A fascinating two hour conversation Monday with former Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney, mostly about her wonderful new book, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, a conversation which also covered many other subjects. For your listening pleasure:
HH: Special show today. In studio with me, Lynne Cheney, the author of James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, and her husband, the former vice president of the United States, the Honorable Dick Cheney. Welcome to the Cheneys, it’s great to have you both here. And congratulations, Mrs. Cheney, this is a remarkable book.
LC: Well, I appreciate that, Hugh.
HH: I don’t have to say that, even though I worked for you long ago and far away. And Mr. Vice President, you’ll forgive me if I begin with a couple of questions for Mrs. Cheney about the book.
DC: I wouldn’t have it any other way.
HH: All right, you began as a member of the Bicentennial Commission, which served, I think, from 1983-1991. And I think this may be the most lasting legacy of that commission, because not a lot came out of it, right? Not a lot is remembered, but here in one volume is this remarkable man. And so I gather you fell in love with him during that time?
LC: Well, I began to understand how significant his achievements were, how magnificent they were, really, and to juxtapose that with how seldom or how often, rather, he was left off the list of the founders. Maybe he’d get added on at the end, but he was under-appreciated for the many things that he accomplished, shaped the country we know.
HH: And Mr. Vice President, during these many years she’s been writing James Madison, did you grow to love him more or hate him after listening to this all the time?
DC: The truth is, Hugh, she never let me look at it until it was finished.
HH: Oh, she didn’t talk about Madison the whole time?
DC: Well, she did, but in terms of my being able to review anything, that was verboten. I got to read it when it was done.
HH: Could you tell when she was thinking about the book by asking you a question, perhaps, about how a member of the House might become a member of the Executive?
DC: Well, interesting story. Here’s a good…we wrote a book together called Kings Of The Hill, and I was a junior member of the House, and Lynne was the accomplished author, and she did the research on the book at the Library of Congress. And we’d come home at night, and she’d show me what she’d written. And I would say but I was there, and that’s not how they do it. It didn’t work out all that well. Eventually, we got the book done, but we agreed we’d never do one together again.
HH: Oh, and so as you were going through the writing, when you a question that had to do with the particular expertise of Madison, either as a cabinet member or member of the House, or in the Executive, would you just bring it up with him on the sly?
LC: No, I tended to ask Dick questions more about either the history of the Congress, for example, how many speakers have become president, or I would amuse him with the stories of how we got a vice president, which was not ever a thought to be a very necessary office.
HH: Right, the Page 188, this really brings home Madison’s role. He ghosted President Washington’s inaugural address. He ghosted the House’s reply to it. He wrote Washington’s reply to the House’s reply, and then he wrote Washington’s reply to the Senate’s reply. So four out of five, that is kind of remarkable.
LC: Well, it really is. I think it’s symbolic of how his voice echoed throughout those early days when the new government under the Constitution was getting underway. You know, it was bouncing, his voice was there bouncing off every wall.
HH: Mr. Vice President, you’ve had some fine writers. Did you ever ghost write like Madison
DC: No. If I had, we wouldn’t have gotten in as much trouble as we did. No, he was a remarkable man, and I am tremendously impressed with what Lynne’s done, and I love the book.
HH: I want to start a little bit at the beginning of his life, Mrs. Cheney. On very…Page 5, you write, “Madison’s time of extraordinary accomplishment came after years of intense focus, deep concentration, and nearly obsessive effort, behaviors that describe most lives of genius from Sir Isaac Newton’s to Mozart’s to Einstein. I mean, he worked and worked and worked. It’s not a very encouraging thing for a biographer to begin with, because you have such a pile of work to go through.
LC: Well, that’s interesting. He does have thousands of pages of paper. 30 volumes of his papers are published and online, which makes research much easier than it would be otherwise, but there is a ton of it. That’s for sure. Some people have questioned whether Madison qualifies as a genius, you know, and I think it’s because we don’t understand, we haven’t got a clear definition of what a genius is. The one I accepted is that a genius is someone who changes the domain in which he works. You know, that’s what Mozart did. He changed music forever. That’s what Einstein did. He changed physics forever. And Madison changed government forever. So that’s why I call him a genius. And he also exhibits that trait of genius that I think we don’t often recognize, which is, as you mentioned, really hard work. We tend to think of genius as kind of a spark from Heaven or something that is innate and that you’re born with. And sure, you have to be smart. But genius comes after decades of hard work in almost every care.
HH: Now tonight, you’re going to be at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, tomorrow night at the Reagan Library, and on Wednesday at the Hoover Institute up north. Tonight’s program is at 7pm, tomorrow’s program is at 6pm at the Reagan Library. And I’m going to replay this broadcast, I’m pretty sure, on August 24th, which will be the bicentennial of the burning of Washington.
LC: Very good.
HH: And I, I think probably, I want to put this as the start, I could easily talk to you for three hours. You spent a very moving chapter on that, and there are some parallels in this book which are eerie, because you’re writing about the destruction of Washington, and of course, you were both in Washington when Washington was attacked. And there is this subtext here. There are some remarkable parallels in this book.
LC: No, both Dick and I thought about the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington in the summer of 1814 as we took off from the South Lawn of the White House on the night of September 11th by helicopter, because you could see the smoke from the Pentagon. How do you remember it?
DC: Oh, I do. We hadn’t even commented on the fact that the last time Washington had burned, in effect, was in the War of 1812. And you couldn’t help but be impressed as obviously that night of 9/11 as we lifted off, we’d lost 3,000 people that day and all of the trauma and turmoil of 9/11, to be able to fly over the Pentagon and see where it had been hit. And they were moving us to a remote location for safety so the President and I wouldn’t be in the same location.
HH: One of the things that came through, Madison wanted to return to Washington as soon as possible. You detail this, and I’ll come back to this a little bit later. You counseled President Bush against doing that, did you not?
DC: I did, and he wanted to come back in the worst way, but I wasn’t the only one. The Secret Service also felt that. We, at the moment that it came up the New York Trade Center had been hit, and then I was evacuated from my office because there was a plane headed for the White House. It turned out to be the flight that hit the Pentagon. But all of a sudden, we knew Washington was under attack as well as New York. The President wanted to come back to Washington, and I strongly recommended that until we found out how big the attack was, how long it was going to last, what else was out there, I thought it was important for the two of us not to be in the same location. He was on Air Force One, he was safe, he could relocate anyplace in the country, and eventually went to Offutt Air Force base out in Omaha, but it was very important for the two of us to stay separated, so that one strike wouldn’t take out the both of us.
HH: Lynne Cheney, as a historian, you’ve got a unique perspective on that period of time in 1814 when the White House is burned and Washington is under attack, because he rides to the front lines. And of course, they would never let a president or a vice president, or any member of the cabinet get near that, although both of you went to war zones, and President Bush and Mrs. Bush went to the war zones, and Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Gates, obviously, but they just ride their horses. And he almost rides right into the British, something of which I was wholly unaware until I read James Madison: A Life Reconsidered.
LC: You know, Jefferson had his reputation somewhat besmirched by having ridden out of Monticello as the British were coming up from Charlottesville, and people, you know, assumed, or how shall I say, cast aspersions on his character because he hadn’t somehow stayed all by himself and fought the British. It was a ridiculous charge, but I’ve wondered if Madison might not have had it in mind when he rode out to Bladensburg where the battle was. In some ways, it was foolhardy. You know, Lincoln did the same thing. I was reading a Lincoln biography the other day, and it said that Lincoln was the first president to expose himself to enemy fire. It’s not the case. Madison certainly did. It was a brave thing to do, though, you know, considering how important the president is, maybe foolhardy.
HH: Is there anything underway that is planned to commemorate the 200th anniversary, do you know?
LC: Well, you know, in McLean, where we sometimes are in Virginia, they’re having community celebrations. I don’t think there’s a big national effort underway, but it’s odd. And you know, my interest in Madison has gone back a long way, but Dick and I now live, well, within a stone’s throw of Dolly Madison Blvd., And right across the street, right across Dolly Madison Blvd. is a house, an old house that’s been very well preserved and taken care of called Salona, where Madison is supposed to have spent the first night after the British burned Washington. Down the road a little way is a farm called Rokeby, where we know Dolly Madison spent the first night.
HH: But I’m getting ahead of my story a little bit, your story, but I spent last Labor Day Weekend in Ohio at the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie at the request of Governor Kasich.
HH: And one man put together that, a guy named Dave Zavagno of Universal Medical System, just willed it into being. And they had 11 tall ships. But it really wasn’t, and four thousand boats came out. They intended to recreate the Battle of Lake Erie, and they threw Dunkirk in. But it was an amazing thing. But no one’s paying much attention to the bicentennial. And when we come back from break, we’ll talk a little bit about maybe that’s because Madison hasn’t had his due paid to him, that so much is paid to him in James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. It is posted at Hughhewitt.com.
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HH: I’m going to be in trouble. I’m going to tell that story, actually. During the break, Mrs. Cheney turned to Vice President Cheney, who is in my studio, and said I knew Hugh Hewitt when he was totally blonde. And the Vice President I knew you when you were totally blonde. And so that was really, that was pretty good. I actually must, full disclosure, I worked for Mrs. Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1985 and ’86 when she began her tenure there, and never met the then-Congressman, now Vice President Cheney. He was around a lot, but you were working on the Hill on something called Iran-Contra.
DC: Among other things.
HH: Among other things at the time.
DC: And that was a big one.
HH: It was a busy time. Back to this new book, James Madison, A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney, is in bookstores everywhere, a bestseller. Both of the Cheneys will be at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda tonight at 7pm, at the Reagan Library tomorrow night, Tuesday night at 6pm, and at the Hoover Institute up north if you’re anywhere in the Bay Area on Wednesday night. And it’s an extraordinary book, and I have spent the last five days with it and couldn’t put it down. Let’s go back to a couple of things. We were talking about his capacity for work. And he did so much study, Lynne Cheney, and you chart that even before he went to Princeton, he was steeped in the classics, and he had this amazing Scots tutor. And then Princeton was from 5 in the morning until 9 at night. And we don’t get many public servants anymore who are that prepared for office based upon their classical education, do we?
LC: You know, I think he was inspired by the times in which he lives, partly. I mean, you’re right. We don’t. Education has not yet recovered from the 60s, I think.
HH: Well put.
LC: And I worry that it may never. But I also think that the enormous effort that men like James Madison put into the founding was partly inspired by the fact that they knew they were about to be involved in a world-altering event. You know, you just would be inspired to read and study as much as you possibly could.
HH: I’ll quote your book. “It’s hard to imagine a more thrilling time to come of age than in the years leading up to the American Revolution.”
HH: It would call for this great genius. But these deep habits of study are still, I just keep coming back to that. Mr. Vice President, you spent 35 years beginning in the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1970 through the vice presidency and still active in public life after the vice presidency. How many men have you met that have this kind of, and women, this kind of attention to the work and fun of them, or work ethic when it comes to public work?
DC: Well, I’d like to say a lot, Hugh. I’m reluctant to compare anybody in effect. Madison was such a singular figure. It’s like how do you compare somebody to Abraham Lincoln. And it’s almost, if you see a portrayal of Lincoln, you know, when they did their recent movie on Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis, great actor, but still, it’s such a, we all have such a well-developed sense of Abraham Lincoln because we’ve heard so much about him, it’s difficult to portray him in any sense. And I look at Madison, and the wide variety of things he was involved in as the first president to fight a war under the Constitution, the author of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, secretary of state, there is no end to what he did. And it’s hard to come up with anybody else who could match that.
HH: Eight years as secretary of state before he became president, is that good preparation to be president, being secretary of state?
DC: It might have been then (laughing)
HH: (laughing) Any comment on that, Mrs. Cheney?
LC: (laughing) No, interestingly enough, when Madison was running for president in 1808, Jefferson released all of, well, not all, but 100,000 words of correspondence from the State Department to show how hard Madison had worked, and how well he had defended America’s cause. I don’t think now that you know, if you released 100,000 words from the State Department, people would just fall over in boredom. I think that the qualifications then were recognized by those who are voting in a different way than they would be now.
HH: One of the fascinating parallels between that time and ours is that in the aftermath of the burning of Washington, there was a Congressional inquiry. It lasted three months, as you detail in James Madison, A Life Reconsidered. They exonerated Madison completely, because he had warned of what was coming, and John Armstrong, his secretary of War, had failed to execute. But they moved with rapidity in three months, and they issued their report. Not much like the post-9/11 Commission, was it, Mr. Vice President?
DC: No, it really wasn’t. It was such a totally different era. I think about the 9/11 situation, we had a problem in terms of looking at 9/11, partly because we had the ongoing war on terror. And the more we focused on criticizing what had just happened with respect to 9/11, and forced the agents into a position where they ‘d spent all their time 24 hours a day, trying to defend themselves against that earlier miss, the less time and resource we had devoted to the next attack, and preventing the next attacks. So you had to strike a fine balance.
HH: And do you expect now that the Benghazi investigation will yield anything of use?
DC: I certainly think it will. I think we don’t have a full accounting, yet. I think there’s no question but what they were not prepared for it, and they should have been. Everybody expected to be hit on 9/11. We did after 9/11. That was a date that al Qaeda would try to point out or emphasize. And they’d done absolutely nothing to prepare for it. When it came, it was very badly handled, and I felt, frankly, they totally misled the country about what had happened, because it didn’t track with the narrative they were peddling at the time for political reasons in the run up to the election, that they got bin Laden, terrorist problem solved.
HH: I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I want to go back to James Madison for a moment. I am dumbfounded. I did not know that he had epilepsy. And I have taught the Constitution for 19 years at Chapman Law School, I’ve read pretty much every biography of all the founders. I did not know James Madison had epilepsy. How often do you encounter that, Mrs. Cheney, in talking about the book?
LC: Well, it’s almost universally the case. David Mattern, who’s at the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia, cited that as one of the really important scholarly contributions that the book makes. People have known before that there was this letter at Princeton in which Madison writes himself a draft autobiography. He said I had a constitutional liability to sudden attacks somewhat representing epilepsy and suspending the intellectual functions. But it’s either been dismissed, or Madison has been called a hypochondriac, because he talked about these sudden attacks. But mostly, I think, scholars have looked it and said that’s just too difficult, I’m not going to get into that. But I was fascinated.
HH: And you tracked down Dr. Orrin Devinsky at NYU’s, it’s it Langone Medical Center?
HH: And he helped you through this. And then you chart how these attacks would come on. For example, in the middle of the Ratification Convention…
HH: …he falls prey to them. And I’m fascinated by, I know some people with epilepsy, and it can sometimes leave you debilitated for a day or so. He was back on his feet in two days contending with Patrick Henry again. So it’s remarkable. You understand him much more fully.
LC: Exactly. Well, he’s often portrayed as sickly, and again, as a hypochondriac. In fact, he had these episodes. He had these sudden attacks. But between them, he was remarkably fit and ambitious. And he worked arduously. I sometimes laughed to myself thinking of the trips he took, you know, a thousand miles with Lafayette on horseback and in carriage, a thousand miles with Jefferson, and then the regular trips back and forth between where the capital was at that moment, Philadelphia or New York or Washington, to Montpelier, and how difficult that was. I wondered if the people who call him sickly could make the trips.
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HH: They’ve both been my guest in the past, because both are prolific authors. And one of your most recent books between the two of you is Heart, Mr. Vice President. You came on after you wrote Heart. And I thought about that when reading about Lynne Cheney’s description of James Madison’s treatment of his epilepsy. He even erased, he began, you said, in retirement, to write a self-portrait. And he included details of his, this was very scholarly. I mean, this is top drawer stuff about his epileptic episodes, and then you erased it and took it out. You, on the other hand, have done the opposite of Madison. Your health issues dating back to the time that you took over as Secretary of Defense all the way through most recently the publication of Heart, you’ve adopted the opposite, which is to tell everyone everything and let them decide.
DC: Right, well, I almost had to, given the way we work these days. And it is relevant, frankly, who’s, if you’re in a senior position, if you’ve had serious health problems. Before I could be confirmed as Secretary of Defense, my doctors had to certify to the Senate Armed Services Committee the status of my health, what the forecast was going forward. Before George Bush picked me to be his running mate, he had his doctor, Denton Cooley, talk to my doctor, John Reiner, and the two of them decide whether or not they could recommend that I would be able to serve as vice president. So it was out there. It wasn’t a secret by any means. I’d had five heart attacks since I’d had that first one. And I got to the point where at one point the Cleveland Clinic had me up to a conference to use my case to tell the story of what’s happened over the last 40 years to heart care. We’ve reduced the incidents of death by 50%. That’s an amazing story. But they had me up, because I’d had virtually everything done to me that you could do to a heart patient. And it’s a story that I think people find reassuring. I get called all the time by folks who are wrestling with this disease. One out of every four Americans will have some form of heart disease during the course of their lives. So it’s a great story. We had a lot of fun doing it. I learned a lot from my doctor. I wrote the personal aspect of it as a patient. He wrote as the doctor, and tells the history of all those developments, cholesterol-lowering drugs, stents, implantable defibrillators, the things that saved my life that didn’t even exist in 1978.
HH: Lynne Cheney, aren’t you amazed that James Madison made it to 85, given all the things they treated him? I mean, they bled him. The best advice he got that you record is Washington telling him moderation and good books, exercise and relaxation. Washington was concerned for his younger friend.
LC: You know, it’s sad to read about health treatments in the 18th Century. When you know, not only bleeding, but people were taking mercury and swallowing antimony. I think the herbal remedies were probably less damaging, but you know, they were doing almost the exactly wrong thing, as bleeding was the exactly wrong thing to do. So it’s sad to read about that, and yes, it is amazing that Madison made it so long. The founders, though, and this is interesting to think about, most of the founders did live pretty long lives. And you kind of wonder, maybe having a really satisfied life and being able to look with satisfaction on what you’re doing every day, and look back with satisfaction when you’re old, maybe those things contribute to longevity.
HH: Well, it’s those days on horseback, too. You have one anecdote in James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, after debating James Monroe, following a Lutheran service and a couple of fiddles, he rides twelve miles in the cold and gets frostbite in the middle of a Congressional campaign.
LC: You know, the founders understood the importance of exercise. I think that Madison being studious had to have it brought home to him more than perhaps others did, but they understood that, you know, I think John Adams said move or die, you know, that especially if you have a sedentary profession, if you’re a scholar, is how they would put it, you have to get up and move. You have to get out and exercise.
HH: Now in terms of the hard work, he also had some advantages in life. You two come from Wyoming and from families, from both of your autobiographies, of very little substance and position. He comes from that, what did you call it, the tangled, someone called it the tangled cousin gentry, the great tangled cousinry of Virginia’s, I mean, everybody knew everybody and everyone. So he was in the fray from a very young age. 24? Is that when he began?
LC: Let’s see, he was at the convention of 1776. He was born in ’51, so yes, 24, 25.
HH: 24, 25, and Mr. Vice President, you got to be the youngest chief of staff in the White House at the age of 34? Am I right about that?
HH: And so and like him, you served in the cabinet, and you served in the Executive as vice president, he served as president, and as a member of the House. Those are, should that kind of background go into a presidency before we put someone into it?
DC: Well, I thought it was pretty good training to be vice president, obviously. I can’t say that it’s essential. I’m, certainly, I’m more comfortable if I am voting for somebody who has that kind of experience, but Abraham Lincoln had no relevant experience, hardly any, had served one term in the House.
HH: That’s a pretty good rebuttal.
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HH: Mrs. Cheney, he had an idiosyncratic theology. And you speculate this may be because, and I thought this was fascinating, some Christians believe that epilepsy was the work of evil spirits. And would you expand on how you worked that through? It was a fascinating, better than any scholarly kind of conversation I’ve seen about idiosyncratic theology before.
LC: Well, the notion was that anyone who had epilepsy or seizures somewhat resembling epilepsy was evil, possessed by the Devil, someone who certainly wouldn’t do well in the afterlife. And this was held with a great deal of certitude by Christian orthodoxy, which Madison found not only in his home, but at Princeton in the person of John Witherspoon, the notion being that you know, God had allowed miracles to happen in order to buttress early Christianity. And it was a great subject of dispute in the 18th Century, whether miracles could be accepted, because they were irrational. One particular miracle had to do with Christ throwing the Devil out of an epileptic boy. And that story, partly because Christians were so concerned about the onslaught of the Enlightenment taking people in another direction, the story of that boy was just fiercely held to be the story of epilepsy, that it was possession by the Devil, and it would take the divine force of Christ to throw the Devil out. Well, this was extraordinarily discouraging to a young man who had had his first seizure. And Madison went through a period of great despondency. His letters are full of worry not only about his mortality, but about his soul. And then suddenly, one day, it just ends. He writes a really moving letter to a friend of his on these subjects, and he’s quite morose and depressed, and then it ends. And I think it came about at the same time that he’s learning to exercise, walking around the mountains, taking long horseback rides. Having taken his health in hand, he decides to take his soul in hand. And he determines that no one should have to believe what other people tell him to believe if they think it’s wrong.
HH: Now I know on good report that at least one member of the Supreme Court listens nightly to the show, and I’m hoping that all members of the Supreme Court before they decide Hobby Lobby read James Madison, Hobby Lobby, of course, the key free exercise case of the last 20 years. And the framers’ attachment to the religious liberty, as you articulate it, as he embodied it, and as he defended it, is so absolute. It should be an easy case for them. They ought to decide for the freedom of conscience if they know anything. And did you walk away from this process saying boy, they all, this was the given between Jefferson and Madison. They would fight forever for this proposition.
LC: Yes, and you know, I think it’s important to understand, as you just explained, it doesn’t just mean freedom of religion. It means freedom of conscience.
LC: It means intellectual freedom. You know, that you are free to follow the truth wherever it leads. You don’t have any restrictions imposed on you from the outside. And Jefferson and Madison, I think Madison leading the way, really, were totally committed to this notion.
HH: You know, this lack, or this orthodoxy that is descending on the country, Mr. Vice President, your colleague, Secretary of State Rice, withdrew from Rutgers. She was not even invited to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, though she had grown up in Birmingham and was a block away or a couple of blocks away from the bombing that took the four little girls. This left wing orthodoxy is really suppressing conversation, and it’s exactly what your wife writes about, they fought so hard to keep the liberty of conscience alive.
DC: Right, and I think it’s a tragedy. To be able to, for a college or university to take somebody like Condi Rice, who’s been Secretary of State, whatever you might think of her views, I mean, she obviously supported the same policy I did that was objected to, that undermines the whole notion of free inquiry and what our universities ought to stand for, regardless of what particular ideology they may or may not support. So I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve reached that point where political correctness is so dominant in so many areas where it really shouldn’t be.
HH: You write, I also did not know until I finished James Madison, Mrs. Cheney, that he helped Jefferson frame the approach at the University of Virginia. He was quite…
HH: I had no idea.
LC: That was Jefferson’s project, but Madison was a most willing participant in it. Both of them placed heavy emphasis on the importance of education for the citizenry. You can’t, what was Madison’s wonderful image? He imagined liberty and learning, each leaning on each other for their mutual regard. You couldn’t be, you can’t be successful as a republic with a free citizenry choosing their representatives if people aren’t educated. They’ll be misled by demagogues, they will be unable to make rational decisions. So education was crucial.
HH: One of the amazing things is at the age of 24, he does go to the 1776 convention, and there he sees the great Patrick Henry, who becomes, after I finished your book, I have this image of to the right of him, Jefferson, behind him, Washington, linked arms with him, Hamilton, and on the other side screaming at him, Patrick Henry. And he saw as a young man that Patrick Henry had great flaws. I assume, Mr. Vice President, when you were a young person in power, you would say the same, but you were not able to say so either, when you’re the chief of staff at the White House at 34.
DC: Well, I did have strong views, but I basically kept them to myself. Occasionally, I’d share them with the President, but on a, only a one-on-one basis.
HH: What was your opinion of Patrick Henry at the end of this process, Lynne Cheney?
LC: You know, that I’d like to know more about him. The picture that, you know, I wrote the book trying to understand the world from Madison’s perspective, totally aware, of course, that he had flaws as every other person does. But from Madison’s perspective, he was kind of mystifying. He was able with these flights of oratory to bring so many people around to his way of thinking. It is most amazing, though, when you think about the Virginia ratifying convention that Madison, the man whose rhetoric had no flourishes, who made his case with simple logic and straightforward speaking, Madison defeated Patrick Henry and brought the Virginians around to ratification of the Constitution.
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HH: I thought I knew a lot about this, but I…here’s a detail. It’s a short segment. He didn’t like to campaign. He lost his first election, second election of the House of Delegates because he, “refused the custom of swilling the planters with Bumbo,” meaning he wouldn’t get them drunk. And he didn’t, he just hated that, but he got around to learning retail politics, didn’t he?
LC: He absolutely did. He never lost another election.
HH: Well, that is pretty…and he ran against Monroe, and Mr. Vice President, you’re the historian of the house, did two members of Congress ever run against each other, both of whom became president again?
DC: Not that I can think of, Hugh. I don’t know who it would have been.
HH: Yeah, I tried to run down my memory of that. Monroe was someone who was his opponent, and I’ll direct this to you, Mr. Vice President, who then became his ally. How often does that happen anymore?
DC: Well, it’s happened from time to time. I mean, we’ve had relationships, people talk about Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan coming from totally different parts of the political spectrum, but being able to come together on important issues such as reforming Social Security, as we did back in the 80s. So it’s happened from time to time. Wartime, I think what FDR did, for example, as he put together his cabinet for World War II, and with Knox and Stimson, Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy. Those were, to some extent, similar situations where you reach out to the other party, take somebody’s perspective, and then make them part of your own operation, and with that, build bipartisan support for whatever policy you want to pursue. So it’s been done before, but I can think of other situations where it’s awful hard. Obviously, today it would be very hard to put that kind of thing together.
HH: When we come back from break in the second hour, Mrs. Cheney will talk with specificity about the period of time leading up to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. But that’s was heated. That was, people were dueling each other. But you’ve also lived at the center of vicious attacks on your family. You’ve lived at the center of politics since 1980. You’ve been in D.C. this long. Is it as bad now as it was then, you the historian of that period of time?
LC: I think what surprised people is that it was as bad then as it is now. We tend to think of the founders as sitting around and having polite conversations and arriving at weighty decisions quite easily. But it wasn’t the case. We had the politics of personal destruction at work. There were terrible rumors, whispering campaigns about Dolly Madison, portraying her as a woman of loose morals. There are some, it’s a really interesting time, the 1790s especially, because it was so turbulent, and there was so much vituperation.
HH: Oh, and they were crafty. When we come back from break, we’ll talk about this. But Madison took the newly-drafted Constitution of the Continental Congress and got them to sign it unanimously, even though it wasn’t unanimous. There were tricksters on both sides.
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HH: To give a quick summary, Mrs. Cheney, he not only went to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1776, he then served on the Council of State for Patrick Henry, one-ninth of a governor. Then he goes up to the Continental Congress and he serves from 1780 to 1783. Then he goes back to Virginia and helps get the Continental Congress together to allow the Articles of Confederation to be amended, starts the Annapolis convention, gets Philadelphia going, I mean, it’s so remarkable. Yet at one point you write, suddenly, he was everywhere. And do you think anyone gets that? We talked a little bit about this last hour. But Jefferson has his love, I mean, no one, Richard Norton Smith told me at the Nixon Library a couple of weeks ago on the 20th anniversary of President Nixon’s state funeral that no one has gotten more love from American historians than Jefferson.
LC: Oh, that’s pretty interesting.
HH: And so much has been written about him. Nothing for poor Madison.
LC: Now I think part of it is that, well, you know, I got my PhD in English and literature, and the question that people always ask in literature is why in Paradise Lost is the Devil more interesting than God? And you know, I think there’s something human about liking the flamboyant and flawed character over the person of solid virtue. And Jefferson was that flamboyant and flawed character. And Madison was the steady person, the person about whose personal life there were no rumors. Dolly had her share, but Madison, none. So I think that Jefferson’s personality has attracted historians to write about him, even though I find Madison every bit as interesting as you get into the details of what he accomplished.
HH: He was not a soldier in the war. Having trained for the militia, he suffered an epileptic bout.
HH: He was quite a marksman. He could shoot a good-sized head at a hundred yards, I believe you said.
LC: And this is no mean feat with 18th Century weaponry.
HH: But he, after suffering one of these fits, he withdrew from the militia and instead went into the public service. He goes up to the Continental Congress, and here’s the most astonishing small fact. Some books have big facts like he had epilepsy, and some books have small facts. The cost of his boarding for the first six months in Philadelphia was $21,000 dollars.
HH: How in the world could that be?
LC: Well, because such inflation had set in. The demand for sugar and bacon and such things, of course, sent prices through the roof, as did the fact that the Congress had no money to pay for these things. And so the inflationary pressures were huge. Madison was helping out the people in his boarding house. When they were out of money, he was begging his father for money at all times. $21,000 dollars is pretty remarkable.
HH: How formative is his experience in the Continental Congress, which is toothless, it is toothless, to his later urging of a vigorous presidency?
LC: Well, one of the things I think that it resulted in, he saw in the Continental Congress how useless it was to expect the Congress to be able to wage war. You know, they were saying okay, light horse Harry Lee, go north. The Congress was saying this, telling Washington he has to go north. And then, you know, the British would appear maybe a little to the south and be a little frightening to people in Philadelphia, and they’d say no, no, no, send light horse Harry south. The Congress was not a good commander-in-chief collectively. So at the Constitutional Convention, when Madison had an opportunity to make sure that the president would be the commander-in-chief, he took advantage of it. The proposal was to, in listing Congress’ power, to say that it was in the power of Congress to make war. And Madison leapt to his feet and changed it from make to declare so that the president would be the commander-in-chief. And what an historic intervention that was, and how good for the nation it was as well.
HH: Mr. Vice President, you are known to have defended a strong executive, the unitary executive. And as this book unfolds, I’m sure now you’ve read it, you know, you owe that to Madison, then, to his interventions repeatedly.
DC: Yes. No, I though Lynne’s just cited the critical one. I go back during my time there, we had the big debate how much authority should the Congress have, Congress versus the president. That was true when we were talking about Vietnam, when we were talking about Iran-Contra, when we were talking about the first Gulf War, whether or not we had to go back to the Congress to get authorization, and how much they were going to be involved in actually supervising, running the war. So it was huge. I can’t imagine what our lives would have been like, or how much our future would have been adversely affected if they hadn’t changed that one phrase, is they’d left it that the Congress was to make war.
HH: There is an argument now made by good men like Mark Levin, who you guys both know, and that we need to reconstitute a convention to have the Liberty Amendments considered. That scares people like me for fear that the left is better at this than we are, and that they will run away with it. What are your thoughts on such a thing, Mr. Vice President?
DC: I’m very, very cautious about suggesting amendments to the Constitution. You know, we’ve suggested them over the years. I’ve been around when the 25th Amendment was adopted to provide for the president to fill the vice presidency when it was vacant and so forth. So there have been occasions when it was appropriate, but to sort of run out immediately and say we need a Constitutional amendment, no matter how worthy the basic principle might be, I’m just, I proceed very cautiously. I’m one of those who thinks a session of Congress where they don’t accomplish very much isn’t necessarily a bad session of Congress.
HH: Mrs. Cheney, you quote Patrick Henry in the anti-federalist debate at the ratification convention as saying the document is squinting towards monarchy. Many people, our friend Levin among them, and others, Rush and others, would say we’re squinting towards monarchy now, that this president, President Obama, and we always are very respectful of him, but we have our disagreements, has in fact unmoored the office from its ordinary restraints, not in foreign affairs, but domestically. What do you make of that?
LC: Unmoored the office from the Constitution. Unmoored the idea of what the framework of our government should be from the document that’s in the Archives. There’s this whole new theoretical mindset that the document in the Archives is too restraining, and that to meet the new times, we need to have in mind a different constitution, one that will allow the government to, for example, to recognize that there’s a right to welfare, to recognize that there is, one I was reading about recently, a right to gender equity sex education. Basically what this means is anything but abstinence education. So you know, this whole idea that there are all these new rights that aren’t in the Constitution, in my opinion, and you know, one of the big mistakes is inventing the right to privacy, which results in the right to abortion. These rights aren’t in the Constitution. If we want these things, we should as a nation or as states pass laws. But we shouldn’t have rights invented that President Obama hands down from above, or that justices sitting on the bench promulgate.
HH: On the last day in office, James Madison vetoes an improvements bill, because he believes it to be an excess of the authority of Congress. And he understood the war making power, and he used it vigorously. But Mr. Vice President, he did not believe in a Congress that took to itself the powers to the state. So that’s a proper, it’s an originalist understanding.
HH: What do you think of the critique of President Obama and presidential powers?
DC: Well, I think, I’m a big advocate of a strong executive, obviously. The minority report in the Iran-Contra study is, lays out that whole philosophy and theory. I really feel as though Barack Obama is ignoring the law in many cases, and going far beyond what was ever intended. I mean, he’s all by himself sort of routinely changes the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, if it suits his will. I think much of what’s been done is, does in fact skate up to the edge of violating the Constitution in terms of what the way he’s interpreted his executive power.
HH: Even as in the Madison book, Jefferson wrestled with the Louisiana Purchase. And you detail this so beautifully. You quote Henry Adams as saying along with the Declaration and the Constitution, the Louisiana Purchase are the three greatest things in our history. Jefferson didn’t know if he had the Constitutional authority, and Madison said of course you do. He took that implied power, because he said of course a country can acquire territory. But he worried about Congressional power. So it’s being an originalist that matters most.
LC: Well, yes. I think Madison was quite satisfied that the Congressional, that the Executive’s power to conclude treaties meant that the Louisiana Purchase was fine. But you’re right. At the end of his long career in politics, he saw a bill that he didn’t mind the purpose of. He thought internal improvements would be a fine thing. But he had advised the Congress that if that’s what they wanted to do, they needed to get an amendment through the Congress and ratified by the states. And they hadn’t done that, so he objected.
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HH: When we broke off, we were talking about, I found this fascinating, when Madison went to Congress, during the Revolutionary War, they had no money, and they were trying to raise money, they wanted to raise a million and a half bucks a year. And so they have to try and get the states to agree, because they don’t have any taxing authority. And they first suggest we’ll do it by value of property, but the states don’t trust each other, as you recount. So Madison comes up with the idea let’s do it by population. And then he suggests, let’s count the slaves, which will add more money to the Virginia total – two slaves for one person. And the Northerners say no, four slaves for three people or whatever. And it’s all about a tax head. It’s got nothing…but then that became the basis for the infamous, as you say, the justifiably infamous, three-fifths clause. I never knew any of that stuff. Did you when you began?
LC: No, and it is interesting, because it came up in a relatively innocuous context, you know, how much of the tax burden should each state pay according to its population. But they settled on three-fifths to determine taxes. They actually never got the tax through. But when the issue then came up at the Constitutional Convention, three-fifths was a natural number for them to fall back on, though by this time, it wasn’t about taxes. By this time, it was about counting population in order to determine how many representatives the state got in the Congress.
HH: Well, it’s fascinating how a small conversation in an unrelated area becomes one of those great historical divides about which people have been arguing where did it come from for years. Excellent work. During the interregnum between the end of the war for independence and the Constitutional Convention, he goes back to Virginia, and he’s a legislator. And in fact, he’s an extraordinary legislator. You quote one of his colleagues as saying he has astonished mankind, and by means perfectly constitutional, has become almost a dictator in the Virginia legislature. And he’s doing this, as you say, he is not an orator. He’s just, how does he accomplish…all the code revisions he does, he does not only the remonstrance on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, but he just rewrites all the laws of Virginia. How does he get that done?
LC: Well, he got about half of it done. And he did it, I think, by working harder than anyone else, and then making perfect sense when he pointed out what laws, what needed to be revised about the laws. He finally, though, did run up against a wall, and only got about halfway to where he wanted to go. That experience in the Virginia legislature was essentially frustrating for him, because the solutions were so obvious, and the ability to get anything accomplished was so difficult. It really helped him, influenced him in thinking that the problem the Constitutional Convention had to address was the states. It was in the states, he called them the evil states, where minority rights were being suppressed, where property rights weren’t sufficiently recognized, where Rhode Island would issue money, thereby depreciating the currency, and then pass a law saying merchants had to accept the depreciated money in payment of debts. So the Virginia legislative experience was not all positive. It was one of the things that led to his frustration with how the states had controlled the confederation.
HH: Clearly all coming into Annapolis, where they have a convention in 1786. And not many people show up, but Hamilton and Madison show up, and you use the word nudge, or maybe they used it. Both Hamilton and Madison were nudging their friends to get a real convention going.
HH: And not really above board.
LC: No, I mean, their purpose was not to have an entirely new form of government developed, but to revise the Articles of Confederation. They were supposed to figure out a way to do that. Later, James Wilson in the convention, though, I think made it clear that this wasn’t as treasonous as you might think of. You know, they’re given one mandate, and they do something entirely different. Wilson said I think we should feel free to propose anything, but to determine nothing. In other words, the Constitution that they proposed wasn’t the law of the land until the people ratified that. Now that may have been rationale, but I like it.
HH: It was good backwards thinking, I thought. One of the great asides, and you have many wonderful asides in James Madison, the new biography, is about Monroe. And I’m going to ask the Vice President who this reminds him of. One of Monroe’s colleagues is described as nature has given him a mind neither rapid nor rich, but made up for it with a habit of application which no difficulty can shake, nor labors can tire. Now I actually think that’s complimentary, and it reminds me of someone. But does it remind you of anyone?
LC: Say no.
HH: A habit of mine, it could get you in trouble. A mind neither rapid nor rich. It reminds me of Ike.
HH: Only because, I did a lot of work on Eisenhower. He’s a very smart guy…
HH: But he wasn’t quick. He wasn’t fleeting. But he was as dogged as could be.
DC: He was, but I always had the feeling he was smarter than he ever got credit for.
HH: Well, Fred Greenstein thought that, too.
DC: Yeah, and I actually have discussed it with Fred. I was at a conference at one point where he was talking, and he did that second book on Eisenhower. And I’ve spent a little bit of time on Eisenhower, especially as a war time leader, and the way he managed the politics of the war – Churchill and Montgomery, and he had a terrible job in some respects. And he pulled it off.
DC: …very successfully, when you think about his military mission. And then his time as president, I think we’ll increasingly, he’ll be perceived as one of the more successful presidents.
HH: You see, and I don’t want David, who listens, who was a good friend, to think I’m saying his grandfather was other than bright. He was. But his habit of mind was not rapid. I mean, I get the idea from Madison of a lightning intellect, Lynne Cheney. I mean, he could grasp anything at a moment, and I don’t know how many people we’ve had like that.
LC: Well, that’s true. I think he could. But he had also studied and read about how to be a successful politician. I mean, that wasn’t the topic of the book, but he was reading all the time. And he had a series of lessons that he set out for himself. And one of them, one of the keys to being a successful politician, he wrote down, was lesson envy, lesson envy. In other words, don’t act too smart. You know, don’t act like your mind is perceiving so quickly what other people only arrive at later. Don’t make yourself a target by you know, being like Hamilton. Another of Madison’s secrets, one that he wrote down, was to display your wisdom sometimes by saying nothing. You know, this was not a lesson that Hamilton ever learned, but Madison knew from the beginning.
HH: I made a note, I don’t know where it is in here, that you complimented him on his modesty, and noted that this was not an attribute of modern politicians, that he was not, that this is not an age that allows people to sit back that way, actually, because if you do, and maybe Mr. Vice President, you have a comment on this? If you don’t say anything, the endless noise machine will fill in the blanks, right?
DC: Right, but I had the experience as a young intern in a governor’s office in Wisconsin. We were having a meeting, and I don’t remember the issue now, but his staff is gathered around, and they relayed the issue out. And the answer immediately seemed obvious to me, and I stated it. And everybody sort of looked around a little bit, and then they went back to their discussion. And after 30 minutes, they all ended up in exactly the same place. But the lesson that taught me is sometimes you’ve got to let folks work on the problem, chew on it a bit before they’re ready to come to some discussion, some final conclusion, and that listening was enormously important, and when to intervene, and not always being the first one out of the gate with the answer was more important than being quick to solve the problem
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HH: Let me run down very quickly, from 1786-1791, five years, Madison persuaded Washington to come to the Constitutional Conventional. He kept the notes of the Constitutional Convention, which Lynne Cheney, you call a project voluntary and arduous, also invaluable. He developed the Virginia plan. He gave way when he had to. He compromised on issues of equal representation in the Senate. He came up, you mentioned it earlier with declare not make war. He opposed having Congress select the president of the United States. He enhanced presidential power by slipping in the right to appoint judges, ambassadors, public ministers. Then he goes to Congress and gets Congress to adopt the Constitution in draft form to send to the states. Then he goes to Virginia and duels famously with Patrick Henry after writing 30, how many of the Federalist Papers? He wrote 29 of the Federalist Papers, including at one stint that you detail this in the book, 22 essays in 40 days. He wrote Famous Number 10 on faction, Famous 51, If Men Were Angels And The Separation Of Powers, Famous Number 14 about novelty is not bad. This is a prodigious five years. This is, then he could have quit.
HH: And he still hadn’t, he hadn’t spent a day as president or secretary of state, yet.
LC: You know, it’s such a rich time, it’s hard to know where to start commenting on it. But certainly, it is a refutation of this idea that somehow he was sickly and lacked energy.
LC: I was talking to a college audience, and I said his feat with the Federalist Papers, that interval amounts to writing a ten page paper every other day for more than a month, which you know, that’s pretty hard. But what you wrote becomes immortal. You know, it’s not just a passing thing, gets the words out on paper. It’s really remarkable.
HH: He has a friend, I believe it’s Nicholas, urges him to have the Federalist bound and he’d take it to the Virginia Constitutional Conventional, because his friend says no one will know anything. And I’m wondering, Mr. Vice President, if that’s your experience. Madison was warned by his friend. No one will have a clue. They’ll be elected to ratify or not ratify a convention. They’ll show up. No one will have done any homework. They’ll all, just a couple of people will run the deal, because they’re prepared.
DC: Not everybody reads the bills, Hugh. I learned in a contemporary problem in the National Intelligence Estimate was done on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and then it’s sent to the Hill. It’s classified. For a member to read it, they have to go to the classified spaces, the Intel Committee, and sign in, read it and so forth. Before all that hoorah back in 2002 when we were getting ready to authorize the President to use force, the total number of members of the United States Senate who actually read the NIE? Six.
HH: That is exactly what Madison’s friend had warned him about.
DC: Right. Exactly.
HH: …is that no one is going to read the NIE of the day, which was the Federalist Papers.
HH: He also practiced retail politics, and I’m sure this is familiar to you. When he was working for the ratification to get elected to the convention, he stopped to see John Leland, about whom I’d never heard until I read your book, Lynne Cheney. “One of the most influential of Virginia’s Baptist preachers who happened to live between Fredericksburg and Orange, he needed to do something about their opposition. Leland had mastered the use of reason and argument in his preaching, and in 1788 alone had baptized 300 people in Virginia’s waters. Second only to his dedication to saving souls was Leland’s determination to see religious liberty prevail.” Madison was hardly a Baptist, but you record one account has the men sitting under a shady tree for hours as Madison worked him, and he got his support.
LC: Right, and convinced him that he was indeed, I think he probably also told Leland some of the things he’d done anonymously to advance the cause of religious freedom. But you’re right. At the end of the meeting, Leland was on his side.
HH: Now Mr. Vice President, when you had to work members of Congress to vote for something one way or the other, you couldn’t take credit for it often, could you?
DC: Correct, although I had an advantage, Hugh, in a sense that one of the nicest things ever happened to me, I’d been in the House my career, then elected vice president, and of course, the Vice President has an office on the Senate side. As I was sworn in, Denny Hastert, who was then the Speaker, and Bill Thomas from California, who was chairman of Ways and Means, came to me one day and said look, we know you’re going to have an office in the Senate, but we think of you as a man of the House, because that’s where I’d spent my career. We want you to have an office on the House side of the Capitol. And Bill Thomas stepped forward, and he said the chairman of Ways and Means has two offices in the Capitol. You pick the one you want, and that’ll be your office, and I’ll take the other one. And that’s what we did. And I picked the old Rostenkowski space that was just off the Democratic Cloak Room, just off the floor of the House. It drove them nuts.
HH: Well, to keep an eye on them?
DC: Absolutely. It drove them nuts, but that was my space on the House side for the six years that we had control of the House.
HH: Oh, that’s very neat.
DC: And it was a, one, I loved it, but two, it was a great place to have sort of recognition that I had in fact been the number two in the House leadership on the Republican side. It was a big advantage for me.
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HH: War and peace, America, were very much on the minds of James Madison at the Constitutional Convention, and that which he writ large then came back to in fact empower him when he was the president of the United States, the first wartime president under the Constitution. He had to fight back against Henry, saying that the government squints towards monarchy. And he replied weakness will invite insults. The best way to avoid danger is to be in a capacity to withstand them. And Lynne Cheney, that’s got to have, when you read this, it’s the debate of the last fifteen years, isn’t it?
HH: It’s the same debate.
LC: When my daughter, Liz, was reading this, that is the passage that seized her attention as well. And it was a lesson that Madison learned. In the early days of the republic, he, like many people, thought that armies and navies were not only ruinously expensive, that they were a threat to liberty. You know, they could be turned against the citizenry. But as he began to understand the threat to the nation that Britain posed, he became very glad that some of his early votes against warships for example had been defeated. The frigates in the War of 1812 made everyone very proud. We had better ships than the British. Far, far fewer, but we were a mighty force, even though small.
HH: You did a fine job. Only 19 ships, and you did a fine job of recounting not only the Battle of Lake Erie, of course, Ohio played a central role, and I want to make sure everyone knows that, but the Constellation and the Constitution, you also had a funny, little aside, which I thought I’d ask the Vice President about, about how the Navy worked everyone.
LC: Oh, yes.
HH: On November 26th, 1812, Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constellation demonstrated the political savvy for which the Navy would become legendary. Hosting a party aboard the ship for Washington dignitaries, including members of Congress who were soon to vote on a substantial expansion of the Navy. So Mr. Vice President, is that familiar?
DC: As a former Secretary of Defense, there was a piece of traditional wisdom in the building. When there’s a tough problem that needs to be addressed, or a policy that needs to be adopted, the Army will sign up, they’ll do their level best to deliver. The Air Force will sign up and then go do what they want to do. And the Navy will say hell no. That’s the way I was taught as the Secretary of Defense to anticipate how the services would react.
HH: It is a, but it is a marvelous…that is very funny. That is so funny. Once they got it approved, the first session of Congress, Madison has to campaign for the House, and he gets it. And he goes up there, and he’s made a promise to his constituents, more than 200 amendments were proposed by the ratifying conventions. And you know, as a Con Law professor, I know I’m going to make them read this, because I’ve tried to make them read Catherine Drinker Bowen’s book for years. And it’s a 1966 book…
LC: With no footnotes.
HH: And it doesn’t work. With no footnotes. It doesn’t work.
HH: They won’t, they don’t believe it. Now, they’ll believe it and they’ll get what the Bill of Rights is – 200 different proposals to chain the Constitution. Madison promises to take care of it. And he drives the House.
HH: And I didn’t know this. I thought it was a done deal. You bring out the record. He drives the House to do this, and no one else, and that’s when it gets to dueling time and fisticuffs. And why such a fight?
LC: Well, Madison had shared the idea of many at the Constitutional Convention. A Bill of Rights hadn’t occurred to them, because in the Constitution, no rights were given over. You know, very limited number of things was the Congress allowed to do, and certainly, they were not given any authority over a freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, or freedom to gather. None of that had been ceded, nor given over. So Madison didn’t think, and most people at the Constitutional Convention didn’t think a Bill of Rights was necessary. It soon became clear, however, that in order to bring unity to the nation, we should adopt a Bill of Rights. And Madison very carefully crafted the Bill of Rights so that by prohibiting the government from ever violating freedom of speech, it didn’t imply that there were other freedoms that they were free to violate, very, very carefully crafted.
HH: And proving he’s a natural rights guy. He fully believes in natural rights, and I wish some of my colleagues in the academy would read this and take to heart the fact that they were done this way. Fisher Ames is one of his opponents from Delaware. Is it Delaware, Fisher Ames?
LC: No, Massachusetts.
HH: Massachusetts. And Fisher Ames writes, Page 189-190, “Madison derives from nature an excellent understanding, but I think he excels in the quality of judgment. He is admirable for his inestimable talent. So reasoned is he, remarkably methodical, he’s a studious man devoted to public business, and a thorough manner of almost every public question that can arise, or he will spare no pains to become so if he happens to be in want of information.” Mr. Vice President, this quality of judgment, what do you think he means?
DC: I’m not sure. I…obviously dealing with a very different set of problems than we sometimes deal with today, but it clearly was crucial in terms of his ability to function.
HH: He made, according to Mrs. Cheney, no attempt to practice oratory, which given how often he spoke, 124 times in the first Congress, was probably a mercy for all involved. Have you mde a practice of oratory?
DC: When I first went to the House, we just adopted the rule where you could get up and have special orders, you know, and it was always a tradition of speaking at the outset. I didn’t make a single remark on the floor of the House until as a member of the Ethics Committee, we were prosecuting a case against a member of the House. I rarely talked. One of my highlights was I’m leaning over the brass rail at the back of the chamber one day. I’m a freshman, and one of the older members came over and put his arm around me. And one of my colleagues, it might have been Newt, was down in the well of the House castigating the Democrats and so forth. And this Congressman put his arm around me and said Cheney, you know what I like about you? And I said what’s that? And he said you’re the only member of your class that doesn’t drool when he speaks. And I took that as high praise.
LC: That’s so bad, Dick.
HH: That is so…
LC: That’s so bad.
DC: It’s a true story.
LC: Dick, you’re sharing entirely too much.
DC: True story.
HH: When…that’s very bad.
LC: Hugh, can I just interrupt for a second?
LC: One of the things that scholars have often said about Madison in giving a totally false picture of him is that he was so painfully paralyzingly shy that he didn’t speak very much when he first went to the Virginia convention. Well, you know, it was wisdom. It wasn’t shyness. When you’re the new guy on the block, as Dick’s guy makes clear, Dick’s colleague made clear, it is a good idea to keep your mouth shut and listen for a while.
HH: Absolutely. He also announces his retirement, and John Adams writes to his very shrewd first lady, Abigail, it is marvelous how political plants grow in the shade, never believing for a second that Madison was going to leave the scene. Mr. Vice President, do you, does that ring true with you?
DC: Yes, I think it does, absolutely. And some of the most effective people were the ones never made a floor speech, or rarely made a floor speech, did their business in committee or out on the cloak room quietly moving around, getting agreement on the key issues that they needed to work on.
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HH: And I could really talk to both of the Cheneys endlessly about his book, James Madison, but what you ought to do is go, if you’re in Southern California, to the Nixon Library tonight. They’ll be over there at 7:00 tonight, or to the Reagan Library tomorrow night at 6pm, or if you’re up north, or anywhere they go to listen to them talk about. I also understand there’s a YouTube video in which the Vice President is interviewing Mrs. Cheney about the book. And that’s supposed to be very amusing. I didn’t watch that, because I didn’t want it to screw up my own question set. I was afraid you took all my good questions. I want to close by talking about Dolly, and this is only three minutes, so I’m just going to yield the floor to you, Mrs. Cheney. She’s remarkable. And she’s funny, quite pretty, he made us, she said of Gilbert Stuart. And she was recklessly brave when the British invaded Washington.
LC: And she was beautiful. Madison fell in love with her when he saw her walking down the street in Philadelphia. He wasn’t the first. It was said that men were stopped in their places by Dolly’s passing by with her, she was taller than Madison. She was probably 5’ 8”. She had dark hair, pale skin, ruby red lips, the whole package. And he fell in love. They were married not long after he asked a friend to introduce them.
HH: Aaron Burr.
LC: I know. You know, that just shows you.
HH: Were you going to omit that by purpose?
LC: Yeah, well, to show you how small the 18th Century was.
LC: You know, everybody knew everybody. He’d gone to college with Aaron Burr, and Aaron Burr introduced them. They were married a few months later. She was an amazing asset to him, because she was so hospitable, and she made everyone feel as though she loved them, and everyone loved her in turn. In those days, the Congressional Caucus picked the presidential nominees, and the members of Congress were generally miserable. Washington was a new city. They were all living cheek by jowl, crowded into boarding houses, so Mrs. Madison opened their home on F Street. They were one of the lucky people who had a house. And she entertained, she had people come play cards. They sniffed a little snuff together. She and Henry Clay shared a snuff box. She dressed dramatically. She knew she was part of the entertainment wearing pink satin with ermine trim and a white velvet turban with peacock feathers. People not only respected Madison after Mrs. Madison had brought them in, they had warm feelings toward him. And there’s contemporary testimony that at Dolly’s hospitality was indeed a factor in his being nominated for the presidency in 1808.
HH: Wow, it’s a great portrait of her, and I’ll close, though. The job of president, he complains to Jefferson about how Congress won’t support him in the war, and Jefferson writes back, I’m looking for it and I can’t, what can you expect of a body with 100 lawyers?
LC: Exactly right.
HH: And so I guess some things do not change in Washington, the small things, but also the usefulness and the wonderful entertainment that Washington recommended of good books and exercise. Lynne Cheney, you’ve contributed to that. Mr. Vice President, thanks for coming back. Mrs. Cheney, it’s great to see you again. The book, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, linked at Hughhewitt.com. Go see them at the Nixon Library tonight at 6pm, or at the Reagan Library tomorrow night at 7. We’ll post the transcript and the audio of this to share with the world.
End of interview.