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tv   Author Discussion on George Washington  CSPAN  August 17, 2021 5:59pm-6:51pm EDT

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himself and of that's his true legacy. thank you. i'm your host for this presentation. before we get started a quick
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plug to support the authors by purchasing books from her wonderful bookseller partner politics and prose. one of america's premier bookstores. we have links to purchase in the presentation's description. given all we have been through over the past year it's so important to support local jobs economy.ocal i want to extend a big thank you to our 2021 feature sponsor the david and michael lair foundation for their generous support. okay let's get started. tonight we have with us toio highly acclaimed authors here to discuss their latest books both on our first president george washington. george washington the political rise of america's founding father by david o. stewart is a fascinating account of how washington became the single most dominant source in the creation of the united states of america.
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david o. stewart is a best-selling writer of history and historical fiction exploring topics such as the constitutional convention the gift of james madison aaron burr's treason trial and the impeachment trial of president andrew johnson. he is one washington writing award for best book the history price of the society of cincinnati and the prescott award for the national society of o'neil america. george washington's final battle the epic struggle to grow the capitol city in the nation by robert p. watson delves into washington's involvement in the establishmentt of the capitol city and describes how the process nearly tore her young and old apart. robert p. watson is a professor historian and author with over 40 published books and hundreds of scholarly articles. he has served as a visiting scholar at many historic sites including presidential libraries
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museums and universities and who was an analyst for nbc, and cbs for manyou years. several of hisis books have won awards including the go ship of brooklyn and untold story of the american revolution and america's first crisis. welcome david and robert. >> the story i tried to tell was intriguing to me because i became aware of something a lot of people know which is washington one key elections in his life. he was elected manager of the army and president of the constitutional convention and the president of course but he was elected unanimously. you don't get that with box tops. that was a big deal in 18th century and its unimaginable
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today. i wanted to try to understand how that happened and what was the magic that he was able to apply to make that happen. and the story i found was different than the one we think we know about george washington. he was not in instant success and it wasn't easy. he was the third son of the -- of the second rank not a lead in virginia by any means. when he was the third son he didn't get very much in those days and he didn't. he got some prettyas shopworn assets until he was 11 and his mother to them over anyway. she had five little kids to raise as a single mom. so he goes to work when he is 16. he does not have ae formal
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education that he wished he had. he was always embarrassed about his lack of formal education and he goes to work because he needs the money. which is not how we think of george washington initially. true connections and he has these wonderful next-door neighbors from mt. vernon to fairfax's who own most of west virginia and are incredibly powerful. he becomes it again is theti hed of the virginia over regiment fighting the french any western frontier. it's a great opportunity it seems but then it turns out to be a terrible opportunity because the indians are wonderful fighters and virginians are not. he has basically three years on the frontier where nothing goes well, ambushes, massacres. he doesn't win anything and it's
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really miserable. he is miserable and he becomes becomes -- and he manages to alienate all of his superiors in military establishments in the royal governor of virginia who gave himcr the job and he alienates them produces rotten things to them and he jumps the chain of command goes behind their backs and he finally resigned his commission. i think they were all delighted to see him leave and he doesn't have a career in the military world. he then decides i think to reinvent himself as a political figure, as a squire in the virginia tradition.
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he marries an extremely wealthy widow martha costas and he sets off on a career that most people ignore when they write about washington and think about him. he spent 16 years in the virginia house as a legislator, the colonial legislature. he spends a decade on a vestige which has many responsibility is which include taking care of the poor and he also >> six years on the fairfax county court which sounds very judicial and it was partly but it also was administrative. it had responsibility for figure out the roads and the export business in washington was extraordinarily good at administrative work and executive action.
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and in these roles he creates a new person. he tried to build on the strength and that's what growing up is all about. he does it in an interesting way. he has not a very good voice and he doesn't trust his education. so he needs to develop a quiet leadership style and there's a wonderful episode which i think early on he brings this legislation on for the frontier city. you are not in a civilized place. it's ugly and they break into
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your storage and it's wild. he brings the legislation which i could not understand why it was controversial. he loses and he can't get it through and get their legislator pendleton takes over the building. he reinvents it as a bill to protect the water quality and of course it'sob bad. and it sailed through. it's a very small window into how i dare say how clueless he was. he needed to learn a lot and he does. it takes him a while. it doesn't block the clinical
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ladder but he creates a new persona on the talents he has. he sighs the tallest guy in the room and he always looks good. he was very fussy about his presentation and his clothing. he develops his quiet style were he made himself a great listener. and he would hear people out. it was a style and i think his time in on the court helped them with as those as a military leader he had been going with his gut and he develops an approach where he wants to hear from people. it's going to make up his own mind but he wants to know what smart people think about d something. he has the ability to make true judgments about people.
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he has always had that talent and he had extraordinary energy. he gets up at 4:00 in the morning and he looks over everything on the plantation and he goes off any rides and he doesn't rest until 3:00 in the afternoon. he basically works for 10 hours. he has a meal and then he works a few more hours and then he has the upper and sometimes works more. and that sort of energy well directed makes a huge difference in your life. something that struck me that i wasn't expecting an as it turns out by my interpretation he had a great emotional accessibility. he has a gift with people who do not necessarily -- although this was a tremendous performer. john adams called him the best
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actor he's ever had as president but he was referred to by many contemporaries as affable. we need a feminist does we see this marble dust and the marble man but in fact there was a french officer who described traveling to america with him and he said it was as though he was everybody's father in everybody's brother and that sort of emotional as this ability was the key to his leadership style. john adams called it if it gifts of silence which is a gift john adamsrl didn't have but it madea difference and i was surprised to discover on several occasions he wept in public.
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he was not embarrassed about previous feelings and he showed them. that was something that mattered as well so i try to take this understanding of how he remade himself from the first con in the congress in 1774. he's george washington and he's the guy that we recognize as george washington and then to look at specific episodes in the mature career where he demonstrates his political talents that he has developed and a quick overview i focus on in seven months at valley forge and the army was at risk of unraveling. he needed to build urges and he needed to repel an effort to replace him as commander in chief.
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there was actually bureaucratic maneuver to get them out and it turned out that he was a pretty good, pretty good at political knife fighting and who is able to survive that cleanly. the second period i looked at is the transition to peacetime. his resignation from the army is a huge moment that creates again reinforces the notion that he doesn't after power. and in thefi period of the 1780s under the articles of confederation it's washington's reputation and i think talents that end up bringing the country together at the constitutional convention and ratification of the constitution. as the president there were two episodes i look at his neutrality policy to stay out of european wars and the second which i will leave to robert
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because he's the real scholar of a newestablishing government and in particular its government which is a central act in creatingod a nation. we sometimes forget in these times there was no tradition in the united states of america. the colonies didn't think of themselves as one country. they had to learn and all the things that they had for unifying were the army during the war, this new constitution and george washington. he played such a central role and the couldn't not address this labor issues which was the central part of his life, all of his life.ri it takes him a fair number of years in his life before he appreciates the crime of and he does come to appreciate it.
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he makes an effort to extract himself from ownership. he doesn't ever make that work because it doesn't have enough money and it's a complicated story and i'm not going to dwell on it here. it's an interesting thing because he really wants to but he can't. were i do mark them down to be honest is he never speaks speaks privately that we need to get rid of but never publicly and this is a huge moral issue for the nation and he was silent. i think he decided he wasn't going to change anything anyway and he made a cool political cat collation but that was toot. ba. most of us know about the freeing of the and his will which i see mostly as an active
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personal atonement not a political act. he wrote at one point i hope this action will not be displeasing to my maker. he had a load of guilt which he earned as a owner for many years. so with that i look forward to hearing from robert on the final battle. >> david, thank you. i agree with everythingt you say and have said and just for the audience some of the awards david has won for his writing his books are among the more prestigious in our field. david if i may i always like to ask authors what they have learned new or how they change their image of the subject. you said that you are a little surprised by washington's emotional accessibility as was i. could youhe perhaps expand on tt in one of the things i'vere alws said when i tackle a subject i oftentimes like them less as they get to know themsk more but
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there were a few exceptions like washington, lincoln and truman i liked more but how did your view of washington, did it evolve or did you more or less and the emotional accessibility. >> a lot of his moments were lost. most people in his life are. his siblings died before he did. and he writes directly about how much it hurts and i did a book onca james madison. and washington again is not ashamed of it. the one episode in particular involves the speculator who had
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epilepsy as a o young girl and died at the age of 15 of the family dinner and it's a horror. he writes a terribly moving will letter about it to one of his in-laws and then he does something that i hadn't noticed anybody else pick up on whichmee got a lot of plans for the next three months and he cancels them all. he stays at mt. vernon and stays with martha and he and martha rise together. they had never done that. washington was determined his horsemen and a great rider and a great athlete and i think she probably couldn't keep up with him and would be impatient probably wasn't the best but he stayed with her and the road with her and it's not heroic. it's not more than you would hope anybody would do but he did it and it was a picture of the
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real man that meant something. >> that's an important insight as i think one of your contributions one of your mini-is peeling back the layers of the onion and trying to get at the real washington which as you said at the outset and i share your views and i have i said this he comes across to the generations is just this statue so i've always felt he was the hardest to know all the founders that stories like that provide us with valuable insight. i'd like to ask you another question david they are like to ask authors tell the audience a little bit about your writing your approach to writing in your perch to research. you have a certain room in the house, do you have a certain time and a certain number of words in a day? i was like to ask authors that. >> they do as much as i can and whatever needs to be done that day i do. i like to work.
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i don't have a target of what to in a day because there may be a day weren't just reading and i have a whole and i need to fill it. so it's just as you know with all the books you have written there is so much to do and so much to know and it takes a lot of strength. >> and a big challenges during i your research? there so much out there in washington that it would seem to be an easy project but because they are so much out there in ,washington to really find new negative and insights as you have done and flush out the person rather than this caricature of its existing narrative that we have. >> it's such a big life and
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that's why i focus on the five episodes. this took five years. it's too much. i have 87 volumes and you have been through a lot of them. it's great but you can loser yourself in it so at some point you have to say okay. >> i know some authors don't mind saying it another site to keep it a secret but do you have another book planned and can you let us know what's coming up next? >> well it's something completely different. i c have three novels that i've written about my mother's family and the first one will come out in november and it's about essentially them coming to america in the 18th century.
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it bunch of germans come over and get swindled by the anglos and the civil war my mother was such an unrivaled merit or. >> she told great stories that probably weren't entirely true so it became fiction. thank you for asking. >> perhaps that's read get your gift for storytelling but yours is accurate. >> you need both. >> no question. thank you david. that's a tough act to follow and i would say the idea behindat might look "george washington's final battle" which as you heard john say at the outset and david alluded to is the story about washington building the capitol city and in doing so really foraging the nation from a young
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fledgling republic. i got the idea from two respects one was what david just said that we all love our capital. we love the mall and the monuments and the memorials to b our heroes. the majestic government buildings but few people know the story behind the capitol city. why was it located where it was in and the design and architecture and of course all the political twists and turns behind it which is a heck of a story. i wanted to tell that. the second reason i wrote the book was that was aybar is in washington as the least accessible of all the framers and the great founders. he comes across as more monument then man more myth than flesh and blood and i particularly liked the story david shared about him canceling a lot of his engagements over three months
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because i think we need to breathe more life into washington and particular again here g i overlap with david's argument i voice in washington is more political than we oftentimes see the narrative for the pop culture. washington has political talents as david said. washington could reinvent himself lyrically. i wouldn't put washington in a political chess master like lincoln or clearly wasn't the gift of fdr but washington had a set of political skills and i agree with david on reading people and he also had charisma andou was well aware of his charisma. he was the biggest guy in the world. he was physically a large man and an athlete a great horseman and he had a real presence and that charisma and he knew that. he also knew he was not that
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well-educated and not that articulate so he wills himself and plays the role of what he was given that he was a politician. there's a story i flush out in the book on a key issue and they were four votes shy in the senate. the senate was a lot smaller than today. this would be like 40 votes shy of the senate so four votes shy in washington and asked madison and others to call for a revote and people are scratching their head and we need time to work on this. they call for an immediate revote in an interim washington flipped all four senators. we don't have the details behind it but one can only imagine somebody sitting in their office and the door opens and filling out the door well is george washington who said i'd need you to do something for me. that's an example of the other aspect of washington which david
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also alluded to i've always seen washington's life is a? for self-improvement. he was aware of his weaknesses and invented himself in to making into quite an amazing leader. i agree he was more accessible and a little standoff fish as he was usually depicted but two aspects that wanted toys flush out. one is washington is creative and innovative. during the revolutionary war he did not have a classic military training which ended up probably being a good thing. generals are always fighting what they learned in their training. washington was thinking it as he was going along like my grandmother throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. he was said to be very innovative and very creative. as the first president you see this again.
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so there was no template. we created, the framers created an altogether new form of government. they went beyond the roman senate and far beyond what the classic greek philosophers in their time did. washington didn't have a template so he used reaction and in action to everything he said and didn't say. he was forging an office in forging a nation. he didn't know what he wason doing. he was created to fill in the blanks. he was seen as the farmer george washington. washington was a very innovative farmer. he had w aquaculture. he was trying to grow things that shouldn't grow in the soil of the tidewater virginia region. washington was very innovative and very creative. he was writing looks on seeds
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everything from architecture to farming. he was always trying to improve himself. they think the ultimate view of washington'sof passion is the vision and creativity. he's more of a visionary in his political talents, it all comes together in forging and building a capital city. that's where you see him put his political stock. he puts on the table and he uses his gifts. he is a visionary looking at a brand-new form of the capitol itself. the backdrop to the story of the capitol really you can see the after the war. we won the war and now what? i found headlines of force in newspapers and stories from people and writers who said things like have we really fallen for this? we will and have a functioning government. we have the federation that was ratified and one branch of
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government that was wholly ineffective and effectual. when the british left they took their positions in the money and the lawyers and educators. what did we have left? we didn't pay our veterans. we didn't field a standing army and we couldn't pay back her debts to the europe and our currency was worthless. the states were occurring. now what? in some ways it was probably easier to win the war for the ability to govern than two actually govern where the rubber meets the road. washingtonin had said he longed for retirement to go back to mt. vernon but his work was not done. in that vacuum after war washington emerges and based on his letters and letters from others we could see that washington identifies with the series of baked it problems. one of them was the war starts in 1775.
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we went the whole way through the warr without it permanent seat of government. we created a brand-new nation without a permanent seat of government. that's no way to start a nation or country let alone a capital. 30 cities under consideration at one pointt or another from albay and new york city baltimore and annapolis to harrisburg and lancaster to williamsburg. there were a number of cities under consideration and one of the problems with this parochialism. everyone wanted their state and not another one. .. revolutionary war starts in 1775. does not end until 1783 per with the whole way through the war without a permanent seat of government. we create a brand-new nation without a permanent seat of government but that's no way
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to start a mission or a country we did not have a capitol. we had over 30 cities under consideration of one point or a another to harrisburg and lancaster to williamsburg. there were a number of cities under consideration one was a parochialism. everyone wanted their city or state and not another one. and so pennsylvania would conspire against new york and newark would conspire against pennsylvania. annapolis conspired against baltimore baltimore disk file against annapolis. the economy was in ruins. people know if you got the capitol you get the government moving in the military moving in congress moving in. that meant an economic windfall of a boarding houses and restaurants in economic activity. so everybody wanted the capitol.
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ben franklin at one point said maybe we did multiple capitals maybe we need revolving capitol for there is root joke about their trojan horse alluding to how unpopular congress was the joke was meg who should build a trojan course, but congress and a belly and sneak it into a city at night and let them do the business, load up and sneak out to the next city we could not get a capitol. so enter george washington. hampton vice for problems is that remarkable to me it should've been ben franklin. it should have been john adams, thomas jefferson we had some remarkable renaissance men. well educated well-traveled, extraordinary intellects. it was not then that identified these problems and came up with the solution was a one man among them who is not well-traveled well educated. one trip abroad spent in
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barbados. the ability to think outside the box. here for the proms a focus on in the book. number one the government was not going to endure. as soon as the revolutionary war was ending and the headquarters in newburgh along the hudson in new york that newburgh conspiracy as david noted and fleshes out in his book their efforts to remove washington. washington's rea the third problem he identifies is in his ear. we are an upstart a republican area monarchs and of course the image of americans running around the wild wearing bearskin
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and raccoon hats. how do we conduct treaties and how do we have alliances? how do we deal with europe if we can't repay them and don't have any credibility in the fourth problem which david alluded to is we don't have the spirit of an american identity if you will or spirit of nationalism and a good sense not be since we see in some cases. if you were to ask thomas jefferson about his country's nation he would say virginia. if you would ask them to franklin he said i left my massachusetts for my pennsylvania so the united states small letter u and capital letter s the states. the squirrel the united states instead of capital letter u now it's united states so that's the core problem for that is washington address all these
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problems? a at capital city of grand and glorious bloom and ask inspired by rome a city for the ages located halfway between the north in and the south and brings it together. how to june view the people at the sense of national identity if you have a small federal town with a couple of rick buildings but you don't. you have a romanesque capital. the capitol city stated in the constitution that david has written about. ..
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think of the architects of politics. if the federal government is a small brick building the states are supreme. does not eight challenge, if you have a great and glorious rome on the potomac, the federal government has power and that could change the equation. so washington really challenges at the fellow southerners and the jeffersonian model in envisioning this brand-new incredible capitol city. now, furthermorey washington's cots and is an effort where the biggest surprises for me in all of this, you do not think of washington as a deep thinker work philosophically bent. he often times wasn't.
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he learned his life lessons and survey and fighting indians and what was in the wilderness. but washington realized we havebu a brand-new, hereto for unknown system of government. were going to create a grand brand-new capitol. they're going to grow up together that capitol city will influence this new nation and countless ways. i think it is just an extraordinary way of thinking about it. again i am surprised it was washington not a ben franklin or john adams two of the other founders i quite enjoy. they would grow up and shape the development of it. washington plays a critical role in all of this. he helped select the site for where the capitol will be. now from a self interest perspective it happens to be near land his own sprit
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happens to be near mount vernon. it's by his beloved potomac. it's a joke. i found countless letters teased and said washington had potomac fever. he was obsessed with the potomac. his credit he had canoed, serving, charted all of that, he knew it he loved it. it was silly kind of naïvely alludes to the potomac is a greater than the rhine or the danube. [laughter]te the tigris and euphrates, it eis the potomac he was not well-traveled. we knew it we need to place the capitol near a river which is why the hudson and other rivers were in the equation pretty had forged a brand-new capitol. washington surveys a lot of it. washington picks the architects. the font the finest architect and engineer who knew a
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revolutionary war, he was also a mason that helped. he was classically trained in paris. channeling rome and inspired by paris. the grand that intersect for the public squares each was filled with memorials and monuments beautiful buildings. he shared the exaggerated view of the capitol. another from james hoven of ireland read washington a scottish stone masons it's a beautiful embellishment on the building. so when the h plots of land and trying to raise funding for this. i'm beginning to end when the
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great things washington did was hit his eyes on the ball of creating a nation. he was darn it obsessed with the idea of a capitol. he visited the site on hires who overseeoners the city but he demands regular updates and reports pretty face really involved in it. which i will more thing that i'll bring this to a close. heel making everybody has seen hamilton, the musical right? i loved my 20-year-old son is named for alexander hamilton. which he now tells all of his friends very properly did not like his name before i was in human under the 30 things hamilton is the bomb.
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i was on the hamilton bandwagon 20 some years ago when my son was being born. although i've always said it's easy to love hamilton but is hard to like him. he was very complicated as they all are. john adams i love but he was complicated. jefferson could be an acquired taste. he's a complicated guy in many ways they all were. ben franklin foremost among them. the dinner party on june 20 of 1790. the room where it happened. he less government, the more government the south, the north make it simplistic. a problem for jefferson he and hamilton butted heads. they typically carried the day,y, why? more ideologically aligned is
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more of the sun. hamilton sink washington as the father figure he never really a had. hamilton as washington's right-hand man is a say in the musical. washington would side with hamilton including neutrality which he flushes out in this book so june 19, the day before here's a great commotion. washington and hamilton have a fight. both washington and hamilton had volcanic temper spread part of legendary can be contributed to a life long effort to control his temper and present himself in another way. that is self-improvement that i talked about. the reinvention that david talks about. he wrote he'd never seen
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hamilton so dejected he's going to move quickly. he invites hamilton to dinner at the next. he's going to get what hamilton and washington have a rift and did team up on him he invites his right hand man, madison with the great intellects. so jefferson and madison against hamilton. they have to resolve the couple pressing issues, just to among them. but will the location of the capitol. and one is the debt is is called federal debt assumption. so where should the b-uppercase-letter? now hamilton went to the north at one point new york, jefferson southerners wanted in the s south. it was darn near nonnegotiable. the south could walk if they don't get it in the south jefferson and madison and their beloved virginia believing adams and others to joke.. only inte swans. to jefferson and madison surprised it seems that, with
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secondary sources, jefferson would t later write and reimagine version of this meeting trying to put himself in favor of light. he duped him it was the worst moment of his political life because he did not like hamilton. hamilton agrees the capitol goes in virginia and the south. jefferson and madison could not believeve it. ends of the potomac. now the question of death, theti south, virginia did not want to contribute toward the debt assumption heard some southern states and cover their debt. a lot of the fighting of the war and cost of the war were borne by the northern g states. they were in a pickle jefferson m and madison don't went south to pay back the debts they don't want to contribute to what they did not realize it by them not contributing the federal government would have to assume their debts.
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who wanted that? hamilton. hamilton was aim treasury secretary. mix away the most powerful people in the government. the federal government assumes we need a bank, when a strong treasury all the things hamilton wanted. and federal debt assumption. hamilton plays a jefferson and a brilliant madison like a guitar and gets all that he wants. later that there be another interesting exchange that jefferson pursuing his idea of a little simple federal town a one story brick building, kljefferson proposes we have a design contest. how democratic is this? the public submits the designs. jefferson proposes i will sit on the committee to pick the winning design in fact i will chair it. he picks his own design basically which was probably submitted anonymously. but what he does not realize is when he takes that to hamilton and washington, washington pretty much says note we are going with mine.
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i'll bringsu it to a close by saying i think washington has many extraordinary legacies of his winning one of those elections even at the local level and presiding at the constitutional convention in 1787 to two terms was stepped out as general and president is remarkable customs. part of this greatness is not what he did but what he did not do in that respect. i think what he did do is forge this capitol city. for the life of me if washington was not in the equation we don't have that strong, grand, glorious capitol. the problems i discussed earlier about whether the government would long endure i think would be rethought would be totally different.. of course there's consideration what we should in the capitol city. everybody knew. one of the idea was washington opelousas. iin am just a nerdy enough to say it scary that part me thanks it's funny and
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interesting. thankfully they dropped the opelousas. [laughter] washington does not live to see his beloved capitol open he dies for the capitol city finally opens on november 1, 1801 years later when john adams moves in. it was of the city we know today, everybody. a couple of buildings, fields of mud because they cut everything down. adams was disgusted and abigail even more so by the presence of slaves building our city which is quite ironic. because we did not have the money we would have to rely on slave labor. one interesting story i flush out in the book, one of the folks help survey and set it up was benjamin banneker a former slave and extraordinary self-taught engineer surveyor who works with washington and
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serving the city. that is kind of poetic. adams wasas disgusted by the sight of slaves building the city. only six terms in the white house were finished. the roof leak there is no place for n abigail to hand enter and hang her laundry to get running water all day all night long there is the yhammering and sawing of construction. it was not the city it was. adams did not play hardly any role in any of this. which is odd but not in the capitol pretty doesn't recognize washington's extraordinary vision. he doesn't recognize he is a front row seat to history as he moves in. he writes a letter containing sort of a poetic verse pretty writes a letter to abigail who did not travel with them or cryptically d says the building is in a situation to be inhabited basically. knowing abigail like what she
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found, but then he writes of the building we now know as the whiteg house. he writes a prayer which at the end of d fdr's life was engraved in the mantle under the fireplace he said i pray have them bestow the best of blessings on this house and all who will hereafter inhabit it. but none but wise and honorable men ever served under this roof. that today's in the white house. i think that's part of the great vision of george washington and his ecextraordinary efforts, his political acumen, his vision, his creativity and just getting this capitol city founded and built which ensured the survival of our republic. thank you for that. if i could think david an honor to be on with him and to be a part of this wonderful book festival, i thank you everyone. >> weekends on cspan2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday will find
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events and people on american history tv. on sunday, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. it is television for serious readers. learn, discover, explore, weekends on cspan2. >> good evening everyone. my name is kevin butterfield i'm the executive director of the fred w smith library for the study of george washington at mount vernon. welcome to our third evening book talk with the month of april 2021. we are thrilled to have you here and excited about our conversation on the first inauguration of george washington and the invention of the republic with steven brown. one notes, coming up in may is our third and final miss michelle smith lecture we've had two wonderfulat conversations


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