tv Author Discussion on George Washington CSPAN August 17, 2021 8:20pm-9:13pm EDT
imagine thinking about his wonderful city he invested so much of himself and. ♪♪ >> weakens on c-span2. documents american stories and send a book to be brings the latest in nonfiction books. ♪♪ >> you think is just a community center? six. no, it's way more than that. ♪♪ comcast along with these television company supporting c-span2 is a public service. >> hello and welcome to the 2021 virtual book festival.
i'm your host for this presentation. before we get started, supporting the authors by purchasing their books from the wonderful bookseller partner politics and prose one of americans premier bookstores. given all we've been through in the past year is so important to support local jobs in the local economy. i want to extend a big thank you to the 21 we just under, david and michael, family foundations for their generous support. let's get started. tonight we have two highly acclaimed t authors here to discuss the first books. america's founding father by david stewart the fastening
account i washington became the first predominant force in the creation of united states ofhi america. david stewart is a best selling writer in a historical fiction next line topics such as the constitutional convention, the gifts of james madison, and impeachment trial of president andrew johnson. he's one the washington writing award for possible, history of the society of cincinnati and prescott award of the national society colonial days of america. george washington's final battle for epic struggle to build the capitol city and nation by robert watson delves into washington's involvement in thea establishment of a capitol city and describes how young and vulnerable country has been torn apart. robert watson is professor, historian and author with over 40 published books and hundreds of scholarly articles.
he served as a prison, and many sites including presidential libraries, museums and universities and an analyst for nbc and pbs for many years. several books one awards putting off the titanic, close toun a brooklyn untold american religion and americans first crisis. what. >> the story i tried to tell was intriguing to me because i became aware of something a lot of people know, washington one election in his life, reluctant president of the convention and elected twice for the cougar as he was elected unanimously and you don't get that with box
tops. as a big deal in the 18th century and unimaginable today so i wanted to try to understand how that o happened and what was the magic is able to apply to make that happen and the story i found was different maybe from the one we all think we know about george washington and was not an instant success, it wasn't easy, a planter of the second rank, not in virginia by any means. his father died when he was 11 and when you are the third son he didn't get very much in those days and he didn't, he got some one assets because he was 11, his mother took him over anyway and she was right, she had five kids to raise as a single mom so
he goes to work when he 16, is formal education his brothers had or wished he had, he was embarrassed about his lack of formal education and he goes to work because he needs money is not wonderful next door neighbors who own most of wnorthern virginia and are incredibly powerful and they sponsor him and he becomes the head of the virginia regiment fighting the frenchmen on the western frontier is a great opportunity but it turns out to be a terrible opportunity because the indians wonderful for spiders and virginians are not and he has three years on
the frontier where it goes well, ambushes massacres, he doesn't win anything and it's miserable. he becomes testy and manages to alienate bidders no space applicant and royal governor of virginia who gave him the job and alienates them honestly and says rotten things and terms the chain of command and goes behind their backs and when he resigned, i think we are all delighted to see him leave and he doesn't have a career in the military world hoped to have. he decides i think, to reinvent himself as a political figure,
virginia tradition he goes into mount vernon and he gets it empty marries martha and sets off on a career most people ignore when they write about washington and think about him. he spent 16 years in the house as an. legislature, colonial legislature. a decade with public response of others including taking care of the work and he spent six years on the fairfax county court which sounds traditional, it was partly but was also administrative, responsible before figuring out roads, running tobacco warehouses and
washington was extraordinarily good administrating work, executive action. in these roles, he creates a new person. , that is drawing it up about it he does it in an interesting way, he's cap not a very good voice, he doesn't trust his education to mix it up and debate so he needs to develop a quiet leadership style is a wonderful episode i emphasize which highlightsro challenge, early on he brings this forward in the in the frontier city. you have been running through town in not intense, you're not
in a civilized place. they go to the bathroom where they want and it's ugly and they break in to your storage, it lousy. he brings this legislation which i could not understand why it was controversial, the pigs have lobbyists, it was confusing but he moves us, he can't get it through. another legislature and takes over it, he reinvented to protect the water quality because if they are defecating everywhere, it goes into the wells and it bad. it's a small window into how if i dare say it, how clueless he was that he needed to learn of life. it takes a while, he doesn't go
to the top of the political ladder i but he creates a new persona built on talent he has. he's always the tallest guy, he always good was fussy about his presentation and clothing. he developed quiet style, he made himself a a great listener and he would hear people out, i think maybe time on the court helped him so as a young man from a military leader who is a bit reckless going with his gut too often and develops an approach where he wants to hear from people, he's going to make up his own mind that wants to know what smart people think about him.
he has the ability to make judgments about people, he's always got back talent and has extraordinary energy. he gets up at 4:00 a.m., looks over everything and he goes off and rides, he doesn't rest until 3:00 p.m., he's basically worked for ten hours, he has a meal and then works a few more hours and has supper and works more. that sort ofan energy while the record makes a huge difference in your life. something that struck me that i wasn't expecting, it turned out by my interpretation he had a great emotional success ability, a gift with people. not necessarily in this, a
tremendous performer, john adams called him the best actor we've ever had us president but he was referred to by many contemporary and this is surprising, marble, a marlboro man but enjoyed his company, there was a principal officer traveling through early american he said it as if it was everybody's brother and that emotional success ability to his leadership style. john adams said his gift of silence, john adams couldn't have but it made a difference and i was surprised to discover on several occasions he wept in
public, not embarrassed about. he had feelings and he showed them. that ability was something that mattered as well so i tried to take this understanding i was working toward, how you remade himself on congress in 1774, george washington, the guy we recognized as george washington and then looked at specific episodes where he demonstrates the political talent he's developed and a quick overview, i focus on seven months at valley forge when the army was at risk of unraveling, he needed to build bridges to make that work, he needed to rebel and
effort to replace commander-in-chief, a bureaucratic to get him out. it turned out is pretty good at a political my fight and was able was the transition takes time is resignation of the army was a huge moment that creates again reinforces the notion that he doesn't lost after power and in the. in the drift in the articles of confederation it is washington's reputation, and i think talent and up bringing country together and ratification of the constitution. as president, there's two episodes i look at especially the first is neutrality policy
to stay out of the european wars and the second which i am going to leave to robert because he's made a real study of it, establishing a new government and in particular, a seat of government that was a central act creating a nation and sometimes we forget in these times, there is no tradition in the u.s., the colonies were independent and the only thing they had that were unifying, the army in the war this new constitution and george washington. he played a central role and i couldn't not address this issue which was the central part of his life all is life and takes a fair number of years in his life before he appreciate the crime
of slavery and does come to appreciate it. he makes an effort to extract himself from slave ownership, he doesn't ever make it work because he doesn't have enough money to do it to complicate it, i'm not going to dwell on it, it's an interesting thing because he wants to but he can't. mark him down to be honest is he never speaks out. he speakse privately, we need to get rid of slavery but never publicly huge moral issue for the nation and our greatest leader wasas silent and that waa shame, i think he decided it wasn't going to change anything anyway. he made a cold political calculation but that was too bad. most of us know the suffering of his slaves which i see mostly as
an act of personal atonement, not a political act and he wrote at one time this action will not be displeasing to my maker. a slave owner for many years so with that, i look forward to hearing from robert on the final battle. am impressed and agree with everything you said and for the audience, some of thee awards for his writing are among the prestigious in our field. if i may, i like to ask authors what they learn new or how they change their image of the subject. he said he worked a little surprise about washington's emotional accessibility, as was i, could you expound on that one of the things i've always said,
i tackle a subject, i oftentimes like the last, i get to know that mark with fewhe exceptions like washington, we can i like more, how did your view of washington evolve or did you like it mored or less if you could expound on the on this accessibility be surprising. >> a lot of it is his moments of loss. most people who work in foreign in life, all eight of his siblings. and he writes plainly, directly about how much it hurts. i did a book on james madison, there's nothing like that. god knows he never wrote about it or said anything about it but washington again, is not ashamed
and the one episode in particular involved his stepdaughter who was cursed with epilepsy as a young girl dies at the age of 15 in a family dinner, a horror. and he does something i hadn't noticed anybody else pick up on, he's got a lot of plans the next three months and cancels all. he stays at mount vernon stays with martha. he and martha lied to one another, they have never done that. a great athlete and i think she probably can help keep up withhe them in their get old and patient it wasn't the best. he broke with her and it not heroic, not more than you would help anyone would but he did it.
it was a picture of a real man. >> that's an important insight, one of your contributions, one of your many peeling back the layers of the onion which as you said at the outset, i've always o.said this, it comes across as this statute so i felt it was the hardest to know but stories like that provide an invaluable insight. the audience and myself a little bit about your approach to writing, your approach to research, you have a certain room in your house or a certain time or number of words a day? i always like to ask about that. >> i do as much as i can in whatever needs to be done, i do. i like the work.
i don't have a target for this, ie realize i've got a whole andi need to fill it. i don't knowif what happened. as you know, with all the books you've written, there is so much to do and to know, it takes a lot. >> any big challenges during the research process? there's so much out there in washington that it would seem to be easy but then because there is so much out there in washington to find new nuggets and insights, really flush out the person rather than this character or existing narrative we often have, any challenges
during your research? >> just a touch of life and i've focused on the five episodes, i couldn't face taking it all on. it was too much. eighty-seven volumes and published papers, you've been through a lot of them in its great size sometimes you've got to say okay, i'm going to write. >> i know some authors don't mind saying it, others like to keep it a secret but you have another book planned? can you let us know what's coming up next? >> is something completely different. i have three novels i've written in these stories, my mother's family and the first one will come out in november and it's about essentially coming to
america, the 18th century and a bunch of germans come over and get swindled and the civil war is free. i had to do restriction because my mother was such an unreliable narrator, she told great stories and always knew the public weren't entirely true. [laughter] thank you for asking. >> perhaps that's where you get your gift for storytelling. thanks, david. that's a tough act to follow. i will say the idea behind my book, george washington's final battle which as you heard john say at the outset, you heard david allude to, is a story about washington billing the capitol city and in doing so,
really forging a nation republic. i got the idea to respects, one ties to what david said but first of all, we love the world-class smithsonian's, i love the monuments and touching memorials to our heroes in the following, majestic government buildings but few people know the story behind capitol city. why was it located where it was? the design, the architecture and of course the political twists and turns behind it which is a heck of a story so when you talk back? the second reason i wrote the book ties into a lot of david's work here and i've always seen washington as least accessible of all the framers, great founders. it's come across as more simonument than man, more myth than flesh and blood and i particularly like the story
david shared about canceling engagements over three months because that's what we need to do, we need to breathe my flight into washington in particular, again here i overlap and agree with this my voice seen washington as more political than we oftentimes seek the narrative or pop-culture. they have political talents, washingtonag could reinvent himself politically. i wouldn't put washington as a political chessmaster as abraham lincoln or lbj. or perhaps fdr but washington had a set of skills and i agree with david, reading people and he was well aware of his charisma, he was the biggest guy, he was an big man, physically a large man. and actually, a great horseman,
real presence and charisma, he knew that. he also knew he was not that well educated or articulate so he wills himself and plays the role with what he is given but he was a politician. there is a story i push out in the book of a boat on a key issue and they were for folks shyness and of course the senate was a lot smaller than today, this was like 41st try the tenant. washington asked madison and others to go for a revote and people are scratching their head, we need time to work on this, they call for an immediate revote and washington physics for senators and flipped all four of them. we don't have the details behind it but one cane only imagine somebody sitting in her office the door opens and the door well, george washington who said i'm going to need you to do
something for me and i'll be darned if they didn't. the other aspect off washington which david alluded to was i've seen washington white as they request improvement, he was aware of his weaknesses and reinvented himself into making himself quite an amazing leader, it was more introspective than i think people realized and i agree more accessible and a little less standoffish but two aspects, washington was creative and innovative. during the revolutionary war, he didn't't know what he was doing, he did not have the classic military training which ends up probably being a good thing because what toli critique? generals are always fighting the last war. washington was going along like my grandmother throwing spaghetti on the wall, see what sticks. he was veryy innovative and creative, the first president we
see this again so there was no template.ge it was altogether aoi new form f government. they went beyond the roman beyond classic philosophers contemplated lincoln would later call of, by and for the people so washington didn't have a template, through every action and inaction. he was ordering an office and a nation. seeing this as the former george washington, washington was a very innovative farmer. he was doing fish farming and trying to grow things that shouldn't grow in the poor soil in the virginia region. washington was very innovative
and creative, ordering you farming technology and books on seed, everything from architecture to primary and was always trying to improvea himself. i think the ultimate view of washington'she passion, vision d creativity, his political talents all comes together in what? forging a capitol city and that's where you see him put his politicalou stock, he puts it on the table and uses his gifts, he is a visionary looking at a brand-new form of a capitol so the backdrop for the story of the capitol, you can see it after the war. now what? i found this. in newspapers and stories writers say something like have we really fought for this? it took from 77 -- 81 to even
get ratified. once branch of government and holy ineffective. the lawyers and the educated, what did we have left? we couldn't pay our veterans, we couldn't s feel standing army or pay back our debts, currency was worthless, now what? in some ways it was probably easier to win a war for the ability to govern whether rubber meets the road was a new challenge and washington said he long for retirement and go back to mount vernon his work was not yet done so in that after the war, washington emerges and based on his letters from others you can see washington identified a series of basic problems.
one was this, revolutionary war starts in 1775 and doesn't end until 1783. who went the whole way through the war without a permanency seat of government. we created a brand-new nation without a permanent seat of government, that's no way to start a nation and our country. there were over 30s cities under consideration at one time or another in albany and new york city and williamsburg. there were a number of cities under consideration and one of the problems washington solved was parochialism. everybody wanted their city or state and not another one so e pennsylvania would conspire against new york and new york would conspire against pennsylvania and against baltimore. one reason was economics. the british on instant seaport, economy was in ruin so people knew if got the capitol, he
would get the government moving in, which i moving in, congress moving in and that meant economic windfall. boarding houses and restaurants and economic activity so everybody wanted the capitol and those that joke at one time that said maybe we need multiple capitals or a revolving capitol and there was a funny joke alluding to how unpopular congress was, the joke among a lot of members of congress is maybe we should build a trojan horse, put congress and, sneak into the city at night and perk it up loaded back out sneak out for the next city so we can get a capitol so after george identifies as it more problems. this is what's remarkable, it should have been ben franklin. he should have been john adams, thomas jefferson. we had remarkable renaissance
men, while educated, extraordinary influx but it wasn't them identified these and came up with a solution, it was the one man among them who wasn't well-traveled or educated. one trip abroad his like a few days in barbados. it was the innovation and ability to think out of the box. there are problems with focus on, the government was not going to and/or. as soon as the revolutionary war was ending in march 1783 in newburgh along the hudson in new york, there is a new conspiracy and as david noted, there were j efforts to remove washington. just as they were ready to cease victory, they get them from victor. in june, there's a new man in philadelphia, a group of unpaid veterans, drunks pouring out and
play surrounding the building we know as independence hall, the insurrection onoa january 6 threatening to grab people and civil disobedience and insurrection scares washington. he realizes the government may not endorse the lettuce the first one. the second problem factions and sectionalism, we are seeing north, south, the formation of the federalist and anti- federalist factions between the atoms and jeffersonians and madisonian's and already seen this in washington was displeased and worried about that and we see the inevitability and the third we have no roadbuilding in the eyes of europe, we are a cultural backwater, and upstart, a republic in an era of monarchs
in the image of american people around the wild very deerskin and raccoon hat. not too far from some places so how do we conduct treaties? how do we have alliance this way? henry deal with your but we don't have any credibility? problem to we don't have a spirit of an american identity, if you will were nationalism a good sense, not the excessive sense we see in some cases. country or nation prohibits a virginia. he would p say i left my massachusetts for my pennsylvania so united states smaller you. the states. you find letters that say these plural united states and set of capitol letter you now singular, united states savannas how
washington addressed the problem from a capitol city. a grand romanesque inspired by rome, a city for the ages. located halfway between the north and south and brings it together. too far south or north, one half is happy. how do you view the people with a sense of national identity if you have a small federal account with a couple brick buildings? you don't. you have a romanesque capitol. capitolas city as stated in the constitution something david has beenin about 10 miles square, is 100 miles, everybody. putting paris and london to shame. it's quite an ambitious undertaking.s. the government for the door. if we view the government with legitimacy, strength, it could
and/or physically to patients for the capitol one is led by jefferson and southerners and a slave owning. single-story brick buildings separated by field and woods and forests. think of the architecture of politicscs or politics of architectures. the states are supreme. a challenge in the institution of slavery. if you have a great and glorious rome and you know if the federal government is imputed in power and that could change the equation so washington really challenges his fellow southerners and the jeffersonian model envisioning brand-new incredible g capitol city. furthermore, washington's harkness enough and i think one of the biggest surprises for me in all of this, you don't think of washington as a deep thinker
or philosophically way. oftentimes he wasn't, he learned his life lessons and survey in what was then wilderness but washington realizes we have a brand-new unknown system of government. we are going to create a brand-new capitol and they are going to grow up together and the capitol city will influence the development ofat this new nation which i think is an extraordinary way of thinking about it and again i'm surprised it was washington it wasn't a ben franklin or john adams. so they would grow up together and shape the development of it in washington plays a critical role in all of this. he helps select the site for the capitol will be.
from self interest perspective it happens to be near land he owns, here mount vernon and near his beloved potomac. there's something of a joke, i found countless letters, some other founders has had washington had potomac fever, obsessed with them which he had canoed and surveyed and charted in all of that, he knew and loved it. washington naïvely alluding greater, tigris and euphrates, it's the potomac but you've got to forgive me, it wasn't well-traveled. we knew we needed to place thent capitol extra river which is by the hudson and other rivers were in the equation so he's going to have a brand-new capitol, washington helps select the site, washington surveys a lot of it washington picks the architects, the famous french
architect and engineer who he knew in the revolutionary war and mason, that helped but it was classically trained in paris and most important he shared washington's vision of a glorious capitol for the ages channeling rome and inspired by paris. ... tigris and euphrates. it is the potomac pretty got a forgive him that is not well-traveled. place the capitol next to a river which is the hudson and other rivers were in the equation. he's going to forge a brand-new capitol. washington helped washington as part of the effort to get the scottish stonemasons to come in and provide all these beautiful embellishments on the building. so, washington plays a role in even selling the plots of land and trying to raise funding for
this so beginning to end, washington is intimately involved in this. i think the idea, and i agree withby david during the presidey one of the great things washington did is he had his eyes on the ball of creating a nation and part of w that was yu could say the last ten years of his life he was starting to obsess with the idea of capital. he visited the site and demands regular updates and stays involved in it. let me say one more thing and i will bring this to a close. the dealmaking everybody has seen hamiltonll the musical, whh i love. my 20-year-old son is actually named after alexander hamilton which he now tells all of his friends if he didn't like his name before now he thinks it's cool. anybody under the age of 30
thinks that hamilton is the bomb and i tell my colleagues and federal historians i was on the bandwagon 20 some o years ago wn my son was being born. although i've always said it's easy n to love hamilton but hard to like him, he was very complicated. john adams was complicated, jefferson, madison is interesting and complicated in many ways and they all were quite frankly. so the dinner party on june 20th as they wrap in the musical the room where it happened. the less government, the more government, to make it more simplistic. the problem for jefferson's whenever they butted heads he typically carried the day because of washington.
washington was more aligned with hamilton, adams but washington saw hamilton as the father figure he never really had and he's the right-hand man as they say in the musical including the neutrality as opposed to jefferson's involvement on behalf of france so the day before, jefferson is waiting outside of washington's office and he hears a great commotion and they have a fight and both washington and hamilton have volcanic tempers. partrs of the legendary stoicism can be contributed to a lifelone passion or effort i should say to control his temper and present himself in another way. that's self-improvement that i talked about and the reinvention that david talked about so
jefferson wrote he had never seen him so conducted so he's going to move quickly. he invites hamilton to dinner the next night and he invites his right-hand man, madison. so jefferson and madison against hamilton and they have to resolve a couple of pressing issues. one would be the location of the capital and the other the question of the debt as they called it federal debt assumptions aware should the b-uppercase-letter.. hamilton at one point wants new york and the southerners wanted in the south. it was near nonnegotiable. the south could walk but of course jefferson madison wanted their beloved virginia leaving adams and others to joke only in
virginia so to jefferson and madison's surprise, we don't have a lot of sources for this jefferson would later write a reimagined version putting himself inou favorable light and later admits when he realized hamilton duped him it was the worst moment because he didn't like hamilton. hamilton agrees that the capital goes to virginia and the south. hamilton knew that washington was already eyeing up the eye of the potomac. the south, virginia didn't want to pay towards the debt assumption. some had covered their debts. a lot of the fighting in the war were borne by the northern states and new york and massachusetts were in a pickle to pay back their debt. jefferson and madison don't want to stop. they are not going to contribute. what they didn't realize is by not contributing, the federal
government who it makes him one of the most powerful people in the government and we need a bank, currency, strong treasury, all the things hamilton wanted so hamilton pretty much plays in the brilliant and gets all that he wants and later there would be another interesting exchange pursuing the one story brick buildings jefferson proposes have a design contest jefferson proposes i will serve on the committee and in fact i will g chair it. he picks his own design basically which is probably submitted anonymously but what he doesn't realize washington
says no we are going with mine. i will bring it to a close by saying i think that washington has many extraordinary legacies and as david noted winning those even at the local level and presiding over the constitutional convention and 1787 to the two terms to stepping down both as the general and president creating some remarkable customs and part of the greatness isn't what he did but what he j didn't do buti think what he did is forge the capital city and for the life of me washington wasn't in the equation we don't have that strong, grand, glorious capital and the problems that i discussed earlier whether the government would end were i think can be rethought and would be totally different. and of course there was consideration of what we should name the capital city. and everybody knew. one of the ideas was washington
opelousas. it's scary but a part of me this it is funny and interesting but thankfully they dropped it because with washington. washington doesn't live to see his beloved capital when he dies in 1799 when john adams moves in it wasn't the city that we know today, everybody. a couple of buildings, fields of mud as they cut everything down. adams was disgusted and abigail even more so by the presence of slaves building the city which is quite ironic one interesting story i flush out in the book is one of the folks was benjamin banneker, a former slave and extraordinary self-taught engineer architect astronomer,
surveyor who worked with surveying the city so that's kind of poetic that adams was disgusted by the sight of slaves building a city. the roof leaked and there was no place for abigail to get running water and the building reeked of fresh plaster. there was the hammering of construction so it was in the city it was that adams recognized -- adams didn't play a roleot in this capital city debate which is flawed because john adams was involved in every decision for years and the founding of the country o but nt in the capital. but it does recognize washington's extraordinary vision and he's a front row seat the history as he moves in and writes a letter containing sort of a poetic verse with a cryptic
recess to building the situation to b be inhabited knowing abigal dlike what she found when she comes down but then she writes of the building we now know as the white house. at the end of fdr's life at the mantle of one of a the fireplacs he says i pray having to bestow the best blessings upon this house and all who will hereafter inhabit it. that today is in the white house and part of the great vision of george washington and his extraordinary efforts and acumen and vision and creativity just getting this capital city founded andse built to ensure te survival. it is an honor to be on with dave and to be part of this wonderful book festival. thank you, everyone.
five minutes. i have no sense of time whatsoever but i remember when i got off the phone with my kids i felt as though my heart was pounding out of my chest and i felt i was worried i was having a heart attack. i've never had a heart attack but my father has had heart attacks so i was worried about that i don't remember lying on my back but i do remember them taking my hand and telling me everything was going to be okay and being a little perplexed he was reassuring me because i didn't realize i was showing how upset i was