNON: Well, he--Lincoln was a folksy Midwesterner. Fessenden was a laconic Down East Maine senator, who's buried in an unmarked grave in Portland, amazingly. And...
LAMB: Have you been there?
PROF. HERNON: Yes, I've been up there. It's the family plot, and Fessenden was illegitimate. Daniel Webster was his godfather. And that's the reason why Fessenden did not run, I speculate anyway, for the presidency in 1858 when he was told that all of New England and Pennsylvania were ready to support him for the nomination--the Republican Party nomination in Chicago in 1860. And Fessenden said, `I'm going fishing.' He didn't want to get involved. He was happy being in the Senate.
LAMB: And who was Charles Sumner?
PROF. HERNON: Charles Sumner was the great hero of the anti-slavery movement who was brutally caned by Preston Brooks in 1856 on the Senate floor. And Massachusetts kept open his Senate seat for four years until he returned to the Senate in 1860. But...
LAMB: How bad wa--how bad was he hurt?
PROF. HERNON: Very bad. He--according to a couple of historians, he suffered from psychogenic neurosis. And Fessenden said--they had been good friends in 1856; Fessenden found him a changed person. And their differences from 1864 on in the Republican Party shaped so much of the Reconstruction, like the wording of the 14th Amendment and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. After the death of Lincoln, Fessenden and Sumner were the two that, I think, are crucial for understanding that period from 1865 to '68.
LAMB: You devote two chapters to them.
PROF. HERNON: Yes, because I feel that the--the Civil War and Reconstruction are incredibly important, you know, the watershed in American history. And as much as I admire all of the studies on the Civil War, including the wonderful documentary by Ken Burns, you notice that it ends conveniently with the assassination of Lincoln. And the next 12 years, the Reconstruction, helps to explain why the civil rights movement was postponed for another century as blacks were abandoned. And the quagmire--historians have been very reluctant to get involved in the quagmire of the Reconstruction because it's so complicated. And I think I've made a little more a sense of the Reconstruction in focusing on Fessenden and Sumner from '65 to '68, but I leave it up to historians to decide for themselves.
LAMB: Now your next group is the rise and fall of the Senate oligarchy. What's an oligarchy?
PROF. HERNON: Yes. An oligarchy is the rule of the few, usually the wealthy few. And a--a--a symbol of this--I did--even though I didn't use him i--in the book, was Nelson Aldrich, who was the boss who said very little, the grandfather of Nelson Rockefeller. I selected in his place John Sherman, who was in the Senate virtually from the 1860s until the turn of the century. And I--there's John Sherman. The man--he's an example of a person who spent all of his time running for president at least three times and weakened his position in the Senate.
LAMB: And his opponent would be George Frisbie Hoar.
PROF. HERNON: Geo--George Frisbie Hoar--if we get a little picture of him--he was a Mr. Pickwick like -character and a man who should be truly honored, the first person to call for the vote for women, the only one in the Congress to oppose the exclusion of the Chinese in 1882 and 1902; stood up for the rights of Irish Catholics and opposed the annexation of the Philippines. He got up on the Senate floor and said, you know, after Albert Beveridge, another senator from Indiana, gave a fa--a famous speech saying that it was our destiny, you know, to civilize the Philippines. And, of course, Teddy Roosevelt was, you know, a kind of--and--and--and McKinley were kinds of fathers of--of 20th century imperialism. Hoar got up and said, `What about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?' And Hoar was the grandson of Roger Sherman of the Connecticut Compromise that brought the Senate into being.
LAMB: Roger Sherman related to John Sherman?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah--yeah, they were both--actually, Hoar and--and Sherman were cousins. Sherman was a senator from Ohio; Hoar was a senator from Massachusetts.
LAMB: You have in this section with Hoar and Sherman the following sentence: `But Sherman, with a poor will, always'--now--let me--the point I--here's what I want to ask you about. You say in here that there's se--that 17 members of the Senate with a net worth of more than $600 million. Was that 17 together or 17 individuals each worth $600 million?
PROF. HERNON: Each. Each were worth...
LAMB: Seventeen senators...
PROF. HERNON: ...something like that. And I--I'm--I'm--I'm sorry. That's my recollection now.
LAMB: Back in the 1870s?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah, they--oh, they had huge amounts--he took--I mean, one of Sherman's--and he took Albert Bierstadt, you know, the painter, to--out to Yellowstone and--and Bierstadt painted the Old Faithful, and so if you see that painting, that was given to John Sherman. He owned much of 16th Street here in the district and houses all the way up. And so incredibly wealthy and...
LAMB: Sixty--$600 million, though, in--in 1870s...
LAMB: ..was billions and billions...
PROF. HERNON: Yeah--or--well--or--or--yeah, oh, yeah, right. And--and this was up--I'm--I'm thinking now about the turn of the century, but look at the Vanderbilts and the estates, you know, and--you know, and--and...
LAMB: Where would you find a figure like that, by the way?
PROF. HERNON: I can't remember.
LAMB: This says it's a report in The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1882. There were 17 senators with a net worth of more than $600 million, but that would--wouldn't that be collective?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah, I--n--I'm not sure about that. I'll--I'll have to--mea culpa. That's--that would be...
LAMB: All right. The next on the list--and--and you have two; you have Henry Cabot Lodge and Thomas J. Walsh.
LAMB: Which Henry Cabot Lodge is this?
PROF. HERNON: This is a senior, the--perhaps the greatest parliamentarian of the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, who got the first PhD in history in the United States at Harvard under Henry Adams and who was the great nemesis of Woodrow Wilson over the Treaty of Versailles.
LAMB: Now he was against Thomas J. Walsh.
PROF. HERNON: Tom--Tom Walsh...
LAMB: Or vs., in the--in here.
PROF. HERNON: Yes, yeah. Tom Walsh was the senator from Montana who is most famous for exposing the Teapot Dome scandal. But he single-handedly almost saved the Treaty of Versailles, so he's one of my heroes in--in that regard.
LAMB: The next twosome, William Borah and George W. Norris.
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. Norris. Yeah. Borah was one of the great orators of the Senate, senator from Idaho from 1907 to 1940, a great character. The--in the 1920s, he--for example, Coolidge--President Coolidge joked that Congress was occasionally out of session, but Borah was always in session. And in 1924, so the story goes, Coolidge decided on Borah as his running mate and Borah was out horseback riding in Rock Creek Park. And he came--the Secret Service found him; he came riding into the White House, and he walked into the president's office and Calvin Coolidge said to him, `Senator Borah, we want you on the ticket.' And Borah replied, `Which place, Mr. President?' So that indi--Borah was quite content being chair of the foreign relations committee, and he's also known at the end, unfortunately, as a kind of champion of appeasement against Hitler.

Opposing him was George William Norris of Nebraska, whom Franklin Roosevelt called the perfect, gentle knight of American conservatism. And...
LAMB: And this man was also in "Profiles in Courage" of--by John Kennedy.
PROF. HERNON: Yes, but--but Kennedy focuses on him just once in--on the question of filibustering our entry into the First World War, which outraged President Wilson. I deal with him over a 30-year period, including the last time--what he's most famous for would be relevant today--when he re--he was defeated in '42, left the Senate in '43, and he refused to take a penny in pension because he said that would just...
LAMB: And how many years had he been in the Senate?
PROF. HERNON: Four--well, 40 years in Congress.
LAMB: In Congress.
PROF. HERNON: Thirty years in the S--he said that would be immoral because he had voted on all of those pension bills.
LAMB: Let me read this paragraph about William Borah, Chapter Seven.
LAMB: `Borah had affairs with two of Washington's most prominent women who were rivals for his affection, Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson. Though married to the speaker of the House, Nicholas Longworth, "Princess Alice"'--that's in quotes--`daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, soon became known as Aurora Borah Alice, especially after Senator Borah repeatedly fathered her only child Paulina.'
LAMB: How well-known was that?
PROF. HERNON: It--at the time, only in scuttlebutt. But in this recent biography--I'm trying to remember the author--in--in 1988, it all comes out because, of course, Princess Alice died--I think it was 1980, and Mrs. Borah, who--Mary Borah, who's known as Little Borah, lived to be 106--she died in 1976. So it wasn't until after their deaths that they could publish--publish these.
LAMB: Picture of Senator Borah is on a horse here. Is...
PROF. HERNON: The stallion of Idaho, but I won't tell--that's what he was--his nickname was at Boise.
LAMB: Where was he born?
PROF. HERNON: He was born in Illinois, downstate Illinois.
LAMB: How did he get to Io--Idaho?
PROF. HERNON: It's a--it was a long--he went--he ran off to become a Shakespearean actor and play--I think at the age of 16, he--he--traveling troupe, he played the role of Mark Anthony. And then he went off to the University of Kansas for a year, then took a train west. He was going out to Washington state, and I guess he was gambling on the train and lost some money, and a gambler said, `Well, why don't you get off here?' and that was Idaho. And he ended up in Idaho and became a famous lawyer there and then was elected to the Senate in 1906.
LAMB: So back in the press in those days, thi--thi--this thing about A--Aurora Borah Alice--was that printed in the papers then?
PROF. HERNON: I don't know. I--I don't know. It's just in the--you know, the biography. I know people joked about her and Cissy Patterson, who was the owner of The Washington Times-Herald then, and they were both mistresses of Borah in the '20s. And of course, Princess Alice was the wife of Nicholas Longworth, the speaker of the House, and the famous daughter of Teddy Roosevelt.
LAMB: And then one of the House office buildings is now named Long--Longworth.
PROF. HERNON: Longworth, yes, that's right.
LAMB: Then you had Robert A. Taft vs. Arthur H. Vandenburg.
PROF. HERNON: Yes. Well, of course, the Taft Memorial--he was selected as one of the five great senators, and you have the carillon right outside the building here. And he was a conscientious conservative in the old-fashioned way. Vandenberg is more interesting, and I feel that Vandenberg is one of the perhaps unsung senators. He does not have a scholarly biography covering the period. That's Vandenberg on the right and Taft on the left, Vandenberg of Ohio from '45 to '51. Now many people in your audience has read David McCullough's wonderful biography of Harry Truman, but there's no available biography of--of Vandenberg.

And I maintain that Vandenberg from '45 to '47 is chairing the Foreign Relations Committee, president pro tem of the Senate, led Truman, especially in foreign policy. And Vandenberg and George Marshall, the new secretary of state in '47, worked very close together. The Vandenberg Resolution wa--was the basis of NATO and our mutual assistance pacts around the world, a major figure who's been largely ignored because he's not a president, you see?

That's another point I tried to make in--in the book, that presidents have their presidential libraries, which are all very fine, with big staffs and court historians and we have multivolume biog--many, many biographies, more than we need of some of the presidents. And a lot of the senators are ignored and--and extremely significant politically.
LAMB: The last two, Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond.
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. Well, I selected them and i--and this--history will see how accurate I am o--on that, but they both played roles in the Democratic Convention in--in '48 when Humphrey gave his famous speech supporting civil rights. This is Hubert Humphrey. And Thurmond became the states rights candidate, opposing the civil rights plank and broke with the party, running as a Dixiecrat in '48. Thurmond, of course, is still in the Senate, was elected to the Senate then in 1954 and has been in till the present at--he's now 95 years old. I point out that Thurmond's significance is understanding the role of the Southern strategy, that Thurmond was very important in electing Nixon in '68 and Ronald Reagan in '80. And Lee Atwater, his assistant, of course, became George Bush's campaign manager. So Thurmond--future historians will look upon Thurmond as a kind of modern-day John C. Calhoun, the way he elevated South Carolina to a very important place in the Electoral College, in electoral history.

Humphrey is the victim of Vietnam, the brainchild--a person I met as a student several times, one of the most wonderful, warm human beings you can meet. But Lyndon Johnson took advantage of his good nature, and as--as Humphrey, you know, reminded people in 1970, he made a mistake in letting Lyndon Johnson push him around in 1968 when he was a candidate for president and barely lost to Richard Nixon. So Thur--so Humphrey is really a victim of Vietnam as, indeed, the Democratic Party was a victim of Vietnam, I think, from the '60s up until the election of Bill Clinton.
LAMB: Now you said earlier that you were--were you born here in this town?
PROF. HERNON: Yes. Yeah, in the Columbia Hospital for Women.
LAMB: And--and how--how long did you live here?
PROF. HERNON: Let's see, I lived here, well, off and on. I went--well, I guess for a good 20 or 30 years I--I went to a seminary in Baltimore, the oldest Catholic seminary, junior and senior, St. Mar--St. Charles College and then St. Mary's Seminary. And then I trans--when I left at the age of 20, I went to Catholic University for two years. And then I was very active in--politically--led one of the earliest marches in support of Martin Luther King and was a volunteer for John F. Kennedy, gave a speech for Kennedy to the National Lew--Newman Club convention a week before I left for Ireland. I won a fellowship to go over to study at Trinity College Dublin in 1960. That's how I ended up in Irish history.
LAMB: And where did you work most of your life?
PROF. HERNON: Well, I've worked most of my life at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst since 1968 to '95. I'm a professor emeritus. I re--I retired there in 1995. So about--whatever that is--28 years--32 years altogether teaching--Ohio State, Catholic U. and then visiting over in Dublin, Scotland and Cambridge in England.
LAMB: And you point out in the back that other than the Fessenden work, everything else is not primary sources? Is that right?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. Yeah. Most of them are--you know, have been--have appeared in print, you know, in other--in scholarly biographies. But I would check up on them. A few--you know, they're like newspaper columns that I found in the senatorial papers. So I'm not making the claim that they're--they're original manuscripts. The--the whole approach, I--I think, is original, but, for example, there are so many things that have been undiscovered. For example, the record--it was published in 1914--of the Joint Committee of 15 on Reconstruction, the most important congressional committee in history. And in that, you see Fessenden's draft of the 14th Amendment, and in it, his draft is so broad that it would've made the 15th Amendment, granting the right to vote to black males, unnecessary. Thaddeus Stevens called it too radical, and yet, Fessenden has been labeled a conservative, you know, because he opposed the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

So what I'm saying there, I think my interpretation there is relatively original piecing things together. But I think also for--for historians, too, to see how the two--two senators compare and contrast over a 20-, 30-year period gives you a new interpretation or a--a different view of American history. And many of these people, it was a question of synthesis. They would have thousands of pages written about them.
LAMB: You have here a dedication to four people. You wanna tell us about these folks?
PROF. HERNON: Yes. First of all, to my father, Joseph Martin Hernon. I said `a lawyer's lawyer,' who worked for the Department of Interior and the Parks Service. In fact, when I was a boy, he was given Herbert Hoover's old car to drive us up to West Point. He did legal work on that.

The second is to my mother, who was a schoolteacher and taught English, French and Latin and had a big influence on me, nursing me back to health, 'cause I was pretty sick as a child with asthma.

And then the third is a close friend who died just a couple of years ago who was--I called Geoffrey Morrison `an historian's historian,' who's a great character around Amherst. And he spurred me on, 'cause we talked about contrasting the lives of these two people back in the late '80s.

And the last person is a person that I wrote about in British history, a person I consider to be one of the great English historians, if not the greatest historian of this century, George Macaulay Trevelyan. I did a lot of work on him, and reading him influenced my writing style. I said that his--he inspired me with the poet--to consider the poetry and irony of history.

And I--I tried to focus, in dealing with character, on the ironic elements in character--wisdom out of foolishness and foolishness out of wisdom, strength out of weakness--that history constantly tricks us and that we may think like Margaret Chase Smith, who was, up until the present time, the only woman who really had a--an important role in the Senate. And she was right on with Senator McCarthy in 1950 but made a great mistake in denouncing the Vietnam War protesters and overlooking the--John Mitchell's Justice Department in 1970. There's...
LAMB: Picture in here.
PROF. HERNON: ...Mar--Margaret Chase Smith greeting Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Margaret Chase Smith was a very important member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And she--you know, it's, again, example of sh--when you place yourself on a pedestal, you see, you might be heroic at one given time. That's the very moment you can make your greatest mistake and fall off that pedestal. So it's very tricky when you think of hubris and heroism.
LAMB: How many different jobs did you have over in the Capitol?
PROF. HERNON: Let's see--let's see, I was an elevator operat...
LAMB: What year? What year? What year?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, let's see, well, the--the late '50s, the--the elevator operator. I mentioned Wayne Morris, card cataloging the Library of Congress. I worked down at Ft. Belvoir one summer. Oh, and then I worked in the Democratic National Committee doing some organizational work for them in '59, '60--a little research.
LAMB: How often did you find, when you go back in history, that people were saying the same things they are today?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, fr--frequently. And I was just noticing the inscription on--I know you're doing a lot on de Tocqueville, and I refer to de Tocqueville in a number of ar--places. But the inscription on Taft's statue--I was walking by yesterday, just soaking things in, you know, walking around this whole area. And he said something to the effect--there's an inscription from a speech that the state should--the state should be its people's servants. It's always dangerous--it's essential that that happen. It's dangerous if the people become the servants of the state. And it's reflecting a quote I used from de Tocqueville that it's a great danger to democracy, that democracy could turn to despotism when peop--the people of a state begin to look upon themselves as servants. And so he was sort of paraphrasing de Tocqueville. And many of these politicians would, without even realizing--probably all of them knew about de Tocqueville, would talk about--the character of the senators would be based on the character of the people themselves.

So basically people get what they deserve, what they vote for, if, indeed, they do vote. So I feel very strong about this, and I'm hoping this--this is something I put my soul into, and I hope it'll stimulate a little debate. And I believe in, as I said earlier, political redemption. I didn't mention John McCain by name. I mentioned the Keating Five back in the '80s. But I think that John McCain learned from the Keating Five, as he said in one interview, and that's--now he's leading campaign reform. And perhaps everyone could say, both Republicans and Democrats, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, `Through my fault, through my most grievous fault, we're all senators. Let's get so--some campaign reform.'
LAMB: Senator Vandenberg of Michigan...
LAMB: ...back in 1949 said the following in your book. `The whole country is in a state of nerves,' he wrote, `everybody is under tension. Nothing is right. The whole tenor of senatorial correspondence has changed. Everybody is mad about something, and they seem to love to take it out on members of Congress. Oh, well, we survived the Civil War, and I guess we can survive this. This, too, shall pass.' Now we've heard a lot of that over the last five years.
PROF. HERNON: Yes. Yes. And, of course, that was in the period of--right before Joseph McCarthy, the Alger Hiss period. The Russians were exploding, you know, the bomb. The--you know, China had been taken over. The--you know, it was all--it was a kind of crazy period, as, indeed, Fessenden's words back, `I think we're all going to go insane,' almost in 1866, right after the Civil War--all the tensions in the country.
LAMB: Why do you think the same kind of anger we've seen in the last couple years here then?
PROF. HERNON: Y--the--the anger, you mean between the parties?
LAMB: Well, the--the--we hear it in our calls that come in. People are angry with the Congress, ang--you know, we...
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: The last couple of elections, there've been a lot of angry--what's--what's going on now, do you think?
PROF. HERNON: Well, I think people are frustrated that there's not very much change taking place, and they're trying to arouse their fellow citizens to pay attention to the problems of c--the--the need for campaign reform.
LAMB: Well, this is another quote earlier in the William Borah and...
LAMB: ...George Norris chapter. Let me read this. You say, `Both Norris and Borah were appalled at the corrupting role of money in American elections.'
LAMB: `And in 1922, they opposed the seating of Truman H. Newberry as a Republican senator from Michigan. He was accused of outbidding Henry Ford and purchasing the Republican nomination. Norris remarked, quote, "They had a public sale up there in Michigan on a seat in the United States Senate. The sale was public. The bidding was in the open. And the property was knocked down to the highest bidder." "With the fall of Rome in mind," Borah mused, "we have traveled further over the road of money in politics in 100 years than Rome traveled in 500 years."'
LAMB: Now what would they think today?
PROF. HERNON: Listen, they were pikers back then in that they--it's just--I mean, it's hard to believe that the country isn't aroused by what's going on. It--I mean, what--you know, I'm ready for some senator to get up and say--you know, when they were arguing that--regarding the attorney general's ruling that--that--sorry, let me just get it right--they were arguing that it should be limited--the Pendleton Act--oh, that old act, 1883, it's 100 years old. You know what I would've said if I'd been on the Senate floor, I think? I'd say, `What about the Constitution? It's 200 years old. What about the Ten Commandments? Has anyone ever heard of "Thou shalt not steal"? What about bribery?' You know, I mean, I--it's--it's unbelievable really what's going on now in the country.
LAMB: Now Explain this part, too. This is in the Henry Cabot Lodge and Thomas J. Walsh chapter. `The New York Times claimed Walsh was up against a stone wall and Walter Lippmann, famous journalist, called the investigation a legalized atrocity in which congressmen, starved of their legitimate food for thought, go on a wild and feverish manhunt and do not stop at cannibalism.' Any comparison with what's going on today?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, p--the Teapot Dome scandal was perhaps minor. We don't know the results. Don't forget that an attorney general went to jail. A secretary of the interior went to jail. They--the Tea--the--the Navy leases for the oil fields owned by the Navy out in California, we get into--involved in some government property bought by a Chinese--what was a--I've forgotten now his name, but, you know, the--the Chinese involvement in that. We've--there are so many things going on that it boggles the mind. And it--it covers--the problem is it covers both parties, you see. In some ways, I think--and--and--and this raises serious questions--to what degree are Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich very much alike? And, you know, it's--I--I think one thing that helps out President Clinton is, you know, all the skeletons and problems that Gingrich has had. And so both parties are not in terribly good shape right now, and there needs to be, you know, a shake-up of some sort.
LAMB: From your experience, what do--what do the Democrats today think of Woodrow Wilson?
PROF. HERNON: Well, generally, they honor Wilson at every convention, but Woodrow Wilson was the man who brought segregation into the federal government. Woodrow Wilson--when he was inaugurated as president of Princeton, he was wringing his hands. You know what his biggest problem was? Booker T. Washington was going to visit the president of Tuke--Tuskegee Institute. Where should he house Booker T. Washington? This was the kind of racism at the turn of the century, the racism of Woodrow Wilson, the racism of Teddy Roosevelt when you get right down to it.
LAMB: You say actually in the book, `President Wilson in practice was to prove the worst racist in the White House since James Buchanan.'
PROF. HERNON: That's right.
LAMB: Why, when time goes by, don't people remember these kind of things?
PROF. HERNON: I--you--Americans have very little sense of history. They have very short memories and I think that's one of the problems, and they have this--this romantic view of party history and the great heroes. And it doesn't--I think it makes them more interesting when you examine all aspects of them.
LAMB: You also write, `The cult of secrecy on national security grounds would lead to the abuse of presidential power at home as well as abroad, from the Vietnam War through Watergate to the Iran-Contra scandal.' A cult of secrecy--what--what are you getting at here?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. The--well, now this is what Robert Taft warned in a speech that he gave in--in '51. And Taft, the conservative, you know, back in the '40s talking about ch--the NATO and our entangling alliances around the world, sounded like some of the critics of Vietnam in the '60s. And the cult of secrecy--well, you merely have to think of J. Edgar Hoover. What about democracy? You know, what about checks and balances? Who's really controlling? Who has control over the FBI or the attorney general or--or whatever? What about the advise and consent role of the Senate? Why aren't people or critics making more of an uproar? And they can do it. They can be filibustering. You know, they could really--one person in the Senate could have--can have a great effect if he or she is really interested and--and feels strongly about an issue.
LAMB: Let me use some of the words you use to define some of these people and have you--have you expand on it.
LAMB: You--you say `the rude but sophisticated Benton.'
LAMB: Thomas Hart Benton was rude?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, very--you know, a kind of frontiersman. He almost--he killed one man in a duel. He wounded Andrew Jackson, almost killed him, and then they become close friends after they get into the Senate. He's this incredible character, you know, and he had his body scrubbed down with a horsehair brush by his servant every day. He would say, `Why do you do this?' `The Roman gladiators did it, sir.' This--Benton had this huge ego, yet he was--he had a great sense of history and what history was all about, and that was his position on slavery. He was well-read in English history as...
LAMB: You call George Frisbie Hoar humane.
PROF. HERNON: Very humane in the sense of applying the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in talking about the--the--you know, he--he said at one point in a famous speech he gave the p--there is no Chinese question, that the problem is with Congress bringing it into politics. And he said the ultimate liberation of the--the--the Negro will come with the liberation and--and--of the white, of the Saxon. In other words, he--he was open--he was an amazing person in his views of--of not only domestic issues but foreign policy.
LAMB: `Calhoun's slavery, Sumner's hubris, Borah's appeasement.'
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. Those were flaws for--chinks in their armor. Calhoun's slavery--Calhoun--now listen to this. I--I--I find it amazing. I was up there yesterday in the Senate reception room. There's one Democrat represented there, John C. Calhoun. What did John C. Calhoun say in his letter to the British ambassador, Pakenham? He said that s--black slaves were more intelligent, blacks had a higher IQ under slavery than when they were free. That's right in that famous Pakenham letter. That is the only Democrat in that place of honor. When the senators come off the floor, they look up at John C. Calhoun.
LAMB: Why did they do that?
PROF. HERNON: Because it was a kind of comp--this was done back in the '50s. This is before the st...
LAMB: The statues.
PROF. HERNON: Yeah, yeah. The--the--the portraits--the five portraits there selected by the--the Senate committee.
LAMB: I also think you--didn't you say there's some politics that goes into which statue ends up over there?
PROF. HERNON: Oh, yeah. Each state has...
LAMB: Two.
PROF. HERNON: Two. Yeah, exactly. And you wonder why some of these characters get in there. Every--of course, we have a statue of every second-rate vice president, you know, and then a lot of the her--not--there's not--I can't find a thing on Fessenden and find--I don't think there's anything on Tom Walsh either, or Vandenberg.
LAMB: `No two senators had a better understanding of political power than Henry Cabot Lodge and Strom Thurmond. Both of them thought they belonged to the elect: Lodge to the Brahmans', Thurmond to God's.'
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
PROF. HERNON: Well, Cabot Lodge felt that he had a kind of very superior attitude. He came from the Boston Brahman elite, PhD, he was a--an accomplished historian himself, but he ca--became very cynical in his later years and opposed Woodrow Wilson to some degree because of his ego. Thurmond is a kind of, you know--it's prune juice, teetotalism. There's a fundamentalist element. And he felt that he was kind of God's muscle man, as he--you know, in--in the Senate. And it's been amazing, his adaptability to change--a man who said the Dred Scott decision was right in 1964, then hired, I believe, the first black on his staff in '71 and gets about a third of the black vote in South Carolina. So he's adapted very well.
LAMB: You--you also focus on a book. You say, `No wonder a book characterized our nation as the "cynical society."' When was that written?
PROF. HERNON: That was back in '91 by the University of Chicago Press, and it--talking about the way, you know, we're manipulated, we're brainwashed, you know, by commercials, etc. And it's--there's no--I mean, I feel strongly about this. I don't see us as a country with any sense of history. It's all--everything is at the moment, you know, ad hoc. And if--if we're ignorant of history, we're doomed in many ways. The--the inscription on the National Archives sums it up very well, `What is past is prologue.' It's prologue to the future. To be prepared for the pu--future, you have to understand the past.
LAMB: Wh--why, in your opinion--and I'm assuming this would be the case--would this be a good book for people to use to teach history with?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah, because it raises the question of moral issues--the big moral issues, the great issues of race and equal rights and foreign policy shaping our history. And I hope it's not dry. I tried to write each section as though scholars in that period would appreciate it. They may not agree with my interpretation. Undoubtedly, I've made some mistakes. I--when you cover 200 years, you know, I'm--I'm--I confess I'm fallible. But I hope that it's the kind of thing that will make people think about the big issues in American history. That was my purpose, to get people to think about the issues.
LAMB: What's next?
PROF. HERNON: Well, you know, I would love to do something of--a--a kind of documentary, you know, perhaps on The History Channel with--I--I thought, you know, pairing two senators debating the issues of the time would be a very interesting series on American history, but I haven't really explored that yet. And I'm sitting here on a book of poetry and there're--there're a couple of things I'd like to, you know, develop out of that book. And then there's a book in British history that I've been thinking about. So I'm dabbling in a lot of things.
LAMB: Which one of these men that you--or Margaret Chase Smith, if you wanna add her--that you've got--you talk about here would you wanna really know?
PROF. HERNON: Yeah. I--I would really like to get to know William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, who's so mysterious, who's h--had a very acerbic tongue, whom--whom Stephen Douglas called the greatest debater in the Senate, whom Lincoln's friend, Benjamin French--Benjamin Brown French, called the greatest man in the country. When Lincoln was desperate for re-election, he plucked Fessenden out of the Senate and made him secretary of the treasury, as a kind of prime minister for eight months to--to--in 1864. And Fessenden was born illegitimate. He--an incredible life. He was engaged to Longfellow's sister for six months and she died. He had three sons--unlike most of the politicians, three sons who fought in the Civil War. His youngest son, Sam, was killed in the Second Battle of Manassas. T--other--two other sons were wounded. And one of them, Captain James Fessenden, trained the first black soldiers, but it was disbanded by Lincoln as too controversial. This was down in South Carolina and everyone knows some of these volunteers joined the famous one on which the movie "Glory" is based.
LAMB: Who wouldn't you wanna know?
LAMB: Who do you think would be the most disagreeable?
PROF. HERNON: The most disagreeable would be Henry Cabot Lodge. But I--you know, you have to lean over backwards to be fair to the person. Lodge was brilliant, but he was incredibly cynical. And the death of his son, Bay Lodge, who died of food poisoning--and I think that was around 1912--it really made him very cyni--and then his wife's death shortly afterwards. And he knew--he was largely responsible or important in getting Warren Harding the nomination, but he just laughed at him, Harding's bloviations the country sort of deserved it, as he sneered from his balcony, looking down on the American populace. He became very bitter and cynical.
LAMB: "Hubris and Heroism in the United States Senate, 1789-1990: Profiles in Character" is this book that you see there on the screen. And you can find it in your bookstores, published by M.E. Sharpe. That's of Armonk, New York, and of London, England. And our guest has been Joseph Martin Hernon. Thank you very much for joining us.
PROF. HERNON: Thank you.
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