tv Robert Watson George Washingtons Final Battle CSPAN August 17, 2021 5:29pm-6:00pm EDT
national archives building in washington d.c.. the federal city built on a site jorganson by her first president george washington. it was hotly contested in 1790 and washington actively advocated for a site along the potomac river not far from his own home at mt. vernon. when the commissioners of the federal district named the new capital for washington in 1791 a. not only honor the work of the commander-in-chief but also acknowledged his guiding role in the selection of the young seat of government. he did not live to see the government officially relocated here but his vision shaped the capitol for years to come. in george washington's final battle robert watson reveals how we work behind the scenes to establish the new city. robert watson is that the singer's professor american studies at lynn university and senior fellow at the florida joint center for citizenship. is the author of numerous books
on history and politics including the gauche at the brooklyn, the titanic and america's first crisis, the war of 1812. as editor of two encyclopedias the american president and american first ladies. robert watson is served on the board of the harry truman memorial foundation and the george mcgovern library and center for public service. he has served as a visiting scholar at many renditions including the truman presidential library that gerald ford presidential museum elmira holocaust museum the u.s. military academy at west point. now let's hear from robert watson. thank you for joining us today. >> hello everyone. i'm robert watson. talk about my latest book "george washington's final battle" the epic struggle to build a capital city and a nation. virtually any american school
child 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 or didn't say pretty much carved out the precedence for the presidency but what we don't always know is that george washington had another side to him. it he could be a visionary and a dreamer and he also could be a political player and political chess mask. americans love their capital city. a spacious grand boulevard the memorials and the monuments the majestic government buildings and the tree-lined mall. very few americans know the story of how the capitol city came to be an almost didn't come to be and that's why we are here today to talk about it. okay, so our story begins the back drop 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. the battle of the revolutionary wars the battle of yorktown which is september and that tober 1781. that would be the last major battle. for about two years there was what we could call the could call the cold war. the british hunker down in new york city and george washington and americans went up the river to newburgh which you can see in my slide in from most two years they just went there. it would be washington's longest headquarters but a new type of challenge emerged and that was the challenge without fighting the army were hungry and that had not been paid. a bitterly cold winter in washington was worried that they army would fall apart just as we
were ready to seize victory in the revolutionary war. if we could go to the next slide. read what happened in these images of newburgh is in march of 1783, march 10 and the war would end the following fault that march 10 of 1783 there's an unsigned letter circulating in washington's new camp calling for a mutiny calling forum binding up against george washington. washington was alarmed to say the least candidate. as a mutiny of insurrection is was coming from inside the zone headquarters than on march 11 the mutiny -- they met a large building. go to the next slide. for the so-called new burr conspiracy. washington decided to respond and did so brilliantly by letting the mutineers and insurrectionists show their hands. on march 15 he called for a
meeting at the capitol. they all gathered. instead of washington being there early, he was always punctual he comes in a minute waiting comes in from the backdoor. he walks up and general horatio gates and others have shown themselves on the stage is mutineers but washington demanded the surrender. he gave a two-part speech one where he explodes and you can see the wording here. the patients in the fortitude and along sufferings of this army. washington is saying the army has sorts in hand and they are ready to rise up. they cannot take anymore. next slide. you can see here his argument. there's a picture of washington addressing the army and there would have been many more soldiers so it's not completely accurate per in washington says how is this consistent with the rules of propriety and how
subversive from all order and discipline? washington really lays it on pics and flows like a volcano. can you be a friend to the country if you're a mutiny or an after all that washington comes down. next slide. washington comes down and says to the man i want to read a letter by congressman jones of virginia. an army -- the army had never seen washington wear spectacles and army never saw washington -- he was a man among children a massive and powerful man. washington reaches into his pocket and pulls out this letter he wants to read. like me the last few years he needs glasses. he holds it at arm's length and pulls out his spectacles and puts them on. no one had seen him wearing glasses. washington shakes his head puts the spectacles and the letter back in his pocket and says gentlemen will you permit me to put on my spectacles because i
have not only grown gray but blind to the service of my country. after you put them back in his pocket he asked the men from the heart and i ask only one more full measure of unexamined patriotism and patriotic virtue, stay with me. we are going to win this. a tear comes out of his eye and washington walks off the stage. talk about the theatrics at the moment and letting the army down easy. after you does general henry knox's artillery general takes the stage and asked the men if they would sign a document showing their support of washington and they charge the stage and sign the document. that's a so-called new burr conspiracy almost an uprising at the end of the war. washington 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 the government and run a government that was to win the war for the
opportunity to frame the government. he doesn't have long to wait for another challenge. next slide. june 20 of 1783 just weeks later a group of several hundred unpaid disgruntled veterans merge on philadelphia to the building we know today as constitution hall and some of our nation's elected officials are inside the building. it is surrounded by angry unpaid mutineers. citizens of philadelphia come pouring out of taverns drunk and now you have a drunken unruly mob angry soldiers. they are ready to take legislators hostage. congress is worried and the pennsylvania assembly is worried that they would have to flee for their lies prevail storage washington to put down his mutiny. washington tells the mutineers go home, just go home. he pardons people and for a
second time he brilliantly handles a near mutiny. by this time washington realizes this new experiment a popular government is going to be very difficult. next slide. washington starts to put together a vision a dream if he 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? you have a political economic in a civil backdrop. the loyalist those who were loyal to the crown they left and that left the physicians the bankers and the architects that are left. this has little in the ways of schools and colleges museums and libraries. few trained professionals. the country is war-torn. the currency is worthless.
on everyone's mind is the question, now what? no one had an answer except george washington. so washington puts together what's known as a circular letter to the states. this is basically his farewell and newspapers around the country. this letter. you can see the beginnings of washington's vision for a strong nation and capital city and the kind of robust and vigorous government that we would have. washington says we all would debt of honor. we need to have a national governing body. we need positive relations abroad and we need peace and mostly we need to be a united. this nation needs a sense of national identity that if you were to pick a time machine of 1783 and asked thomas jefferson about his nation he would answer virginia. there was no sense of national
identity in the united states. a small letter u. so washington knew we needed a sense of unity and a sense of national pride and national spirit. we need to come together as a nation otherwise this will never, ever happen. next slide. this country went from 1775 at the start of the revolutionary war all the way to 1800, 25 years a quarter of a century without a permanent capital city, without a seat of government or that's no way to start a nation. i made the list here and 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. here's the problem everyone in connecticut wanted hartford and everyone in delaware wanted wilmington. everyone in massachusetts wanted austin. interest range. no one wanted the capitol to be
in another state. it would be an economic boom in know when wanted another city to have a leg up and everyone wanted the same city and for 25 years there's a fight over where the capitol city should be. next slide. we had been working under the articles of confederation a loose quote unquote league of friendship but it took several drafts and years to even ratify the article. the articles didn't have a unicameral legislature. they couldn't raise money to pay back the veterans. they couldn't govern. it was wholly ineffectual. we lack a functioning government and good luck with that. this is what the washington responds with. next slide. on everyone's mind and it was written in newspapers washington
weighs in. we are either he a united people and united for federal purposes or we are independent and sovereign contradicting each other. washington speaks and says i see no greater evil than this union. political factions, the north against the southeastern seaboard against the west the more urban areas versus more rural areas and within these factions the federalists federalist and anti-federalist instead of running an opposition party must like recent years it's an obstructionist arrangement with gridlock. washington is upset about this and in this vacuum in this crisis this is where he emerges. next slide. we have staged rebellions. the 1780s farmers are rising up waiting to declare war against their own government. pennsylvania and new york are fighting one another.
states can agree on how to trade across state borders but washington says we have errors to correct. we need a stronger government. washington asked alexander hamilton in 1786 hamilton calls for convention in the city of annapolis and maryland. the problem only handful of states showed up. everybody argued and embarrassingly walked out. it was no way to start a government. washington pushes along with hamilton for convention the following year in 1787. they they are going back to philadelphia hoping that lightning strikes twice. they have errors to correct and they have to improve the articles and they have to create a new constitutional system of government strengthen our government and find ways of moving forward in a more united way. next slide. what we don't know is people know about the founding debates
of over the electoral college and how do we pick a president but i call it the other and that was over the capitol city trichet we have multiple capitals and where should it be? what should it look like? they couldn't even agree on one p. one point to satisfy everybody even ben franklin throughout the idea we should have multiple capitals. the joke was because it's congress nobody would want congress to come to their city. it was like the trojans, they would get a horse. congress would hide in it and congress would get out and do its business. this was the other founding debates. we have multiple quotes from george washington and other framers that debate over capital city was even more heated and more contentious and even more potentially -- then all the
other founding debates at the constitutional convention in philadelphia. the debate over the capitol city almost undermines this nation just as we are getting started. next slide. enter into this vacuum and george washington who heads a vision for the country. washington says our state wasn't destiny of unborn millions. he called it the most explosive debate of the entire session of philadelphia. selecting the seat of government washington said is proving to be pregnant with difficulty and danger so washington was very positive -- cognizant -- without a strong capital city we don't know if this country could endorse a washington proposes the following. number one the strong national government. member two he wants to unite the
people behind a national character. only and a capital city could imbue us with that national character peter government does not seem as credible -- critical in eyes of european powers great and glorious capital city with good credibility in this republic. washington wanted the grand capital city, a city he fed for the ages and chairperson others wanted a simple house. washington wanted brome built on the potomac river. washington had what other founders called potomac fever. george was not well traveled in washington thought the potomac was equal to the send the thames the danube all put together. it's hardly equal to any one of those yet alone all of that yet the potomac the community next to the future capital city with the chesapeake with access to
the atlanta. rivers were important in the day of transportation and rudimentary truncation also the potomac flows westward westward. it would unite maryland virginia pennsylvania and the roads from the edges of attribute carries the potomac would run west into what is today the ohio territory pittsburgh and so forth and so on. it would connect north and south with equal distance between the two connect east and west as a serves a function to serve unite the new capital cities with the atlantic ocean and so on and so forth. that's washington's vision. in the constitution over the debate of the capitol city article i section 8 the capitol city should be 10 miles square. it's 100 miles and what it means is this capitol city almost laughable. this capital city will be larger
than paris london and the great capitals of the world yet it would be built out of bonds and woods. the question would remain however where width is 10 miles square b.? next slide. the initial argument was new york city would serve as our enter him -- enter him. he's late and it's not until april 301789 and this is washington who arrives later yet. basically was to getting dressed. washington isn't not graded in new york city in april of 1789. new york city at the federal hall and you can see the picture of it here and on the right is ask at home on cherry street, his residence. 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 and this is why
hamilton and madison wrote the federalist papers and didn't know if new york city would even ratify. will i go to new york city for minot grow with that undermine everything? nobody is seemed like to new york city on bike today were everybody likes new york city. thomas jefferson claimed new york city was -- they have 10 months of winter and only two of summer and we can agree right now some taping this with the snow and the cold. he longed for the company of springfield. described as city is overrun by hogs, dogs and garbage and not much else. know when like new york city. they spent months in nerx city and then there was a deal cut. next slide. the deal would be cut in new york city on june 201791 is probably the second-most second
most famous damer party in history i guess behind the last supper but dinner party and you can see the pictures there. jefferson madison and hamilton. madison and jefferson were allies anti-federalist and hamilton was their nemesis is the editor was was. there are two big issues they are trying to figure out the one is where should the capitol city be in the other how do we build it and should it be a simple federal town or glorious romanesque capital? the second argument jefferson calls for the dinner party. he and madison are going to team up and compete with hamilton. but what happened at the dinner party was they would resolve these issues and decide basically on where the capitol would be and hamilton would end up playing jefferson and madison like a guitar. he got everything he wanted.
virginia said we are not paying our debts. the south didn't want to pay their debts. hamilton won the debt to be paid so he surrendered and said you don't have to pay your debt. little did jefferson and madison know if the south was not going to pay its debt what that means is the federal government can come in and assume the debt under the treasury or the news secretary but treasure is hamilton that hamilton would become one of the most powerful americans and if hamilton wanted a stronger federal government jefferson wanted a weaker federal government by hamilton saying the south would have to pay the debt i guarantee hamilton would get a strong federal government a bank in a strong treasury so hamilton gets whatever he wants even though he played any loss. the second argument jefferson and madison wanted in the south and virginia. what they did know is what
hamilton and george washington had started for the capitol to be in virginia so hamilton gave up that the capitol would be there and he gave up something that was already dunn said he placed her person and madison but ultimately jefferson wants a simple federal break down with only a few acres so hamilton agrees to have a design contest bridger for tinged shares the winning design. it appears that jefferson submits his own design for a little work town. what jefferson didn't know was even though he said it was a design when it went to washington washington said we are going to pick my romanesque capital so there you go. the resident staff of 1790 solidified or codified the stray compromise and a capital would be in virginia but 10 years later. meanwhile an interim you would be in philadelphia to build a city that would be named for
george washington and that was the residence act of 1790. the vote fails in here you see george washington playing political chess. 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 slide. washington would play a further role. washington not only helps pick the location of the capitol he picks the architect l'enfant any pics the architect for the federalist house. he helps raise money washington helps to decide what buildings would go in as the washington, it's his pet project. it's his obsession so washington gets the brilliant l'enfant.
his l'enfant was classically educated and most important for washington he shared washington's vision of the romanesque grand capital with boulevards public squares filled with monuments and memorials. he did not like jefferson's vision of a small federal town so l'enfant did washington's bidding and brilliantly designed the capitol. unfortunate l'enfant would answer to no one but washington and turns out to be more difficult than what it was worth to some accounts said he expired another said he quit so the answer is c all of the above. the capitol city which you recognize today next to the potomac river near the p and potomac is the national mall that we all recognize today. you can see the great squares in the grand boulevards named for the space and so forth and so on.
l'enfant is in part inspired by rome and in part inspired by paris. his design that continues to define this great city to today. next slide. washington not only picked a foreign or l'enfant a frenchman but he picked an irishman to designed the presidents house. he was also well-educated and designed beautiful buildings in charleston south carolina. washington immediately fell in love with the design. it reminded him of rome. washington then pushes by hiring hoeven and they build the presidential palace. they run into construction problems and funding problems so there's good and bad news here. they found to bring scottish stonemason so they brought more europeans and however tragically they would rely on labor so yes labor built the president's home in the capitol city because it
was cheaper and they ran out of funding for it. here is the image. you can recognize it as the white house today. this is hoban's original design. and let me bring this to a close by simply saying they weren't sure what they were going to name the city but everybody knew it was going to be named for washington for somebody proposed washington annapolis. part of it thinks it's ridiculous and the other part thinks i like that name. george washington's legacy is -- he would win the revolutionary war and design washington leading king james the third to say the washington's greatest man alive because he do but no other man could do. leading king george iii to revise -- is the greatest man of all time. he is the father of his nation
but one of washington's great legacies it was his vision of the capitol city but it was washington's ever action his stewardship and his oversight that. >> this great and glorious capital and in doing so it helped to imbue us and it gave americans a sense of american identity which we didn't have in helps unify the country with a degree of civility and gave our government legitimacy in the eyes of the world and today we have this great and glorious capital city. towns around the country -- washington would die at december december 141799. a little less than a year later is when the capitol city would open up the washington's last year were two as well and one can only imagine he was thinking about his wonderful capital city