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President Podcast by Matthew Biss

President Podcast

Biographies of the POTUS

by Matthew Biss

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Running Time
60 Min.


With this podcast, I want to take you through the lives of each person to bear that great mantle of responsibility of leading the nation. I aim to help you, the listener, see them as people, to strip them away of their reputation and celebrity and portray their humanity. I hope that you feel their struggles, their moments of indecision, and their failings as people and leaders. I also want you to feel their successes and their triumphs.

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James Madison, Part 1: Father of the Constitution

Author: Matthew Biss
Mon, Oct 31, 2016

  Founding Father James Madison may not be quite as well known as his buddy Thomas Jefferson, but he did a lot to make the United States the country that was able to lead the western hemisphere to democracy. James Madison began his illustrious career working for religious freedom in his home state of Virginia, a project that he worked closely with Jefferson on for many years. He was the youngest member of the Continental Congress and an influential leader of the Virginia Assembly. Madison was then one of the key figures in bringing delegates together for the purpose of saving the country from the failing Articles of Confederation.   He is called the “Father of the Constitution” as it was modeled after a plan he created, that he tirelessly pushed through the Constitutional Convention, and then fought for from the shadows as one of the principle authors of the Federalist Papers. If that wasn’t enough, it was Madison that sponsored the Bill of Rights.  

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Thomas Jefferson, Part 4: The Man of the People

Author: Matthew Biss
Sun, Jul 31, 2016

The election of 1800 was a crap sandwich without the bread. John Adams was running for reelection against Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jefferson and Burr clearly unseat Adams (largely in part due to the 3/5ths compromise), but due to the way ballots worked at the time it wasn’t sure who would actually win. At the time, electors each cast their vote for two individuals, each one being counted equally. The winner was the man with the most votes, and second place would become vice president. It makes sense in theory that the runner up should be the vice president, but in practice it hasn’t been working out. The last election resulted in a president and vice president that were opposed to one another. In this case, since Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson represented the same party the result was a tie between the two. Each elector had named them as their first and second choices. It will be the job of the House of Representatives to determine the victor. Each state would be granted one vote, as determined by the majority decision of that state’s delegation, and a candidate would need nine states to win. While it was clear that Jefferson was supposed to be the winner, it took 36 rounds of voting to produce Jefferson as the winner. Issues during Jefferson’s time in office Barbary States During the Jefferson presidency, the United States decided to finally take action against the Barbary pirates that had been an extensive drain on the country’s resources. Not wanting to pay massive amounts of tribute (and encouraging more “requests” in the future), Jefferson ordered military action against the Barbary States. It mostly worked. Louisiana Purchase The United States needed unrestrained access on the Mississippi and the use of New Orleans as a port. To that end, Thomas Jefferson attempted to buy New Orleans from the French (who had just acquired it from Spain) for up to $10 million. In the end, they received a counter offer from Napoleon that was too good to pass up, even if it might not be Constitutional. They would buy the entire Louisiana Territory for only $15 million. Lewis and Clark Now that America had doubled in size overnight, we needed to explore that vast western territory to see what is out there. The ultimate prize would be the discovery of a northwest passage that would make direct access to the Pacific Ocean possible. Jefferson would tap Meriweather Lewis to lead the Corps of Discovery into Louisiana territory. Legacy Thomas Jefferson carefully prepared his own epitaph encapsulate his life, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” He would pass away on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, just a few hours before John Adams also died.

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Thomas Jefferson, Part 3: Sage of Monticello

Author: Matthew Biss
Sat, Jul 02, 2016

  Thomas Jefferson would return to the homeland, anticipating a short stay before returning to Paris. That, however, didn’t happen. A revolution is taking hold in France while the new president under the Constitution (George Washington) is asking the Sage of Monticello to be his Secretary of State. Washington’s top advisors were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, the young war hero who would serve as Secretary of the Treasury. Intense political division between those two meant that the President would receive advice from each one that was opposite that of the other. These irreconcilable differences would give rise (eventually) to the two-party system we now enjoy.   After serving in the cabinet during the President’s first term, Jefferson could no longer stand the constant differences he had with Hamilton (primarily), but also with Washington, who usually sided with the faction of Federalists that had taken hold. He would retire to Monticello to enjoy the rest of his life with his family and his farms. While he did get a few years of rest, Thomas was compelled to re-enter the political arena as Hamilton’s schemes had come to light and the contents of the Jay Treaty became known. The treaty was everything Jefferson had feared, and this development led to him representing the Republicans in the 1796 election (following the retirement of George Washington). Thomas Jefferson would lose a close race to John Adams, becoming Vice-President. It may have been for the best, as Jefferson would wait by the sidelines watching his political opponents make a mess of things, making way for Jefferson Republicans to take over the White House for many years.

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Thomas Jefferson, Part 2: Cosmopolitan

Author: Matthew Biss
Mon, May 30, 2016

After some tough times (both professionally and personally), Thomas Jefferson needed an escape. Fortunately, the new nation also needed a strong, new diplomat to minister to France, as it was about time for the aging Benjamin Franklin to return home. Jefferson considered his time in Paris as some of the best and most memorable days of his life, living there from August 1784 to September 1789. He enjoyed the music, architecture, the enlightened people, as well as the elegant social life. He no longer would have to learn about Europe simply by reading about it.   He would be working alongside John Adams (and Franklin before he left) to negotiate trade agreements with England, Spain, and France. He would become friends with the Marquis de Lafayette of Revolutionary War fame and aided him in the composition of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. As Jefferson was in Paris as the French Revolution began and when the Bastille was stormed, 1789 saw Jefferson turning home for what he believed a short rest before his return. His plans were spoiled when Washington appointed him as the nation’s first Secretary of State, requiring him to stay home and lend his services to the presidential cabinet.

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Thomas Jefferson, Part 1: The Pen of the Revolution

Author: Matthew Biss
Sun, May 08, 2016

  Thomas Jefferson may be the most talented person to ever be our head of state. While his claim to fame is his penning of the Declaration of Independence, he was talented in a large variety of fields. Thomas was born the son of a wealthy Virginian planter, Peter Jefferson. When his father died, Tom would inherit 30 slaves and a 3,000 acre farm, which included the site that would later become Monticello, his hill-top palace. The young Jefferson showed a talent for his intellectual pursuits and would go on to graduate from the College of William and Mary. He would follow that educational foundation up by studying law.   Just as he was establishing himself as a successful lawyer, Jefferson married Martha Skelton, with whom he would have six children. Only two of these would survive to adulthood. As America’s revolution kicked off, the radical Jefferson was included in the early circles of the shakers of movers, and was an early replacement to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress (a post which he hated). While Jefferson sadly accepted his assignment to Philadelphia, he did earn a reputation for his skill in writing, both for his composition and his beautiful hand. This talent was put to use, and he was assigned to a committee responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence,  the significance of which few appreciated at the time. Once his assignment in Philadelphia was complete and the war was official, Jefferson would return home for the all-important work of organizing his native Virginia. As a member of the House of Delegates, he worked on the new state constitution, revised the state’s laws (drafting 126 bills in three years), and attempted to establish religious freedom in his state. On that point he failed. Jefferson would serve back-to-back, one-year terms as the state’s governor. He had the misfortune of becoming the target of the traitor Benedict Arnold and his forces, who would burn much of the city to the ground. While Thomas Jefferson escaped the clutches of the invading force, he was publicly criticized for his handling of the event and would not be elected again.  

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John Adams, Part 3: Old Oak

Author: Matthew Biss
Tue, Mar 29, 2016

After spending many years abroad serving as a diplomat, Adams would return home just in time to see his country get off to a new start. There was no question of who would be the first president; but who would be his number two guy? John Adams was the most sensible choice. It was a small role, with his main duty being to oversee the Senate. He would be more involved than any other vice president was with the senate, and set a record for tie-breaking votes that still hasn't been broken. While active otherwise, from the beginning the Vice President had little influence within his own administration. During these early years while Adams was VP, parties were beginning to break out. The dividing line was on the role of the federal government, how much power should be vested there, and the influence it had over the states. Adams was a leading federalist, even if philosophically he didn't agree with the whole premise of party politics. Once it was clear that Washington would resign after two terms, the question of who will lead next became very important. The two leading candidates were founding fathers Jefferson and Adams. You might imagine them as being friendly with one another, both having worked towards building this nation for decades, but at this point they were political rivals. They each had very different ideas of how the government should run. It was a close contest, but Adams took it by a narrow margin and became the second president of the United States. While in office, he faced several pressing issues that he had to navigate the country through. The French and British were at war. France was going to war with everybody, as a revolution had taken over. The question of whose side America should be on and how we should feel towards the French patriots was one that divided the country along party lines. His own federalist party generally supported the idea of war with France (who was taking actions at our ships abroad and sabotaging trade), or at least preparing for it, and maintaining a profitable economic relationship with Britain. The anti-federalists, or the republicans, were very strongly on the side of France and against war. Though Adams wished only to prepare for war as a last resort, he was criticized as being a warmonger. After it became clear that the current French government would only work with us if bribed and refusing to meat with our diplomats, the nationwide sentiment did a 180, meaning that both parties and the people at large were generally ok with going to war with France (take a number). However, Adams had received private word that one of his diplomats was acceptable and that the French minister would quietly be willing to come to a peaceful accord, so despite now getting the improved national defense he had wanted in the beginning, he began to stall for time to give peace a chance. John Adams was criticized for not being willing to go to war and attempting to maintain neutrality. During a time of such high tensions, some things happened that probably shouldn't have. The federalists had capitalized on the threat of war, and began to pass legislation that would leave a bad taste in our mouths. Though John Adams didn’t ask for these laws or even encourage them, they are the blackest marks on his record, and can be fairly called reprehensible.  There had been a serious problem with French spies and sympathizers. There were 25,000 French immigrants in America, mostly refugees. Some of them were wealthy refugees who fled France, risking their deaths had they stayed, but most of them were refugees from the Caribbean who fled the slave uprisings. There were thousands of them, integrated throughout the country, and on the verge of war with France they were feared, just like the British loyalists during the revolution, German citizens during the first world war, Japanese citizens during the second, or people of certain ancestries  during our recent conflicts. Different though,

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John Adams, Part 2: The Diplomat

Author: Matthew Biss
Wed, Mar 16, 2016

  As was his character, Adams had spent the previous eight months showing his true devotion to the cause. I doubt that any worked harder than he, or fought harder in congress for what he believed in. He contributed at every turn toward the American cause of independence, with the timing and wording of the Declaration, planning the future government and its ruling principles, striving for a republican government that could unite the states. Benjamin Rush would write of Adams, "This illustrious patriot has not his superior, scarcely his equal for abilities and virtue on the whole of the continent of America."   Their work done for a season, Adams would return to home in November. At the time, he foolishly thought that his part was done, and that he would be home for good. His intention was to stay home, resume his law practice, and manage his affairs and be with his family once again. He would scarcely be able to take a breath before he was called back into service, however. On November 27, he was appointed as a commissioner to France with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee. He would be replacing Silas Deane, who was being removed to answer for charges of poor conduct, and would join Franklin and Lee in Paris, with the intent of securing a french alliance. The Boston would reach Bordeaux, France, where Adams would learn that due to the win at Saratoga by the Continental Army, France and the United States had already agreed to an alliance, making his roughly seven week trip somewhat pointless. In fact, the agreement had occurred before he had even left home, the news just hadn’t reached Massachusetts yet. Even so, Adams would head to Paris, reaching the great city and crossing the Seine on April 8. Adams would seek out Franklin immediately, moving in with him and giving the apartment of Silas Deane to John Quincy, who would begin boarding school nearby. With the mission accomplished before he had even set sail, and Franklin being the queen of the ball, Adams set himself to taking care of the important but tedious details of their duties. He drafted reports, worked on correcting their accounts and finances that were in ruin after poor handling by Franklin, and worked for objectives such as prisoner exchange. Over the years, Adams would travel to Paris, Spain, Holland, and London, securing the rights and trade that Americans needed back home. During his ten years of foreign service, he had never refused a duty, always gave his best, and refused to quit. Not once did he violate his principles or ethics.  He had achieved astounding success, considering the lack of support from back home. His actions had literally saved the country. He entered Holland completely on his own, not even knowing the language or any of the people and without official recognition. Yet he was able to secure a $2 million dollar loan for the government, which was badly needed. He led in the treaty of Paris, and helped encourage the French to send in naval support to win the war. By this time, John was 52. He had been away for ten years, traveling back and forth across Europe. It is hard to say just how hard it must have been. No, he didn’t face musket balls on the battlefield, he had traveled enough distance over this time to encircle the earth. He never refused his duty, and always did his best, never bending or compromising his principles. He had gotten some significant successes in this time, with little support from the home front. His actions had literally saved the country. His one man mission to Holland with no knowledge of the language, culture, or points of contacts came at a critical point. He had helped bring the French fleets that helped win the war, and did his part in the treaty of Paris. He did better in London than any thought that he would, and it is not likely there was an American who could have done better. Never, at any point, did his faith and devotion to an independent republic of these United States fal...

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John Adams, Part 1: Atlas of Independence

Author: Matthew Biss
Mon, Mar 07, 2016

Born into a comfortable yet not wealthy household, John Adams didn’t have instant access to the burgeoning aristocracy as Washington or Jefferson. He would earn it, in the end. Born only a couple of years after Washington, Adams's world was quite different from the young gentleman from Virginia. He was raised just outside of Boston in a humble town of Braintree. His father was a deacon in the Congregational Church, and earned his living as a shoemaker, supplementing the family with income and food from their own crops. After his completion at Harvard, John had no desire to become a minister as his father was, but rather had his heart set on practicing law. At the time the best way to do this was through apprenticing yourself to a practicing lawyer while studying very hard. To support his studies during this time, he was teaching Latin in Worchester, Massachusetts until 1758. The up and coming attorney had his eye set on the daughter of another Congregational minister in nearby Weymouth, Abigail Smith. Unlike Washington’s marriage, this one was a union of love. They would marry in 1764 and have five children. In 1765 an uproar grew over the imposed Stamp Act. Though he had strong opinions on the matter, John was at first reluctant to voice them or participate. Things were just starting to get good, his practice was prosperous, his young family was growing. He also wasn’t trusting of some of the radicals, which included his famous cousin Samuel. At this time, he was not yet the revolutionary that he would later become. His position was that the royal government had simply erred, perhaps because of the time and distance that separated them from the imperial court. By 1770, John Adams had become a very successful lawyer, working perhaps the greatest caseload of any attorney in the area, gaining a reputation for his persuasive rhetoric and integrity. And we finally reach 1774, as Adams was one of four delegates from Massachusetts to attend the First Continental Congress. He was a very busy bee, and between this year and  the next he would serve on more committees than any other delegate. He served on ninety committees, being the chair of twenty of them. Adams may have gone into the continental congress as a simple but well-thought of lawyer from Braintree, but he would emerge as the civilian leader of the rebellion. In my opinion, John Adams was the hardest working man among those that founded our country. That isn’t to make light the trials that others faced and the sacrifices they gave, but is meant to point out that I think John sometimes isn’t given enough credit. He put in the time, the work, he never slacked. His resolution never failed him, he always fought hard for what he believed was right, and if there was a little ambition mixed in with that, I am ok with that. Much of what the Continental Congress achieved was due to his fanatical dedication to the cause. As the second congress began its work, an important issue came to the forefront. The Continental Army needed a commander. Over the session the body would fight tooth and nail over the question of independence, eventually coming to that inevitability mid summer. Remember that the separation was not clean. War had actually already started, with the battles of Lexington and Concord taking place about a month previously. The question of the second congress was how to manage that and what the response would be, and would that response be divided? The British had reinforced Boston and seized the Charlestown peninsula at the battle of Bunker Hill. The colonial militia had gathered and boxed the British in, beginning the siege of Boston. They were loosely led by William Heath and General Ward, but those were Massachusetts men. While it may seem fitting that they would lead the Boston siege, there was a fairly serious diplomatic issue, which we discussed in a previous episode about Washington. There had been some tensions among the northern and sou...

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Bonus Episode: George Washington’s Farewell Address

Author: Matthew Biss
Mon, Feb 15, 2016

George Washington was the reluctant leader. He accepted the public's decision to become president, was persuaded to stay for a second term for the good of the country, but finally insisted on resigning before a third term. By this time, factions were resulting in severe infighting among the nation's top leaders. Washington was becoming an object of criticism among political opponents and old friends, and he felt that he had finally earned his retirement. His part now done, Washington resurrected the farewell address that he had intended to use after his first term in office, but which had to go on ice for a while after he accepted a second nomination for office. With the help of Hamilton and Madison, the address was updated and given before the elections that year took place. This Farewell Address focuses on the problems that Washington saw in the new nation, and he wished to paint clearly the threats to the Constitution as he saw them. He warned of the dangers of party politics, becoming too involved in foreign politics, and that we should try to avoid making allies or enemies abroad.  He advises the country to maintain a balanced budget, to avoid expensive wars, and reminded the people that sometimes taxes are necessary. FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS: 1 The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made. 2 I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both. 3 The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea. 4 I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire. 5 The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myse...

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George Washington, Part 4: The Man Who Would Not Be King

Author: Matthew Biss
Wed, Feb 03, 2016

  After the war, more than anything George just really wanted to get back to his farm. He was away from his home for the entire duration of the war. Though he had left a nephew in charge, things weren’t up to snuff and he had earned his reprieve. Many people forget that after the war, Washington didn’t immediately become president. We originally had another form of government under the articles of confederation, which was approved and ratified in 1777. Many people forget that after the war, Washington didn’t immediately become president. We originally had another form of government under the articles of confederation, which was approved and ratified in 1777. While a different government, we actually had many different presidents before Washington. There was no executive office, so this title was for the President of Congress, who was still under the control of the legislative body. It’s hard to even say who was the first. Initially it was Peyton Randolph, but that was years before the Confederation had been ratified. Another claimant is John Hanson, who was the first to take the reins in 1781 according to the terms within the articles of confederation. It was very clear that our country would not last long under the Articles of Confederation. There simply wasn’t enough, or any, executive or federal power. There was little to truly to hold the government together, or keep the states united, who were easily positioned to go their own ways if it suited them. There wasn’t really a way to get funding, either.. The articles more or less just made a league of free states, essentially independent but allied nations. They were simply too weak to make an effective government. There was no president, no executive, no judiciary, and no taxes. There was no way to pay off national debts from war, other than by requesting aid from states, which usually didn’t come. With such weak ties, any kind of progress or legislation was also unbearably slow. The country had been struggling. The power was within the states, which were not really unified. The fought among themselves concerning currency, trade, boundaries, slaves, and refused to work together to pay off national debt from the revolutionary war. Despite everything they had fought for, some states were setting tyrannical taxes against their citizens, or establishing official religions as tests for office. This inevitably led to the realization that the articles would need to be revised. In May 1787, Washington headed the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was unanimously elected presiding officer. His presence lent prestige to the proceedings, and although he made few direct contributions, he generally supported the advocates of a strong central government. As we know, the result of this convention wasn’t a set of revised articles, but a new Constitution, which had been the chief aim of nationalists such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They were strongly opposed by anti-federalists such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, who would condemn the Federalists as making a grab for power. There were some doozies that came out of this, such as how the senate and house are represented, how executive power is distributed, and how to deal with slavery. While some, including Washington, felt the need for a strong central government, their opponents were concerned about what could be done with greater power. After the constitution was ratified, a date had been set for when the confederation would end and operations under the constitution would begin. Once enough were there, the first joint session of congress was formed and the electoral votes were counted. They did it a bit differently then. The Vice president wasn’t a running mate; that role would go to the runner up, which makes sense, except our two party system would later crush that idea. Washington was unanimously chosen as President,

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More Details

  • Published: January 2016
  • LearnOutLoud.com Product ID: P081423