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tv   The Presidency Remembering George Washington  CSPAN  August 29, 2020 6:50pm-8:01pm EDT

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>> up next on the presidency, matthew costello talks about his new book. we hear about the ways that americans remembered and celebrated george washington in the 19th century. he talked about the freed and enslaved people in mount vernon helped to shape the historical narrative about him. historian.o is a >> good evening everyone. the house historical association, i would like to welcome our friends joining us by c-span and those who are here with us tonight who are the really smart people in washington, d.c., because you have chosen to be here above the nationals' baseball game and above the televised presidential debate tonight. we think we have got the best thing going here and we are glad
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you chose to be with us. i would like to acknowledge some very important people who are with us this evening. matt's parents, tim and debbie costello, and his wife. sophia and theodore are at home. wonderful kids. i would like to also welcome are members of the board of directors who are with us. ann stock. [applause] and bob mcgee. [applause] and two are en route, anita mcbride and gail west. both will be with us tonight. steve strong is the national cochair of our white house, national council on white house history.
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he and his wife andrea are here with us tonight. this is one of our most important groups here at the white house historical association. their support, their encouragement, their inspiration and their wisdom really puts the wind in the sales of so much of what we do. we are grateful to have you with us here tonight, steve. the program tonight, dr. matt costello, is going to share with us about his brand-new book hot off the presses. this is the first time we are making it available. we are very proud of proud of matt. he has made quite a mark and makes a contribution to the association. prior to coming here he contribute into the george washington biography project. he is teaching a course at american university on white
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house history, the first time this has been done anywhere, to our knowledge. we hope to broaden that beyond american university so classrooms across the country can join virtually and we can expand that impact. it is really a cutting edge, first mover opportunity for us we are proud of. he is working on his next book, which will be published by the white house historical association instead of kansas university press which published this one. we are proud to have the opportunity to publish his next book on the renovation of the white house undertaken by president theodore roosevelt in the early 20 century. following his remarks, this podium will be moved away from the stage so everyone here can have a clear view. and he and i will have a conversation, a few probing questions i have about his book. then we will open the floor to
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questions and you're all invited to join us in the courtyard for refreshments following. thank you very much for being here. matt, i will turn it over to you. [applause] >> good evening and thank you for that wonderful introduction. it is truly a privilege to be here tonight with you all. one of the most gratifying exercises about finishing the book is that you get to write acknowledgments. you get to take time and really think through the people, and the places that made this project possible. and i am thrilled that many of those people are here in this room today, including my colleagues here at the association. thank you for your support, your encouragement. we share this accomplishment together. in the spirit of sharing something collectively, tonight i'm going to talk about the
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property of the nation. the spirit is who owns history? i use washington and his tomb to explore how it unfolded in the 19th century. this project began as an offshoot of research i was doing around the washington monument. as i was exploring different efforts by congress to build statues and memorials and monuments, i was drawn to this particular incident in 1832. evers of congress were debating and then voted in favor of removing george washington's body from mount vernon, and in teaming it in the then just below the crypt and the capitol rotunda. as i dug deeper, pun intended, i discovered this was one of many attempts to physically remove washington's body during the
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19th century. actually i was curious about what was happening exactly at the gravesite. i found some fascinating stories . the tomb served as an intersection for historical tourism, race and class relations, popular culture, religious expression, things that were transformed by pluto -- transformed by the advent of political democracy. how the democratic impulse transcended the present. -- the president. different individuals interacted with washington's final resting place and mount vernon's and it was through these visits that citizens, writers, entrepreneurs and enslaved storytellers reimagined the collective memory of washington, democratizing the first president and creating this popularly held belief that he was, indeed, the property of the nation. but in order to talk about the memory making process, unfortunately we have to start with washington's demise.
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on december 14, 1799, washington came down with what appeared to be a winter cold. it accelerated quickly. studies now believe he probably suffered from acute epiglotitis, the swelling of the larynx. whether was bacterial or viral, we are not sure. but the medical treatments of the time only accelerated his to cleaning health. washington passed away between 10:00 and 11:00 at night on december 18, he was privately interred at mount vernon. six days later, on christmas eve, 1799, president john adams asked for martha's consent to move her husband's body in the future to the capitol. we then see the apotheosis of washington. there was a national morning. up until his birthday, february 22, 1800.
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and gerald kaylor has done a great study telling the different funeral processions. he counted 400 different instances. this was an outpouring of national grief the young country had never seen. at mount vernon itself, letters of condolence streamed in, in particular to martha. not all of these were some pathetic, sorry for your loss. some were very opportunistic. so, for example, a number of individuals writing martha to ask for locks of her deceased husband's hair, which sounds strange to us, it was pretty common in the 18th century and 19th century. one man claimed he had served with george washington and asked martha if she could write a pardon on his behalf to the governor of pennsylvania because he had been accused of steering a horse. they had not been able to find the real thief and only the widow of washington could save him from his unfortunate fate.
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she did not reply. now, with this resolution to move washington in the future in 1799, this opened up a new question about hero worship in early america. how would we venerate the memory of our past leaders? would it be things like education or would it be very public displays of things like statues, monuments, or even something that appears anthetical to the revolution, something like a mausoleum, designed by the architect to designed the cater house. now, this pyramid was supposed to be 100 by 100 feet, which would have made it one of the tallest structures in the united states at that time. it would have been made out of granite and marble, so obviously very expensive. but this issue of hero worship
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comes to a head between these two groups. obviously there were comparisons with ancient rome and ancient greek. ultimately, this measure is defeated. public opinion turned against this idea of a great mausoleum for washington. they argued it's not what washington would have wanted. of course, there was also a funding issue. the government doesn't have money for something like that. and the federalists really sunk their ship when they proposed that they -- only they would be involved in designing the mausoleum. this issue never really goes away. in 1816, the new owner of mount vernon, a supreme court justice, he's the nephew of george washington, he's solicited by the virginia general assembly. they propose moving washington's
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body to richmond to be placed underneath a monument that hasn't been built yet. so again, another attempt, but this time by a state government. congress gets wind of it. they actually write to him as well and they inquire of moving washington again to the capitol. of course, the capitol's been burned and they're rebuilding it. but they are having these conversations and bushrod declines. that is another attempt to move him. freemasonry and the freemasons come along in the 1820's and they propose raising money to essentially build a new tomb in honor of george washington and his masonic accomplishments. they propose putting together money that was raised with the different lodges and even creating a national lodge and having washington attached to it. part of what i argue is that in the 1820's, you have to keep in mind that freemasonry has sort of taken a turn. there's the rise of the anti-masonic party. more and more americans are
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becoming suspicious of the elitist freemasons. the freemasons are still visiting his grave. they're attributing his memory to their own brotherhood. they say any criticism against us is just as ludicrous as criticizing washington himself. so they are a great example of societal organization using sort of washington as a shield to guard against criticism and anything like that. but really, it's where we see sort of a major transition in how washington is perceived and how he is marketed and how people profit from it is from this gentleman, john augustin washington iii. he's the last private owner of the mount vernon estate. he agrees to a contract in 1858. he vacates the estate in 1860. before then, he labors to turn mount vernon into america's first historic tourism destination.
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now, he invested in several ventures hoping to capitalize on the public fascination with his famous relative. he negotiated the washington and alexandria steamboat companies so that they could have direct access to the peer landing in mount vernon so a constant flow of steamboats would come between the city alexandria and mount vernon. he authorizes the wooden plank walkway and charged it to the company. one of the funnier things i came across in my research is this land was so valuable, there was a man who arrived along the shoreline in 1851 and he was holding up a deed saying that he owned part of the shoreline of mount vernon. and this threw john augustin washington into a fit. but essentially the land he was , claiming was technically underwater. so it didn't go well for george page.
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but it does go to show you and george page also worked for the baltimore steam company. there were other agents who were operating on terms of bringing people to mount vernon who wanted that access as well. he took a cut of their ticket sales. you can actually see this is actually the advertisement. this went down several times a week. and this is where we start to see the beginnings of maybe some of you have been in the spirit of mount vernon today, making the the estate more accessible and affordable to people, it was relatively inexpensive they started offering things like concessionary. sometimes they would have different types of liquors depending on the crews you were going to and they had music. so it became this experience that a lot of americans enjoyed in 19th century. so he was not only investing in this particular company, he was taking a cut of their sales.
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he started buying stock. then he started selling wood from the estate and the idea behind it was to essentially package and sell pieces of washington's world so that american consumers could be more directly connected with the man himself. now, this is a particular example -- it was made by an english businessman named james crutchette. probably most famous for his installation of gas lighting at the capitol, but he had this business on the side where he was manufacturing washington made from wood from the estate. and like today, any time you get something that's supposed to authentic, you know, you're going to need a certificate that goes with it so you can prove to people, no, this is legitimate. you can see from the little -- you get some poetry, washington's face. but also, essentially a statement from the mayor of
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washington, d.c., attesting to the character of the man in question and also telling you exactly where the wood came from. now, in the certificate, it says it's from the same hill where george washington is buried. i think that's particularly interesting because this was a place that was considered sacred to many americans. but when i actually went through his farm books and i tried to plot out where exactly he was taking this wood from, it wasn't always from the hill. i think john augustin washington was good at sales. this is what people wanted to hear. some of it came from right along the shoreline. this was a place that george washington had called hell hole and he called it that because nothing could grow there. reason, whatever he tried, he could not get anything to grow there. well some of the wood came from , hell hole. but it was technically part of the hill.
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so we're going to let that one slide. now john augustin washington, was helping crush it with his business but he was simultaneously selling things at mount vernon. he was collecting sales in the upper and lower gardens and he was also collecting any type of revenue when people came in for a time being there was a typist on the estate. so there was a number of different ways that were kind of the forerunners to the mount vernon ladies' association taking over and that organization embracing a lot of these strategies. how can we capitalize on people that are drawn to mount vernon? even though john agustin theington was involved in profiteering his great uncle, it was the enslaved community that were the primary storytellers and keepers of the tomb. now these are the people who are
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the on-site storytellers and interpreters. many would use that to write themselves into various washington legends. some of them used these positions to extract tips from people who may be weren't as knowledgeable about george washington's wife. and others were able to highlight washington's treatment and, depending on the audience, his freeing of his slaves in his will, which is an interesting conversation that enslaved people were having with his guests. there is one instance where bushrod washington gets essentially called out by the liberator for selling slaves and they question his character in comparison with his uncles' and they compare it between essentially using a slave account of a visit at mount vernon. now, using enslaved people as tour guides was not a new idea. bushrod washington left it to his overseers, his gardeners, and his slaves to interact with strangers and interested patrons. but he was shocked when he found out that his enslaved
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storytellers were telling them things about things that were happening on the estate. they were not bound to the same rules of etiquette that bushrod thought they should. but we can see in other sources and here's an image, this is post civil war. this never really goes away. african americans are very much involved in telling the story of washington's life at mount vernon beyond the civil war. but we can see in other sources because that's one of the , difficult things is trying to track down the voices of the enslaved, that they played a prominent role not only sharing accounts with people and newspapers and periodicals, but even an example like this. this is a piece of sheet music. and, of course, there were many musical scores about washington. but this one in particular, the image is striking. if you look closely, you can see there's an african-american man sitting next to the tomb and he's ready to sell. he has a number of walking sticks.
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washington keynes -- washington canes became very popular, they were something that tied them to washington. but it was a simple of affluence in the 19th century. there were many accounts of enslaved people selling these walking sticks or marketing these walking sticks or making a number of them for people while they're on the estate. sometimes they say they're peddling these trinkets. but apparently, this was more successful because eventually they go out of business. these enslaved storytellers keep selling these things up through the civil war. so no matter how you look at it, whether it was their role cutting the wood for the canes or laying the plank from the wharf to the tombs, or it was them selling things on site and sharing stories, african americans were very involved in perpetuating some of these washington legends but also writing themselves into it. but also challenging some of the
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thoughts about how washington felt about things like emancipation. one of my particularly favorite stories, because oftentimes they would make comments about whether or not they were given some type of gratuity or tip, there was one incidence where a gentleman wasn't able to give anything to a particularly elderly enslaved woman and she asked for a pinch of tobacco. so i mean, it just goes to show you that it wasn't always about money. sometimes it was just whatever the visitor might have on them. there was an expectation that there would be an exchange for a service. african-americans were a vital part of that. now, we also do border on sometimes things that seem a little bit more unorthodox or a little bit strange. starting from the 1830's on ward, we see this troupe of the last servant of washington. and that phrase gets repeated a
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lot. 1830's. 1840's. by my count, i found at least five last servants. but when you unpack that, it tells you a little bit more about why does that claim have meaning in the 19th century? because really, from the 1830's onward, the founding generation is mostly gone. and americans are looking to the next generation of political leaders and contemplating how will the country survive without that leadership? and really, to claim that association, that relationship, it did carry some type of social weight. so we see this time and time again. some of my particular favorites, there was a man named john carey who said he was 113 years old. he was actually seeking a pension from congress in 1843. and he claimed that he had served washington in the french and indian war and the american revolution, so he deserves essentially twice the pension.
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now, it doesn't go anywhere. but it's interesting that there are people making that claim and that it was actually -- it was moved to committee and then it got tabled. so it was believable, to an extent. now, this continues post civil war. this is actually a picture of a man named jim mitchell in 1870. and you can see, even though, you know, the civil war has ended, slavery has been abolished, that african americans are still taking up these roles, but they're doing it now on behalf of the mount vernon ladies' association at mount vernon. you can see behind them, a series of walking sticks. again, they would have been the primary storytellers. but also, they would have been selling items from the estate. now, at the same time that we have congress and the virginia general assembly arguing and bickering about where washington should be buried, we have enslaved storytellers delivering
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different types of the washington experience. and we also have this group of writers and poets and artists who are sharing different bits and pieces of washington lore through poetry, biography, or through visual art work. they also play a major role in this memory forming process because most americans will not go get mount vernon in the 19th century. so they're going to rely on things like visuals to help fill in the gaps about what they know about washington. this is actually his adopted grandson, and he became a washington publicist and spokesperson. he gave speeches. he traveled the country, wrote plays that really built up his adopted grandfather's legacy. but probably most important were his recollections that were published right before the civil war, which affirmed a lot of these legends. we cannot forget about this
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person, one of the most influential persons in making washington more popular. by 1825, his life in washington was in its 40th edition. he continually added more and more material based on folklore which today most historians regard as probably not accurate or not true. but it was a washington that people wanted to hear about. he was relatable. he seemed more ordinary and had worked really hard at improving himself and getting to the point where he needed to. now, weems doesn't really talk about how washington made his money. a big part of it was his marriage to martha. that is where a lot of his fortune came from. but again, putting out this different image of washington as being much more humble, much more folksy, it just resonated with more americans in the 19th century. and then we start to see these
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visuals where the old tomb, the new tomb, they coincide with the rise of what is called hudson river school. and part of what this school of artistic expression was getting at was highlighting the bounty and the discovered richness of the american landscape. so you'll -- you'll probably see -- you can see examples of this in the white house at the met. but washington's tomb actually became a place that artists continuously captured, whether for engravings or actual pieces of art. it kind of always fits that same framework. you see a rustic setting. you see the tomb, and you see a very humble abode. and this is where the remains of george washington are. here's another engraving. but again, now, you can see things have shifted. now we have the new tomb, which is pointed towards the river. you can see the mansion. you can see maryland in the background, the potomac river. and here's another example.
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again, and the other thing that's coinciding with this is that the artists are not formally trained either. so when we talk about democratizing washington's memory, there are more and more people that maybe are not necessarily trained in a very formal sense, but they're also , in a way, claiming washington for themselves because they're the people who are capturing his tomb and his gravesite. now, for those that could not afford to make the trip to mount vernon, these visuals, along with literal works, poetry, and musical scores made washington's final resting place a part of american popular culture. while these worked well, there were many visitors who found the tomb simply unacceptable. they saw this as a sacred place. and that the tomb needed to reflect that sacredness. and what many visitors start doing around that time period is
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they talk about going on a pilgrimage. they use very deliberately selective religious language. items taken are considered relics. they themselves are pilgrims. now, whether or not they believed in it in the very judeo christian sense, that's debatable. but certainly for americans who essentially had to invent the country, then invent a government to go with that country and then invent a national culture that would work with those institutions, washington was the natural selection. and because of this visitor traffic to mount vernon, we hear these accounts of essentially people stripping trees of their branches or pulling all the leaves off the lemon tree. that was a big one. or there was one great example where a man actually came and he dug up and filled three flower barrels. he just wanted mount vernon dirt. so what sounds a little bit strange to us, it actually
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happened quite more often in the 19th century. this, of course, is a piece of the coffin fragment. the original coffin that washington was buried in he was taken out of and put into a new coffin and then transported to the new coffin that was made for the new tomb. he was moved there in 1831. and then put into the marble sarcophagus in 1837. it goes to show you, these bits and pieces, they're not something that most people would say for they are not sure where they would came from, so most people would toss them, these are the types of things that these americans would hold onto and they would pass along to their family. this is a close-up shot of the marble sarcophagus. this was done by a mason. a marble mason had offered to
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procure and build a sarcophagus for washington's remains. and lawrence lewis took him up on the offer. and it was william strickland's account because william strickland designed the crest and the eagle motif. he actually gives a very interesting account of them going to mount vernon with the newly finished sarcophagus and essentially finding out that somebody must have mismeasured and they can't get it to the tomb. that's part of the reason why when you go to the mount vernon , there is this outer enclosure because they needed to build a space that would be able to fit the sarcophagus, george's and then martha's later. but building this new tomb, this ensured that they would remain intertwined forever that meant any attempt to possess washington physically would mean purchasing the property.
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both the federal government and state of virginia tried to do this but neither could fully reach the terms of the washington family. and this is where our story then ends. so we've seen it from a popular culture side. we've seen it from a political side, an economic side, and a historical interpretive side. ultimately, what it takes is a private organization of like-minded people to come together and to raise the money to purchase the estate which also included the tomb. that was actually part of the agreement. so the mount vernon ladies' association of the union emerges out of the thought process of anne pamela cunningham. she actually originally puts out a call to southern women to save it. and when that doesn't really get as far, she decides, you know , maybe we do need northern women. a badys, it might not be
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idea to have the ears of those capitalists on the north. she was right because if you are going to raise money, you need a larger infrastructure and you need more people involved. so against actually the advice of the male secretary and some of the other southern women that she's been operating with, she decides to open it up to northern women as well, creating more of a national organization. and what they do is they print the mount vernon record, which keeps track of fundraising. they self-portraits. list -- enlist a man to go around and give speeches about washington and donate his ticket sales. so it's actually a massive fundraising campaign, and they're able to do it in a few years time. it's remarkable. by 1860, the ladies have essentially taken possession of the property.
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in one of their statements, they say that mount vernon now belongs to the nation. it is the property of the nation. and really, this process seems that you would think, oh, this is kind of the high point here. but then of course, we have the civil war. one of the pressing concerns for the ladies is what are we going to do if the government seizes mount vernon? where a arlington house there was a cachet of washington relics. what would happen if that union troops push onto the ground? would they acquire the property? essentially what they did, they adopted guidelines and tried to remain as neutral as possible. one of the things they said is that no firearms are allowed on the grounds. soldiers are allowed to see the tomb and see the home of washington, but really this was not supposed to be a place where the war was supposed to continue. this was supposed to be an
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island of neutrality. and in fact, if you go to mount vernon today and you look at the face of the new tomb, you'll see initials. a lot of those are from union soldiers. what i argue is that they may not be able to take washington's body, but some of them probably were making a mark on that tomb for a very deliberate reason, i think it was because they wanted to claim washington and they were essentially putting their mark on why they were fighting this war. and part of it was to uphold the memory of washington as a constitutionalist, as a president. now, obviously, the south had a very different interpretation of who washington was. you can look it up. the confederate seal featured george washington on horseback. but again, washington was so malleable, he could be used by the freemasons, the southerners, slaveowners, abolitionist, he kind of fit the bill in many
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different ways at different moments of his life. the ladies actually appoint a new york woman named sarah tracy. then another man from virginia as superintendent of the property, so the pairing of a southerner and a northerner, this was supposed to put out the idea that this is neutral property, this is balanced. there was no reason for either side to bring the war to our doorstep. so the history of how americans remember george washington tells us more about how we have continuously struggled to define the significant figures in our national history. by constantly recasting washington, americans attempted to keep them relevant to inspire future citizens to use his wisdom for political purposes and promote shared religious beliefs. the competing efforts of these groups illuminate washington's importance and how we define who
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we are as americans. the malleability of his memory speaks to the many paradoxes of the american character. the memory studies emphasize how social groups remember the past. but an integral part of this process is how groups are determined what is remember and what is forgotten. the memory of the republican washington served its purpose during the early republic, but as the country democratized , americans reimaged the symbol. the democratic washington came from humble origins. he lacked a formal education and tirelessly labored to achieve greatness in politics and personal wealth. this washington appeal to 19th century americans. many of whom faith the same conditions and obstacles in their own lives. it did not take much for americans to be convinced that washington had always supported a letter call -- supported
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political democracy. while sources remain mostly intact, how we conceptualize the past speaks to the challenges we face at the present. this evolution in memory continues today. as americans often cite, the founders justify political positions, beliefs, or to those of their opponents, washington's words having youth due to -- happened youth to condemn the national debt, also youth to promote religious freedom, the second amendment, and the legalization of marijuana. these attempts are often filled with errors and sometimes historical ignorance. distorted, the memory of washington brings gravitas to the issue at hand. the battle endures. americans deliberately chose to remember a washington that comforts their anxieties,
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confirms their beliefs, and adheres to their worldviews. thank you. [applause] >> well, i'm going to pose just a few questions and hopefully you all will have some that you would like to ask as well. you did mention the property of the nation. and clearly, it's title of the book. did that phrase have an origin elsewhere? and what is the meaning behind that? dr. costello: so this was a phrase that kept coming up in my research. i believe it originated with a man named alexander conte hanson. he was a federalist senator from maryland but also ran a prolific pro-federalist newspaper. around the war of 1812 when they are talking about the destruction of the capital city,
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his idea of moving washington to richmond there's the first , instance where i saw of his newspaper talking about well, washington shouldn't belong to any one state. he belongs to the nation. he is the property of the nation. i see that phrase pop up again and again and again. one of the things that i argued was that this was a part of wider ethos, that all americans also felt that they had some rightful claim to washington. that's where the property of the nation, that idea it picks up steam then moving into the 1930's and 1840. >> you talked about his death and a few days later, his burial, but what was the funeral process between in those few days? how was he grieved by his family? how did the people come to mount vernon? was there a service at mount vernon? and did faith play a role in that ceremony? dr. costello: absolutely. so per washington's instructions
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, he wanted it to be laid out three days to ensure that he was three dead, which was common at time. there was -- a lot of americans had this fear that they will be buried alive. so one of the things they would tell people make sure i've been expired for some time. then they would give their instructions. so washington was laid out in the new room at mount vernon. he was dressed in great clothes, put out on the portico overlooking the river. and that's where the funeral would have taken place. it was a private funeral. but they also sort of expected that it wouldn't be that private, that people would catch wind of it, citizens from the national government, alexandria, and pretty soon, from the accounts that i've seen, we're talk about hundreds of people as oppsed to, i think washington even said in private, in a private manner.
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so not all of his wishes where closely adhered to. some of the pallbearers were freemasons but we were directors at some of the local churches. again, we see that connection between freemasonry, the different schools and churches washington supported in his citizenry and private life, and in those individuals being responsible for the funeral procession, down to giving a series of last words, volley fired, and washington is entombed. >> we saw images of the old tomb and the new tomb. why were there two tombs? why was it necessary at some point to have a new tomb? dr. costello: so the old tomb probably was built by lawrence washington. by the time of washington's death, it was a bit old. it is not a big tomb. so for washington family members that were buried there, space is limited. washington, and his will, put aside money, wanted the family to build a new tomb, so that him and the remains of his
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family members could be moved there and then anyone else who came after them could they built -- could also be buried there. so i don't know if part of it was just they didn't feel like it was a priority at that time. but that's the reason why there are two tombs. the old tomb that dates to the 17th and 18th centuries and the new tomb was built in 1831. >> and the old tomb is still there. it has sort of a feeling like the stone has rolled away feeling when you see it. it is an interesting field. dr. costello: some americans certainly when they are visiting, they talk about they are in the presence of what seems to be a saint of sorts. at other times, some people saying, i wouldn't throw my livestock in something like this. there is a wide range of perceptions and what people put out there in terms of observations of the two tombs.
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>> you mentioned the will. there were a couple of wills, weren't they? how is that resolved? dr. costello: washington had two wills, and when he realized the end was probably near, he instructed his his private secretary. they brought the wills. and washington kept one. and he burned the other. so what exactly was in that other will? we'll never know. it's sort of one of those great, you know, mysteries in history. but the one that he did keep was very specific about how different things were going to be divided, including he freed about 123 people from the mount vernon estates. slaves thatreed the he owned in his own right. he couldn't free the slaves along the estate which was about 150 or so. there were another 40 enslaved people working from neighboring plantations.
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so, for washington, who i think generally was very conservative, he didn't like to color outside of the lines a whole lot when it came to making a radical decision. that was one thing i think most people overlook, because, you know, his peers, thomas jefferson, james madison, they did not take that course. >> i was interested, in your talk about those being enslaved to him and they became storytellers at the estate. worked, did they continue talking about washington? is their stories, evidence that they became biographers of the stories they told? dr. costello: some of them dead. the best example in the book is samuel anderson, who he popped up in the obituary in the 1840's. he essentially lives to be about 100 years old and he is in the process of being freed by the
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terms of the will, but he never goes very far, because a lot of these enslaved people intermarried from the dower estate and had families, and one of the side effects of how the will was devised is that some people are going to be free and some weren't. for a lot of them that had family that would still be enslaved they either tried to , stay as close as they could or they tried to follow along to the estate, with their grandchildren. that was going to be their best bet of keeping their family together. >> his body never left the estate from the time he died until the time before. he never left the estate. there were all these attempts to move him. who stood in the way? who prevented that from happening? dr. costello: the washington family. they were the ones that really had the authority. and this was -- i only mention bushrod washington.
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but, you know, martha had technically gave her consent. she actually agreed to it. but the rotunda wasn't built. so it was a pipe dream of sorts, and then the rotunda wouldn't be completed until the 1810's, so it was a foregone issue, and then when it came up again, then of course, i will things had changed a lot politically. even though they said well, martha approved it, you know, different representatives had different interpretations of how the whale -- the will should be interpreted. it sort of boiled down to, you know, virginians tended to say washington is in his native state. he was a virginian. they were putting a stamp on who he was, he was a virginian. and members of the national government, whig representatives, they liked to argument, don't you think delaware has much claim to george washington as virginia?
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or new york, or pennsylvania? so really this issue is it speaks to some of the decisions that are happening between political parties at different moment in time. >> how did word get out? how did the word spread across the country that the great george washington had died? what was the reaction nationally and how did people mourn and grieve him? dr. costello: it was a story that got picked up pretty quickly in the papers starting with the alexandria gazette, but then working its way northward to massachusetts and southward down to georgia. within a week, americans knew george washington was gone. and it fell really to the local communities, the state legislatures, to decide what types of mourning that they were going to do. one that sticks out to me was that there was a mock funeral where there was an empty coffin that was paraded through the streets. it was supposed to represent that washington, even though his
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physical remains aren't to there, we are going to have an estate funeral of sorts to honor his memory. >> even though he had left the presidency by the time he passed. it is amazing to me, of our 45 presidents, eight of them have died in office. and we even have great mourning of our former presidents and first ladies most recently , president bush and barbara bush. did the washington funeral and the way he was mourned set a precedent for presidential morning? dr. costello: absolutely. because, you know, washington is looked toward for a lot of presidential precedents. so not only during his time in office, but how does a former president interact in our new political culture? what type of role are they supposed to have? are they supposed to be active? are they supposed to be vocal? aside from the quasiwar, he
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was going to be called into military service again, he tried his best to stay out of those types of national affairs. but this idea of creating a state funeral wasn't really around until our first sitting president died in office, william harry henderson. harrison. henry when they were planning his funeral, where did they look? they looked at how the president will be wearing it later. they were able to sort of concoct what the new american state funeral would look like. and with harrison moving forward for sitting presidents, it usually involved a funeral service in the east room. the remains would be taken to the capital rotunda. and there's a period of mourning but seeks the transportation of the remains back to the president's home state. and i think that last part in particular is important because , you know, washington wasn't entombed in the capital.
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so, you know, if he was buried in the capitol? but from washington forward, you know, our leaders retire from politics, they go back to private life, and for the most part, they are privately interred. >> let's wrap up our part of the conversation with this. we are the white house historical association after all. washington is only one of the 45 presidents who did not live in the white house, but he selected the site, the young architect, james hoben, who built the white house. did he ever see the white house? did he see it under construction? did he see it once it was finished? dr. costello: he saw it once on his way back, after he was leaving the presidency, heading back to mount vernon from philadelphia. we know he stopped and saw it on his way. i don't believe he ever stepped foot inside, but he did see it.
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that was as close as he would get. but what i tell people today, even though washington didn't live in the white house, i mean, he had his hands in just about every facet of the building's design, the planning, the execution, the selection of the architect, the plan. washington was a pretty intense micromanager. he was very involved every step of the way, so even though he didn't live there, it is a representation of what washington envisioned the home of the american head of state should be. >> of course, there's the portrait in the east room but other images and references to to washington today. dr. costello: yeah, and there's a number of busts that are in the white house. one of the ones i recently noticed is washington always seems to have a presence in the oval office.
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it does not matter if we are talking about republicans or democrats, because they do usually pick sides. republicans like republican presidents and democrats like democratic presidents. it seems like george washington is always above the fireplace in one form or another. that also speaks to the importance of his legacy in terms of presidential leadership. it doesn't really matter who is sitting behind the desk in that office. they're still looking up. washington is still watching them on the job so to speak. , >> presidents and first ladies can walk out on this balcony, look south, and see the washington monument. today, the washington monument is different than the lincoln memorial, that has the statue of lincoln sitting there, the jefferson memorial of jefferson standing there, wife is there not a great statue of george washington there? dr. costello: you know, they had
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tried to do a washington statue, and it had flopped pretty horrendously. that might have been part of it. horatio greeno was commissioned by congress to do a massive sculpture of george washington. and the original intent was to put it in the capitol rotunda, that it was going to be in the main level of the floor. what he created looked like a half naked george washington. he was wearing a toga. he looks more like zeus. by the time he finished it and it got to the united states in anyone, there were sensibilities about exposing your heroes. most americans thought it was very distasteful. it was ugly. they essentially put it -- it was in the capital, but moved it outside of the capitol. i think it is now in one of the smithsonian museums, so they try -- tried to do a washington statue. it didn't really work well. so the monument was started in
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1848, finished in 1849, i believe. zachary taylor was there for a fourth of july celebration. that's where he ended up expiring, but the idea was that it really supposed to sort of capture anyone faster than his life. there really was just oblisks were just supposed to be essentially giant memorials and people make their own memories of that person. they remember what they want to about that person. so i think with the monument, the idea behind it is that it's a grand structure it's imposing. , it's the center of the national mall. the center of the city that bears his name. it's not descriptive one way or the other. people can take from it what they want. they can see that washington is important to all of us. >> would he recognize washington today?
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not the happenings of the city, but the physical city itself? dr. costello: i think he would recognize parts of it. certainly, he would recognize the president's house in the capital. he might recognize some of the streets because he was part of that surveying mission. they would probably -- he would probably know where they did and did not follow his plan because he was that meticulous. but i think from washington's perspective, you know, he had always envisioned this city to be the seat of the capital of an empire, of a great, international power. and the united states wasn't really there during washington's presidency or really -- you know, for the first -- i don't know, 10 presidents or so. you know, the united states had a lot of other things on its plates, including western expansion. but i think his vision of this place being a seat of power, one that would impress visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, but also be a place to
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educate citizens. i think he would see those things here. >> questions in our audience? i know luke and mitch are out here with microphones. if you have a question just , raise your hand, please? anybody? >> i promised you a question. dr. costello: great. >> so beginning with f.d.r., i believe at least some presidents were entombed with their libraries, which kind of blurs the line between public patrimony, the ownership of a body. though, i believe the tombs at least, like the museums, aren't part of the national archive system. but they're attached to papers. my question is, was any effort made after washington's death to link his legacy to his papers that the nation could buy or that the nation could own? i know dolly tried to sell her husband's papers.
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did the washington family try to sell his papers to the country? dr. costello: so there were some instances with washington's papers. so the first one that comes to mind is john marshall. he essentially volunteers to the family that he's going to write the first major biography about george washington. they are willing -- bushrod washington is willing to hand over the papers. and, every time that happens, when a new biographer gets involved and the family essentially says, here, have at it, depending on who you're dealing with, some of them will just take papers. some of them will cut them up, like jared sparks. it's part of the reason why the letters, the papers product is up to about 150,000 different bits and pieces of letters. but these letters become scattered. so the family holds onto the core collection, but george
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washington parcusus gets some of those as well, and those get confiscated. they do eventually get some of the items band. but in terms of where they're buried, and how does it relate to sort of the modern -- it's interesting because those properties were essentially -- i mean, they were family properties, right? so franklin roosevelt being buried at hyde park is very similar to george washington being buried at mount vernon. we have the new addition, the creation of the national archives in the 1930's and then hinging presidential papers , attaching it to a site of mourning. i think pretty much every person president has followed suit, at the exception of johnson at stonewall, kennedy at arlington cemetery, but i think the rest of them are pretty much all of -- all at their presidential
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libraries. but the presidential libraries are all either boyhood homes or family homes. there is no cut and dry rule. it doesn't seem the most modern presidents see these two things go hand in hand. whether it is paying respects -- but also i think it is telling , that our leaders want to be buried in the place where people are going to learn more about them, and they want to make their presidency more accessible, so people can study the good and the bad that comes with both, so i think it's pretty interesting that roosevelt does that, but then a lot of presidents follow suit. >> anybody else? question? >> i always thought george washington had laid the cornerstone of the white house. is that myth? dr. costello: he did not. his name was on the plate, but
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he actually wasn't present at the ceremony. he was there for the laying of the cornerstone of the capitol. >> ok, of the capital, but not of the white house. dr. costello: >> mm-hm. >> this is gail west on our board of directors, but we have the benefit of her serving on the mount vernon ladies association. so she is here with strong representation from both sides, and other good friends here, melissa mullens from the curator office, and other great friends of ours, we appreciate your friendship and all you do for our organization into night. >> [inaudible] and you can't miss it. it's massive. [inaudible] [laughter] >> any other questions? dr. costello: it hasn't aged
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well. [laughter] >> any other questions? i have one we can close with, and i know everyone is interested in mingling with you at the reception and buying a book and getting you to sign it, but you closed remarks by talking about how his reputation has morphed over the years, how different politicians of all stripes would interpret or reinterpret or quote or misquote him throughout time. he's been the first president and all things to all americans, so to speak. why and how and how can george washington be relevant today? you heard me tell a story at lunch today about someone, a young person who saw the portrait of washington and said, who is that? and the answer is, it's george washington, the father of our country. she said, this is an adult. she said, well, i have heard the name but i don't think i have ever seen a picture of him. so the tragedy of historical illiteracy and ignorance in our
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country that you referenced as well, how can we make george washington more relevant and powerful today? dr. costello: to your point, i think that historical illiteracy is a big problem. i know this is one of the things we talked about in terms of our organization and education and our role helping to educate the general public about the history of the white house. but this also speaks to educating the public about american history. one of the things that i think most benefits anybody who wants to learn more about those things is that washington, i mean, he is pretty much involved in all of the major historical moments for the founding of the country. so, if you want to talk in the -- talk about the revolution, the articles of confederation, constitution, the presidency, washington is the key player for all of these. it's not just that. if you want to learn more about
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how the country, on one hand, can talk about life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and freedom and equality, but at the same time have slavery still exist be -- beyond the founding. washington encountered that himself. it was something, later in life, being held up as a symbol of freedom, it struck him quite often, and it was something he never forgot about. i think it is one of the reasons why he decided to free his slaves. he was very cognizant of legacy and how important it was that he would be remembered for these types of decisions that he made. because everybody looked at him for precedent. i think any time we talk about these types of historical topics, washington is a great lens for understanding, yes, these are different times, but also there are certain values and ideas that still resonate today.
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>> thank you. thank you all for being with us. this is a great book, available outside. you can get all of your christmas shopping done here tonight by buying them all and having matt inscribe it for you. thank you for being with us and we invite you to the courtyard to enjoy the reception with us. thank you very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> you are watching on american history tv, all weekend every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. ♪
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>> you are watching american history tv, covering history c-span style with event coverage, archival films, lectures in classrooms, and visits to historic places. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3.
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>> american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend each ring museum toys, archival films, college lectures, and discussions on the presidency, the civil war, and more. you can watch these on our website. here is a look at one of our programs. the muslims, the white man is the devil, the source of all evil. he hates black men and black men should hate him. those are the teachings of the muslim prophet. he also teaches his followers about 75,000 that christianity has failed black men. the american government has failed black men. the muslim solution, a separate black states. negroworld war i, a leader organize a campaign based on the same principle. one of many men who opposed that
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movement recalled conditions that cause hundreds of thousands to join the parade. came out of the war where they fought and died and come into the sun communities -- southern communities where they met discrimination. many soldiers were the victims of police brutality. some were lynched. therefore, there was widespread frustration and discontent among negros. painted pictures of what negros could do where they to migrate to africa, how they could build great enterprises. and caught the interest imagination of the negros and many of them flocked into the movement. >> the black muslims say, as a
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atnge in the racial picture, a rally, their number one spokesman said the only important changes have been brought about not by whites and not by integration groups, but by elijah mohammed. how does mohammed go about helping negros? negro lying and cheating, he doesn't know the truth. he is usually imitating the white man. they smoke cigarettes because they see white people smoke cigarettes. commit fornication because they see a white man committing fornication. they want to be like the white man. elijah mohammed teaches black people the glory of black, instead of the black man imitating the white man, try to imitate god. try to display morals rather than low morals. >> it is feared by some whites that muslims advocate violence
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but that is not exactly the case. they say they don't believe in starting a fight but if white men mistreated them, they want to the other cheek. otherilitancy has forced leaders to become more aggressive. it is the implied threat of muslim power that makes some whites willing to negotiate with the so-called moderates groups. the black muslims are making a contribution to the drive for equal rights. >> that was a short look at one of our programs available on our website. tv, exploringry our nation's past every weekend on c-span3. history,n lectures in stanford university professor rakove talks about some of the issues debated during the constitutional convention of 1787, such as the number of representatives for each state and the method of presidential elections.
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he described the arguments put forth by james madison and how delegates tried to reach compromises, despite competing state interests. at 9:00 p.m. eastern and 6:00 pacific, a conversation about portraying abraham lincoln on the stage. at 10:00 eastern, on "reel america", a 1986 speech by writer james baldwin at the national press club. the general title for the lecture is myths about three the election, and i will explain about that as we go on. let's pick up where we left off on wednesday. the main argument i was trying to make then focused on james madison's role as the agenda maker for the philadelphia convention, and the particular argument i wanted to make is as madison prepares himself, i think the key item he worked on


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