tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN August 23, 2016 9:00am-11:01am EDT
different characters, i think my reactions would not be as strong as they are because not that i was unfamiliar with these people before, but i'm learning entirely different lifl writing a buying if i about grant. i sometimes feel people will say, how many years are you spending on the book. i often say that i find that a lot of my best i believe sights into the character coming first year or two of writing because that's when my senses are most alive and then there's a certain familiarity that comes in to -- into play. there's a point of diminishing return. i never the longest i've spent i guess was washington six years because i feel that you do reach this point of diminishing returnireturn ing with the person. >> because you're in an exploratory phase where you're open to new interpretations
about the individual. is that the reason the first two years are so critical. >> it's kind of like meeting a new friend. you have a strong reaction. samuel beckett said habit is the a great way. census sustained period of time with fresh insight of jefferson. i know that i could do that so there's something to translate. fi playing the field has its advantage sgls you've played the field with -- we dropped the metaphor. >> roosevelt, jackson, jefferson. you've covered presidents who have passed on to the pages and can mention to your buying if i of president bush, power and destiny. so you've covered those figures
and a living figure. someone whose alive. i've worked with john very belief e briefly at news week and he had a bust of george hw in his office. >> it was the only bust of gorge w bush. >> then you came to know him. >> yes. >> what are the challenges in doing a portrait of a living person. >> well, distance, obviously. the kind of critical distance we're talking about. to me, the most fascinating overall lesson of doing it was i wondered how much i missed in books where i've written where i haven't known the person because, you know, i've never had dinner with thomas jefferson. never had dinner with andrew jackson. having had dinner with george bush, i would try to write what he was like as a literary matter and i would know what i was missing. >> right. >> that raised the literary bar
rather higher than i would have expected. so if seems to me if you spent time with someone, you are able to judge what you've written and your conclusions by a different standard than what you've gotten out of the papers or you've gotten out of the archives. so to me, that was a surprise. i expected it to be somewhat easier, frankly, as a literary battle. go, have lunch, where it up, how hard can that be? turns out it's pretty hard because if you're literary skills aren't firing on all pistons at that particular moment, then you're not capturing what he was like. he was a particular challenge, as some people in the audience know as well. he is a man who i believe became president of the united states because of a quiet persistent charisma. charisma is not a word often
associated with the 41st president. trying to explain how this man through a very unconventional path came to hold ultimate authority in a nuclear age was tricky. the other tricky thing was he is so encrusted with all the popul popular cultural images about him. sometimes this was like writing a buying ifiography of dana. i asked how did you do the impression. he said the key was mr. rogers trying to be john wane. absolutely right. so you had to get past that. you had to get past the super market scanner. you had to get past the wimp factor and all this stuff. i was out talking about it for three or four months, and it is
interesting. people are at once very nostalgic. we have, if i may just quickly, we have in 25 years moved from a republican president who could not talk about himself to a republican -- so it's sort of like what henry adams said about the movement from washington to grant. it disproved darwin. so that's kind of a critical thing. people have lived through it. people think they know what they think about it. i've had to fight against that and make a historical case for him. the rule is 25 years in my mind between journalism and history. it took that long to get a view of him, which i happen to think is the truest view i could write. i think he's an underrated president who did remarkable things and had enormous political faults.
failed in the fundamental political test of a presidency, which is being re-elected, but i do believe and this is an interesting lesson it seems to me for this era is that he did a lot of things wrong on the way to power, but once he had power, he did the right thing at his own political cost, whether it was being opposed in the 1964 civil rights act. he ran for the senate down here in '64. in '68 he votes for open housing. he runs a not so gentle campaign in 1988, but became the last kind of compromise president and read my lips for which he paid enormously. we're still living with much of the impact of that split in the republican party at that time. >> is it more difficult to critically assess somebody you know, somebody whose family you know, somebody you've come to call a friend?
>> sure, it's harder. absolutely, but in my view, you call them as you see them. he made that possible in many ways. this doesn't really -- i mean, you all will appreciate this. this doesn't happen much. i can't think of another presidential family that would hand over the presidential diary, the vice presidential diaries and mrs. bush's diary. mrs. bush kept a diary, still does, from 1948 forward. when -- is he gone? yes. we are being taped, just so you know. >> i know he's not going to watch it so that's okay. when president bush 43 found out his mother had given me her diary, he went, she gave you what? that's not good for me.
he was totally fine. and so they gave -- and it was -- it was a great deal of trust and i tried to be worthy of it, you know, i think he lied about contra. i think he was wrong on some of the tactics in 1988. i think his fundamental political failure was that he drew a bright line between what you say on the campaign trail and what you do in government. he picked up a phrase of firing the empty cannons of rhetoric. he was the admiral marry pop pins on the campaign trail. he would fire the cannon full of power, but expected the noise to carry it. didn't expect it to carry over. am i in the tank for him for that, didn't seem like that to me, but readers have to judge. >> hemmings i obviously didn't have the original members of the family around, but he had
descendents of the family, and it's -- you have to, many of who i'm friendly with and so forth. you really do have to call it as you see it and families have their understandings about their family's motivations, their ancestors have an interest in all of that, but as a historian, you have to keep your distance in that way and call it as you see it. >> let me ask, you have voluminous letters from thomas jefferson, which give you a glimpse into his mind. you have no letters from hemmings. where do you start there? >> you start -- you have to write around it. we have lerttters from her brothers. we have the memory of her son. we have statements from other people so you have to -- figures -- when piecing together the life of somebody who didn't write anything, you have to go around it. what other people said about it
and have to be transparent with the audience. as long as you can clear with the audience, the readers, about what you have and don't have. people come along with you in that way, but you can't makes stuff up. it's much harder. that's why it was easier to do the hemmings of month cello rather than sally hemmings. there were enough family members, enough things pulled together you could create a portrait of the family, but not any individual could withstand an entire biography. >> the power of annette's work is with the pulsety of sources, you feel as though you are right there. it's an amazing achievement. >> thank you, but it's really around it. all right around it. the era, the time period. and try to revoke as much of it as you can. you use the little bits you have. there's some things we know about her, but no letters. if you remember or recall that letters are not always right.
so if you think that you have this voluminous amount of material about jefferson, but he still too many people miysterios because it's much better to have it than not. >> it's a really problem because i think any buyiiographer wouldy there's a tierny of words. you tend to follow the paper trail. where the paper trail is richest, you devote the most space. particularly for me the greatest frustration writing about the 18th acceptabilicentury. in the 19th century if there are holes you can fill them. in the 18th century there are black holes of hamilton's buy hood. washington's boyhood.
gor george washington's father died when he was 11. one sentence referring to his father. hamilton's one-third of his life is played out in the caribbean where there's scarsly any paper trail at all. had a tremendous impact on him so there's a temptation to do less about those places because as you found with hemmings, the paper trail so thin. that becomes especially incumbent on you to do whatever you can with whatever sources you can to at least build the context from the circumstances for what happened so it's a little bit mirrors because you're doing a particular period in the life without the person being in the foreground of it, but otherwise you get this situation where particularly -- and this is a big problem with
presidential, all of us when we hit the presidency, we hit the mother load of all times in terms of paper wowork. mark was telling me, i was asking how many documents there are in the library. he said 45 million. even going back with george washington, in the most recent -- give you some sense of just how abundantly documented presidential lives are. with george washington, we now have 135,000 documents. every year they accomplish a lot volume or two. they accomplished about 70 volumes of projected 90-plus volumes. grant presidential library, there are a quarter of a million documents. even with that, 250,000 with
grant, i feel like i'm swimming in material, but i really don't know what i would do if i had the resources of one of the modern presidential libraries. you know, i'm friends with bob karen. bob, when he was working as a ne news paper editor always told him to turn the next page. he's been turning the next page for 40 years. it's kind of never ending. i think that's a real problem. we have done such an extraordinary job of preserving the presidencies that we threaten to overwhelm rather than inspire our future biographers. it becomes more difficult. it sort of makes sense -- i'll say one last thing. i think what happened because of in the earlier period, in the founding time, you had these
gigantic additions of paper. then with modern presidential library, starting -- who was the first? hoover or fdr? hoover. you get millions or tens of millions of documents. what had happened is it had a reverse effect. the biographers become less ambitious because to do an old fashioned cradle to grave biography. look at the 70 volumes of george washington. to do an authoritative one life volume of washington i have to master 70 volumes and that's just a starting point. that's a problem we haven't really figured out. can i ask you a question even though you're the moderator. you're close to this problem. what should biographers do when there is such an immensity of material and well cataloged and classified available. >> one of the challenges you
have with the modern presidency is the freedom of information act. people can file requests so that you have after reagan, you have libraries processing records not through a proactive agenda, but reactively to the requests they get. it's difficult to get the material you really want as a biographer. so sometimes that is not a problem. you know, i'm at the johnson library, and, you know, you have so many aspects of that presidency that are still germaine today and we see frequently researchers delve into papers relating to civil rates or education and so forth. most of those are available, but johnson is so hard to put your arms around because his legacy is so vast. i see more and more specialization of johnson with the exception of karl who devoted more of his adult life
to covering johnson as a biographer than johnson did living. >> i think what has happened is faced with the immensity of material, people opt to do a moment in the life. a theme or an episode. and that's fine. of course the researchers are tremendous, but there's also something about seeing an entire life between two covers in terms of rendering an assessment of this person that is kind of lovely to read. if not to write. >> i would also argue that perhaps current events suggest that history may have a great deal to say to us about how to move forward. if not as a gps at least as a diagnostic guide. i would argue the enterprise itself has really been important. >> we'll take questions in a moment. let me ask ron, did -- has the
phenomenal success of hamilton made you approach biography any differently. >> when they performed the opening number of the show, i repeatedly told manuel miranda i would like to perform just once the opening number. he's not taking me up. i thought tonight was my chance. the committee really blew it. they could have asked me and i would have been happy. it's been interesting working with l with lynn because i remember when i started working with him, he came over to my house just a few months after i met him and sat down on my living room couch and starting snapping his fingers and saying how does a bastard orphan son in the middle
of the forgotten spot. he did the whole first song. changed my image, changed my life, but when he finished singing the song, he said to me, what do you think? i said i think it's the most amazing thing i've ever heard. you condensed the first 40 minutes accurately into a song. what i didn't say what i was certainly thinking was allied really tight or i ride very long. so it's been interesting because his powers of compression are absolutely fantastic. there's an epilogue in the show very similar to my epilogue in the book where you suddenly jump forward in time and have eli san antonio -- eliza as a widow. didn't do that to the end. that scene, i was wondering how
do you fast forward that way in a show so many years. he has eliza come out. i stopped wasting time on tears. i have another 50 years. that quickly he manages to not only establish the package of time, but establish her attitude towards the package of time. i learned a lot watching him in terms of he has an absolutely uncanny ability to repluck the character or a situation. i find sometimes writing grant i think what would lynn pull out of this. still be an 8 or 900 page book. seem to be encourageable about the length, but it was a useful exercise to work with someone who is a master of distillation in a way. >> one final question and quick question for each of you, you have somebody ready to carve
another portrait on mount rushmore. who should it be? >> annette? >> this means you're going to have to leave month cello. >> that's a tough one. >> i don't know about carving people on mount rushmore. >> good point. >> i put fdr and eleanor. >> a two for. >> if i had to pick people, that makes sense. if one must have. >> jackson people are popular. >> how about you? >> i'm tempted to say grant. i know prepublication of the book that's going to seem like a very big stretch to most of the people in the audience, but i must say this, you know, americans are probably the
single most written about and read about period of american history is the civil war, but americans are shockingly ignorant of reconstruction and what happened in reconstruction. and you can't understand testimony civil war without understanding reconstruction. you can't understand modern american politics without understanding what happened with reconstruction and grant was the figure. really, he was the figure after lincoln died who really kind of straddled those two worlds, the civil war and reconstruction. and i remember when i started the book reading shawn williams said between abraham lincoln and linden johnson, most important figure in african-american community was grant. as i've been doing the research
has been overwhelmingly vindicated. >> all right. >> seems like presidential biographies are so much more important and better received than biographies of any other americans. the people on mount rushmore have been well covered and the people on our money are well covered. as you think about your next book, of course you have thought about grant, john, you're thinking about your next book. is there a temptation that pull a david mccullen and john adams or harry truman. pull a coolage and try elevate them and become their advocate to give them more significance and prove all kinds of reasons why they belong up there? is that temptation as you evaluate your next book. >> talk about your next book.
>> there's a temptation to circle all the way back, is there somewhere in the conversation wlo is not there who should be. it's not my job -- i don't see it as part of my task to get people on rushmore or get them me moralized. if i write about you, you tend to get thrown off the currency. may not be good news for anybody if i'm writing about them. i'm pretty close to deciding you're right about dolly and james madison. part of it is that madison is one of the most important americans of the early republic who honestly i have a hard time imaging what it would be like to sit down and have dinner with him. one of the points of the biography is to bring a life back into being. mrs. madison helps enormously because you can sort of image that. to me, it's an interesting
mountain to climb because he had to -- i believe this. even in the democratic lower case d politics of the early republic, you had to be able to impress your personality on enough people in a significant puff way that james madison had to do that. to be a two-term president to have been secretary of state, to have been such a critical figure at the constitutional convention, when you read con item rare descriptions of someone like madison, you don't come away thinking that's the guy i want to go fishing with, but i think part of the mission if i do this is going to be figures out what was it about him. this was true of the bush book. what was it about him that put him in ultimate authority. and what did he do with it. so yes, you do want to find
someone. seems to me you want to find someone. grant is -- i'm not being me you sumphou presumption. lincoln gets a lot of folks. kennedy gets a lot of folks. that is part of my thinking. less to figure out a way to celebrate them, but i do believe in recovering them. >> yes, ma'am? >> actually, i have a whole bunch of questions. i would ask one little one to ron. i love the george washington book. i know how much research you did on that. i was reading a biography of washington and begins with the funeral and the effect it was having in france and england and how he was honored in those two
countries. is that true? >> it's interesting. the george washington has raeeay had a tremendous worldwide reputation. it was very interesting to me when the book was accomplished in england, i didn't know what the reception was. and the gist of so many of the reviews was, number one, extraordinary admiration that they have for washington. they had terribly mismanaged the relationship here. washington was a raging anglely file. commission in the regulator. he could have so easily been coopted to this global military routine that the british military had and they didn't. i think george washington, like abraham lincoln, is a figure who had become universal figure.
i think that is true. >> yes, sir? >> you guys write biographies for presidents. in the last few decades, the presidents themselves sometimes write their own auto biography, including bill clinton. these days, all the presidential candidates tend to write their own auto biography. my question is, how do you compare your works to the auto biography they write? >> let me say one thing, at least on the candidates books, we know -- we're pretty sure they haven't written them and we're not even sure they've read them in some cases. >> i had this when i started working on grant. grant pub lilished very famous
memoirs. a ran into a friend on the street who said to me how do you write a greet biography of someo wrote a great auto biography. the question taunted me. i'll mention this two-term presidency. sorry. small things like that, but i realized, it made me go back to memoirs and read them differently. i realized what my job was as a biographer was to talk about everything he didn't want to talk about. in the 1850s, he failed at one business venture after another to the point he was reduced to selling firewood on the street corners of st. louis. well, that kind of miserable four-year period of his life is skipped over in his memoirs in
two sentences so it was actually kind of useful to go back and to realize that of course when people write their memoirs, no matter how can ddid they appearo be, kind of covering a whole world of failure and misry and emphasizing quite understandably what they want history to remember them about. that's quite different from the job of presumably more objective b biographer studying their life. >> jefferson started a auto biography and ends it saying he's bored talking about himself. it was strictly a statement about his public life. he didn't think people should talk about your private lives. when asked to give the name of his grandchildren, he said why would people want to know my children's kids. they would be bored by that kind of thing. it's exactly as you say. you want to tell the things
people didn't want to say or people -- we don't see ourselves, our vision of ourselves is not the only thing. remember i talked about his sort of windish and story of burl. it's the people around him who actually give a picture of who this person was. who we are, we don't see ourselves in the same light as the people around us so that's what biographers bring to the mix. everything, not just the individual's perspective. >> we're about time out. annette, we'll give you the last word. we heard about ron's next book of grant. talk about your next project. >> my next project after the last biography of jefferson, i'm going back to the hemmings family. i'm working on another volume of that. and then i'm going to do a two volume biography of jefferson. he saying three. >> it's going to be three. >> we look forward to that as we
look forward to ron's and john's book. i want to thank you all for being here tonight and the panel li ists. well done, as always. >> thank you. >> well done today. >> pleasure. nicely done, ron. >> thank you very much. coming up next on american history tv, a look at the books collected and read by george washington throughout his life. that's followed by a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother sara and her relationship with members of her family. and later two historians sdrusz the process of writing presidential biographies.
100 years ago, president wilson signed the parks service. we look back at the caretakers of natural and historic places. we take you to national park service sites across the country as recorded by c span. at 7:00 p.m. eastern we're live from the national park certifies most visited historic home, arlington house, robert e lee memorial at arlington national cemetery. join us with your phone calls as we talk to former park service director and brandon buys, former site manager who will oversee the raestoration. thursday 100th anniversary of the national park service, live from arlington house at 7:00
p.m. history on american history tv on c span 3. >> tonight on american history tv in prime time, programs from our presidency series, which looks at the politics, policies and legacies of america's presidents and first ladies. we'll begin with two historians discussing the process of writing presidential biograp biographies. that's followed by a look at the books collected and read by george washington throughout his life. we round out the night with a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother sara and her relationship with the family. that's all tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on c span 3. >> next on the presidency, we'll hear from adrienne harrison discussing her book, "a powerful mind, the self education of
george washington." she talks about the george washington she discovered through the books she read. harrison is a former west point cadet who served three tours in iraq. the fred w smith library hosted this hour long event. >> good evening, ladies and gentlemen. for those of you who don't know me, my name is doug rad burn. i'm the founding director of the national library for the study of george washington at mount vernon. this is where you are. you're in the library. i like to welcome c span here as well tonight. this is our evening book talk. we're thankful to be sponsored by the ford motor company who have been long-time donors to the mount vernon association all
the way back to henry ford who kept it from burning down. that is what we like to see. the mansion right there maintained and managed by the mount vernon association since 1860. built before that by the washington family and expanded by none other than george washington. of course the mount vernon lady's association have maintained the property at the highest level of historic preservation so people everywhere can learn about the lessons and life of george washington and they've done this without taking any government money. they are privately funded institution and educational institution. and it's part of our mission to help people everywhere learn about the principles, the founding, and, of course, george washington's life. the topic tonight is perfect for what we do. we're really excited to have a special presented take for you tonight. today, please, with the mount vernon ladies, please welcome
adrienne harrison. doctor adrienne harrison. currently fellow battling leadership. she is a graduate of west point. she has been an assistant professor of american history at west point. she served for 12 years of commissioned officer in the u.s. army, including three combat tours in iraq. so she brings a certain amount of experience to this project, and i think she'll talk to you a little bit about how personal it is and how exciting it is for her to explore the life of george washington in this way. she's here tonight to talk about her great new book, a powerful mind, the self education of george washington, and she's doing what we like to try to do here at mount vernon, which make george washington into a human being. not the person who is just a mar
statue. we want to recognize he is a human who lived in the worlds. one of the great ways to get at the man of action is through his rea reading, through his mind. he's not often associated with those things and adrienne will talk much more about that. i did want to say after her talk tonight, we'll have a chance to have questions from the audience, my colleague mark, chief librarian and michelle lee, special collections librarian, have made a special effort to bring out some of the items from washington's library and have an opportunity to tour the vault and see george washington's books that we have here, in the holy of holy, you'll get a chance to get in there bli there blind the scenes, those of you able to stay a little later tonight. it's a special evening. should be an exciting one. everyone give a big hand for
adrienne harrison. [ applause ] >> good evening, everyone. it's a privilege to be here, especially in such a packed house. i wasn't expecting that so thank you for having me and for allowing me to indulge you in one of the biggest and all encompassing things i've ever done in my life. i should say just by way of introduction that when i was invited to give this talk about george washington's library, my book, it so happened that i was on facebook. everybody is on facebook these days pretty much. so when i was on facebook about the same day that i received the very kind invitation for this talk, i saw a suggested ad pop up in my news feed. you get those and it's like mark zuckerberg's minions are
figuring out what you want to purchase based on who you are, what your likes are, your friends and what they like. so as it happens, there was an ad that popped up for a clothing company called ranger of apparel. if you've never heard of it, it's a company that makes military themed t-shirts and sweatshirts for all the branches in the service. it was this particular ad in question that got my attention because it had a picture on it of george washington crossing the delaware extracted from the famous manual lloyd painting. underneath the printing it said one simple phrase, get some. and aside from the t-shirt itself was funny, but the tag line really caught any attention. quote, if you insult george washington in a dream you better wake up and apologize. total stud. it struck me when i saw this
because this is really why i wrote this book. this is how we think in these swaggering gi joe type terms. this is how we think about george washington. he seizes to be a real person to us. he is the myth. the guys in the painting reading the dedicated pat riots across the delaware to slay the inveigh dors and kill them or christmas morning. he's two dimensional, flat and removed from us. there has to be a way to make him a real person again. for me, this was something intensely personal story because i had an interest in washington going back to my childhood. it was something that stayed with me all through my schooling from elementary school age all the way up to undergraduate at west point, i did my thesis on
washington's tour of the south. it was something i carried with me after west point in the army. it was a moment that hit me when i was a brand new second lieutenant. i was 23 years old and in command of my first or leading my first platoon. so there i was. all army stories always start with the phrase so there i was. so there i was. a 23-year-old second lieutenant in the 82 airborne division in what was to become the first phase of operation iraqi freedom. i had the lives of 26 soldiers in my hands, as well as the lives of the soldiers that we transported to and from the back of the trucks to the different missions we were assigned. i was in baghdad where we ended up after the invasion and it struck me after one particular mission that we had. it was an air assault mission that went all night long.
after we got back, we narrowly invaded an up a.m. bush. we had to fight through traffic. it does not compare to what owe see over there. it was one of those experiences that you are just drained afterwards. it hit me, how did washington do this? how did he experience combat, armed conflict for the first time? i realize to you that may seem strange. here i am in iraq in 2003 and my mind randomly goes back to george washington. in an experience like that, everybody needs a bit of a mental escape. you need something at the end of each day, which is very long. the days and nights start to blend together, you need something that's going to get you through. kind of help you reset normally so you can face the next day. for me, it was reading. thanks to my generous family and friends and the extremely slow,
but reliable postal service, i had a steady stream of books sent to me. i would read a little each day and decompress for lack of a better term. one of my old thesis advisers from west point, a guy name rob mcdonald, sent me all the latest books on george washington. kept his example always before me, even though i was far removed from academia at that point. i was thinking about washington. how did he do this? although we were separated by more than two centuries, vastly different circumstances, there were some similarities. we were about the same age. i was a little bit older than he was when he led his first troops, but he and i both had very limited, almost no professional experience at that point when we were each given the opportunity to lead on our own for the first time. and so fundamentally, i thought our emotional response to having to lead soldiers and having to
give orders to people looking to us for direction most have been fundamentally the same on some lechl, but then the comparisons have to stop because reality comes back into play. i at least had the benefit of four years of west points education behind me. i had been taught the fundamentals of hau to lead people. i had extensive military trainings. i was an officer in the most powerful army in the world. i had all of that to under gerd my confidence where my experience wasn't there yet. washington had none of that. he was younger than me and he had fencing lessons. that was it. so no wonder, you know, when you look at my first experience compared to his, his actual execution of his first mission didn't go well. let's just say that, you know, after leading his troops bravely with all of the brashness of youth out into the wilderness and he picked the absolute worst
spot where you could possibly put a fortification. let me see if i can move the slides here for you. worst place ever. he goes to an open clearing in the woods. depressed higher ground around him, nothing, but trees and high grass. that's where he put his swarm. that wasn't going to go well. then he willfully went beyond the extent of his orders and attacked a party of frenchmen and diplomats and soldiers and started the seven-years war. his experience and mine were very different in that regard. so in that experience, we have the first thing -- the first lesson that he really learns as a person on the public stage. he found himself in a position where he didn't have the professional training or experience to set up the fortification he did. he didn't speak the language of his enemy at all. and he didn't have anybody with him who could.
so in this first fire fight thatdy sended into a massacre, he had no control when these poor frenchmen that had been most of them wounded or scared to death. when allies descended on them, they're pleading for their lives in french. washington couldn't speak french. he nad no one with him who could. he lost control. he vowed at that point he's not going to make the same mistakes again and he learned from that experience. i'm sure sure many of you are no doubt aware of his biography so i won't belabor it. there was nothing about him at that point that said future father of the nation. nothing about that at all, but as he reversed his fortunes in the seven years war, he was charged with leading the officers as well as the soldiers. in 1955 he said something
prophetic. having no opportunity to learn from example, let us read. he was a part -- he was exposed in the british army and that war to the professionalization of reading. you read to gain the knowledge, the background requisite knowledge to go out there and put it into execution. he didn't have the benefit of a formal education, but he was going to go out there and do the best he could and expected his officers to do is same. so that was something that stuck with me. this idea of he was plucky as a leader. he figured out what he needed to do and he was able to come back from it. that was something as a young officer myself, even though i had more of an education, much more of an education than he had, was something i took to heart and tried to instill in my officers, but this question of how did he do it? how did he turn into what james thomas would later called the indispensable man? there's a part of his legacy why we remember him as being the
steely eyed general on the white charger or the first president in the portraits. there's a reason we remember him that way. what is it? there's more to it than just he was aal guy w atall guy who loo in a uniform and was in the the right place at the right time. i carried this question with me to graduate school. i got to go back to school after three combat tours and i was going to make my mark on the world. i went to my adviser and i said i have an idea for a dissertation. i want to write about how george washington fashioned himself and he said that's a terrible idea. it's a horrible idea. because the challenge facing and apart -- there's a grain of truth in what he was saying. the challenge facing any washington historian today is what else is there to say about this man? he's one of the most studied men in history. not just american history, but the world history or you travel anywhere else, any other
country, you're going to go to a bookstore and find something on george washington there. what else is different. i was told to go back to the drawing board and try again. i was undaunted. i kept this idea. i was going to figure out a way to convince him this was a viable project, i was set. it was a different grad school course that i was exposed to this book called reading revolutions by kevin sharp and it is about the politics of reading in early modern england and focuses on a guy named sir william drake who during the previous century prior to washington's life he was a political operative who learned the art and science of being a public figure and a political figure through reading. and it was something about what sharp had argued that in talking about drake, sharp said that reading is essentially something that is political, and it is specific to times and places.
and we think about our own reading, that's pretty much true for all of us, right? our predilections, our beliefs inform how we receive the things that we read, whether you're conservative, liberal, religious, not, doesn't matter. it somehow will inform the way you receive things. and also sharp put forth the idea that reading is useful. reading is practical. so i thought about that. i thought about a different book about washington by historian named paul longmore who wrote the book the invention of george washington and in that i found an opportunity because paul longmore included in an appendix to his book about washington's reading. and this was something that, you know, longmore basically says that washington the reader was practical, but not really all that bright. he's not that much of an intellectual. the appendix itself talks about the main topics that you'll find in washington's library, and
sums it up by saying he's not that much of an intellectual and left it at that. for me, for longmore, it was my opportunity, what i viewed as his short fall and i'm sure if he was here, he would argue with me. but that's the fun of being a historian, we debate things, that for me, taking the -- what sharp had said about reading being political and reading being relative to a moment, and being practical knowledge that you can apply to your specific tasks in front of you, with the ball that i viewed longmore had ingloriously dropped. there was my opportunity for the dissertation. i wanted to look at washington, how he did it, how he did this self-fashioning, this self-presentation through looking at his reading. and that was something that aside from longmore, you won't find a whole lot of biographies that talk about it to any great extent and most tend to be dismissive of his reading efforts. because he is not something that we see. we remember the guy on the charger, right, like we remember the statue or the painting, and,
here the books are even -- they're under the table. like he's not touching them, he's not looking at them. it looks like he would rather not if you look at the expression on washington's face, right? he's been there, done that, i'm over it. so really -- that was my idea, i was able to sell that to my adviser, but the next question for me was how do you approach that? so washington's library, so what, what do you do about it? well, i looked at -- i started with the 1799 inventory that was made as part of the estate inventory required by law when he passed away. and when he passed away there were over 900 volumes, 1200 different works in the library, everything ranging from history to military science to religion to maps, political pamphlets and the like. and so, okay, 900 volumes, that's a lot. so of that, what did he read?
had you think about it, think about yourselves and your own book shelves, whether or not you have real book shelves, if you like to read real books like i do or the nook or the kindle or the ipad experience, we all probably have books on our shelves that we have never read, right. that thing you pick up in the bookstore that you think looks fascinating and never get to it or the book that some well intentioned person gave to you as a gift and you're, like, thanks, i'll treasure that, as you consign it to the shelf never to be touched again. baring that in mind about ourselves, books will tell you on the spines on the shelf will tell you something about who you are. right. take me, for example, my shelves are almost all history. i'm a historian. right. that's what i enjoy. and so you'll find almost all history, not a science fiction title on there. right. that's just me. it will tell you something about your priorities. again, mine are history because i'm trying to make a living out
of it. and i have 99% history, less than 1% anything else. and so if that's true of -- i think the same you can probably apply to yourself. if that's true for us, why would that be different for washington? i looked at what is on his shelf, a cursory look, the longmore approach, what is it that is on his shelves? what is there and what's not there? because what's not there is also telling, right. so what is there? a lot of history, politics, military, agriculture, all the things that washington did in his life, what jumps off the shelves at you, what's not there, literature. washington was not a man who read for pleasure. he had no time for that. none whatsoever. and, you know, maybe it wasn't all that interested in it either or he would have made time for it. so that by itself is telling and there is information we can get from that, conclusions we can draw. but then how do you get further?
i had to have a method, that's what i want to spend the rest of my time talking to you about, i'm pretty confident you are mostly all versed in his biography so i won't go on and on. but my method, so i looked at the volumes and, all right, what do we know? we know that washington didn't read, write, speak or understand any language other than english. he couldn't. so anything that was printed in a foreign language i excluded for the purposes of my study. now, for things like don quiote that he had an english translation of, that's good because he got a copy. english translations are different, i took those with a grain of salt, maybe he did read them. so that was easy, right? i got to pair it down further. that's where it gets hard. washington didn't really talk about reading. he rarely referred or recommended reading to other people. he made few literary illusions in his writings and speeches. so how do we know what he read
and what he didn't? well, you approach the idea of book ownership itself and what does that mean? books in the 18th century are luxury items, expensive, they're hard to come by, especially in virginia. even in williamsburg, there is a printing press down there, a post office, but it is not a book bindery, don't do a lot of book importing. washington has to order his books if he wants them for the most part during the colonial period. he's got to order them from england. so, all right, if he took the time to order it, and specifically order a certain title, or addition, that means he intended to use it. i'm just going to make that assumption. because he's not going to line his shelves with unread classics. he never invited anybody into his study at mount vernon, ever. so he wasn't trying to put together a nice looking book shelf to impress. so books are expensive, hard to come by. if he ordered it, he was going to read it. another assumption i made is for the books he owned that were clearly his, i had to separate
what was his from what belonged to the rest of the people in his household because in 1799, the law was that estate inventory accounted everything in the house, even the residents that were still alive. so other relatives that had lived there or was on extended stay were also counted. if it had the markings of ownership of someone else, martha's signature, anything about women's literature, i just assumed washington didn't have time for that. and set that aside. so i narrow the list further. and for his books, there are 397 volumes that have either his signature, his book plate or both in them. so you look at his signatures and if you go on the tour later this evening, you'll be able to see an example of this in -- right in front of you. his signatures are meticulous. even though he wrote with a quill pen of varying qualities over time, there is not an inch
smudge, not an inkblot anywhere out of place. this is very carefully done. his book plates where they're affixed are perfectly centered in the middle of the page. they weren't haphazardly kind of slapped on there with too much paste. this was done deliberately and with care. if he's taking the time to do that and putting the mark of ownership on it, then, again, that was something important to him. there are other books in there, particularly a lot of the ones he was gifted over the years of his celebrity after the revolution and during his presidency and beyond that the gifted books don't have -- they don't all have marks of ownership in them. we know they were his because they came with a letter in his published paper saying this was sent to him by so and so. if he didn't bother to do that, odds are he may not have even touched it. it could be something that one of his secretaries liked to buy and put on a shelf for him. so i narrowed it down by looking at that. now i got a smaller list. so, okay, now this is approachable. now what to do with that
information. i had a choice to make. i could either take a thematic approach and look at the different subjects that were in the library, kind of taking what longmore had started that i told you about, and, you know, kind of carry that on and go into more depth. i could do that. or i could take a chronological approach. for me, i decided after doing some research and figuring out how and when he acquired these books over time that i was going to do the chronological thing because in order to make sense of what washington read and why, i needed to put him in the context of the wider world that he lived in. because he's not someone who left a ton of marginal notes, only a handful of books we know of that have his writing in them. he's not someone who referred to -- he didn't quote things verbatim in his writing, so i had to be able to connect some more of the dots. so contextualizing him made the difference. i was able to see using the
inconvenient toirz of tventoriee over time, beginning in 1759 when he made martha and was taking over the custis estate and overadministering that and took possession of the custis library and divvied it up for himself and his stepson, i had that inventory, one made in 1783, at his request by lund washington, his cousin and estate manager here at mount vernon. i had hto compare against that jackie custis when he dies of typhoid. an estate inventory was done there. i could balance that against the washington collection to make sure what was his, because he lived here at one point own what was his stepfather's. and then i had the inventory that was done in 1799, that's also a good one. and then to get further at this, to use as a guide, i had the auction catalogs from when the washington library went up for
sale around the time of the civil war when the family -- when the descendants went bankrupt. because when those books went for auction, anything to do with washington was worth money. but anything with his signature, his handwriting was worth that much more. and people even then were pretty good at picking out the fakes. the fake book plates, and so it was in everybody's interest to make sure that this was right and so the auction catalog shows which specific volumes had signatures in them, which had mother nall notes in them, when it other people's signatures in them, any sort of other notes that may have come with the book if the book was given to him. for example, some of the religious books that came to his mother said belonged to mary ball washington, given to her son on his -- on her death. had notes like that. and the guy who compiled it, guy by name of p.c. appleton griffin. that was my handbook going through the process.
was able to help me find where washington's books were so i could see them for myself. so i had a framework, and i had to go about now figuring out let's put the -- let's put the books with the context of what he was doing. and in that i learned something -- i learned a lot of things about the practicality of what he was doing. so, for example, if you want to find washington's books now, besides what is here in this library or the library of congress, some are cscattered al over the place, but the biggest concentration is in boston at the boston atheneum. the members there pulled their resources together when the big auction was going to happen, and they tried to collect as many of washington's volumes as they could. they thought it was a shame this was all going to be split up and we would lose track of them for posterity. i had the catalog and went to boston. and i was actually given, after many permissions, and archivists
watching me like a hawk to make sure i didn't pocket the books that were worth a lot of money, i got to handle washington's real books that they have. and i'll give you a quick example of the relativism of them. so i was reading this one book by gilbert burnett, called an expo significan ex exposition about the church of england, how it is organized. it is a church history and church structure book. i know about when washington came to possess this book, in the early 1760s, and so i'm reading this book and it has his signature on it and really his book plate and really nothing else there. and i'm reading it. and it is dry. and i couldn't find anything that was relevant that washington would have used. i'm trying to approach each book as washington would have read it, like what is it he's going to get from this, he's going to
put into immediate use. that seems to be what he's done with the things that we definitely know about. i'm approaching this book and reading it and i'm not getting anything. i'm, like, oh, man, i made a mistake. i started to have like a panic attack, the whole thing is going to fall apart. i turn the page, i'm only a third of the way through this book, i turn the page, keep going. and i see two glorious big thumb prints in the margins of the book that much bigger than mine, clearly belonged to hands much bigger than mine, they were smudges and they were perfect. it was as if somebody was holding the book up to the light of either the window, a candle, maybe fire light, and, you know, as meticulous as washington was about book ownership, in the -- the oils on your hands, ink stains, smudges, dirt, people didn't wash their hands as much in 18th century. pretty easy to smudge a page of one of those old books. and with the nature of the parchment they're printed on. i'm looking at the thumb prints.
i can't prove they're exactly his, but to me it was, like, all right, these are here for a reason. somebody thought this page was interesting because they were gripping it. i was reading what was on the page and it was about the organization of bishops and diocese within the church of england. when i put it into context at the time when washington might have read this book, he was in the house of burgesses, about paying the salaries of parish priests in the established church of england here in virginia and debating, hot and heavy debate about whether or not virginia should petition the archbishop of cantebury. so it would have been useful for washington. my theory seems to be holding weight. so i persevered. so when it comes to organization of the book, how did a approach it, knowing that's the kind of
method of how i went at it. how did i write the book going in a chronological method. i broke the chapters down into periods of time where there are certain transformational things that happened to him. starting out with his formative years, how did he enter into public life, what were some of the first things he read and why, and i was trying to chart as i broke the chapters down how his reading interests changed over time. because even though he starts out reading some military science, things like caesar's xhen ta commentaries, as soon as the war is over, he sets that stuff aside, he doesn't read it anymore, not until he's going to be a commanding general. he turns his interest to other things. what is it that was going on in his life that contributed to this change of interest that he suddenly found the military boring. wasn't enthralling anymore, where as before it suddenly was hugely important to him, now it is not. so i broke it down, i looked at it, he had moments where things would change. where things -- circumstances in his life would change, things
would happen, new opportunities would open up. so first chapter kind of concludes with the end of the seven years war where he knows once and for all there is no british commission waiting for him. it is never going to happen. so he's done. he's done with the military at that point. he's going to turn his attentions to being the planter, the leader of colonial society. he married martha, he's now in the top stratosphere, so he's got to know what he's talking about, now he's a burgess and a vestry man. politics, history, religion are all important to him. as we get closer to the american revolution, he's a leading revolutionary and that i am of the opinion that ideologically he's more committed to the idea of independence earlier on than some of his fellow founding fathers. he does that leap faster than benjamin franklin does, for example. but when it becomes clear that he's going to be the commanding general of the continental army, like, uh-oh, i don't know anything about leading an army. much less build one from the
ground up. so there is actually records in his papers that say -- that show he commissioned book buying agents in new york and philadelphia to go buy up every military book they can find, everything. so he was buying field manuals, things we would give today, we would give lieutenants and sergeants to read, he's reading them as a general and gets the order of merit list of the british army so he knows who his adversaries are going to be. he reads military science on the fly as he's establishing continental army practices doctrine throughout the war, making time for it where he can, but then there is the political problem of the war. how do you get soldiers to join the military and stay in. perennial recruiting question. now we don't worry about their pay anymore. thankfully i never worried about that. back then they had to. why would you join that army? you're not going to do it for pay, you're not going to do it for any sort of immediate benefit. you're not going to have shoes. you're not going to be well equipped or well fed. but please join up and stay in.
so how do you do that? right? he starts using political pamphlets. he has thomas paine traveling with him in the continental army. that's when the american crisis is penned. and has it read out to his troops. he starts collecting things like printed sermons. he used these sermons in messages to his troops, he required his troops go to divine service as he called it every sunday where they would hear these types of sermons that would reiterate from a different angle the reason why this cause was viable, why they should stay in and continue to serve. he starts to leverage these sermons, popular media for lack of a better term to his advantage as a leader. he's starting to learn how to harness the power of the printed word. and that's something that really comes into play after the revolution, between the confederation period and his presidency where now there is an interest in him personally, but there is an interest in what is going to happen to this
confederation, government that wasn't really going that well. he starts advising people on how to pick boiiographiers and how commemorate the great occasion of the war and what it says about the american future and how the history is told. we have letters where he's telling lafayette, advising him what he should do. so we see he's starting to use books and media and print in a way that before was about getting the knowledge that is already there on the page. now he's trying to start control the message a little bit. so that was kind of an interesting maturation of washington's intellectual use of reading. and as president, he faced a unique challenge. right. who could imagine being the first president, a lot of people don't want to be president now. i mean, look at the current election. and the way that's shaping up. whatever your leanings are.
imagine being washington, you have to be first. how do you do that? how do you establish the legitimacy of this office that you're in, of this government under this new constitution that not everybody was on board with, how do you do that? that was all on him. people wrote, if you read the section of the constitution about the presidency, it is written with him in mind. but he had to make that into something that was legitimate, something that was authoritative and sustainable. he was setting the precedence for all that would come after him and he knew that. so, again, how does he do it? well, i mean, he chose to use public ceremony, he goes on tours, very carefully choreographed eed appearances, he's charting this path. he's that kind of bridge and he's using ceremony to do it.
okay. that's a way. right. but as any good politician knows you have to know how the people think about what you're doing. and so he had to figure that out. now, in the 1790s, there is no opinion polls, none of that, media moves slow, so how do you figure it out? of course, he had newspapers. newspapers proliferated after the war ended. but during washington's administration, the media started to -- some media outlets, some newspaper outlets started to turn against him and started to turn against not just his administration, but they turned against him personally. and that was something that was really difficult to take. so philip's national gazette were attacking him as an individual, attacking his family, and that was something really couldn't take. so he distrusts the newspapers. okay, if you're washington, you're doing this thing, you're doing your job, you don't know how people think, you can't trust the newspapers, where else
can you look to gauge public opinion? well, he looks back to what he had done in the revolution. printed sermons. printed sermons were a way to gauge the way that people were responding in these smaller american communities, a way from the cities, away from the newspapers where the stories were being written and reprinted over and over again. because ministers at the time very much were voices of their community. and the pulpits, even when the american revolution ended, the pulpits didn't cease to be politicized. they were still talking about politics. and so you see in washington's collection, he starts amassing all of these printed sermons that cover in one way, shape or form, almost every policy his administration had anything to do with, everything from the ex-ize tax on washington to the citizen jenay affair, to whether we get into the war with the side of england or france. some are favorable, some are unfavorable, but more in his opinion and i think they were more balanced than what he was
getting from the newspapers. so it was a way to see how people in all different reaches of these new united states were reacting to his presidential performance, so to speak. so then i moved on. and i concerned myself with the library, the physical structure of the library. and what is that -- what does that tell us about what washington was doing in his approach to reading? so having looked at the reading that he had done in his life, and how his interests changed over time, there is the kind of, okay, well, where? and what do we get out of that? we know a couple of things. we know after he retired from the presidency and came back here to mount vernon for his final retirement, he was very concerned about what people would think about him and his legacy long after he was gong. like all the founders, he knew there would be an enduring interest in him and everything he did long after his death. so he made an attempt to shape
the record. he made plans for the construction of a separate building here at mount vernon that was going to be the receptical for not just his books, but also his papers. and all of the copies of the different acts of congress, supreme court decisions, any sort of presidential proclamations, everything from the governments that he led and the army that he led, he was asking his former cabinet officers still at the capital serving in the adams administration to send him copies of it. he was completing the recordpos. we would see his books and his papers but then the official record. you see what's there. but, again, i return to the idea of what was not there. those newspapers. those newspapers that he didn't trust, you won't find those in washington's catalog. he didn't keep them.
he kept the sermons that were not all together complementary of his policies. but the newspapers he doesn't. so maybe he got rid of them himself. philip furno never stopped sending him a few copies every day of his own paper. maybe washington in a fit of rage tossed them, got rid of them. another theory i heard some anecdotal evidence of is that martha couldn't bear to have her husband read this stuff, so she burned them. we don't know exactly. we know they're not there. so that's i think a telling moment about washington's life and what he expected people to think of him. he had a vested interest. he understood that books and print and media were powerful things. were powerful things that would inform not just how people thought about him, but also what people would think about the efforts he -- his public service
and the country he helped to establish and that he fervently hoped would succeed and survive. so sadly he passed away before any of that building every happened. we don't know. it would have come out to be really essentially the nation's first presidential library. too bad it didn't get built. would have made this place look very different. but that's okay. it is coming along now. but then there is the study within mount vernon. that was a part of washington's expansion project of the mansion begun in 1774. it was -- it is on -- i'm sure most of you if not all of you have been through the mansion on the tour, so you're familiar with where the room is located underneath the master bedroom suite on the second floor. there is a private staircase that connects that bedroom with the study below and washington's dressing room was off the library, martha's was on the second floor. even the location of that
library within the house is telling, i think, about washington's attitude towards reading his need for concentration, his need for privacy, because he didn't want people to see that he was studying, reading as much as he was, and he didn't want to get drawn into intellectual conversations he didn't feel prepared for. remember, he's the guy that has to lead the founding fathers and not in the same league, he knows he's not really in the same league by qualifications as guys like jefferson, adams, randolph, all the rest of them. he didn't want to get sucked into those conversations so the library stayed hidden. there is no hallway. you go through a series of doors on the first floor to get to it. it was a room that his step grandson who was raised here said no one entered without permission. visitors to mount vernon never set foot in the library. they would be provided an assortment of newspapers and books and magazines for their amusement, but never alued to go
in there and pluck a book off the shelf and plop down and discuss it with the great man. that wasn't going to happen. so everything about that room, the placement, the design of it says this was something that was for him. if you look at the furnishings in that room, it is very sparsely furnished. but when you look at him, it was a sparsely furnished work space for a neatly ordered mind. this was a place for him to work, he would go there every morning before dawn, he was up before everybody else, he would return there for several hours in the afternoon and then again in the evening before retiring. he would do everything in there from his reading to sorting through his accounts and managing his estates to catching up on his correspondence. that was his private space that meant a great deal to him. so between the placement of the room, and the way it was furnished, reading his approach to it, whether talking about a book, letter, whatever the case may be was something that was intensely private for him.
because when you look at his life, he was always conscious of what he called his defective education. and so he did not. that was his achilles heel. what great leaders can do is they know how to present themselves in a way that magnifies and plays to their strengths and mitigates or minimizes their weaknesses. it does no good for anybody else around washington and working with him or serving with him to see his flaws, his nervousness, the fact that he always felt overawed to an extent about the responsibility he bore. what good would that are done. what kind of confidence would that have inspired. he was always in uncharted waters. he had to give off the air of confiden confidence. you minimize that. you don't show you're trying to catch up on all the latest military doctrine so you can build an army.
that's not good. the commanding general out there with a book. all right, guys, line up there. not what you want to see, a leader unsure of themselves. this was something in his interests to keep private. it was in his interests personally. in his interests professionally. so in the end, what is the so what of all of this? this project? what did we learn from this? what did i learn? and what do i hope you if you read this book will learn from it? i think it teaches us that washington was a real person. this is a humanizing book. this is a way to get into his mind in a way that other biographers who tended to rely on the kind of image of washington, the iconic image of him being mounted on the white charger or standing up there, you know, kind of in total command of himself, a lot of his greatness is just assumed. people don't -- never before looked at that dimension of how
he made himself -- how he fashioned himself and his legacy. people have talked about his ascendancy through connections, and powerful relationships, the fact he was in some -- in a lot of cases in the right place at the right time or as benjamin franklin quipped when he was being nominated to command the continental army, he's the tallest man in the room, he's bound to lead something. right. there is that element to it, right. he's in the right place at the right time. he had the right qualifications for that, in that hes with a native born american with military experience. like check, check, check. but beyond that, he had to have done something else. i think reading is that practical, deliberate, immediate reading helped him prepare for and deal with the responsibilities that he had in different parts of his life, whether that was here at mountain vernon as the innovative farmer trying to get
out from the debt of tobacco planting and diminishing returns, to being the military officer, to being a political leader, reading is kind of how he did that. so i think we see the human washington. we see washington with nerves. we don't think of washington being nervous about anything. right. he's there. he's in command of himself. and that's all there is to it. he's steely eyed and he's ready to take on whatever comes at him. but he was a real person with real anxieties, just as we all are when we take on new positions, whether it is, you know, in whatever it is we choose to do in our public or private lives. he was just like us. he was real. he had flaws. he had vulnerabilities. but he had strengths and he knew how to play to them. and this reading program that he had helped play to those strengths. it shored up, gave him the security, gave him the knowledge he needed to be able to do what he did, which was improbable. everything about what he
accomplished in his life, nothing said father of the country. nothing. but somehow he did it. i think that's that we learned from it. had here is a look at the real person. this thing that had been overlooked for all these years, the library right here under everybody's nose the whole time. with that, i thank you and welcome your questions. [ applause ] >> okay, we're going to open it up for questions. i want everybody to wait for the mikes to come. we're recording this, of course, for c-span. but we also have a lot of people in the overflow room. want them to be able to hear what the brilliant questions. i told her you're the best audience in the country, you have to live up to it. i want to correct one thing on the record. this design for this building is exactly what george washington had in mind. >> it really was in the planning -- >> on a sheaf of paper, there it
was, all laid out. who wants to be first up? >> do you have any clues about what first book he read as a teen or in his teens and secondly, if you want to learn about, you know, agriculture or whiskey, how do you order books from overseas? do you just -- you can't buy all the books available, how do you -- how did he ask somebody to select the right books for him? >> sure. great question, thank you. well, first of all, as far as the first book that he purchased, we all know about the rules of civility and the fact that as a teenager he copied out all the rules by hand committing them to memory, but the first book he purchased was called a panagyric to the duke of schaumburg. sounds like something that would fly off the shelves. it was a printed eulogy who was eulogized, he was a hugh naut
military leader who had some acclaim over in europe, and the eulogy, washington bought it, and it is interesting when you read it, because it describes a lot of the qualities that frederick had, where exactly what washington had forged himself into being, someone who was a leader of character, someone who had physical bravery, someone who took duties seriously, who valued virtue, who valued disinterestedness. it seems like washington bought this book. we know he bought it when he was 14 years old, something he took to heart. by the way he did it, by the way he went about it throughout the rest of his life. the second part of your question, how he went about finding certain titles. some of it we can kind of discern through his letters that he exchanged with friends and neighbors about certain things like for farming. there is a book that one of the few examples that we have of his marginal notes being a book called due hamill's husbandry,
book of agriculture. he heard of this book presumably from someone, no written document about that that i've ever seen. but he writes to his agent robert carrie in london and asks for that title and a certain edition. so he's heard about this from somewhere. if you're in a city like new york or boston or philadelphia, there are lists of what is out, what you can order, but in a place like this, where you're removed from all of that, it relies on word of mouth or written recommendations. so things like that, agriculture you find him asking for specific titles because it was something he felt very confident talking about. >> just a quick question. as i understand it, he did attend school until his father died when he was about 11 or so. but did you find anything
interesting in the schooling that he did receive up to that point, like must have had some mathematics with surveying or whatever, but was that helpful? >> sure. yeah, it was. we know that washington was educated up to today. and it would be like late elementary school, maybe middle school level. when he lived with his half brother lawrence he had a private tutor. he was instructed in the fundamentals of the three rs, so to speak. we know looking at his school boy commonplace books he had a clear gift for mathematics. he seemed to take to it quite well. he has very neat sums and math problems written out that you can see him learning and applying this knowledge. but a lot of that -- a lot of that knowledge, particularly with regard to math, he learned on the practical level when he decided to pursue an early
career in surveying. he borrowed a surveying book from his mentor, colonel fairfax and had his father's old surveying instruments and started surveying the farm that he grew up on. and kind of practiced. we had early surveys down where you can see them getting better and better at it as he applied himself. so it was a little bit of the formal schooling, gave him the fundamentals, a lot of it was really self-taught after that. >> in your research, was there a particular topic or topical area that george washington seemed the most focused on? >> i would say the agriculture is where you see him the most focused on, where he's the happiest, i think, as a reader. it is where you see him applying himself as a student.
i mentioned due hamill's husbandry is one book. he entered into the 1780s, he entered into a correspondence with some english agricultural reformers and subscribes to their books coming out and he takes what we have in his marginal notes is washington's efforts to take these books that are written overseas, and do the conversion math to make french measurements match, you know, virgin virginia. we're not metric. americans have always rejected european measurements, even back then. so you see him making that effort and you can match that with his journals here. he keeps very much a farmer's journal where he does all the agricultural experiments and directly applying it. and it is very neat. it is very deliberate. and he does things, besides the farming, he innovates, he builds that unique 16-sided barn, the thrushing barn, all ideas he puts together and there is evidence of these different agricultural books he has where he's taking notes.
he makes himself field manuals that he takes out with him. he's not going to take the expensive book into the field. that's crazy. what if he drops it in some manure? he makes himself copies of the passages word for word that are applicable and takes them out to the field and he's pulling ideas from the different books, the way that students would now if they're pursuing some sort of a project, experimental project. that's where you see his passion come through the most. >> if those of you that are going to do the tour afterward, we pulled out one of the -- exactly what adrienne is speaking of, notes that washington made on varlow and husbandry. and varlow visited mount vernon in the 80s. i saw a gentleman up here. yes. >> thank you. if you go to the bookstore in front of ford's theater, you'll see they stack up all the books on lincoln. several floors.
you mentioned how washington has also been severely studied. i want to thank you, first, for your perseverance. and actually fighting to eventually come to what your thesis was about and obviously tonight we all benefited. you mentioned the importance that washington placed on relationships. and it seems that he -- they were important to him and he read for military reasons, political reasons and basically to persevere. while you also mentioned he never shared what he read. he kept close to the vest what he read. but did he ever inquire -- did you ever find any evidence of him inquiring what jefferson read or what adams read or what others read and did that, if so, did that influence his? i want to add one last question since you mentioned the
political election. the presidential election. what would all of the candidates need to know about washington today? >> well, i think they need to know who he is, for starters. and what he did. because i think that's a little iffy depending which candidate we're talking about. so that's the answer to -- the short answer to your second question. as for the first question about whether or not he corresponded with any other founders about specific reading, you don't find that. you don't find him asking, especially guys like jefferson or adams about what they wrote. these guys are university trained scholars, attorneys, for them, reading is something that they were trained to do. these are they're class inicall educated men who are just on -- their way of going about things is on a completely different level and purposes for some extent.
so for that you don't find washington soliciting advice from them. where you do see him asking for advice is as a younger man, certainly about the military science, he's asking his mentor colonel fairfax as i mentioned. he would have talked to general braddock that he served under as a staff officer. and he was exposed to that. i think he was -- if he wasn't asking the questions, he was certainly hearing the conversations about reading and he was picking up on it. but otherwise, he really doesn't -- i think he -- he tended to steer clear of the more philosophical conversations and stayed with those that he felt very comfortable weighing in on. because if he said, hey, you know what do you think about -- can you recommend me a book about, you know, political philosophy of voltaire, because he hassle have tare le havvolta library, that could lead him down a rabbit hole he couldn't get out of. as a matter of fact, i have and what did you think about this passage? did you read thomas hobbs
instead and what did he think about it? that's something washington doesn't feel comfortable doing. it is the practical things he's asking about. >> you talked about his political books he was looking for. is there a track of those books that led to the ability that he gained to find the right people and the right organization to run the government? >> you mean, in terms of setting up a presidential cabinet and that kind of thing? no. there really isn't. setting up -- finding a good team of advisers was something that washington learned how to do kind of through experience. he does this during the revolution. he has that he calls his military family his aides and top commanders. he learned that through, you know, kind of through his experiences in the previous war
and his inexperience in this one, he was not good at personal command at the outset. 1776 is the lowest moment in his command. he personally takes over the defense of new york and it is a disaster. and they almost lost the war. so he learned the value as something he had applied before, but strayed from, but returns to of having dissenting opinions. he would throw out an idea and get the opinions of those around him, whether they were his subordinate commanders or cabinet officers during his presidency. he would throw out an idea, he would listen to that they would have to say, respecting the fact that they were often more qualified for his position than he was. he would listen to their opinions, but knew it was his job to weigh in with a decision. he took his time. he made deliberate decisions. that's something that jefferson would deride washington as having -- he had a powerful mind, but it was not of the first order. he was slow in making decisions and this is why.
the play on words i put on the title. but that's not really coming from example. that's a reading example. that's coming from experience. but certainly english history would show him that kings always had counsels. there was a counsel. the parliamentary structure. he -- washington as well as nearly every other american was -- that was a colonial was well versed in english history and proud of it, proud of the english constitution. that was something that valued -- you had a head of state, but the head of state had advisers. that's something he's very much tapping into, that british example. >> in your research, did you find that he had a lot of books on british and military tactics. or did he learn enough in the virginia militia under braddock. and where did he get the idea, the strategy of it didn't have to win the revolution, just had
to outlast the british and make him spend a lot of money and men and then he could win it that way? which seems sort of unusual for the time. >> yeah, it certainly is unusual. you're absolutely right. again, we have the intersection of experience with his reading. his -- most of the military reading was british. or english translations of some french texts. the english army and the french army were the most powerful in the world, so look no further. and he had some stuff by frederick the great as well, the big staff organizer of the day. so he's using all of that, and what he learns immediately from his military reading is how unprepared he is for this and how unprepared not just him, but the organization that he led. he had two officers with experience, charles lee and horatio gates and that's it. all the rest of them were henry knox's -- a book seller who liked artillery. he read books, sounds good.
he can do it. he's good at plucking out people with potential. but he doesn't have a lot of experience. so he reads these british manuals, he knows from the practical experience of being with the british army, listening to those officers talk about their reading about grand strategy and how you go about winning wars, particularly continental wars, that what is expected of him is -- of any general is a decisive win. you don't want to have the long protracted war. like, that's not glorious. you want to have one big battle that decides everything, and then you surrender or win with honor and everybody goes home. short of that, if you can't have the one battle, you capture the enemy's capital. those are the with ways you win wars. with washington, he tries the big battle in new york and it is -- it fails miserably. not only was he not really prepared for that task, but he had nothing to work with. imagine defending new york city, you have manhattan, you have
brooklyn heights, long island, you have staten island out there that is just, you know, doesn't really need to be defended, but it is there, you have to consider it. you have two rivers and a huge navigable harbor that could hold all the royal navy. how do you defend that? he militia guys from massachusetts and new england and no navy to speak of. so he's not dealt a good deck to play with. and he tries the big battle and he and his army fail. and so he learns that -- he's smart enough politically to know that the british don't want this to go on forever. he doesn't want it to go on forever either. but the british have less of a stomach for if because they already have a massive war debt left from the last war, from the seven years war, they're still paying off. they're not going to want this to go on. the british people are largely either indifferent or really not in favor of waging an expensive war against people that are largely related to them.
so it is not in their british interest to keep this going forever. he figures all he has to do is survive. he goes against the grain of what is expected. i think what the reading does is it shows him where his short falls are, and his own lack of an education keeps him humble enough that although he wants to be seen as an -- and needs to be seen as that big commanding general worthy of the title, worthy of the rank, he can't do it. so he has to do what is necessary in order to survive. has no other choice. if he had that big military education that all his british counterparts had, it would have been harder for him, who -- he's aggressive by nature. he wants that big battle. he wants to do it so badly. would have been so much harder for him to see it if he had that education behind him because i think it would have -- it potentially blinded him as to what his army's weaknesses were. you would think the knowledge would take him all the way.
so it was kind of a weakness and a strength in the end. it worked out. >> as a military field commander yourself, i wonder if you could say more about the tactical literature he read and how well the lessons that he was able to absorb from literature matched any of his battle plans or thinking. >> well, to give you a quick example, so when washington took over the army in cambridge after being appointed commander in chief, he's a virginian going up north, that far north, he had been to boston before, but this is the first time encountering these troops. and what he saw horrified him. he called new englanders an exceedingly dirty and nasty people. he was horrified by the fact, also, that they elected their own officers. that's completely different from
the world that he came from, where, you know, your connections, your birth and your connections got you to your position. so he has to restructure this. and so what you see him in him reading the field manuals, things that i said earlier are directed at lieutenants and sergeants to read, he starts rewriting or writing for the first time, i should say, the doctrine about how to do fundamental things about how to keep accountability of your soldiers and equipment, how to keep the camp clean and sterile so that, you know, you don't want to have open latrines near sources of water, things like that are kind of the first -- the immediate application of that knowledge. and in terms of his strategy, he's relying -- the grand strategy he's got big ideas that he would have gotten kind of his knowledge, british military history and those exploits that probably somebody got from reading things, you know, like caesar's commentaries and those -- and humphrey's treatise on military discipline which
addresses the army at all levels. that's, again, a blend of his reading and his goals and knowing what the expectations were on both sides. he's always aware of that. he's always aware of the fact that he needs -- for this revolution to work, and it is a revolution for him, it is not a rebellion. for a revolution to work, he has to be seen as leading a legitimate fighting force, not a band of rebels. until 1776, when independence is declared, that's what it was to both americans and to the british, this is about getting their english liberties back. for washington, about something different. his first task and part of his grander strategy is making a professional force. you see him advocating over and over again to congress for regular pay, uniforms, things that, you know, are kind of not really a commanding general's problem usually. he's making a big deal out of all of this because it is about legitimacy. as much as he needs to win for, you know, his -- for the sake of the americans, the british need to recognize that they are
fighting a real armed force. this is not just a band of criminals that should be crushed as in previous rebellions from english history. i think that's part of his strategy, even though we don't normally cast it in those terms, we think strategy is big campaigning. but a key component for washington, the political always merged with the military. that's a big part of it. that's the direct application of that reading. >> first i would like to thank you for your service. and second, it is kind of a psychological question. >> okay. >> in your research, did george washington strike you as more of a visual, audio or tactile learner? >> i think he was, again, i will return to the agriculture, because that's where you see him really kind of actively putting multiple things together, like he's reading different sources, pulling them, has his own creative ideas and putting them into action. i think he's, you know, he's
certainly a -- a tactile learner when you see him going out there, and whether it is experimenting with crops or as a teenager, going out there learning surveying by doing it, has the book in one hand and stakes in the other and he's learning as he goes and you can see that his skills get better over time. his agricultural skills and his -- the extent of his operations here at mount vernon get so diverse and complicated and he's really trying to innovate ahead of what a lot of his peers are doing. so i think he's very much a tactile learner. think i he's happiest, put it that way as a tactile learner. >> one more question. take somebody on the other side. hands up. >> i believe it has been said of the 19th century literary household that on the book side were two great works, the bible
and plutark lives. you talk about washington's reading of either ones and how that informs the periods you talk about. >> sure, i'll talk about washington and the bible, since that is a hot topic, it continues to go on about what did he actually believe. washington's relationship with the bible goes all the way back to his childhood. mary washington, his mother, read to her children if the bible and from english religious books, the book of common prayer and sermon books every day. that was part of his earliest education, growing up with that. it was important for him, we'll leave aside the question of faith, but for someone like him, an aspirational young man who wants to make it in virginia in society, he needs to grow up a good anglican because, you know, going to church, especially the church of england, the established church in virginia is something that your place in
society dictates when you enter the church, where you sit in the church and when you leave it. and how you perform throughout the service and for those people who are not of the -- not episcopalians, it is a very -- there is an act of worship that goes on. there is kneeling. there is reciting or following along the prayer service in the common prayer book. there is ritual that goes along with it that requires members of the congregation to participate. it is something that washington really as a -- once the ambition got going in him, which was really from, you know, adolescence onward, it was important for him to learn how to behave the right way because you were on stage. everybody from the lowest person, lowest socially ranking person in the congregation to the leader of the pack societiwise was on display. so you certainly didn't want to make a misstep that would be noticed. so, you know, i think that's something that was very
practical for him. as a young man, certainly as a politically church and state are tied together, so he needed to understand that. and he makes -- with regard to the bible itself, he makes biblical references throughout his life, throughout his public life. there are certainly some prayers that are attributed to washington. he certainly made mention of divine providence and different names all meaning god throughout his life so he certainly is familiar with it. even when he says he looks forward to retiring, retiring under the shade of his own vine and fig tree. it was something taken seriously. martha washington was devout and something he participated in as well and the rest of their family. it's one of those books that was always with him and useful for him.
>> let's give adrienne a big round of applause. [ applause ] >> that was wonderful. we really love what you're doing, the great work you're doing and particularly here in washington's library. so some logistical concerns. we have books for sale. what better place to buy a book. it should inspire you all to give books to people whether they read them or not, it's good to get them purchased. we sell them through the doors there. they'll be signed. we will not let her read until she signed every book. the other logistical point is because we're going to offer tours of washington's vault and we have 102 of his original volumes in this library in addition to 600 duplicate books we know were in his inventory at his death and in addition to our
research and i guess the chief librarian in the back -- mark, wave your hand. michelle lee special collection librarian right there. i assume you want to meet at the book out and you can tell them what to do. the book out reception area is at the end of the hallway here. where th with that, let's give another big round of applause to dr. harrison. thank you for coming out. [ applause ] coming up next on american history tv, a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother, sara, and her relationship with her family and that's followed by two historians talking about
writing presidential biographies. >> american history tv airs on c-span3 every weekend telling the american story through events, interviews and visits to historic locations. this month american history tv is in prime time to introduce you to programs you could see every weekend on c-span3. our features include elelecture and american artifacts that looks at historic sites, museums and archives, real america revealing the 20th century through archival films and news reels. the civil war where you hear about the people who shaped the civil war and reconstruction and the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first ladies to learn about their politics, policies and legacies. that's on american history tv on
c-span3. >> this week on the presidency, a conversation with author goffrey ward the principle script writer for "the ro roosevelts." he spoke with lesley stahl. the new york historical society hosted this hour long event. >> today's program is part of the bernard and irene swartz program. i would look to thank him for his support that allowed us to bring authors and historians to new york historical. let's give mr. swartz a hand. the program this morning will
last an hour and include a question and answer session. leslie, you'll be staying for a book signing. i have her book right here. this is a great mother's day gift, everyone. i'm already signed up for three books. she's going to sign so get your books. they'll be on sale in our museum store kiosk which will be just near the author's book signing table so just going to hand the book off now. and also geoffrey will have his books as well. to begin, we're so glad to welcome gooffrey ward. author of 18 books including first class temperament.
a long time collaborated with ken burns he won seven emmys and written 32 historical documentaries for pbs and he's 33 years old. either on his own or in collaboration with others including the roosevelts an intimate history which is why he's here today. we are always so thrilled to welcome leslie. leslie has been with us so many times. she lives close by so we just call her up and say come on over. ms. stahl was a correspondent for "60 minutes" for over 20 seasons and she's 21. prior to joining "60 minutes," she was the cbs news white house correspondent during the carter, reagan and george h.w. bush presidencies. during much of that time she also served as moderator on
"face the nation." where she interviewed every other top u.s. official. she has a collection of emmy awards for her reporting including a lifetime achievement emmy. her new book is as i showed you "becoming grandma." thank you. i gave my book away. thank you, leslie. and as i said, it makes a great mother's day gift. so i don't know if you've been watching tv or listening to the radio but every time i turn it on, lesley is on. she was on -- talking great stuff. this book is amazing. she's been on charlie rose. pbs' news hour and bill maher
where you steered bill maher into what the conversation was going to be about. >> i tried hard. so before we begin, i ask if you have a cell phone, beeper device, that you please turn it off and now join me in welcoming our wonderful guests. thank you. [ applause ] >> i've been asked to speak briefly about the book before we turn to q and a about the roosevelts. they're in the book. that's why this pairing made sense. let me tell you first about this book. i had a friend tell me that writing a book about being a grandmother was nuts. she said you're going to tell everyone you're that old. she said don't do it. i started writing, and i did so with great trepidation because of what my friend said. the more i got into it, the more courage i had especially when i found out that mick jagger is a
great grandfather. thank you, sir. eventually i came to see that when you become a grandparent, you do not become older, you become younger. as many i can tell by looking around know what i'm talking about. when we take care of our grandchildren and studies back this up, we get healthier. we have less depression. and overall we are happier. and now that the baby boomers are becoming grandparents, we have power in numbers. listen to this statistic. there are 30,000 new grandparents in the united states every week. i couldn't believe that. but it's true. as baby boomers, this giant bulge become grandparents, think about how that group, that cohort has marched through our lives defining, affecting and
changing our entire culture. our tastes in moususic and clot and everything and now inventing a new way of grandparenting. boomers have more energy than grandparents of old. we certainly look younger. no more tightly permed gray hair. look. we are all blonde. a given. and we have more money. and we are spending it on our grandchildren. listen to this thing i found out. grandparents today spend seven more times money -- seven times more money on their grandchildren than they did just four years ago. paying medical bills, paying for day care, straightening their teeth and we're buying stuff -- i'm not talking about toys. we're buying big ticket items. we're buying the .