tv Author Discussion on George Washington CSPAN August 17, 2021 10:46pm-11:38pm EDT
happened walking around behind masks that long covid winter and into play out january 6 at the capital with a contested election so really it was the fifth day of spring to see it unfold and look up close and very slowly to meet people along the way to understand where we were as a country. >> and his 300-mile journey washington dc to new york city c-span q&a. you can also find q&a interviews with on —- wherever you get your podcast. >> hello everyone welcome to the 2020 when virtual book
festival so before we get started in with the politics and prose one of the most premier independent bookstores. may have like —- links to purchase with all we have been through the past year it so important to support local jobs in the local economy. to sponsor the david and michael michael blair family foundation for their generous support.t. we have two highly acclaimed authors with the president george t washington the political rise of america's founding father is a fascinating account of howed
washington became the single most dominant force in the creation of the united states ofrs america. and exploring topics such as the constitutional convention , james madison, ehrenberg treason trial in the impeachment trial of andrew johnson. the history prize of the society of the cincinnati and the prescott award of the national society of colonial days of america. and then the struggle to build the capital city and a nation delving into washington's involvement in the establishment of the capital city and describes how the process nearly tore our young and vulnerable country apart. with over 40 publish books and hundreds of scholarly articles
serving as a visiting scholar at many historic sites with presidential libraries and universities and an analyst at nbc and pbs for many years several of his books have won awards including the not the titanic the 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'm aware of something what a lot of people know elected president of the constitutional convention but the kicker is he was elected unanimously that was a big
deal in the 18th century and it is unimaginable today. so i wanted to try to understand how that happened and what he could apply to make that happen and the story iha found was different from george washington. not an instant success and not easy but not an elite figure in virginia by any means his father died when he was 11 and when you are the third son you don't get very much and he didn't he is in pretty sharp assets and his mother took him over she was right to do that she had five little kids to raise as a single mom.
so he goes to work when he is 16 he hasn't had the formal education the two older brothers had he was always embarrassed about his lack of formal o education and he goes to work because he needs the money which is not how we think of george washington usually but through connections wonderful next-door neighbors the fairfax is who are incredibly powerful and they sponsor him he becomes the head of the virginiak regiment on the western frontier and it is a great opportunity it seems but then it turns o out to be terrible because the indians are wonderful fighters and virginians are not and basically has three yearsnd on
the front tier were nothing goes well. ambushes, massacres he doesn't win anything and it's miserable. he is miserable and he manages to alienate all of his superiors with the military establishment and the royal governor of virginia who gave him the job and he says rotten things to themm and jumps the chain of command and goes behind their backs and when he resigned his commission they are delighted to see him leave and he doesn't have a career in the military world he hoped to have. he then decides to reinvent himself as a political figure and the squire they have to
die to get it but he gets it and marries an extremely wealthy widow and sets off on a career that most people ignore and think about him spending 16 years as a legislature and spend the decade that had public responsibilities and he also spent six years a on the fairfax county court which sounds very judicial and was partly but also administrative. it had responsibility for figuring out the roads and the fairies in the exploit businessen and washington was
always extraordinarily good at administrative executive work and actions and in these roles he creates a new person as he tries to build on his strengths and weaknesses and in an interesting way. and doesn't trust his education to mix it up. and then to develop a quiet leadership style and there's one i emphasize that highlights some of the challenge and early on brings legislation forward in the city of h winchester which is a frontier city and then you are
not in a civilized place and it's ugly andfo then they break into your storage and it is lousy. so he brings this legislation i can't understand why it is controversial. it is confusing and he can't get it through. and then to reinvent it as a bill to protect water quality and winchester because they defecate everywhere and at the
top of theal political ladder. and to be fussy by his presentation and his clothing, he developed a quiet style and made himself a great listener and to hear people out to develop that style and a bit reckless goes of his gut too often to develop to hear from smart people and wants to know what smart people think about something and has the
ability to make true judgments. 's has that talent. then he goes off and rides but he doesn't rest until 3:00 p.m. and then works for ten hours he has a meal and then works a few more hours and then he has supper and sometimes works more. and that sort of energy makes a huge difference in your life. something that struck me that i was not expecting, by my interpretation, he had a great emotional accessibility. a gift with people.
not necessarily in a large group not necessarily a large performer but calling us largest actor we ever had as p president, but referred to by many contemporaries and this surprised me. but the french officer described traveling through early america with him and he said it was as though he was everybody's father and brother. and a key to the leadership style. and then to get the silence what john adams didn't have i
was surprised to discover on several occasions he wept in public. but he had feelings and he showed them. and that ability mattered as well. and we made himself from the first continental congress, he is the guy that we recognize as george washington and thinking years. and then to look at specific episodes where he demonstrates those political talents and then to focus on the seven months of valley forge and the army why isci at risk of unraveling he needed to build bridgeste so he needed to to
have a bureaucratic maneuver to get them out. it turned outy he was pretty good and could survive that but then to look at the transition to peacetime that resignation is a huge moment to create reinforce the notion of manic can be trusted and doesn't last k after power and feeling that confederation is washington's reputation and then bringing the country together in the constitutional convention.
appreciates and he does come to appreciate it. he makes an effort to extract himself from slave ownership. he doesn't have enough money to do it. he never speaks out, he speaks privately that we need to get rid of slavery but never publicly, and this is a huge issue for the nation and the greatest leader was silent and that wasan a shame i think he decided it wasn't going to change anythinges anyway. he made a pretty cold political calculation. most of us know about his
freeing of the slaves into his willon which i see mostly as an act of personal atonement. he wrote at one point i hope this will not be displeasing to maker. with that i look forward to hearing on the final battle. some of the awards as the prestigious in the field, david if i may i always like to ask authors what they learn new or how they change their image of the subject. you said you were a little surprised by the emotional accessibility, as was i. can you perhaps expand on that.
hope anybody would do, but he did it and it was a picture of the real man that meant somethingth to me. >> that's an important insight it's peeling back the layers of an onion and trying to get at the real washington which as you said at the outset, he comes across through the generations as just this statute so i always felt it was the hardest to know of all the founders but stories like that provide us an invaluable insight. another question could you tell the audience and myself a little bit about your writing and approach to research, do you have a certain room in the house, time, number of words per day? i alwayse like to ask the office that. >> i do as much as i can. whatever needs to be done that day, i do it.
i like the work. my wife has adjusted to it over 50 years. i don't have the targets for producing. i realize i've got aik hold and need to fill it. i don't know what happened. there's so much to do any big challenges during the research process? in a way there's so much out there in washington that it would seem to be because there's so much out there in washington to find some new insights as you've done and flush out the person and rather than this caricature of this existing narrative that we often have and
any challenges foray the resear. >> that's why i focus on these episodes because i couldn't face it. it was just too much. i got 87 volumes of the published papers it's great that you could lose yourself in it. some don't mindst saying it, others like to keep it a secret. do you have another book planned or can you let us know what is coming up next? >> i have three novels i have written. theyi first one will come out in
november the first one is in the 18th century and a bunch of germans come over and get swindled by the angles. i had to do them as fiction because my mother was such an unreliable narrator. she told great stories and we knew they probably were not entirely true. eperhaps that's where you get your gift for storytelling. >> thanks, david. that is a tough act to follow. the idea behind my book, the final battle, which as you heard john say at the outset and you heard david e alluded to, it is a story about building the capital city and then doing so,
forging the nation. i document this in two respects. one ties to what david said but we all love our capital city i love the monuments. few people know the city behind the capital city. why was it located where it was, the design, the architecture and of course all the political twists and turns behind it the reason i wrote the book ties into a lot of david's work and that was i've always seen washington as the leastw accessible of all the frameworks. he's come across as more monument than man. more myth than flesh and blood and i particularly like the
story david shared about him canceling his engagements over three months because i think that's what we need to do. freeze more life into washington, and particular here i overlap and agree completely with this argument. i've seen washington as more political than we often times see the narrative for the pop-culture depiction. washington had political talents as david said. washington could reinvent himself politically. now i wouldn't put washington as a political chess master like abraham lincoln or an arm twist like lbj. or he clearly wasn't the gifted orator like jfk but nonetheless washington had a set of political skills and i agree with david and the sort of instincts on reading people, he also had charisma. phe was well aware of his charisma and was always the biggest guy in the room. by today's parlance, a great horse man, real presence and
that charisma he knew that. he also knew he wasn't that well educated and articulate. so, he kind of plays the role but there's a story that i put out in the book of a vote on a key issue and of course the senate was a lot smaller than today. this would be like 40 votes shy. four votes shy in the senate and washington asks madison and others and people are kind of scratching their head. we need time to work on this. they call free and immediate we vote in the interim washington visits the senators and flips all a four of them. we don't have the details behind it, but one could only imagine somebody sitting in their office and the door opens and filling up the well is george washington who says i'm going to need you
to do something for me and i will be darned if they didn't, so that's an example. the other aspect of washington, as david e alluded to i've seen it as a quest for self-improvement. he was aware of his weaknesses and worked and did reinvent himself into making himself quite an amazing leader. more introspective than i think people realized and agreed more accessible and a little less standoffish than he is usually depicted. two aspects, one washington was creative and innovative. during the revolutionary war, he didn't know what he was doing. he didn't have the classic military training that ended up being a good thing because to critique the generals are always fighting as they learned about in their training. washington was making it up as he went along, throwing spaghetti on the wall. see what sticks. but he had to be very innovative
and creative. as the first president you see this again and again with david's book. so there was no template. awe created an altogether new form of government. theyro went beyond what the classic greek philosophers had done. so it is in that washington didn't have a template. through his every action and inaction everything he said and didn't say he was forging an office and a nation so again he didn't know what he was doing. he had to be creative and fill in the blanks. you can see this as the farmer george washington. washington was a very innovative farmers. he was doing fish farming. he was trying to grow things that shouldn't grow in thein por soil in the virginia region of the potomac. washington was very innovative
and creative. he was ordering new technology and books and everything from architecture and farming you could order and he was always trying to improve himself. i think the ultimate view of washington's passion, his vision and creativity. he was more of a visionary. it all comes together in forging a capital city, building a capital city. that's where you see him put his political stock on the table. he uses his gifts. he's a visionary and looking at a brand-new form of the capital and so on so that the backdrop of the story really you can see it we won the war. now what. i found headlines of course in newspapers and stories where people and writers said things like have we really fought for this? we don't have a functioning government. you have the articles in the
federation that took from 77 to 81 to even get things ratified. it was one branch of government, holy and effective and in but when the british left, they took the positions and the lawyers and the educated. what did we have left? we couldn't pay our veterans. we couldn'tt feed a standing ary or pay back our debt to europe. currency was worthless, states were bickering. now what? so in some ways it was probably easier to live than govern where the rubber meets the road which was the challenge. washington said that he longed for apl retirement under his beloved mount vernon. but his work was not yet done. so in that vacuum after the war, washington emerges and based on his letters and letters from others, you could see that washington identified in the series of basic problems.
one was the revolutionary war starts in 1775. it doesn't end until 1783. we went to the whole way through without a permanent seat of government. we created a brand-new nation without a permanent seat of government. that's no ways to start a nation or country. there were over 30 cities under consideration at one point or another from albany and new york city to baltimore and annapolis to perrysburg and lancaster to williamsburg. there were a number of cities under consideration. and one of the problems washington saul was parochialism. everybody wanted their city and state and not another one so pennsylvania would conspire against new york and newrg york would conspire against pennsylvania and against baltimore and baltimore conspired against annapolis. one of the reasons was economics. the british had blockaded the eastern seaboard. the economy was in ruins, so people knew that if you got to the capital, you would get the
government moving in, the military moving in, the congress, and that meant an economic windfall of houses and restaurants andnd economic activity. so everybody wanted the capital. there was even a joke at one point ben franklin said maybe we need multiple capitals or revolving capital and there was a funny joke about the trojan horse eluding to hell unpopular congressy was. the joke among a lot of the members of congress was maybe we shouldk build a trojan horse, pt congress in the belly and sneak it into the city at night and loaded backup and sneak off to the next city. so we couldn't get a capital. enter george washington and he really identifies four problems and this is what is so remarkable to me. it should have been ben franklin. it should have been john adams, thomas jefferson. i mean,, we had some remarkable
renaissance men, well educated, dywell-traveled, extraordinary intellects, but it wasn't them that identifies these problems. it was the one among them who was not well-traveled or educated. one trip abroad he's been to few days in barbados. so it was washington and i think it was the creativity and innovation and ability to think outside of the box. so here are four of the problems i focus on in the book. number one the government wasn't going to endure. as soon as the revolutionary war was ending in march of 1783 at the headquarters in newburgh along the hudson in new york, there was a new conspiracy and as david noted and points out in his book there were efforts to remove washington. washington is realizing as we are ready to seize victory, we are going to snatch it from the and in 1783,ry there is a new one in philadelphia, unpaid veterans,
coming out of the pubs in philly they surrounded the building we now know as independence hall, sort of like the insurrection on january 6th, threatening to grab people and civil disobedience and civil insurrection. this scares the hell out ofn washington. he realizes b the government may not newer. so that's the first one, what do we do about the government. second is factions and sectionalism. we already see the north and south rift and we see the formation of the federalists and anti-federalists and the factions between the atoms and hamiltonian's and jeffersonians and madisonian's and see this rift in washington of course was displeased and worried about that and of course today in our politics we see the inevitability of all of that. the third problem he identifies it as we have no credibility in the eyes of europe. we are a cultural backwater. we are in upstart, republican era of monarchs and of course
the image is a bunch of people running around wearing deerskin and raccoon hats, not too far off the mark in some places so conduct treaties, how do we have alliances? how do we deal with europe if we can't repay them and we don't have any credibility? the fourth problem, which david also eluded the two is we don't have a spirit of i guess and the american identity if you will or spirit of nationalism in the good sense, not the excessive sense that we see in some cases. if you were to ask thomas jefferson about his country or nation he would say virginia. if you asked ben franklin he would say i left massachusetts forn pennsylvania. so we didn't have united states describing capital states. you find letters that say these plural united states instead of the capital letter now singular the t united states so that is e
fourth problem. how does washington address these problems? the capital city. a grand and glorious inspired by rome. a city for the ages located halfway between the north and south and it helps bring it together if it is too far to the south or to the north, one half of the faction is unhappy. how did youhe view the people wh a sense ofof national identity f you have a small federal town with a couple of brick buildings, you don't. you have a glorious romanesque capital. the capital city as they stated in the constitution, something david has written about, a 10-mile square. it's 100 miles, everybody. this would put paris and london to shame. it's quite an ambitiouss undertaking. the government won't endure. well if we have legitimacy, strength it c could. and you have basically two visions for the capital.
one is led by jefferson and the southerners and kind of a slaveowning vision. jefferson's federal town ass he called it, just a few acres, single-story brick buildings separated by fields and woods and forests. think of the architecture of politics or the politics of architecture if the federal government is a couple small brick buildings than the states are supreme. there's not a challenge the institution of slavery. if you have a great and glorious world on the potomac then you know the federal government is inin feud with power and that could change the equation so washington challenges his fellow southerners and the jeffersonian model in envisioning this brand-new incredible capital city. furthermore,e, washington's congress and i think one of the biggest surprises for me in all of this is you know, you don't think of washington as a deep
thinker or philosophical event. often times he wasn't. he learned his life lessons in serving and fighting what was then in the wilderness. but washington realizes we have a brand-new hereto for unknown system of government. we are going to create a brand-new capital and they are going to grow up together and that capital city will influence the development of this c new nation in countless ways which i think is just an extraordinary way of thinking about it and again i'm surprised that it was washington andy it wasn't ben franklin or john adams, the other founders i quite enjoy but so they would grow up together and shape the development of it and washington plays a critical role in all of this. he helps select the site for where the capital will be. from a self-interest
perspective, it happens to be near mount vernon and it happens to be near his beloved potomac and there was even a something of a joke i found in countless letters some of the others said washington had potomac fever. he was obsessed with the potomac which to his defense, he knew it and he loved it and he sort of naïvely eluded to it as greater than tigris andd euphrates. it's the potomac. you have to forgive him he wasn't well traveled. he knew we needed to place the capital next to a river which is why others were in the equation so he's going to forge a brand-new capital. washington helps select the site. washington surveys a lot of it and picks the architects. he picks the famous french
architect and engineer who he knew through service in the revolutionary war but he was classically trained in paris and most importantly, he shared washington's vision of a glorious capital for the ages channeling roma and inspired by paris the grand boulevards that intersect where there's public squares with memorials and monuments and glorious buildings so he shared washington's exaggerated view of the capital. washington picks the architect, and other immigrant, james hoven from ireland. washington is part of the effort to get the stonemasons to come in and provide all the beautiful embellishments on the building. so, washington plays a role and even in selling the plots of land and trying to raise funding
for this so from beginning to end, washington is intimately involved in this and i think idea and i agree during the presidency one of the g great things washington did was he had his eyes on the ball of creating a nation and part of that was creating a capital. you could say the last ten years of his life he was obsessed with the idea of the capital. he visited the site and hired the commissioners that oversee the city. he demands regular updates and reports and stays intimately involved in it. let me just say one more thing and i will bring this to a close the dealmaking of course as everybody has heard and has seen hamilton, the musical which my 20-year-old l son is named for alexander hamilton which he now tells all of his friends, david, very proud. he didn't like his name before but now he likes it because anybody under the age of 30
things hamilton is the bomb. and i always remind my colleagues and fellow historians 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 it's hard to like him. he was very complicated as they all were. john adams and jefferson he could be an acquired taste. madison is interesting and thcomplicated in many ways. they all were, quite frankly. so the party on june 20th, 1790 as they wrap in the musical, the room where it happened. so two factions, the jeffersonian and hamiltonian faction. the less government, the more government, the south, the i north, to make it simplistic and not digress.ag the prominent for jefferson's when they butted heads, hamilton typically carried the day
because of washington. washington was more ideologically aligned with hamilton, adams and federalists but washington saw hamilton as more of a son, more as the father figure he never really had and hamilton is washington's right-hand man as they say in the musical. washington would decide with hamilton including on neutrality as opposed to jefferson's involvementt on behalf of france so june 19th, the day before, jefferson is waiting outside of washington's's office and he hes a great commotion and washington and hamilton have a fight. both washington and hamilton have volcanic tempers. part of the legendary stoicism can be contributed to a lifelong effort i should say to control his temper and present himself in another way. that's self-improvement that i talked about, that reinvention
that david talked about. so hamilton comes outut and jefferson wrote he had never seen him like this so he's going toad move quickly. he invites hamilton to dinner the next night while hamilton and washington have a riff he invites his right-hand man madison one of the great intellects of the founding so jefferson andso madison against and they have to resolve a couple of pressing issues just to among them one would be the location of the capital and the other would be the question of the debt as they called it federal debt assumption. so where should the b-uppercase-letter? hamilton wants it in the north andd at one point new york, southerners wanted in the south. south. it was darn near nonnegotiable. the south could walk and of course jefferson, madison wanted their beloved virginia leaving adams and others to joke only in geese andre all swans.
so to jefferson and madison's surprise, it seems we don't have a lot of sources for this. we have secondary sources. jefferson would later write a reimagined version to put himself in favorable light he would later admit when he realized it was the worst moment of his political life because he didn't like hamilton. hamilton agrees that the capital goes in virginia. jefferson and madison couldn't believe it, but he knew washington was already eyeing up the edge of the potomac. now on the question of debt, the south covered virginia didn't want to contribute to the debt assumption. some southern states covered their deaths. debts.a lot of them in the coste war were borne by the northern states and pennsylvania, new york and massachusetts were in a pickle to try to pay back their debt so jefferson and madison don't want the south to pay back debts. they are not going to contribute. what they didn't realize is by not contributing, the federal government would have to settle
their debt and who wanted that, hamilton he was the treasury secretary. it makes him one of the most powerful people in the government and of the federal government assumes we need a bank, a currency, all the things hamilton wanted in federal debt assumptionon so hamilton pretty much plays jefferson and the brilliant madison like a guitar and gets all that he wants. later there would be another interesting exchange and jefferson pursuing his idea of a little o simple federal town one-story brick buildings jefferson proposes that we have a design contest and how democratic is this the public submits their designs. jefferson proposes they pick the winning design. he picks his own design basicallyss which is probably submitted anonymously. but what he doesn't realize is when he takes that to hamilton f
and washington, washington says no we are going with mine. so bringing to a close i think washington has many extraordinary legacies and as david noted, winning those important elections even at the local level and deciding at the convention in 17872 terms to step down both as general and as president created some remarkable customs and part of the greatness isn't what he did not do but i think what he did is forge the capital city and for the life of me, you know washington wasn't in o the equation we don't have that strong glorious capital and the questions i discussed earlier about whether the government would long and dewar i think can be rethought and be totally different and of course there was consideration as to what we should name the capital city and everybody knew one of the ideas was washington.
i'm nerdy enough to say that it's scary, part of it's funny but thankfully they dropped that. washington doesn't live to see his beloved capital open and he bdies 1799. the capital city finally opens on november 1st, 1800. a year later when john adams moves in. it wasn't the city that we know today, everybody. a couple of buildings, fields of mud. adams was disgusted and abigail even more so by the presence of slaves in the city which is quite ironic because we didn't have the money we would have to rely on slave labor. one interesting story in the book one of the folks that help to survey and set it up is benjamin banneker a former slave and extraordinary self-taught engineer architect astronomer,
surveyor who worked with andrew in surveying the city so that's kind of poetic. adams was disgusted by the sight of slaves building a city. six rooms in the white house were finished. the roof leaked. there was no place for abigail to hang her laundry or get running water and the building reeked of fresh plaster. all night and all day long there was the hammering and sawing ofl construction so it wasn't the city it was but adams recognized, he didn't play a role hardly in any of this debate which is a lot because john adams most involved in every decision for years in the founding of the country but not for the capital. he does recognize washington's extraordinary vision and he sitd
basically. knowing that abigail wouldn't like what she found but then he writes of the building we now know as the white house, at the end of fdr's life it was a great mantle he says i pray having to bestow the best of the blessings upon this house and all who will hereafter inhabite it. may none the wise and honorable men ever serve under this roof. and that today is in the white house and i think that is part of the great vision of george washington and his extraordinary efforts and political acumen, his vision and creativity and just getting this capital city foundedin and built would ensure the survival of the republic. thank you for that and i'd like to thank david. it's ann honor to be on with him and to be part of this wonderful book festival. thank you, everyone.
charter is connecting us. charter communications along with these television companies supports c-span2 as a public service. >> middle and high school students your opinion matters. be heard with c-span's student cam video competition. be part of the conversation by creating documentaries that answers the questions how does
the federal government impact your life. your five to six minute video will explore federal policies and programs that affect you and your community. student cam competition has $100,000 in total cash prizes and a shot at grand prize of 5,000. entries will begin to be received wednesday. for competition rules and more information on how to get started, visit the website at student cam.org. good evening everyone. i am the executive director of the national library for the study of george washington and mount vernon. welcome to our evening book talk for the month of april 2021. thrilled to have you here and excited about our conversation on the first inauguration george washington and the invention of the republic with stephen brown. note, coming up in m
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