DATE August 20, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses her book "Team of
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
This week, in anticipation of the conventions, we're looking back in time and
featuring interviews about presidential history and politics. We expect newly
elected presidents to assemble Cabinets that reflect the president's
positions. Abraham Lincoln took a different approach. He brought into his
cabinet three powerful men who had politically opposed him. How and why he
did it is the subject of the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of
Abraham Lincoln" by the Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris
She writes, "In my own effort to illuminate the character and career of
Abraham Lincoln, I have coupled the account of his life with the stories of
the remarkable men who were his rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential
nomination: New York Senator William H. Seward, Ohio Governor Salmon P.
Chase and Missouri's distinguished elder statesman Edward Bates." Lincoln
appointed Seward secretary of state; Chase secretary of the Treasury; and
Bates attorney general.
I spoke with Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln in 2005.
Your book is called "Team of Rivals," and it focuses on Cabinet members who
were his rivals, who actually wanted the nomination for president from the
Republican Party. Why would he choose his rivals to be in his Cabinet?
Ms. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I mean, it seemed at the time an
unprecedented act because people hadn't done that in previous years. And
these men were not only his rivals, but they were so much better known than he
was. Seward had been the governor and senator from New York. We was so much
considered the possibility of being the person who would win the nomination
that 10,000 people were waiting outside his home in Auburn to celebrate. The
champagne had already been stocked in the local restaurants. And he thought
when he was made secretary of state that he would actually run the show and
Lincoln would be just simply some sort of puppet. But, in fact, Seward and he
ended up becoming great friends.
I think Lincoln had an internal confidence that even though these men thought
they should have been president, similarly Chase of Ohio thought he should
have been president; Bates of Missouri, an elder statesman; Stanton, who
eventually becomes secretary of war, had humiliated Lincoln once when they
were young lawyers together. But he was able to put those past rivalries
beside him, knowing that if these guys do a good job, then it will only be
down to the interests of the country and obviously to his own interest as
well. And it meant that he had to have, much more than they realized, a
sense, `I think I can handle these guys. I can master them.' And he did.
GROSS: What do you think Lincoln did to bring together this Cabinet of
Ms. GOODWIN: Well, what he had going for him, which I think is so unusual in
political life, is that he had a set of emotional strengths that today we
might call emotional intelligence. So when all sorts of rivalries sprung up
with these guys and when they got hurt with one another, when they would call
each other names--I mean, if we ever heard what they were calling each other
then in today's parlance--liar, traitor, thief--I mean, and these things are
being said in Cabinet meetings--but he was somehow able to be in the center of
When one of their feelings would be hurt, he'd be able to write a letter
saying, `If I hurt you in any way, I did not mean to do so. Forgive me for
things that I might do hastily.' When he was upset with somebody, he would
write what he called a hot letter, where he would write it all down and then
he would put it aside until his emotions cooled down and then write, `Never
sent, never signed.' And there was a sense about him where he was just kind
and sensitive to them. If one of them was feeling he was spending too much
time with another one, he would call that one aside and give him a special
time to walk together or to go on a carriage ride together.
So what he essentially did is what a great politician does, which is to
understand that human relationships are at the core of political success. And
he somehow managed these people, who, as I say, oftentimes hated one another,
wouldn't even go into the same room with each other after a while. Stanton
and Blair, his postmaster general and his secretary of war, said such terrible
things about each other that Blair would never even go to the War Department,
even though he wanted to find out what was going on in the battles.
It's almost unimaginable that he was able to keep this group together, but the
success in keeping it together meant they also represented very different
spectrums of political opinion, from very conservative to moderate to radical.
And as long as he could keep that coalition together by keeping these people
inside the tent, he was actually keeping those strands in the country together
GROSS: What was considered radical then?
Ms. GOODWIN: Well, what was considered radical then was the idea that, early
on, you wanted to make emancipation the central focus of the war. And then
later on, even after emancipation was made the focus, the radicals were more
desiring to make the South pay for having gotten us into this war, in their
judgment, and to wreak vengeance on them in order to be able to make sure that
the old social structure would not come back in the South, whereas the
conservatives were thinking that the union was more important than
emancipation. And also at the end of the war, they wanted to make sure that
the South came back in a more gentle way so that the union would be preserved,
even if it meant not punishing the leaders of the South, who had been part of
the Confederate cause.
GROSS: And where did Lincoln stand?
Ms. GOODWIN: Lincoln stood in the middle on all these things--I mean,
naturally in the middle, not because he was positioning himself in the middle.
At the start of the war he thought that the union was the most important thing
and that emancipation he wasn't sure was something that he as president could
do anything about, much as he might have wanted to, because it was in the
Constitution protected. So he thought the most important thing was to get a
constitutional amendment to eradicate it, which he eventually did.
But by the middle of the war, he came to understand that, as president, he
would have powers as commander in chief, when a military necessity was at
issue, to be able to do something about the slaves. And the slaves were being
used to help the South. They were digging the trenches. They were acting as
cooks. They were protecting the home front when those soldiers went off to
war. And they just unbalanced--gave so much benefit to the Confederacy as
opposed to the North that he finally was able to decide legalistically that if
he issued a cry for the emancipation as a military necessity, he would have
that power to do it. Eventually you need a constitutional amendment, so he
moved toward what might have been the radical side.
On the issue of Reconstruction, I think even by the time of his death,
however, he did not want to have vengeance against the South. But he would
have been worried about protecting the rights of blacks, which they were also
worried about, so he probably would have been in the middle on that ground as
GROSS: What did he do to hold together this group of people within the
Cabinet who had such differing views about what the fate of the South should
be and what emancipation should look like?
Ms. GOODWIN: Well, I think partly what he did was to move step by step
toward emancipation. You know, just as Franklin Roosevelt moved step by step
toward getting us more involved in World War II even before Pearl Harbor by
lend-lease, by the peacetime draft, Lincoln began to move toward certain steps
that would allow the Army, for example, if slaves came into the Army camp, to
take them into the camp and keep them protected from the Southern slave
owners. And these steps allowed him to move some of the conservative members
to see, `Well, we did that, and it didn't produce some sort of race war,'
because the conservatives were always afraid if you emancipated, there'd be
this incredible servile war in the South, so that it got them accustomed to
And finally, however--the interesting thing is, when he finally made the
decision to emancipate the slaves, he called his Cabinet together, and he told
them, `I want to tell you what I've decided, and I will listen to your
comments, but I want you to know I've made this decision.' I think he finally
knew that if he put it up to a vote or a discussion, then it might make it
harder for these people to understand that this was his decision. And the
only thing he did was he accepted their thoughts on the style of it. He
accepted Seward's advice that he not issue it--he was going to issue it in the
summer of 1862, and the war was going very badly for the North. And Seward
said he thought it would look like he was just desperate and that it wasn't an
act of considered opinion. `Why not wait for a victory to issue it?' And
Lincoln took that into consideration, agreed with Seward and waited until the
Battle of Antietam was fought and successfully resolved before he finally said
he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
So I guess in some ways what it meant was he listened to them as he was going
along, but he finally had to decide for himself what he was going to do and
then just tell the Cabinet in a very forceful way, `This is what I'm going to
do. I'd like you to think about it, but it's my decision.'
GROSS: What happened to these Cabinet members that you write about, the team
of rivals, after Lincoln was assassinated?
Ms. GOODWIN: Oh, it's so interesting what happens to them. I mean, first of
all, Chase is one of the more interesting pieces of this story. He was one of
the few Cabinet members who never did accept Lincoln's primacy. So even in
1863, in 1864, he was plotting to run against Lincoln for that second
nomination so that he could beat Lincoln and become the president. Lincoln
knew everything he was doing, he was aware. Lincoln had incredible tentacles,
so he knew what was going on, but he somehow kept it inside the tent rather
than letting them go inside. And then finally, Chase did resign from the
office of secretary of Treasury. He had embarrassed himself in many ways so
much because it became known what he was doing against Lincoln.
But then in the fall of 1864, after Lincoln had won the election, he appointed
Chase to the vacancy that arose in the Supreme Court when the chief justice
died, giving him the highest position on the Supreme Court even though he
said, `I'd rather swallow a chair than do this to Chase,' who he didn't like,
but he knew that Chase, who was an abolitionist, would be the best protector
for the rights of the newly freed slaves.
GROSS: Well, William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of State, wasn't he shot
during the assassination?
Ms. GOODWIN: You know, I hadn't fully realized what happened to William
Seward. During the assassination attempt, John Wilkes Booth really had a
triple assassination in mind. He wanted to get Seward, the secretary of
state, he wanted to get Andrew Johnson, the vice president, and, of course,
Lincoln. So he took Lincoln on for himself. The person who was supposed to
kill Andrew Johnson chickened out and didn't go to Johnson's hotel.
But the man who was assigned to Seward went to Seward's house at Lafayette
Park. And he'd managed to get inside. Seward had had a carriage accident
about a week and a half before, and his jaw had been broken. He was up in a
bed, so he pretended he was bringing medicine up to Seward. But Seward's son
understood that something was wrong as he barrelled up the stairs and tried to
stop him. He then took the blunt end of a revolver and hit Seward's son--who
was his assistant secretary of state--on the head so badly that he was in a
coma for days. He then took out a knife and slashed two or three other
people, came into the room, slashed Seward's entire cheek off and just
happened to miss the artery that would have killed him. And he then ran out
and slashed another couple of people on the way out. So it was one of these
extraordinary moments in Seward's family life; however, he somehow managed to
pull through. And, in fact, his son also came out of the coma and pulled
And the incredibly sad thing was that his wife, Frances Seward, who was torn
apart by the thought that she was losing her son and her husband, was so tense
and she wrote an article in which she said, `I've never before believed in
vicarious suffering, but I think somehow that my son and my husband are
getting well and I've taken their suffering onto myself.' And in May, only a
month or so later, she died and no one knew quite what she had died from, and
she was not an old woman. So the Seward family was forever broken by that
But the part, I think, that got to me the most emotionally was that they
didn't want to tell Seward that Lincoln had been killed, knowing how close
friends they were. So they kept the news from them. But finally, he looked
out the window and he saw the flag at half-mast and he turned around--he said,
`I know Lincoln's dead.' They tried to say, `No, no, that's not true.' He
said, `I know he's dead. If he were alive, he would have been the first one
here to see me after my knife attack,' and then great tears coursed down his
cheeks and he knew then his chief was dead.
GROSS: My guest is presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. We'll talk
more about her book "Team of Rivals" after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. We're
talking about her book "Team of Rivals." It's about how and why Lincoln
brought three of his political opponents into his Cabinet.
A recent book about Lincoln says that he was gay or bisexual. I haven't
actually read the book, I confess, so I'm not sure which it asserts. But have
you reached any conclusions about the president's sexual orientation?
Ms. GOODWIN: Well, you know, one of the great things about the comparative
perspective is, when you see something like somebody claiming that Lincoln was
gay, you can look at what the evidence is and look at it in relationship to
all these other guys, as well. For example, it is said that because he slept
in a bed with his best friend Joshua Speed for three years that that's one
indicator of the possibility that he was gay. They also point to letters that
Lincoln wrote to Speed, which were quite affectionate and full of feeling, of
But if those are the measures, then almost all my guys--as I sometimes call
these Cabinet members--would be looked at as being gay, because it was very
common for men to sleep in beds together. In fact, when Lincoln was on the
circuit in Illinois, they would all travel around the state together--the
judge and the bailiffs and the criminals sometimes and the lawyers--and they'd
stay in the same boarding houses where there weren't enough beds. So
sometimes two or three lawyers would be in a bed together. The only one who
got his own bed was the judge because he weighed over 300 pounds, so no one
could be there with him.
And then when I looked at the affectionate letters that Lincoln wrote to
Speed, his friend, they were nowhere near the intensity of some of the other
letters that I found. For example, when two of his Cabinet members, Chase and
Stanton, were young men in their 30s, they had both lost their wives and were
very lonely and became very close friends. And I found these letters that
Stanton wrote to Chase at the time saying, `Since our pleasant intercourse
last summer, no one has been on my mind more waking and sleeping. I dream of
you at night. I can't wait to sit by the fire and hold your hand and tell you
"I love you."'
Similarly, Steward, when he was in the state senate in New York, formed a
friendship with another senator who wrote to him saying, `I have positively
womanish feelings for you. I miss you when you're not here. This is not the
right thing for a grave senator to be talking about.'
I do not think any charges were ever made or any thoughts that these other men
were gay, and I think that just means that men were more free in that age to
express their deep feelings for one another. There was very little friendship
between men and women because women were so chaperoned, so that women and
women formed very close friendships; men and men formed close friendships.
And I think it was just an age where--I wish almost we had it today--where men
could really express those feelings as openly as they could then. But I don't
think that we can imply from that that sexual contact or sexual intimacy was
the end result of those letters or the sleeping in the same bed.
GROSS: Now that we know so much more about depression than we used to,
historians are starting to examine how, you know, depression may have affected
important figures, including Lincoln. Do you have any new thoughts about what
you describe as his, you know, melancholy temperament and how that affected
him as a leader?
Ms. GOODWIN: I came away feeling that, rather than suffering from chronic
depression, that Lincoln did have a melancholy temperament from the time he
was born. There's a writer named Jerry Kagan who studied children from the
ages of zero to 20, and argues if you look at them even three months, six
months old, you can divide them into whether or not they have a melancholy or
a sanguine, kind of optimistic temperament. And clearly, I think Lincoln had
that melancholy temperament.
But he also had enormous resources all the way along to figure out how to get
himself out of his sad moods--humor being one of them, conversation. During
the Civil War, he would go to the play when he wanted to. He went to the
theater a hundred times during the Civil War, if not more. He would go to the
battlefront when he felt sad over the loss of a battle to talk to the
soldiers. He had an acute awareness, I think, of his own needs. And except
for two depressions which we know about--one when his first love, Ann
Rutledge, died--which it's natural for somebody to fall into a
depression--and, secondly, there were a series of events that took place when
he was in his 30s. His best friend, Joshua Speed, was leaving town, his
political career had suffered a blow, and he had broken his engagement to Mary
Todd Lincoln and he really did feel overwhelmed then by depression. And we
have letters that he wrote saying that he was the most miserable man on earth,
that if everybody felt like he did, there would not be one cheerful face on
And he actually was so frightening to his friends that they removed all razors
and scissors from his room, fearing that he might take his life. But his best
friend Joshua Speed came to his side and said, `Lincoln, if you do not rally,
you will die.' And he said, `I would just as soon die now, but I haven't done
anything yet to be remembered by.' He had this dream from the time he was
young that he was so fearful of just dying and turning to dust that somehow if
he could accomplish something great--this is the way the Greeks used to
think--your name would be remembered after you die. And that powered him
through the early losses of his childhood, it powered him through his early
days in the state legislature, and it helped get him out of this depression.
And the great thing is that many years later, when he finally signed the
Emancipation Proclamation, Joshua Speed came to see him and he said, `Well,
Speed, remember that conversation we had when I was in my depths? Well, maybe
at last my fondest wish has been realized. I will be remembered after I die.'
GROSS: Well, Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. GOODWIN: You are so welcome. It's a great pleasure to talk to you
GROSS: Doris Kearns Goodwin recorded in 2005, after the publication of her of
book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."
By the way, on tomorrow's show when we continue our series of interviews about
presidential history and politics, we'll hear from former press secretaries
representing each president from Reagan through George W. Bush, and we'll
talk about some of the tough spots they were in like this confrontation
between Helen Thomas and Scott McClellan in an October 2005 White House
(Soundbite of October 2005 White House briefing)
Ms. HELEN THOMAS: What do you mean by total victory, that we'll never leave
Iraq until we have total victory, what does that mean?
Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN: Free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle
East, because a free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will
be a major blow to the ambitions.
Ms. THOMAS: If they ask us to leave, then we'll leave?
Mr. McCLELLAN: OK. I'm trying to respond. A free and democratic Iraq in
the heart of the broader Middle East will be a major blow to the ambitions of
al-Qaeda and their terrorist associates. They want to establish or impose
their rule over the broader Middle East. We saw that in the Zawahiri letter
that was released earlier this week by the intelligence community.
Ms. THOMAS: They also know we invaded Iraq.
Mr. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, the president recognizes that we are engaged in
a global war on terrorism, and when you're engaged in a war it's not always
pleasant, and it's certainly a last resort. But when you engage in a war, you
take the fight to the enemy. You go on the offense. And that's exactly what
we're doing. We are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them
here. September 11th taught us...
Ms. THOMAS: It had nothing to do with--Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Mr. McCLELLAN: Yeah, well, you have a very different view of the war on
terrorism, and I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism. The
president recognizes this is--requires a comprehensive strategy, and that this
is a broad war, that it is not a law enforcement matter.
Mr. TERRY MORAN: I'm sorry, on what basis do you say Helen is opposed to the
broader war on terrorism?
Mr. McCLELLAN: Well, when she certainly expressed her concerns about
Afghanistan and Iraq and going into those two countries. I think I can go
back and pull up her comments over the course of the past couple of years.
Mr. MORAN: And speak for her, which is odd.
Mr. McCLELLAN: I said--no, I said she may be, because certainly if you look
at her comments over the course of the past couple of years, she's expressed
Ms. THOMAS: I'm opposed to preemptive war, unprovoked preemptive war.
Mr. McCLELLAN: She's expressed her concerns.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Scott McClellan, and he's one of the presidential press secretaries
we'll hear from tomorrow. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Author Randall Balmer discusses his book "God in the
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Presidential candidates and presidents weren't always expected to talk about
their faith in public. In the book "God in the White House," Randall Balmer
traces what he describes as the politicization of religion and the
religionization of politics. He examines how faith shaped the presidency from
John F. Kennedy, who argued that being Catholic was irrelevant to his
qualifications as president, to George W. Bush, who described Jesus as his
favorite philosopher. Balmer considers himself an evangelical Christian whose
understanding of the teachings of Jesus points him toward the left of the
political spectrum. Balmer is a professor of religious history at Barnard
College and Columbia University. He's editor at large for Christianity Today.
His book "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical
Subculture" was adapted into a PBS documentary series.
I spoke with Balmer earlier this year when "God in the White House" was
Now, your book starts with J.F.K., the first Catholic president. During his
campaign, he argued that religion wasn't a legitimate criterion for choosing a
president. Was faith typically discussed by presidential candidates then?
Mr. RANDALL BALMER: It wasn't all that common for presidential candidates to
really talk about their faith in kind of personal, confessional terms, and I
think the reason for that is simply that most Americans assumed that a
candidate would have some sort of faith, and most Americans assumed that it
would be a kind of generic Protestant faith. When Eisenhower ran in 1952, for
example, it came out in the course of the campaign that he had never been
baptized as a Christian, and his response was, `Well, as soon as the campaign
is over, I'll get around to it.' Can you imagine a candidate today saying
something like that?
GROSS: So how did Kennedy try to neutralize the religion issue during his
Mr. BALMER: Kennedy, as he was gearing up for the 1960 campaign, recognized
that the religious issue--as it was known then--would be an issue in the
campaign, and there were several reasons for that. Of course, you have the
historical precedent of the 1928 presidential campaign when Alfred E. Smith,
the Democratic governor of New York and a Roman Catholic was the Democratic
nominee, and he lost to Herbert Hoover, largely because of religious issues in
And the other precedent that Kennedy had to deal with was the publication and
the popularity of a book by Paul Blanshard called "American Freedom and
Catholic Power," published in 1949 by Beacon Press in Boston, which was quite
popular. It went through several editions, 11 printings in as many months;
and what was remarkable about that book was not that this was an anti-Catholic
screed--which in many ways it was, arguing that the Roman Catholic Church and
Roman Catholicism generally, was antithetical to American democratic
institutions--but the fact that it had been written by someone who was not
some wacko from somewhere but someone who had advanced degrees from places
like the University of Michigan and Columbia University. So it was a
respectable--or at least seen as a respectable--issue to bring up in 1949, and
this book was enormously popular.
GROSS: What were some of the other things that were said against him because
he was Catholic? What were some of the arguments being made then about the
dangers of having a Catholic president?
Mr. BALMER: The principal argument was simply that a Roman Catholic, because
he owes his obedience finally to the pope, to the Vatican, would be
influenced, or might be influenced in his policies by the Vatican. And so
Kennedy had to lay that to rest. And he did so finally with this remarkable
speech he gave at the Rice Hotel in Houston on September 12th, 1960, in which
he argued, in effect, that voters should bracket out a candidate's faith when
they went into the voting booth.
GROSS: You reprint some of the anti-Catholic tracts that were published
during Kennedy's campaign. Let me read a couple of excerpts of things that
were published. That "a Roman Catholic president in the White House is the
next step planned by the hierarchy of enthroned cardinals, bishops and
priests. Help us defeat the Roman political machine from making America
Catholic. Don't let any Catholic convince you that his oath to his state or
government comes first. A Catholic is bound to his church from infancy." How
much traction did these things have?
Mr. BALMER: I think it had quite a bit. The anecdotal evidence that I
uncovered at the JFK Library and other places indicated that these tracts,
these broadsides, were circulating fairly widely within the countryside. And
just before the voting in many Protestant churches is so-called Reformation
Sunday, which of course commemorates Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 theses
to the cathedral door at Wittenburg on October 31st, 1517, and this was the
occasion for a kind of last-minute, last-gasp appeal by many Protestant
ministers arguing that their people should not vote for a Roman Catholic for
GROSS: On the other side, there were religious groups that said religion
shouldn't be an issue when it comes to electoral politics. There was a group
called the Fair Campaign Practices Committee, which included rabbis,
Catholics, Protestant leaders. George Romney was one of the members, the
father of Mitt Romney, who went on himself to become governor of Michigan in
'62. They prepared a special statement on religion in the 1960 campaign. Can
you give us a sense of what it said?
Mr. BALMER: It said, in effect, that we should disregard, or at least
discount, a candidate's religious preferences or his religious affiliations as
we consider who we're going to vote for for president. And they were trying
to, in effect, guarantee the rights of minority religious groups that they
would have equal access to elective office, including the presidency.
GROSS: And how effective was their statement?
Mr. BALMER: I think that was part of a growing reaction in the 1960 campaign
to all of this anti-Catholic rhetoric and all of this anti-Kennedy rhetoric.
So I think it was part of a reaction. And, in fact, when the Protestant
ministers gather at the Mayflower Hotel just after Labor Day in the 1960
campaign and issue a press conference or conduct a press conference afterwards
trying to call attention to the Catholic issue, I think that the reaction was
fairly significant on the part of the public, saying, `How dare you raise
these issues?' And, in fact, one of the reporters asked Norman Vincent Peale,
`Well, did you guys discuss Nixon's Quakerism and how that might affect his
conduct as president?' And Peale responded with an utterly unintentionally
funny remark that turned out, in fact, to be quite prophetic. He said, in
effect, that Nixon never let his faith bother him in any way.
GROSS: Well, tell us more about this group that became known as the Peale
group that gathered at the Mayflower Hotel.
Mr. BALMER: The Peale group really has its origins in the previous month in
August of 1960, and even before that. Billy Graham, who of course was Nixon's
friend and longtime confidante, had sent a letter to John F. Kennedy--which I
came across in the JFK Library early in August of that year--in which he--it
was a very friendly letter. He said that there had been rumors that he, Billy
Graham, had intended to introduce the so-called religious issue in the fall
campaign, and Graham assured Senator Kennedy that he had no intention of doing
so. He allowed that he would probably vote for Richard Nixon, his friend,
during that fall election; but he was not going to raise the religious issue.
About 10 days later, however, Graham convenes a meeting of Protestant
ministers in Montreux, Switzerland, including Norman Vincent Peale, who at
that time was pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, for the
purpose of finding ways to deny Kennedy election to the presidency in
November. Coming out of that meeting in Switzerland, then, there's a group of
Protestant ministers--and Graham was not at that meeting--but a group of
Protestant ministers who meet at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, trying to
call attention to Kennedy's faith and how that might affect his conduct as
GROSS: It sounds like Billy Graham was being a little disingenuous. On the
one hand, he's saying to Kennedy, `Well, you know, I have to vote for Nixon
because he's my old friend, but if you get elected I'll help rally everybody
to supporting you.' But at the same time he's helping to organize this like
anti-Kennedy, anti-Catholic group.
Mr. BALMER: I think it's probably fair to say that Billy Graham was being
disingenuous with Kennedy, and I don't want to be too hard on him because he's
an honorable man; and I think in this case, however, there's clear evidence
that Graham--if not reneged, he at least waffled on his pledge to John
GROSS: And so what did this group do, like what action did they actually
Mr. BALMER: They didn't take much concrete action as nearly as I can tell,
but the press conference that came out of this meeting--and it was 150
ministers gathered at the Mayflower Hotel, so it was a fairly large group--and
the press conference sought to call attention to that. And there was such a
reaction on the part of, first of all, the reporters, but I think Americans
generally to the kind of brazen politicization that this group was engaged in
that I think ultimately it worked to their disadvantage; and Kennedy probably,
in the end, benefited from it. And in fact, the meeting at the Mayflower
Hotel was, as nearly as I can tell, the immediate catalyst for Kennedy
deciding to go before the Houston Ministerial Association and give his famous
address on why a Catholic can be president of the United States.
GROSS: Do you think that being Catholic actually affected any of his
decisions in the White House?
Mr. BALMER: I don't think it did. I think there's fairly clear evidence
that Kennedy made good on his promise, to govern as president without trying
in any way to inflect his religious views into his policies as president. So
I think he was very effective and faithful to his pledge.
GROSS: My guest is Randall Balmer, author of "God in the White House." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Randall Balmer. We're talking about his book "God in the
White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George
Now, you write that after Kennedy tried to remove religion as an issue in the
campaign, Nixon kind of brought religion back into the White House. In what
way did he bring faith into presidential politics?
Mr. BALMER: I think that Kennedy's speech was so effective in 1960 that what
I call the Kennedy paradigm of voter indifference toward a candidate's faith
really prevailed--not only in 1960--at least sufficiently so that Kennedy
could be elected in 1960--in '64, '68, again in 1972. And one index I would
cite for that is that when Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, then the
governor of Michigan, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968,
no one mentioned his faith; his Mormon faith was not an issue. I think that,
ironically, Richard Nixon reintroduces faith to presidential politics in
obviously a negative and kind of a backhanded way. I think it's impossible to
imagine the presidency, or even the candidacy of Jimmy Carter, a one-term
governor of Georgia, had it not been for Richard Nixon. Americans were tired
of the culture of corruption that had surrounded the Nixon administration.
They were tired of Nixon's endless prevarications, and here you have an
outsider to Washington, a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher coming out of
nowhere, not a Washington insider, promising never knowingly to lie to the
American people, wanting a government as good and decent as the American
people, and the voters ate it up.
GROSS: So you're saying Nixon brought faith back into presidential politics
by being so morally corrupt that people wanted to vote for just somebody who
they felt had a moral sense from their religion. But on the other hand, you
say Nixon instituted worship services in the White House. He brought Billy
Graham to the White House to conduct services. Billy Graham offered a prayer
at Nixon's inauguration in which he thanked God that `thou has permitted
Richard Nixon to lead us at this momentous hour of history.' And he instituted
worship services in the White House. Can you talk about the impact of that?
Mr. BALMER: I think it's hard to escape the impression that those measures
that Nixon took, with the White House worship services in particular, were
anything but political theater. And, in fact, Chuck Colson has a memorandum
that I quote in the book where he says that he had been instructed by either
Nixon himself or Haldeman, I forget now who had done this, to invite, in
effect, wealthier Republican donors as a kind of inducement for them to
provide further support, financial and otherwise, to Nixon, especially as he
approached re-election in 1972. I think it would be very hard, and I
certainly haven't run across any historian prepared to argue that Nixon was a
deeply pious and devout man whose piety, whose understanding of the faith
really was reflected in his policies as president.
GROSS: Jimmy Carter was the first self-identified evangelical president.
When you re-read or listen back to things that he said when he was campaigning
for the White House, what do you hear that you think you wouldn't have quite
got then? Things that may sound different to us now, now that religion has so
permeated presidential politics?
Mr. BALMER: I like to joke at times that when Jimmy Carter declared on the
eve of the South Carolina primary in 1976 that he was a born-again Christian,
he sent every journalist in New York scurrying to his Rolodex trying to figure
out what in the world he meant by that; and in fact, the national press, the
media, were utterly unprepared for a comment like that and didn't know what to
make of it. Now that sort of language, of course, has become commonplace in
American presidential politics. People talk about conversion experiences.
People talk about being born again. But at the time, at least for the
national media, that was something novel.
I think the important dimension of the Carter campaign in 1976 was that he was
able to lure many evangelicals out of their apolitical torpor. Ever since the
Scopes trial of 1925, evangelicals had been politically quiescent, for a
number of reasons. One of them was simply that they felt that the larger
culture was corrupt and not worth paying attention to, and certainly politics
was corrupt. Jimmy Carter, using this language of being a born-again
Christian--and I remember this very clearly myself, having grown up as an
evangelical--we paid attention. This was new. This was exciting that one of
our own was actually mounting a credible campaign for the presidency And
Carter is able to lure enough evangelical voters back into the political
arena--Southerns especially, but others as well--that it really made a
difference I think in the 1976 presidential campaign.
GROSS: But then many of those evangelical voters became disillusioned with
Mr. BALMER: I think that is the great irony of presidential politics over
the last century, is what happened then. Very quickly, prodded by politically
conservative activists, evangelicals turn against Jimmy Carter. And what I
try to expose in the book, and I think I document copiously, is that the
religious right did not--did not--coalesce as a political movement in direct
response to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Catholics were already on
board on the anti-abortion movement well before Roe v. Wade, but it was not
an issue for evangelicals. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is
hardly a bastion of liberalism, had passed a resolution calling for the
legalization of abortion. This was a resolution that was reaffirmed in 1974,
again in 1976. It was not the abortion issue.
What galvanized evangelicals as a political block, as a political movement,
was instead the actions of the Internal Revenue Service to go after the
tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina,
because of its racially discriminatory policies, and that Carter was unfairly
blamed for this by the architects of the religious right, and they used that
against him and mobilized to defeat him four years later in 1980.
GROSS: And you're referring to a court decision that said that charitable
organizations couldn't qualify for tax-exempt status if they demonstrated
Mr. BALMER: That's right.
GROSS: And Bob Jones University wanted to retain its tax-exempt status, but
at the same time, I guess it didn't allow African-Americans to become students
there or to teach there.
Mr. BALMER: Bob Jones University did not allow African-Americans to be
enrolled at the school until 1991 and did not allow unmarried
African-Americans as students until 1995. The lower court ruling that really
became the catalyst for the rise of the religious right was a ruling called
Green v. Connelly, issued 1971, by the district court of the District of
Columbia; and it upheld the Internal Revenue Service in its ruling that any
organization that engages in racial segregation or discrimination is not, by
definition, a charitable organization, and as such has no claim to tax-exempt
status. And as the IRS began applying that ruling and enforcing it various
places, including Bob Jones University, that is what galvanized evangelical
leaders into a political movement that we know today as the religious right.
GROSS: Randall Balmer recorded earlier this year after the publication of his
book "God in the White House."
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the debut novel of an English teacher
turned novelist. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Little Book"
by Selden Edwards
TERRY GROSS, host:
If you could travel back in time, where would you go? That's a question most
people have asked themselves at one time or another. Selden Edwards has spent
30 years working out his answer in his debut novel called "The Little Book."
Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Selden Edwards' debut novel "The Little Book" has what
they call in the publishing biz a great back story. Edwards began writing the
novel in 1974 when he was a newly minted English teacher. During summer
vacations--and I would guess tedious faculty meetings--over the next 30 years,
Edwards kept plugging away at his novel. Now, at long last, the magnus opus
has been published.
Given that Edwards' tome was some three decades in the making and that it
amounts to roughly 400 pages of text, a reader would be justified in being a
wee bit leery of it. After all, "The Little Book" exhibits all the outward
signs of being the fiction equivalent of those eight-hour, suck it up for art,
marathon theater productions of "Mother Courage." But here's the surprise
ending to this back story: it turns out Edwards was working for a third of a
century on something that's fun, a narrative bauble, a veritable meringue of a
tale. Not once throughout "The Little Book" does Edwards, as one might dread,
wedge in a homily on the meaning of life. Instead, he's labored long and hard
on a historical time travel fantasy that's an ideal late summer reading
getaway, complete with screwball hidden identity plots and even lively
background music. Forget "Mother Courage," think "Mamma Mia!"
"The Little Book" is all about plot. That's what makes it both an
entertaining mental escape and a tough book to do justice to in a review. The
minute I begin telling the story, I inevitably spoil some surprises.
Therefore, I'll strip the rococo plot to its bare foundations. On the first
page of chapter one, we readers meet our hero, middle-aged Wheeler Burden, who
has just found himself transported from San Francisco in the year 1988 back to
Vienna in 1897. A few pages away from the end of this novel, we find out how
and why. In between, we learn, among other things, that in his 20th century
life, Wheeler has been a baseball phenom, a rock star who shared the stage
with the Stones at Altamont, and a reclusive writer.
Life is even more riotous in turn-of-the-century Vienna, where, in coffee
houses and concert halls, Wheeler, bemused but intrigued, meets youthful
versions of his grandparents, listens to Mahler live, and goes into analysis
with Sigmund Freud. Wheeler meets other famous--or infamous--folks, too, but
you'll have to grab a copy of Carl Schorske's classic 1982 study
"Fin-De-Siecle Vienna" to puzzle out for yourself whom they might be. I've
already said much too much.
Edwards handles the hectic demands of a multistranded plot with deftness and
humor. One of the most amusing subplots involves Wheeler's efforts to support
himself while stranded in Vienna. He comes up with the brainstorm of
fashioning a wooden prototype for, of all things, the Frisbee. Especially
delicious are the scenes in which Edwards imagines Wheeler's sessions with
Freud. Of course, "the sage of Vienna" regards Wheeler's time travel story as
a sign of delusion. Undeterred, Wheeler, with the benefit of hindsight, tries
to give Freud a sense of the revolution in consciousness that his work will
"You have been operating in a pristine world," says Wheeler. "Your patients
are completely untouched and uncontaminated by psychology. They have never
been asked about deep emotions. In school they were not asked to write about
feelings. No one has suggested to women that their ailments might be
psychosomatic." In fact, no one in Vienna in 1897 even knows what that word
A large part of the pleasure in reading time travel tales lies in the jolt a
reader experiences when reading a passage like that one. A world without
Freud; imagine. Edwards doffs his hat to Twain's classic time travel tale "A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," but in its suspense plot and
thickness of detail, "The Little Book" is most reminiscent of Jack Finney's
magnificent "Time and Again," although Edwards' tale lacks the melancholy that
graces Finney's book. Instead, "The Little Book" is a lot like that Frisbee
Wheeler tries to bestow upon the world before its time, a soaring thing of joy
whose only purpose--and I mean this as a compliment--is to delight and
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Little Book" by Selden Edwards.
You can read an excerpt of the book and download podcasts of our show on our
Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.