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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 28, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm EDT

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division after their capture of messina. one of the high points and his military career. >> i appreciate very much your asking me to accompany you in this. i cannot find words with which to express my admiration of your drive and enthusiasm or express my appreciation of the magnificent qualities and superhuman endurance. i certainly thank you. >> hollywood got it right most of the time, real george patton had more of a voice that was kind of a blend of an elderly southern bell and the martian from bugs bunny. george c. scott has the voice patton wished he had. >> a good note to leave it on.
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thank you very much for tonight and safety for coming. [applause] >> for more information visit the author's website, jonathanand booktv in partnership with white house networks is seeking new viewers on the road to florida for a look at the literary scene of the tampa st. petersburg area. here is a video shot by our local content vehicle crew. ..
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>> people would grab at the bag, and whatever number they grabbed, that would be the leader number of the day. the dean of the underworld, charliewall. charlie had a number of lieutenants, chief among those was george. and george would collect all the gambling receipts every night from the el dorado. one night he's sitting here on the street in his car waiting for the gambling receipts when a black sedan pulls up alongside him. an unknown gunman blows through the driver's side window of george's car. surprisingly, george was not killed, just injured, but he took it as a sign that his days were numbered in tampa, and he hightailed it to cuba.
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more significantly, george's attempted assassination was yet another domino that was falling that eventually led to charlie wahl losing dominance in the local underworld, and he himself testified by the early 1940s local mafia effectively pushed him out of the rackets. >> next, edward lengel, editor-in-chief of the papers of george washington, explores the transformation of our first president into a national similar symbol. >> good afternoon, and thanks to all of you for coming. we at the washington papers are in the business of preserving and transcribing and publishing all of washington's letters. so you can imagine our surprise a number of years ago when we received a letter from george washington. [laughter] written to us. and he was alive and well and living, where else, but in cincinnati. [laughter]
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actually, it was a gentleman who claimed to be the reincarnation of george washington -- [laughter] who was eager and willing to off us his -- offer us his help in understanding the great man's life. well, some time after that a group of very well dressed individuals came into our office, and our then-editor-in-chief, bill abbott, met with them, and they said they had some materials and information pertaining to george washington that they'd be delighted to share with us and to help us out. so they seemed to be very respectable also, so he invited them in and sat down, and they placed themselves near the only exit to his office so he couldn't get out without passing them. and at that time they revealed that they were spiritualists who had gotten in touch with washington's spirit and were in daily conversation and willing to share information. [laughter] again, about how washington
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lived and who he was. so on and so forth. so he had to sit there and listen to them for a while before they finally left. and a short time after that i received an e-mail in my inbox which was from a tabloid reporter in england, and he revealed that a number of volumes of washington's diaries which had been thought lost had been discovered in a scottish castle. and these diaries were particularly fascinating because they revealed what washington had done at valley forge and how he had really been able to get through that terrible winter encampment. well, he had received aid from a strange and unknown source that there was a mysterious tribe of indians living in the forests, and washington thought they looked kind of greenish. so he called them the green skins. and they lived in a big aluminum
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tepee out in the woods. [laughter] well, this reporter concluded with good reason that space aliens had helped washington to win the revolutionary war. [laughter] thus, my i inspiration for this book. [laughter] it truly is amazing working at the washington papers on the one hand, and i've been there for 15 years now, and working with washington's letters and getting to know how he lived, how he breathed day-to-day, what his everyday concerns were. on the one hand. and on the other hand, the constant barrage of queries and questions and information volunteered to us by the general public. and a lot of it is really very useful. there are people who are actually still discovering washington letters in their attics. there are people who have local information who understand their
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local history, say, from alexandria, fredericksburg, from other areas where they really have information that can be very valuable to us. but on the other hand, there are people who ask us questions like one person asked me, is it really true that washington died in russia on an engineering expedition? [laughter] or people, we get a lot of queries from the press and from others asking about did washington really say this. is it really true that washington said this. and there are so many washington quotations floating around now and so many washington legended floating around now, especially on the internet, that it really intrigued me; where is all this stuff coming from? what about all these statements that washington supposedly said about politics, about religion, about morality, about everything you can imagine? you know, what about these
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stories that he did or didn't do that thing? what about, for example, the story that's floating around now that he smoked marijuana -- [laughter] that he, you know, he grew it at mount vernon, and he liked to smoke it for relaxation. wheres all this coming from? -- where is all this coming from? [laughter] so it intrigued me. and, of course, we all know the story of parson weems, we all know the cherry tree story: and now here are these modern stories, and how do we create a link? what does it mean about us and our relationship with george washington? washington died on september 14, and this is a victorian rendition, a mid 19th century rendition of it. it seemed like a very peaceful scene, actually. there's a gentle sadness about it.
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it's like he died peacefully at mount vernon, and americans shared collective tears; the great man has passed, and we're now going to move on and live by his example. actually, it was for most americans a wrenching, emotional moment. it was an event that cast us into a state of anguish. we were mortified, we were terrified, what's going to happen now? the great man has passed away. we're on the cusp of a new century into the 1800s. we are at war. a lot of people don't realize that when washington died, he was an active -- in active military service as the commander in the field of our armed forces when we were expecting at any moment we might be invaded by france.
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it was a period called the quasiwar when it was kind of undeclared war between the united states and france, and there was this fear that the french were going to invade to impose their will. and, remember, this was only a short time after the revolutionary war, less than 20 years. most americans could remember what war was like, and here it might come again. washington had been put by president john adams in charge of the army, and washington left a lot of the day-to-day business in alexander hamilton's care. but still, he's the man at every moment, at every crisis in our history we had turned to george washington. so when he died, this wave of emotion swept across the country as news began to spread very slowly across the country and americans learned that washington was gone. there was this outpouring of grief and public memorials and
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eulogies remembering washington and remembering who he was and thinking about his example to us. and there was this collective need somehow to bring washington back. there was this yearning that somehow we have to fill this gulf, this hole that his passing has left for our nation. the space is open, who do we put into the space? we need to bring washington back. so the wish created, in many ways, the return of george washington. and, thus, our friend parson weems. he wasn't really a parson. his name was mason locke weems. he had known george washington
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briefly in the 1780s. he had been a visitor to mount vernon, he had married into a branch of the family, and he was one of the many people who walked through mount vernon and drove george and martha crazy when they were still alive, there were so many visitor who were coming. he was one of them. so right after george washington dies, mason locke weems writes to his publisher in philadelphia, and he says: washington has just died, millions of people are gaping to read something about him. we can make a lot of money. that was what he immediately saw. and parson weems -- i'll keep calling him parson weems just to be nice to him -- parson weems saw the dollar bill in washington long before washington was on the dollar bill. [laughter] i'm glad you like that. i made that up myself. [laughter] but he did. he was, he was in this for money.
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he was in it to make gobs of money. but he also, to give him credit, he wanted to bring washington to everyday americans. right after washington died there were a number of biographies of washington that were published, the best known one was by john marshall which you can still get now. it's available. but it was a huge, ponderous biography. john adams compared it to a mausoleum. [laughter] and it's very dull, it's very hard to get through, it's very long, and it created a washington who's very instant, who is that man of marble, that statue, that image. the genius of parson weems is he understood that was not enough. the statue was not enough. the painting, the image, the face was not enough. washington needed to be real for us. he needed to bring washington to school children, to
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grandparents, to farmers, to pioneers, to workers, to everybody. and the best way he knew to do that was to tell a series of stories, a series of anecdotes about george that would make him into a real human being, make him into somebody that everybody could feel they could shake his hand, they could look him in the eye, they could tell him their story. and george washington would understand. it's almost as if they could feel, i'm a farmer, i want to tell george washington, to share with him what it's like for me to be a farmer, what it's like to till the land, what it's like to raise children on a farm, all of my struggles. and george washington would be just like me, he would say, yes, i understand. it created a sense of connection not just with washington, but with the country. to make people feel that they
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were truly citizens of this country. so parson weems tells these stories, and they're very, they're very gentle. they're very easygoing. you get this feeling of love that flows through them. so george and his father -- george is a little boy, and he's walking with his father and talk talking about the beauty of the trees and the plants and the creation they see about them. and they come across this patch, this cabbage patch. and george looks at the cabbages, and he says, wow, the cabbages have sprouted, and they say the name george washington. [laughter] because his father had planted them that way. and so the father goes on to say, let's talk about the creator. let's talk about where we come from. and it's a very, again, it's a very gentle -- he's not wagging his finger and swatting him and telling him what to think.
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he's inspiring him to think. and the cherry tree story is the same thing. it's a very gentle story about george washington learning the lesson of truthfulness. this painting that you see here is a satire created by a man named grant wood in the 1930s. it's called parson weems' fable. this is a very different era, as you can see. it was a very cynical era. and it was a time when americans were, tended to look back on these legends with a lot of contempt and cynicism. and so he shows parson weems pulling back the curtain and seeing the father talking to the boy. and, of course, the boy has this ridiculous head of an old man. [laughter] but the other element that's
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here that is unusual is the slaves in the background. again, slaves, slaves were invisible, really, in the time of after washington's death in the 19th century. people didn't talk about them in the context of george washington's life. and it wasn't until the 1920s and the 1930s that people began to say, hey, look, here's this other aspect of who washington was, and let's take a hard look at this and what this means. so this painting of parson weems' fable has at the same time a satirical element, but there's also a very serious element to it too. it was a time of reappraising who george washington was. but i'll get back to that in a moment. one of the things that helped weems to be so successful and his followers in the 19th century in creating these stories and these images of george washington was the tragedy of what happened to
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washington's papers. now, when george washington was alive, he thought very seriously about the value of his papers. he called them -- and this is a direct quotation -- a species of public properties; sacred in my hands. when he was on his death bed, he in his last words, he asked that his will be brought out. he wanted to know that martha was going to be taken care of. but almost his last words were do you record and preserve my papers? they were very important to him. well, after he died the first thing that happened was that martha burned their correspondence. there were only a few letters left, and there are three of them. i discovered a fourth, i'll talk about that in a moment. but all of the rest were burned. there were two things. one is that this was common at
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the time in couples of these big planter families that when one of them died, the other would burn their correspondence as a way of maintaining privacy. but i think martha also wanted to feel there was one part of george that she would keep for herself. because she had given him to the public, to the country throughout his life. she had let him go to serve the nation. and i think she was feeling in some part of her mind, this is one piece of my husband that i will always keep for myself. in any case, their letters are gone. the worst thing happened after martha died in 1802, that the descendants of the washington family beginning with bushrod washington and going down through the years in the early 19th century were careless about the papers. and they let pretty much anybody who wanted to come in and carry off any, any letters they
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wanted. they'd hand them out to friends, they'd give them to people who were writing biographies of washington. and in particular my arch villain, jared sparks, who is a historian from harvard, and he wanted to write the first edition of the writings of george washington. it would only be selected letters, but he wanted to write a biography. and he believed washington was a great man, the greatest man who ever lived. so he went to mount vernon, he asked can i have piles and piles and piles of washington's letters, take them up to boston? i promise i'll give them back. scout's honor. well, he didn't. a few years later he gave back a portion of what he had taken, and he kept the rest. thus, several volumes of washington's diaries have, indeed, disappeared. and are lost forever unless there were some that turned up in that scottish castle.
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[laughter] there were many other letters that were scattered all over the country and all over the world, many of them were destroyed. we still find some that we have records in the 19th century so many people looking at them, they literally fell apart. even now people are selling letters on ebay. there's an unfortunate tendency some have unscrupulous manuscript dealers, they think they can earn more money if they cut these letters up into three-word sections, sell each of them for a couple thousand dollars and, again, these letters are lost forever. so we have a lot to thank jared sparks and his friends for. the washington papers were deposited eventually in the library of congress. but what was there was only a portion of the original. and we found letters all over the world as far away as russia and japan and in private homes all over the country.
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you saw the other george washington letter before. this looks like washington, but it isn't. this is a forgery. by a man named robert spring. the loss of washington's letters made it easy to create a new washington because the document was scattered. it was no longer there. but another thing that it enabled was the growth of forgeries. now, i mentioned mason locke weems as being the guy who saw the dollar bill in george washington. there were many, many, many who followed. in the 1830s and 1840s, george washington letters and founding father letters became big business. people still had this yearning to touch them, to feel the founders, to feel that they were there. and there was this craze to own a piece of washington and
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washington's legacy. so there would be lockets of his hair spreading around. you think if all of these lockets were authentic, he probably had a huge mane rather than just a regular head of hair. [laughter] you know, all of this stuff. but people were very interested in getting letters, washington letters. it wasn't long before the original letters became very hard to find and very expensive. so robert spring and his friends, unscrupulous forgers, hoaxsters decided, hey, you know, i can just copy washington's handwriting, make some kind of insignificant note and sell it. they did the same thing with franklin later on in the 19th century. they'd do it with robert e. lee, they did it with everybody. and so these forgeries are still floating all over the country. worse were people who exploited others in the name of making
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money off of george washington. and the first of those was p.t. barnum. a lot of people don't realize that p.t. barnum made his name, made his original fortune off of george washington. what he did in the 1830s is he went off to kentucky, and he found an elderly slave named joyce heff. he bought her, brought her back to the east coast, and he coached her. told her you are now 161 years old. [laughter] you were george washington's nanny. and you're going to get up on stage in new york city, in philadelphia and other major cities, and you're going to talk about what it was like to be with young george on the farm at mount vernon. so he coached her with stories like the cherry tree, other stories from parson weems, put
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her up on the stage and then had her give her spiel over and over. he worked her 12 hours a day, 16 hours a day up to 20 hours a day. eventually, she began to break down and collapse, people would come in, he'd have her in a room. kids would come in and start mocking her and trying to get her upset where she would start cursing. and, eventually, completely broke her down, and she died. well, that wasn't enough for our good friend p.t. barnum. he knew that people were talking about how he was a hoaxster, that none of this had actually happened. so he had her put on stage, her body, and had a doctor dissect her publicly. >> oh! >> and knowing very well the doctor was meant to see was she really 161 years old. the doctor dissected her, proclaimed, no, she was only in her 80s. everybody started yelling and hooting and hollering, and p.t.
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barnum was joking and laughing with the rest of them. he thought it was hilarious. to move on to a somewhat more pleasant subject -- [laughter] sally fairfax. in the 19th century, in the mid 19th century and up to the late 19th century, publishers began to understand the feminine market for books. that women loved to read. and that books that were written appealing specifically to women as they thought, into women's interests would make a lot of money. and so americans, again, there's still the same fascination with washington. and women, just like men, are very interested in the founder and want to understand him and want to feel like he could sympathize with them. so this interest developed in washington's love life. chief among these interests was sally fairfax.
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now, sally fairfax was a member of the wealthiest, most powerful family in virginia, the fairfax family. she was married to one of washington's best friends. well, it was rumored that george and sally had had some kind of an affair, and, in fact, it was, there was a letter that popped up that washington had written to sally just before he married martha, and he recalls a thousand tender passages that passed between us in the past. and some people were really fascinated by this and scandalized by it, and they began to develop these stories that washington was really a ladies' man and that before he married martha and after he married martha he had all these affairs, all these love affairs. and he became really a very fascinating, romantic figure. but the other angle to that was
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what happened to martha. what happened to her image in the 19th century. martha became the stereotypical victorian grandmother, and she -- worse than that, people began to claim that she was ugly, she was grouchy, she was always nagging george, that she was stupid, that she was really a terrible, terrible shrew and george couldn't stand her. he only married her for money, but he sought solace in the arms of other women such as sally fairfax. well, none of these stories were true. now, it may well be that before george got married to martha, that he had some episodes with other women. it may be that he had had a dalliance with sally before he
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married martha. but there's not one scrap of interest that he was unfair to martha during their married life together. in fact, all the evidence shows to the contrary. first of all, that when they got married, yes, martha was wealthy, but she was also a beautiful young woman. a widow, but still a beautiful young woman. but, yes, she was not formally educated, but she was still very intelligent. and that even more during their life together they began to depend on each other. and as you see through the revolutionary war, at every crisis moment of the revolution -- places like valley forge -- george needed martha to be there, and she came, and she shared much of the war with him. i was talking about the loss of martha's letters. in some ways martha did herself a disservice, because the loss of her letters led people to speculate what was really going on behind the scenes.
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i'm kind of proud of myself, because i found a number of years ago a fourth letter. there were three known to survive, i discovered a fourth. it was a note. it was written during the revolutionary war on the back of a meter from george's stepchild, jackie custus to george, and on the back was this note. and the note said: my love, i wrote to you in my last letter about the silver cup that i purchased, he's what the cup weighed. seemed insignificant, nobody really paid attention to it, but "my love," in this casual note intrigued me, and we found out it was martha's handwriting. martha writing to george at a casual moment about an everyday thing and calling him "my love," a small piece of evidence that they really did truly love each other. the other aspect of washington
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in the 19th century that grew was the image of a pious washington, the image of a christian washington. now, this was important to people even immediately after washington died, and eulogists and preachers and parsons would write, would talk about washington and talk about him as being an upstanding christian man who was an example to our nation. in the mid 19th century, in the late 19th century which was a very pious time when americans felt very seriously and very strongly about their faith and their religion and they also felt passionately about george washington, it was almost inevitable that the two would connect. and that the image of washington as the pious christian, the man who prayed daily, would become very compelling to people. but as part of this need, part of this passionate, passionate need to believe that this was
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true, inevitably, falsehoods slipped in. because people wanted to believe them. the image of washington pray anything the snow at finish praying in the -- praying in the snow at valley forge was originated by parson weems in one of the later editions of his biography of george washington. there's a story that when washington was at valley forge that a quaker named isaac potts had happened upon washington out in the woods, and he had seen him kneeling in the snow and praying for deliver answer for his -- deliverance for his army. and this quaker who had, before this he had been completely neutral in the revolutionary war, he had not wanted to take sides. but he was inspired by this not only in his own religious faith, but also he decided if a man like this can be on his knees
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and pray in the snow for this cause, it must be a good cause. so he became convert today the revolutionary cause. this is the story that parson weems made very compelling, but it was a story that evolved over time, and new versions of it developed, and new stories developed. and so all kinds of dozens, hundreds of stories entered into our folklore of washington being discovered in prayer. this is the newest and most popular rendition of washington kneeling in the snow at valley forge, and i could give a whole lecture about how that image of washington kneeling in the snow developed over time. now, the truth is there's really no evidence for this ever happening, for washington kneel anything the snow, but that hasn't stopped it from being a powerful image. president ronald reagan loved to refer to this. he said the image of washington kneeling in the snow at valley
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forge is the most sublime image in our nation's history. so more and more stories developed. there's a story that -- and they got to the point of being rather ridiculous. there's a story of washington praying in his tent during the revolutionary war and that it was a very special time for him. everybody knew, don't bother the general when he's praying. well, nathaniel green, much to his sorrow, blundered into the tent. george washington stood up and fired his pistol at him. [laughter] fortunately, he missed, but nathaniel green was so terrified that he ran away and didn't ever bother him at prayer again. and this was a story that spread throughout the 19th century, many people believed it. another story that was very popular that developed was the story of george washington's baptism. and this is, again, a story that there was no solid evidence that anything like this ever happened. but it developed and gathered
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strength over the time in the 19th century. people passionately wanted to believe it, and they spoke about washington first being baptized. the original story was, again, this happened at valley forge in the winter at valley forge. [laughter] that washington went to a parson, and he said i've been convinced of the truth of god's word, and i'd like you to baptize me. in the water. and, of course, like many stories of this type, washington usually says, now, this has got to be private. i don't want anybody to see this. so there are no witnesses. but it supposedly happened. i like to imagine what it was like really going into the skukill river in january of 1778, climbing out. [laughter] the story later developed and changed, and it was shifted to a somewhat warmer location in the potomac river, it was said he was baptized there. this is reverend john ganno
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supposedly did it. but then it was moved back north again and somebody said, no, it was in the hudson that it happened. [laughter] all of these reflect, again, a powerful and passionate need to feel that washington was one off us. if we are believing christians and we believe in our nation, there's this powerful need to believe that washington was with us, that he would understand, that he would support us. and now this image of washington, the christian, has again become compelling. there are quotes that glenn beck likes to use, sean hannity that washington supposedly said it is impossible rightly to govern the world without god and the bible. and this coa quotation -- quotation is all over the place. you can find it all over the internet. there's no evidence that washington ever said it or wrote it, and it was most likely made up in the 19th century by somebody else.
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but, again, there's this need to believe it. now, what was washington? was he a christian? what did he really believe? it's a very difficult question to answer. we can be certain on the one hand he was not an atheist, he was not a deist. he was also, on the other hand, not an evangelical christian. he was not powerfully interested in the theology and in the forms of the christian religion. he did go to church, but he was very careful not to take communion and not to kneel. why he felt that way, we don't exactly know. he didn't mention jesus christ in his correspondence, and he didn't talk about god on his death bed. i believe he was a very moral man, a very virtuous man. he was influenced by the stoics. he took his feelings about morality very seriously. and, indeed, if you had asked him, are you a christian, he
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might well have said, yes. but his sense of christianity is very difficult to get ahold of. we just know it wasn't on one of the extremes. well, that's a very powerful image. [laughter] of washington. and this is another powerful image of washington. [laughter] developing in the late 19th century, the early 20th century is the washington mythology -- as the washington mythology gathers strength and develops, and the centennial in 1876 of the revolution, the declaration of independence and beyond that, americans became fascinated with historic homes and buildings. well, now you know if you own a restaurant or if you own a historic inn or bed and breakfast, there's one thing you need to succeed; you have to have a ghost. in the 19th century, you had to have george washington. you had to say that washington slept here. it became a very kind of
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powerful tour attraction. -- tourist attraction. so people all over the country in these old buildings would put "washington slept here" in the windows. and sure enough, it attracted people. they would hand out souvenirs, they would claim that after washington tumbled out of bed that morning in the revolutionary war, they couldn't make themselves make the bed again. they'd say this is just how he left it. [laughter] they also enjoyed displaying washington's chamber pots. [laughter] they were a little bit more coy about that, but they did do it. it got to the point in the early 20th century that the washington mania became washington kit. it got out of control. washington cigar wrappers, washington apples, washington ceremonial hatchets that he chopped down the cherry tree with supposedly. it's all over the place.
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inevitably, there is a reaction. after the first world war and we move into the 1920s and the 1930s, it's a very, very different time from the 1800s. it's a time when people believe they needed to overturn the old ways of thinking, the old ways of doing things, all of the old ideas about patriotism and about god and about morality, throw them out the window. world war i has shown that all of these just lead to destruction. we have to find a new way. in the 1920s in america, people began to feel that washington was part of that old way. and in entered rupert hughes. shown here, rupert was a hollywood mogul and author. he, with another man named w.a. woodward, decided that they
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would debunk washington as being representative of the old ways. they were quite cynical about it. bunk, their stories about where that originated from, it was popular in the 1920s, it was associated with henry ford and how he liked to say bunk to mean "nonsense." well, w.a. woodward and rupert hughes said, well, they looked at troops being deloused in world war i, and they said if troops can be deloused, washington can be debunked. [laughter] that's where the word "debunked" comes from. that's where it started. and they didn't just try to destroy the washington myths, they tore washington down to the gutter. they claimed that he was a gin-swilling, cigar-smoking, champion curser who had deformed hands and was incredibly ugly. he looked like an ape, and he pawed at any woman who came his
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way, and they were always jilting him. that he blundered his way through the revolutionary war, all of this stuff got completely out of, out of control. and the reaction was washington was torn down so far, and they were so successful in tearing him down that americans lost interest. even after the 1932 bicentennial of washington's birth it was, you know, a gala affair. people talked about washington a lot, but it was always as a flat, two-dimensional image, as a washington who really doesn't have any being to him. it's interesting, in world war ii, in the cold war you never see washington in propaganda. you don't see him in movies except in one really bad movie i talked about in my book in 1951. he's gone. he becomes this very kind of distant, two-dimensional figure,
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and americans lose interest in him. enter james thomas flexner in the 1960s, author of still one of the best-selling biographies of washington ever known. flexner decided that washington would be his indispensable man, but flexner became washington's indispensable man because flexner breathed life back into washington. but he did it in kind of an unscrupulous way. flexner was a great writer, he was a great storyteller. and he decided, let's not just rely on the documents anymore. i can start telling stories. to make him come alive. so he would start with a document that said, a letter. washington was sick, he came home from the french and indian war. big deal. flexner writes a story from that of washington sagging on his
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horse, riding up to the doors of mount vernon, sliding out of the saddle, staggering to the door and pounding on it and crawling up the stairs to his room, throwing himself on his bed and then a letter arrives from sally fairfax, and he vaults out of his bed. [laughter] and suddenly, he's full of energy again. this was flexner's gift. he was very much like a mason locke weems of the 20th century. he was a storyteller, and he was very successful. as we enter into the era of ronald reagan and flexner's biography is turned into a mini serious on it's with barry bostwick and reagan is talking about george washington, a whole new era of george washington mythology begins. and a whole new era of founding father mythology begins. the founders are very popular now, and george washington is very popular now. and i'm going to end on this:
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washington is renowned, as he should be, in exhibits such as this one at mount vernon, and mount vernon's new visitor' center, educational center is absolutely amazing. if you haven't been there, you need to go. they do a wonderful job of making washington again into a living, breathing human being who lived ab action-filled -- an action-filled life, who had all kinds of exciting things, who can still continue to be a leader and be authentic at the same time. but around this george washington, this man on horseback, this man of character still swirl dozens and hundreds and thousands of myths and stories. stories that we believe often because we want to believe them, because they seem to bring washington to us, they seem to bring him into our lives.
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now, the one lesson this shows is that we still need the founders. we still need george washington. all of us. we're still fascinated by him. and we still want him not to be a marble statue, not to be a two-dimensional image. we want him to be real. is mythology a bad thing? i leave that really to you to decide. it can be funny, it can be infuriating, all the false quotations, all the false stories. they can make you laugh, like the space alien story, or they can make you angry like the false story that he had a child with a slave. or the story that he smoked marijuana is, you know, ultimately, ridiculous and annoying because it's not true. but do they help us to feel inspired? do they help us to feel interested in washington as not
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just, you know, some papers, some dry, dusty papers, but as somebody who's still part of our society? if you see washington at mount vernon, and you see him on horseback, it looks like we don't need to worry because washington is still with us. thank you. [applause] >> i'll be happy to take questions. i believe that our folks here will be calling on people. and handing the microphone. >> do you have any estimate of how much of washington's papers are missing? percentage wise? >> well, we have at the
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washington papers only copies, but we have identified copies of 140,000 documents. i would say that the number of documents that are missing or have been lost or are still out there undiscovered probably in the realm of 20-30,000. or possibly more. it's hard to say, but it's a good percentage. like i said, several volumes of his diaries are still gone. we enter periods in his correspondence, like now we're working on the revolutionary war, where there are just huge gaps. everything is gone. and so there's quite a bit still out there. >> with all the books about george washington, how can one be sure that what they're reading is really authentic or true? >> that's a really, really good question. [laughter] well, well, you know if i wrote it -- [laughter]
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truthfully, though, there are many authors out there who can write beautifully and be very engaging who also make a strong effort to do the research and to base what they're saying on actual facts. i think ron chernow does a wonderful job of that. he really tried very hard to make sure that he was basing what he said on actual documents and actual truths. but he's also a beautiful writer. so you look at their notes, you look at their bibliography. i hate this trend now, so many history books they get rid of the notes and the bibliography and the index because they think somebody will look at that and think, oh, this is going to be a boring academic book. if that stuff is not there, if author is not saying where they got their stories from, then be kind of wary of it. just because it sounds good
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doesn't mean that it's true. >> the trunk of letters found in the bank in alexandria several years ago, within the last ten years, do you happen to know what happened to it and who has the contents? >> unfortunately, i don't know what has happened with that. >> we do. >> you know? okay. they figured it out. they're here, okay. there, you know, it's an interesting question because these types of things are still turning up in attics, they're still turning up in old trunks. but even when that happens, doesn't mean necessarily that they're authentic. there's a quote-unquote george washington prayer book that was discovered in an old trunk in the 19th century. and sold by a very reputable auction house named stan henkel 's as being george
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washington's prayer book that he supposedly read every day, but it was a hoax. it was a forgery. so these discoveries are being made, and they're wonderful, and they're fascinating, but we still have to look at them very carefully to see if they're real or not. >> what was president washington's general position on the native americans? how did he relate to them and what was his philosophy about them? >> the question about washington's philosophy on native americans is a very sensitive one, and there are some people who have published books and articles recently claiming that washington was brutal and wanted to exterminate the indians and hated them. that's not true. washington did have a high regard for native americans. he valued their culture, and he believed that they would be great allies as they were great
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fighters during the revolutionary war. so he got to know as he was on the frontier as a young man working on the frontier, he got to have experiences with indians, to meet them, to learn about their culture. yes, he didn't understand them entirely and, yes, he felt sometimes the only way to deal with them is by force. during the revolutionary war he sent out something called sullivans expedition to put down the iroquois confederacy and did so quite brutally. but washington had kind of an ambivalent view of indians but very interesting. >> one of the stories of washington was that he had copied down the rules of civility and carried it around with him. is that so? is and if so, were those, a copy ever captured in the documents? >> the rules of civility, washington's rules of civility,
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this is another thing. when people first read them, they assumed he had written them himself when he was a young man, that he had actually made them up. there are dozens of them that talk about everything from how to speak well and how to be polite to things like don't spit into the fire and don't scratch under your arms. [laughter] it turned out what it had actually come from is that washington copied them from an old, i believe 16th century, jesuit prayer book or book of morals, that he actually hadn't made them up himself. people still debate did washington write these because he believed you should follow them, or did he write them as a penmanship exercise just to look at how to develop his hand? i tend to believe it was a bit of the penmanship side than the morals side, but there's plenty of room for debate. i do think, though, there's no question that moral rules and principles of behavior and
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etiquette were extremely important to washington. >> i actually have two questions. one is, recently i talked to two different people and one said washington was an atheist, the other said he was a deist. is there evidence to say that, what his religious beliefs were, and what do you believe they were, and the other question is, how do you authenticate that the documents are genuinely from washington? >> i'm sorry, the questioner was over here. how do i feel about washington's belief. as i read his letters and i've read an awful lot of them now, over 15 years, the thing that i see creeping through is the influence of stoicism and the ideals of stoicism which also had much to do with christianity. and the sense that there was an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful providence as he called it who governed or helped
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to direct the actions of men. now, this wasn't entirely fatalistic, he didn't think, you know, we just have to bow down and accept how things are predestined to happen, but he believed that each man, each woman was given a choice of roles in life to follow, they were given a choice of duties and responsibilities to follow. he felt that for him as for other men providence had laid out a path for him of duty, of responsibility to country, to family and to everything else. he was actually a very idealistic thinker, and people don't quite get that. a lot of talk that he was a pragmatist. he was an idealist, he believed in sacrificing himself. how he felt about his faith and how he felt about his relationship with god is something we'll never be able to know for sure. we can say that the forms of the
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religion were something, you know, of going to church daily, of saying daily prayers were not something that he really followed carefully. there's no evidence that he said prayers daily. there's no evidence, we do know he read the bible, because he quotes from it sometimes. did he read the bible regularly? there's no evidence that he ever did. did he respect people of different faiths? absolutely. and he did believe that religion was important, the free exercise and practice of religion was important to a free and ordered society. and he went to protestant churches, he went to catholic churches, he went to synagogue, he attended different faith, you know, liturgies. but he didn't actively participate. so i think we need to keep him away from the extremes on one side or the other. >> one more question.
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>> the masonic temple in alexandria, can you comment on the contribution of the masons in making the mythic stature of george washington? >> sure. that's a really good question. washington as a mason, masonry was important to washington. he was a mason, he followed, he attended the masonic ceremonies, but it's important to remember that free masonry was extremely important in the 18th century as an entry into social life, political life. really if you were anywhere in the upper tier society, you were in politic or golfer nance, you had -- governance, you had to be a mason. it was a very important fraternity, and if you weren't a member, you were going to have trouble getting by. so part of it was a, you know, something he had to do. it does appear that he actually enjoyed it as well.
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but how he felt deeply about the tenets of free masonry, we don't really know. however, the masons since washington's death, obviously, they led his funeral. his funeral was a masonic funeral. and since washington's death the masons have been very active in promoting washington as one of them. and in some of their efforts they have created, just like everybody else, a kind of washington mythology, as washington as a mason as supposedly being the only primary thing in his life. which it wasn't. it was one of many things in his life. >> join me in thanking edward lengel. [applause] >> edward lengel is the editor-in-chief of the papers of george washington. for more information visit
12:59 pm >> c-span's local content vehicles partnered with brighthouse networks to check out the local literary scene in tampa, florida. here's a short video from that trip. >> which parties do you think are the most vel rant to today? -- relevant to today? is. >> well, i would say the american party of the 1850s. they were an anti-immigrant party, anti-catholic party. and, of course, many our history, um, we always say we love immigrants. we have the statue of liberty in new york harbor. but we have mixed feelings about immigrants. we want them, we need them, but we're always sort of suspicious of immigrants. now, in terms of the liberty party, um, up until the 1830s this was predominantly a protestant country.


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