tv Nathaniel Philbrick Travels with George CSPAN December 5, 2021 12:00am-1:01am EST
>> exploring the american story, watch american history tv every weekend and find schedule on program guide or watch online any time at c-span.org/history. thoughts are recorded in this book washington's own words preserved in diaries and transcriptions of those diaries are freely available on founders online, the searchable site hosted by the national archive through the national historical
publications commission. transcriptions of thousands of documents written by and to the nation's founders. there you can find washington's letter to cabinet written before setting off for savannah, georgia laying out itinerary instruction should any serious matter occur in his absence. you can read entries from his dairy which record the places he stopped, the conditions the weather and terrain and major crops of the area. reading the words preserve, traditional and digital archives we can become more familiar with washington and the other founders. finalist for both the 2007 pulitzer prize in history and
los angeles book prize. the book in the heart of the sea one the national book award for nonfiction and adapted as a film in 2015. joining him in conversation is evan thomas, author of numerous books including the very best man cob effort kennedy, and john paul jones. let's hear from nathaniel and edward thomas. thank you for joining us today. >> we are both delighted to be here. lots to talk about both of us are veterans and know a lot of history buffs and so glad to have you. so matt, this is a departure for you. you've written all the great books but haven't gotten in your car with your wife and written about that for. tell us about your thought
process and maybe you can start with the chariot? >> that's where it began. it all began for me really during a research trip for my last book about the american revolution in the yorktown and i made my way to the john brown house. now, this isn't john brown the abolition, quite the opposite, the slave trader and cofounder of brown university and in the back of his home there's an annex as john brown chariot, i compare the single
forward-facing seat to the backseat of vw bug. it's this tinily little thing and according to family tradition when the newly inaugurated president george washington was visiting providence john brown gave washington a ride in that chariot down to the shipyard where he was building a ship named for the new president. and that got me to wondering, because in the book i was writing washington visited providence several times but i had no idea he had come to providence once he was president. why, why was he there and that led me to realize, you know, he went on these series of presidential trips in an attempt to create a sense of nationhood among 13 former colonies and i was finishing up this book of straight history. it was one -- close to a dozen books i had written in the last
25 years. all of 14 miles long. i grew up in pittsburgh, a sailor in the maritime capsule of the universe and where i needed to travel just to sail and i used to love putting on my sunfish on the top of my vw bug and traveling all over the country for sailboat races and i was getting itchy after 25 years and takes 20 minutes to drive from one end to the island to the other and i thought i would love to go on a road trip and washington went on the series of tours across this country and as it turned out my wife melissa had just retired and, hey, she could join me. one of my favorite books of all time is john steinbeck's travel
with charlie. he gets with his poodle charlie and what if we had a new puppy named dora, not 8 or 10 year's old. this was a mouthful. pretty hyperactive but what if, you know, the 3 of us went, did our steinbech imitation and followed washington across the country. it's been said over and over again that we are in the midst of unprecedented political division and it would be kind of interesting to get what historical perspective would i get on where we are today by following washington in its attempt to unite the country and off we went.
>> you're a very warm and sunny guy and your basic message is one of unity and how did washington to do it and i was struck when i started reading, you put moral ambiguity and mayhem and that's where the dark side of history, if you will, so talk to us about that. both sides. this is a miami -- message of unity and you're inspiring but also talk about being drawn to the dark side. >> i'm a big stephen king fan. you know, i -- as my wife will attest and my children, i do have a dark side. i'm fascinated by the darkness of life and, you know, one of my books in the heart of the sea is that light hearted tail of survival cannibalism. [laughter] >> i just -- i just love this stuff and for me, even my story
of the pilgrims. i did not want to make this an inspiring story that climaxes with the first thanksgiving. it seemed to me that other things happened as well and one of the convictions that i've had in writing history is that there's the endency -- tendency to look in the past at a simpler time when people knew what they were about and seemed fade today make journey in life that lead to where we are today and that's hogwash. the past was just as conflicted if not more so and that's what interest me because i think we learn a lot more about who we are as human beings when we look at the dark side and, yes, there is light there and i have to say
travel with george is one of my few books where i really, you know, i wanted to purpose i will go out there and not focus on the divisions. we all know what's going on with the divisions. what i wanted to know what is still holding us together and -- and so that's what i was looking for. i wasn't looking to go into the depths of that discourse, that seems painfully obviously to me. what i want to know the historical perspective as washington tried as desperately as he could to pull us all together. for those who don't know what federalists are, what was he faced with? >> it's a surprise to people we did not invent bipartisanship. when there was the revolution it
was patriots and loyalists. it was a civil war as much as it was anything directed against great britain and what a lot people don't realize how much the constitution divided this country. it was a very controversial document. there were no organized political parties but there were two factions. there were the federalist who is were a fan of the constitution and the strong national government had created and then those who distrusted the very neat fact that there was a strong national government. these were known as antifederalists who believe the states should retain the power that they had had under the articles of confederation which the constitution had supplanted and so, you know, when washington was inaugurated, two states, rhode island and north carolina had not even ratified the constitution. they hadn't participated in his election and so there was a deep
divide already in america and then if there was another overlay which -- there were these profound regional differences. he did not mean the united states, he meant virginia and this held true in all of the fates and so washington felt a real need to try to create a, sense of nationhood and also attempt to include both sides those that were for his government and those who weren't so sure it was a good idea and so off he went. >> so i was struck when he gave his inaugural address. we think of the great mighty george washington and staggered by the whole thing. >> right. >> you know, that's not my picture of george washington. >> no. >> this is not the george washington.
he's not the guy on the one dollar bill, you know, looking at an almost judgment because i did it and, you know, no. that wasn't -- washington was the most reluctant president we have ever had. he sincerely did not want to become president of the united states. i mean, he had somehow won the american revolution. he was a hero bigger than anyone else in the world really and all he had to do was lose when it came to taking on the presidency of the united states and so his dairy account from mount vernon to new york which was the temporary capital of the country one long lament of everybody applauding me now but man, they are going to be tearing me down as soon as i try to do anything. remember, this was people who had rebelled against the strongest military power on
earth for the issue of taxation. how is he going to tax these people? i mean, he knew that all the divisions that had been there from the very beginning were latent and as soon as policies came to clear focus, he knew the old divisions were going to come back and there's this account of this inauguration, 15-year-old girl alissa on the roof of a house across the street from federal hall where washington is about to be sworn in on the second floor balcony and east up there, immense crowd all around and everybody is excited and washington is not excited by this at all. he's terrified and at one point it staggers him before he takes
the oath of office and falls back into a chair and everyone goes silent. they know he's -- he's on the brink of what looks like a nervous breakdown. i mean, this is not the washington most of us grew up with and for me i've had some people say and this makes him all the more heroic in my eyes, you know. if someone is blindly brave, they're not experiencing the inner turmoil that goes with someone who, you know, knows the risk is completely aware of them and goes forward just the same. >> i had the experience following politicians on the trail. some of bill clinton, he got -- he loved it. he loved the people and other politicians, it was hard for them. richard nixon, not a hero of many people was a brave guy. every time he walked into a room
he was brave because he didn't want to be there. he was shy. he had to muster the courage, more recent figure john kerry was not somebody who lost crowds. i could see him mustering the courage to go out there and i admired that. one of the things that you really get at and talk to us about is the interesting, you can do a -- project confidence like washington but being secure. >> right. >> those things are not necessarily a contradiction but talk to us a little bit about washington's mix of insecurity and great security. >> he had spent 8 years as commander in chief of the continental army and those 8 years had been, i think, probably the best training anyone could have in putting a good face on a disaster. [laughter] >> the war effort -- washington did not win the war, he survived
it as did the united states. i mean, this was anyone who thinks this was stated that we would throw off the change of british tyranny, that's bologna. he knew better than anyone it could have been lost countless times and yet he also knew that everyone not only in his army but throughout the nation looked to him as the symbolic presence. if he should crack, if he should show a lack of -- of optimism and strength, everything was done and so he had spent 8 years doing that. this guy knew how to make an impression. he knew how to hide his innermost feelings. he knew how to -- he loved the theater, you know. he was, you know, he wasn't an outgoing guy but he had a sense of the dramatic, the theatrical and he knew that, you know, i
wonder sometimes did he look at a mirror and try to say what's the pose i need to have here, you know, i'm dying on the inside, how do i look completely decisive and he had that and so, you know, here he is on his way, you know, he arrives in new york by water and it's the biggest party new york has ever seen and had to somehow get through the crowd to his new residence and, you know, it's packed. they are unable to go by carriage because nothing can fit down the road and so he gets off the boat and there is the head of the militia, escort him and washington says thank you, he
looks around, people are the only escort i need. i mean, that's -- that's theater, as his diary reveals, that's not the confidence he feels. he is feeling -- they are screaming for me now but soon they are going to be screaming against me and so he saw these people as -- as a force could go either way and so this is was washington's great gift, i think. hide that insecurity to project this absolute invincibility and not audacity necessarily but when you hear people refer to it constantly of he doesn't come off as a bragger or whatever, certain almost modesty about him as well. >> tell us about the brown suit. i was struck by his brown suit.
>> right. washington was, of course, a general from the revolution and people were used to seeing him in his general's uniform and that's what he wore during preinaugural journey from mount vernon to new york. that's what he was wearing when he entered new york amid the surge crowd but when it came time for inauguration he realized that, you know, i am now the leader of a republic, you know, i do not want to project a sense i am the dictator and waiting. i do not want to be accused of being a monarch. i want to be seen as one of the people and so washington, the great role player realizes he needs to dress differently and so, he was grate with symbolism
and there was a new very cottonn factory and he creates the suit in which he will be inaugurated. it's drab and nondescript as you can have and i think it must have been kind of a shock for the people when he stepped out of the carriage in front of federal hall to be inaugurated to see him suddenly golden on his shoulders but now the drab, you know, suit that was as washington admitted not of the greatest class whatsoever but it was american made and that was his point. you know, that was the -- washington from the beginning
realized it was -- it was he was tiptoeing a line where he wanted to project the ora of being in command but he also want today o make sure he wasn't being accused of being a king and he was of the people and presidents of this day were flirting with that edge. and this is the nature of what was created in america, is how you project this ora of command and yet are one of the people and washington, i think, established, you know, played that role beautifully and thank goodness he was our first president because, you know, i think there were a few people who were capable of just that kind of, seeing it so clear, the dichotomy. >> he's a federalist, you had to deal with the antifederalist and that too was important.
we think of the era of now, people not big of compromise and think in capitol hill but we live in an age where people are morally superior and i'm better than you and i'm not compromising with you. that was not washington but that was some people around him. >> absolutely. >> talk to us about how he fit in on that? >> yeah, lincoln, did not invent a cabinet of the team of rivals. i think you can look to washington doing that because he brought aboard the two most brilliant people in america at the time, alexander hamilton as treasury secretary, you know, as smart as anyone, eloquent but also a number's guy. there was just no one like him. but he also brought in thomas jefferson, a fellow virginian who had been an absolute disaster as a wartime governor,
you know, basically said i can't do this and abandoned the state at the worst of times but also a brilliant man. this is the guy who wrote the declaration of independence and he had spent the last 5 years as minister to france. so what he thought -- he had not participated in the constitutional convention but good friend james madison had and then huge supporter of it and actually worked in concert with hamilton in promoting the constitution and so washington -- so washington decides, you know, he brings in hamilton and but he also reaches out to thomas jefferson who he had a prickly relationship with during the revolution but he recognized obvious gifts and, you know, typical fashion jefferson takes a while to respond from france.
it's not -- it's not until march, almost a year after inauguration that he becomes part of washington's cabinet and from the start he's very skeptical of what's going on. he distressed this thing called presidency with all that power, for him, you know, hamilton is looking to the british model when it comes to creating economic basis because hamilton knew after fighting revolution that if they lost it wasn't because of the -- what was happening in the battlefield but british economic might that they could -- they had a national bank because they had the
ability to borrow, they could outlast anyone economically and that would have ultimately given superiority and that's what washington wanted. after time in france, jefferson is seduced by the french revolutionary fervor. he comes from the opposite side. that's not what the republic is about. we don't want to be like england. we want to be passionate and idealistic and we know where the french revolution would go but that didn't even bother jefferson. he was someone who is an idealogue and he would be very happy today. >> he's all in. he's all the way over for the french revolution and fit right
in on twitter, social media. >> and shame people for -- which he did with john adams. tag line that worked. you say monarchy, that's the code word. the kind of code words we have today. they didn't have the internet to do it but they had pamphlets and way of getting the message across. >> unreasonable and mean as they are today. >> absolutely. underhanded. in jefferson's case here he is serving in washington's cabinet getting increasingly alienated by washington and hamilton's economic policy and he decides he's going to do everything he can to secretly undercut
washington's administration. what does he do, he didn't have the internet. remember the internet of the day was the newspaper. >> right. >> and so he hires a guy supposedly as a translator for the state department but his job is to start a newspaper that is critical of the government and, you know, and makes washington's life miserable this paper but jefferson betrays no knowledge of what's going on and he and madison are the ring leaders in organizing what will ultimately be the opposition party. the republican party and so this is going on in washington's cabinet and is baffled and infuriated him because he has no stomach for this kind of
idealogue because hamilton is just as bad. dude, when you are this far on one side, is that far on the other side, maybe a middle course and doesn't that sound familiar. >> my favorite song in the show hamilton which i'm sure a lot viewers have watched is where hamilton, jefferson want to get hem. let's stick it to them and washington says calm down, son. sit down, have a drink.
we are not going to have a fight. democracy can go after i left the stage, we can still have a country. it me cry listening to this. it's such a powerful scene and made me wonder what made washington so wise and so selfless that he could give us lust for power that animates most politicians. how did he do that? >> you know, this is my take on it. i think washington was the most ambitious person we have ever seen but he knew how to hide it. he was swinging for the fences. he wanted to be remembered as he is largely remembered today as
someone who is above the fray, who always looked to what was better for everyone rather than himself and i think he honestly wanted to be remembered as that, you know, and basically he's going for political immortality. it's the high -- and so you can say, yes, he is being selfless and all of that, but i also think at some point in his life he said, you know, i want to be remembered as that person who never wanted anything and yet, you know, there's a part who did want. i'm probably being cynical here but washington was hugely ambitious and he was playing the longest of games.
it was prosperity. he -- he didn't need to have the power now because he wanted to be remembered in future generations and, you know, that's a deep game most of us want it now. we don't have enough faith in the future or ourselves to do the right thing. with washington, yes, he's doing it for all the right reasons and yet there's a part of him is -- i'm not saying he's manipulative but there's a part of him that knows, well, if i want to come off the way i want to come off, i can't want something, i need people to ask me to do it. >> playing a long game and now winning battles. >> yeah.
>> he's playing the strategy with the british just one step ahead of them waiting for his moment, waiting for the french to arrive to bail him out. [laughter] >> whatever, you know. >> right. >> incredible patience when others wanted to fight the big battle and let's have it. be patient and he learns. i wonder, he -- he was -- he had to learn how to be modest. one thing about him that interested me, he's founder, framer who hasn't been to college. he's has modesty about that. he's unsecured about it but there's a modesty he gets from his minor obtainments in the intellectual field. i'm wonder if that helps him. >> absolutely. what he would -- and you see
people, abigail adams has the wonderful description of him soon after she met him when he came to boston during the revolution as the new leader of the continental army and she's just taken by him about how there's a reserve in him and yet a modesty about him where, you know, you don't feel like you're close to him and yet somehow you revere him. she even says love him. i think that really comes back people who incite that response in people do not -- they project an element of modesty and i think it comes from washington and his father died when he was 11. he did not go to the finishing schools in england that his
brothers went to and has sense of being kind of abandoned and yet a very strong mother which had he had a conflicting relationship with but it was one of these things where he's, he has the sense of not measuring up. it's like when tom brady when he wasn't drafted until 30th round or something like. >> also -- the chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life. i think washington has some of that. he desperately wanted to be part of the british regular army, that was denied him. he didn't go to college and people like jefferson and adams really, you know, would refer to that in all sorts of ways. that kind of thing and yet washington was, we don't think of him as he wasn't brilliant
the way hamilton and jefferson and madison were but he was a great thinker. i remember one of my books valiant ambition where i'm talking about the battle of monmouth and all goes very well for washington and that night he sleeps on the -- on the field of battle with his men, with his cloak under a tree and an officer at midnight comes up and hesitates to -- to, you know, wake him and he says, go ahead, i'm not sleeping, i'm here to think. that's washington. washington, you know, he would just think about things. i think it has a lot to do with how our cultures have changed, twitter world, no one has any kind of ability to concentrate on anything. washington had this incredible ability to dial up the static
and just figure out what is the most important thing for me to do and, you know, that's pretty -- that's incredible at any age but i think he gets back to his lack of formal education. this is a guy who as a young surveyor spent countless nights out there in the wilderness just thinking and that's how he got through the revolution and that would have a big part of his presidency. >> yeah, towards the end of his life heist retiring and able to go back and sit under this fig tree, you would think it would be all great but it's not. talking about thinking, you have this scene of him thinking at mount vernon towards the end where he's troubled. talk to us about that. what is he troubled about, what do we think he's troubled about? >> yeah, yeah.
throughout this, throughout the 3 books about the revolution and this book, i kept wanting washington to have a high-five moment where he said, yes, i did it. it never comes. he never gets the sense of satisfying accomplishment because always there's another catastrophe looming and for washington, you know, i said earlier he was swinging for the fences when it comes to prosperity, one of the things that bothered him more than anything was his involvement with slavery. he had come the realize that it was a pernicious institution and befriended lafayette, idealistic frenchman who said if i had known i was helping to create a -- a country of slavery, i never would have lifted my sword in the cause of america. washington, you know, overheard and this is recorded in
jefferson's -- jefferson writes it down, overheard saying at some point during presidency if slavery should divide this country i will go with the northern part. that's a pretty extraordinary statement from a virginian who, you know, and there are 300 enslaved people at mount vernon. half of them are owned by washington and half of them are own bid the estate of martha's dead deceased husband and will become part of children and washington is responsible for all of this and the two groups have intermarried. washington has decided that he is going to free his -- his slaves, but, you know, by that time the groups -- it's a very complex situation and so -- and there are these accounts of washington at the fire side with his family at mount vernon after the presidency and he's not there sort of looking back with
smile on his face. he's tortured. his lips and i think he's wrestling with what the heck do i do when it comes to slavery because he didn't want to create a situation for martha where it was just so complicated and -- and i think he recognized that this would be the biggest challenge for him legacy in the future, would be his involvement with slavery and one of the things that i want people to -- to get from this book is sense how far washington traveled not just in terms of miles across the country but as a human being. he's almost -- he's born into this institution of slavery. he comes to doubt the assumptions of his childhood, but he's not able to completely free himself from them given the
angle nature of his personal life and, you know, and, yes, he frees the enslaved workers. he's the only slave-owning founding father to do that. it's pretty extraordinary and yet in the final year of his life he's actively pursuing the enslaved servant of martha who has escaped in search of freedom. he's hot consistent like all of us and so, i mean, i think, you know, i don't think it negates everything he was working towards. the concept of the union that would inspire lincoln to issue the emancipation proclamation is what washington was working so hard to create during these travels in his presidency. >> it's not always a pretty place.
the president either. talk to us about washington's teeth. >> yeah. no, one of the things, you know, there's a couple of historical jokes that are associated with washington, one is washington slept here. that whole sort of, hahaha he was sleeping around. following washington came to realize each one of those stops was not, this was not fun for washington. he was working tremendously hard to pull this country together. then the other joke is washington's teeth that he had dentured made of wood. he had dentures. they weren't made of wood. they were made of teeth from various animals from ivory of the hippopotamus but even before he ended up with those dentures he in desperation he had only a
few teeth left in his mouth by the time the revolution was over he was back at mount vernon and there was new technology in dentistry of tooth transplants and the way it worked was a -- a dentist would extract the tooth, a disease tooth and then a person would be paid enough to donate their healthy tooth that was then extracted and then stuck into the jaws of -- of the person who was paying for the procedure and it almost never worked. sometimes the tooth would hang in there for a year and sometimes 5 years and sometimes it would be rejected from the beginning, but washington at some point invites a french dentist to mount vernon and this is really just very recently i would become aware of this, larry thompson, fabulous
researcher at govern washington mount vernon and covered the evidence where he paid several and seems clear they must have been enslaved workers to donate their teeth, nine teeth and, you know, what happened? i think the scenario is pretty obvious. they were probably inserted into his jaws which is just one of these scenarios that is just awful, awful to contemplate and yet i purposely include this in the book because, you know, this is -- this is where i come from with history. i think you have to look into the deep dark recesses of the past to put what happens in a positive way in the proper context and so this is part of washington that speaks to, you
know, the original sin that is still plaguing our society today. >> an interesting moment when you're driving back with melissa and she says, we've got the dairy but i'm not sure what he's really thinking and we touched on this a little bit but this is an interesting question to me as a fellow popular historian when you don't know what they're thinking. i ate here and slept here but doesn't reveal thoughts. what is that like for you? what do you do then, when the record is pretty bear bones and you're trying to figure -- get in their heads, what the hell do you do? >> right. and you can't make it up.
you can't make it up. in our trade -- >> we can't make it up. you can speculate but you have to have, you know, a basis for it. one of my books the heart of the sea and that's the thing with history. it's all in testified. so often there are situations. you and i tell narrative history. we are telling the story and there's a plot and often there isn't the evidence to fill in what must have happened there and so, you know, what i would do in a lot of my books is i say, well, we don't neglect what happened here but in a very similar situation this is what happened and try to insert that
into the narrative without breaking the -- the historical period in which you're writing. it's a challenge, the kind of challenges that i enjoy and when it comes to a historical person such as washington or george armstrong custard in my book about the battle of little big horn, inevitable what the heck were these guys thinking and so you can't make it up and so what i find myself doing is saying this is what was happening around. this is -- this is what they would do. this is what perhaps they were thinking and, you know, you have to have evidence to go on and so it is -- and i think you have to go there as -- as someone writing about history because to leave it a blank is -- is to,
you know, leave out, you know, what it is like to be alive at the time. we both come from a journalistic background and we are writing, we are creating life as a journalist and the way we both tell history, we are trying to create a sense as life lived in the past because the past is relevant because it can be related to us by now in the present. >> of course, that's tricky because things were different back then. >> absolutely. >> they thought differently. if you're writing before, i never have, but if you're writing in the 13th century, totally animated by religion. >> absolutely. >> infused with god and that's the way they think and that's -- that is true for some of us but obviously more secular age. interesting translation problem so you have written about the 18th century obviously and the
19th, what are some of the challenges of conveying to us moderns the way they were thinking then? >> yeah, well, my -- the biggest challenge i had with that was writing in mayflower writing about plymouth colony as you were saying before, religion was everything to them. that's why they got on the mayflower and sailed across the atlantic. it was the sense of spiritual destiny, you know, that very few people in the 21st century have experienced firsthand. and how do you get into that world? how do you write about their actions and do justice to what is the most important aspect of their lives? >> right. >> and so for me, it was in that instance you trito use their own words.
he's constantly translating what is happening into terms of new england puritan and sees everything in god's judgment. if it goes well for you because god is on your side and if it goes bad for you, it's also a judgment upon you and perhaps a test and you were left trying to interpret this kind of thing and -- and so it's a huge challenge and -- and you for the path to be relatable there has to be common ground between then and now and to do justice to the then, you have to push it to the point where most of us go -- anything i can relate to. so that is -- that's -- that's the -- the trick. >> human nature hasn't changed too much over the -- >> no, exactly.
and i think that's where -- i think that can be lost and someone can -- you can sort of deny the fact that we have any access to that past but i think a historian who claims that they, you know, just threw sheer archival work, you need to have both that in some kind of sense of -- of our common humanity. >> we have a few questions, good questions from the audience i want to run by you. >> here is one, how would washington use social media if it was available during his time? imagine washington using social media. give that one a try. >> well, okay. first off, it's a good thing there wasn't tripadviser because in his dairy it's one long lament about accommodations.
[laughter] >> hence terrible. that would not reflect well on washington. i think this -- the -- this is where -- we are on difficult ground because washington lived in just a completely different time, completely different pace in talking with dean melissa who is now the retired washington interpreter at mount vernon, he talks about how -- what a pleasure it was in washington because you're in that path where there is no way to describes bubble gum of the mind, social media and all that. washington was very sophisticated in his time. he used the technology of his day to his advantage, you know, particularly when it came to the industrial revolution he saw that needed to come, you know, in new england tour of massachusetts which was the tech
capital of the world, you know, he saw that and he loved all the technology, you know, was all over the place when it came to his mount vernon -- farm in mount vernon. if he was here today and was grown up, whatever, he would have been a highly functioning person who would have, you know, figured it out but that's not the washington who is then and so to -- to plant someone from that age here i think probably blood would start coming out of their ears, what has happened, the country that we started 230 years ago but that -- i think washington might have been a professional athlete if you brought him here today. incredibly physically gifted.
>> powerful -- >> yeah. >> another question was washington's humility part of the reason he declined to serve more than two terms not because he just felt he couldn't be a president for life. >> yeah, i think it was exhaustion more than anything. he really didn't want to run for a second term. by that time hamilton and jefferson were at each other's throats but both sides said, look, federalist and antifederalists will tear this country apart if there isn't you there as president, you know, and it's just, of course, he gets elected and then the opposition party takes over congress and life is hell over the next four years as things go from bad to worse, but, you know, so -- by the end of that it just was i can't go on any longer and i refuse to and now it's time for someone else and, you know, by that point i don't
-- i think he just was done with it, really done with it and so the shyness and humility at that point was he was exhausted and want today get back to mount vernon and hang out with martha. i think that was really where he was and, you know, he didn't leave as i referred to earlier any sense of yes i've done this. i just have to move on. >> yeah. >> you. >> running into this about washington slept here, you know, all that, stories that were useful but made up. interesting question to the degree that we need -- your true history and you go to the dark side and you're fascinating by and useful. there's also -- talk to us about
whether there's a place of mythology, if you will, because we live in a funny age where people are making up a lot of stuff and i have to say i'm a little torn by it. [laughter] >> some countries do need -- they just don't need completely fiction ones. tell us what you think about -- >> i know exactly what you're getting at. i mean, it's -- it's -- you know, we need some shared basis of pride about a government, you know, about a nation and we live in a nation where, you know, our origins were recorded with documents and so we know the ugly truth of so much of what was once mythologized into this inspiring tail of national origins and, you know, when you go to england or france and look back to, you know, 2,000 years
ago, all of the things were happening is one group emerges, but, you know, that's in such a distant past and the mythology has whatever, there is that element of it. and so when it comes to america, i mean, i really have no patience with looking back insisting that, you know, it was great and everyone was, you know, full of light and all of that. i just have no stomach for that and yet i really think we cannot hold historical figures to a -- a level of -- litmus test derived in the 20th century that tolerated absolutely no deviation from what is now considered accepted behavior. a hundred years from now they
are going to be looking at us and saying, what were they thinking. no one measures up to this. i don't think any of us -- we look back 20 years at ourselves and we say, oh, my god. i mean, this is the nature of being alive on this planet. and so i think we need to give our -- we need to look at our past with as much clarity as possible but you also have to have -- be able to recognize the times in which they operated and give people, you know, they were doing the best they could under the terms they had and give them some credit for that rather than, you know, expunging them from the record for not towing the line. >> yeah, well, few people, maybe nobody does it better than you, nat, telling the stories that are meaningful and helping us
get in touch with the past. it's been a delight for me having an hour to talk to you and i know our audience enjoyed it too. thanks, everybody for tuning into the national archives and to nat and i'm sure he will be back. >> thank you, evan. >> american history tv is looking back at the holidays in the nation's capitol throughout the years. >> we started heritage in washington and in montana and north and south carolina which . in addition to many other symbols or symbol for the future. around the world today there are monumental events taking place as hundreds of millions of people are moving through the democratic rule, toward personal liberty and unknown than
previous years. it gives us great hope that there may be a time when the spirit of christmas and hanukkah and we can look forward to end to human conflict. but for all of the monumental events taking place this is primarily a season of family, friendship, of personal relations and personal pleasure and so i hope that you will accept from me and from all of us in the congress our warmest best wishes to you, merry christmas and a happy holiday season and now i'm going to ask my colleague from the senate and the house to join me as we light this christmas tree as a beacon of hope and a symbol of our celebration of this holy season.
[applause] [cheers and applause] ♪ ♪ ♪ .. .. >> and tonight's program inside of the gold war and why it matters and i am james brundage curator of the pritzker military museum and library and i will be your host this evening's' program is being offered jointly and also by the international spy museum and enjoying today by the col. and doctor andrew hammond and chris costa is
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