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tv   Robert Watson George Washingtons Final Battle  CSPAN  August 17, 2021 12:42pm-1:12pm EDT

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died in 2011 was one of the principal originators of this much discussed subject. in november of 1992 derek bell appeared on book notes to discuss his book quote faces at the bottom of the well, the permanence of racism, unquote. >> the late derek bell harvard law schools first black tenured professor on this episode of booknotes+. listener or whatever you get your podcasts. >> i come to from the national archives building in washington, d.c., the federal city built on the site chosen by our first president george washington. the location for a permanent capital was hotly contested in 1790 and washington actively advocated for a site along the potomac river not far from his own home of mount vernon here when the commissioners of the
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federal district named the new capital from washington in 1791, they not only altered the wartime commander-in-chief but also acknowledge his guiding role in the selection of the young nations seat of government. although he didn't live to see the government official relocate here come his nation shape the national capital for years to come. in george washington final battle robert watson highlights washington's political skills and reveals how he worked 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 workweek and 12. and his edit of two encyclopedias the the american president an american first ladies. professor watson has served on the board of the harry truman
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foundation, that calvin coolidge memorial foundation and the george mcgovern library and center for public service. professor watson is also serve as a visiting scholar with many organizations including the truman presidential library, gerald ford presidential museum, illinois holocaust museum and used military academy at west point. now let's hear from robert watson. >> thank you for joining us today. >> hello, everyone. i'm a robert watson avenue tok about my latest book, "george washington's final battle: the epic struggle to build a capital city and a nation." so virtually any american schoolchild knows that george washington was heroic and stoic. he was a great and courageous commander on the battlefield and, of course, one of our greatest presidents who through his every action and inaction everything he said, and didn't say, pretty much caught up the president's for the presidency.
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but we don't always know is that george washington had another side to him, specifically missed in history. he could be a visionary and a dreamer. he also could be a a political player if not a political chessmaster but 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 line small but very few americans know the story about the capital city came to be an almost didn't come to be. that's why we're here today to talk about. so our story begins the backdrop for our story begins in newburgh, new york. this is a long the edge of the hudson at the end of the revolutionary war. not too far today from fdr's hyde park or west point, anybody's been there. so the main battle of the revolutionary war was about of yorktown which was september and october 1781.
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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 hunker 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 hunker down in this cold war. it would be longest headquarters but a new type of challenge emerged. that was the challenge of boredom. without fighting the army had not been paid. they were hungry, bitterly cold winter after another bitterly cold winter, and washington was worried that the army would 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 his images of newburgh? in march of 1783, on march 10, and the war would end up
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following fall. on march 10 at 1783 there was there was an unsigned letter circulated in washington's new bird camp calling for mutiny, calling for rising up against george washington. washington was alarmed to say the least. it appears that this new to come this insurrection was coming from inside his own headquarters. and on march 11 the mutiny was met. they met in a large building called the temple. you can go to the next slide. for the so-called newburgh conspiracy. now, washington decided to respond but did so brilliantly by betting the mutineers, the insurrectionists, show their hand. then in march 15 he called for a meeting in the temple. they all gathered here 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.
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event has a two-part speech. one, he explodes or you can e wording here. the patients, the fortitude, the long sufferings of his army are unexampled in history. washington is saying the army has sort in their hand. they are ready to rise up. they are at their limits. they cannot take any more. next light. you can see here his argument. there's an artist depiction of washington addressing the army. there would've been many, many more soldiers so it's not completely accurate this depiction. washington says how inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how i military and how subversive of all order and discipline. washington really lays it on. he explodes like a volcano. can you be a friend to the country if you're in your near? then 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 from
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virginia. the army had never seen washington where spectacles. the army had never seen washington appear weak or older. he was a man among children, a massive and powerful mentor washington reaches in his pocket and pulls out this letter he wants to read. like me the last figures who needs glasses, he halted at arm's length and then he pulls out spectacles and puts them on. no one had seen him wearing glasses. washington shakes his head, puts a spectacles and the letter back in his pocket and says, gentlemen, will you permit me to go to my spectacles? for i have not only grown gray 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. i tear comes out of his eye and washington walks off the stage.
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talk about the theatrics of the moment and letting the army down easy. after he does, general henry knox, his artillery general, takes the stage and ask them if they would sign a document showing their support of washington. they charge the front of the stage and signed the document. the so-called newburgh mutiny or conspiracy, almost an uprising at newburgh at the end of the war. washington really early and theatrically puts it down but when you realize it 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 a war for the opportunity to frame a government. and 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
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building we know today as constitution hall. the pennsylvania assembly, and some of our nation's elected officials are inside the building. it is surrounded by angry, unpaid mutineers. as citizens of philadelphia, point at a tavern stroke and they made drunken, unruly mob and angry unpaid soldiers ready to take legislators hostage. congress is worried that the and the pennsylvania assembly is worried they will have to flee for their life. they ask george washington to put kansas mutiny. washington tells the mutineers, go home, just go home. he pardons people. for a second time he brilliantly handles in your mutiny. by this time washington realizes this new experiment a popular governor 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
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we need to have. so the war ends at the faults and a three and pretty much the question is, now what? what happens next? we had a political and economic anti-civil vacuum dirt the loyalists, the wireless, those were loyal to the crown left and that meant the physician, the bankers, the architects all laughed. this new young republic has little in the wake 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 slide. so washington puts together what's known as a circular letter to the state. this is basically his farewell. and newspapers around the country print this letter. and you can see the beginning of
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washington's vision for a strong nation, capital city and the kind of robust and vigorous government that we would have. washington says we have a debt of honor. we need to repay our veterans. we need an national governing body. we need more trade. we need positive relations abroad. we need peace. and mostly we need 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. there wasn't a sense of national identity. not a capital u united states, a small u the states. the washington knew 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 slide. so this country went from 1775,
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the start 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 government. that's the way to start a nation without having a capital city. i made a list here. you can see some of the possible cities that were considered. over 30 cities were considered as a possible seat of government or a possible capital procures the problem. everyone in connecticut wanted hartford or new haven. everyone in delaware wanted wilmington. everyone in massachusetts wanted boston. parochial interests rained. nobody wanted a b in another state. they all knew that political power would follow the capital, that would be an economic boom and a with one kevin of the city travel like. everybody wanted its own city, after 25 years there is a fight over where the capital city should be. next slide. or a functioning government.
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we were working under the articles of confederation, a loose quote-unquote league of friendship. it took several drafts and years to even ratify the articles. the problem the articles didn't have a president, didn't have ports. it had a unicameral legislature, that's it. they couldn't raise money to pay back the veterans. they couldn't govern. it was utterly and wholly ineffectual. so we lack the capital city, we lack a functioning government, good luck with that this is what washington response to. next slide. on everyone's minds, , and it ws 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 says i see no greater evil than this union. political factions what we know as parties start four.
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the north against the south, the eastern seaboard against the west. more urban areas versus more rural areas. and within these factions, the federalists and the anti-federalist instead of one being an opposition party, , muh like recent years, it's an obstructionist arrangement with gridlock. washington is upset about this and in this vacuum, in this crisis visit where he emerges. next slide. we have shays' rebellion. in the 1780s farmers are rising up ready to declare war against their own government. pennsylvania and your car almost fighting one another. states can't agree on how to trade whiskey or 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 a convention in the city of annapolis in maryland.
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the problem, only handful of states showed up. everybody argued and embarrassingly walked out. that's the way to start the government. washington stays with it and pushes, along with hamilton, for a convention the following year, 1787. they are they are going back to philadelphia hoping that lightning strikes twice. they have errors to correct. the effort to improve the articles. they would ultimately create a new constitutional system of government, strengthen our government and find ways of moving forward in a more united way. next slide. 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 it was another i always call it the other founding debate, that was over should we have capital city? should we have multiple capitals? where should it be? what should it look like, its nature, the of it?
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they couldn't even agree on one capital. one point to try to satisfy everybody even ben franklin threw out the idea we should have multiple capitals. the joke was because congress, no one would want congress to come to the city. the joke was like the trojans, they would get a horse, make a giant trojan horse and cart cars would hide in and we'll look into each city and then congress would get out and do its business. this was the other founding debate. we have multiple quotes from george washington and of the framers that the debate over i capital city was even more heated, even more contentious, even more potentially ruinous and all the other founding debates at the constitutional convention in philadelphia. the debate over the capital city almost undermined this nation just as we are getting started. so those are the other founding debates. next slide. enter into this vacuum george washington who has this vision for the country. washington state with our fate
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for the destiny of unborn millions be involved? he called it the most intense and explosive debate of the entire session philadelphia. that being the fight of 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 a strong capital city he did not know that this country could endure. washington as a vision he proposes the following things, i had them on your screen pic number one, a strong national government. number two, he wants to unite the people behind a national character. only a capital city could imbue us with that national character. our government is not seen as credible in the eyes of the european powers. a great and glorious capital city will give credibility to this new fledgling republic. washington wanted a grand capital city, a city he said for
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the ages. thomas jefferson and others wanted a simple brick federal town. no. washington wanted rome built on the potomac river. he wanted it near the potomac river. washington at what other founders would joke and call potomac fever. george was not well-traveled. washington not that the potomac was equal to the danube, the rhine all put together. like the potomac, but it's hardly equal to any one of those yet alone all of them. ..
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pittsburgh and so forth and so on so the potomac would then connect north and south as it was equidistant between the two and east and west and it served to unite the new capital city with the atlantic ocean and so on and so forth . that'swashington's vision . next >> in the constitution over the debate over the capital city, article 1, section eight, it agreed the capital city should be 10 miles square. it's 100 miles. what it means is this capital city almost laughably will be larger than paris, london, the great capitals of the world yet it would be built out of logs and wood. the question remains where these 10 miles square d. next slide. so the initial argument was new york city would serve as our interim.
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washington is inaugurated and it's supposed to be on march 4 1789. he's late, it's not until april 30 and mrs. washington arriveseven later yet . so washington is inaugurated in new york city in late april 1789. new york city at federal hall and you can see a picture of the here and there's positives home on cherry street which washington used as his residence and new york city would be 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 eventhough new york city wouldn't even ratify it . washington worried when i go to new york city for my inauguration, when that undermine everything? can i be president if wedon't
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even have a city ? unlike today where everybody likes new york city. thomas jefferson claimed in the spring and fall they never had as far as i can learn 10 months of winter, only 2 of summer. christian aims set of new york city he longed for the company of springfield. he described new york city as overrun by dogs, dogs and garbage and not much else so no one liked new york city. they spent months in new york city and then there was a deal can't. video will be cut in new york city june 20 1790 in what is probably the second most famous dinner party in history behind the last supper. the dinner party was between jefferson, madison and hamilton. madison and jefferson were allies, anti-federalist. hamilton was their nemesis as a federalist . they have 2 big issues
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they're trying to contend with. one is where should the capital city be and the other issue is how should it look, should webuild it . should it be a town or a glorious romanesque capital. the other argument was debt assumption. we were in debt after the war so jefferson calls for the dinner party . he and madison will team up and defeat hamilton. what would happen at that dinner party was they would resolve all these issues. they would decide basically where the capital would be and hamilton would end up playing epperson and madison like a guitar. he played victim and got everything he wanted.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 said you don't have to pay your debt. little did jefferson and
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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 debtunder the treasury and use the secretary of the treasury ? hamilton. hamilton would become one of the most powerful americans. hamilton wanted a stronger federal government. by hamilton giving up the fact that virginia would never pay its debt was a guarantee that hamilton would get a strong federal government, a bank and a strong treasury so hamilton gets whatever he wants even though he plays that he'slost . the second argument is where is the capital going to be? jefferson and madison wanted it in the south but hamilton hamilton knew george washington had decided capitals to be in virginia near his home hamilton gave up the capital would be there , and gave up something that was already done so he plays jefferson and madison. ultimately jefferson wants a simpler town of only a few acres so hamilton agrees
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could have a contest. jefferson to chair the committee that takes the winning design. it appears jefferson omits his own design anonymously for a little breakdown and fix it. what jefferson didn't know was even though he said here's the design when it went to washingtonwashington said no, 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 10 years later in the meanwhile, in the interim it would be in philadelphia while they had to build the city that would eventually be named for george washingtonand that's the residence act of 1790 . the focus on a lot of these difficult measures fail and here you see george washington playing political chess master. when washington wanted to flip you that he did. washington strategically picked a couple of members of congress, met with them personally and slipped every
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single quote to get the votes he needed to get his capital city. next slide. washington then would play for the role. washington not only helps the location, he fixed architect, you're looking at. he fixed architect or the residence house. washington helps survey the land. washington helps sell the plot. washington helps raise money. washington decides what buildings would go in so washington, washington. his his pet projects, is near of session so washington takes the brilliant frenchman l'enfant and he shared washington's vision of a romanesque grand capital with large full marks, public squares filled with monuments and memorials. he did not like jefferson's vision of a small federal town so he brilliantly
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designed the capital but unfortunately l'enfant will answer to no one but washington and turns out to be more difficult thanhe was worth . some accounts suggest he was fired, others said he quit, they both happened about the same time though the answer is all of the above. here's the image of l'enfant's capital city which you recognize today. next to the potomac river near the peterson national mall that we all recognize today. you can see the great squares and grand boulevard that intersect names for the states and so forth and so on. l'enfant is in part inspired by rome and in part inspired by paris and even though he would be fired it's his design that continues to define this great city today. next slide. washington not only picked a foreigner, l'enfant a frenchman but he picked an irishman to designthe
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president's house . he was also well educated and had designed beautiful buildings in charleston and south carolina . washington fell in love with the design. it reminded him of rome and it looked like marble to washington then pushes i hiring coleman and the build will be referred to as a presidential palace. they wanted to construction problems and funding problems so there's good and bad news. they found brilliant scottish stonemasons so they brought more europeans in but tragically they would rely on slave labor so yes, slave labor built a good deal of the capital, the president's home and capital city because it was cheaper and they ran out of funding for it. next slide. here's the image, you can see you recognize that the white house today, this is opens original design which pretty much held constant. next slide. let me bring this to a close by saying they weren't sure
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what they were going to name the city but everybody knew it was going to be named for washington. somebody proposed washingtonopolis. part of methinks i like that name . he would win the revolutionary war and resign from power once, leaving king george the third to say washington is the greatest man alive because he did what no man did, voluntarily relinquished power. washington would do it again after the presidency clinging leaving king george to revise the statement that washington is the greatest man of all time . he is the father of this nation. but i think ultimately one of washington's great legacies, it was his vision of the capital city. it was washington's every action, is your chip, his oversight that produced this great and glorious capital city and in doing so, it helps to imbue us with a sense ofnationhood .
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it gave americans a sense of american identity which we didn't have. it helps unify the country. a degree of civility. it gave our government legitimacy and today we have this great and glorious capital city. we always like to say washington slept here, slept there . it would be the one place he didn't sleep. washington would die december 14 1799 less than a year later on november 1, 1800's when thecapital city would open up . washington's last words were it is well and one can only imagine he was thinking about his wonderful capital cityand that's his true legacy . thank you everyone. >> every saturday you'll find people and events on american history tv and on sunday book tv brings you


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