Influence & Bargaining
Featuring Patrick Henry
and Franklin D. Roosevelt
Discuss campaign strategies and financing, the influence of political action committees, and the role of the press during election campaigns.
Q. How would you suggest we fix the issues with our campaign system - negative marketing, influence of the wealthy, etc.? -- Ruby
A. Patrick Henry: Whereas these unbecoming aspects of elections are disagreeable, nonetheless the free expression of opinions remains one of the ideals of our Revolution. Though some campaigns may be offensive, each man has the right to offend. I would never trust that government which sought to suppress the sacred rights we fought and bled for. Let every man be responsible for determining for himself when candidates may have crossed over the threshold of indecency, and judge accordingly.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: Mr. Henry lived in a simpler time free of mass communication and mass marketing. I certainly uphold the right of free speech, but hold out the hope that a degree of self-governance would be applied. With regard to the influences of great wealth, I would not be opposed to establishing a cap on campaign donations and requiring those who donate to be identified. Then, as Mr. Henry said, it would be the responsibility of each individual to determine if the rhetoric and/or expense was appropriate.
Q. Do you think a woman or a black person could ever be president? -Richard
A. Franklin Roosevelt: Absolutely. I think anyone who meets the requirements of office as set forth in our Constitution should have the right to run for office. We have, over the years, brought truth to the phrase “all men are created equal.” It is my hope that talented women and minorities will come forward to serve their fellow citizens. I can only wish that I will be around to see it.
Q. Who was the most "bought off" elected official in your time, and what was the situation? -Sherri
A. Patrick Henry: The official who most quickly comes to mind is the royal governor, who received a salary, largely through taxes and duties to do the king’s bidding, though contrary to the welfare of Virginians. Of course, the royal governor was not elected but appointed by the king. There was a scandal in 1765 involving our Speaker John Robinson. In those days, the Speaker was also the treasurer of the colony. Mr. Robinson engaged in an illicit scheme to use publick money in order to make loans to his friends. When this was made publick, the legislature wisely separated the offices of Speaker and treasurer. Other than those two cases, I cannot think of an elected official being “bought off”. Rather, most publick servants are out of pocket for holding office, as legislators do not receive salaries for their services, nor should they.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: It is unfortunate that there are many representatives of the people who have forgotten that they are servants of the people. Too many have been seduced by special interest masters to blindly do their bidding. This is certainly a situation that the Founders would have found despicable. While I decline to name names, I encourage all citizens to consider whether their representatives work for them or someone else. This “watching the flock” is part of our civic responsibility. After all, as Dr. Franklin once said, “if you act like sheep, the wolves will eat you”.
Q. There has been some discussion of getting rid of the Electoral College and using the popular vote alone to elect our Presidents. What are your thoughts on this? -- Gail
A. Patrick Henry: As the formation of the federal government is a fait accompli, I would be loath to see the Electoral College be dissolved, for it would be a grave injustice to the common farmers of Virginia were Philadelphia, New York and Boston determine the president of the United States. Besides, how could we tabulate a popular vote in so vast a country? And how could a candidate for president make himself known to the whole country!?
Q. President Roosevelt, Governor Henry has spoken a bit about the role of the press in the 18th century, would you please tell us your thoughts about the press in the 20th century? -- Donna
A. Franklin Roosevelt: I think I have a very good relationship with the press. Prior to my becoming president in 1933, reporters were required to submit written questions in advance. When I took office, I instituted the weekly press conference where reporters could fire their questions “at will.” It was the genius of the Founders that a free and open press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and I completely agree with their wisdom. The press is invaluable to a politician. It gives one the opportunity to educate, sway public opinion, and inform the people what you are doing on their behalf. The press is also a vehicle for those of opposing views to add their opinions to the debate, and as the thoughtful and civil discussion of various opinions is the basis of Democracy, opposing views are both instructive and valuable. Politicians must develop very thick hides, however, as the press is often partisan, and occasionally, grossly uncivil.
Q. Mr. Roosevelt, do you think it is advantageous to have an appointed position before running for an elected office? -- Taylor
A. Franklin Roosevelt: It is always an advantage to participate in the machinery of government prior to holding elective office. I did not have that advantage when I first ran for the New York senate in 1910. My service as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for almost 8 years provided me with insights, and personal relationships which were invaluable as both Governor of New York and President of the United States. After all, experience is the best teacher.
Q. For Gov. Henry and Pres. Roosevelt, were there any strategies of your political opponents that you particularly deplored? - Maggie
A. Patrick Henry: Oh indeed! The tactics employed by Mr. Jefferson and his Republicans were despicable in the 1796 elections. In numerous newspapers, owned by his operatives, he arranged to have published the most heinous falsehoods and lies regarding General Washington, even stooping so low as to forge diary entries supposedly written by the General himself, asserting that Washington was a coward and an opportunist. Jefferson’s objective was to impugn Washington’s character, so that Jefferson would be elected over John Adams. There are certain men, who, driven by ambition, will lose all sense of virtue.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: I would think that the use of character assassination against myself and my family were the lowest tactic. You enter politics with the understanding that you will need a very thick skin, but it is entirely inappropriate to suffer personal attacks. I am always willing to debate the issues, and engage in a vigorous battle of ideas. Hopefully it can be said of me that I never lowered myself to personal attacks.
Q. What would Patrick Henry and Franklin Roosevelt think about billionaires using money to influence politics? - Brian
A. Franklin Roosevelt: It is true that money has always influenced politics. This was seen as a danger by many of the Founders. Benjamin Franklin warned about an artificial aristocracy based on personal wealth. While wealth and success are encouraged and applauded, I think personal governance and morality should determine how that wealth is used. If it is used to better communicate the position of a candidate, thus encouraging debate, that is a positive. On the other hand, if it is used to limit debate by communicating falsehoods, character assassinations, or restricting the rights of others, it is harmful. Every man, regardless of his wealth, must govern himself with regard to public and private virtue. It is my hope we will never see money determine the outcome of the democratic process. That would lead to the end of the republic.
A. Patrick Henry: How one chooses to use one’s own property is one’s own business. Gentlemen of fortune have always had considerable influence in matters of policy, and I am confident they always will. Remember, that in this enlightened age of the 18th century, the gentlemen of means are usually the men serving in government, because they are among the few who can afford publick service. The hope always must be that they will act in accordance with the publick interest at heart, and not their own. I would not trust that government which would seek to dictate to me how I may or may not spend my money.
Q. Do you think a candidate should be allowed to change their mind about an issue during a campaign, or do you think that's "flip-flopping"? - Sarah
A. Patrick Henry: Naturally there are times when a gentleman will change his views based upon fresh intelligence. For example, when in the legislature, one might realize when engaged in debate with gentlemen from other parts of the Commonwealth, that he had not considered certain valid points. This exchange of viewpoints, after all, is the purpose of the General Assembly gathering annually. A politician cannot be expected to understand the entirety of complicated matters on his own.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: Governor Henry is certainly a very wise man. In the campaign of 1932, one of the important issues was the repeal of prohibition. During the campaign I had not fully made up my mind with respect to that matter. After several weeks of walking the fence and listening to various opinions, I finally determined to support repeal of the 18th amendment. Once I had determined what I considered to be the best position, I did not vary from that course.
Q. Governor Henry and President Roosevelt, how have your respective political careers been particularly affected by the issues of "influence and bargaining"? Have you ever been the victims or beneficiaries of them?
A. Patrick Henry: Without wishing to appear boastful or immodest, Divine Providence blessed me with a remarkable oratorical power. Using that gift, I was the influence, to the great unhappiness of my adversaries. For example, Mr. Madison complained to General Washington at the time of the constitutional ratification convention, that “all Mr. Henry has to do is say it should be law, and it becomes law.” Effective statesmen generally possess that genius of bargaining with others in order to exert influence. Generally, I have been a beneficiary.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: I have always believed that, in our system of government, that the level of one’s influence is determined by the support of the people. I was very lucky during my 4 terms as president to enjoy a high degree of public support. This allowed me to influence a great deal of legislation that took the country in new directions. The difficulty arises when you are leading a charge and look around and find no one behind you. Certainly this was the case in 1937 when I pushed for the Judicial Reorganization Act. Over time the initial encouragement of the people faded and I was unable to affect changes in the Federal Judiciary. In short, I went out on a limb and the people cut it off.
Q. When you were a boy, what did you think you might grow up to be?
A. Franklin Roosevelt: I knew with absolute certainty that I would, in some way, be involved in public service. It had drilled into me from the very beginning that those who are blessed with advantage must use their talents, abilities, and wealth to help others. I had no idea, as a boy, what avenue those efforts would take. After graduating from Harvard, I attended the Columbia School of Law and became an attorney, but I found the legal profession very constraining. Taking the example of my Uncle Ted and his presidency, I determined to enter politics and uphold the cause of progressivism.
Q. Patrick Henry: I have found numerous examples of people co-opting your identity on social media sites and using that platform to espouse current-day political issues or rant against the government under the guise of your 18th century support. How do you feel about this? -Lynn
A. Patrick Henry: I am honored that my principles are embraced not only amongst my contemporaries, but that future generations would take to heart my beliefs. I did not care to be remembered for anything other than being a devout Christian who ever struggled to follow the will of God, but it is flattering to know that my efforts in the preservation of liberty will stand through time.
Q. Today everyone seems to be unwilling to compromise; either standing strong with their party line, or being afraid of having a label attached. How did EFFECTIVE governing happen when tough decisions needed to be made in your eras? -Mike Emerson
A. Patrick Henry: The primary objective of good governance is the commonweal. Thus, concessions must often be made. For example, at the first congress, still desirous of a peaceful reconciliation with our parent country, we determined to embark upon an embargo of trade with Great Britain. South Carolina refused to enter into this agreement unless she were able to continue to export rice. The greater good was unity, and so, despite some hard feelings, we compromised. At times disagreeable, one must be willing to give something for union.
A. Franklin Roosevelt: Extremism in either direction is always destructive, and is always more prevalent when those who must make the difficult decisions are pressured by outside influences. While party loyalty was certainly very strong in my time, I think there was an overall feeling that despite philosophical differences, we were there to serve the nation and the public good. Compromise is the very heart of democracy, and we will always have varying opinions. If those differences are discussed civilly and with respect, then hopefully the best solution can be determined. I fear however, that outside influences will continue to grow and as I have said on many occasions, we have learned that government by organized money is as dangerous as government by organized mob.
Q. Which is better: to be more popular, or to do the right thing but unpopular?
A. Franklin Roosevelt: Well, you can’t be popular with everyone. If that were your aim, you would never accomplish anything. The guiding principle must be to do what is right for the people and the nation. That is, after all, what you have been elected to do.
A. Patrick Henry: I am in agreement with this honorable gentleman. Frequently, a statesman must sacrifice his personal popularity and ambitions for the greater good. As governor of Virginia, when I learned of General Washington’s misery at Valley Forge, and Congress not providing for the continental line, I was obliged to shake down the people of Virginia of their last shillings to come to his rescue. Naturally, I was the most unpopular fellow in Virginia for some time.
Q. Patrick Henry never ran for president. How did he see money and the press influence elections? -Michelle
A. Patrick Henry: ‘Tis true, I never did stand for nomination to the office of president of these United States, though I was urged to do so in the election of 1796. I believe it would have been unseemly were I to have sought that office after so vigorously opposing the formation of the federal government. Naturally, as a private citizen however, I paid close attention to the press. Both political factions actually owned newspapers, and used that medium to cause great damage to the opposition. I regret, that in many instances, many lies were told, including even besmirching the character and honor of him who saved us with his valor, General Washington.
Q. How far would you go to win an election?
A. Patrick Henry: I never actually solicited for publick office. Frankly, after my success in the Parson’s Cause in December of 1763, I never had need to ask for gentlemen’s votes. After that legal victory, which was of great benefit to the common farmers throughout the Old Dominion, I had become very popular, considered by many to the champion of Liberty. But the accepted practice in Virginia politics is that the candidate which spends the most in the purchase of bumbo and rum will be elected. I did spend 8 or so pounds a year for liquor—not out of necessity, but because it is common custom. Be assured of this, however: I would never sacrifice my honor or reputation as a good Christian in order to endure the hardship of publick office! Remember, please, that your legislators are not paid salaries for their services to their countrymen!
A. Franklin Roosevelt: A much shorter distance than I was willing to go in 1910 when I first ran for the State Senate of New York! In those days I was tireless, and being a novice, somewhat willing to jump into partnerships and positions that I found disagreeable, but would get me much needed votes. Now I am older and, I hope, wiser. I think every man must draw a line in the sand with regard to the means he will use to determine an end. Over the years I have become very comfortable with the process, and my self-governance. I state what I believe, cite what I have done, and outline a course for the future. Beyond that, it is the will of the people to determine whether I continue to serve them, or not. I suppose that my philosophy is working as I continue to sleep very well every night.