A Strange Adventure
Story by E. B. Knauft, 2001«back | home
It was a beautiful Spring day in Washington. The flowering trees were in full bloom and George Washington University students were pouring out of the escalator at the Foggy Bottom Metro station on their way to class. I was just ready to enter the "down" escalator on my way to the National Archives where I worked as a volunteer preparing historical documents for use on the internet. Suddenly I was startled to see a figure emerging who certainly was not a student. In fact, he wore a blue and buff uniform with brass buttons that reminded me of pictures of Revolutionary War soldiers. He was very tall and had an imposing appearance. At the same time, he seemed puzzled by his surroundings and looked as if he were lost. I stopped and stared at him and he looked right back at mealmost right through me in a strange way. Who was he and what was he doing here?
The more I looked at him, the more he reminded me of how George Washington might have appeared. Aha --I have it --this is one of the actors who impersonates Washington. They can be seen at Mount Vernon, at Colonial Williamsburg, and sometimes at historical pageants over on the Mall. He's probably heading for the Mall and got off at the wrong Metro stop! So, I said to him, "You certainly are a good impersonation of George Washington. Can I help you or give you some directions?"
He looked me straight in the eye and at my National Archives picture ID hanging from a chain around my neck. He asked, "Is this the Federal City?"
"Yes," I answered, "But it's really called Washington D.C."
"Oh, " he said. He pointed to the escalator where he had just emerged and added, "Where are the horses that make those stairs move? I just stood on the stairs and they brought me up."
Now I wondered if perhaps this man had wandered off from a mental institution. Should I lead him across 23rd Street to the entrance of George Washington University Hospital and let them see what they could do for him? But that didn't seem quite right, either. Better to just go along for a bit and see what happens. So, I said, "The moving stairs are an escalator that's powered by electricity ."
Then I decided find out if he really knew anything about George Washington, so I asked, "Can you tell me how Mt. Vernon got its name?"
He answered politely, "My half -brother Lawrence named it after Admiral Edward Vernon under whom he served in the British Navy." Then, he looked me straight in the eyes, and said "Are you Burt? I was told to look for a man named Burt who will be my guide."
I felt cold shivers, and meekly responded, "Yes, I'm Burt. How can I help you?"
"Well, I am only here a very short time. If this is what we called the Federal City, I would like to see how it looks now. I have many questions. Why are all those carriages going so fast without horses? Who are these well-dressed negroes, and where are the slaves? Who are all these young men and women walking around with packs on their backs? Are they going into the wilderness for an expedition? Why are the women wearing britches?"
By this time, my confusion was total. I was starting to get impatient with him, but at the same time, a strange force seemed to draw me to him. Finally, I said, "It wil1 take me some time to answer all those questions. Let's walk across to Washington Circle and sit on a bench for a few minutes."
We had to wait for the "Walk" light as the traffic whizzed by around the Circle. The visitor looked with amazement as the cars and trucks sped past just a few feet in front of us. When the light changed, we crossed to the park in the center of the Circle, where my companion suddenly stopped. In front of us was a large bronze statue of a military figure on horseback, with the inscription Washington on the granite base. The visitor said, "That looks like one of my horses, Blueskin, but he was not that big in the chest. When was that statue made?"
"I think it was put up in 1860."
"1860! What year is this?"
"This is the year 2001."
"So over two hundred years have passed. Is there still a United States --all as one country? Sometimes, I was not certain it would survive.
"Yes, it has survived and is considered to be the most powerful country in the world."
"Has there been a President all these years?"
"Yes. In fact, there have been 43 Presidents. But you--er--I mean George Washington set the pattern by only serving two four-year terms. "
He thought about that, and then asked "Is the President's House still standing? I would like to see it."
I hailed a cab, and we began our adventure in the city. We left the cab at 17th Street--as near the White House as we could get. As I paid the driver, the visitor saw some one dollar bills in my hand and stared at the likeness of George Washington. "This picture is on the money you use now?" he asked.
"Yes, it's been there as long as I can remember. Every school child knows about George Washington and thinks of him as a national hero. And there is a story that when Washington was a young boy, he took his father's hatchet and chopped down a cherry tree on their farm. When the father saw the downed tree and asked what happened, young Washington said, 'Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did it with your hatchet.' Do you think that story is true?"
I had noticed that my visitor had a look of satisfaction when I said Washington was considered a hero, and then shook his head at the cherry tree story and said, "I don't remember that story. But I can tell you others, like when I was a young man in battle and shots were fired all around me and my uniform was torn by bullets. But that is another story for another time. And now, I want to see all I can in the time I have."
I felt certain the visitor would be asking me questions that I couldn't answer about the White House and the city, so we stopped in a book store to purchase a Washington guidebook. Obviously, the visitor was intrigued with the book store and seemed ready to browse there. He was attracted to the magazine rack and soon noticed the Washingtonian magazine. He said he would like to have it, and so we added it to the purchase of the guidebook. Then, I gently moved him along and suggested that if his time was short, we had a lot to see.
When we reached the White House grounds, my companion studied the executive mansion intently through the fence. He asked if we could go in. I said a person needed an invitation from someone inside to go in that gate, but we could go way around the other side of the grounds and wait in the tourist line. But I knew that an ID would be required. Without thinking, I asked if he had an ID.
"What is an ID," he replied.
It was pointless to pursue this further, so I answered, "I'm afraid there's no way we can get in. They observe heavy security to protect the President and the White House."
I realized the irony of the situation --if he really was George Washington-- he had personally planned the original building and selected the architect, but it wasn't completed until after his death. He may have been the first President, but there was no way on earth we could talk our way in there. The only ID we had was his picture on the one dollar bill!
He said, "Why do they call it the White House? We never called it by that name?"
"The guide book says that people started calling it that by the mid 1800s. It was officially called the Executive Mansion, but in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt finally changed the name to the White House."
"It was not completed while I was President. Then John Adams succeeded me. Did he get to live there?"
"It says here that John Adams moved in on November 1, 1800, but his wife Abigail was still in their home in Massachusetts. Adams wrote to her, 'I pray
Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."'
My companion responded, "That sounds like Adams. Have all the presidents lived up to those words?"
I replied, "I'm sure there are many different opinions about that, especially because there have been many very different men in that job over the years. My quick answer is that most of them were honest men who tried to do their best, but some were wiser than others."
We were still in front of the White House, and I returned to the guidebook, and said, "Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying the building is, 'Big enough for two emperors, one Pope and grand Lama, but then he built an addition to it when he took residence in 1807,"
"Jefferson wanted a smaller, plainer President's House. He did not agree with many of my ideas for the Federal City. The city is a symbol to honor our Republic and should be respected by our citizens and by the countries of Europe. The President's House is an important building in the city. If Jefferson had his way, that House would have been made of common brick instead of the stone that makes it stand out. Now it has long additions on each end, but it stands even better than I had planned. Have all the Presidents except me lived there?"
"Yes, but President James Madison and his wife, Dolly, had to flee from it when the British attacked Washington in 1814 and burned the White House and the Capitol. The interior of the White House was badly damaged, so it must have been quite a while before the Madisons could move back in."
He replied, "So we had to go to war with the British again? That was a big mistake. There were some in Congress that wanted us to get into the war between France and Great Britain, but I opposed it. We needed peace and time to establish the Republic without involving our nation with the affairs in Europe. Did we drive the British out and achieve victory?
Yes, we did win, and no foreign country has ever invaded us again - although for a brief period there was some fighting along our border with Mexico.
At this point, our visitor turned his attention to the guards at the White House gate and said with some surprise, "That guard is a woman. Where did she come from? The President would not be safe with a woman guard. Is she one of the Presidents relatives or a visitor dressed as a guard?
I replied, "Women now are found in almost all the jobs that only men held just a few years ago. There are women in the army and navy, even as generals and admirals, and there are several women in the President's cabinet. In fact, the last Secretary of State was a woman. And we have women justices on the Supreme Court and serving as United States Senators.
This was too much for our visitor to comprehend. In the army! As Secretary of State! The country will not be safe! How did all this come about? What President let this happen?"
I replied, "Well, it's a long story and it might be hard for you to understand what happened. It was very gradual - even a hundred years ago, in 1900, no one would have thought women would be in positions like that. But over the years, two things happened: women began to prove that they could do many of the things that men did, and a number of women set out to gain more legal rights for females. A real breakthrough came when the states ratified a constitutional amendment that gave all women citizens the right to vote. I believe that was around 1920, or about eighty years ago."
The reply was, "Women are my friends and I always enjoyed their company, but they could not have written the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence and I don't know how they could have won the Revolutionary War. I hope the President is not a woman."
I realized this thread of conversation was not going to resolve anything, so I suggested we go to see the Capitol, and soon we were in a cab headed up Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill. The cabbie made some crack about, "...is the General here going to testify before a committee on the Hill?" but we ignored that as my companion was totally engrossed in the passing scenery of all the massive government buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue. And he was clearly dumbstruck when the Capitol came into view. We alighted from the cab and walked through the grounds to the main entrance.
"A magnificent building. I knew L 'Enfant had the right spot for the Congress House when he recommended Jenkins Hill, and he would be satisfied if he could see it now. When I laid the cornerstone, we had plans for a much smaller building. That was a fine September day. I used a silver trowel and wore a Masonic apron that Madame de Lafayette had sewn and sent me as a special present."
I consulted my trusty guidebook - "It says here that there were speeches, followed by volleys by the Alexandria volunteer artillery, and then participants feasted on a 500 pound barbecued ox. Is that accurate?"
"Yes, it was wonderful food, and it was a real celebration. I remember that I bought four lots on Jenkins Hill at a good price, and thought that land would be of great value in the future. Now that I see this city, I know I was right. I hope my descendants kept that land."
We then walked into the Capitol and soon were in the rotunda. We viewed the eight large paintings high up on the walls. Four of them were by John Trumbull. Our visitor said, "Trumbull was my aide-de-camp for a short time, but then he left the army and went to study painting."
Then, the visitor examined the paintings with intense interest, and soon focused on the one showing Washington in the act of resigning as commander in chief of the army before the Continental Congress.
"That's me handing my commission as commander in chief to Thomas Mifflin, who was President of the Congress at the time. That was in Annapolis, just before Christmas in 1783. It is a good likeness of Mifflin, but not so good of me. After that, I finally got back to Mt. Vernon. It was good to be home after so many years away in the war."
At this point, we looked straight up into the top of the Capitol dome, high above us. We saw a painting of a circle of figures in robes, accompanied by what appeared to be several angels with long trumpets. A figure at the head of the circle looked like George Washington, wearing a red robe. I consulted the guidebook and read aloud that this fresco, 180 feet above us, was painted by the Italian artist, Constantino Brumidi, in 1866. The work is called The Apotheosis of Washington, representing his rising to heaven in glory as a godlike figure.
I added, "Apotheosis means 'elevation to divine status.' That is certainly a high honor for George Washington."
We couldn't see the fresco too clearly because of the distance, but I read from the guidebook that, "Washington sits in majesty, flanked by the Goddess of Liberty and a winged figure of Fame sounding a trumpet and holding a palm frond as a symbol of victory. Thirteen female figures stand in a semi-circle around Washington, representing the thirteen original states.
"The guidebook mentioned that in the years after your death, people were so impressed with what you had done for the nation that paintings and sculptures of you appeared in living rooms and civic halls across the country. During the first half of the 1800s, over 400 books and essays on Washington's life were published. You really became our national hero!"
My companion was obviously affected by what he saw above us, and even more from what I had told him. For a moment, he almost lost the formal composure that had enveloped him up to now. He slowly nodded his head and, looking up to the dome, said, " At one time, in my later years, there was talk of burying me in the Capitol, but I feel more honored that I was held in such high esteem by my countrymen long after my death."
I replied, "Wait until you see the Washington Monument. It is the most prominent landmark of this city. Over the years, millions of people have visited it."
We took another cab, and when we stepped out of it on the grounds of the Monument, the visitor stopped for a full minute gazing up at it. Finally, he pointed to the top of it and remarked, "I know how buildings are constructed, but how did men get all those blocks of stone to that height? I see that the color of the stone changes, with the lower part darker than the upper part. Do you know anything about this vast column of stone?"
Arriving at the base of the Monument, we read a sign stating that it is 555 feet high, and is the tallest masonry structure in the world. The cornerstone was laid in 1848 with elaborate Masonic ceremonies and they used the same trowel that Washington had used in 1793 at the laying of the cornerstone of the Capitol. Reading that, our visitor nodded approvingly.
I added, "The reason the color of the stone changes part-way up is because construction stopped in 1854 when it was about 150 feet high, and didn't start again until 1880. The group of people that started the monument got into political trouble and ran out of money to keep the project going. Then, after the Civil War, the government took it over and finished the monument. Even though they got the marble for the second section from the same quarry as before, it was not quite the same color and that is why the upper section is of a slightly different shade of grey."
At this point, the visitor turned his attention to the American flags flying on the poles that encircled the base of the Monument. As he studied the flags, he observed, "What happened to the United States flag? It's not the same as it was when I was alive. The last flag I remember had 15 stars and 15 stripes - after Vermont and Kentucky became states."
I replied, "There are now 50 states, so there are 50 stars, but only 13 stripes to recognize the 13 original colonies. I suppose at some point Congress decided they couldn't keep adding stripes for every new state, so they went back to the 13 original stripes."
The visitor answered, "In 1799, no man would believe that this country would ever have 50 states. My greatest fear was that even when we had 13, some of them would decide to leave and go on their own. Then the United States would no longer be one nation. Did any states ever leave the Union?"
"Yes, many of the southern states withdrew from the Union and formed a separate country called the Confederate States of America. There was a terrible Civil War between the North and South. Finally the North won, and then the southern states came back into the Union."
"I always feared this might happen. Can you tell me why the southern states left to form their own government?"
"In the end, it came down to the issue of slavery. When the war started, the issue was over what we call 'states rights.' The Constitution says that states have certain rights, but those rights do not give a state the authority to leave the Union. Behind it all was the question of whether slavery should be abolished throughout the entire United States."
The visitor listened carefully, and replied in a very serious tone, "I had a great concern that slavery would divide our nation, and now you tell me that is what happened. When I was president of the Constitutional Convention, I soon learned that the only way all the states were going to stay together as one nation was to avoid any talk of slavery. As I recollect, the final version of the Constitution did not contain the word slavery, and only stated that no 'persons' shall be imported into the United States after the year 1808. And even that was a compromise, because states like South Carolina and Georgia did want to have any limitation on the importation of slaves."
At this point, I decided to take a chance and see if our visitor would really share his views about slavery. I said, "I believe you owned slaves all your life, and had quite a number at Mt. Vernon. When you were President, I don't think you took any steps to try to abolish or phase out slavery. I have often wondered what you really thought about slavery."
After a moment of silence, he said, If Americans feel I supported slavery to the end of my life, I have been misjudged. Yes, I owned slaves, like all Virginia planters, but in my later years I tried to find a way out because slavery was not a good way of life for slaveowners nor for slaves. I wanted my slaves to be free when I died, but Mrs. Washington also owned slaves, so my will stated that my slaves would be free when she passed away. She could not have faced having freed slaves at Mt. Vernon along with her own slaves. My will also instructed my heirs to provide for the welfare of my older freed slaves as long as they lived. Are these facts known by Americans? You said before that there were many books written about me. I hope they told the truth and were not like some of the newspaper stories that called me vile names when I was President."
"Yes, those facts are on the record because I've heard them before. However, I don't think they come to light very often and probably aren't known by many people."
My companion looked as if we had said enough on that subject, and said, "Now, I would like to have some exercise, and since I don't see any horses, could we take a walk?"
"Yes, let's walk over to the Mall. We can see the new exhibition about the Presidents at the Museum of American History. And, in that building there is a statute of you in a toga!"
"In a toga? Were they trying to make me into a Greek?"
I replied with a smile, "Just wait and see."
Our visitor was almost overwhelmed by the sight of the Mall on this beautiful day, with the shining white Capitol building way up ahead of us, the Washington Monument behind us and the Smithsonian museums on either side. As we entered the American History Museum, I knew we'd have a problem navigating the crowds with this tall man in a Revolutionary War uniform. On the second floor, we encountered a large marble sculpture of a seated George
Washington, with a toga draped over one arm, and completely bare above the waist. On seeing it, my companion came to a sudden stop, with an expression showing a look of interest and approval. He asked how it came to be made.
I found information from a sign near the statue and from my guidebook. The statue was commissioned by Congress in the late 1830s to honor America's great example of liberty." The sculptor was Horatio Greenough. At the time, the "neoclassical" style was in vogue, drawing heavily on classical Greek and Roman architecture and sculpture. Greenough based his statue of Washington on a Greek statue of Zeus, the most powerful of all the gods.
The marble statue was designed for a place of honor in the rotunda of the Capitol, and was placed there in 1841. However, it weighed 20 tons, including the base, and soon the floor under it began to sink. After several years, the statue was removed and placed outdoors in the east plaza of the Capitol. It remained there until 1908, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution where it has been on continuous display.
My companion apparently was not surprised by the neoclassical style, and he seemed pleased that the throngs of tourists were stopping to look at it. However, he was puzzled by their reactions, such as a question one small boy asked his mother -- "Mom, if that's supposed to be George Washington, why doesn't he have his shirt on, or wear a uniform like this man standing here?" The mother's reply was lost in the hubbub, and I had to admit that in a colonial uniform, my tall friend did stand out among a crowd of tourists.
We then moved on to the exhibition of the Presidents - and that turned out to be one of the highlights of the day for my visitor. What immediately caught his eye was the long display on the wall that included, in order, pictures of every president from Washington to George W. Bush. I had mentioned there were 43 presidents when we were looking at the White House earlier in the day, but now that they were all lined up before us, it was quite impressive. For the first time, the visitor seemed almost overwhelmed. He looked along the line of their pictures, with the names and dates of each, and shook his head when he saw how many presidents there were. My companion then concentrated on the first group of presidents, and carefully read the dates of their terms of office. He observed, "I see that John Adams only served one term of four years. Some newspapers had said he wanted to be king and serve for life. And I see his son, John Quincy, was a president later on, and he only served one four-year term. Was he the only son of a president who also became President?"
I replied, 'The only one since then is the President we have now - George W. Bush. There was one president - Bill Clinton - between George W. Bush and his father.
My companion responded, "It is well that no son has inherited the presidency from his father. George the Third inherited the throne of Great Britain, and he was there for his lifetime and could not be removed. If Great Britain had been governed more wisely, I think it likely that the colonies would not have revolted and America would still be part of Britain."
At this point, we moved on and my visitor inspected some of the presidential items on display. He soon found one that was labeled "George Washington's military uniform." He inspected it carefully, and I noticed it was identical to the one he was wearing. Several tourists were gaping at the similarity, and then one said, "That actor certainly looks like George Washington - he's made up very well, even to the prominent nose. It's too bad they don't have actors portraying some of the other presidents."
My companion let that comment pass, and looked at other objects in the exhibit. His eyes soon rested on an unusual gold-headed walking stick, and he said, "When Benjamin Franklin died, he bequeathed that crab-tree walking stick to me. It was his favorite and he had used it for many years. I valued that stick more than any gift I received. Franklin was our first national hero and honored as a patriot and as a scientist by all. He was on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence and was one of those that negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain at the end of the Revolutionary War. But I remember him best as a member of the convention that drafted the Constitution. Then he was an old man - I believe about age 81 - and although the convention did not adopt many of his ideas, he had great prestige with the members and often calmed them down when they had hot arguments. And at the end, he was the one who recommended we adopt our final draft unanimously to show that all of us in the convention believed our future as a nation depended on this document."
We then moved on to other sections of the presidential exhibit. My companion inspected many items and read the descriptions, and finally stopped in front of a quotation attributed to President Lyndon Johnson: "The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands."
I asked my companion his reaction to that statement. After much thought, he replied, "I have no way of knowing if the presidency made every man bigger than he was, but it is my belief that few men are big enough to fulfill its demands. It challenged all my abilities, and I received much criticism during my second term. There were only 13 states then, and now you have many more, and the President must deal with many more problems than I did. I had doubts about being President. Even before I was elected President, I wrote a letter to my friend Henry Knox, that said something like, 'If I move into the chair of this government, I will feel much like a guilty man who is going to his place of execution.
"I did not see any other men who came forward as candidates and it appeared that all eyes were on me. It was my firm belief that this new nation must be held together as one country. No nation on earth had the form of government defined by our Constitution, and the position of President did not exist in any other country. I did not seek the office, and I had doubts I could carry out all the responsibilities it required. But by serving, I was doing my best to preserve national unity."
We completed our tour of the exhibition of the presidents, and then my companion said that if Mt. Vernon still existed, he would like to visit it. I responded that it was still there, but it was about 20 miles away and there was no regular public transportation. However, we could go back to Foggy Bottom to get my car and drive to Mt. Vernon.
The visitor replied, "My time here is very short. How long would that take?"
"Oh, at least several hours, including going there, touring the house and grounds and driving back into the city."
"That is too long. We cannot go and I am disappointed at not seeing Mt. Vernon."
Then a thought occurred to me - if we could get to a computer, perhaps we could find a Mt. Vernon web site that contained a tour of the house. I said, "Well, if we could find a Kinkos and rent a computer for a little while, we could make a quick visit to Mt. Vernon."
"Who is Kinko and what is a computer?"
I tried to explain as best I could, and we left the museum and walked a few blocks and soon located a Kinkos store. The clerk was a bit taken aback by my tall, imposing companion, but soon we were seated at a computer. I tried - not too successfully - to explain to my companion what we were about, and his formality faded as he became absorbed with what we saw on the screen. I said, "Before we try Mt. Vernon, let's see what we can find about George Washington."
I went to Google, my favorite search engine, and typed in "George Washington." Even to my own amazement, Google responded: "Searched the web for george washington - Results 1 to 10 of about 1,810,000 - Search took 1.33 seconds." The items on the first page included The Papers of George Washington, The George Washington University, and George Washington's Mt. Vernon. I asked my companion which one he would like to explore first, and was not surprised that he selected The Papers of George Washington.
My companion read from the computer screen that he had written almost 20,000 letters during his lifetime, and responded, "I know I wrote many letters, and that my faithful secretary, Tobias Lear, was responsible for keeping them. I always wanted them saved. How have they survived all these years, and where are the letters now?"
"Well, it says here that over half of them are at the Library of Congress, but many of the original documents were lost, given away or stolen. One Washington letter was sold for over $100,000, even though only the signature was in your own hand. But a large project was established at the University of Virginia to collect copies of all the original papers they could locate, and publish them in bound volumes. Over a ten year period, the project located papers from 300 collections and individuals in the United States, and in 70 foreign countries."
My companion nodded approvingly, and said, "It is important to have all those documents so that everyone can learn how our nation was founded. But I am distressed that some of my descendants did not concern themselves with the importance of keeping the papers for the sake of history."
My visitor now asked if we could see some of his letters on the web. We explored the Papers site and came upon the heading, "Washington's Advice on Love & Marriage." From what I had observed of my companion so far, I was not sure he would want to discuss that subject. But as I started to click on to another subject, he raised he hand and said, "Stop. Let us see what this reveals."
We found several quotations from Washington's letters. One of the first was on love:
"Love is a mighty pretty thing, but like all other delicious things, it is cloying; and when the first transports of the passion begins to subside, which it assuredly will do, and yield -- oftentimes too late -- to more sober reflections, it serves to evince, that love is too dainty a food to live upon alone . "
The next quotation from a letter Washington wrote to a friend in 1786 seemed to give a clue to Washington's appraisal of his marriage to Martha:
"For in my estimation more permanent & genuine happiness is to be found in the sequestered walks of connubial life, than in the giddy rounds of promiscuous pleasure, or the more tumultuous and imposing scenes of successful ambition."
As my companion read these excerpts on the screen, he commented, "I would say the same today. Are any of my letters to Mrs. Washington in this collection?"
I ran further down the computer screen and we found that before her death, Martha Washington destroyed nearly all the correspondence from her husband. My companion nodded again, but obviously was ready to terminate our discussion of that subject.
The next subject we encountered was "Revolutionary War Documents," and the visitor expressed interest in seeing one of those. We selected Washington's General Orders to the Army of 3 August, 1776:
"That the troops may have an opportunity of attending public worship, as well as take some rest from the fatigue they have gone through; The General in future excuses them from fatigue duty on Sundays...until further orders. The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice, of profane cursing and swearing (A Vice heretofore little known in the American Army) is growing into fashion; he hopes the officers will, by example, as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they, and the men will reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly; added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests and despises it."
I took and chance, and said, "Did the order have any effect on the amount of swearing in the army?"
"My officers and orderlies did not swear in my presence, but when I was with the troops in battle or when the artillery was moving their guns through mud and boulders, there was often loud swearing. Victory does not come without its costs - and one of the least of these is the cursing by men under stress. And I must tell you that the order about relief from duty on the Sabbath was revoked soon afterwards. The British fought and maneuvered any day of the week, and we were forced to do the same."
I remarked that perhaps we had time for one more section of the Papers, and my companion selected, "The Making of the Constitution." We reviewed several letters that expressed Washington's thoughts about forming a national government from 13 independent states, and the risks involved if no action was taken. I had not seen these letters before, and commented that although most people think of him as a national hero, they may not be aware of his part in the creation and adoption of our form of government.
He responded, "Those were difficult times. The common goal of winning the Revolutionary War to achieve our independence from Great Britain had held the states together. But after victory was achieved, there were many different opinions about how to organize our new government. The states did not want to yield some of their powers to the Congress of the proposed Federal government, but I knew that was the only way we could survive as a nation.
"We had to encourage the people to forget their local prejudices and make concessions for the good of national unity. I thought one way to help citizens learn to take a more national view was to establish a national university for young men from all the states to come together in one place. They would receive an education that I did not have, but, most of all, it would be most advantageous for men from all the states to live together and become acquainted. Then they might understand each other better and reach a national view of things beyond their own state. I left a bequest to establish that university in my will. Is such a university in existence?"
"There is the George Washington University right here in the city. I do not believe it was established from your will, and it was founded some years later. However, there are many, many colleges and universities across the country, and in every state. A large percentage of our citizens are now college graduates."
He responded, "I knew it might take a long time to change peoples way of thinking. I hope all those universities have made a difference. But, we also had to act right away and establish a sound government.
"I believe you had a big influence on how that came about.
"Nothing was more important to me. Several years after our peace treaty with Great Britain, a convention was called to discuss the future of our government. I was a delegate from Virginia, and did not want to be chairman of that convention. But when they nominated me unanimously, I knew I had to do it if there would be any hope of the convention accomplishing something. The delegates were from many different states and had many different opinions about forming a system of national government. There was much disagreement on the subject of slavery. When there was agreement that a national census should be taken every ten years, there was discussion as to how slaves should be counted. Finally, the convention compromised to count each slave as three-fifths of a person in the census.
"Against all odds, we finally produced a Constitution. But that was only half the battle. Nine states of the thirteen states had to ratify the Constitution before it became the law of the land. Powerful persons in some states were against it, and some of us had to exert great effort to convince such persons the United States would not survive if we did not adopt that Constitution.
He continued "It is close to a miracle that the United States survived all these years. Has the Constitution been changed since the states ratified the first ten amendments, and then the eleventh amendment a few years later?"
"Yes, there have been more than twenty amendments over the years, but most of the Constitution stands in its original form. I don't know what all the amendments were about, but one important one gave all slaves their freedom, and another made them full citizens with the right to vote. One amendment made it illega1 to make, sell or import any intoxicating liquors in the United States, but about ten years later that amendment was repealed."
"It is good the slaves finally received their freedom. As for the amendment on liquorous beverages, it was wise to repeal it. A glass of Madiera or a tot of rum is good for one's health and for conviviality's sake, and the taxes the government collected on the manufacture of distilled spirits provided good revenue for the nation. As President, I had to put a stop to a rebellion of men in the mountains of western Pennsylvania who refused to pay tax on the whiskey they were making. They were not obeying a Federal law and had to be punished. But now my time is short and I want to see what your machine tells us about Mt. Vernon.
I shifted to the Mt. Vernon site on the computer, and my companion said, This was always my favorite place, and I often longed to be here rather than New York and Philadelphia when they were the centers of government. We had many happy times at Mt. Vernon, and Mrs. Washingtons grandchildren often lived there. I spent my times managing the farms and working to improve the yield of the crops. I also experimented with different kinds of live stock, and even had a buffalo there.
"Do you know who owns Mt. Vernon now, and whether it is open to the public.
"Yes, it has been restored and is open. See, it says here on the screen that is open seven days a week, and every day of the year, and over one million people visit it annually. It has been restored and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. And here is the plan of the first floor. What rooms would you like to see?
"First, I wish to inspect the floor plan. When I married Mrs. Washington, she moved here with her two small children. I had already enlarged the house to two and a half stories and redecorated many of the rooms. This room marked Large Dining Room was the last part I added just after the Revolutionary War. Can we see more about the dining room?"
I clicked on the forward arrow and we saw a picture of the dining room, with a description. My companion was taken aback when I clicked on the picture and we immediately saw a much enlarged view - all in color .
He said, "I cannot understand that machine of yours. That is a picture of the dining room just as I remember it - with its green walls. I see that it is ready for dancing, with the table taken down and all the chairs placed along the walls. We had good times there with the many guests that visited us. And, I see they have chairs that look just like the ones I ordered from cabinetmaker John Aiken in Philadelphia. The Mt. Vernon Ladies have done well indeed.
"I'm sure it was in this room that I greeted Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, who came to inform me that I had been elected President of the United Sates by a unanimous vote of the electors. Now, can we see the study on the first floor?"
We clicked on the study, and saw a view of that room containing several pieces of furniture, books and several interesting objects. My companion's attention immediately focused on a white bust that appeared to be the head of George Washington.
"That was done by the French sculptor Houdon. It is a great ordeal to have your face and whole head covered over with wet plaster for the cast. They placed quills in my nostrils to leave openings so I could breathe. One must lie still for a long time. Mrs. Washington's grand-daughter, Nellie Custis, who was only a small child, saw me layed out on a table when the cast was being made and became frightened and thought I was dead. But it is right that people in later generations could see my exact likeness."
My companion then noted a desk chair and asked if we could see a closer view of it. I clicked on it, and we saw a large leather chair with a circular seat. That evoked another comment-
"This appears to be the very chair I had made when I was President. It has a seat that swivels around. I used it in New York and Philadelphia, and after I was no longer President, I had it sent here and used it in this room. I left it to Dr. Craik, who was my old friend and my doctor. I wonder if Dr. Craik used it in his office and how it got back here after all these years."
I clicked down the page on the screen, and we learned that Dr. Craik later presented the chair to President Andrew Jackson and the chair stayed in the Jackson family for many years. Eventually, Jackson's heirs sold it to Mt. Vernon in 1905.
"I do not know who this fellow Jackson was, but he must have had a decent family to give up the chair. But it is my hope that they did not charge Mt. Vernon an unseemly amount for the chair. And now, can we see the plan of the second floor?"
After a few clicks of the mouse, I located that floor plan, and my companion asked to see the master bedroom. After studying the enlarged image of the room, he said, "It is fitting that this is the final part of my visit. It was Mrs. Washington 's favorite room, and she retreated here from the guests that were so plentiful at Mt. Vernon. There are more pictures on the wall than we had, and some furniture is not placed properly, but yet is the room I remember. I spent my final hours on that bed, with Mrs. Washington and Dr. Craik and Lear at my side. What does your machine say about this room?"
We looked at the screen and read this final paragraph --
"Although the room was associated most closely with Martha Washington by family members, history has tied it indelibly to George Washington. It was here he died on December 14, 1799 of a severe throat infection diagnosed by his doctors as quinsy. Upon his death, Mrs. Washington closed the master bedroom for the remainder of her life and retired to a room on the third floor. It seems she did not wish to remain in a part of the house that held so many memories of her life with George Washington, her husband of 40 years."
My companion was deeply affected by this statement. With a trace of tears in his eyes, he arose, and shook my hand with the largest hand I have every seen, and the strongest grip I have ever experienced. "You have been my faithful guide and I pay you my respects. Now, as you might say it, I will return to cyberspace."
With that, he vanished before my eyes, and I was left staring at the computer screen that suddenly had gone blank. I must have looked like I felt, because one of the Kinko employees came up to me and said, " Are you all right?"
I nodded slowly, and he added, "And what happened to that tall guy with the old-time uniform? I didn't see him go out the front door."
I responded weakly, "I guess he went. "
And then I heard a series of loud beeping noises. I had never heard a computer make sounds like that. Suddenly I realized it sounded just like my alarm clock. I turned over in bed and switched off my alarm clock. It was seven o'clock, the sun was up and it was time to get ready to go to the Archives to my volunteer job!
WHAT A DREAM ! ! ! I wonder if I can remember it.
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