tv Book Discussion on George Washingtons Journey CSPAN February 6, 2016 8:00am-9:01am EST
now we kick off the weekend with th who recounts george washington's journey. >> currently the james marsh professor at large at the university of vermont a guggenheim fellow, professor t.h. breen has taught classes at oxford, yale, university of chicago and also northwestern university which he just retired from. he's written several books on an early american history on subjects ranging from the
tobacco culture of early tidewater planters to the consumer politics of the american revolution. his new book tells a story about journeys george washington took during his first term in office and during the account of the travels, professor t.h. breen demonstrates the importance of the ambitious trip. in the review of the renowned historian notes it's hard to think anything new could be said about george washington, but he's done it and he's given us new insight into the acute political skill of the first president in the state of the country in the 1790s. please join me in welcoming professor timothy breen. [applause]
thank you for coming out. coming from vermont i need not apologize the cold that i gather a little snow here is lethal. i would be happy to answer questions at the end. remarks are somewhat truncated so there will be time for discussion. george washington's journey i should say unabashedly was the most fun book i've ever written or researched because i followed the road the president took during his first term of office in the trove the same road because they were no paved. washington took the trip to america all 13 original states that journey as well over 2,000 isles in several segments.
the most difficult was from the capital of philadelphia to savanna into the back country which were difficult. he had a very heavy coach and took with him 13 horses not because that was the number of states that because he was very proud not one single animal diet which is amazing. what's also geek when they almost providential is twice on his journey to the american people he almost had near fatal accidents both of them crossing water once in chesapeake bay and another in northern virginia. one can only remember what the
public would have been like for the strongest figure in history have been killed but he didn't die on a journey. my book is not what i would call a founding father book. you can find everything both praiseworthy about every founding father we probably know what they ate and who they loved and so on but this isn't that kind of book, it's about a critical moment in the nation's political history when a president president that i argue was one of the most astute political leaders who knew as well as lincoln and the great fdr he stands with them as a political figure interacting on
the journey with the american people at the time no one including the president is quite certain what the future of the republic's or historically were pretty fragile that ended in revolutions. then they took a tour to the south in 1791. he worried a lot about the faction and regionalism and pulling away in new england and different commercial situations but he felt very much that the country was in peril even after the ratification of the constitution. and as i argued we should see washington in this moment as perhaps we see other great
leaders such as gandhi or mandela who recognizes it isn't over when the battle is fought. they lead to the property and political process you can count on. so washington as president was trying to fulfill the goal of the revolution. he wasn't looking for us, he was trying to cement it was a wonderful promising new republic i emphasized at this time to seal the country's future he brought a positive message that's so important in these political times i shall not comment on when you hear so much negativity about the country and
the people he was smart enough to realize that message he had to take the georgia and new hampshire in the middle colonies was one of positive possibilities. if the country would simply unite and see support. they would be more prosperous in a way no state could get nt because they were larger. the strong union would guarantee one of them was france and spain that would have loved to have taken one of the states and incorporated it into their own empire. no state could defend the country but they could stand strong and washington had a sense of what we might call human rights. maybe that's stronger than it should be but he understood
people living in small communities are denied their rights and if there isn't a force strong enough to protect those, then there are no rights at all so he's all a large federal union as a guarantor of the very basis of the constitutional rights and that was the message he took if you let the revolution go and you do not fulfill your own revolution and what the future slightly commits slight weight of its your own fault that we can pull together. and the idea of the trip that was formulated in the first months of his presidency, he was inaugurated in 1789 and the then capital new york city the idea was entirely his own but i had almost all the books you can
read, you know the names. they are like celebrity ballplayers. they did find things and i'm not going to demean their stature but washington is put in the background and the jokes you hope hoped wouldn't embarrass you at dinner. washington isn't seen as a bold or creative political figure. in my research in my many hours of driving the roads with george washington i found him to be of equal stature. he was a man who didn't write noble documents we see in school, he was a pragmatic figure and when he saw a problem he tried to solve it immediately
into that was the unity of his patients will undergo and they decided a man elected by the people who owed his office to the people must be in some way accessible to those people. this was a republic. no one had stature simply because their fathers or mother had proper bloodlines. if if washington's washington's that i walk on untrodden ground come everything he did was a new precedent in the government of us and he realized by she realized by taking a chirp to places like charleston, savanna boston, salem portsmouth, to all the cities in between, that he
was by his very person bringing a greater sense of emotional bonding to the country. we might call it patriotism, maybe we would call it nationalism but he was giving a sense to this larger republic and i also found what you would see when you look at my book and that is washington was a master of political theater in a way that surprised me as an author. he understood how to make the right moves and the right gesture. that's what all politicians do but he was a master. let me give you an example. he had a really extraordinary coach and as he went around the country it was a smaller baggage
wagon which there were staff and when he got to an area outside of town he would put on his legality of -- as the man of the continental revolution and then he would get on a special light horse charger and ride into town. can you imagine if you were in a little town like north carolina, newborn or massachusetts, did you see that, wow. so his sense of the bold dramatic movement was really amply choreographed. what washington understood and all great leaders of all countries have understood more ... the force of public opinion.
he understood unless the people are for the government in and support its concept and possibilities. so in this trip he opened up the political conversation not just simply to those white males that could vote for all people. when income of poor people. they were all invited to the conversation of a man who came to the trip and was opened by parades and special songs and every window is eliminated in the villages. it was a massive outpouring in the sense that the people were responding to their leader if
the country would take the invitation and the people and their leaders were crafting what i called the new republican narrative getting away from the old world. i only have a certain amount of time, so instead of talking about george washington, a man which i thought i knew a lot about until i actually dealt with him, it was a wonderful sense of discovery during doing this research of meeting a person who i thought i respected that and coming but then coming to know i really admired him and this isn't true of all the founding fathers when you dig into their personal lives sometimes you wish you hadn't looked into the rock. he is what he purported to be, but i don't want to talk about that. i want to talk briefly before we have questions about some of the
american people, the ordinary people, men and women who encountered george washington on the road and and there their encounters must transform their lives in some way. we've all met people that remember some historical moment. the first person i want to introduce is a young teenage woman who lived on a farm in north carolina a few miles north of south perry from charlotte to the middle of north carolina. he was outside of the coach for exercise. it was a half hot day and he decided to have a drink of water so he knocked on the door and
she was in a sour mood and he said young lady what is wrong with you. she said all my family has gone up to salisbury to see the president of the united states. [laughter] and they left me back here to take care of the animals and i just don't think that's fair. he was taken aback and said i am the president. [laughter] and you can imagine what her reaction might have been. but she is a figure people still talk about as a young girl who met the president. there was another girl influenced by the president who lived in salem massachusetts.
washington came there and there was a tremendous reception of people and young women and men. nancy fisher wasn't invited but when it was over she asked her friends what was it like come it was like a rock group going through in town. they all said how washington was and so on and she penned a letter that night but i must say as a historian i was so worried i had misread. i wanted to make sure that i haven't projected modern browsers onto the past because she said many of my friends say george washington is a god that he's an angel, something more than us and she said no he is
and he is just a man because if he was and he wasn't he wouldn't pay attention to us. he is a man and i want to tell you there is only one thing that would make me more happy and that would be to discover george washington was a woman. this was in 1789. she could imagine a political situation which the country would turn to a female leader. also in my book you will need an inventor whose neck name was crazy rumsey. james lived in western virginia and told washington he had
invented a boat in the late 1780s that without a motor could propel itself against the current and he built one of these boats and it worked fine unless works fine unless the current got above a couple months but nevertheless, he understood that the future of the 13 original states depended on its ability to incorporate new states and if kentucky and tennessee and ohio were treated the way they treated massachusetts and virginia, we would have a problem on our hands so washington spent a great deal of his journey talking about rivers and canals as a man last night when i gave a presentation he said bbq would
let to compare washington to fight eisenhower and i said to some extent because for washington on this journey the canals and rivers were like interstate highways. our ability to keep ourselves as a union a strong common policy is dependent of course on the ability to have commerce flow and interaction. but he was a very desirable one. also you will meet in one of the most touching scenes of the whole journey. washington and the 1780s had despised the state of rhode island. he thought it was the most responsible group of people that ever called themselves a state and they were reluctant to
ratify the constitution. in fact constitution. in fact on the first trip to new england, he carefully avoided stepping foot in rhode island as a way of drawing to attention that they hadn't joined the union but when they did, he took a trip and they went to newport and providence that when he was in newport, he was interested in jewish culture which he didn't have much experience with and he met a man by the name of moses who was the head of the synagogue. one of the oldest most beautiful in america. he came out and met washington
in newport. let me read the words and then at washington's response because i think it was the most touching and articulate expression i ran across. so the invaluable rights of free citizens we know with a deep sense of gratitude behold a new government for the majesty of the people, the government which gives new sanctioned persecution no assistance but generously affording to all liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship deeming every one of whatever nation, whatever language, equal parts integrate governmental mandate.
the birth of the republic to which washington himself and no uncertain terms responded the american people provided mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy worthy of imitation. at that moment in his journey to america washington assured the jews of newport and i quote it is now no more than toleration is spoken of if it's worth the indulgence of one class of people than another enjoyed their rights in other words they have their rights simply because they were people and the governments responsibility wasn't different duration but to
protect their rights as human beings and open and inclusive sense of our republic. so these men and women in these areas places gave one of the largest parades then spectators and newberry, salem, portsmouth, charleston north carolina. people came forward to express their sense of being part of a wonderful new experiment and perhaps to some extent george washington's fears about a new republic.
want to close by telling about the research that was most meaningful. a lot of my life has been spent in archives reading documents that my life claims the smells of mold. she's probably right i've gotten used to it. but one day i was driving on the road that leads to georgetown north carolina when george washington took this trip he took a diary and i highly recommend it. it's a wonderful printed source and he said he was bored out of his mind because the roads were sandy and the words were playing the end it wasn't cheesy so he decided to break by stopping at
a plantation just north of georgetown called hampton. it was a plantation that have to had to be huge because there was so much drainage and it was very different from a tobacco plantation. he left the road to go to hampton and he was greeted by three women. one was elisha credited with figuring out how to make a commercial prop. her daughter who is a widow because her husband had been killed in battle in the american revolution and then harriet's daughter. washington spoke with the women
as i supposed to keep the conversation they took a little roll into the research really wish i could show you but any of you that come from the south, it's a beautiful plants and trees and there was one in the middle of the front and she said you know, mr. president i think i want to cut this down because it obstructs the house and it must speak to the people and here is this tree in the way. he looked at her and the tree and said let it stay. it was than 200-years-old and
it's about the dangers and it was risky business travel in those days he bought a coach in philadelphia and i have part of a chapter in the book about the mystery like a piece of the true cross because in fact the coach at mount vernon is a full coach purchased by the mayor of philadelphia. to answer the question that was a large vehicle and the roads were terrible. they said you're going to have a terrible accident. this is top-heavy.
besides, there's rocks and tree stumps and it's a bad business. he's terrible storm came up and all of the votes were on the ground and was a terrible moment because the governor and everybody in maryland. the horses got spooked and pulled off the barge and then it was only saved because there were so many spectators.
[inaudible] the president in the united states with one secretary number of servants with no police protection to travel the length and breadth of the country and not worry about the strange idea the journey was undertaken in large part to help cement the union given perhaps the largest faults fault line of the union
was slavery did you encounter any references in the document to how the issue of slaves were freed and were any of those colonies became a part of the journey or were addressed? >> a larger percentage of the time were african-americans than even today and these were not invisible folks. there were two incidents, one absolute least surprised me and i wonder if any of the reviewer's in the book will pick up the good one first. george washington went to
promote american industry because he thought the struggling republic shouldn't be dependent on imports. he wanted americans to be self-sufficient especially in text files which was the largest at the time said he went to the hartford and looked around and praised what was a pretty pathetic factory but being a good president, he tried to put a good faith to it. but he received a letter from england. but this man was a quaker and he was a state-of-the-art mail and
he said mr. president i would like to -- i like the idea of the freedom of and expensive to bring to virginia to start and help you become so sufficient. he said that i know you probably are not going to get many farm boys to come and work in the factory. we have a lot of young men and women who bring them into the factory in the kind of internship and after they learned the skills necessarily to make good cost they will be given their freedom. when i read this letter is no
way that's going to sell in virginia. he took the letter and endorsed the plan, send it to the governor in virginia and said we ought to think about this. everyone in the virginia government in 1790 new that it represented a road to freedom regarding work. i didn't invent this. it's right in the letterbox is no historian noticed the extraordinary possibility. someone came to him and said to you realize they bring the state-of-the-art mills to america he will be breaking every international treaty and law and he said i can't break the law so he withdrew from the plan. that's a good story. the bad story is washington has
become and you can see the picture from an extraordinary man of immense charisma. not the white house but where the president left and when washington was on his tour he learned from the attorney general from virginia pennsylvania law brought in after six months he became automatically free and that went for slaves and the and presidents or congressmen or anybody offer payout from georgia, south carolina and they thought slavery was forever and here's this law defined berserk and they said we are going to lose her greatest cook our greatest cook in the world so they tricked for hercules.
he was needed back in mount vernon and it was a total of how he went to martha and said i've worked with ui and part of your family why don't you trust me ask you doubt my integrity to go through all of this conspiracy against me. she broke down in tears and washington was exposed at the time. this was the only man that forced washington to tell a lie. [laughter] so you see both sides of this he
was the only one that freed his own slaves. we always quote thomas jefferson and all these others they wrote the words but they didn't do the act. what you learned as a guest in all of these homes. >> the guest especially during the 17 '80s people would just appear and say i was just passing through from france and was quite annoying crinkly dig
up a little tired of it but he give you an aspect of the tour people have compared the tour and compared to the claims and claims to -- kings and queens. they would go on the road with 60, 70, 80 retainers into tropin of somebody's castle and say take care of it, you foot the bill and that was the way of basically keeping the queens treasury full. washington announced at the beginning that he would only stay at public taverns and that he would take the hospitality of any private individual. he said there were two reasons for this. he was an employee for us, the
american people and if he was going to represent us it was not the business of private people to come forward. second, he recognized if you were in georgia or new hampshire and you were a vocal who made the wealthiest merchant or something and stay in your house the next day. turn it into a political advantage. people say that's a good he's saying that these patterns. however if you read the private diary which i spent many hours, you find that he often hated the
taverns. his feet were hanging off the end of the bed and he said this is terrible i describe it as sort of like a trip advisor but that was for private consumption he was a republican leader doing what you should do if you are an employee of the government, so he asked the question -- there you are. you are hiding again. there were two times when people fooled him and he got very cross outside of georgetown he stayed in a house he told was an in and
when indiana when he got up in the morning and presented scarred, but i -- the guy said i won't take your money this is my house. he didn't like to be fooled but that was the one time i knew that he stayed in a private home >> i read that he specified his slaves be freed upon the death of his wife martha not wanting to die at the hands of her slaves. when she became ill in 1799, he was at the deathbed with his
loyal secretary and he made it clear they would be freed. most were owned by martha and were brought to the marriage from her former family. she wasn't at all happy about freeing slaves so there's some evidence she was a little grumpy about her dead husband doing this. and i'm sorry i don't know that she freed her sleeves later but i can't comment knowledgeable you about that.
>> i've read your wonderful book one thing i don't remember you covering and that is he was gone a significant period of time on the trips and while the pace of government was different and it is today, did anything go wrong or happen that he had to fix when he got back? that's a question i've thought about because it seemed to me that that phrase or raises a difficult issue of constitutional law that to my knowledge no one has really thought about. when he left, the major figures in the government into and the cabinet for hamilton and jefferson and so he told these
men i'm going to go away and if anything comes up, you guys handle it and when i come back i will rubberstamp whatever you do so just know i will have your back. i don't think that he had the right to indicate that responsibility but he said if something really big comes up, then call me and i will come back and handle it. but if you are in savanna georgia, rushing back isn't going to mean back to eight, which.
so it was a potentially big problem but it never came up. when george washington wasn't a fan of john adams he thought he was fussy so he wrote this letter to him and he said you do what you've got to do and then as a footnote to the letter he sent by the way and by the way if the vice president is still in the capital include him in your conversation, the assumption that atoms would be up attending the apple orchards and not minding government. washington tried to mike adams but at least in my research he was a difficult person. he was always on about something
all the time. washington invited adams to accompany him on one of the tours it was the time he could have shown he had a sense of the people that he got one of these little pounds and said no i'm going to ride in my own coach and i'm going to days before you go into there for missed a tremendous opportunity to make his own reputation. when abigail adams who has the same political astuteness of washington which she heard about and said what are you doing. and when the coach from boston, adams got over it and wrote briefly with george washington. i was speculating with my wife this morning one of the powerful marriage powerful marriages that didn't take place but if george
washington had married abigail adams, what a political team that would have been. >> i wonder in your research if he were able to connect anything with washington's background that led to his extraordinary power? >> i don't know about his background but as a young man, he wasn't one of the great families in virginia, he was extremely close to demand that became a surrogate father that was his brother and i think we saw that man is a model and when he died washington was more or less on his own. they had not a pleasant relationship.
washington learned somewhere along the way and extraordinary self-control of his emotions and his speech. he was often guarded at the point but he had a sense of leadership that came across how pleasant it would be of some of our other political leaders had that. he listened and took counsel and reflected on what people said and then made his decisions time and time again and he had no problem changing his mind. nobody said it's deadly on fox news. he saw at several times including the gentleman that
asked about african-american history early on people said maybe you should use armed black troops and he said no way but then he came around and said that's a pretty good idea lets do it. at the beginning of the more people war people said you should inoculate troops against smallpox. he came around and changed his mind because he saw pragmatically the new answer was better than the old answer so i think we call that leadership. >> these are great questions you're bringing out elements of the book. >> a lot of the conventional wisdom of the relationship between hamilton and washington led to your original remarks about the discoveries about washington's strength as a political leader and i wonder
whether your views about the relationship between hamilton and washington in terms of one using the other as a political tool for there they are and whether they were changed by the research to date in connection. >> i will try to answer the question but it's a speculation based on my own research and i concentrated on this tour time so there may be elements that would cause us to moderate his opinions. washington had a great admiration for hamilton's brilliance as an economist and frankly i don't think washington understood half of what hamilton said about the various reports
about industry and finance but he trusted him and that's another sign of leadership. he knew how to delegate responsibility to hamilton. he had been a difficult person outside the purview of the book. at the end of the book when the officer corps of the continental army hadn't been paid into there was a suggestion that there would be a coup of the officers it was a sad moment washington saved the day with one of his famous speeches he probably heard in school i've got an older serving my country and they've grown blind and he fiddled with his glasses and the soldier said whatever, we will
do it. [laughter] but hamilton tried to use this potential to gain more power for the confederation government and washington wrote some strong letters to hamilton in the mid- 1780s and the one line i do remember is like an older very successful military officer talking to a young little headstrong guy adhesive remember the army is it interesting to play with and this is out of bounds and several other times hamilton's impetuosity became a problem. i believe that in the later years when hamilton fought there was a rising of people in western pennsylvania he
manipulated washington into coming out of retirement and taking command briefly so frankly i see the relation of peace to men as tension filled and not altogether a glorious story. my reading is that there was a man that washington regarded as a sign that he didn't have and that came across the research as his love of lafayette who was in france but their letters are -- you can feel the emotional intensity of these letters. >> thank you for having me. '
weekend, you can go to booktv.org. >> thank you i want to talk about this book about this book primary politics, "primary politics: everything you need to know about how america nominates its presidential candidates". every four years people who have voted before in the primaries and new voters scratch their head at some point and say where did this crazy system come from? this book is an attempt to answer that question. it came from accidents of history as well as manipulations of presidential