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tv   Author Discussion on George Washington  CSPAN  August 18, 2021 1:10am-2:01am EDT

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capital city and that is his true legacy. thank you everyone. coverage of l gaithersburg book festival? maryland. >> hello and welcome to the 2021 virtual gaithersburg book festival i am your host for this presentation.
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before we get started a quick plan to support the others by purchasing their books from the book selling partner politics and prose one w of america's premier independent bookstores. given all we have been through over the pastt. year it's so important to support local jobs and the economy. want to extend a big thank you to our 2021 feature sponsor for their generous support. let's get started. tonight we have with us to highly acclaimed authors here to discuss the latest books to discuss washington. with the political rise of america'sre founding father and that's a fascinating account to become the single most dominant force in the creation
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of the united states of america. david stewart is a best-selling writer of history and historical fiction a topic such as the constitutional convention and the treason trial in the impeachment trial of andrew johnson he has learned the washington writing award for best book and in the prescott award. george washington's final battle the struggle those into washington's involvement of the establishment of the capital city to describena how it tore the young and vulnerable country apart a professor and historian with over 40 publish books and hundreds of scholarly articles serving as a visiting scholar at many historic sites
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including presidential libraries andndcr universities e ghostt ship of brooklyn any and told story of the american revolution and america's first crisis.. >> the story i tried to tell was intriguing to me and that with those key elections he was commander-in-chief of also the constitutional he was elected anonymously. that was obtained deal and it
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is unimaginable stay. ie, wanted to to understand how that happens. what is the magic that he was able to apply to make that happen? and the storyte i found was may be different from theea one we think we know about washington. he was not ann instant success. it wasn't easy. the third son not elite in virginia by any means. his father died when he was 11 and when you are the third son you don't get very much. he didn't. he was a third son of a planter of the second rank, not an elite figure in virginia by any means. his father died when he was 11, and when you were the third son you didn't get very much in those days and he didn't.
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he got some pretty shop worn assets, and -- because he was 11 his mother took them over and she was right to do that. she had five little kids to raise as a single mom. so he goes to work when he is 16. he has not had the sort of formal education his two older brothers had or he wished he had. always embarrassed because hit lack of formal education and goes to work because he needs the money, which is not how we think of george washington usually. but through connections and he has got -- wonderful next door numbers, in mt. vernon, the fairfax who owned most of north virginia and are incred by powerful the sponsor him and he becomes as a very young age the head of the virginia regimen, fighting the french and indians on the western frontier. and it's a great opportunity.
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it seemed and then turns out to be a terrible opportunity because the indians are wonderful forest fighters, and virginians are not, and he had basically three years on the frontier where nothing goes well. ambushes, massacres, he doesn't win anything, and it's really miserable. he is miserable, and he becomes testy, and he manages to alienate basically all of his superiors, the british military establishment and the loyal governor of virginia who gave him the job, and he alienateses the -- he says rotten things to them and jumps the chain of command and goes behind their backs and when he finally resigns his commission, i think they were all delighted to see him leave and he doesn't have a
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career in the military world he hopes to have. he then decides, i think to re-invent himself, as a political figure, as a squire in the classic virginia tradition, he lucks into mount vernon. plea close relatives have to die for him to get it but he gets its and marries an extremely wealthy woman, a widow, margaret custis, and he sets off on a career that most people ignore when they writes about washington and think about him. he spends self-years the virginia house as a legislator, the clonal legislature. he spends a decade on the parish vest triwhich had men responsibilities including taking care of poor and he also spent six years on the fairfax county court which sounds
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judicial but is partly -- was partly but also was administrative. it had responsibilities for figuring out the roads, the back of warehouses for the expert business and washington is extraordinarily good at administrative work, executive action. and in these roles, he creates a new person as near as i can seem he tries to build on his strengths and not his weaknesses and that's what growing up is all about and he does it in an interesting way. he is -- hayes not a very good voice. doesn't trust his education to mix it up in debate and needs to develop a quiet leadership style and there's a wonderful episode i emphasize which i think
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highlights his challenge. early on he brings legislation forward to end the run offering pigs in the city of winchester, frontier city, and if you have pigs rubbing through town, not in pens, you're not in a civilized place. they go to the bathroom where they want and it's ugly and they break into your storage. it's lousy. so, he brings this legislation which really i could not understand why it was controversial. did the pigs have lobbyists? i find its confusing but he knows this. he can't get its through, and another legislator, very smart lawyer named pendleton, takes over the bill and reinvented it as a bill to protect the water quality and winchester -- because when you're defer indicating everybody its goes into the wells and it's bad.
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and it sales through, and it's just a very small window into just how, if i dare say, how clueless he was. he needed to learn a lot. and he does. it takes him a while. he doesn't rocket to the top of the political ladder, but he combine he creates a new persona built on talents he has. always the tallest go any room. always look goods, very fussy about his presentation, his clothing. he developed this quiet style where he -- he made himself a great listener. and he would hear people out. he was developing consultative style. the time on the court helped. that. as young man, military leader he
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was been reckless, going with his gust too often, and -- his gut too often and develops an approach where he wants to hear from smart people. going to make up his own mind but wants to know what smart people think about something. he has the ability to make true judgments about people. he's always got that talent. and he has extraordinary energy. he gets up at 4:00 in the morning. he looks over everything on the plantation and then he goes off and he rides for -- he doesn't rest until 3:00 in the afternoon. he is basically worked for ten hours. he has a meal and then works a few more hours, and then he has supper and sometimes works more. and that sort of energy well-directed makes us a huge difference in your life.
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something that struck me that i wasn't expecting about him is it turned out he -- by my interpretation he had a great emotional accessibility, to just -- a gift with people. not necessarily in a large group, although he was a tremendous performer, john adams called him the best actor we have ever had as president. but he was referred to by many contemporaries as apple -- cease this bust and the marble man, but in fact people enjoyed his company. there was a french officer who described traveling through early america with him, and he said it was as though he was everybody's father and brother. and that sort of emotional accessibility was a key to his leadership style.
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john adams called it the gift of silence which is gift john adams didn't have but it made a difference, and i was surprised to discover that on several occasions he wept in book and was not brasessed -- embarrassed and showed it and i tried to take this understanding i was working towards of howl he made -- remade himself from the first constant anyone tall congress in 1774. george washington is the guy we reek nice as george washington and i think he is. and then look at specific episodes in his mature career where he demonstrates the political tall lenz he developed and -- talent he developed and a
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quick overshoe i focus on seven months at valley forge, the army was a bit risk of unraveling. he needed to build bridges to congress, make that work. needed to repel an effort to replace him as commander in chief. actually a bureaucratic maneuver to get him out, and it turned out that he was a pretty good -- pretty good at political knife fight and was able to survive that cleanly. the second period i look at is the transition to peace time. his resignation with the army is a huge moment, creates again -- reinforces the notion he is man that can be trusts and dust lust after power and in the. of period of drift in 1780s, the arms of con federation, it is washington's reputation and i think talents that end up
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bringing the country together in the constitutional convention and ratification of the constitution. as president there's two episodes i look at especially the first is neutrality policy to stay out of european wars. the second which i am going to leave to robert because he has made a real study of it, is establishing the new government and in particular its seat of government which was a central act in creating a nation. sometimes forget, in these times, there was no tradition of the united states of america. the colonies were independent. they didn't think of themselves as one country and they had to learn. the only things they had that were unifying were the army during the war, this new constitution, and george washington. and he played this to such a
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central role, and i couldn't not address his labor issue which was the central part of his life, all his life. it takes him a fair number of years in his life before he appreciates the crime of labor. her comes to appreciate it and makes an effort to extract himself from slave ownership. he doesn't ever make that work because he doesn't have enough money to do it. it's click it story and i won't -- complicated story. it's not going to quell on it here. her wants to but he can't. and where i do mark him down to be honest is he never speaks out. he speaks privately. we need to get rid of slavery. but never publicly, and this is a huge moral issue for the nation and our greatest leader was silent.
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and that was a shame. i think he decided he wasn't going to change anything anyway he made a cold political calculation that was too bad. most of us know about his free offering his slaves in his will, which i see mostly as an act of personal atonement, not a political act. he wrote at one point, i hope this action will not be displacing to my maker. -- difference pleasing to my maker. hes a load of guild which he winds as a slave owner for many years. so, with that, i look forward to hearing from robert on the final battle. >> david, thank you. i am impressed, i agree with everything you said, and just for the audience, some of the award david has won, for his wright books are among the moe prestigious in our field. david i always like to ask
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authors what they learned now or how they changed their image of the subject. you said that you were a little surprised about washington's emotional accessibility as was i. could you perhaps expand on that and one of the things i've always said when i tackle a subject, i often times like them less once i get to know them more with a few exceptions 0 liming washington and lincoln and truman. how did your view of washington -- did it evolve or like him more or less and if you could expand on that idea, ice emotional accessibilities being surprising to you. >> a lot of it is his moments of loss. basically most people in -- we know in life dial, all eight of his siblings died before he did. and he writes plainly, directly,
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how much it hurts, and i dade book on james madison that is nothing like that. and aaron burr, god knows, never wrote about it or said anything but washington, again, is not ashamed of it and one episode in particular involved with his stepdaughter, who do got epilepsy and dies at the age of 15 am a family dinner and he writes a moving alert about to an in-law and he does something which is he's gets a lot of plans for the next three months and cancelings them all, and he stays at mount vernon and he stayed with martha, and he and martha arrived together and they had never done that. what was a tremendous horseman and a great rider and grate athlete and he probably couldn't
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keep up with him and he would get impatient and just wasn't the best. but in this time period, he stayed with her and rode with her and it's not heroic. it's not more than you would hope anybody would do. but he did it. and it was a picture of the real man that meant something to him. >> that's an important insight as i think one of your contributions -- one of you're many is peeling back the layers of the onion and trying to get at the real washington which you said at the outset and i share your views, comps across through the generations as just this statue so i've always felt he what's hardest to know of all the founders but stories like that provide us with an invaluable insight. ask you another question, i like to ask >> is much as i can and whatever needs to be done.
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and i don't have the targets that i realize i don't know what happened. with those books you have written there is so much to do and know that it takes a lot of scrambling around. >> any big challenges during the research process there is so much out there in washington that never seem it would be an easy project that because there's so much out there to find some new nuggets and insights to flesh out the person rather than in this caricature or this existing challenges?y
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period that's five focused on the five episodes it's just too much with eight so laying volumes published papers. you have been through a lot of them. it's creepy you can lose yourself. swept some point you say. >> others likeh. to keep it a secret but do you have another book planned or can you let us know what is next? >> something completely different i have three novels i have written about to my mother's family. the first one but then of
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course for the civil war was volume two and c then they had to do volume three but my mother was such the unreliable narrator she told great stories and we always knew they weren't always entirely true. [laughter] so that sort of became fiction. [laughter] >> no question. thank you. that's a tough fact to follow but the idea behind my book george washington's final battle that washington building a capital city and doing so to forge a nation so
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i got the idea but first off we all want the capital city the tree-lined mall and the smithsonian i love all the monuments to the fallen and the majestic government buildings. and with that design and architecture and of course all the political twist and turns behind it is one heck of a story so the reason why i wrote the book ties into david's work and coming across as more monument band man more myth than flesh and blood and i like the story david shared about him canceling engagements over three months
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and in particular to overlap completely with the argument i've always seen washington more political than the narrative or the pop culture. and had political talents washington could reinvent himself politically. i wouldn't put him as a chess master or the arm twister of lbj t and washington had some skills he could have charisma and was the biggest guy in the room. physically a largee man. and then the real presence and
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he knew that. and also not that well-educated or articulate. and then to play the role the cards he has given but the story that i flesh out in the book the vote on a key issue. they were for votes shy and washington asked madison and others for the revo and people were scratching their head we need time to work on this so they call for a revote that washington has four senators and flipped all for. we don't have the details behind it but one can only imagine somebody sits in the office and the doorway and then filling up george washington who says i need you
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to do something for me. so that is an example but the other aspect i've always seen his life o as a quest for self-improvement to be aware of his weaknesses and did reinvent himself to make himself an amazing leader and is more introspective than peoplexa realize. and a little less standoffish but whates i want to flesh out is with the revolutionary war he did not know where he was going he did not have the classicro military training which ended up being a good thing. and then like my grandmother throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. and then to see this again and
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again. so there was no template. the favor on —- the framers created an all-new form of government and went beyond the senate and far beyond those which contemplated that they would later call for the people and then through every action and inaction to everything he said and did not say was forging an office and forging a a nation. washington was a very innovative farmer he was doing aquaculture and doing things that was in the region. off the potomac and then that
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technology. into the london merchant and the ultimate view of washington's passion is vision and creativity and it all comes together to forge a capital city. and that's a what he puts his political stock. and is a visionary looking at a brand-new form of a capital. so the backdrop you can see it after the war we won the war, nowow what? they say we really fought for this you don't have the government but the articles of
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confederation when branch of government. ineffective and ineffectual. but when the british left they took the positions and the lawyers and the educated. what did we have left? we cannot pay veterans we couldn't payback our debts to europe the currency was worthless in the states were bickering. so in some ways it's easier to win a war then to actually governrs and then to have begging go back but his work was not yet done but you can see that washington identified with serious problems and one of them was this the revolutionary war starts 1775
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doesn't end until 1783 we went the whole way without a permanent government. we created a brand-new nation with a out on —- there were over 30 cities from albany and new york city in baltimore and annapolis. monday solved this parochialism everyone wanted their city and state and not another. and then to conspire against pennsylvania and that was economics to blockade the eastern seaboard the economy is in ruin, so people and then
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that meant an economic windfall and then he said maybe we need multiple capitals that was a funny drill on —- joke about the trojan horse but so we could not get a capital then enters washington who really identifies what is so remarkable to me that should have been franklin. that should have been adams and jefferson. we had remarkable renaissance man well educated and traveled
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an extraordinary intellect. the one among them that was not well-traveled or educated one trip abroad spending a few days in barbados. so i think that innovation to think out-of-the-box. so here's the problems that i focus on. number one the government would not endure as soon as the revolutionary war in march of 1783 along the hudson in new york there is mutiny. and then about to seize victory. and then there is a mini in philadelphia. and then to pull them out.
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and this with the insurrection on january 6 and civil disobedience. this scares the hell out of washington he realizes the government may not endure. what do we do about the government? but then sectionalism we already see the north south rift we see the formation of the federalist and anti- federalist and those with the jeffersonian the madisonian's in washington was displeased. but the third problem we are a cultural upstart. and in the era of monarchs.
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with deerskin and raccoon hats. how do we conduct treaties? and then also which was alluded to is we don't have the spirit of american and identity or nationalism. and then to massachusetts was left for pennsylvania. so then to describe the states. so now singular the united states that is the other
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problem so how does washington address these problems? a capital city a grand and glorious romanesque the city for the ages located halfway between the north and south too far in a the south or the north how do you interview the people with j national identity with a small federal town with brick buildings the capital city is 10 miles square it is 100 miles to put paris and london to shame. this is the ambitious undertaking the government will f not endure if we look at legitimacy and strength that could endure. they are two visions one is led by a jefferson and that
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slave owning and just a few acres single-story brick buildings separated by fields and woods a and forest think of the architectural politics is the federal government then the states are supreme not challenge of the institution of slavery if you have a roman the potomac onbo —- potomac then i could change thenm equation so washington challenges is southerners and the jeffersonianan model to envision a brand-new capital city so what washington is cognizant of is one of the biggest surprises you don't think of washington ast a deep thinker or band he learned his life
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lessons to fight the wilderness. but washington realizes here to for unknown system of government and we will create a brand-new capital. in the capital city will influence the development of this new nation which i think is just an extraordinary way of thinking and i am surprised so they waited grow up together to shape the development so to play a critical role he will select the site where the capital will be. happens to be near mount
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vernon and his beloved potomac and it was a joke some of the other founder said washington had potomac fever he was upset switch he had can owed —- can you and surveyed and charted and he knew it and he loved it. saying it was greater than all of the rivers in the world. it is the potomac but he wasn't well-traveled. when putting capital next to the river so he will forge a new capital washington selects the site. he surveys a lot. he picks the architects. he picks l'enfant a famous engineer heaney through his
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service of the revolutionary war. but he was classically trainede in paris and never glorious capital for the ages. channeling rome inspired by paris into intersect public squares each filled with memorials and monuments and glorious marble ask building so he shared the exaggerated view of the capital and picks james whole been from ireland and is part of the effort to get the scottish stonemasons to have those beautiful embellishments on the building. he plays a role to so the plots of land and to raise funding. so from beginning to end so
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during his presidency one of the great things washington did he had his eyes on the ball to create a nation so the last ten years of his life he was darn near obsessed. he visited the site hiring the commissioners and demands regular updates and stays intimately involved in it. let me say one more thing and i will bring this to a close. everybody has seen hamilton the musical. my 20 -year-old son is named for alexander hamilton which he now tells his friends very proud he did not like it beforere anybody under 30 things hamilton is the bomb. i remind my colleagues i was
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on the hamilton bandwagon 20 years ago when my son was born. it's easy to love him but hard to like him he was very complicated adams is complicated. jefferson. and then they all were. so the dinner party june 20th, 1790. and in the room where it happened. you have two factions the jeffersonian and the hamiltonian less government and more government just to make it simplistic enough but the problem whenever they butted heads be he would carry it because of washington. and then to be more i —-
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ideologically aligned but he saw hamilton as his son. and hamilton is his right-hand man and with jefferson's involvement on behalf of france so on june 19 the day before he here's a great commotion and they have a fight and they both have volcanic tempers and part ofev his stoicism can be contributed to a lifelong passion that is self-improvement that i talk about so hamilton comes out
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jefferson says he's never seen them so dejected so he moves quickly and invites him to dinner the next night when they have a rift and then they have to resolve pressing issues just to among them and the other is the question of the debt the federal debt assumption suresh in the b-uppercase-letter? so at one point new york and was darn near nonnegotiable. the belovedted virginia so only all geese wants. so to jefferson and madison's surprise, we don't have a lot
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of sources. we have secondary sources but he would write a day reimagined version to put him in favorable light and it was the worst moment of his political life because he did w not like hamilton. he agrees the capital goes in the south but what hamilton knew washington was already up on the edge of the potomac now the south did not want to contribute so a lot of the fighting and the cost was born by the northern states pennsylvania new york and massachusetts were in a pickle so jefferson and madison will not contribute. so what they didn't realize by them not contributing the federal government has to assume their debt and the
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treasury secretary one of the most powerful people in the government. so hamilton plays the brilliant madison like a d guitar and gets all that he wants and then to have an interestingf exchange with a little simple town jefferson proposes to have a design contest. the public submits the designs but jefferson proposes i will serve on that committee and share it. thinks. he picks his own design basically which is probably submitted anonymously. but what he doesn't realize washington says no we will go with mine and l'enfant.
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so there is many extraordinary legacies even at the local level to preside the constitutional convention 178722 terms to step down as general am president so part of this greatness is not what he did what he didn't do but then to forge the capital city that this is the equation we don't have and then the questions that i discussed earlier if the government word long endure that could be different and there was consideration what we would mean that capital city and everybody knew i'm just nerdy
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enough to say it's scary but part of meetings it's funny but glad they dropped it. washington does not live to see his beloved capital. the capital city finally opens t , 1801 year later when adams moves in. is not the city we know today. a couple of buildings and fields of mud because they cut everything down. adams was disgusted and abigail by the presencee of slaves building the city because we didn't have the money we had to rely on slave laborn. one interesting story from the book is one of the folks who help to survey was a former slave and and then to survey
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the city that is poetic. but adams was disgusted because only six rooms were finished the roof leaked. no place for abigail to hang her laundry orf get running water and the building week done fresh plaster there was hammering and sawing of construction but adams recognize they didn't play any role in any of this capital city debate which is odd because he was intimately involved but he does recognize the extraordinary vision that he has a front row seat to history and writes a letter to abigail. that the building is in a
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situation to be inhabited but now the building that we know as the white house the best of blessings upon this house and all that word and habitat yearse founding of this country. but not in the capitol. but he doesn't recognize washington's external revision. and he does recognize that he is a front row seat to history. as he moves in and he writes a letter containing sort of a poetic verse. he said the building is in a situation to be inhabited basically.


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