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tv   Politics and Public Policy Today  CSPAN  August 23, 2016 5:00pm-7:01pm EDT

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compare your works to the autobiographies 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, of course, published very famous memoirs. a couple of months after i was writing on the book i ran no a friend on the street who said to me, ron, how do you write a great biography of someone who has written a great autobiography? and i have to say that the question stopped me dead in my tracks. just haunted me, you know, for weeks afterwards. of course, there are smaller missions in grant's memoirs. for instance, no mention of his two-term presidency. sorry. small things like that were omitted but basically it made me
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realize, it made me go back to his 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 so that, you know, in the 1850s, he failed at one business venture after another to the point that 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 candid they appear to be, kind of covering a whole world of, you know, failure and misery and emphasizing quite understandably, you know, what they want history to remember them about, but that's kind of quite different from the job of presumably more objective biographer studying their life.
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>> jefferson started an autobiography and ends it when it comes back from france, and he says he's bored talking about himself, and it was strictly a statement about his public life because he didn't think that people should talk about your private life. someone asked him to give them the names of my grandchildren. he said why would people want to know my children's kids names? 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 terse rendition of the 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 to time out.
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annette, we'll give you the last word. we heard about ron's next book on ulysses s. grant. we heard about john's next book on john and dolley madison. talk about your next project. >> my next project after the last biography of jefferson, the thematic biography, 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 says 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 to the panelists. for a wonderful enlightened conversation. thank you so much. well done, as always. >> thank you. >> well done, annette. >> pleasure. nicely done, ron.
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>> tonight on "american history tv" in primetime, 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 biographies. that's followed by a look at the books collected and read by george washington throughout his life, and we round out the night with a discussion about franklin roosevelt's mother sarah and her relationship -- ♪ >> 100 years president woodrow wilson signed the bill creating the national park service, and thursday we look back on the past centuries of caretakers in america's natural and historic treasures beginning at 10:00 eastern and throughout the day we take you through national
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park service sites across the country as recorded by c-span. at 7:00 p.m. eastern we're lived from the national parks services most visited home, arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial at arlington national cemetery. join us with your phone calls as we talk with robert stanton, former national parks service director and brandon byse, the arlington park site manager who will oversee the restoration of the mansion, slave quarters and ground. that's live thursday live from arlington house at 7:00 p.m. eastern on american history-tv on c-span3. >> next, on the presidency, we'll hear from adrienne harr harrisharri harrison discussing her book "a powerful mind, the self-education of george washington." she talks about the george washington she descovered through the books he read and collected throughout his life and how the first commander in
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chief inspired her. harrison is a former west point cadet who served through tours in iraq. the fred w.smith library for the study of george washington at mt. vernon hosted this-hour-long event. >> good evening, ladies and gentlemen. for those of you who don't know me, my name is doug bradburn, the founding director of the national library for the studi of george washington at mt. 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 mt. vernon ladies association going all the way back to henry ford who provided the first fire engine to keep the mansion from burning down which we like to see. that is the mansion you see right there, maintained and managed by the mt. vernon ladies
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association since 1860. built before that by the washington family and expanded by none other than george washington. of course, the mt. vernon ladies association have maintained this property as the highest level of historic preservation so that people everywhere could learn about the lessons and life of george washington, and they have done this without taking any government money. they are a privately funded institution and educational institution, and it's part of our mission to help people everywhere learn about the principles of the founding and, of course, george washington's life. so the topic tonight is perfect for what we do, and we're real excited to have a special presentation for you tonight. today, please, with the mt. vernon ladies, please welcome adrienne harrison. dr. adrienne harrison is currently a fellow and consulting historian with battlefield leadership. she is a graduate of west point
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who later went on to earn her m.a. and phd degrees in early american history from rutgers university. she has been an assistant professor of american history at west point. she served for 12 years as a commissioned officer in the u.s. army, including three combat tours in iraq. so show brings a certain amount of experience to this project, and i think she will talk to you a little bit about how personal it is and how exciting it is, i think, 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 exactly what we like to do here at mt. vernon, which is to make george washington into a human being, not the person who is just a marble statue. we also want to recognize he is a human who lived in the world
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and one of the great ways to get at this man of action is through his reading and through his mind. he's not often associated with those things, and adrienne will talk much more about that. i do want to say after her talk tonight, and, of course, we'll have a chance to have questions from the audience, my colleagues mark santangelo, chief librarian have made a special effort to bring out some. ite frems george washington's library and you'll have an opportunity to tour the vault and see george washington's books that we have here. really in the holy of holies in the site of washington learnings you'll have a chance to get in behind the scenes for those who are able to stay a little later tonight. it's a special evening and should be an exciting one, so, please, everyone, everybody give a big hand for adrienne harrison.
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[ 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 with what has become 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. i mean, everybody is on facebook these days pretty much. so when i was on facebook about the same day actually that i received the very kind invitation for this talk, i saw a suggested ad pop up in my newsfeed. you know, you get those and it's like facebook -- like mark zuckerberg's minions are figuring out exactly what you would want to purchase based on who you are, what your likes are, who your interests a are,
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who your friends are and what your likes are. 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. all patriotic sayings and it was this particular ad in question that got my attention because it had a picture on of it george washington crossing the delaware extracted from the famous emanuel lloyd painting and underneath the screen printing it said one simple phrase, green print on the chest, get some. aside from the t-shirt itself was funny but the tag line for the ad is what really caught my attention because it said, quote, if you insult george washington in a dream, you had better wake up and apologize. total stud. and it struck me when i saw this because this is really why i wrote this book because this is how we think, i mean, in kind of
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these swaggering g.i. 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 ragtag group of patriots across the delaware to slay the invaders and kill them on christmas morning. he's two-dimensional, he's flat and he's far removed from us. so there had to be a way to make him a real person again. for me, this was something that was an intensely personal story because i had 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 when i was an undergraduate at west point, i did my thesis on washington's tour of the south in 1771. it was something that i carried with me after west point in the army. it was a moment that hit me when
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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. by the way, all army stories always start with the phrase so there i was, so there i was. a 23-year-old second lieutenant in the 82nd airborne division in what was to become the first phase of operation iraqi freedom, and i had the lives of 27 soldiers in my hands, as well as the lives of the soldiers that we transported in the back of our trucks to and from the different missions that 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 evaded an ambush. we had to fight our way through a traffic jam that was the very definition.
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chaos theory. the traffic in washington, d.c. or new york city does not compare to what you see over there, and it was just one of those experiences that i just are drained afterwards. and it hit me. how did washington do this? right? how did he experience combat, armed conflict for the first time? and i realize to you that might seem strange, that here i am in iraq in 2003 and my mind randomly goes back to george washington but you have to understand 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. that's going to kind of help you reset normally so that you can face the next day. for me it was reading. you know, thanks to my generous family and friends and the extremely slow but usually reliable postal service, i had had a steady stream of books sent to me that i would read a little bit each day. it's kind of how i would decompress for lack of a better
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term. one of my old thesis advisers from west point, a guy name rob mcdonald, who has actually spoken here as well, he sent me all the latest books on george washington. so it 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 level, but then the comparisons
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have to stop, right, because reality comes back into play. i was at least -- at least had the benefit of four years of a west point education behind me. i had been taught the fundamentals of how 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. i-mile-per-hour, he was younger than me and he had some fencing lessons. that was t. 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.
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or will in ma minute. 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 fort. yeah, that wasn't going to go well. and then he willfully went beyond the extent of his orders and attacked a party of frenchmen and diplomats and soldiers and basically 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 that descended into a massacre, he had no control when these poor
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frenchmen that had been most of them mortally wounded or at least scared to death, when -- when washington's native american allies descended on them and started to massacre them, they are pleading for their lives in french. washington couldn't speak french. he had nobody 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. he was able to reverse his fortunes in the seven years war and many of you i'm sure are aware of his dying by 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 who also had no experience. in 1755 he said something prophetic to his officers. having no opportunity to learn from example, let us read.
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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 then put it into execution, so 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 something that i tried to instill in my officers, but this question of how did he do it? how did he turn into what james thomas flexnor would later call the indispensable man? there's a part of his legacy why we remember him as being the steely eyed general on the white
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charger or the first president in the gilbert stewart portraits. there's a reason we remember him that way. what is it? there's more to it than just he was a tall guy who looked good in a uniform and was in the the right place at the right time. so i carried this question with me to graduate school, and i was so excited. i got to go back to school after three combat tours, and i was going to make my mark on the world, and i went to my dissertation advisers, and i said, hey, i've got 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, because the challenge facing -- and in part -- there's a grain of truth of what he was saying. the challenge facing any washington historian today is what else is there to say about this man? right? he's one of the most studied men in history. not just american history, but you think of world history or you travel anywhere else, any other countries, you're going to go to a bookstore and you're going to find something on george washington there.
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what else is different? i was told to go back to the drawing board and try again. i was undaunted so 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 actually in a different grad school course that i was expokesed to this pool called "reading revolutions" by kevin sharp, and it is about the politics ever reading in early modern england and focuses on a gay 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
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that we read, whether you're conservative, liberal, religious, not, doesn't matter. it somehow will inform the way that 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 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 really that much of an intellectual and he left it at that. for me, for longmore, it was my opportunity, what i viewed as
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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's 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,
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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 that was required by law when he passed away. and when he passed away there were over 900 volumes, 1,200 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? because when 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
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which i do or if you like to have the nook or the kindle or ipad experience, we all probably have books on our shelves that we've 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. and so, you know, baring that in mind about ourselves, i mean, books will tell you just 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.
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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, kind of a cursory look, kind of the longmore approach. what is it that's on his shelves? what's there and what's not there, because what's not there is also telling, right? so what is there? it's what i said, 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 otherwise maybe he would have made time for it so that by itself is telling, and there is information that we can get from that. there's conclusions that 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
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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. right? he just couldn't. so anything that was printed in a foreign language i excluded for the purposes of my study. now. for things like don quixote that he 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? and then i've got to pear it down a little bit 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
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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. they 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 edition, that means he intended to use, it right? 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 mt. 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
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law was that an estate inventory counted everything in the house, even the residents that were still alive. martha washington, bushrod's books, 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, bushrod's signature, anything about women's literature, i just assumed washington didn't have time for that so i 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 ink smudge, not an inkblot anywhere out of place. this is very carefully done.
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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 his mark of ownership on it, then, again, that was something that was important to him because there are other books in there, particularly the ones that 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 have been something, you know, that one of his secretaries liked to bay and put on a shelf for him. so i narrowed it down by looking at that. so now i've 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
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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 inventories of the books he made over time, beginning the first one in 1759 when he married martha and was taking over the
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custis estate and over administering that and took possession. custis library and divvied it up for himself and his stepson, hi that inventory, one made in 1783, at his request by lund washington, his cousin and estate manager here at mount vernon. i had to compare against that jackie custis dies at the siege and died 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 and to kind of 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.
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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 spurious signatures and the fake book plates, and so it was 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 marginal notes in them, which had other people's signatures in them, and any sort of other notes that might have come with the book, if the book was given to hi. so, for example, some of the religious books that came from his mother said belonged to mary ball washington, you know. or given to her son on -- on her death. it had notes like this and the guy who compiled it, a guy by the 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.
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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 scattered all over the place, but the biggest single concentration is in boston at the boston atheneum. if you're not familiar with it, that's a subscription library. 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
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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 exposition on the 39 articles of the church of england, page-turner, right? it's a book about how the church of england is organized. it's not had a theological book. it's a church history and church structure book. and i know about when washington came to possess this book, and it was in the early 1760s. so i'm reading this book, it's got his signature on it and really his book plate and there's 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 that he's going to put into immediate use because that seems to be what he's done with the things that we definitely know about.
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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 that were 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 the 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 thumbprints. i can't prove they're exactly his, but to me it was, like, all right, these are here for a reason.
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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 back into context at the time when washington might have read this book, he was in the house of burgesses, deby thing the two-penny act about paying the salaries of parish priests in the established church of england here in virginia, and they were debating, it was a hot and heavy debate about whether or not virginia should petition the archbishop of canterbury for a bishop for virginia. so understanding the organization of the church of england would have been immediately useful for washington. my theory seems to be holding weight. so i persevered. so when it comes to organization of the book, how did i 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
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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 commentaries as a young militia officers in the seven years war, as soon as that war is over, he sets that stuff aside. he doesn't read it anymore, not until he's going to be a commanding general, so he turns his interest to other things. so what is it that was going on in his life that contributed to this change of interest? did he suddenly find the military boring, wasn't enthralling anymore whereas before it suddenly -- it was hugely northern to him and now it's 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 the first chapter kind of concludes with the end of the seven years war where he knows
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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. and then, you know, 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. certainly he does that leap faster than benning lynn 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 that he commissioned book buying
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agents in new york and philadelphia to go buy up every military book that they can find, everything. so he was buying field manuals, things we would give today, tactical manuals, things 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, right? that's the 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.
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he has thomas payne 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 because every pulpit in america was politicized either for or against the war. 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, these kind of pop la 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 biographers and how to
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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? i mean, who could imagine being the first president? i mean, a lot of people don't want to be president now, i mean, look at the current election and the way that's shachg up, right? 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
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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 really written with him in mind. he had to make that into something that was legitimate, something that was authoritative, something that was 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 chore graphed appearances, and so he's kind of charting this path that he believes bridges the gap between the monarch call past of great britain and this new american republican future that they are starting to sketch out. he's that kind of bridge, and he use using ceremony to do it, okay? that's a way. right. but as any good politician knows you have to know how the people
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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 the "national gazette" and others were attacking him as an individual. they were attacking his family, and that was something he 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.
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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 excize tax on washington to the citizen genet affair, to whether we get into the war with the side of england or france. it's all in interest -- all in there. 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
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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
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receptacle 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 capitol serving in the adams administration to send him copies of it. he was completing the record for what posterity was going to see. 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.
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philip freneau never stopped sending him a few copies every day or every edition of his own paper but somehow they disappeared. one story is that maybe washington fed up in a fit of rage, you know, just 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 just know that 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
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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
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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 an. he's not in the same league. he knows he's not 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. you go through a series of doors on the first floor to get it. it was ta room his grade grandson said no one entered without permission. visitors to mt. vernon never set foot in that library. if they were staying overnight they would be provided books, newspapers, and magazines but they were never allowed to you pluck a book off the shelf and discuss it with the great man.
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so everything about that room, its placement, his design of it says this was something that was for him. if you look at the furnishings in that room, it's 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 for several hours in the afternoon and again in the evening before retiring. he would do everything in had there from reading to sorting his accounts 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 it, his approach to it whether you're talking about a book, a 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
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defective education. and so he did not -- that was his achilles heel. what great leaders can do, they know how to present themselves that is plays to their strengths and minimizes mayor weaknesses. to see his flaws, his nervousness, the fact that he always felt overyed to an extent about the responsibility that he bore what good would that have done? what kind of confidence would that have inspired. he was always in uncharted waters. he had to give off the air of 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
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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,
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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 he was 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 mt. vernon as the innovative farmer trying to get out from underneath the debt of tobacco planting and diminishing returns to being the military officer, to being a little
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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.
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so 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. we want them to be able to hear the brilliant questions. i told her you're the best audience in the country, you are going to have to live up to it. i did 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 -- sketches. >> on a sheaf of paper, there it was, it was laid out. so who wants to be first up? >> do you have any clues about
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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 panegyric to the duke of schaumburg. sounds like something that would fly off the shelves. what it was was a printed eulogy of this guy, frederick did, dusk schaumburg who was eulogized. he was a huguenot military leader who had some acclaim over in europe, and the eulogy, washington bought it, and it is interesting when you
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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. it was something that he clearly took to heart by the way he did it, by the way he went about 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. few examples that we have of his marginal notes being a book called duhamel's husbandry, book of agriculture. washington heard of this book, presumably from someone. there's no written document about that that will i've ever seen.
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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 book shops and there are lists of what is out or what you can order. but in a place like this, where you're removed from all of that, it really 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 comfortable 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 he must have had some
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mathematics with surveying or whatever, but was that helpful? >> sure. yeah, it was. we know that washington was educated up to today. an equivalence is a little bit difficult, 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 from looking at his schoolboy commonplace books that 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
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he kind of started surveying ferry farm, the farm that he grew up on and he kind of practiced. we had early surveys down where you can see him 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 to most focus 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 duhamel's husbandry is one book. he entered into the 17 0s, he
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entered into a correspondence with some english agricultural reformers and subscribes to their books that are 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, match virginia ones. 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 he's 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 threshing barn, it's all ideas that 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
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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 17 0s. he was an agricultural reformer. 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
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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.
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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 classically educated men who are just on -- their way of going about things is on a completely different level and for different 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
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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 has voltaire's works in his library, that could lead him down a rabbit hole he couldn't get out of. as a matter of fact, i have and what do you think about this passage? or did you read thomas hobbs instead and what did he think about it? that's something washington doesn't feel comfortable doing.
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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 what he calls his military family his aides and his 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.
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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 during the war or his 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.
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but certainly english history would show him that kings always had counsels. there was a privy counsel. there was 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 them spend a lot of money and
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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 were 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. here's my chief of 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
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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 two ways that you won wars. for washington, he tries the big battle in new york and 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
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consider it. you have two rivers and a huge navigable harbor that could hold all the royal navy. how do you defend that? he's got some militia guys from massachusetts and new england, and he has 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 it 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.
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of an 1th century commander in order to do this. 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. he 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. it would have been so much harder for him to see it if he had that education behind him because i think it would have -- potentially blinded him as to what his army's weaknesses were. he would think that the knowledge would take him all the way. so it was kind of a weakness and a strength in the end. it worked out.
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>> 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.
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and so what he see in you see 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 kind of got big ideas that he would have gotten kind of his knowledge of kind of 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
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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. because 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.
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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
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and he's learning surveying by doing it. he's got the book in one hand and the stakes in the other, and he's kind of 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. i think he's happiest, i'll 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 plutarch's lives. you talk about washington's reading of either one and how
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that informs the periods you talk about. >> sure, i'll talk about washington and the bible, since that is always a hot topic, washington and religion. it continues to go on been 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 from 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 for a moment the question of faith itself, but for someone like him, an aspirational young man hon wants to make it in virginian 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
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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
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biblical references throughout his life, throughout his public life. you know -- there are certainly some prayers that are attributed to washington. he certainly made mention of divine providence and different names all meaning god. you know, throughout his life. he's certainly familiar with it. even when he tells lafayette he looks forward to retiring underneath the shade of his own vine and figure tree, that is a biblical allusion. it is clearly an important book throughout his life. religious life here at mt. vernon is 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 ]
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>> 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. than after a talk about reading. for goodness sake. it should inspire you all to give books to people whether they read them or not, it's good for you to get them. ed. we sell them through the doors there. they'll be signed. dr. harrison, we will not let her leave until she's 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 that inventory at his death in addition to our own research. and so i guess mark santangelo,
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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. with that, let's give another big round of applause to dr. harrison. thank you all, thank you c-span, for coming out. [ applause ] >> "american history tv" airs on c-span3 every weekend telling it the american story through events, interviews and visits to historic locations. this month "american history tv" is in primetime to introduce you to programs you could see every weekend on c-span3. our features include lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country it hear lectures by top history professors.
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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. all this month in primetime and every weekend on "american history tv" on c-span3. >> this week on the presidency, a conversation with author geoffrey ward the principle script writer for the 2014 ken burns pbs documentary "the roosevelts." is he spoke, cbs correspondent lesley stahl about franklin's mother sarah, her daughter-in-law eleanor and her many grandchildren. the new york historical society hosted this hour long event.
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>> today's program is part of the bernard and irene swartz distinguished speaker series which is the heart of our public programs. and i'd always like to thank mr. schwartz for his support which has enabled us to invite so many prominent authors and historians to new york historical. let's give mr. swartz a hand.prs 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. lesley, you'll be staying for a book signing. yes. and 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.
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and also geoffrey will have his book on the roosevelts so geoff will be here. to begin, we're so glad to welcome geoffrey ward back to new york historical. he's the 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. and we are always so thrilled to welcome leslie.
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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 has been a correspondent for cbs' "60 minutes" for over 20 seasons and he'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." cbs news' sunday public affairs broadcast where she interviewed margaret thatcher and yasser arafat as well as virtually every other top u.s. official. she has a collection of emmy awards for her interviews and reporting including a lifetime achievement emmy. her new book is as i showed you "becoming grandma." the joys and science of the new grandparenting. yes, thank you. i gave my book away. thank you, lesley.
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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 up great stuff. this book is amazing. she's been on charlie rose. pbs' news hour and bill maher and i heard that was a very funny show where you kind of steers bill maher into what the conversation was going to be about. >> i tried hard. >> so before we begin, i just 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. the rose vets are in the book
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which is 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. but 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 of you, 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
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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 morays, our tastes in music and clothes in everything and now they are inventing a whole new way of grand parenting. 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
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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 ten years ago. and we are, for example, paying for their medical bills, paying for daycare, straightening their teeth, and we are buying stuff, and i'm not talking about toys. we're buying big ticket items. we're buying the crib. we're buying the car seat. and i know one grandparent who bought them a piano because my daughter wouldn't practice. i'm determined to get the little ones. so as someone said to me, there are three phases in life. in the first phase we believe in santa claus. in the second phase we don't believe in santa claus and in the third phase, we are santa claus. the reason i wanted to write
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this book is because the first time i held my first grandchild i had a thunder jolt of elation that was so powerful it affected my entire body from my brain to my toes and it was so enormous that i kind of felt like one of those big trucks with those giant wheels as this surge of loving rumbled through my body. 's a it's a new kind of loving in its purity and in its depth. grandparent love is unfettered. it is unconditional. someone wise told me me that if god had turned to abraham and told him to sacrifice his grandson, he would have said forget it, that's not going to happen.
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and becoming a grandparent metamore foe sizes us. no matter how strict or how concerned we were with molding our own children into good citizens into people who can make it on their own in life, the minute that grandchild is born, boom, we are dulgent, we are softies. our ability to say the word no is completely disabled. we are completely changed in every conceivable way. i also found out a lot of grandparents today walk on eggshells. we're terrified of antagonizing the parents of those grandchildren. our sons and daughters. we're afraid because we understand that they hold the keys to our access to those children. the most dreaded words to us are, no, we don't want you to come over today. whoa, that hurts because all we want are those babies. we are the baby sitters who beg to come over and we don't charge a dime.
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we learn pretty quickly that the balance of power in the family shifts because our children now hold the key to the most important thing in life, which is those babies. so what we do now as grandparents, we bite our tongues, we try very hard not to say, look, we didn't raise you that way and you turned out okay. we don't say that. we ingratiate ourselves and we suck up to the daughter-in-law. which is a perfect segue to geoffrey ward to talk about the roosevelts. one s.e.c. i have my book. i just want to show it to you one more time. great mother's day present. you want to hold it up? i'm going to put it away because i'm getting tacky. i want to show you geoffrey ward's new book he did with ken burns, which is if you didn't see the roosevelt documentary,
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you have to find it. it's on a dvd. it's extraordinary. you learn all kinds of new things. you can see i've gone through it and i've got my stickies out here. let's first talk about the relationship speaking about mothers in law and daughters in law between eleanor and franklin's mother sara. was it as bad as the impression we have in our head? >> the impression we have is because it's -- i have a terrible problem with this. i'm going to call eleanor roosevelt mrs. roosevelt because you get confused in these things. our version of sara roosevelt is mrs. roosevelt's version. it's a version she came to very late in life. she -- her upbringing was so awful, so emotionally arid, so
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devoid of real parenting, she had not only a drunken father but a dementioned father who was there and not there and seeing visions and telling her he loved her and that he was going to come and sweep her off and they were going to live in europe and be happy ever after and then disappearing and finally dying. and her mother was distracted and disappointed in her so she had no model parent so when she became first a wife and then a parent, she relied enormously on franklin's mother. >> wait. she relied on her or sara took over? go ahead. >> there are many people who write about the rose vets with different views. this is my view. sarah del know roosevelt was happy to fill the vacuum. god knows. she was the most devoted mother
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that there ever was. but eleanor was terribly grateful at the time that she took over hiring nannies, that she gave her child raising advice. later in her life some of that stuff became distorted and she began to see it as somebody taking over her life. when it was happening, she was grateful for it. she developed and she was -- since we're talking about grandmother's, grandparents, let me just go onto that. >> please. please. >> i knew three of the roosevelt children. all of them believed that their grandmother had really been their mother.
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that she had provided them -- whatever you think of her, she had provided them with the unconditional love that you mentioned. she just adored them. they could do no wrong. she spoiled them dreadfully. >> that's a grandmother. >> exactly. they couldn't wait to get to hyde park and be with her. that was their real home. they all told me that was their real home. part of that was because their father had fallen ill with polio and when they were formative ages as children, he really wasn't home. he was in florida or warm springs trying to get back on his feet. that left them with their mother who did not believe in unconditional love. in a passage i won't be able to quote it exactly but in one of her things she wrote, she said, i have always believed that one must earn the love of people around you.
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and she learned that in her childhood. that's how she had been raised. she really believed it. she carried it on with her own children. she did not, you know, do the opposite thing that you would sort of hope she would have done. she was an extremely stern mother. if you felt ill, you were not to tell her so roosevelts didn't get sick. she was not a comforting mother, and then the rest of her life she spent being haunted by having not been a good mother. and she reached a point late in life when she considered killing herself because of that. >> really? that i had not known. i want to -- i'm going to pull out some and neck does that i read in your book and some of which i wrote about in mine. first off, to back up what
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you're saying, curtis roosevelt, one of sara roosevelt's great grandsons -- no grandson, wrote a book and in it, he kind of said what you're saying, that this portrait of sarah that we we've all heard about as a monster was grossly unfair and suggests that eleanor got to write the history. it is whoever gets the last word when it comes to history. who writes it. who talks about it. and that eleanor had the last word, and she's the one who painted this portrait. it's exactly what you're saying. curtis complained about it in his book. and again said that sara was the most loving, most fun, most indulgent, delicious and you quote anna as saying she wanted to be with her grandmother. >> they all did. you were free to do, i mean, you weren't free.
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you talked about getting that piano. >> she gave him everything. >> she gave him everything. she also had very strict views. if they had been riding, for example, they had a stable of horses, if they came to lunch without changing their clothes, she would say, you reek of the stables and then they would run up and get dressed. i mean, it was a very form household. if you followed the rules, you had a wonderful time there. >> according to eleanor, sara could be very cruel to her. >> sure. >> you write about an incident at the dinner table about hair. tell that one. >> they all sat down to dinner and she said something like, you would look so much better, dear, if you ran a comb through your hair before we ate. >> that was in front of everybody. >> yes. >> other things like that. >> i think that's true and awful, but it's also part of the same thing i was talking about.
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eleanor felt she needed help with all those things initially. later, of course, she didn't, and she became first lady of the world and was still being treated that way and of course she resented it. >> you touched a little bit on how eleanor's mother had treated her. she made her feel unlovable. and this is interesting to me. her mother called her granny. >> because she very rarely laughed and she was very prim and proper and she tried to be the -- i think -- as a little girl the only person in the family who did all of the right things. the mother was a beautiful socialite. the most pathetic thing to me, i think, is mrs. roosevelt, in her autobiography, said her mother often had migraines and would be
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in a darkened room and would lie there having a headache. this little girl would go in and rub her forehead and it made her feel better, and she said that's when i learned that to be loved is to be useful. now, she was 5 years old. think how sad that is. it really is. >> alice roosevelt longworth who faupsly said if you have anything nice to say -- if you have nothing nice to say, come sit by me. she was put off by eleanor because eleanor did not have a strong sense of humor and was dour and alice was fun loving. but here's what i found so ironic in a way because alice
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had this sort of flighty image around the country. while eleanor became a cold and distant grandmother, alice was doting and indulgent and like the rest of us. she became kind of sarah in a way to her own grandchildren and eleanor went the other way. >> i don't quite think she was cold and distant, but i think she was proper, and she wanted her grandchildren to do the right thing. we were talking about this before. fdr's children called their grandmother granny. eleanor roosevelt's grandchildren called her grandmere in french. >> that says it all. >> it says a lot, it does. they were fond of her though. i never talked to any of them that weren't fond of her but it was an event to go see her. she was mrs. roosevelt. >> even to her own grandchildren. wow. wow. we're going to get to fdr as a
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grandfather in one minute. but first, geoff, when you and i spoke on the phone the other day and we were sort of mapping out the areas of subjects here, you said, i want to talk about your book. and i said why? you said it's because i'm a grandfather. that's what you said. >> right. >> because i'm a grandfather right. >> and i write about grandfathers. >> yeah. i'm not sure i'm supposed to say this. but this is a fascinating book. it is not a treacly book. it's really smart. i liked reading it a lot. i'm a grandfather. of course. and it is a unique role. what it does do is make you think about your own grandparents. mine -- this is a diversion from
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the roosevelts but my great grandfather was the bernie madoff of the 1880s. he was big-time swindler. he brought on a crash on wall street. he kidnapped his son, who was my grandson, and he did not know his father. >> are you serious? >> no, i'm making this up. i'm dead serious. >> wow. wow. >> there is all of that was that my grandfather was the best grandfather -- i'm sure everybody thinks their grandfather was the best but mine was the best. when we were there, he was riveted with attention. i remember i was interested in knights one year when i was very small. when i arrived he had made a complete wooden helmet, shield and sword all painted beautifully. he was a professor of medieval art so he knew how to really do that. and he built us -- he had german stone bricks which nobody makes
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anymore but they were spectacular. i don't mean brick. blocks, i mean. he would build for christmas every year a different cathedral out of these that were, you know this high and as long as a ping-pong table with stained glass windows that lit up and all that. that's sort of what i think of when i think of grandfather. if you have a grandfather like that, it makes you feel terribly inadequate. i cannot build a castle for my grandchildren. >> what i found out in my research is that exactly what your grandfather did is what grandfathers are supposed to do. they're supposed to give their grandchildren skills and talk about the family, the family history, and tell their grandchildren stories that give the kids a sense that they are connected to something wider and important and of course love them and play with them.
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so that's a good segue to franklin delano roosevelt as a grandfather because i was so intrigued, i couldn't stop writing about this in here. >> he didn't have much time to be a grandfather. he read a christmas -- you know the dickens thing at christmas every year to his children. they all sat around him. the saddest thing is it was recorded and they lost the recording. one of the kids lost it. can you imagine, fdr reading dickens? it's too good. >> i have to tell you what i found out and why this is so devastating. i was only looking for him as a grandfather, so i concentrated like a laser beam. i discovered that he had two grandchildren who lived in the white house. i was looking for grandchildren who lived in the white house. that was my first line of attack. i found out that when anna got divorced, his daughter, she
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moved into the white house with her two little kids. >> curtis is one of them. >> curtis. sisty and buzzy and the whole country was in love with these little children who were running around the white house for a while. franklin had his morning staff meeting in his bedroom. he would have his breakfast tray brought in, put up on the bed, and then his staff would come in and sometimes members of the cabinet would come to this meeting. and at some point invariably, these two little kids would burst into the bedroom because they had free rein to franklin delano roosevelt. he couldn't get enough. they would jump in. he would say come in. get up on the bed. so there's all the staff and then he would have one kid on
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the left and one kid on the right and he would pull out the funnies. now, in those days, the funnies in the newspaper, we all remember this, were everything. he would read the funnies which is the way he read dickens. those, were everything. he would read the funnies which is the way he read dickens. he played every character. and in the dialect and so forth and these children just giggled with laughter and all these men are standing around virtually every day and had to put up with this through the crises and whatever else was going on in the world including the depression. so he was -- when he did have his grandchildren around him, like your grandfather, attentive and adorable and everything we thought of roosevelt in terms of his intelligence and wonderful manner. he was a great grandfather when he had the kids around. >> in 1944, after he had been
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elected, he knew he was very ill. he asked that all of the grandchildren come and there were pictures of them. he was saying good-bye to them, i think. there is a picture of all of them sitting on the floor around him. many marriages. many, many grandchildren. and he looks awful in the picture but also pleased to be there. >> he put swings and slides on the white house lawn, which i guess had never been done before. he was trying to lure the grandchildren to come and visit. >> let me just say that that's another example of the whole premise of the roosevelt show was that theodore and franklin, you wouldn't have had franklin without theodore and theodore's family, not his grandchildren
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but his children, were all over the white house. they were trying -- the fact that the press got so interested in those kids was sort of because that had sold so many newspapers during theodore's time. >> so it was deliberate. i see. >> i didn't mean that. >> you didn't? >> you've been at the white house. you know these things. it's complicated. >> a lot of times these children are used to soften the image. >> i don't think it was anything cynical. i didn't mean it that way. >> i'll get back to the book. i want to know about your relationship with ken burns. you have done several documentaries for television with him. >> 20. >> 20. you were telling me before about the relationship between the fdr documentary and the one that ken did on baseball that you did with him as well. >> i may have told this story here before. i can't remember. when ken wanted to do baseball
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that is not a subject i know anything about at all. it was going to be nine -- i can't remember two one hour episodes or -- i think it's 18 hours on the history of baseball about which i know nothing and care less. my sort of deal with ken was at some point we would do roosevelts if i did his great enthusiasm, he would do mine, and so we did that. >> and next you're doing another one with him? >> vietnam, which will be out in the fall of 2017. >> you're working on it right now? >> writing the book. the show is done or mostly done. >> are we going to get a book like this? >> i'm afraid so. >> the reason i'm walking around with this, it's fabulous.
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filled with pictures. >> we'll publish it with a suitcase. >> make it a rollie. before we take questions from the audience, i have to ask you, the documentary and the book are really about relationships. the relationships that theodore roosevelt had with his family and other people and the same with franklin. and i became very interested reading this book in their extracurricular or other relationships. so let's ask for your take first on franklin's relationships with other women, lucy mercer and daisy sutley. >> he had an affair with lucy mercer. she was absolutely beautiful and he fell in love with her and she may or may not have really discussed marriage. nobody knows for sure.
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that's the story in the family. mrs. roosevelt said she would agree and mama said you will be cut off from the family money and louie said you'll never be elected president of the united states if you're divorced so allegedly for those reasons, who knows what the reasons were, did not marry her. later in life she came back to see him at the white house when he was ill, and she was much older, i don't think that was anything more than a friendship that he needed during the war when his wife was away and was not -- he was a person who needed -- because of his mother, he needed -- he liked women. he needed them to be around him and to admire him. >> he needed adulation. >> that's correct. mrs. roosevelt could do many things, but she couldn't do that. she was a very critical person. he was not always admirable. lucy thought he was just
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wonderful. >> we do think of mrs. roosevelt as being just the most wonderful, heartfelt, almost delicious person because she took up so many causes. you know, she was cold. she was cold to him. >> she was -- yeah. i'm a great admirer of hers. she was a very damaged person. she's a miracle, i think, of the human spirit not to have collapsed under the weight of all of the things she had to endure when she was young. but it scarred her. it was very hard for her to have a good time. it was very hard for her to get a joke. >> the opposite of him. >> the opposite, exactly. opposite of him.
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he loved a good time. he was a good time. >> daisy suckly was the distant cousin. despite the god awful movie someone did with bill murray. i can't remember the name of it. i wouldn't tell you it if i knew it. she was the distant cousin. she got to know him well when he was recovering from polio -- not recovering but trying to build himself up after polio. and again was worshipful and became his -- as book i did, his closest companion. she was that and great secret of his life. she kept a diary which i was privileged to be the first person to see and i got to edit it and it was one of the joys of my life. nothing like as a historian of being handed a journal and discovering there's this intelligent woman writing about this man in an intimate way that no one else ever did. >> you don't think they had an
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affair? >> yes. >> weren't they going to live together? >> yes. didn't mean they were going to have an affair. she thought they were going to live together. he had told several other women they might be there to be hope helpful to him. they were all disappointed. >> let's talk about eleanor and her other friends. there was the bodyguard, earl miller. and there's a picture in this book of her and him and she's got her hand on his thigh. so that suggests something. later with lorena hickok. >> there are several people with whom she had -- i'm not of the eleanor roosevelt is a lesbian
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school. first of all, i don't think anybody ought to be put in categories like that. secondly, i don't think she had a physical relationship, if that's what we mean, with any of those people. she dearly loved all of them. she was in some ways like a teenager who gets -- again, i think it's part of that childhood. who gets crushes on people. and they became absolutely wonderful in her mind and they could do no wrong and were enormously helpful and more importantly she could help them do something. then she would become disillusioned with them the way she thought her father was the most wonderful person that ever lived and then realized on some
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level though never entirely that he was not anything like that. so she had this sort of -- if you graph it. enormous enthusiasm and after a while if people didn't need her anymore, they couldn't love her and therefore she would move onto another one. at the end of her life she had a whole lot of them all sort of clustered around her mutually antagonistic i'm sorry so say. sort of a strange circle. all of them adored her and felt they had not gotten enough of her somehow. does that make sense? >> she couldn't cross a line. was that because -- >> i can't prove she didn't cross a line. i just don't think so. >> do you think that's because franklin hurt her or because of her childhood? >> i think it's because of her childhood. >> she was really devastated by the lucy mercer discovery? >> it was the same kind of confirmation about her father.


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