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tv   War of 1812 200th Anniversary Anniversary Dinner  CSPAN  September 14, 2014 9:25pm-9:56pm EDT

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during the war of 1812, british soldiers invaded washington on august 20 4, 1814, and set fire to the water house -- white house and u.s. capitol building. james madison and dolley madison fled the city. discuss thats night. allman describes the saving of the portrait and william seale describes the events leading up to the burning itself. this is a 30-minute event. >> william allman has served our country and joined the white
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house curator's office 38 years ago. for the past 12 years, mr. allman has led that very important office is white house curator. this is one of the best jobs there is. to care for one of the most historic and storied collections in the world. the curator is charged with the preservation and study of the collection of art, furniture, and decorative objects used to furnish both the public and private rooms of the white house. as an official residence and accredited historic house museum, i house that has been home and office to 43 presidents of the united states. mr. allman is a vital friend to the white house historical association and we welcome him tonight to share the history of a very significant happening with the white house collection. following mr. allman, we will
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hear from mr. william seale. he is a great treasure to the white house historical association. we call him the master and maestro of white house history. in addition to being the editor he isite house history," an important author of books on white house history. i have a few of them here tonight for you to see. in addition to his expertise on is ahite house, mr. seale scholar and sought after wise sage for the preservation of a range of historic american buildings. his preservation work is evidenced in state capitals and historic homes across america from alaska to florida to new york and across the heartland of america. we are in for a very special treat hearing from mr. seale this evening.
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although the white house is just across the street, only 200 yards from where we sit tonight, these two men will bring white house history to life for us tonight right here. william allman followed by william seale. [applause] >> roger mudd just said, "don't blow it!" now i am nervous. i was not before. except with attending such a learned symposium on the events of 1814 in washington, we would concur with author beth taylor's 2012 observation that americans
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today instead of ducking the anniversary of the burning of the white house celebrate the rescue of the portrait of george washington. all of the longest held objects in the white house collection based on the post-fire renovation, all but one, the gilbert stuart were trip of -- portrayed of george washington, the one dolley madison famously saved from the white house. [applause] image, eightth feet by five feet in size, is one of the four lansdowne type commissioned by the philadelphia merchant in 1796. by a man whose
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term as british prime minister was marked with peace by the united states. he selected a formal pose depicting washington dressed in a black suit as president. wouldgton's adopted son consider the had to be the best likeness in his lecture days -- latter days but felt stewart failed in the person, meaning the body was too fleshy. among the many symbolic elements, there is a gilded chair, the seat of authority. the back is ornamented with stars of the states with the great seal. at the left, the read clock is pulled back to expose the gilded formed out of bundled rods, a roman symbol of authority, topped by eagles.
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the books reflect his career with the titles. the silver inkwell on the table is engraved with washington's coat of arms. the 1792 london newspaper article about the lansdowne portrait delivered to england claimed washington was standing in support of the 1795 jay "and inecommending, viable union between america and great britain." this unfortunately did not foresee hostilities 15 years hence in which the white house portrait would become an icon. the white house portrait was probably sold to the u.s. government twice. the797, stewart sold it for american minister to paris. but when the diplomatic appointee was not recognized by the french government, stewart
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did not deliver the painting but seems to have quickly sold it to a second buyer. later he would compound his duplicity by denying it was his work at all. during conservation on the white house portrait in 1978, all four examples of the lansdowne type were examined by our conservators who wrote we feel all four versions were painted in their entirety by a single hand. the white house portrait is believed to be the last of the four, the one least marked by experimentation. it is marked however by a curious error. one book title is misspelled. under the table is the book "constitution and laws of the united sates." there is a missing t in "s tates."
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baker bought a portrait for exhibition at his museum in new york city. he died six months later and passed to a creditor from whom the government would purchase it, again in 1800. the purchase order for $800, a profit on baker's $500 investment was signed by lee as having been recognized as first in war, peace, and in the hearts of his countrymen. thepainting was hanging in not fully completed presidents house when it was first occupied in 1800 by president john adams. by 1809 at the end of the jefferson administration, it was hanging in the oval room on the state form -- floor, what is now the blue room. when the madisons converted the
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corner room that had been jefferson's office into a new state dining room, washington portrait was moved there. that is where was hanging august 24, 1814. the most famous account of the rescue of the painting is in dolley madison's and in her papers at the library of congress. she called this document and extract from a letter written to my sister published in the sketch of my life. the papers of both james and dolley madison wrote in a 1998 issue of "the journal of the white house historical association" but it was not one of the "dashed off, gossipy leatters" she usually return sisters. it having more formal quality he suggested was a later recollection.
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seenis document having instructions from her husband to flee the white house, mrs. madison wrote a famous description which sort of defines the whole saving of the portrait. insist on waiting until the large picture of general washington is secured and it is required to be unscrewed from the wall. this process was too tedious for these perilous moments. i ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out. it is done any precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentleman from new york for safekeeping. now, dear sister, i must leave the house." reddit --president madison's slave who was at the white house with mrs. madison would write in his memoir it has often been stated in print that when mrs. madison escaped from the white house she cut out from the frame the large portrait of washington and carried it off. this is totally false.
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she had no time for doing it. whoops. he credited the steward and gardner with the actual removal of the painting from the wall. said young later jennings himself had held the ladder. it is unclear if jennings meant to suggest mrs. madison was not involved at all because it seems certain at least she gave the order for the removal of the painting. years later she would write to one of the two gentleman from new york who had carried the painting to safety in a wagon thus because of my respect for general washington." barker,eague, jacob would write mrs. madison had ordered him to destroy the painting if it could not be saved. write would also president madison returned to the white house before those
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gentleman had left with the and toldand sat down them something about the battle he had witnessed at bladensburg. the president also saw the painting of washington down from its five-year perch. in any case, after madison had also departed, the painting went off to safety and eventual tourn as the only object have been continuously held by the white house since it opened in 1800. it is the white house treasure. thank you. [applause] >> good evening. if you cannot hear me, please hold up your hand. but i think we are pretty well wired tonight. it is an honor to be here.
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it is a pleasure to a dress the seminal episode in the american war of 1812, the burning of the white house. the completion and occupation of the white house in 1800 began a long journey for the house. the old stone building what was toecame extend through all the years of american history with a single interruption of its destruction by fire in 1814. i would like to present to you some details tonight of the actual burning of the white of slippingeans into the white house historical association symposium a puzzle piece, i guess you could call it, about the evening when the british soldiers and sailors came to call to a house intact stone walls and
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ashes. the bits and pieces i will draw for you came from many sources such as diaries, letters, newspaper commentary, and not the least as far as the house is concerned and its activities, the splendid day today records preserved in the national archives for most of that period. these are incredible. on the morning of the day the white house burned, the white house was animated and in full operation. the day was scorching. the air by bid morning had begun to stir. dinner was being laid for 40 guests. with a blank card mrs. madison has sent out and sent the coachman to deliver by hand. regrets filled the mail basket in the entrance hall.
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still, the president and mrs. madison intended to proceed with their plans. capricious stories had spread in invasion predicting an and destruction of the city. the butler, john freeman, was busy arranging the dining room. slave owned by thomas jefferson allowed to take a salary from madison to help buy his freedom. he was assisted by paul jennings, an african-american youth of maybe 15, owned by madison. jennings was the president's valet and especially skilled in the details of setting up a proper dining room. the two preparations, placed wines on the side board and boiled and scrubbed the chamber pots, a convenience for the gentleman after dinner when the ladies have left the room.
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the lamps and candles stood ready to light. everything in the dining room was about ready. inthe stone vaulted kitchen the basement was jefferson's up withon stove fired meats being prepared. the steward who supervised all of this was a serious man who was terrified of the british and what was going to happen. he referred constantly to his childhood memories of the bloody streets of revolutionary paris where he was raised. mrs. madison, about as nervous as her steward, and her made stood in the room would call the blue room looking with a telescope to the southeastern horizon where smoke from kevin arose fromnon fire
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bladensburg in maryland and marking the dance of the british soldiers. adviserto her, ross' was traveling up the potomac with his soldiers from alexandria, which they had looted. the house was stripped bare for summer. lampslay -- silverplate were drained and rapped in gauze. the fancy rug was in the attic leaving floors uncovered. slipcovers hid the chairs and stools. mrs. madison's beloved red velvet curtains were taken down and packed for summer, protected from the heat, humidity, moths, and flies. traditionally, the white house was shut down after the fourth of july reception to the
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presidents returning in september or october. this summer with the threat of the british invasion, no time could be spent away from the capital for the presidential vacation. congress was casting hellfire at the president on every point. more than a dozen and the house called for impeachment. made a returns to the president's blue ridge home little more than a dream at this time. madison himself was not a warrior but a thinker and a planner. small and wizened, he was an amusing contrast to his outgoing wife, the widow dalai he had with a to the altar passion that startled his colleagues who had never imagined him a lover. madison, monroe, and others left the white house and made the arduous ride by horseback to
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view the battle as closely as they could. after their departure, a messenger road to the white house shouting the british were on their way to the city and all should evacuate. morningers of the lazy scattered. john freeman gathered up his wife and children and headed to safety. around trying to think of ways to arm the house with cannons, which mrs. madison discouraged. her vehicle was packed with papers from the cabinet room upstairs. before she left, she remembered she had promised to protect the large portrait of general washington paid for by the congress fearing it would be carried about and mocked by the invaders. it hung on the wall in the dining room where the frame was secured with screws.
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when others could not take it down, they broke the frame. visitors assured mrs. madison they would see to its protection elsewhere. fdr said it was cut off the stretcher with a kitchen knife, but he liked to tell stories. [laughter] that was one of them. the house was fairly well in deep toward the end of the day. and the partye, returned briefly and sat in the dining room for a glass of spirits and nibbles from the sideboard. when they were gone except for paul jennings and the president had told to remain long enough to bank the fires and sawed the house, jennings scavengers into the house. nothing more is known about them, whether he ordered them out or whether they chose to
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hide in the attic, which would have been a bad decision considering what will happen later. jennings locked the house and left to find the president. it would appear the white house was silent for a few hours. some lamps may have flickered down the long hall. thet 11:00 in the evening, first contingent of soldiers appeared from the east down pennsylvania avenue ill uminated by the fire of the capitol building. when no response weakened the president's house, general ross' men broke open the door and entered joined by cockburn and his sailors. the company of 150 wandered over the house for about one hour soaking in what they saw and perhaps excited by the historical moment. once the officers thought through together, work began for
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preparing the house to burn. there was never much question about whether the fire would take place proved that decision was already made. they went to the dining room determined to eat the food prepared. food was brought up from the kitchen. the sideboard was quickly robbed of its bottles and decanters as the soldiers and sailors labored ,n the awful heat of the night the officers enjoy themselves with theirnner tongues loosening as the toasts proceeded. invited everyrn man to take a souvenir, nothing of value. it was all very military. to set the tone, he held up a tok cushion the lash soak -- set the tone, he hold up the silk cushion from a dining room chair.
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the british officers and men were exhausted from the invasion and the nine years they had fought in the spanish campaigns of wellington. it had been hard duty with many destruction.d much one of the experts that directed many burnings was captain thomas blanchard, a great favorite of general ross. he was put in charge of burning the white house. blanchard requested as his main general.quartermaster admiral cockburn contributed in some james pratt. blanchard newhouse to design a fire that had military dignity arson. not smack of he devised his plan. the house was built like an english house of the same general type with a heavy outer
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skin of stone with thick walls of brick to stabilize it. the white house had about 14 inches of stone and three feet of soft rick backing. allde the structural walls wooden l likeah kindling upon which the plaster was laidth. to blanchard, the wooden parts were the focus. the plan was tonight a house on the second floor. no other part of the house was of interest. the kindling was all to be on the second floor. when set, the firewood quickly burn into the attic causing the attic to collapse where its weight would carry it onto the main floor. by the same design, the mass
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would fall into the basement where it would burn as in a barbecue pit until all that was burned was gone. this is exactly what happened. on the second floor, the men were breaking up furniture and dragging mattresses and textiles to pile in the centers of the rooms. the windows were smashed out. from the basement came the containers of flammable oil which the madisons kept in quantity for the lamps. the oil was poured over the piles of debris in the second-floor rooms. this took several hours. when it was done, the men left the house as ordered. a certain number formed a circle around the building. provided with long wooden javelins, they saw them route clothe, andaw, then then saturated in oil.
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the oil was carried for a tavern, perhaps to provide drama for the crowd of spectators who crowded to watch. that is a stretch, of course. the men with the flaming javelins were in place. and a pistol shot from blanchard, they hurled them to the second floor. from all accounts, the fire came and rose quickly. thornton -- mrs. thornton stood on the porch and saw the whole thing. she wrote that the white house blew up and blazed like a plum y.dding and shone like da by daybreak and heavy rain, one
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can see captain blanchard had done his work well. it was a stone block of ashes. shafts throughn the neatest of ruins. the entire basement survived. the only object we know that was retrieved was the kitchen range. it was reused when the house was itself again for many years. all the stonework of the south wall survived. the portico would be added to it. beh ends of the house had to torn down to the basement ceiling level. on north front, only the central part still stood in with repair would remain crowned with the the fineste swag, example of stone carving from 18th-century america. not to endar was
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diplomatically until christmas eve and spiritually several weeks later at the battle of new aleans on january 8, 1815, movement began at once to move the capital to another location. acquisition of the louisiana territory and mississippi river had enlarged the nation and its possibilities. washington was no longer geographically the center of things. why not philadelphia, st. louis, cincinnati? president madison blocked the effort by politicking behind the scenes. even before the war ended. finally the act of congress provided the capital buildings be repaired. the capital had been unfinished anyway. in the case of the white house which have been complete, the president insisted it be rebuilt exactly as it was. he prevailed. when it was done, the journey of the white house continued. thank you. [applause]
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