Skip to main content

tv   Book Discussion on The Return of George Washington  CSPAN  September 12, 2015 4:30pm-5:16pm EDT

4:30 pm
our look at indy bound best seller list continues with ages for hawk by helen mcdonnell followed up by mark plunger in deceit in which syndicated radio talk show host calls on young people to resist what he argues is ever growing centralized government. also on the list is bucks retraces of the 19th century migration organ oregon trail and reflects on political career in a full life. that's a look at some of the current nonfiction best sellers according to indy bound. many of these authors have or will be appearing on booktv. you can watch them on our website, : plits plitter prize winning edward larson is flexion onbook t he examines the political career of george washington. this program was taped last weekend at the a national book festival.
4:31 pm
good afternoon. mid-name is adam and i'm the editor of the washington post sunday outlook section weekly section per analysis, and essay and commentary and arguments and narrative story telling and investigative journalism and most happily for this day, nonfiction book coverage. so washington post is also a charter sponsor of the national book festival had is now in its 15th year which is amazing and i'm extreme excited to introduce today eric larson.
4:32 pm
i can't believe i fumbled that edward larson. edward is the endowed chair of law at pepper dime and full university professor there means he's a martyr. the professor has 9 books, and he won the pulitzer prize for his book "sumplet gods" about the scope's trial and our endsless never peenging still disputed debate in america about science and its role in policy. i also noticed in seemingly list of publication he's written for washington outlook section is not one eve them so that's something we have just already decided to fix. latest is for washington and his role in fighting the british for being the first president, president and looks at a lesser known part of his life his retirement between those pefntses. after the war, the nation faced
4:33 pm
a crisis under the article as of confederation, and in need of a constitution, many parties couldn't come together and/or trust each other and needed somebody to whom they could look as a convening power. this book is a great, great tone about that period and reminds us that washington's contributions were not merely fighting the british for beginning the nation. but he was instrumental all a the way through to talk about that i want to welcome please edward larson. [applause] well thank you all. >> such an a incredible delight to be back at the -- this particular book festival. it is such wonderful speakers a treat for me already. i just came up from the one with maryann robinson, and what a delight that was. what a wonderful speaker, what a
4:34 pm
crowd, what great questions but sort of caught me up one of the things she was asked at the end because she works at the -- out of iowa not a midwesterner by birth but she works out of the iowa book festival, and she was asked and writes often about westerners and asked what makes midwesterners disstingtive and unique and what is the character she sees? she said well the lack of pretentiousness and i'm from the midwest, grew up there. i said, yeah that's true. that's just like me. and then i realized oop, no longer a midwesterner i lost my own characteristic of lack of pretentiousness because you're not supposed to pride yourself of that. like the person who won the humilitity award but bragged about it and a they took it away. before that walter isakson what a wonderful treat that was a wonderful speaker i've seen he's
4:35 pm
a writer. of course we know he's a great writer but a wonderful conversational speaker before that, the launch of the new book about humboldt that was a very interesting event too. she was -- she was telling me -- us humboldt was a great traveler of how one of her tricks that was a little bit of one of mine too that she liked it to -- go wherever humboldt went so she got to go to some pretty exciting places so she showed a lot of pictures. what a wonderful treat it is to be here. what i thought i would do is fight i'm not gobbing to read to you in general but thought i would read a brief passage from the preface of my book and use that as a launching fad without reading so we'll do a thing right now, one of the most famous an a egg dotes john adams who never said
4:36 pm
anything about anybody else who didn't have a bite in it. not from the midwest if we take maryann robinson view on the characteristic about john. midwest, it is not jun john adams, and he said george washington is greatest political actor he'd ever seen, and he could -- command by a gesture, by a motion, by a look. and one of his most famous such acts occurred at the newburgh conspiracy. the newburgh conspiracy if you don't know is, though, many of you probably do, was when the troops were going to revolt. some of them were pushing him l to become king. this was after it was cleared that -- after a york time that british were going to give up.
4:37 pm
before they formally treatly was signed so they were occupying charleston, savannah otherwise pulled become and washington main army up in newburgh, new york waiting to go, and because the british had effectively stopped the war, the state had stopped paying congress any money so there was no money to pay troops, and they were getting rebellious and a ready to overthrow. that was one of the earlier stories ectd tell in this book because this was english period from york town to becoming president. and so washington puts down revolt by making a appearanced a meeting of the officers where they're plotting a revolt, and one of his great motions he makes this speech that wasn't very convincing because washington we know is not a very good public speaker because he didn't have teeth and false teeth that he sort of mumbled but a very effective actor. so he had worked in one bit of acting in the metledz.
4:38 pm
he finished the speech and a he pulled out a letter and a pretended he couldn't read it very well. so he pulled out his glasses which i'm saying because i have to do it to read this. he pulled out his glasses looked out and he said -- i've not only grown gray in your service, but i've also gone nearly blinds. nobody has seen him. none of his -- officers hadn't seen him with glasses before, and according to legend this humanized human and troops began to describe and they felt like he was really for them, and that more than anything according to legend and newburgh defused the troops. and -- made of what washington could do to rezine. that ability to resign power
4:39 pm
made him to beloved and set the tone for american history. think about it, think of all of the revolutions that ended with the leader becoming a dictator of some sort of whether it be cromwell or napoleon later or think of them all around the world today and what makes different? well part of it is the willingness to go back to private life, and not hold on to power, and it's amazing how we as a people can live on the fumes as it were of our founding fathers. live on -- live on great men, great people who set the tone that is continued to live. ting that's one of the reasons in africa today why south africa is different. because the mandela set a tonal like washington set a tone here. it wasn't just washington. it was a team of people. it was certainly a band of brothers washington that's washington's phrase. but he pulled out glasses and read and said i had blind in
4:40 pm
service and not only gone blind in the service of history because i've been reading too many archive l notes but it begins, preface begins on a chilly spring morning in april of 2014 as i sat own mount vernon plaza watching the sun rise slowly over the potomac river. the window off george washington's upstairs bedroom was over my right shoulder. west facing down on the first floor office stood directly behind me. washington would have seen much the same view 225 years earlier. knowing might be a long time before he observed it again prepares to leave for the seat of government in new york on -- april 16, 1789 due to preservation effort this is vista, one that washington most loved and build to fame survived
4:41 pm
virtually unchanged in midst of the urban stroll at the fred w. smith library for the study of george washington with a resident city on growngdz of mount vernon i was able to enjoy this and other scenes on washington's plantation many times over the course of the year. the view became my favorite too especially a sunrise in the spring when flowering trees and soft green leaves gave off a glow in the morning light. it was obvious to me why washington was reluctant to leave mount vernon for public service in a job is he neither sought nor wanted. by 1789 six years since the united states secured its independence washington had come to believe that the country faced as great a threat from internal forces of disunion by the mid-1780s had from the
4:42 pm
tyranny and accepted leadership at the outset of the refer luges their war. now husband country called on his service this time as elected leader of the world's first extended republic. countless books tell the story of washington and his command 234er chief of the con negligent army during the american revolution and nearly as many relate the history of his role as the first president of the united states. indeed books about washington, could fill a library. they would fill a bookcase in mine. between wartime and presidential subject which is the subject of my last book. even the finest of washington entire lewd between the marl service and presidential term motionly through presenting his life as virginia planter. moreover when they reach the constitutional convention over which washington presided they typically present him as a
4:43 pm
stiff, silent figure who mainly contributed his prestige and dignity of the pride yg proceeding. retiring to mount vernon through the ratification debate before called to presidency. with this book i retell the story of the washington commander in chief through inauguration of president not meaning to diminish importance of his life i stress his critical role as a public and political leader during crucial years between effective and revolutionary war in 1781 and the start of the federal government in 1789. well, i promise that's all i'm going to reads. now, that's from the preface not called an introduction but it is called a preface those two ownershipping parts of books should be distinguished. i'm out of curiosity how many of
4:44 pm
you when you get a book do you read the preface and keep hands up. how many of you read the introduction? how many don't read the introduction? oh -- and you don't read the preface? well just a fair warning, you should never skip a introduction. the book doesn't make sense without reading the introduction. i wrote an introduction to the scope trial that was mentioned earlier, and it sets the stage for the whole book including actually includes dramatic interrogation by clarence williams at the trial pulled up up to the front. in contrast you can skip a preface all of you ever reading it nothing wrong with reading a preface but you don't have to. a preface by definition is not integral to the book but it usually tells you something
4:45 pm
about the book, and/or about the author. it often includes acknowledgements as well. you can certainly skip acknowledgements you want. , though, an author should never skip acknowledgements a reader can skip acknowledgements so i read from the preface not from the introduction. so the question is briefly what is this preface and tell about me as an author and about the book? i thought i would use that as a way to introduce what i had done to you before taking questions. briefly what does it say about me as an art? one thing is says is that i -- i like to be on site like i heard from the humboldt story that she liked to go on site. i do as well. and that i like to use archives,
4:46 pm
see, i work in quotes a lot l. i try to get a feel for the person through or a kind ofs, and through working on site. first really big book that a lot of attention got, i had gone up to dayton, tennessee, literally dozens of times if you have any have -- read introductions anybody ever been to dayton, tennessee. aha. i wouldn't necessarily put it on top of your visitation list but it was a place where the scopes trial took place. and i thought to know that trial, i needed to know the place. and fortunately for me as a historian not fortunate to the people of dayton, it hasn't changed much since 1925 it is pretty much incrusted in time. so i could walk the area. if i could be in the courtroom, that brian and darrell were in
4:47 pm
and trial took place. i could hear the train go by that they would hear. i could go up to the swimming hole where scopes went with williams jennings billy brian who was one of the joint prosecutors. i could walk to where the -- big upstairs warehouse room were were about 200 media were all situated and by that i could get a feel more for what -- i could go in the summer when it was hot. one of the me rabble things about the trial that it was very, very hot and didn't have a lot of air-conditioning when i was there, in fact, in front of drugstore was the old they are thermometer that was there me 1925 was still registering the temperature. ictd see it well over 100 some days just like they experienced. that helped me get a feel for the place. but i did learn from that
4:48 pm
experience by going over a dozen times to dayton, tennessee and on the islands and herself of early science in antarctica so if i got to go dozens of times to the glap islands and in go to where earlier explorers went, so to me some prefer dayton but i foreverred the islands. that made this a perfect book for me because mount vernon is a tremendous source and you have it right near you. that's why i'm saying a little bit about it. mount vernon captures washington, with the same way that home captures washington. it was a project of george.
4:49 pm
when he tin laterred it from his brother, it was a modest building. if you've been down to -- it looked like george mason's house a second story attic like, and he blew up the sides, top, married well so lots of money so he bought farms around it so it was the great plantation that it became. transformed and built a whiskey distillery and tell a story about willing to change, his wanting to break from the control of the british early. the tobacco trade controlled by the british, with the grain trade he was e free to trade on his own and he did not want to be under the control of the british and in the 1750s. he couldn't --
4:50 pm
his -- you can get a feel for those aspects of this very complicated person. it's also a wonderful archive they built to the fred w. smith library. they have arkansas kind ofs of his writing and his papers and they have also always preserved is and notebooks he wasn't a good public speaker if you had seats back then, with he had one of his own teeth and go down to mount vernon you can see preserved all of the -- never went into public hands. never dispersed like jefferson collection from his home. so it contains so many of their original bed he died in. pictures he saw, and i think it is about about 17 pairs of his false teeth you can see that we had one tooth of his own and sort of -- build false teeth and rest on this one molar as an anchor but
4:51 pm
it wouldn't anchor very well, and so he couldn't really speak. publicly -- but he could write. he was actually a very -- eloquent writer, his own fashion. and he wrote hundreds of hundreds of hundreds of all rights many about political and about his farming life. with the archives there you can deep into the person. from the notebook you can follow what he was doing every day, and who was visiting him at mount vernon and those people visiting him were very, very telling. let me -- i'll get to that. now, that's one thing it shows. other thing i do want to say is preface brought by the person who introduced me. what i did with this book and what i like to do with my writing is how if i pick a book is i try to pick a book that seems odd since i wrote about
4:52 pm
george washington. let me prepare you. i try to pick a book, topic that people think they know a lot about. but that received wisdom is offkilt kilter somewhat and different example of that. scope trial everybody knows about scope trial because they spencer tracy, and a you you knw about when they inherit wind but authors would say it was about mccarthy but simply using the trial as the vehicle to tell a story about bringing down mccarthyism. it is very different. and so i was the first historian to ever write a book about the scopes trial. no historian had written. everybody had heard about it. most had heard about it but people didn't know what happened and nobody brought historical
4:53 pm
techniques about what happened so i was able to write a new account that surprised people even the pulitzer committee surprised them to knock me off my feet and give me an award for my book. that's what i've tried to do with the books. with the galápagos i wrote about it with darwin and helped make the story of darwin much more significant and win prizes. antarctica looking at the -- early science done there, and a not be distracted by a race to a pole which wasn't really fundamental it was what was hamming in preworld war whether it was a center for science. oh, in 1800 election brook that brought me to this group before the book of the magnificent catastrophe no one had ever tried to write the story of the 1800 election. that's the adam versus jefferson. as a blow by blow political xainl in the narrative of
4:54 pm
white making of a president of 1960s that's what i thought to do there opposed to a broad historical perpghtive which other books had. so i looked for gaps in the record. other people leak who you'll see later on this stage can take a topic that everybody knows and tell it better than anybody ever did before and everybody can love it, and i love it. but i need to have the advantage of a book that placed my specialty legal history, history of science which is what my ph.d. is in, and hopefully something that too many people have been treaded on before. so i have a one advantage. how can you do that about george washington? more books vn written about joarnlg washington than any american who has ever lived. i had said it, and one time i was introduced a few months ago
4:55 pm
and person introducing me had done some extra research on google, and said that there had been over 10,000 books written with george washington if in the title. now that even exceeded what what i thought. in the way of number of books but people don't focus on this period. as i had mentioned now why did i think about picking up that? i had been a history teacher for years. i had taught introduction of history for 20 years at georgia. and everybody who has been a history teacher will know the same story. when you -- use any standard textbook, when you cover american history, if you're just covering the first half to get to stop with the civil war and don't bring it up to date an you have a semester to do it. you'll spend a couple of days on revolutionary war and washington is all over the place. theythen you have a couple of ds on utter collapse of the
4:56 pm
confederation why the confederation did not work inability to control perils, inability l to raise any funds. the inability to >> no article of confederation created a looking of friendship among 13 sovereign states. each of the states during -- after a the threat during the threat of british ftion gone each went their own way, trying to make life better for their people at the a expension of who? well any darwinist will tell you you compete against your brothers and sisters and compete against your own species. you don't compete against, you know, geisel or lions but survival of the fittest works and every state competing against the o orr state so new york was doing whatever it could to better itself by -- reaming connecticut and new jersey putting up for goods through new york harbor to basically export their taxes to
4:57 pm
new jersey and connecticut. they want to do that today. that's part of the problem of europe. europe is still acting that way and hungry wants to play and a greece wants to play with the refugees versus germany, and they're all competing against each other for their own short-term gain that was happening in america and nobody would pay any money that central government couldn't raise funds and states wouldn't second them money of real interesting. they were competing against each other and a the place was falling apart. we tell that to historians but by hear nothing about washington. i think partly because of the sins chose way to step away from power, and we have to repeat that story of washington stepping away from power so it is often mount vernon pending -- then suddenly the constitution convention happen and a washington is barely mentioned except that he's there. ratification and spend self days
4:58 pm
talking about the first federal administration. washington the administration maybe into adam, federalist administration, and washington is all over the place again as president. so what happened to him in this middle period? now, think of who washington was. washington ended the revolution as a the most famous and beloved person in the americas, perhaps in the world. certainly, world famous all over europe. and revered is this amazing leader who had led a revolution from the british strong pest power in the world and gaining independence never happened before for colonial people in the light of value of liberty -- freedom, republic can rule rather than a monoor a can i these were the ideas that were shaking europe and a americas at this time, and washington
4:59 pm
personified them and he knew he personified them and he wasn't modest about that. he did not come from the midwest his early accounts as a boy say what do i want? he would nails himself as franklin would, as jefferson would, as adams would, and washington always came to the same conclusion. he did not really care about money, though, he became very wealthy. ...
5:00 pm
his entire legacy was in doubt. every american knew at that time, i don't know about every american, we can read franklin, adams, jefferson. all these people agree what made america different was the frontier. that we were on new people and people were not trapped in their old mode. in england you had to be whatever your ancestors were. you didn't have any choice is because the world was full. in america you could come your andy bean franklin and escaped from servitude to your brother, and go to philadelphia and become a millionaire, printer and inventor and a scientist can change the world. they knew the key to that was the frontier. the frontier was always pushing west. one of the reasons they were
5:01 pm
beholden against britain was burn took away the frontier after the french and indian war. they went this wall, you can't go belong the appellations because they wanted to keep the subject people and america was filling up and washington and jefferson, we need the frontier. during this period of the confederation the states were focused on whether they were on the east coast. favor ignoring the frontier. they could technically, georgia had claims all the way to the mississippi, virginia claimed the mississippi, connecticut had claims to the mississippi, but nobody was defended. washington would use the phrase in his letters, such as it is, if they can call it government, he would always be very sneering of this thing during a period it
5:02 pm
was just a farmer, in government. and the frontier was being lost, he had invested in country, they were all being lost, and couldn't defend the frontier and no way va or pennsylvania or georgia would extend the frontier and native americans, british had not left of forts and frontier like detroit and they were harming the indians ostensibly to hunt for furs which they would trade for the british but you news the same guns against settlers and the native americans pushed back in, pushed way back in, taking georgia for example, pushing back into the areas of western pennsylvania, washington'sown
5:03 pm
agent had been captured, scalped, roasted alive and killed. during this period after the of revolution and before he became president had gone to visit his frontier in the trip of a lifetime, he loved camping out, sleeping under the stars, getting soaked in green. remaned error he was not born with money. he was the second, third son of a second white, first son of a second wife of a moderately wealthy person and he wasn't going to inherit everything and he thought he had to have a job so he learned to the surveyor, he surveyed the frontier and went back to look at his holdings and he could not get to his holdings because he had been warned when he got across that the native americans were waiting and were going to
5:04 pm
capture him and told him to ransom. he would never get to these holdings and one whole thing, squatters had moved in and they would not leave, there was no effect of government that would protect his property and the frontier, that is what the future was, what sort of future do we have if we don't have the central government that can open the west? and he would have a government, in yorktown and began planning the future, the future that supposedly was just going to retire at produces a circular letter and document on the future of military establishment developed a plan of progressive seating to open the frontier, ohio country, illinois, indiana, opened the frontier and made into states. all that was being lost without
5:05 pm
a central government. there was no effective control over interstate commerce. to market across state lines. hamilton worry about those things, jefferson as well, washington more than any was living every day and his letters, during this period when he supposedly retired if you carefully read his letters and if you, you will see mount vernon was a virtual crossroads of every budding nationalist in the country. he would communicate with john j. n. hamilton and john hancock and the morrises of pennsylvania and the pinckneys in south
5:06 pm
carolina. spending time in mount vernon, planning for and nation. planning for unified country. washington was writing these letters, when you live in the south where every try to travel you have to go through atlanta airport. during this period, atlanta airport of the nationalist movement. in months leading up to the constitutional convention, we often hear james madison was the architect of the constitution and written the ids, where was he doing it? not at home but at mount vernon. he spent months at a time in the time leading up to the constitution, living in mount vernon. you can see the room where he was staying, talking with washington, plotting out what this new government had to have. you can see washington writing
5:07 pm
letters to john j. after the constitutional convention was beginning to take shape, henry knox who was the head of military forces for what was the continental congress, confederation congress and james madison asking if we go to philadelphia, what sort of government can we create? what needs to be in this government? you can look at a circular letter he sent to all the state governors in his last year as a general saying we need a central government with more power, it has to control interstate commerce, has to have the power of taxation, has have military force, it has to progress of the open the frontier. we need to open the west. we have to have a central government that can defend us against european powers that consolidates what is necessary
5:08 pm
for raja nation and make a national market economy. these are words you often associate with hamilton. he gets a rock music opera about him. they were coming from washington. washington was fully a part to them but also realized and this was another thing that characterized this period. washington was a great listener. that man come in part because it wasn't a particularly good or rader but he was a great listener. you could see this when he was a general. before every battle you would pull together all its officers and listen to all of them about how the battle should take place, what should we do, how should we handle crossing the delaware, how should we handle yorktown, how should we handle a brandywine? then he would draw those ideas together, compromise, worked out
5:09 pm
and from that, a plan would develop. we know how he was as president. the invented the cabinet. the cabinet is no where in the constitution but the idea of calling his leaders together, remember doris kerns goodwin love to talk about lincoln having the team of rivals in his cabinet. nothing compared to washington. washington and jefferson and hamilton, john adams as vice president, talk about a team of rivals there was a real team of rivals and he would listen to the mall, he would listen to all their ideas, they could write memos and from those he would work out an overall plan. they all recognize he had great wisdom if not, he wasn't the brightest for most technically research person if he wasn't like a policy guy like madison, if he wasn't a raging brilliant
5:10 pm
partisan like hamilton he was a very wise man who had definite clear goals and we concede these all along, to create a more perfect union, to turn a league of friendship into any effective country that could be respected abroad, create prosperity at home because prosperity was being lost because of competition and lack of national market economy and competition and expand westward. those were his goals for the country, respect abroad, prosperity at home and expansion westward. that is what everyone knew he stood for. those were basically is known platforms when he was elected president but that is what he believed so he would listen to others and pinkneys would come up and morrises would come down. he would be writing to john jay, very close confidant, madison would be there so much of the
5:11 pm
time, he would be writing continuously to benjamin franklin in france, drooling on ideas, when he got the letters back to mount vernon, he created a synthesis, a summary of the letters he had received from all these different people into a single written summary which he then took to the constitutional convention. the remarkable thing is the constitution was almost like a summary. doesn't look like what madison wanted because madison was not a compromiser. madison would storm out, the furious during the constitutional convention because he wouldn't get his way on something like guaranteed for lower federal courts or one particular way of choosing the
5:12 pm
president, the president would be chosen by congress. washington instead would listen to these ideas, he would hear what was coming from the small stage, he would hear what was coming from the big states, the so-called big states, and he would be willing as long as his fundamental goals were reached he was willing to compromise on needs to get an effective result. you can see that in so much of what he did in philadelphia. if you look at the record in philadelphia washington is almost invisible at the philadelphia convention because what we have is madison's notes. madison's notes contain what was said officially. washington was the presiding officer and just as today with the house of representatives the speaker can't speak during debate in the house of representatives. john boehner can't speak when he is there. does that mean john boehner is
5:13 pm
not running what is happening in the house of representatives? the speaker is not running? they run what happens in different manners. they decide who is called on. their meeting with people outside the main sessions, working out compromises and if you follow the constitutional convention closely you can see washington working closely with benjamin franklin and playing that role. madison would have these ideas and people who read it closely will often say how madison had the original plan, va plan and he continually gets creamed on all the details. there is some truth to that but washington wasn't. washington would sit there and work with people and come of with the great compromise, small states, small states each get, every state gets tweet to
5:14 pm
members of the senate in the house of representatives, proportion of representation, the va plan as everything proportional. a few states that house of representatives proportional and they elected but senate and they elect the president and that gets pushed back at the convention because the big states controlled the house of representatives because that is proportional but small states get equal representation in the senate and the president is picked by the weird electoral college mechanism which is truly a compromise to get around the problem of slavery and give more weight to the small states. that is why it has come up but the big states wanted direct election of the president. that was what pennsylvania was pushing for, they were pushing for direct election for president but that leads the small states out and harms the southern states because you only -- votes count and have the people are slaves and can't vote but if you do use electoral college the south gets a lot
5:15 pm
more votes because the slaves count at least three fifth in the end, they wanted 1:1. the small states against disproportionate votes because they get two electoral votes for each of their senators. it is all a compromise and you can see washington's hand in every bit of it not thinking up a compromise intended to be the root goldberg of the convention and give you think of weird things like the, durrell college or ben franklin who is behind the big state small state compromise and handed it to roger sherman to get the credit because he thought was better coming from a small state. these were the guys who could think of mechanisms but you can't look back at the record. when they were announced people always met with washington before hand and the person who would offer the compromise would always get washington the night before and washington would always call him in first.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on