Conversation of historians Beschloss and Meacham a treat
(Nashville TN) - Imagine you are-say - seven again and it's Thanksgiving and you're sitting at the kids table. (You know, that card table set up close enough to the grown ups for serving and discipline but below eye level.) So, the adults are having the most fascinating conversation EVER and you're straining to filter out your cousin's account of his highest of video game score and your little sister's whining that she hates turkey dressing. They're talking about family secrets and family histories and why Uncle Bill's name got put in the newspaper.
You sit very quietly because you know that if Mom sees you listening, the conversation will turn to grades and why your teacher called her last week. It's okay that you're not in one of the big chairs. It's enough just to be close.
That's the feeling a packed house of 200 plus adults had last night listening to Jon Meacham interview Michael Beschloss on his newest book "Presidents of War." The conversation was a joint effort of the Nashville Library and Parnassus Bookstore.
Held in the beautiful downtown main library building within walking distance of the Tennessee state capitol, the venue managed to be both awe inspiring and cozy.
The small theater was set up with the now standard two chairs, bottled water and books on a small table between the speakers. The Library added a helpful touch of scrolling the conversation for the audience as it happened.
Two historians with decades of award winning books and multiple awards made it clear from the first words that their friendship is of long standing. Each spent time hawking the other's most recent book.
Nashville native Jon Meacham, shown at right, is a regular on cable news. In the recent political climate, he spends a lot of time answering anchor news questions that begin "Have you ever...?" Most of the time, Meacham can find if not symmetry to a prior administration at least a close example. Spoiler alert - he's not a President Polk fan.
His latest book published in May 2018, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is a New York Times bestseller. Meacham's subjects include Andrew Jackson, George Herbert Walker Bush and Thomas Jefferson.
His friend, author Michael Beschloss, is also a television regular. Beschloss, whose works include studies of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, said this book, Presidents of War, took him ten years to write. The study of presidents of war or facing war spans a period beginning in 1807 when Thomas Jefferson resisted calls to go to war with England over sea lane incursions to modern times. Jefferson's successor, James Madison, was not able to resist the call to arms. The second war with England became known as the War of 1812.
Beschloss spent some time explaining why he thought the War of 1812 should be considered a loss for America. The two stated goals of stopping British interference with American shipping and stealing Canada from the Brits were both dismal failures. Smart spinning and General Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans sold the war to America as a winner.
Beschloss found that presidents who led the country through war shared some common characteristics: as the war went on, the president became more religious, each displayed empathy for the soldiers they sent to war, each had an emotional or mental breakdown during the conflict and each was married to a strong woman.
The two historians traded trivia and historical tidbits throughout the hour and a half program. Heads would nod around the theater as their points hit home with their audience. Smart adults making history fun and interesting. And enjoying themselves immensely while doing it.
During question time, the present day figured prominently. Both authors worry about the current state of American government. They cited a Senate that is supine in the face of White House moves into their prerogatives and a new Supreme Court justice whose writings reveal that he believes the president should not be subpoenaed or be subject to judicial review during his term.
Beschloss and Meacham reminded the audience that the Founders urged that America sleep with one eye open to catch presidential overreach.
Ending on a hopeful note, Beschloss said that he believed that America has faced crisis in the past and come through.
Then he went to sign lots of books.