Skip to main content

tv   [untitled]    February 23, 2012 8:30pm-9:00pm EST

8:30 pm
to the contrary, the greater his exposure to human inadequacies. the more tolerance he displayed. we must make the best of mankind as they are to clear the adult washington since we cannot have them as we wish. his fatalistic attitude did not extend to how others saw him. deprived of adequate transport and supplies for his latest foray into the wilderness, major washington moved swiftly to protect his flanks in the press if not in the woods. he complained to governor dinwiddie of 24 wagons impressed at winchester, we've got ten after wasting a week and some of those so illy provided with teams that we could not travel with them without the soldiers assisting them up the hills. i doubt not but at some points i may have strained the law, washington confessed, but i hope as my sole motive was to
8:31 pm
expedite the march i shall be supported in it, which at present i don't apprehend will, unhe's some busy body intermedals. do you think the governor got the message? a month later promoted to a lieutenant colonel it was in a different tone of voice that he addressed his excellency. the south carolina company whose royal commission entitled its members to higher rank and pay compared to washington's hastily recruited irregulars. on learning that his earnings would be substantially less than his counterpart in the regular british army, washington threatened to resign. i have to tell you, washington -- young washington threatened to resign more often than henry kissinger.
8:32 pm
and henry kissinger had more to backre than did young washington. only the immediate danger of a french thrust into the likely defendedrom andoning their positions. on second thought, washington said he'd serve voluntarily rather than by quote, slaving dangerously for the shadow of pay. he's laying the guilt trip. indeed, he says, quote, i would rather prefer the great toil of a laborer and dig for maintenance provided i were reduced of necessity, than serv. the newly promoted washington re reiterated his -- of the pork and the bread that passed for rations.
8:33 pm
upon the whole he added i find so many cogs upon the exme dedisthat -- expedition that i despair of success and you'd honor me in the post, the duty i will cheerfully execute as a volunteer, but by no means upon the pay. the recipient of the unsettling letter might be forgiven whiplash. on the morning of wednesday, may 28, washington and a small contingent of indian allies, known to history as the half king, sniffed out an armed party of three dozen frenchmen. it justified a preemptive strategy, washington and the half king proceeded to ambush the enemy. the french kings' troops sprang for their weapons
8:34 pm
as washington recalled the incident later, leading the english in turn to unleash a devastating volley. ten of the french soldiers fell dead. all but one of the survivors were taken prisoner. it was at this juncture that washington lost control of the situation which contrasted powerfully with his own experiences as a diplomatic courier. remember, no one had shot at him at the fort. rather he had been treated with exquisite courtesy by those his king in london would declare trespassers. a very different fate now awaited his french counterpart, the 35-year-old frenchman. before washington could stop it, before he had read the ultimatum, the half king sent a hatchet into the frenchman's skull and washed his hands in his brains. at least we think that's what happened.
8:35 pm
after more than 250 years, the debate continues over precisely what happened at jumenville glen. parkman's speculated that the french embassy was sent to spy on washington's movements, prior to alerting the masters at ft. duquesne so they might bring superior force to bear against the pitiful force. indeed, parkman acquits washington of anything worse than military ardor. a natural consequence of his quote, vehement and fiery nature. modern historians tend to be less generous. in his view of the war, the public engagement is thought of as a cover-up.
8:36 pm
most of the french casualties were not killed by shots, but of native massacre that followed the surrender. shaken by what he had witnessed, washington retired to a defensive position at the nearby great meadows. in the floor of the valley encircled by hills ideally sighted for an enemy laying siege, it was dubbed ft. necessity by the occupants and dismissed by the half king as that little thing upon the meadow. reinforcements swelled washington's army to perhaps 400 men. no match for an estimated 900 french soldiers and their indian allies. surrounded by hostile forces, burning to avenge the murdered comrades, targeting three sides of the little fort, washington waited only a few hours before entering into surrender talks. he signed the surrender on the 4th of july, 1754.
8:37 pm
afterward he would blame a dutch translator for failing to catch a french characterization of jumenville's death as quote an assassination. a word with grave connotations for his honor and britain's legal position. to complete the route, washington left behind his journal which the victorio to p proof of english aggression. in the ensuing reorganization, the command was abolished. fresh disputes prevented the emotionally bruised warrior from accepting an overture from north carolina governor horatio sharp who wanted washington against the french strong holds in the ohio valley. on october 23, having learned he can expect no title higher than captain, in the newly commissioned army, then taking shape,
8:38 pm
commission. two months later he was at mount vernon which he had rented from his brother's widow since remarried. that gloomy winter, washington spent more time than usual socializing with his fairfax neighbors. i know what you're thinking, at last we get to the good stuff. sally fairfax, was she or wasn't she? did they or didn't they? opinion varies widely. to james thomas flexner, sally was the most passionate love of his life. and though he acknowledges, that quote, the exact nature of their relationship cannot be defined. john furly wrote of young washington's quote infatuation with sally. washington's persistent attempts to draw her into a correspondence went beyond what he calls quote, a mere schoolboy
8:39 pm
crush. clearly, washington had carefully chosen words a much more active interlife than his reserved exterior might have successed. that said, he would not be the first ambitious, raw boned youth to be smitten by a slightly older, though vastly more sophisticated woman of flirtatious habits and universally acknowledged charms. that their relationship remained platonic seems likely. if only because it seems out of character for washington even then to have betrayed his friend, george william fairfax. and because no contemporary evidence or even gossip supports the idea of a sexual liaison. in the closely knit society of fairfax county, such a scandal would have been hard to can seal. if you doubt that, just think
8:40 pm
about this. more than 250 years after the fact, we know all about young tom jefferson's improper advances to a friend's wife. now, the sally fairfax episode is revealing mostly of our own need to make washington one of us. conduct that would have gone unnoticed in a thousand other colonial youths is sifted for signs of moral weakness or he's face it, any kind of emotions at all. in young washington. in love is in war, neither youth or experience is a character flaw. far more revealing to me, at least, is the sad, shrewd observation washington made near the end of his life. to one of martha washington's granddaughters on the brink of marriage, he spoke of love as quote, a mighty pretty thing, but like other delicious things it is cloiing. be assured that therein than thl
8:41 pm
our enjoyments fall short of our expectations. and to none does it apply with more force than to the gratification of the passions. contrast this autumnal wisdom to his aspirations. he had no designiend district i of burjs. yet, he practiced the discretion bordering on deception. early in 1755, surveying his chances like a colonial ward healer, washington instructed the supporter in frederick county to conduct his own poll of local political opinion. quote, sound the pulse with an air of indifference and unconcern, without disclosing much of mine. in the end he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of
8:42 pm
voters still angry over his earlier impressment of horses with which to counter the french military threat. his first defeat at the polls was to prove no less instructive than the affair at jumenville glen, the humiliation of ft. necessity or the shadowy romance conducted mostly in his imagination with his best friend's wife. few men have profited more handsomely from their mistakes than george washington. as virginia and itsrenewed thei to expel the french, washington's preoccupation with rank, a mark of youthful insecurity, yielded to the unquestioned bravery and rapid response with which he tried to forestall the deadly route of general edward braddock's westward march. washington had talked about the slow pace of the road building
8:43 pm
for his part the top lofty general made no attempt to conceal his disdain for the nonprofessional soldiers in his ranks. much less their redskined allies. hubris proved to be braddock's undoing. inviting the indian ambush and massacre that sent his army fleeing in panic in july 1755. even then, braddock rebuffed washington's plea that they administer a taste of the native's own medicine. for this the englishman paid the ult mall -- ultimate price. washington had two horses shot out from under him, his uniform coat was riddled with bullet holes. presumably there was nothing charming in their sound. he would hear plenty more during the next three years. as an uneasy alliance of british professionals and colonial volunteers fought a conflict that would clear the northwest frontier of its french-speaking climates.
8:44 pm
in the wake of braddock's route, he heard reports in the press of his own death. indeed of his own death bed speech. i take this early opportunity of contradicting the first said george washington. and of assuring you i have not yet composed the latter. his spirits were considerably lower in the first weeks of 1758. his military career in particular his campaign for commission in the british army were at a dead end. his health was perilous. with a recurrence with the disenterry that had plagued him at the time of the defeat. he noticed a cough, dry and persiste persistent, a sound too reminiscent of lawrence's hacking decline. not all the news was bad. washington turned his attention to a state on the river.
8:45 pm
its name was white house. and its chief occupant, a widow of nine month, perhaps the richest in all of virginia. washington's spirits picked up. he was a good man of business. now he had business to transact with the widow custis. to be continued. thank you. thank you very much. yeah, we each got a few minutes for questions. question? yes?
8:46 pm
>> how did he learn to be a surveyor? >> yeah, he -- very early in his mid teens, he was not strictly speaking self-taught. there were -- there was no shortage of instructors available. typical washington though, it's the intensity that he went at it. you know? and he turned out to be a natural. remember, it's also a window on his mind. people talk about washington's meticulousne meticulousness. he had, you know, there are people who have -- what i call a mathematical intelligence. it's not just good with numbers, but they -- the spatial ways of seeing things. and that was certainly true of washington. and it came -- it served him i
8:47 pm
think very well, particularly during the revolution and beyond. yeah? >> to the mic, please. thank you. >> what was washington's relationship with his other half brothers? >> with his other half brothers. augustin? was it -- was that -- no, augustin -- was augustin -- john augustin. i think he was actually -- i think he was actually very close to him and of course, you know, he outlived lawrence. so he was fortunate. i mean, you do wonder quite frankly if these brothers sort of banded together against this terrible witch-like figure th that -- that modern historians
8:48 pm
purport to give us. but there's no doubt. and in fact, it's interesting. he wrote to john augustin with a gaiety, a sense of fun and an adolescent braggadocio. in fact, it is john augustin to whom he famously says that i have heard the bullets and their sound is charming. i mean, the kind of boastful thing that probably adolescent brothers would say to one another. so yeah, actually, those are -- i'm glad you asked. actually, those are among the closest relationships that washington had and they would be life long. and i know you had a question. >> what would be your estimate of -- >> microphone, please. >> oh. richard, what is your estimate
8:49 pm
of the number of years of general washington's formal schooling? i know it's always been a subject of debate. >> yeah. again, i don't pretend to be an authority here. i i'd buy the -- what i think is the conventional estimate of a year or less. but it's almost irrelevant because as i say in some ways he never stopped learning. you know that old line about w how -- you know, you really -- you don't get old until you lose your curiosity. you know, your openness to new experiences, new people, new ideas. and in that sense, washington i think, you know, never -- never got old. he was keenly aware of the fact that men in the washington family died young. so he had that sense of time was not on his side. which may have in some ways
8:50 pm
contributed to the kind of almost kind of bumptious am a ambiguous. but i think his education and i think it's a broader education than people think. people think of washington as well, yeah, he read. he read farm books, you know. and the fact is washington was remarkably innovative farmer. he understood and acted upon the realization that tobacco tended to destroy the soil rather quickly. and he was really ahead of almost everyone else in terms of turning away from that dependence on a one-crop economy. and he conducted all kinds of
8:51 pm
agricultural experiments here at mt. vernon. came up with all kinds of new -- he invented a plow, for example, specifically designed. he had that kind of -- he loved gadgets, you know. if you go into his study, you'll see his wonderful chair, which he bought i believe in philadelphia. and basically, you could rock in the chair, and there is a pedal. and it will sweep the flies away. and you read the accounts of the constitutional convention in 1787 where next to one another, the delegates found most annoying thing to be the flies. it somehow humanizes washington to know that he shared that. but typical of washington, he wasn't going to give into it. i mean washington is as much a part of the enlightenment as the perhaps more advertised jefferson or madison or their
8:52 pm
french counterparts. it's just that washington, again, washington's intelligence is a very practical intelligence. you know, he wants to -- he identifies problems. and he is confident -- as confident as jefferson is, he is confident that yankee ingenuity can find solutions to those problems, even if it entails how do you get rid of the flies. and it's probably exactly the kind of mind as well as character that this country needed at that juncture in its history. yeah? >> can you talk a little bit about his relationship with george mason and their falling out? >> yeah, it is kind of a tragic situation. his next-door neighbor by virginia standards, george mason. and they were very close. they had been -- first of all, they were good friends. they had a lot of things in common.
8:53 pm
they had been very active in the building resistance, economic and other resistance to british efforts to things like the stamp act. but it's interesting because george mason was a libertarian i think before the term was coined. george mason went to the convention in philadelphia deeply,profoundly, sincerely fearful of concentrated power. and he was certainly not alone. after all, we had just fought a revolution led by washington to overthrow what most americans believe to be abusive power, remote and illegitimate. mason believed specifically that the presidency -- and he was not
8:54 pm
alone in this -- but mason believed the presidency was a tyrant in waiting. he wanted to have instead of a single executive, he wanted to have a three-man board. that would govern. he was particularly fearful of the executive powers to conduct war. and when the time came, and agaie we weren't there. and unfortunately, james madison's wonderful notes don't include the best stuff, what was said out of independence hall over drinks at city tavern, and wherever else the delegates conducted the real business of the convention. i think it's safe to assume that washington in his own way tried to persuade mason in effect trust me. now remember, in my opinion, the
8:55 pm
constitution never would have been enacted if people did not believe that washington would be the first president. it was absolutely the key. and it barely passed in virginia, in new york by three votes. here in virginia i think by 10:00 over the opposition of people like george mason, patrick henry. thomas jefferson wasn't wild about the new convention. he didn't much care for the presidency. he said it was like a bad addition of a modern polish king. i don't know. he was particularly upset that the president could be in theory elected over and over and over again. jefferson was always seeking the hobgoblin of monarchy. and it planted the seeds of an awkward and eventually more than
8:56 pm
awkward relationship with washington, who believed that those fears were exaggerated. and in any event, frankly, he was the alternative. so the relationship never really recovered in terms of the mason-washington relationship. it was unfortunate. but both men of principle. mason i think in some ways has been rediscovered in recent years. and i say that not just as someone who teaches at his namesake university. which even before it had a great basketball team was a great university. and i think of the spirit of george mason. there is a statue of mason, bronze, life-sized, stout, vigorous, making his point, you know, insisting that he be
8:57 pm
heard, questioning the received wisdom of the day, which is probably not bad concept to put on every college campus. maybe one more. yeah? >> one more. >> give me just one second, please. >> not perfect. >> washington's only trip out of the continental united states i believe was to barbados. is there anything that tells us that he had observations that he might have incorporated, any thoughts? i know he got sick there, which hopefully saved him, i guess, from a postcard having a great time, wish you were here? >> no. i meant like seeing the barbations, i guess is how they say it. i know it was very english. >> it's a good question, and i
8:58 pm
don't mean to make light of it. all i know, and again, i don't pretend -- there are a lot of people i'm sure in this room that could tell you more. i know that he -- it's interesting. he really enjoyed his time in barbados. he, you know, contemporary accounts, and he wrote about the experience. obviously there was this pall over the whole experience because of his brother's illness. and indeed, if you ever doubt the providential nature of george washington, that someone at that point in his life would go to barbados, he goes to barbados, he contracts smallpox. a mild case of smallpox. just enough smallpox to immunize him against a disease that will,
8:59 pm
of course, run rampant throughout his army and indeed more than the army. so barbados no doubt put a stamp on washington in ways that some of them we know and others we can only guess at. thank you very, very much. and i hope to see you next month. [ applause ] >> we'll have more american history tv on friday night with a series of programs on the life of abraham lincoln. at 8:00 p.m. eastern, a visit to ford's theater for a look at lincoln's personal effects from the night of his death. and at 8:30, american artifacts looks at lincoln's assass


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on