tv George Washington Designing the Capital City CSPAN February 18, 2019 12:00am-12:28am EST
that is what it means to me. just years really showed a lot of passion for what he did to fight for our country. freedom. >> voices from the road on c-span. >> next, on the presidency, matthew costello reaches back to 1790's politics to explain george washington's vision for the capital city later named for him. washington's influence extended not only to the city's design, but to the building of the white house, and u.s. capitol. mr. costello is a senior historian at the white house historical association. this 25 minute talk was part of a conference highlighting the work of william thornton, who is known as the capitol's first architect. william: i hope you are all sugared up. although, i don't know if you will need it.
the next half of the morning's program is highly visual, particularly the last session. that is another thing we can use to focus our attention which is a wonderful thing to have. thank you to octagon house for making it possible. the third speaker, matthew costello, has been a stalwart friend of the u.s. capital historical society. he is my counterpart, the senior historical at the white house historical association around the corner. he agreed to share his expertise on our first president in discussing washington's cap et al., and thorton's cap a tall. matthew, think you for joining us today. [applause] matthew: thank you for that introduction. it is a real privilege to be here today. to be able to enjoy and celebrate this day,
commemorating william thornton's legacy. his contributions to the capital city and to the capitol. as chuck mentioned, my expertise is more on george washington specifically, the memory of george washington. i have gotten bogged down into the empty mausoleum and tomb and the crypt, and we will come back to that at the end of the presentation. i'm going to try to fill in some of the other portions. we heard wonderful talks this morning by michael and gordon. i am really glad none of mine overlap. i will not just be repeating things. that's good. when we take a look at -- here we go. at the residence act passed in july, 1790, when you look at the text of the law, it gave the new president of the united states
an incredible amount of authority which again, when we are talking about republican ideals, it is surprising that congress, an equal branch of government, would be willing to give the head of an executive branch this much power. it authorized george washington to locate a federal district up to 100 miles, 10 by 10, and any extent along the banks of the potomac. my favorite part is it says it does authorize the president to borrow money, which usually it is congress, they hold the purse strings. a later act would allow washington to add additional land in maryland and virginia, and essentially have the new capital surveyed in the diamond formation we are used to today extending down to alexandria. very conveniently about 10 miles away from mount vernon. who would washington a point to -- who would washington appoint to be these three commissioners who would be tasked with
constructing the new federal city? daniel caroll, who was one of the signers of the constitution, thomas johnson, who served as chief judge of the maryland general court, and dr. david stewart, there is a familial connection there. he was the second husband of martha washington's widowed daughter-in-law. he was also george washington's confidant. it is always nice to have an inside man who can tell you what is happening. these men are in charge of building the city. but washington lets them know directly what are his preferences, his opinions, in all matters. they were generally affluent gentlemen who were acquainted with the president. but most people fail to realize the first round of commissioners were actually unpaid. as you might imagine, their attention sometimes gets wrong -- their attention sometimes would get drawn to other things. it is a voluntary commission, and washington himself will learn this lesson when all three of them have resigned by 1795.
he decides the next round of commissioners must be paid so they can devote their full attention to getting the city done in time for the federal government to move by december 1800. with the city plan provided by peter charles, p or charles l'enfant, who actually does break ground working on the foundations of them the president's policies, before he is dismissed from that position, washington is turning to these men to make the monumental city possible. it was mentioned earlier that thomas jefferson also drew his own plan in 1791 for the city and it reflected jefferson's preferences for american architecture. we see a basic grid pattern, relatively small as a city, not as expensive, no wide boulevards, no vistas. there is nothing that represents a european city. it is much more of an american basic grid plan.
you can see the president's house, to the left, roughly where it is today. and the capitol directly east of it. jefferson also desired to have a lot of these buildings made of brick. he thought the idea of having massive stone buildings seemed regal, a little aristocratic. he made these opinions known to washington. by the law, washington had the authority in many of these decisions and it was the commissioners who were tasked with that. by keeping those relationships viable, washington was able to exert his influence and push his vision for a new capital city on to them. jefferson does convince washington to announce a design competition. they will do this for the president's house and for the capitol building. this is actually -- this comes
from a newspaper. they announced it in march, 1792. the president's house does not have nearly as many requirements, i think it is more open-ended as to the architect's preferences and what they want to design. ultimately, james hoban wins the design competition. the white house based off of leinster house in dublin and the -- dublin in that irish georgian tradition. there is not a clear decisive winner picked in july. to give you an example of washington's involvement, when the deadline is approaching in mid-july to select winners, who makes a stop down in the district to oversee the commissioners' proceedings? president george washington. you have to imagine for a moment your boss tells you to pick a winner and he is standing in the room with you and he says, i really like that one. which way did the commissioners go? they picked james hoban. the interesting part of that is hoban had arrived earlier in washington to look at the site,
he had been working at cedars for quite a while. the commissioners have gotten to know him. when he arrived, he came with a letter of recommendation from george washington introducing him to the commissioners. you can read between the lines on that one. there was not a similar relationship for setting up the design of the capital. there were about, and here is the announcement of the winner, here we have 26 plans for the capitol and president's house were presented for massachusetts, new york, pennsylvania, south carolina. and mr. james hoban of charleston, south carolina, selected as a winner. the follow-up -- the work of the foundation, no choice was made but the plans for a capitol was expected would take place next month. in the meantime, the competitions would become the eventual runner-up.
stephen hulle is being strung along by the commissioners to keep making changes to his design. to keep altering things, to modify things. ultimately, it is a thorton's plan that arrives past the deadline, the commissioners in washington decide to give him additional time. when he submits his finally -- his final plans, he is actually selected as the winner and his design is chosen. he is a classically trained french architect, and when he finds out that he has lost out to what he would consider an english, a scottish amateur, he did not take it particularly well. to complicate things further, the commissioners thought it would be a good idea to put away in charge of executing thorton's design which only created more issues. things became so tense between the two, that the commissioners decided to act him for a report,
essentially explaining what he saw as the impracticality's , impossibilities, and the modifications needed to thorton's design. washington will call a conference in philadelphia to discuss this with thorton, with the second architect, and then also james hoban. secretary of state thomas jefferson is present. he has notes from the meeting. a lot of the architects in the room are agreeing with stephen hulle's assessments and really he seals the deal when he tells washington, i can do it on time, under budget. and he knows washington's affinity for frugality. washington says, ok. then later, he finds out that he
is maybe taking a few more liberal interpretations of the design. adding things, he is eventually dismissed. his replacement will not stick around very long. this is a drawing for thornton when he comes into the picture. he is very cultured, he is a product of the enlightenment, and i think in many ways, even though he realized being connected to george washington would give the ascendancy of the national capitol. but i think washington admired his intellectual ability. washington did not have a classic formal education. he was a survey self trained, a businessman, self trained. but he did not have any formal education as thorton. i think he was impressed by thorton's design and later, he thought, who better to come in as a new paid commissioner to make sure this design sees fruition than the person who actually did it? another good plan. hallet'sne of stephen
drawings that originally he was theering with with commissioners but they decided to go with thorton's plan. one washington called the conference to discuss the objections and a lot of the professional architects agree, thorton is -- i would not say devastated, but he is disappointed because he really saw in washington a patron figure. somebody who was going to help him defend his design. somebody who had added his own opinions to it, to make it better, and he really thought that because he was the winner, that is how it should be. but obviously, with architecture, different things come into play after the fact. when washington decides to let hallet make these changes, there is this brief time where their relationship is maybe rockier. for thorton, he realizes staying in washington's good graces is essential. it doesn't hurt to have friends
in high places. who would have thought in washington, d.c., even before there was a capital, that that was true? afterwards, when washington decides he needs to hire new commissioners and they need to be paid to give their full-time attention, william thornton is his man on the inside. somebody he can trust, somebody who is incredibly knowledgeable about architecture, but also more practical things. building, supply, licensing of contractors, finding labor, and this is something that a -- that historian robert cache goes into great detail about. looking at the different labor issues surrounding the commissioners. there were quite a few strikes, as you can imagine, in the early city.
by fall of 1798, washington is retired from the presidency. and he is purchasing property in the capital city. he was always a speculator. but on the west side of north capitol street, he wants to build townhouses as was mentioned earlier. he sketches out two adjoined homes. he decides to send them to william thornton to ask for his professional opinions. washington admitted to his ignorance of architectural principles, his quote. he wanted thorton's opinion on how to improve those homes. it is interesting he never turned over full control of the design to the townhouses. which maybe speaks to his respect for thorton's opinions, but also washington's need for micromanagement, control, whatever you want to call it. he had already overseen a couple of additions to mount vernon. those were architectural layouts he did himself and oversaw himself. washington, even though he feigned ignorance, he did have some experience in this field.
where things get interesting between washington and thornton and the washington family, really takes place after george washington's death. on december 14, 1799, he passes -- george washington passes away at mount vernon at about 10:00 at night. thorton actually arrives the next day, him and his wife, and he is pretty despaired to find out george washington is laid out in the new room. if you have been to in mount vernon, it is the large green space where he is laid out. washington had given instructions to lay me out for three days time. he wanted to make sure he was really dead. people in those days -- [laughter] matthew: people in those days had a fear of being buried alive. occasionally you hear these stories in newspapers where they think somebody is dead, they put
them up at a wake, then the person sits up. people back then were terrified of being buried alive. in fact, the washington who would own mount vernon after martha's death, he did something similar. he died on his way back to mount vernon and he asked they bore holes in his coffin just in case resuscitation happens. that is what he called it. it didn't. he also passed away. anyway, washington is laid out in the new room, and thornton is devastated by his death because this was his figure of patronage in the capital city. washington was his biggest supporter. it was washington who got him connected within the washington family to build the private residences. probably the most interesting turn in the relationship occurs after washington passes away. his funeral is a few days later
at mount vernon, december 18, by invitation. thornton, later, claims in the 1820's when he is writing his reflections, he is telling these stories about arriving at mount vernon and he really recommended that washington be placed in a leaden coffin. that, someday, his remains will be moved. after washington's death, there was a resolution put through erect a to essentially mausoleumm -- erect a for george washington, along with a statue in the capitol rotunda. there we go. now he is dying. [laughter] matthew: he is passing away. they had called three different doctors, james craig who was a scottish physician, practicing, though.
he came. brown came, and elijah cullen did. those three doctors descended upon mount vernon, but as we talked about earlier, medical practices in the 18th century, we will believe you, we are going to give you various substances to purge your body and balance the humors. that, unfortunately, doesn't work. historians then have wondered if washington could have been saved. chances are no. his larynx closed. whether it was a viral or bacteria, we don't know. if it was bacterial, with no antibiotics, it would not really have mattered. if it was viral, a tracheotomy could have prolonged his life and given his immune system a chance to fight. the doctors discussed that the procedures of a tracheotomy. it was considered a radical procedure to do that. they decided not to.
thorton, writing in the 1820's, talks about how he had -- had he arrived in time, he certainly would have performed a tracheotomy. it is easy to say after the fact. congress creates a resolution, unanimously passed, to create this monument capitol in the -- this monument in the capitol. and president john adams writes to the widowed marshall washington about 10 days after her husband has died, asking if she would consent to allowing his remains to be removed and placed inside the capitol at a future date? we only really have the north wing. but at a future date. tbd. that we would really like to get your consent, and if you could put it in writing. tobias lear, washington's secretary, writes the response.
there is a letter printed in newspapers which is much more flowery and, of course, i will sacrifice my personal wishes to the public will. then, there is a second letter written directly to president john adams. this one details martha's excruciating pain over the decision. he also mentions to the president that her biggest concern was being separated from her husband after she passed away. she wanted to be buried alongside him. if you are going to put him in a mausoleum, you have to put me in m, was sort of the attitude. according to thorton, he said he wrote john marshall, serving on the committee for commemoration, and suggested congress take this up and do this to make sure they secure george washington's remains. so they do. and william thornton now is
really playing a central role in creating this claim that the federal government should have possession of george washington's body. you might imagine how virginians feel about that idea. or later, the south. washington became an icon, and even was included in the seal of the confederacy. there are many different people that feel washington belongs to them. the body becomes a way to really stake out a claim of who really owns him. today, when you go to the capitol, you see the crypt, which has that name, because really it was designed in part to entomb george washington beneath the rotunda. it would have been an open air floor. people would have been able to look down and see a statue of george washington and beneath that would have been where the washingtons were entombed. eventually, this does not happen. trumbull gets upset because the open air is destroying his
paintings, so they seal it, and that is why when you go to the capitol today and you are in the rotunda, you can see the differences in the stones because those were added after the fact. so, and i wanted to read this because this is another interesting anecdote that thorton gives. i didn't believe it at first when i read it but he also insists that when he showed up at mount vernon, that he had this plan to resuscitate george washington. bear with me. "i propose to attempt his restoration in the following manner. first, thaw him in cold water and lay him in blankets and by degrees and by friction to give him warmth, and to put him into activity that minute blood vessels, to open a passage to the lungs by the trachea. and inflate them with air to proceed in artificial respiration, and transfuse blood into him from a lamb."
the family did not go for it. [laughter] matthew: thorton was denied. but the idea that a tracheotomy, that could have been something that could have saved george washington's life. possibly. but based on my own research and this is just my own theory, feel free to be highly critical of this later, my belief is it was bacterial in nature because of the onset, how quickly it caught up to washington. none of his family members have a similar reaction, none of his guests have a similar reaction. my theory is the bacteria probably started with his teeth. but that is just my speculation. anyway. in the capitol, at least in thorton's mind, was intended for the remains of his dear friend george washington. but in a way, their relationship continued beyond the former president's demise. as was mentioned earlier, the plantation home of eleanor parke
custis lewis, martha's granddaughter and her husband, lawrence lewis, who served as executor to washington's estate, he also -- he is the one who oversees the building of the new tomb at mount vernon, which is ironic. washington's death had left a substantial inheritance to peter and her husband, thomas peter. who used the money to purchase the property and hired thornton to design their new home. thorton's relationship with the washington's was strong enough to survive the patron staff. and he did well for himself to be able to design these homes for america's elite family. william thornton, much like , became a figure that the first president really trusted. not only did he select
architectural plans, but he fully and trusted them with -- fully entrusted them with overseeing the construction of the progress necessary to move the federal government by 1800. these were monumental mountain moving tasks. architects, as we saw, came and went. hoban and thorton survived the politics, rivalries, challenges, obstacles that were laid out before then. in a way, they were politicians themselves, creating networks of supporters anchored by president washington. this relationship gave way to --rnton media roddick rise .hornton meteoric rise it served him well beyond washington's presidency. his ability to navigate these waters was truly remarkable. it helped to have friends with high places within the district. some things never change. thorton's contributions along with the others made washington's vision of a national capital of a country destined to become a great
empire, and insteeped not only in republican ideals, but projecting those physically through the buildings that were made, this is thorton's legacy to washington's federal city. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: from george washington to george w. bush, every sunday at 8:00 p.m. at -- at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern, we feature the presidency, our weekly series exploring the presidents, policies, and legacies. you're watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. >> abraham lincoln is buried inside a tomb in springfield alongside his wife mary lincoln and three of their four sons. after his funeral and burial services, his coffin was placed
in a temporary receiving vault while his tomb was constructed. the final structure was made in 1874. today he is buried inside a concrete vault, 10 feet below the ground. next, we is at the abraham lincoln library and museum. it opened its doors in 2005. our collection goes back much further. in 1889 they establish the illinois state historical library and ever since that time, we have been collecting all the treasures that help illustrate illinois wonderful past. as you might imagine, the illinois story is not complete really close look at abraham lincoln's life. in our collection we have about 52,000 pieces