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tv   The Presidency  CSPAN  November 1, 2014 12:00pm-1:02pm EDT

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throughout the weekend american history tv is featuring colorado springs, colorado. about colorado springs and other stops on the c-span city to our odd content. >> after the american revolution and before he was elected, the first president of the united states george washington retired from public life. up next, edward larson focuses on washington and how he contributed to western expansion and his efforts to link the east and west through the potomac river.
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>> thank you so much. i wish my parents could have heard that. it would have made my father very proud and my mother actually would have believed you. there you go. [laughter] for me as you suggested, this lecture concludes an amazing year. as it began just a year ago when the library, fred w. smith library for george washington and i was able to take a seat. during that year, i learned what a treasure all of you have in mount vernon. led by the staff, they are extraordinarily dedicated and extraordinarily loyal. for 150 years, the mount vernon ladies' association has kept this place special.
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and with a new library, the orientation and education center, no crop of those women have done a better job. among those were remarkable women. well, let me begin tonight with a question. retirement. today we think of retirement as golf, bridge, a condo in florida with no grass to mow, but what
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would it mean to george washington? he used the word often in 1783 as the revolutionary war was winding down and he was preparing to resign his position. mount vernon would be the "seat of my retirement from the bustle of the busy world", washington wrote in one typical letter. yet, what did he envision that retirement to be? he was only 51 years old and the most celebrated man in america, if not the world. the master of one of virginia's largest plantations and both deeply committed to and profoundly concerned about the future of his newly independent country. to retire means to rest. he knew that would not be the case. first, he had plenty to do on the plantation. "an almost entire suspension of everything which related to my own estate for nearly nine years
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has accumulated an abundance of work for me." washington observed in 1784. he was a hands-on manager by nature. but conditions at mount vernon accented this trait. "i made no money from my estate during the nine years away from it," washington explained and he needed to write this unsustainable situation. he rode the circuit of his fine farms. he rode those around here and they're now all subdivisions around here every morning, monday through saturday, observing his some 200 workers, most of them black slaves. afternoons were spent planning ways to improve his livestock.
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he entertained a steady stream of visitors who arrived, often unannounced, to greet the celebrated general and inevitably stay for dinner and the night. unless someone pops up unexpectedly, washington noted in 1798, mrs. washington and myself will do what i believe has not been done within the last 20 years by us, that is to sit down to dinner by ourselves. this period, of course, covered his years at mount vernon following his retirement in 1783. second, no matter how much he hoped to unload it, he still carried the weight of a country on his shoulders. washington knew from experience that the articles of confederation did not confer
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enough power on the central government to preserve the union and protect the people. in some of his last major acts as commander in chief he sent a circular letter to the states, urging them to revise the articles and he offered a plan for a peace time army. after retiring, he never stopped championing those themes in public and private. a strong central government was needed to promote prosperity at home, gain respect abroad and expand westward. on going developments under the confederation as the states pulled apart and the economy deteriorated reconfirmed his fears. as early as 1782, he was complaining about the "the deranged state of public affairs" and writing to another governor about expanding national powers. in such letters, he showed little signs of settle into a
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quiet retirement. washington's two retirement concerns establishing his own estate and the united states combined in his vision for the american west. intent on securing his fortune in land, prior to the war, washington obtained large undeveloped tracks on the frontier in western pennsylvania and virginia. with peace, he sought to capitalize on that investment. and like so many americans he viewed the west as key to the country's future as being both an outlet for individual opportunity and a source for economic expansion. thus, after spending the first
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nine months of his so-called retirement trying to restore order to his plantation, washington headed west to inspect his frontier holdings. this trip it turned out crystallized his hopes and his fears for the country and drew washington back into the public. in a sense, his long journey back from retirement, to the constitutional convention and the presidency began with his trip west in 1784. now i'll talk about washington's role during my next two lectures. tonight let me focus on his grand western adventure. the trip began well enough. washington set out by horsebacking. this is a map from the period. of course, you can see mount vernon and the chesapeake and the potomac down here. he's going to go across up here towards pittsburgh and the west. washington set out on horseback on september 1 with three slaves or servants and his long time friend and physician james craig for a planned six week overland trek.
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craig's son and washington's nephew soon joined them. washington knew roughly what to expect. he had crossed the territory several times during the 1740's and as a colonial militia officer. on those trips he sometimes traveled light and often slept under only a blanket. not this time. although the party planned to stay in private homes whenever possible for nights without lodging, they carried a tent for the four gentlemen and a tent for the servants. they brought supplies with them
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such as fishing gear -- they followed the potomac river in a westerly direction and then leaving the river took a more northerly track towards pittsburgh. the potomac which literally kept through a parallel low ridges. on this trip washington favored the virginia side where he owned scattered tracks that he leased to farmers. trotting on his great horse at a gait of about five miles per day, washington reached cumberland on the 10th day. the potomac valley below
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cumberland had become an integral part of the eastern states by 1784. many of its set letters had cast their -- settle -- settlors. his tenants paid what they could toward their long past due rent and cheered him on his way. to this point the trip went well. the troubles began after he left the settled land east of the alleghenies and began toward southwestern pennsylvania. as a colonial militia officer, washington had helped cut a pathway through the wilderness to supply and support a massive british assaults and had retreated in terror across it.
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12 days after leaving mount vernon the road took him along great meadows, the former site of fort necessity. the autumn rain had begun by this time, turning braddox road into muddy trough. in reality, it was as much as when he surrendered it to the french 30 years earlier. washington had posted it for lease but so far no takers. with the baggage bogged down in the rain and mud, washington rushed ahead to reach a much larger track at a place called washington's bottom. in time for the scheduled
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auction of a mill that he owned. since 1772 simpson had been washington's agent in managing this mill. washington's advanced the capital. simpson provided the labor. and they would share the profits. but there were no profits or none at least that simpson ever reported. rarely charitable when it came to business, by 1775 washington dismissed simpson as a man of extreme stupidity. but he was soon too preoccupied by war to wind down the partnerships. by war's end washington suspected simpson of something
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much worse, fraud. more than anything resolving this long festering dispute with simpson prompted washington's trip west. in july, washington advertised the farm for lease, the stocks and slaves for sale and the mill, this mill for auction. he went to see those matters through. well, accustomed to having his way with subordinates, washington's frustration only mounted when he encountered his partner in simpson's home turf. on inspection, the water mill built by simpson with washington's money lacked sufficient water power to operate. and the plots leased by simpson as washington's agent to individual settlors while washington was at war offered little promise. the tenants struck washington as a people of a lower order. he collected what he could from
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them in rent and arranged some new leases. but when he tried to auction the mill, there were no bidders. it was worthless. simpson tried to get him to invest more and make it better, but washington said i will not throw bad money after good. washington wanted to get out of this place as soon as possible after the auction, but a settled rain forced him to say with simpson for three more nights. well, if this seems like washington's pergatory then hell awaited at the next stop. a foretaste of the coming torment arrived. it came in the form of cedars from washington's 2,813 track at nearby miller's run. here's a picture of some of their descendents. the american frontier always attracted more than the share of religious groups seeking their
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zion in the wilderness. members of one such band, the cedars, had the misfortune of staking their claim to the frontier haven on land already claimed by the father of their country. having known for a decade that washington claimed the land where they squatted, upon learning that he was on his way to assert his rights, they sent a delegation to deter and dissuade him. the cedars and i'm quoting from washington's diary here. they came to inquire about my rights. he saw through their pre-text of reasonableness and would not concede anything without visiting the track themselves. when the two sides met again at miller's run, both asserting
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their rights, the trouble ensued. such conflicts were common at the time. at the time claimants to undeveloped land could base their right on a government grant, survey or some improvement or on occupancy, whichever happened first. washington and most speculators use the former method of course. the cedars and many frontiersman use the latter. washington hired a surveyor in 1771 and built an unoccupied cabin on it in 1772. the cedars moved in 1773 and claimed the land by occupancy. one of the cabins they built was built so close to the previous cabin that you couldn't open its door.
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they refused but offered to pay a modest price to avoid contention. washington favored renting over selling his frontier property. as the cedars explained their religious convictions against leasing it, a lease from anyone who wasn't of a similar religious view, washington softened somewhat. he offered to sell but then the side could not agree on a price. rather than pay much, the cedars would fight the claim in court. washington would devote the next two years to substantiate his warrant and survey. both were shaky. in the end though, thanks to a good lawyer, washington won the case and the cedars moved on with the frontier. it did not hurt that the judge
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hearing that case was a signer of the declaration and an old friend of washington. a former governor of two states, delaware and pennsylvania. from miller's run washington planned to proceed southwest to his largest frontier holdings, nearly 30,000 acres near the ohio river in what is now west virginia. word had spread of danger ahead, however. washington wrote in his diary, the indians it is said were in too discontent a move for me to expose myself to their insults. they were provoked by incursions into their land northwest of the ohio river which they claimed as their territory and a failure of
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congress to negotiate a peace treaty with them following the revolutionary war. two years earlier while leading attack on a native village northwest of the ohio, washington's then local agent was captured, beaten, scalped and slowly roasted to death. washington obviously did not want to suffer a similar fate or risk a possible kidnapping for ransom. "i thought it better to return"" his new local agent, the successor to the one when had been killed later informed to washington that some of the natives had actually heard about his intended visit and were waiting to trap and capture him. think of how that might have changed american history. well, the trip as we recounted it, disorientated and disconcerted washington. it was as if the frontier and the people were conspiring to
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frustrate his plans. even before turning back, the cascading setbacks forced him to confront issues on his personal finance and in the country's future that he might have put off had he stayed home. on a personal level his plans for retirement relied on income from his large land holdings from several properties. with america supposedly at peace, washington had gone west to make these three assets profitable in the post-war economy. he found though no present potential for revenue in the first, settlors occupying the second and hostile tribes restricting access to the third. removing them, washington decided, would require government action.
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a lack of national power and resources lay at the heart of the matter. a year had past since britain signed a treaty recognizing american sovereignty yet british troops continued to occupy north of the ohio river. set aside by britain for those native tribes by the proclamation of 1763, which you can see the line there, this district later known as the northwest territory, remained under control of pro-british tribes. with virtually no funds or forces, the united states government was powerless to secure this frontier. moreover, virginia had ceded its claim, making its defense a national problem.
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if congress could settle those lands -- if not it risked losing them to a foreign power and with them america's future. this became washington's fear. as he saw it, the danger was not limited to the territory northwest of the ohio river, but encompassed the entire frontier. he wrote, the western settlors stand as it were on a pivot the touch of a feather would turn them anyway. spain controlled the mountains of the mississippi. britain controlled the great lakes and the saint lawrence river. native tribes still occupied most of the territory claimed by the out west of the appalachian mountains. he detected little loyalty to the united states in settlors he encountered on the frontier.
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he wrote the ties are weakening every day will soon be no bond. if then the trade of that country shall flow through the mississippi or the saint lawrence, if the inhabitants there of shall form commercial connections, then in a few years the unconnected with us all together. for good of the country and his own finances washington had one such tie principally in mind, potomac river navigation. washington had dreamed of a potomac river navigation long before independence made it a cause. there you see where the navigation would go.
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not only could such a water way improve access to his frontier holdings, it would channel western trade through the mouth of the potomac near here, near mount vernon. both would increase his wealth. little had actually changed in washington's thinking about the projects in since 1754 when he first suggested using the potomac river to carry supplies. private funds were raised to improve navigation on the river below cumberland. construction began on a bypass canal by 1775, but the revolutionary war intervened to put the entire project on hold.
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now he wanted to revive it and expand it. at the time, no one knew what navigation could be extended beyond cumberland along one of the potomac rivers up land to reach a branch of the ohio river. accurate maps of the upper potomac and ohio river system simply did not exist. accordingly, on the outward bound leg of his western journey in september of 1784, washington asked people along the way about the head waters of the potomac and of the ohio and where the two systems came closest together. although the answers often conflicted, he recorded all of them in the hopes of later determining the best transit route.
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to reach his frontier holdings, washington's party left to follow the overland route to the ohio valley, the standard method. his travels cut short before reaching his property. washington decided to salvage what he could of the trip by working his way back through the unchartered wilderness in search of water ways. a gray haired retired general, america's leading citizen set off on september 22 from his land at washington's bottom for a so-day cross-country trek across an unknown and unmarked route. he traveled light, sending back most of his supplies and attendants with james craig over the conventional route. he headed on horseback in the wild with only his nephew, perhaps an attendant and at times a local guide. there are walnut and crab tree bottoms which are very rich, he wrote. at some point the travelers
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followed broad trails. others, they simply bush whacked. the rain continued off and on throughout the trip making the way miserable. miserable. over six feet tall, broad in the hips and riding high on his horse, washington continually pushed through wet branches that soaked him through the bone. the route went over ridges through glade and across rivers. roughly 35 miles per day in a southerly direction. traveling without a tent, the party ate and slept in private homes if possible, outside if not. imagine the surprise of an isolated local settlor when the legendary general appeared unannounced at his door in the backwoods, they could never have expected nor would they ever forget the encounter.
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at one remote cabin, washington noted we could get nothing for our horses and only boiled corn for ourselves. still it was better than the previous night when he reported sleeping in a damp meadow with no other shelter and was unlucky enough to have a heavy shower of rain. on september 29, having reached the south branch of the potomac, which he had planned to follow north to rejoin the rest of the party on the main road, washington again made a sudden decision to go his own way, sending his nephew north to tell the others, washington continued south over the next ridge and then turned east across the blue ridge to the piedmont and home. for much of this final part of the trip, washington traveled alone.
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part of the route there were no settlors at all. the time along gave him a chance to reflect. "i was disappointed in one of the objects which induced me to undertake this journey." washington wrote this in a very long and complicated entry at the end of his travel diary. i am well pleased with my journey as it has been the means of my obtaining a knowledge of the temper and disposition of the western inhabitants. despite their isolation, these settlors could be brought that the sphere of american commerce by extending the inland navigation as far as it can be done with convenience in their direction. his explorations proved it possible. washington assured himself and suggested a plausible route up the potomac north branch to the headwaters of the ohio and the
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cheek river, this became his cause. within a week of his return from mount vernon, washington sent showers of letters about the potomac navigation to influential virginians and marylanders. these letters represented such a turning point in washington's activities that the modern editors of his papers introduced it with a comment, it marked his return to settled life. reports of his finding of a feasible feasibility of using the potomac river route. he hailed potomac river navigation as the cement of interest to bind all part of the union together by indissolvable bonds, especially that part of it which lies immediately west of us.
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with a plan in mind, washington turned to getting from the virginia and maryland legislatures to charter a company to build and operate a private toll route on the potomac and to secure investors for the project. if he had any doubt about his political clout, the next few weeks should have put them to rest. with despite resistance from proponents of other route, he got his way. when it looked like the two state might pass different bills, washington urged that they appoint commissioners to agree on terms. no sooner asked than done.
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maryland named a delegation that included three signers of the declaration of independence. each state legislature then passed the bill within days of receiving it. doesn't sound like our congress. [laughter] with washington drumming up interest, private funds flowed into the new company. "men who can afford to lay a little while out of their money are laying the foundation for the greatest returns of any speculation i know of." within six months washington claimed "of the 5,000 pounds required for the potomac navigation, it is increasing fast. at their first meeting in that month, shareholders elected
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washington as the company's president. for washington, the presidency of the potomac company became a consuming occupation but one he pursued while also managing his plantation and investment properties. he threw himself into deciding to dig bypasses around them, hiring supervisors and workers and overseeing the means of operation. on field trips he frequently canoed down the river's wildest rapids in search for a best place for a channel or to inspect work in progress. retirement from the walks of life has not been so productive as leisure and ease as might have been expected washington remarked to benjamin franklin. by the fall of 1785 when he sent these remarks to franklin, the company had separate team of about 50 workers.
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congress was too slow for washington. in a boat he passed down the seneca rapid to a place where the workman were blowing up. to me it seemed as if we had advanced but little. still, washington remained optimistic. in fact, however, in his work on the potomac river navigation, washington had more success moving human obstacles than physical ones. the project was far from finished in 1789 when he resigned as potomac company's president to take the helm of the new american government. no one made a fortune on potomac company stock. railroads soon replaced canals in linking the union. physical impediments, steep
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slopes, doomed washington's grand vision for potomac navigation. yet if he could not move mountains, the project proved he could move men. before he stepped down, washington followed up on his success in getting the company founded and funded with a singular triumph of clearing obstacles and adoption of the landmark potomac river compact. the prospect of commercial navigation the potomac brought
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to bear long-standing disputes between virginia and maryland. each state was a republic to itself. it could have the own rules and regulation. unless the states cooperated, traveling along an interstate boundary like the potomac river could impose insoluable problems for people and products. late in 1785, virginia and maryland appointed commissioners to address political barriers to potomac river commerce. they convened in alexandria for a week of meetings. ever watchful over matters impacting the potomac company, washington soon invited them to continue their deliberations here in the warmth of mount vernon. a gracious and interested host who literally lubricated his guests with good wine, he made sure they reached agreement on several things. known as the mount vernon compact, the legislatures of both states ratified its 13 congress.
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inspired by washington's vision, the two states realized that both benefited from interstate cooperation. and those benefits could multiply if more state participated. we are either a united people or we are not, washington wrote to madison at this time. and if the former led us in all matters, act the general concern act like a nation. madison called for a second convention on interstate commerce. at the time trade disputes like those dividing maryland and virginia many state. pennsylvania, delaware and new jersey battled over their respective rights to use the delaware river while new york, new jersey, connecticut clashed harbor. in response, 12 delegates from five states assembled in annapolis in september of 1789 and including madison from new york.
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even before they met, madison, hamilton and some other delegates feared only a failure when the annapolis meeting failed to attract enough delegates and so could not achieve even its limited goals, hamilton proposed that they simply call a second convention and go home. which is what they did. some already charged the annapolis meeting could have attracted more results. the challenge became getting him to the proposed second meeting which was called for the following summer in philadelphia. well, that's a story for another
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lecture, however. for now it is enough to say that washington's great western adventure and the potomac navigation issues that it spawned led toward a new federal constitution and a government with washington at the helm by looking west he helped chart the future for our nation, a future that realized his dream of western expansion. thank you. [applause] now we have time for questions and there is a microphone somewhere that anybody who has a question is supposed to use. so i invite you to ask your question. yes.
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here comes the microphone. >> [indiscernible] discussed their future plan for expansion in the west. >> oh, yes very much so. even back then. when washington got back from his journey, of course they were known that he was interested in the canal from before. but one of the first people he wrote was thomas jefferson who had been over in france. he wrote to jefferson saying we've got to do this. and immediately a correspondence went back and forth between washington and jefferson on the canal of the potomac river navigation. it's not called the canal, it's not really a canal, but the navigation project went back and forth constantly between washington and jefferson and if you read the back study, you can
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see the letters between madison and jefferson egging jefferson on, saying we've got washington on the hook. we've got to bring him back into public life. this can now do it. be sure to encourage him. madison is writing separately to jefferson. there's a rich triangular conversation going on between the three people and building the navigation system. but it wasn't just then. of course if you look at their presidencies, the future of both of their presidencies was expansion western. washington focused during his years in building an army and sending it west. it didn't -- suffered a few
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defeats before it finally won the battle of fallen timbers. he called it progressive settlement where he would open a chunk of the west going part way through ohio and another and making the states moving westward and jefferson followed the same route. they had very much the same hope and dreams for western expansion. that's one thing they always shared. jefferson was an activist in western settlement. washington and jefferson saw eye to eye on that issue. they were very close at this time. >> how much did he invest in the potomac river project? >> what did they say about
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>> what did they say about farmers, they're land rich and cash poor? washington had vast holdings but he wasn't very liquid. indeed a few years later when he went -- when he had to leave virginia to become president, he was so cash poor that -- for the only time in his life he had to borrow money at interest because he didn't want to leave debts behind. so he didn't have all that much money but he did invest money in it, but virginia invested money into it and gave some of the stock to washington. so washington ended up having a significant holding in the company. but he also wrote to others. he wrote to everybody he knew. everybody he knew with money he wrote to and they're wonderful letters to read. you can tell he really believed, and that's the key to a successful salesman but my favorite is when he would plead with robert morris, the richest person he knew as he called him
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to invest. robert morris was interested in philadelphia and he was trying to build a canal west. he wanted to go up and across pennsylvania. he was leading an effort to build a canal there. he would say this is so much better. or sometimes he would suggest sort of balance -- to the extent he had money, he put his money where his mouth was, he just had somewhat limited liquid funds, but he did invest in it, absolutely. those letters from washington soliciting funds from everybody are amazing letters. they speak to two levels. they speak to great wealth -- how much this needed to unite our nation. they appealed to both.
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>> [indiscernible] was there any attest to the call back -- were any of the investors unhappy enough to come back for some of their capital at the end? >> no because it didn't lose money. they did get some returns, but it wasn't the fortune that he was hoping for. so, no, it actually did work. there was a canal. goods were carried. it turned a profit and somebody can correct me, in two or three years. but washington was long dead by then. it was after he had passed away. he gave the stocks to washington college. there was return. so there was nothing to call back. it wasn't a failure, it just
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wasn't the sucess of the erie canal. he would argue how much closer it is from detroit to the atlantic ocean by way of the potomac than by way of the erie or by various different routes through the mississippi and not just detroit but lake erie and ohio and all these different places. the distance is closer, just the erie canal turned out to be a much better route. yes, sir. >> how successful -- the spanish had two very good governors in new orleans. how good were they at peeling
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off settlers -- >> that was washington's concern. he was out there and there were efforts at different times. one of the reasons why spain best we can tell closed the commerce in the west was they were using that as leverage to hope to get it all. and washington -- that was the treaty they tried to negotiate and it never got approved. washington supported that treaty because he was afraid if the goods went down that way, they would get connected with spain and if spain wants to close it, well, that's -- they're cutting off their nose to spite their face. they were gambling even bigger that they could pull the whole area off. there were efforts later as well that become famous with the story of aaron burr. one of the problems we have with that is that spain closed the
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records so it's private archived so tightly back then and a lot of it isn't available. there were certain efforts. washington was convinced and so were some of the later u.s. governors that spain had a real chance of winning that part of the west. and of course at this time we're talking about, britain is making strong efforts to regain something as well. they were working with vermont to try to regain vermont and they were playing in the northwest territories. i think washington was right when he said the frontiersman are on a pivot. that was a driving force, a driving argument for a stronger constitution. >> i know that george washington had a lot to do with the canal
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that starts at grate falls, virginia. you're talking about the success of the canal. i don't think there was any success of the canal in virginia. >> he was working all the way up and down the potomac. the canal project had several themes. he never called it a canal project. it was a navigation project. and in most places it was blasting. they had shallow rapids and blasting away to make a deeper channel, a channel deep enough to carry the small boats, the low boats over. his goal was to make a stream that was navigable. there were only a couple of places where he had to make bypass canals.
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he brought over books. he had experts come over from england and france. this was a time of massive canal building. some of you may have traveled in england and france on the canals over there. they were making cities like birmingham and manchester through what they would call canal projects. here it was called a navigation project. they had the river, by the time washington was still involved, they had the river navigable as it were to cumberland. it didn't yet go around great falls. but he would bring it around great falls by a boat. they also had lochs and sort of build up the water and they'd wait until you were real close and you'd sort of rush down on
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it and those would be the lochs. they'd cut a deep area that was deep enough that carries the canal boat and then they had just two or three places where they built canals. that went all the way up. and, yes, it finally worked all the way across and they were carrying goods across from up the pennsylvania side, up the ohio, and then crossing over and then coming down. but that was after washington died by the time it was all working. question over here. >> george washington [indiscernible] and the ohio company were also trying to put money in there before george mason died he realized the whole thing was collapsing. this was no way for the police to oversee.
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i'm wondering if there was any correspondence between george washington and george mason as he went through that same area and reported back to george mason with all of the difficulties with getting settlors to have the courage to go in there and try to establish farms. >> absolutely there was communication between washington and mason on those. now, mason i believe his lands were on the other side of the ohio and washington's were always on this side of the ohio. it was directly across from washington's holdings in what's now west virginia. and so, yes, they talked often. they were very close friends at that stage. it was a shared concern to open this territory and it wasn't just mason.
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it was many virginians had staked their future. remember these areas across the river was part of virginia until 1784 and even after 1784 kentucky and west virginia -- those territories mason was involved with. and he was serving for part of that period he was the state legislator from right here. he was in the state legislature. so they would talk about that and they would be very much involved and they realized that their future was out on the frontier, but it wasn't just them. all americans, even americans like ben franklin realized that the future of the country was on the frontier. and that's where american future and greatness lie.
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it made franklin a self made man and he was able to go to philadelphia or a pittsburgh or cincinnati or somewhere working into the future. the very name cincinnati tells us how tight it was with washington because that obviously was named for washington. they were closely connected. that was part of the inspiration, one of those things that built up toward realizing that we needed a stronger union if we were going to have prosperity at home, respect abroad. a future did lie in a stronger union. those were the three. you could say future and they shared those concerns very much. any other questions? one more i'm told by the person who runs this whole place
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really, despite what other people think and he does an amazing job. >> washington sounded incredibly busy up there on the map. what was he doing back at mount vernon? >> he was restoring his place to profitability. what do they say that needs to get done? give it to a busy person. that's certainly true with washington. think of the other founders like washington, madison, john adams, ben franklin, alexander hamilton. hamilton was keeping a law practice going while he was writing the constitution. i fear the general reputation of washington out there in the land is that he's like a wax figure, unlike a lincoln or unlike a franklin that people can feel,
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they feel like he's this wax figure up there that everybody idolizes and he doesn't do anything. it's very far from the truth. i think the reason he left -- sure, he wanted to find rivers and ways back. he wanted to go off on this grand adventure in the wild. he chose to go out and go to the wildest places. i think he loved it just like our children love today to go in the wild and i think it was his one last chance of being a kid again to go across. he was a very able person. abled people can do a lot of things at the same time. he was ripping this place back into productivity. you can read his accounting. he was getting the workers to work, the people who ran the place when he wasn't there.
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he was later moved in to build the largest whiskey distillery. after this trip he would go out and work on the canal and get them working and hire new people and pick where the route should go. i think we can use a lock and dam here. he could do all that, still come back here and make a circuit of his plantation. he was a person and still write letter after letter after letter after letter calling for a stronger national union that led up to a constitutional convention. he could do all of those things. he was very much a living, breathing, abled vibrant human being with hopes and dreams and visions and a vision for this country that he -- he was not a great speaker but john adams
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said he was the greatest political actor he ever saw. he conveyed an image in power with his resolution, with his letters. he was a good writer. but his dignity and his sense of purpose, he was an amazing human being. he would talk with all the men and he would dance with all the ladies. he was a human being and he could balance all of these things. changing the crops that were grown, bringing in new livestock. he was very active here. these were exciting times. this -- i always regret that in the great biographies of washington, including the six, seven volume one and then the five volume one and then the wonderful one -- they leave this
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period and they talk about -- he came back at 51 years old the most famous person in the world and used to be active all the i love a letter he wrote about two months after he got back -- a week up and i realize, i am retired. thank you on coming. -- all for coming. [applause]
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