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tv   Robert Watson George Washingtons Final Battle  CSPAN  August 17, 2021 10:18am-10:49am EDT

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you and your community. cspan's . cspan's studentcam competition has $100,000 in total cash prizes and you have a shot at the grand prize of $5000. entries will begin to be received wednesday, september 8. for competition rules, tips and more information on how to get started visit our website at >> i come to you from the national archives building in washington, d.c., the federal city built on the site chosen by a first president george washington. the location for a permanent capital was hotly contested in 1790 and washington actively advocating for a site along the potomac river not far from his own home of mount vernon. when the commissioners of the federal district named the new capital for washington in 1791, they not only honored the wartime commander-in-chief but also acknowledge his guiding role in the selection of the
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young nation seat of government. although we did not live to see the government officially relocated here, his vision shape the national capital for years to come. in george washington's final battle, robert watson highlights washington's political skills and reveals how we work behind the scenes to establish the new city. robert watson is distinguished professor of american studies at lynn university and senior fellow at the florida joint center for citizenship. he's the author of numerous books on history and politics including the ghost ship of brooklyn, the nazi titanic, and america's first crisis, the war of 1812. he is the editor of two two encyclopedias, the american president, an american first ladies. professor watson has served on the board of the harry truman foundation, that calvin coolidge memorial foundation and the george mcgovern library and center for public service your professor watson has also served as a visiting scholar with many
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organizations including the truman presidential library, gerald ford presidential museum, illinois holocaust museum, and the us military academy at west point. now let's hear from robert watson. thank you for joining us today. everything he said and didn't say pretty much carved out the president for the presidency. but what we don't always know is that george washington had another side to him, which is missed in history. he could be a visionary and a dreamer but he also could be a political player is not a
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political chess match. by the same token almost all americans have been to our capital city. americans love their capital city. it's spacious grand boulevards with memorials and monuments, the majestic government buildings, the tree-lined mall but very few americans know the story of how the capital came to be an almost didn't come to be. that's why we hear here tok about it. okay. our story begins the backup for extra begins in newburgh, new york. this is along the edge of the hudson at the end of the revolutionary war. not too far today from fdr's hyde park or west point if anybody has been there. so the main battle of the revolutionary war was a battle of yorktown which of september and october 1781. after yorktown that would be the last major battle of the war. after yorktown for about two years there was what we could call a cold war, the british
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hunkered down in new york city. george washington and the americans went up the river to newburgh which you see writer in my slides, and for almost two years they just hunkered down in this cold war. would be washington's longest headquarters but a new type of challenge emerge. that was the challenge of boredom. without fighting the army had not been paid. they were hungry. cold winter after another bitterly cold winter in washington was worried that the army with fall apart just as we are ready to seize victory in the revolutionary war. so go ahead and go to the next slide. so what happened in these images of newburgh? in march of 1783, on march 10 and the war would end the following fall. on march 10 at 1783 there there was an unsigned letter circulated in washington's new bergkamp calling for a mutiny, calling for rising up against
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george washington. washington was alarmed to say the least. it appears this insurrection is coming from inside his own headquarters. on march 11 the mutineers met and in that and a large building called the temple. you can go to the next slide. for the so-called newburgh conspiracy. washington decided to respond but did so brilliantly by letting the mutineers, the insurrectionists, show their hand. then on march 15k called for a meeting in the temple. they all gathered. instead of washington being there early and he was always punctual, he comes a minute late and comes in from the back door. he walks up and general horatio gates and others had shown themselves and were on the stage, the mutineers. washington demands that they surrender the stage. he then has a two-part speech. one, he explodes it you can see the wording here. the patients, the fortitude, the long sufferings of this army.
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washington is saying that the army has swords in their hand. they are ready to rise up. they are at their limits. they cannot take anymore. next slide. you can see here his argument. there's an artist depiction of washington addressing the army. there would have been many, many more soldiers so it's not completely accurate this depiction. washington said how inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how and military and how subversive of all order and discipline. washington really lays it on. he explodes like a volcano. can you be a friend of the country if you're a mutineer? after all that washington can't stand. next light. washington comstat and says to the man, i want to read a letter from a congressman jones of virginia. the army had never seen washington wear spectacles. the army had never seen washington appeared weak or older.
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he was a man among children, and massive and powerful men. washington reaches in his pocket and pulls out this letter he wants to read. like me the last few years he needs glasses. he halted at arm's length and he pulls out spectacles and puts them on. no one had seen him wearing glasses. washington shakes his head, puts the spectacles and a letter back in his pocket and says gentlemen, what you permit me to put on my spectacles? for i i have not only grown gy but almost blind in the service of my country. after he puts them back in his pocket he asks the men from the heart, i ask only one more full measure of unexampled patriotism and patriotic virtue. stay with me. we are going to win this. a tear comes out of his eye in washington walks off the stage. talk about the theatrics of the moment and letting the army down easy. after he does come general henry knox his artillery general takes the stage and ask them if they would sign a document showing
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their support of washington. they charge the front of the stage and signed the document. that's the so-called newburgh mutiny or conspiracy almost an uprising at newburgh at the end of the war. washington brilliantly and theatrically puts it down but what he realizes is this new government, this new country is going to be weak and fragile. it could be harder to frame a government and run a government that it was to fight and win award for the opportunity to frame a government. after new burkey doesn't have long to wait for another challenge. next light. this is the philadelphia mutiny, june 20 of 1783 just weeks later a group of several hundred unpaid, disgruntled veterans march on philadelphia to the building we know today as constitution hall. the pennsylvania assembly, some of our nation's elected officials are inside the building. it is surrounded i angry unpaid
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mutineers. citizens of philadelphia come pouring out of taverns drunk and now you have a drunken, unruly mob and angry unpaid soldiers ready to take legislators hostage. congress is worried the pennsylvania assembly is worried they will have to flee for their lives. they asked george washington to put down this mutiny. washington tells the mutineers, go home. just go home. he pardons people. for a second time he brilliantly handles a near mutiny. by this time washington realizes this new experiment and popular government is going to be very difficult to run. next light. washington starts to put together a vision, a dream if you will, for what kind of nation we need to have. so the war ends in the fall of 1783 and pretty much the question is, now what? what happens next?
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we had a political, economic and financial backing. the loyalist, the wireless come those who were loyal to the crowd left and that meant the physicians, , the bankers, the architects all left. this new young republic has little in the weight of schools and colleges and museums and libraries, few trained professionals. the country is war-torn. veterans have not been paid. the currency is worthless so everybody on everyone's mind is the question, now what? few had an answer except george washington. next light. so washington puts together what's known as a circular letter to the states. this is basically his farewell, and newspapers around the country print this letter. you can see the beginnings of washington's vision for a strong nation, i capital city, and the kind of robust and vigorous government that we would have to washington says where the debt of honor.
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we need to repay our veterans. we need a national governing body. we need more trade. we need positive relations abroad. we need peace, and mostly we did to be united. we need this nation needs a sense of national identity. if you were to take a time machine back to 1783 and ask thomas jefferson about his nation he would answer virginia. it wasn't a sense of national identity. not a capital letter united states. the states. so washington new we needed a sense of unity. we need a sense of national pride, national spirit. we need to come together as a nation, otherwise this will never ever happen. next light. so this country went from 1775, the start of the revolutionary war, all the way until 1800, 25 years, a quarter of a century without a permanent capital city, without a seat of
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government. that's no way to start a nation without having a capital city. i made a list here. you can see some of the possible cities ever considered. over 30 cities were considered as a possible seat of government or a possible capital figures the problem. everyone in connecticut wadded hartford or new haven. anyone in delaware wanted wilmington. everyone in massachusetts wanted boston. parochial interest range. nobody wanted the b in another state. the all-new that political power would follow the capital, that would be an economic boon and no one wanted another city double leg of the everybody won its own city. for 25 years there is a fight over where the capital city should be. next light. or a function government. we were working under the articles of confederation, a loose quote-unquote league of friendship. it took several drafts and used to even ratify the articles.
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the problem the articles didn't have president, , didn't have courts. a unilateral -- unicameral legislative that's it. it was utterly and wholly ineffectual. we lacked a capital city. we lacked a function government. good luck with that. this is what washington responds to. next light. on everyone's minds and was written in newspapers, have we fought for this? washington weighs in. he says we are either a united people that are united for federal purposes, or we are 13 independent sovereigns, contradicting each other. washington notes to friends and speaks and says i see no greater evil than this union. political factions what we know as parties start to form. the north against the south. the eastern seaboard against the west. urban areas versus more rural areas.
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within these factions the federalists and antifederalistse antifederalists instead of one being in opposition party, much like recent years, it's an obstructionist arrangement with gridlock. washington is upset about this and in this vacuum, and disgraces this is is where he emerges. next light. we have shades rebellion. in the 1780s farmers are rising up ready to declare war against their own government. pennsylvania and new york are almost fighting one another. states can agree on how to trade with your court across state borders. washington says we have errors to correct. we need a stronger government. washington asks alexander hamilton to get involved and in 1786 hamilton calls for convention in the city of annapolis in maryland. the probably handful of states showed up. everybody argued and embarrassingly walked out. that's no way to start a government of washington stays with it and pushes along with
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hamilton for a convention the following year. 1787. they're going back to philadelphia hoping lightning strikes twice. they have errors to correct. they have to improve the articles if they would ultimately create a new constitutional system of government, strengthen our government and find ways of moving forward in more unity united way. next light. so what we don't know is people know all about the founding debates over slavery, over the electoral college, over how do we pick a president but there was another i always call it the other founding debate, and that was over should we have a capital city? should we have multiple capitals? where should it be? what should look like, its nature, the side that? they couldn't even agree on one capital. at one time to try to set up everybody even been franco throughout the id we should have multiple capitals. the joke was because it's congress no one would want congress to come to it city.
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the joke was like ancient, the trojans. they would get a horse, make a giant trojan horse and were tied in it and they would have to wheel it into each city and congress would get up and do its business. so this was the other founding debate. we have multiple votes from george washington and of the framers that the debate over a capital city was even more heated, even more contentious, even more potentially ruinous and all the other founding debate at the constitutional convention in philadelphia. the debate over the capital city almost undermines this nation just as we are getting started. so those are the other founding debates. next light. enter into this vacuum george washington who has his vision for the country. washington states, with our fate with the destiny of unborn lesbian. [inaudible question] he called it the most content and explosive debate of the entire session in philadelphia.
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not being the fight over the capital city. selecting the seat of government, washington said, is proving to be pregnant with difficulty and danger. so washington was very cognizant of the fact that this debate could undermine the country, yet without the strong capital city he did not know this country could do work so washington has a vision he proposes the following things. i have them on the screen. number one a strong national government. number two, he wants to unite the people behind a national character. only the capital city could interview is with that national. our government is not seen as credible in the eyes of the european powers. a great and glorious capital city would give credibility to this new fledgling republic. washington won a grand capital city, city he said for the ages. thomas jefferson and others wanted a simple brick federal fl town. no, washington wanted rome built on the potomac river.
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he wanted it near the potomac river. washington had what other founders would joke or call potomac fever. george was not well traveled. washington thought that the potomac was equal to the sin, the thames, the danube, the rhine all put together. like the potomac but it's hardly equal but the potomac connected the community next to it, the future capital city with the chesapeake which meant access to the the atlantic. also the potomac flows westward. it would unite maryland, virginia, pennsylvania, and the roads from the edges of the tributaries of the potomac would run west into what is today the ohio territory, pittsburgh, and so forth and so on. so the potomac would then connect north and south as was equal distance between the two, connect east and west that would serve to function, it would
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serve to unite the new capital city with the atlantic ocean and so on and so forth. that's washington's vision. next. now, in the constitution over the debate, over the debate over the capital city, article 1, section 8 it agreed the capital city should be ten miles square. that's 100 miles. what it means is that this capital city almost laughably, this capital city will be larger than paris, london, the great capitals of the world. yet it would be built out of bogs and words. the question remains, however, where would these ten miles square be? next light. so the initial argument was new york city would serve as our interim. washington is not greater and it's supposed. march 4, 1789. he's late. it's not until april 30, 1789,
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and mrs. washington arrives even later yet. maybe she is still getting dressed. so washington is inaugurated in new york city in late april of 1789. new york city at federal hall, you can see the picture here, and on the right is osgood so on cherry street were washington use as his residence. new york city would be but an interim capital. no one seemed happy with new york city. new york city was slow to ratify the constitution. this is why hamilton and jay and madison wrote the federalist papers. they did know if newark city would ratify. washington was wait while ago to new york city for my inaugural? with that undermined everything? couldn't even do the president if we we don't have a city? nobody it seemed like new york city unlike today where everybody likes new york city, thomas jefferson claim new york city in spring and fall they never have as far as i can learn. that ten months of winter, only two of summer. they would agree right now with
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the snow and the culture fisher ames said of new york city he longed for the company of springfield or he described new york city as overrun by hogs, dogs and garbage, and not much else. so no one like new york city. they spent only months in new york city and then there was a deal cut. next light. the deal would be cut in new york city on june 20, 1790. what is probably the second most famous dinner party in history, i guess behind the last supper. the dinner party was between you can see the pictures, jefferson, madison and hamilton madison and jefferson were allies, antifederalists hurt hamilton was at their nemesis as a federalist. they have two big issues they are trying to contend with. what is why should the capital city be, and the other was how should it look, how do we build it? should be as simple brick federal town or a glorious
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romanesque capital? the second argument was debt assumption. we were in debt after the war so jefferson calls for the dinner party. he and madison are going to team up and they're going to defeat hamilton. what would happen at that dinner party was they would resolve all these issues, they would decide basically on where the capital would be, and hamilton would end up playing jefferson and madison like a guitar. he played victim and got everything he wanted. so on the debt, virginia said we're not paying our debt. the south didn't want to pay the debt. hamilton wanted the debt to be paid so he surrenders and says okay, you don't have to pay your debt. little did jefferson and madison know, if the south is not going to pay its debt, what that means is the federal government can come in and assume the debt under the treasury, and use the secretary of the treasury? hamilton. hamilton will become one of the most powerful americans hamilton
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wanted a stronger federal government. jefferson wanted a weaker federal government. why hamilton giving up the fact that virginia and the south would not have to pay the debts he pretty much guaranteed hamilton would get a a strong federal government, a bank and a strong treasury. so hamilton gets whatever he wants even though he plays that he lost. the second argument is where is a capital coin to be? jefferson and madison wanted it in the south in virginia. what they didn't know is what hamilton knew, george washington had already pretty much decided that the capital should be in virginia near his home. hamilton gave up that the capital would be there. he gave up something that was already done. so he plays jefferson and madison. ultimately jefferson wants a simple federal breakdown of only a few acres, so hamilton agrees they could have a design contest. jefferson to chair the committee that picks the winning design. it appears jefferson submits his own design anonymously for a little breakdown and then fix
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it. what jefferson did know was even though he said here's the design, when it went to washington, washington said nope, we're going to pick my romanesque capital, so there you go. the residence act of 1790 solidified or codified the spring compromise. the capital would be in virginia but ten years later, in the meanwhile it would be in philadelphia while the have to build this city would eventually be named for george washington, and that's the residence act of 1790. the boats on a lot of these difficult measures fail and you use george washington playing political chess match. when washington wanted to flip a vote, you bet he did. washington strategically picked a couple of members of congress, met with them personally and flipped every single vote to get the votes he needed to get his capital city. next light. washington would play a for the role. washington not only helps pick the location of the capital, he picks the architect, you're
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looking at him picky pixie architect for the residence house. washington helps survey the land. washington helps sell plots. washington helps raise money. washington helps to decide what buildings would go in it. washington washington washington. it is his pet project. it is his near obsession. so washington picks the brilliant frenchman l'enfant which was a great selection. l'enfant was classically educated or close a barley for washington, he shared washington's vision of a romanesque grand capital with large boulevards, public squares filled with monuments and memorials. he did not like jefferson's visions of a small federal town. so l'enfant does washington's deity bidding and brilliantly decides the capital. unfortunately l'enfant will answer to no one but washington and turns out to be more difficult than he was worth.
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some accounts suggest he was fired. other said he quit. they both happened about the same time so the answer is all of the above. next light. here's the image of l'enfant's capital city which all recognize today here right there running diagonal horizontal, next to the potomac river is the national mall that we all recognize today. you can see the great squares and grand boulevards that intersect named for the states and so forth and so on. l'enfant is part inspired by rome, in part inspired by paris, it even though he would be spidered it's his design that continues to define this great city of today. next light. washington not only picked a foreigner, l'enfant, a french, but he picked an irishman to design the president's house. he was also well-educated and had designed beautiful buildings and charles and succulent. washington immediately fell in love with the design. it reminded him of rome.
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it looked like marble. so washington then pushes by hiring hoban and a build with referred to as a presidential palace. they ran into construction problems and funding problems, so there's good and bad news here. they found brilliant scottish stone masons so they brought more europeans in. however tragically, they would rely on slave labor. so yes, slave labor built a good deal of the capital, the president's home in the capital city because it was cheaper and they ran out of funding for it. next light. here's the image. you can see and you recognize that of the white house today. this is the original design which pretty much held. let me bring this to close by simply saying, they weren't sure what they're going to name the city but everybody knew it was going to be named for washington. somebody proposed washington opelousas. a methinks that's ridiculous the other part of me thinks i like that name.
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george washington's legacy is multiple. he would when the revolutionary war and resign from power once, leading king george iii is that washington is a great spent a lot because he did what no man did, voluntarily relinquish power. washington would do it again after the presidency, leaving king george iii two revise the statement to say washington is a great spent of all-time. he cards at the presidency. he is the father of this nation. but i think ultimately one of washington's great legacies, it was his vision for the capital city. it was washington's reaction, his stewardship, his oversight that produced this great and glorious capital city. and in doing so and helped to imbue us with a sense of nationhood. gave americans a sense of american identity which we didn't have. it helped to unify the country, a degree of civility. gave our government legitimacy
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in the eyes of the world and today we have this great and glorious capital city. we always like to say washington slept here, slept there in town to run the country. it would be the one place he didn't sleep. washington would die on decembes than a year later on november 1, 1800 is when is when the capital city would open up. washington's last words were bidwell. one can only imagine that he was thinking about his wonderful c date invested so much of himself in. that's his true legacy. thank you, everyone. >> weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tv documents america's stories and on sundays but tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 c-sm these television companies and more including midco.
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