BRIAN LAMB: Kevin Phillips, author of 1775: A Good Year for Revolution.
At the end of your preface, you have a paragraph that says, "The years 1774 and 1775 have more than their share of unsung heroes. Some of these have provided a further welcome refreshment in this era of political disappointment." What are you getting at?
KEVIN PHILLIPS: I guess I'm getting at a lot of politicians are disappointing. And one of the things I like best about 1775, that was much more inspiring group of people.
I mean, granted the founding fathers weren't always all that they're made out to be. But it would be nice if we had a little more of that in Washington, D.C. today and a little less of what we've got.
BRIAN LAMB: What do we have then here, now?
PHILLIPS: An overgrown city with too many politicians, too many lobbyists, too many consultants, too many media. Seven out of the ten richest counties in the United States from metropolitan Washington, its the capital that can't produce. It's the country that's still great with the capital that's not.
LAMB: Who, back in 1775, who have predicted this any of them?
PHILLIPS: Well, I suspect some of them were pretty cynical about politics. Sam Adams, if he ever had an idea that there'd be a country of 300 million people and they'd have a capital that had its finger on everything in the world. He might have been able to come up with a little cynicism about that. But most of them were pretty dedicated people.
LAMB: You say that during the last during the last four years, during the campaign at 2012, you stuck your nose in this subject. When did it start and why did you start it?
PHILLIPS: Well, the first time I did something like that was back in the 1990s. I wrote a book called "The Cousins' Wars". It was about the three English-speaking civil wars, the English revolution, the American Revolution and the American civil war.
And I did that because I couldn't stand the idea of thinking about Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich for too much and it was nice to take a vacation from those guys. So when I ran out of gas writing books about politics and economics which I did a number of in the between 2002 and 2008, I said it's time to go back in history again, hop in my time capsule and then forget about these fellows.
And I have forgotten about them pretty well. I can't remember the name for example of the governor of Texas who was such a jerk in the primaries. I guess that's the revenge. A lot of people don't remember his name.
So the fact that he couldn't remember what departments were in the government, I guess, is a little forgivable. Now, I did it for the same reason in many respects.
I wanted to deal with something I like that I thought was worth pursuing. And long, long time ago, I did a book called "The Emerging Republican Majority". And it turned out it pretty much did emerge 20 or the next 24 years had Republican presidents and I thought I would take the methodologies that I used in that book and try to come up with a good explanation of the realignment of 1775 and that's a good part of what this new book is about.
LAMB: Before we get into this, would you one comment I saw on the Web, I think I'm sure it was written by Jacob Weisberg who and it was number of years ago in salon.com and he called you a liberal. And we've known you over the years as supposedly a conservative deal with your own views on liberal conservative now.
PHILLIPS: Well, I suspect that I was always more of a populist in some ways than I was either liberal or conservative.
So when I was a conservative, I was a bit more of that and a bit less of a conservative and I don't think I've ever been what I would call a liberal. Now, somebody might call me a progressive fairly and certainly even within the Republican Party for a long time, there was a major progressive movement.
But liberal, I don't think so. Outsider, anti-establishmentarian, but not liberal and not really conservative either. So I wouldn't accept either of those labels. I understand Im called everything. It doesn't stop with those labels.
But in terms of the political labels, I don't think I really have one that works terribly well at this point.
LAMB: What did you think of Richard Nixon when you worked for him?
PHILLIPS: Well, I liked him better after I wasn't working for him and he was out of the presidency. I kept up with him quite a bit, obviously, a very intelligent man, a man with enormous personal problems in terms of relating to people.
And I understand much better which I didn't at the time when I worked for him, how he was not an effective administrator and how he couldn't keep all those worms in the can whether you're talking about the administration or especially Watergate.
LAMB: How did you keep up with him during the years after he was President?
PHILLIPS: He read one of my books in the early '80s which he'd liked and somehow rather we started having a correspondence again. And then, he gave me plugs for a number of books and then we started, Id see him, oh, max four times a year, probably usually more like only two or three.
But his office was up in New York and then in Saddle River New Jersey. So when I would go from Washington to our house in Connecticut, sometimes I'd stop and see him and wed discuss politics and wed discuss some of the things that hadn't been discussable before.
But, the certain amount of stuff was I couldn't pursue and he didn't want me grilling him about something he didn't want to talk about.
LAMB: Did you ever get any insight into the Watergate and how that ever happened?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think I probably got a little. For example, one time, this was probably 1992 or thereabouts he told me and he indicated that John Mitchell had thought so too that this book that was coming out, "Silent Coup", do you remember that one?
LAMB: Colodny, I think, was one of the authors.
PHILLIPS: That they thought that that was probably some of what happened. And Colodny quoted Mitchell on the cover I think, somebody on one of his additions quoted that his thought that this was sort of how it happened. So I got that sense from Nixon, too.
LAMB: To go back to your book of 1775, how did you pursue it? How did you research it? Where did you have to go? You know, how long because in the back, in your acknowledgements, you talked about going all over the East Coast.
PHILLIPS: Well, the principal thing I did is I've been interested in the revolution since I was a kid. I think I was probably about eight or nine when I would make lists of first generals. My father wasn't sure that that was heading for anything very useful.
But I always enjoyed that. And then, when I did the "Cousin's Wars" in the 1990s, obviously, that refocused in a big way on the American Revolution. And my way of writing books is generally to buy all the books that I need for the research so that I don't have to go a library, I don't have to worry about where they are. I have them. I can go back and look at them whenever I want to.
So I must have wound up, I don't know, 600 or 800 or 1,000 books on the revolution. And I read, read, read and then I'd get a lead for something else.
And with all the stuff I did on politics and political realignments and grassroots politics, I knew where an awful lot of counties were in the eastern states. You could tell me the name of a town or the name of a county and I could follow it a big help in dealing with a lot of parochial things that the average person would say, "I'm not going to read this because I have no idea where these places are."
I generally didn't have to go to a map much. So I did research in a way and I've always done it pretty much by myself, just bringing it all to myself and having it there and basically thinking it out or not thinking it out by myself.
LAMB: Which character I'm not sure that's the way you should refer to them, but which character from 1775, both British and American, was the most interesting to you?
PHILLIPS: Well, actually a lot were interesting. Now, if you'd think interesting in terms of significant, that I have the largest overall impression of or the important impression.
George Washington was probably what people think of him as enormously impressive in a lot of ways. He was very careful in a lot of what he did to cultivate that image. He was not very effective militarily. In the middle of 1776, when the British invaded, he made a number of mistakes. The rest of the time, he was very good.
Sam Adams, I have an enormous amount of respect for. He burned a lot of records that might have told us more about him, but I think he schemed a lot of things brilliantly.
I think for example, he knew what happened at Lexington and Concord before it happened and thats that the British fired first. I think probably they did, but maybe they didn't.
Sam Adams schemed all kinds of things out brilliantly. And it would take me a documentary and a series of four (inaudible) to describe everything he did and how cute it was and how far ahead that man must have thought.
So I had a great sense of his skills and ability. The other one that always fascinated me was the British commander, Sir William Howe. His family was very interesting because his mother was the illegitimate daughter of George the 1st. They were close to the royal family.
His elder brother was Viscount Howe George Augustus who was a Brigadier in the British Army and was killed in 1758 right near Lake George in New York. He was a hero of the colonials. They loved him.
He liked the Americans. He liked the Massachusetts troops. He was democratic. He didn't wear the red coat. He had things that were not as easy to see in the woods.
And they liked him so much that when he was killed, they put a memorial tablet to him. The Massachusetts assembly, the House, they put this tablet in Westminster Abbey and the family was enormously impressed by this.
He was the hero of his two younger brothers and the two younger brothers were Admiral Lord Howe who was the commander of the British Navy during that period and Sir William Howe who was the general who commanded at Bunker Hill and then in other battles.
And I don't think either one of them wanted to win the revolution unless they could win it in a way that made it possible for the Americans and the British to have an effective and solid union. I think he wanted to win it in a way the Americans will say, "Well, we've been outmaneuvered" or "We can't win this," but he didn't want anything that was an inconclusive bloody mess. And unfortunately for the British, that meant he didn't try as hard as another general might have.
LAMB: You have a quote from George Washington from December of 1775 and heading up to Chapter 22. I want to read it.
"If that man, Lord (Dunmore) is not crushed before spring, he will become the most formidable enemy America has. His strength will increase as a snowball by rolling and faster. If some expedient cannot be hit upon to convince the slaves and servants or the impotency of his designs, I do not think that forcing his lordship on shipboard is sufficient, nothing less than depriving him of life or liberty will secure peace in Virginia."
That's our first President, George Washington.
PHILLIPS: I think that Washington said this when he was up in Massachusetts in the beginning of December of 1775 or maybe late November.
Now, communications were slow in these days. And I think Washington at that point in time, probably the most recent things he knew about (Dunmore) were things in October and November when he was probably as close to the peak of his power in Virginia. Because ultimately he was chased out of Virginia.
But during the summer and fall of 1775 he was very effective in sending out troops to raid plantations. He was stirring up the Indians. He promised to, blacks that ran away from their plantations and came to him, could find refuge and get their freedom in the British army. He even started up insurrection of indentured servants.
And for a while in October and November, not only did it look like he might succeed, but there were rumors that he was going to send a party in the area of Alexandria, Virginia. And the threat was implicitly I don't think he ever made it and he never did it.
That he would capture Martha Washington. Well, George Washington is up there in Massachusetts worried about his wife. Even Thomas Jefferson worried about his wife at the same time. And I put that in. I didn't dwell on it. I think it's a footnote or something like that. But Washington had a personal concern there, too.
LAMB: Lord Dunmore, what was his position?
PHILLIPS: He was the Earl of Dunmore in the Scottish peerage, he was the royal governor of Virginia. And he was also a guy with an incredible ego, some talent and awful lot of inability to make a judgment because he was so caught up in himself and his potential success.
LAMB: You called him a short man, combative, touchy and arrogant.
PHILLIPS: Well, arrogant, like so many of the British aristocracy would have been. But he was an odd duck. When he captured some of the and built some forts out in the Ohio valley. And he named them after his subsidiary titles. He was the Baron Blair and so one is Fort Blair, another was Fort Dunmore, before it became Pittsburgh there was 4th Dunmore for a while. County in Virginia named Dunmore. He had an ego a mile wide.
LAMB: So what would have been the personal relationship back in those days between George Washington who lived in Virginia and Dunmore? Did they know each other?
PHILLIPS: Oh, they know each other. The spring of 1775 and I'll say the late winter before the hostilities, they got tense in Williamsburg, which is the capital of Virginia. They were on some terms. They weren't friendly, both land speculators. And they shared this interest in the lands in the west.
And George Washington was developing those and Dunmore was buying up all he could get. But then they fell out and I don't think they fell out so much for personal reasons. And it's because of this fear Washington had, this guys way of doing business was to send raiding parties up the rivers, little rivers in Virginia and then capture people.
LAMB: What power would Dunmore have had over George Washington and the rest of the citizens of Virginia?
PHILLIPS: Well, he didn't have very much unless you were right within the reach of his immediate political clout. When he was in Norfolk, his troops were in control with the immediate area. But, basically, he didn't have a wide reach except through the sloops and little ships that they would send up some other rivers to try to capture people with plantations.
LAMB: But what kind of rights did the people of Virginia or the people of the colonies have in relationship to the governors of these colonies?
PHILLIPS: Well, they didn't the average Virginian didn't worry much about Dunmore, unless you were right in his sphere of influence around Norfolk, he couldn't do much to you unless his troops, for some reason, came after you. But, basically, in Virginia at that time you had a very tenuous patriot hold on the southeastern part of Virginia.
LAMB: What do you mean by patriot?
PHILLIPS: Patriot, the independence-minded faction, the people who would have been the supporters of Washington, Jefferson and all the rest. For a while, that part was counted Tory. And they were able to raise militia companies on the British side. But this is only very briefly, I'd say October-November 1775.
So that was when Dunmore's star was highest and people had to worry about him. After they abandoned Norfolk which is more or less around the New Year's day at the end of '75, 1776 then Dunmore's star was on the decline and Washington would not have cared as much about him.
LAMB: What did you think of King George III?
PHILLIPS: Well, he wasn't as bad as people made out. In other words, he wasn't an ogre. He was a man who really had big ambitions to restore the importance of the crown and he didn't really succeed.
He regarded the American Revolution the same way that a lot of politicians in Washington regarded Vietnam. He was afraid that if they couldn't hold America the dominos were going to fall elsewhere in the British Empire. He was wrong about that. He was wrong about a lot. He was a bad decision-maker for the British government in the early years. But to blame it all on him would be a great mistake.
LAMB: So what is your take on the 16 points that were made and you referred to in your book by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia constitution and then therefore the declaration of independence?
PHILLIPS: Well, that's all the stuff about George III being an ogre and being responsible for everything. And that was dressed up for a very good reason. If you were urging a revolution and by political theory of the era you could overthrow a tyrant, overthrowing a tyrant was OK. It wasn't a civil war. It was something that had a greater justification.
And therefore in order to make the case, they needed heading into the period of wanting to be credible to the other nations basically so that they could gain from France or Spain or whatever. And this was another reason for the declaration of independence. You had to make George III out to be a tyrant. So you come up with all these arguments about what he did and that was what Jefferson did.
LAMB: What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?
PHILLIPS: I wasn't a big Jeffersonian after I did all this. He was more he was a wordsmith. He wasn't a good executive when he was governor of Virginia. The British almost caught him one time. He wasn't able to organize effective resistance.
He wasn't famous until he was famous in the sense that we know him historically now. And so when he was running for president in 1790s he held himself out as the author of the declaration of independence, which certainly in some ways he was. Nobody had cared about that during the 1770s, but it helped him. That was his claim to fame when he was running for the presidency.
And then, of course, when he and John Adams died on the same day, July 4th, 1826, that's when the whole thing became the sainted document that obviously this was God's handiwork that they died on the same day.
LAMB: Knowing what you know about this, where would you have fit back in those days? What would you have been?
PHILLIPS: Well, I probably would have been a troublemaker because that was one of my major things when I was involved in politics. But I probably also would have been somebody who had a strategic bent. So I'm not sure what I would have done though. I can conceive of myself being a delegate of the continental Congress or something. It's not hard for me to imagine myself on that role. I certainly wouldn't have been, I probably wouldn't have been a military officer.
Tell you the truth Brian, I never thought about that much while I was writing it. I had this sense of kingship to some of these people because of trying to organize the idea of national realignments and then sort of grand strategy, but not from the military standpoint certainly.
LAMB: So would you have been a loyalist?
PHILLIPS: Well, I wouldn't have been a loyalist. But oddly enough, the one part of my family that I can trace back to the revolution, I couldn't get to be in the Sons of the American Revolution because my mother's family were loyalists in Pennsylvania. They were Quakers in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. And to the extent that I had ancestors involved in everything, one of them was the delegate from Bucks County who was an arch loyalist.
LAMB: To the crown?
PHILLIPS: Yes, to the crown.
LAMB: Now, what about your dad's side? Where were your both your mother and father, where were they from?
PHILLIPS: Well, my father's family would still have been in the respective parts of the British isles, mostly Ireland but some in England. I don't know. It's very hard to say.
The division of loyalties in Ireland were a lot of the poor people and the Protestants of Northern Ireland were pro-patriot. But a lot of the Catholics were pro-loyalist because the Catholic gentry at the time were trying to be accepted in the British Empire and they tried to prove that loyalty by subsidizing, raising companies to send over there. Irish publications don't like to emphasize that. But the opinion of the gentry, the Catholic gentry in Ireland was loyalist.
In Britain, it's hard to describe. The large chunks of especially in East Anglia which is the little thumb on the mitten if you look at it sticking out from London area, they were very, very patriot-minded. But that's not where my family in England came from.
LAMB: What you were born in the Bronx?
PHILLIPS: No, in Manhattan.
LAMB: In Manhattan, but you lived in the Bronx?
LAMB: Yes. But going back to those early years, you're talking about how you were fascinated by the generals back in those days. What was your childhood like or how many how kids in the family?
PHILLIPS: Just two, my brother and myself. We were separated by eight years so we weren't always in each other's hair or anything.
LAMB: What did your dad do for a living?
PHILLIPS: Well, my father was a commissioner in the New York state government.
LAMB: And so what was it like in those early, or what do you remember about being so fascinated by it? How did you get interested in it?
PHILLIPS: I got interested in it in terms of politics when I was about 11 or 12. I don't think I'd been too interested in politics before and Eisenhower was the nominee in 1952. And I remember being very, very big on Eisenhower and my father was very big on Eisenhower.
After that, I got into politics because I started getting fascinated by voting patterns. And by the time the 1956 Republican campaign came around, I was an active kid, osmosing all that. But I was already making maps county by county in different states of how they voted in presidential elections.
I mean, when I wrote this book, The Emerging Republican Majority, when I was came out when I was let's see I would have been 28. But I'd have been doing it for 12 or 14 years in terms of research, hard to believe. It wasn't terrific for my social life to be concentrating on all this stuff.
LAMB: Now, you married and have twins?
PHILLIPS: That's right.
LAMB: How old are they?
LAMB: And how interested are they in the kind of thing we're talking about here?
PHILLIPS: Well, fairly interested. One does Political Economics. The other does he consults on things that are fairly political and economic. So you could say they sort of turned out to be, I won't say, chips off the old block, but at least, you know, sort of in the same ballpark.
LAMB: Where did you learn how to write?
PHILLIPS: I don't really know. I started writing the first book I wrote didn't turn out to be a book because I gave it up for the next one which was The Emerging Republican Majority. I started writing in 1965. It was on the politics of fighting the Great Society because I'd come to Washington as administrative assistant to a congressman. And I watched it and I thought Johnson's program was really vulnerable as it turned out to be.
So I wrote this book, but when I looked back on it, it was very stilted and sort of, I won't say, formal, but it wasn't very well written. But I wrote a lot after that and I guess I developed this style. I did a number of commentaries for many years for both CBS and then for NPR. And I had to write these little short things that had to be pretty punchy.
So my writing style is a combination of lawyer's analytical writing and awful lot of writing thats not legal, and then writing an awful lot of stuff that had to be punchy. So I guess (inaudible). That's stirred into the pot in various forms.
LAMB: In this time period, you're writing about 1775, you said there were 2.1 million I don't know what you would call them but columnists in those days in this country?
PHILLIPS: There would have been about 2.1 million whites. There would have been about 2.6 or 2.7 million all told. It's very imprecise because they had official censuses in a few colonies but not generally, but that's the ballpark.
LAMB: Where were the population centers among the 13 colonies?
PHILLIPS: The population centers were the biggest populations were Pennsylvania and Virginia. Massachusetts had quite a good size population. North Carolina was growing by leaps and bounds as people went south through Pennsylvania and Virginia into the western part of North Carolina.
A number of the colonies were very small so they had no real impact in bringing the revolution about. New Hampshire, Rhode Island, to a certain extent New Jersey, Georgia was large, but small in population. The, what I call the vanguard colonies were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and South Carolina. Not New York and Pennsylvania, important as they were because they were too divided, they were not out in front in the patriot cause. They were divided. The vanguards were out in front.
LAMB: So if there were 2.6 million, what were the 400,000-500,000 that were not white?
PHILLIPS: Blacks, free blacks 50,000 maybe; black slaves, 450,000.
LAMB: Who was responsible for bringing the black slaves to America?
PHILLIPS: A lot of people, a lot of people who regretted that they had. A lot of the merchants, for example, were Quakers bringing slaves in. And then they wouldnt do that after a certain point. But in the beginning they were. The British and the French had the largest organized slave trades. A number of people in the colonies were slave traders, too. But, of course, they were nominally British at that time.
LAMB: How many other countries had people, forces, military in and around the colonies?
PHILLIPS: The Spanish were present in the Caribbean and west of the Mississippi all the way down into Mexico so that the Spanish were a presence essentially on the southern frontier of the colonies.
Then French had been kicked out of North America in 1763 after the French and Indian war, the Seven Years War in global terms. So that while there were a lot of, (a lot) but a number of French people living in Canada and in the Great Lakes area, France was not much of a presence. It had been pushed out, that's why the French were so anxious to cause trouble for the British and help the colonies by sending them money and ammunition. But essentially the French were not a force in North America at that point.
LAMB: You pointed out among the six first presidents we had that four of them were from Virginia and two of them are from Massachusetts father, son, why was that?
PHILLIPS: Well, because those were the important states at that point in time. And they'd been the important colonies. When I say that the four important ones were Massachusetts and Connecticut, Connecticut was more important for some odd strategic reasons and Virginia and South Carolina in the South.
But Virginia was the old dominion and had the big population, very widely respected, enormous influence in terms of territory because West Virginia was then in Virginia, so was Kentucky. They claimed the entire Great Lakes. They were and they were the oldest colony. They dated back to 1607 so they had a long history of being involved in things. The House of Burgesses was probably the most advanced of the colonial lower legislative bodies.
LAMB: So, you've lived in New York City.
LAMB: You went to Colgate which is upstate New York.
LAMB: You went to Harvard, lived in Boston and now you live in Connecticut. Prior to that, you lived in Maryland. What do you what do you feel living in Connecticut? Do they care do they much about this kind of history?
PHILLIPS: Yes. As a matter of fact, they do. I gave a talk in Madison, Connecticut a week ago, very, very interested and enthusiastic audience. I would say that New England probably 1775 more than anywhere else because in the south, only South Carolina and Virginia were doing anything of any importance in 1775.
North Carolina was too divided and Georgia didn't matter much. But New England was out in front. The British knew the big trouble was coming out of New England.
LAMB: Why? What was what was the reason that the patriots wanted to be separated from Great Britain?
PHILLIPS: Well, there are a number of yardsticks, you have to take them in layers. The underlying population in New England tended to come in the beginning from East Anglia which was the old section of England that was most against the crown and the founding support for parliamentary side in the English civil war.
So, after Parliament triumphs but then loses in the restoration, you had a continuing flow out of East Anglia. And a lot of the settlement in the New England colonies, especially Massachusetts you see so many names of towns in Eastern Massachusetts that are also the names of towns in East Anglia.
So, they had that heritage that they were from a part of England that had been against the crown in the English civil war so there were a little troublemaking. Their religion tended to be Congregationalist which was, again, sort of against the Church of England and that made them inclined that way.
Their business was maritime. They were seafarers. And the English were starting to think too many of them were seafarers and they were a threat and they had to be put in their place. So they had a lot to be unhappy about.
LAMB: What were the Virginians unhappy about?
PHILLIPS: Tobacco for the most part. Tobacco was the big crop. They had to send it to Britain. They couldn't send it anywhere else. They did, to a small extent they smuggled perhaps a tenth or a sixth of it out of Virginia and got it elsewhere.
But essentially, you had to send it to Britain and you generally had to take back you couldn't get all your money. You've got they sent you goods and they got what they thought was a bad price. They were unable to get the markup they could have gotten if they could sell it directly to France or Holland or Spain or whatever.
They didn't like the junk they were sent back in trade and they felt (put upon). They you couldn't have a currency in the colonies. You basically had to cobble it together from various sources. You had to get gold or silver from the Spanish Caribbean or somewhere else. You had to issue certain types of notes that colonies were allowed to issue.
But basically your whole currency was not really there, so business was hard to conduct. The Virginians felt put upon economically very much. They were anxious to expand to the west with settlement but the king was trying to stop anybody from going over the Appalachians. So, they had a different set of concerns, the New England did.
LAMB: What do you think would be the reaction on the part of people that lived back then to what we see now of the British Monarch and the family?
PHILLIPS: Well, it turns out, of course, that the it's not as if we have a monarchy here but you have so much interest in the British royal family. It's kind of hard to believe that the revolution was designed to "get rid of the king and the royal family" because the attention to them is quite striking.
Obviously they don't have to put up with the downside of the British monarchy, various ways they get on the nerves of the British people from time to time. And we just see the side we want to see. But I think both sides would be surprised at how it all worked out.
LAMB: You say in your book in the preface something that I want you to relate to the early days, the Internet revolution especially in the 200s, 2,000s worked its own magic. When you call the internet revolution magic, what are you referring to?
PHILLIPS: In the view historians have of the revolution and its causations, it used to be possible to take, well I would say a more simple-minded and simplistic approach. You could easily say well everybody was fighting a war of ideas. You had these great debates and discussions and everything.
But as the Internet revolution has made it possible to access so much detail and so many records and so much minutiae of what was going on during that period, it becomes clear that it was far more than a war of ideas and great discussions and things like that. There was an awful lot of pretty nasty nitty-gritty in places. And as more of that becomes clear and as people understand this is, I really get the sense that they do especially in talking about 1775. But an awful happened in 1775 and even in 1774.
It becomes a lot more complicated. And as it becomes more complicated, we understand that an awful lot went into it and it wasn't the sort of Fourth of July speech stuff. It was a lot tougher-minded than that.
LAMB: When did you find back in the '74, '75 era that people back there knew there was going to be a shooting war?
PHILLIPS: I would say on both sides that they really started to get worried in the summer and fall of 1774. The British admirals and generals and diplomats were reporting to the crown that the colonies were sending ships everywhere to try to get ammunition and muskets and cannon. This was after the British had sent more troops to Boston after the Boston Tea Party and the so-called Coercive Acts and it's clear that the colonies were pulling together ammunition and cannon.
Now, maybe they didn't intend to use it, that was a big debate. The king with an order in council on October 1774 basically prohibited British ships from taking ammunition and everything to the colonies unless it was officially sanctioned so they were very alert to this.
As soon as the colonies found out about the order in council prohibiting ammunition from being sent to the colonies, in New Hampshire and in Rhode Island, colonist patriot militia took over the forts and took the ammunition and cannon they could get. So everybody knew it was coming in the winter of 1774, '75.
LAMB: How many people fought in the revolutionary war?
PHILLIPS: How many people fought at least once in some battle, you know, I would guess 200,000 250,000. But the number of regular troops American regular troops was never very high. And you would have a militia company would turn out, let's say some small cavalry patrol goes into some part of New Jersey and says, "The British are bringing in supply wagon, four or five wagons," so we want to capture them.
Well, a militia would turn out and help the small little troop of regular soldiers so they would have been in action. There's a lot of that. The data on just Americans who were loyalists fighting Americans who were patriots, huge numbers of battles that never had a British soldier in them.
LAMB: How many British soldiers who were here who had come over here on a ship to be here just for the purpose of protecting the crown?
PHILLIPS: Well, I would say they have never had more than 30,000 or 40,000 at one time or maybe 50,000 but probably 30,000 or 40,000. So if you consider that some would be called back and regiments were changed and so forth, I doubt that they ever sent more than 75,000 or 100,000 soldiers and sailors you have to include them to the American Revolution.
LAMB: You said that the British looked to the Russians first for troops and they and then explain the Germans and how they got into it.
PHILLIPS: Well, the Russian thing was amazing because they the Russian monarchy had a lot of soldiers occasionally to rent out. They had a war in southern Russia of some significance in 1774, so they must have had a lot of troops left over that they'd organized for that. And they were approached obviously early in 1775 and by June 1775, there's a report in one of the Virginia newspapers that the crown is trying to hire Russians.
And they thought they had it arranged but it fell apart in the autumn of 1775 partly because Frederick the Great was telling Catherine the Great not to do it and they weren't friendly to the notion of letting troops go through the German territory, well in any event it didn't happen.
And after that, they had to turn to the Prussians I'm sorry, the Hessians and they weren't all the Hessians. They came from a number of German states but there were probably a total of 50,000 German mercenaries not all at the same time but 50,000 or 60,000 all in all during the revolution.
LAMB: I know I'm jumping here but in the end why did the colonists or why did the patriots win?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think they won partly because it was such a challenge for the British from the start. The logistics were enormously difficult, the number of ships they needed, the number of troops, they didn't have them but even more than that you had 13 colonies, large population, a number of them they had a lot of people who'd fought in previous wars.
The British were not able to keep control of much of anything through 1775. The governors fled to ships. The only fort that was in British hands at the end of 1775 was the fortifications on Boston neck. They were just basically squeezed out of North America and they couldn't get it back. Most people don't understand, they were pushed out in 1775.
And when they came back with the large number of troops that they needed in 1776, they were too late. And then they had to follow it up in 1777 and they were beaten at the Battle of Saratoga. That was pretty much the end of their real prospect of holding the colonies.
LAMB: You mentioned George Washington and Sam Adams back then. Where would you put James Madison, John Adams, some of the other people?
PHILLIPS: James Madison was a fairly young man at that point. He was an activist but he wasn't an important figure. John Quincy Adams was not involved. John Adams was a very significant force, a major force in putting the independence and the pre-independence where in essence you had a country but it was still undeclared. He was a huge force in that.
LAMB: Ive got a list here of all the books you've ever written except the one that you say that you never completed there in the early times and it goes back to 1969. Before I get into some of that, I want to show you a clip of a visit you had here on (Book Notes) in 1990. We do this to most guests so look and see how the change.
PHILLIPS: Well, my sense is that if you go back and you look at the history of the Republican Party and I don't think I sufficiently appreciated this back in 1967 or '68 that it's taken power in some of the great cycles of American history. It's taken power for broad-based reasons in 1860 with Lincoln and the Civil War in 1896 when William McKinley fought back the William Jennings Bryan challenge.
And then, in 1968, when the country was really in some ways on the verge of disintegrating from riots in the cities, riots in the campus, a Southern sectional movement led by George Wallace and the Republican Party has played a kind of nationalizing role. It's kept things together during this particular period. But once it's been in for 10, 12 more years than that, what we see is that it tends to, I think, get too close to upper bracket economics, a kind of capitalist heyday. And it does too much for the people at the top and it loses sight of the people at the bottom. And I think the 1980s have had a lot of that.
LAMB: How's the Republican Party during the day compared to what you said then?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think it's a lot of the same thing. It's sort of like a jack-in-the-box. You know, you wind it up, it pops up and says, help the rich, cut taxes for the poor, unfortunate masses and corporate CEOs. That really turns me off about the Republican Party because they have done it time after time. They get in, as I said, years ago for broader reasons, but, once they are in there, that's where they go. It's one of their weakest and least supportable attributes.
LAMB: Over the years, let me just go through some of these books and first ask you, when were you ever wrong when you look back on how you analyzed things?
PHILLIPS: You mean hugely wrong?
LAMB: No. I just mean, when you look back and say, you know, "I missed that," whatever it is, or have you been on target all the time?
PHILLIPS: Oh, no, no. As far as minor things or somewhat minor things, to take one, I really didn't think that George W. Bush would ever become president. And then I think maybe it would have been nicer if he hadn't. I didn't expect the Republicans to win Congress in 1994, until it was almost upon us. So I certainly didn't expect that, say, six months earlier.
A big mistake was to not take Ronald Reagan as seriously as I should have. Granted he wasn't the deepest president we ever had, but he was pretty effective in his own way. And I didn't take that seriously enough, and there's a whole bunch of things. If you would ask me for a list, I could have a longer one, but that will do for a starter.
LAMB: In 1991, the one book you're talking about was The Politics of Rich and Poor. What led to that book?
PHILLIPS: Well, I had, during the 1980s, been a consultant to a succession of Wall Street firms. I'd go around and brief their clients on politics and so forth. I didn't work for them, but I was a consultant to them. And as I really got involved in the economics side and the financial side more than I had previously, I was seeing the beginnings of what because as this huge buildup of wealth through the financialization of America.
And when I wrote The Politics of Rich and Poor, it was a pretty well-received book. But even that was just relatively the beginning of the hugeness of the money assembled by the financial sector and a very financialized group of senior people in the corporations that did something else. And, if anything, of course, it's just gotten worse.
LAMB: In 1995, you did Arrogant Capital Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics. Anything in particular come to mind when you think back?
PHILLIPS: Well, it was obviously a play on words, two types of arrogant capital in the United States arrogant capital Wall Street, arrogant capital Washington, D.C. I still certainly think that one is true.
LAMB: 19 so many here the '84 Staying on Top, The Business Case for a National Industrial Strategy; 1982, Post-Conservative America?
PHILLIPS: The idea there was that you were not looking in traditional conservative under the Reagan administration. You were looking at a I remember the old Howard Jarvis tax revolution in California and things like that. You had a whole sequence of sort of radical conservatives; also, obviously, the beginnings of a religious right in the South. And this wasn't the traditional conservatism. They're my post-conservative discussions.
LAMB: April of 2003, Wealth and Democracy A Political History of the American Rich?
PHILLIPS: Well, that was more of the politics of rich and poor with a whole lot of detail. And, obviously, at that point in time, we were really seeing what had been an early-stage buildup when I wrote The Politics of Rich and Poor. It was now a major, major buildup. And, of course, it went on to be what we finally saw break apart in 2008.
LAMB: Earlier we talked about Richard Nixon, but, beforehand, what did you think of Lyndon Johnson and what's his legacy?
PHILLIPS: I was never a fan of Lyndon Johnson. I don't think his legacy is terrific. He was obviously a very capable man. In a number of ways, he was like like Nixon. He was suspicious of everybody. He's not going to be remembered as what he would like to be remembered as. Obviously, he was capable and did some things as Nixon did some things, but, no, I don't think Johnson is I'm not going to put up a statue of Lyndon Johnson right next to Washington or Jefferson.
LAMB: Legacy of Gerald R. Ford?
PHILLIPS: Jerry Ford was a likeable guy who wasn't one of the world's great talents. And I always thought that probably some different reasons why Nixon picked him, and they weren't all totally flattering, but I think he was a "caretaker president" fairly successful as that, but I don't think he'd be regarded as anything more than that historically.
LAMB: Jimmy Carter?
PHILLIPS: Well, he's a nice man, but, as what happens to the Democrats when their whole party was pulled apart during the '60s and then when they backed away from the government (type results), you wind up going to a (Bible-belt) peanut farmer. And that wasn't the answer either.
LAMB: Do you remember what you thought about him back then?
PHILLIPS: Oh, I didn't support. I voted for I guess, I did vote for Ford. I didn't think much of Ford, but, no. I think it's very unfortunate that the Democrats have gone through a sequence of presidents from the South who have embarrassing young brothers, who has sort of scandals and so forth. If you look at Johnson, if you look at Carter, I mean, in terms of Billy Carter at least with the beer and everything, and then you'd go along to, you know, the (Ozark Casanova) there so that you have this package of Democratic presidents who haven't exactly been out of the Washington (Adam Jefferson) mold either.
LAMB: While you're there, the legacy of Bill Clinton?
PHILLIPS: Well, I'm not a fan of Bill Clinton. And I don't think his legacy is going to be all that much. Here is a man that, in the last parts of his administration, has a (tech bubble) that falls apart. He gets sort of a Glass-Steagall prohibition on the (amalgamation) of all the financial sector. I can't see what his legacy was aside from the fact that he was a very capable operator.
LAMB: You've written a lot about George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush. You didn't care for them?
PHILLIPS: No, I didn't care for them very much. George H. W. was a ni9ce guy. He was always sending people. You must have gotten some thank-you notes. Did you ever get a thank-you note from George H. W.? He was a nice man. He was a "thank-you note" president. He wasn't a particularly dynamic leader of any sort.
And then you get to George W. I mean, George W. I just couldn't imagine how he could ever have gotten there. And, of course, you can say that of probably about six or eight American presidents. But, by the time you've gone to see him action, you know, you wanted to see George H. W. come back. No. To me, the (Bushes) and the mere fact that Jeb Bush is making noises in the woodwork is enough to groan.
LAMB: Barack Obama?
PHILLIPS: I voted for him in the first race. I didn't the second time around. And I didn't vote for Romney either. I don't think he's a leader. I don't think he's a very effective executive. I think he's somebody who's bright, who and, also, you may know the exact number, but he's apparently played over 100 rounds of golf while he's been president. That's about 75 more than any president should do if he is spending enough attention on the needs of the country. So I haven't been enamored of Obama either.
LAMB: One book I haven't asked you about was back in 1975 Mediaocracy, American Parties and Politics in the Communications Age. Move it forward 35 years.
PHILLIPS: Well, Brian, we were friends then. And we were we were both cynics about the media. And I thought that was justified, too.
PHILLIPS: They had too much power and they were feeling their oats. And the notion of mediaocracy was that you had a politics which was slipping into the control of the media. Now, I have to say I don't that's true anymore, but I think they've played a role in breaking a president the president being Nixon. If they had wanted to do that to Johnson, they could have broken him. If they wanted to talk about Kennedy sharing girlfriends with mob leaders, they could have broken him, too. It turned out to be Nixon, the one they broke.
LAMB: What about the power of the media today?
PHILLIPS: I don't think it's that great because the media has been vulcanized. The great names of 40 years, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, whatever, they don't have the clout now.
LAMB: Who does?
PHILLIPS: It's diffused. There's an anarchy out there of websites, of small media. Collectively, I'm sure they can set the scene in many ways. But can they can they break a president? You know, I don't see how.
LAMB: What kind of power did the media have in 1775?
PHILLIPS: Well, there's The Media and the medium, the small newspapers. I'm sure they're all important, but so much happened in places that didn't have newspapers that I have the feeling that The Revolution didn't need newspapers to happen. But when you jump and you say you include books and you include church sermons I suppose a church sermon was a medium very, very important.
Thomas Paine and Common Sense, a book, that was an important pamphlet, call it that, sold 100,000. Can you imagine what it would be like today to sell the equivalent in the population of this country some political tract? The impact that it would have would be enormous if you had it expanded by, what, 100 times what he sold. So, yes, the media was powerful then, but not in the sense of what we think of media.
LAMB: Kevin Phillips, our guest, author of his 15th book, 1775 A Good Year for Revolution, we thank you for your time.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.