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tv   Lectures in History George Washingtons Character  CSPAN  August 27, 2019 7:59pm-8:59pm EDT

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today what we are planning to do is spend a little time talking about george washington and the character he developed over a lifetime. if you think about what we've done for the duration of the course we brought him into the story intermittently throughout whether it's
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talking about individual battles or how he organizes are kept men or recruited men to stay in the service. one of the things that i tried to get across is that washington is a bit of an enigma. why? because we don't know who he was, what he was, how he looked. when i show you these images here they are three of our noteworthy presidents. every 10 years or so about 700 political historians rank our presidents. who knows how our current current president is going to rank but nevertheless when they come out, these three guys
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here. sometimes it will be lincoln, sometimes it will be washington, sometimes it's fdr. the interesting thing about this is we do not know what george really looked like. we have images of lincoln, photographed images and you can see how he changed, aged, and of course we have images of fdr. we even have images and generally the press did not take images of him in his wheelchair. with george washington he was there before photography. what we have instead is artist representation. they are not always very accurate.
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you look at some representation of abstract art. does it really look like a tube? maybe not. george washington, we've spent the better part of for teen weeks addressing him, talking about him. we know he's a famous man and a commander of the continental army. we knew he served in the continental congress for a short amount of time before accepting command. it will subsequently allow me to be president and a famous man in our history but he's also a man who had faults, a man who had insecurity, a man who had vices. a man who was a human being
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like all of us and because he was, he was also a complex man, a many sided man. the problem is they don't show that kind of complex character. what we want to do is spend a little time talking about the myth and then we will talk about how he made choices that brought him to the point where he became the most revered man in america. you probably know that he's considered the father of our country but do you know when he married martha he wasn't able to-- children?
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he wasn't able to give martha children and could he really be the father of our country if he couldn't father children himself? think about deciding to make a monument to him. what do they choose to make? this giant phallic shaped symbol which is kind of ironic for the man who couldn't father children himself. even though he couldn't this is george washington with martha's children and when he made martha he did except her children and came a paternalistic loving father to her children so in that respect, it shows the character of a person to show accept. most of the stories
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that we have came from the first real biography. written by mason, this is published shortly after his death. the washington that he talks about there's a man that is like, larger-than-life. he talks about george washington throwing a silver dollar across the potomac river. a couple of problems with that story. the first is-- anybody? there were no silver dollars. how could he throw a silver dollar that didn't exist? the second, the potomac river
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is about 1 mile ride. i don't know if-- care if you are nolan ryan or roger clemens , you are probably not going to throw a silver dollar across a mile wide river. one of washington's grandsons said that as a young man george washington had thrown a piece of slate across the river at his childhood home which was on the rappahannock. not quite as wide. you know what happens when you throw sleep. it will bounce across the river so that may have been possible, but what he's trying to do is give you an image of a man who is larger-than-life and has a great physical ability and athletic prowess. we know that he's a large man.
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he stat stood about six with 3 inches, about my height, he had a straight noticed high cheekbone. at his heaviest he was significantly less than im. neighborhood of 220 or so and at his lightest he was probably 175, 180. in those days they didn't have the obesity problems that we experience today. but, virtually every school kid learns that george washington had what kind of teeth? wooden false teeth. that is just absolutely wrong. you can see a pair of his
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dentures. what's interesting about it, this right here is a spring. it's a lead base that is loaded so when you put this in, your jaw keeps it set shut and when he opened the spring pops open. the teeth themselves are animal teeth, human teeth, pieces of ivory, and at some-- i'm convinced if you had to wear that in your mouth it would probably be far more uncomfortable than wooden teeth. if they are teeth that play a simple role in his life, you will see right here there's no tooth. even at the time of his presidency george had one of his own and the dentures slipped right on down over the tooth so he's able to highlight his tooth as well.
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well, that mouth become a big part of the story about who george washington is. this portrait is one of the most famous done by the artist gilbert stuart. when he painted washington, this was one of his earliest commissions. stuart was absolutely terrified to meet the great general. so during the setting he tried to make washington more eddies. he said something to the effect of general washington, you must let yourself forget that you are general washington and i am stuart the painter.
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while washington gave a well- intentioned reply he said something about the fact that, there's no need for me to forget that i am general washington and you are stuart the painter. a kind of an stilted-- insulted stuart felt that he was giving him a backhanded slap. because of that, he got the-- washington, one of the images that we had of him and this is one of the most famous. when you look at that what is the single feature of that painting? what is it? the mouth. look at it. it's kind of clenched. it looks like he's in some discomfort. some kind of pain.
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from that image, the view that we have of washington is that he is glum, that he is awkward, he is unapproachable, he is grumpy perhaps, and that is not so. he was not a square jotted stiff shirt jotted stiff shirt. the george washington that we know and that historians have documented was a george washington who loves to have a good time. but remember what i've told you about washington. he believes there's the personal man and the public man . those people who had the personal relationship would
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not display that personal relationship in public. the private man had a public persona. -- stay outside of arms reach. at this is a george washington who enjoyed playing cards, he enjoyed cockfight's, horse races. this is the george washington who love to dance. it was reported he was the best dancer in all of virginia. this was the washington who loved to hunt and fish. he loved going to the theater. his favorite play was tragedy of-- and if you know anything it's a story about a young selfless patriot who sacrifices himself to the greater patriot cause, maybe because washington felt he was
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that guy. he also liked hamlet, julius caesar, and the washington who had an eye for attractive women. she was considered an attractive woman. not only was she and attract of woman, she was the widow of a gentleman and she was very wealthy. so george will end up marrying up. he was not this square jotted sure, he's not unapproachable, but he is the man his going to keep himself in proper decorum.
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i've referenced this several times about how he could not control his anger. he always had trouble. this particular episode happened during the constitutional convention and we will reference this on thursday. how gov. morris, a new yorker and a man of questionable virtue good friends and drinking buddies of alexander hamilton, and morris was boasting that he could treat washington just like he could treat any other of his best friends and morris and hamilton made a wager. hamilton will send said if he could treat washington like any other friend in public, then hamilton would buy dinner and wine for morris and 12 of
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his friend. on the night in question, a public event, george washington as we know will become the president of the constitutional convention. he was hosting an event and gov. morris comes in. it was a public event and immediately reaches out his hand to shake george's hand. a gentleman would do that but when he shook hands morris took the secondhand and began patting george on the shoulder and saying general washington, my dear friend, it is so good to see you looking so well. what had happened, that familiarity, washington pulled his hand back. he took three steps back and
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just glared at morris with this evil, angry stare and the people who were there froze. they simply stood and washed and morris sweep duffin to the crowd. morris later told hamilton that i had won the bet. i will collect my wine and dinner but that is nothing i will ever do again because morris and washing it in would never be close enough that morris could pat him on the shoulder and treat him with the familiarity that you would treat a close personal--. that's because washington maintained that dignity, that personal space. did that mean that washington had an uncontrollable anger he
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could not control? no. it just means he believed in proper decorum. probably the most famous image which was not done during his lifetime, does this image look familiar? what's the original? down the street. go down and take a look at it. this is the story of mason--. he says the young george for his sixth birthday, his father gave him a new hatchet and he was so excited about eating the gift that he ran around and began barking at literally every tree he could find and barked one of his father's
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favorite english cherry trees. when his father approached him, young george simply threw his hands up and said i did it, father. you know i cannot tell a lie. well, that's the image for school kids for 200+ years have been told. this 1939 painting down at the amon carter museum about a mile or so away from here shows him pulling back the curtains and shows the young george being truthful to his father. the thing i find particularly interesting is look.
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the same had as you have on the dollar bill, that's the young had and this is the old had. they essentially look the same. there's no evidence this ever happened. wiens had simply made up the story to portray washington as a man of great honesty, that even when the trouble may bring problems for young george he had to be honest to his father. he also tells us another story about young george washington the surveyor out on the frontier and bad weather is setting in.
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he finds a local tavern where he can spend the night. he orders whisking, and the barkeep gives him whiskey and george offers a skin. he offers a coonskin. the barkeep takes the skin and in return gives washington 158 rabbit skins. that's a lot of rabbit skins to carry around. while according to weems, george begin buying drinks for everyone in the establishment. during the evening he turned 158 rabbit skins back over to the barkeep. what he is trying to tell us is that this is the george washington who is generous.
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this is the george washington who was kind. this is the washington that we want to remember so you think of these images that he has been telling us. he's honest, he has this great physical skill. he is generous and kind. he has a temper but he can control it. well, this is the man that has come down to us to be more or less the savior of america's mankind. this is the story of a man-- remember how we talked about providential inspiration? this is george is providential situate-- inspiration. even some years later the chief justice joseph story all made the comment from his commentaries that george was
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the first in all america. the first in war, the first in peace in the first in heart of the country. what makes him first in the heart of his countrymen? well, george as a young man before the scope of this course was born on february 11 was born on february 11, 1741. is that the day we celebrated his birthday? no. that was the julian calendar. in the early 1750s they changed to the gregorian calendar so it moved his birthday 11 days ahead. so, february 22 february 22, 1731.
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as a young man he was obsessed with becoming a gentleman. and what did a gentleman entail? it meant having wealth, owning property, potentially owning slaves, having a spouse, being successful. the young george, when he was 11 his father died. young george ended up having to live with his older half- brother. lawrence was a gentleman. he had a grand home that he had named after adm. vernon who had served under king george's war. young george saw what it meant
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to be a gentleman. he saw that status equated to wealth so he wanted to become wealthy. time and again i said george is not the sharpest knife in the drawer but he does learn from others. while staying with his half- brother, he learned that he too could become successful if he made the right choices. as a young man, he became a surveyor. at the time, being a surveyor was on par with a doctor, a lawyer, because they are always going out on the frontier to survey land. if you are good at it, you see the land as advantageous, the land that is not, and often you can take your payment in
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land. land is something that could bring wealth for the future. so, the young man began acquiring land. now, the problem is in 1752, lawrence died and the question was who would inherit mount vernon? hopefully one of his daughters inherited it. she died shortly thereafter and it passed down to young george. so by 1753 here was a guy who had this grand plantation home. this is the view that most of us have of mount vernon.
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that is the view from the porch looking out onto the potomac river. is that the front of the house? or is that the front of the house? that's the other side. you know it's interesting. when lawrence was alive he considered the front of the house this because it was there on the potomac river. the potomac was the highway to the sea. the sea took you to england and he saw himself as an englishman. as george takes over the home, he will consider this to be the front of the house. because this faces to the frontier. it faced to the land that he would eventually own.
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i think that's a huge difference for lawrence and george and help define who george is. he saw himself not so much as an englishman more as an american. george also had the good fortune in 1758 to mary martha, who reportedly was the wealthiest women in virginia. and by marrying her, he married the widow of a gentleman, and by marrying her george became a gentleman. with her wealth and his drive and determination to secure
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wealth, the washingtons would become one of the wealthiest couples in america. he was a plantation owner, a farmer, initially growing tobacco but coming to the really-- to the realization that was a crop declining in value. so by the time of the revolution what was he starting to cultivate? wheat. remember you read tobacco culture and how tobacco culture was playing out. this is the george washington who by the time of his death will own 11,000 acres. he had this ambition that made him inquisitive, sometimes contentious, and even after he
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established himself he would insist upon payment of every debt owed to him. in his youth, young george wanted to be a british military officer. and at the beginning, remember we had made reference to how young george was the guy who started the seven years war. when-- had killed the young french diplomat and george rescued the remaining french prisoners but then he himself would be captured at fort necessity in july. and with that, he was forced to sign a document written in what language? french, which george doesn't read. in that document he accepted
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responsibility for the death of--. well, because of that, he felt he had to redeem himself. during the seven years war, he negotiated to try to secure the british officer's commission, and in fact he was promised an officer's commission. he was on that expedition and of course what happened? the disaster failed miserably. the french and indians attacked , decimated the british force. he would be killed, washington would lead survivors back to safety and his successor jeffrey amherst would not
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honor the commitment to give washington an officer's commission. and because of that, young george felt that he and other colonials would always remain in a subservient position. as long as they were british subjects. he would finally get the commission that he sought but it would not be until 1775 and would not be a british army commission. it would be commander of continental forces in this revolutionary protest. as he takes command of the army, young george told the politicians he would not accept pay for his service, however
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he did expect that his expenses would be reimbursed. and in fact, through the course of the war year after year, george will be reappointed as the commander. even though people like horatio gates and charles lee were angling to have him replaced, washington stays in command. he doesn't take the pay but he does except expenses for his travel. and in fact every winter, martha would come stay with him. at one point washington even asked for her expenses because she keeps him entertained, keeps him happy, and also works to make the plate of the troops better. over the last eight weeks
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we've talked about how washington was as a military commander. we pointed out that if you were a football coach here in texas , he would be fired. a record of 3-9 and 1. we detailed what engagements you want but if you are 3 9 and one, how do you keep men willing to fight for you? how do you keep them willing to sacrifice for the larger cause? that's what george was good at. he was good at motivating men, convincing them that the cause they were fighting for was larger than them themselves. those trees that he won, remember the new york campaign where he had been beaten
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battered and bruised in brooklyn, driven as far north as white plains, then rushing self just when lord cornwallis is cavalry nipped at his heels. they crossed the delaware river in 1776. what washington learned from that, during the new york campaign washington had divided his army and the british had used concentrated force to crush those smaller pieces. washington. the one thing you can say, he's not a military genius but he learns from his mistakes and surrounds himself with capable people and listens to their suggestions. what he learned from that campaign, when you divide your army, you make yourself susceptible to the enemy.
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as his army crossed over to the delaware, he would begin striking at the divided british army. remember he was probably hunched down in the barge hanging on for dear life. one of those hit the boat and probably would not be a refreshing experience. nonetheless. the army crossed over, they scored an easy to three. six americans wounded. a week later he engaged british forces at princeton, i'm sorry. he engaged forces at princeton. i'm having a hard time saying that, and wins the vic there.
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he has won two of his three vic trees. you remember what that tie was. that was monmouth courthouse in the summer of 1778 as the british evacuated philadelphia and marched back to new york. remember washington wanted to attack the rearguard of the british and when he refused to engage the rearguard, washington command himself and during the day they fought the british to a standstill in that stifling heat. that was his tie. the americans held the battlefield but the british had a tactical the three because they were able to evacuate their army in new
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york. than that third vic three like winning the play-- winning the game last play of the game throwing that long pass. if he had been the coach in beat texas, 3-9 and 1 he would probably be maintained but nevertheless, winning the victory at yorktown 4 years after the great victory at saratoga, that was a mistake-- that brought the end to the struggle. the british still occupied, he kept them committed to the cause and while showing he
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wasn't a military genius, he was a competent tactician, he was persistent, he was a national-- natural leader of men. he was a guy able to convince soldiers time and time again to renew their enlistment. joseph plumb martin time and again, what did he do? reenlisted because of the cause was bigger than him. here's a guy who had built his entire life acquiring things and becoming richer, holding more land in becoming a gentleman. grabbing hold of things. he had been pretty good at it. for george makes a name for himself. he cements his place in history not where he grabs things but
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instead where he lets things go. in fact, remember last thursday we were talking about the trials and tribulations of the articles period. the economy was sour, there was political incompetency. no sense of political control and yet soldiers were still in the field because the british have not evacuated new york and they were north of the city near west point, with the encamped american army. there, soldiers were grumbling especially the officers. they were led to believe they were not going to be paid for their time or their service. they were going to simply be dismissed and wiped away.
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washington understood that. he understood their frustration and anger. on march 15 on march 15, 1783, washington would go to the potomac there and meet with officers. there was a circular letter that have been floated and once they suggested that the officers right up and march on the civilian government and seize control, a year before, a continental kernel had written george a letter in which he suggested george use the army and make himself a king, more or less and to tater.
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washington read the letter and was mad as he wrote a scathing reply and when nicola got washington's reply he sent three letters back to him over time persistently apologizing for such a suggestion. he was loyal to his commander and his government. on march 15, george spent the entire day crafting a speech, agonizing over every word he was going to say to those officers, and that evening he went to the officers meeting. these are battle trained soldiers, men who had trained through much of the conflict and as he went in, the cold, icy stairs almost froze george himself.
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he was friends with a lot of these men but you would never know by the look on their faces. as george began to speak he tried to explain these officers the larger cause they were fighting for and how they should remain loyal to that cause. he looked out and there was still this icy stare. he remembered he had a letter in his jacket from the continental congress, another letter where they were promising that officers would be paid and given their land as promised, so he pulled that letter out, opened it up because he was going to read it to them, and all of a sudden he paused. he quietly made the comment, i've already
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grown gray in the service of my country. now it seems that going blind. and all of a sudden those icy stairs melted. what george had just done, admitted his frailty. he admitted his week this. he admitted his vulnerability. that he had sacrificed so much for the cause that even his health was declining. as he looked out over the crowd many of those battle hardened soldiers had tears in their eyes. george simply folded up the letter, put it back in his coat, never read it and walked out of the meeting. the officers then voted
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unanimously to remain loyal to george and loyal to the government. in fact, one of his staff officers made the comment some years later that the united states are indebted for the republican form of government solely to the firm republicanism of general washington at that time. that was a political performance and george had played it to a t. he had the chance to become king. king george the first of america. and he did not accept it. in fact, nine months later, george washington traveled to annapolis maryland, and there he would finally once and for all surrender his sword to the
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civilian government. you can say perhaps this is his greatest achievement. as he arrived there that morning he had already said farewell to his troops, his staff officers, and rode into annapolis on his own. he entered into the maryland state house. you can go into this room today. when i taught at the naval academy i took my students there to show this momentous setting. they are the continental congress or the articles congress i should say, had convened. the galleries were full with what you see in the background. the white haired lady up there , who is that supposed to be? in the artist depiction it's
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supposed to be martha. martha wasn't there. she was back at mount vernon waiting for her husband to get back for christmas time. there was not throngs of women in the galleries. the building was near full but certainly marcia was not there. when washington arrived, thomas mifflin the president of the articles congress that year welcomed the general and he read a state meant, a statement that had been drafted by thomas jefferson. before he read that statement, washington himself rose having
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now finished the work assigned to me, i retire from the great theater of action. bidding and affectionate farewell to this body under whose orders i have so long did, i offer my commission and take my leave of all of the employments of public life. mifflin rose and read his statement in which he said you've conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude invariably regarding the rights of the civil power through all eggs disasters and changes. what washington had done had not done in 1000 years. he had all the power. control of the military, and had simply turned loose. in fact, he surrendered his sword, he left the state
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house, mounted his horse, and rode off to mount vernon. he was there by christmas time. the idea that the young man who had wanted everything and who had given up the ultimate price so to speak, that attests to the growth and development of that young man's character. the man who made the right decisions for the right reason. and of course after this episode we know what will happen. as we will see on tuesday, a constitutional convention
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of course, that was the crisis of world war ii as well. one of the more interesting scenarios that happened after washington had retired from president, a young painter, a young american painter named benjamin west was actually in witton and he was commissioned to paint the portrait of an aging king george the third. and george making small talk with benjamin west, he said this general you had, george washington, what is he doing now? and benjamin west said well, he has retired to private life
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and he has returned to his farm in virginia and he is a private citizen. and george iii looked surprised and said something to the effect if washington could do this, he is the greatest man in the world. he had done that. he simply walked away when he had everything in his hands. and i think when you combine all the stories about washington and you see the choices that he makes, you start to see the development of his character. the choices that he made for the betterment of his nation rather than for the betterment of him. that is the type of character that a photograph or even that
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a portrait cannot portray. so, we will open up the floor for questions now. any questions, guys? you make up questions i will make up answers. no, no, no? okay. >> how did they select george to be the commander? >> he had attended the continental congress wearing a military uniform. and he had served in the seven years war. he saw himself as a military man. he read it offensively extensively about military treatises. most of those in the congress understood at the time that these colonies were on the path to war. washington was going to be prepared. as he wore his uniform, he was
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making a statement that he was prepared to be the commander of this military force. it is interesting that john adams would make the nomination. and as he was making the nomination his cousin, samuel adams, was sitting over there looking like he had eaten the cat he had such a smile on his face because samuel was convinced that his cousin was going to nominate him to be the commander of the military. but he nominated george because that brought virginia into the struggle. the most populous, the biggest, the most important colony. and by doing so it broadened the conflict from new england to the mid-atlantic and the south. other questions? >> when did the official recruitment or soldiers begin and was it george who initiated that? >> no. the continental congress
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issued a plea for soldiers. throughout the war, the continental congress was constantly year after year making pleas for soldiers and offering different contracts. as we read about joseph plumb martin, he time and again would reenlist and would get some reward for doing so. some soldiers would reenlist and jump their contract and blend into the general public again and find in another neighborhood, another place to reenlist to get the benefits. some people are less scrupulous than others. >> i know after the failure of the articles of confederation he decided to come back into power. what was the main decision? >> in 1785 george agreed to host a meeting at mount vernon so they could talk about
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navigation of the chesapeake and delaware river. you had delegates from virginia and maryland and new jersey there. what they realized as they were talking about the navigation and trade issues, they realized that this was a much bigger question than the three colonies. so, that is why you will get a convention the following year in annapolis where they try to bring all the colonies together and only about nine or so will show up in annapolis. what they agree there is a will have another meeting in the spring of 1787 and you get 12 of the colonies there. the rhode islanders chose not to play well with others. other questions? okay, guys. on thursday we will come in and we will talk about the constitutional convention and then we will wrap it up next tuesday. have a great day guys.
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all week we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what is available every weekend on c- span 3. lectures in history, american artifact, reel america, the civil war, oral histories, the presidency and special event coverage about our nations history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span 3. weeknights this month we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what is available every weekend on c-span 3. this week we will showcase our weekly lectures in history series taking into college classrooms around the country. on wednesday a look at world war ii and how american cartoons influence the war effort. watch american history tv wednesday at 8 pm eastern and every weekend on c-span 3.
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watch book tv for live coverage of the national book festival. saturday starting at 10 am eastern our coverage includes author interviews with justice ruth bader ginsberg on her book my own words. the heartbeat of wounded knee, sharon robinson talks about her book child of the dream. rick atkinson author of the british are coming and thomas malone, founding director of the mit center for collective intelligence, discusses his book super minds. the national book festival live saturday at 10 am eastern on book tv on c-span two. in the wake of the recent shootings in el paso, texas and dayton ohio, the house judiciary committee will return early from the summer recess to markup three gun violence prevention beers.
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high-capacity ammunition magazines, restricting firearms for those deemed by the court to be a risk to themselves and preventing individuals convicted of hate crimes from purchasing a gun. live coverage begins wednesday, september 4 at 10 am eastern on c-span and www.c- and if you are on the go, listen to our live coverage using the free c-span radio app. american history tv is lectures in history series continues now with a class looking at the american revolution and the continental army. we hear about how the american army differed from the british military and demographics, organization and officer selection process. this is about an hour. welcome everyone to another exciting adventure in the history of war. today we have gotten to the continental army so welcome to all of you and welcome to many of our new students watching from who knows where.


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