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tv   George Washington and the Early Presidency  CSPAN  February 19, 2018 8:40am-9:36am EST

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captioning performed by vitac not all of the quengss of washington's actions were intend d. in august of 1789, taking literally his constitutional obligation to seek the advice and consent of of the senate, the president hand delivered a proposed treaty with southern indian tribes for legislative approval. expecting senators to act with the same business-like dispatch as the executive he was in for a shock. then as now, lawmakers were jealous of their prerogatives. when a hostile senator from pennsylvania asked for the treaty to be referred to the appropriate committee, it
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prompted a rare public was of the presidential temper. this defeats every purpose of my coming here, complained washington. he quickly regained his kpocomp you're, outside federal hall and groused to his secretary that he would be damned, his word, before subjecting himself to such humiliation a second time. in this as in so much else he proved a man of his word. ensuring that future presidents would keep their distance from the ratification process. what then of the ceremonial aspects of the job. the founders created this two-headed beast, the presidency, head of state and ahead of government. like riding two horses simultaneously. even as skillful an equestrian as washington found that a bit of a challenge.
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he understand -- he was a great theater goer and understood politics was theater and washington was the first actor president. he understood the theater of leadership and perfected those skills during the war. there's a marvelous scene where revolutionary war officers and men fed up with not being paid by congress were about to stage a mutiny. they were literally preparing to march on philadelphia and we can only imagine what the consequences would have been for democratic government. washington spoke to them. tried to reason with them. using intellectual arguments, promises that congress would atone and got nowhere. then washington the actor kicked in, slowly he reached into his great coat for his glasses and
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he paused and said, forgive me. i find i've already gone gray in the service of my country and now i fear i'm going blind. well, you can imagine the impact -- there was no mutiny, no one marched on philadelphia. it was a defining moment, a very close call but it illustrates again how much we owe this one man whose skills he insisted on in many ways denying. i mean, the fact of the matter is, washington insisted he was no politician. and that was evidence of his genius as a politician. because america didn't need politicians. america needed bonding agents at this point. the constitution was a scrap of parchment and had no particular
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authority. had no veneration as it does today. henry knox, the secretary of war said that what held the country together in those early days was not the constitution but the character, the character of george washington. washington the actor, washington the public performer traveled extensively in tours carefully choreographied to reaffirm popular support for the untried government over which he presided. he uses these forays to sample public opinion. this is a pre-polling era. and on occasion to engage in trumanesque equation, a trip to a synagogue, an ideal platform to extoll the american virtue of religious tolerance. washington boasted quote, all
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possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. for happily the government of the united states which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance. requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens. 200 years later those words are morrerele relevant than ever. it was washington who designated a site for the capital on the banks of the potomac that the federal city be named washingto washingtonopolis and another tradition is the second term jinx. the same curse that is afflicted such otherwise successful presidents as jefferson, wilson and fdr and ike.
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if the first term had been dominated by hamilton's economic program at home, washington's second term was defined by war overseas and the domestic stresses it generated. we tend forget how unpopular washington's policies, not washington himself, were in the second term. if you had taken a poll no doubt an overwhelming majority of the american people in gratitude to their ally, war-time ally france would have sided with the french against the war time enemy, great britain. washington alone had the prestige, the moral authority, the clout and yes, the vision. this is a man not often credited with imagination or vision. washington took it upon himself without consulting congress to do something incredibly bold. on his own authority, he issued
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a neutrality pro clamation, declaring the people of the united states and indeed the government of the united states utterly neutral in the ongoing quarrels in europe. such boldness did not endear him to the friends of revolutionary france, among them thomas jefferson. using state department funds, jefferson poet phillip forknow to make military war on which the government which he reportedly worked as a diplomatic translator. in the pages of the newspaper, he assailed washington for the allegedly royalist trappings of the presidential household, quote, a certain monarchial prettiness must be highly extolled. such as levies, drawing rooms and stately nods instead of shaking hands, titles of office,
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is he inclusion from the people. washington canceled his subscription to furnell's paper. not to be put off so easily, the offending journalists ordered three copies personally delivered to the executive mansion. hoping to defuse a war scale with england, washington on his own initiative sent john j. to london to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the british government. when the treaty evoked popular outrage, it was washington who shouldered the blame. at one point the house of representatives demanded he turn over all papers relating to the treaty and washington refused. in doing so, he established the concept of executive privilege. as a boor against an otherwise imperial congress. if you think we live in a polarized political era, the speaker of the house frederick
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mullen berg from pennsylvania, a member of the opposition, in the end cast a tie breaking vote by which the house of representatives in effect went along with jay's treaty, approved the funds to implement jay's treaty. for this muhlenberg was stabbed three days later by his brother-in-law. he survived. another way of measuring washington's legacy is to consider what he might have done but didn't. he did not resign his office halfway through his first term as he had hoped to do. can you imagine what such an act would have done in terms of diminishing the future role of the presidency? he did not make his vice president a kind of prime minister as he could have under the vaguely worded terms of the constitution. most of all, he did not allow himself to be swept up in
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europe's war fever. unlike woodrow wilson, george washington really did keep us out of war. at considerable costs to his short-term popularity and peace of mind. but of course he supplied positive leadership as well, in crushing the whiskey rebellion of 1794, a violent anti-tax protest by pennsylvania farmers, the president put all of his accumulated prestige behind the principle that in a republic, dissatisfied minorities can protest peacefully but they cannot take arms against even the most unpopular official acts. finally, in his famous and often misunderstood farewell address, washington left behind a timeless warning about the excesses of political parties, one which rings especially true in this age of dark money, spin
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doctors and focus groups. listen to washington's words. the alternate domestic nation of one faction over another sharpened by the spirit of revenge is itself a frightf fuf despotism, and opens the door to corruption which finds a facilitated access through the channels of party passions. thus the policy and the will of one country subjected to the policy and will of another. no action of washington's did more to avert dictatorship than the voluntarily retirement at the end of two terms. the poet robert frost said he was one of the few in the history. world not carried away by power.
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the man who could have been king insisted ultimate sovereignty lay with the people, however imperfect their judgment. the 1796 campaign to succeed washington did little to encourage the friends of democracy. long before the first negative commercial hit the nation's airwaves thomas jefferson was branded a coward and infidel, whose election warned one connecticut newspaper would guarantee that quote, murder, robbery and rape and adultery and insist will be openly taught and practiced. the air will be rent with the cries of distress and soil soaked with blood and nation black with crimes. such abuse anticipate tri of the recesses of the blog osphere, prompted jefferson to declare the most trust worthy part of the newspaper to be the
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advertisements. on election day he lost narrowly to his one time friend and political opposite john adams, adams is an american paradox, a revolutionary who feared the mob, made the world and the world of ideas his home. and conservative who distrusted banks and loathed spek laters. a deeply spiritual figure who outgrew the doctrines of john calvin without foresaking the harsher self-demands of his pure tan conscious. i do not say -- for that i never was. adams might better be classified as a political scientist. exhaustive study of his fellow man prompted his belief in executive strong enough, independent enough, high minded enough to protect the american republic from the very traits
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among them economic envy, greed, and the hunger for recognition that he perceived in himself. power naturally grows he claimed. why? because human passions are insatiable. more than a mediator, adams executive was a moral balance wheel, above politics, above faction, distakening intrigue. this might be argued is a misreading of washington's legacy. remember when i said a minute ago it is no small measure of washington's innate political genius that understanding what the country needed, he could only succeed by convincing his countrymen and himself that he was no politician. and yet, none of his contemporaries could match his talent foreman ip lating men and
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events while feining indifference or working through subordinates like his 20th century add mirror dwight ic eisenhow eisenhower. adams' greatest mistake almost a warping of washington's legacy, was to retain washington's cabinet intact. on blif yus to the fact that most of the members owed their allegiance not to him but to the despised alexander hamilton. mem orably disparaged by adams as quote the bastard brat of a scott's peddler. they would clash bitterly over french aggression and prospect of war. ten weeks into office, adams appeared before congress to wave the olive branch of negotiation and simultaneously decrying the actions of france's directory, in plunderring hundreds of american vessels and refusing to recognize an american minister. he dispatched a diplomatic trio
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to paris, led by future chief justice john marshall. for months they called their heels then early in 1798, adams learned that the french foreign minister had through his agents immor immorltallized in diplomatic code in xy and z put a price in peace. this took the form of a $10 million loan in the infant united states to the government in paris, sweetened by a personal bribe of $240,000 to line his deep pockets. x, y, z. as war fever swept the nation adams was lustily cheered wherever he appeared. it was first and last time he ever enjoyed the fruits of popularity. a new march adams in liberty became part of the national soundtrack.
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the military preparedness sailed through congress, a department of the navy was established and army of 10,000 regulars authorized. this prompted hamilton, hungry as ever for battlefield renown, to approach the retired george washington about leading -- lending his immense prestige to the gathering movement for war. paradoxically it was only when he stopped asking himself what would george washington do and embarked on his own independent course did adams make the presidency his own. when a chasing tal you rand signaled the willingness to receive a american minister, he chose a candidate opposed by hamilton and fellow war amongerers. he cleaned house installing cabinet members loyal to him. on february 18th, 1799, in a message of just four sentences,
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adams declared himself ready to take chances for peace. if the peace maker is blessed, he is not always politically popular. adams courageous action opened a breach in the federalist party that would never be healed. what hamilton criticized at the time, most historians since have reregarded as a rare display of self-defying statesmanship. in the end, john adams -- war and held the fragile union together. without the imaginest tri or ven race of his predecessor. his reward for this achievement was defeated at the polls. by conventional standards the first one term president might be judged a failure and yet two centuries on, we revere john adams for putting the interest of his country ahead of his own
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political ambitions. the sobering lesson of adams leadership, that the presidency first and foremost is a political office. arguably the most political office in the world. its most successful occupants have relished the game. thomas jefferson would have you believe otherwise. our third president declared if he could not go to heaven but with a political party he would not go at all. and yet he could be considered along with his intellectual collaborator james madison, as the first party boss in american history. that is the only contradiction that makes jefferson the most elusive of presidents. we all know he worshipped before the altar of strict constructionism, if not other. yet posterity recognizes him for
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betraying his staunch fifth in limited government when lose came on the market. more precisely, his principles took a back seat to his continental vision for the united states. as he put it, i stretch the constitution so far that it cracked. an act, i might add for which he is gratefully remembered especially west of the mississippi. this particular real estate transaction doubled the size of the united states and at the same time introduced a governing rule of which we might assess our leaders ever since. simply put, history judges a president less been i formal agenda he may set out in his inaugural address than by his reaction to unexpected challenges and opportunities to the proverbial 3:00 in the morning phone call. the presidency is an assertive
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office to be sure. but it is also a reactive one. successful presidents are in the best sense of the word opportunists. in buying louisiana for three cents an acre, jefferson anticipated richard nixon's opening to communist china and bill clinton's embrace of a nafta pre-trade deal and george w. bush's support for a government bailout of wall street firms. james madison be queejed us a different legacy. if men were angels, he wrote in defense of the constitution, no government would be necessary. if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. in framing a government, which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this. you must first enable the government to control the governed and in the next phase
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oblige to control itself. these words may help to explain madison the war president, a role which he appears temperamentally miscast. his practice of jeffersonial frugalty served him and the country badly when war broke out with britain in 1812, having starved john adams navy, adam -- madison was forced to entrust much of the battle at seat to privateers, as if the president in modern times were to outsource the war in afghanistan to bill gates or warren buffett. for the better part of two centuries, historians judged madison the intellectual to be a better theorist than war time leader. in the latter capacity he was seen as the unlunlincoln, solel lacking in ruthlessness or
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strategic capacity and yet, as an illustration of how presidential reputations can bounce around like corn in a popper, in the wake of subsequent conflicts and assaults on civil liberties ranging from the incarceration of japanese americans after pearl harbor to more recent debates sparked by our own war on terror, madison has come in from reappraisal. to his add mir rers he is the supremely constitutional war time president. abused the liberties for which his armies are contending. no one went to jail for criticizing the administration and conduct of the war and no alien and is he digs acts marred his record. if the enemy burned much of the capital to the ground, it is also true that his diplomats negotiated a peace treaty effectively confirming american
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independence. in the end, madison to employ his own criteria, not only managed to control the governed, he had also admits the passions unleashed by war controlled his own government. no small legacy that. finally there is madison's successor. next to the renaissance genius of his charlottesville neighbor, thomas jefferson, james monroe may appear a presidential caretaker, with which to be modest about. appearances can be deceiving. like ronald reagan in the next century, monroe's popular appeal mystified the political elite. he's been called the first ordinary man to reach the presidency. as such, his success is much to val validate the principles of popular government as any burst of jeffersonial eloquentfor
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america's fifth prad patterned himself after the first. like washington monroe was considered more steady than brilliant. both admired for character and pat tronized for verbal shortcomings. of the friend and political dissible, he's a man who's soul might be turned wrong side outwards without discovering a blemish. also like washington, monroe regarded himself as being above party politics. this was made easier by the fact that he presided over a century of one party nation. adding to the parallel, monroe em lated washington's far flung travels, advancing national unity by appearing before his countrymen the last american president to wear a receive l s
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revolutionary costume of knee breaches and hat. the visit to massachusetts happened to coincide with a touring circus. john greenleaf whittier, the future poet was prohibited from his appearance from seeing either the president or traveling show of wild animals. walking into town the next day, the 9-year-old boy came upon the impression left in the dusty road by an elephant's foot. naturally, he assumed that it was the imprint of the president of the united states. whittier returned home happily convinced he had seen at least a footsteps of the greatest man on earth. but of course it is in the field of international diplomacy that monroe himself left the largest footprints. the least aggressive of men in personal relations, monroe is remembered still for the hands off doctrine that bears his
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name. a state paper that conned its fists at the old world and dared divine right to show its face in the western hemisphere. it didn't happen in a vacuum. if the monroe doctrine were called anything, it is the boldness whether it's washington, a generation earlier had committed his countrymen to strict neutrality in europe's violent quarrels. the difference is that by 1823, monroe presided over a nation that could conceivably enforce his doctrine. a regional power whose developing clout only confirmed washington's wisdom in abstaining from the murderous cross fire of european con -- washington enabled his successors operating from a position of growing strength to
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declare the western hemisphere off limits to european intrusion. there's a word for that. the word is statesmanship. in the twilight of his presidency, an opposition newspaper editorialized quote, if ever a nation was debotched by a man, the american nation has been debotched by washington. if ever a nation was deceived by a man, the american nation has been deceived by washington. in allowing his reputation to be shredded by the very forces of liberty, he had set in motion the first president laid down yet another marker for all who would follow. simply put, one does not get to mt. rushmore by traveling the path of least resistance. when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us said that
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other palm beach president john f. kennedy, our successor failure in whatever office we may hold will be measured by the answers to four questions, were we truly men of courage? were we truly men of judgment? were we truly men of integrity? were we truly men of dedication? half a century later, we can modify kennedy's formula to read men and women. for america's first female president is an inestable part of our unwritten history. that too is evidence of an unfolding plan an evolution of democratic inclusiveness that began with the constitution makers of philadelphia and that justifies the memorials to presidents washington and jefferson and lincoln and roosevelt that dot them all in the capital city named for our
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first chief executive. here then i would submit is the true miracle of philadelphia. that 55 white men hardly representative even of their strat fied society, could fashion a document and a political system capable over time of becoming steadily more representative, more democratic and more inclusive. therein is to be found the ultimate legacy of washington adams, jefferson, madison and monroe, revolutionaries who made a republic and whose combination of principle and prag ma tix foreshadowed a land that has never become but is forever in the act of becoming. thank you very much. [ applause ]
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>> richard norton smith, everyone. >> today, president's day on the c-span networks, at 6:30 p.m. eastern on c-span, the launch of landmark cases live from the national constitution center in philadelphia with a review of the 12 historic cases to be featured in the series. at 7:30 p.m., the portrait unveiling ceremony for former president barack obama and first lady michelle obama. and then at 8:30 p.m., slate magazine's panel on comparing watergate to today. on booktv on c-span2 ats noon eastern, the 2018 savannah book festival with scott shapiro and sellest headily and pulitzer
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prize winning coleson whitehead. on c-span3 at 2:30 p.m., historians on world war i and the legacy of president woodrow wilson and scholars explore the relationships between ronald reagan george h.w. bush and gorbachev. and richard brookhiser on george washington and the fight for philadelphia. watch today on the c-span networks. >> american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend. featuring museum tours and archival films and programs on the presidency. the civil war and more. here's a clip from a recent program. >> since the recovery began, 70%
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of the new jobs have been translated into opportunities for women and black and other minority employment has risen twice as fast as all other groups. minority family income is also increased at a rate over 40% faster than other groups. in addition since 19 83, 2.9 million people have climbed out of poverty and the poverty rain declinedty fastest rate in more than ten years. think for a moment on what these statistics mean and the kind of political nerve and desperation it takes to try to sell the american people on the idea that in the 1980s, they never had it so bad. the truth is, we're in the 63rd month of this nonstop expansion. real gross national product growth for 1987 was 3.8%. defying the possess mists and even exceeding our own forecast which was criticized as being
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too rosy at the time by more than one half percent. inflation is down from 13.5% in 1980 to only around 4% or less this year. and there's over 15 million new jobs. so believe me, i welcome this approach by the opposition. and i promise you every time they use it, i'll just tell the story of a friend of mine who was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. he slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist. [ applause ] >> you can watch this and other american history programs on our website, where all of our video is archived. that's next, harvard law professor randall kennedy talks about the origins of first amendment
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rights for african-american student pro testers. he's the author of the fourth coming book from protest to law. triumphs and defeats of the black revolt, 1948 to 1968. the new york historical society hosted this hour-long event. >> good evening. excuse me, good evening everyone and welcome to the new york historical society. i'm dale gregory. vice president for public programs and i'm thrilled to welcome you to our spectacular robert h smith auditorium. tonight's program, the first amendment, the constitution on campus is part the bernard and schwartz distinguished speaker series which is the heart of the public programs. i would like to thank mr. schwartz for his support to invite so many authors and


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