What can we learn from the story of George Washington? Why does he still matter today? Part of the Immortals leadership series.
Newt’s World Podcast
Episode 1: The Immortals –George Washington
Description: What can we learn from the story of George Washington? Why does he still matter today? Part of the Immortals leadership series.
February 15, 2019
Newt Gingrich: I’m Newt Gingrich. When I was about four years old, I realized that somewhere there was a cookie and I got up every morning really happy cause I knew my job that day was to find that cookie. And sometimes the cookie was history and sometimes the cookie was dinosaurs and sometimes the cookie was one of your congressional office. But everyday I try to find something interesting and fun. And as a result I wander around the world learning about lots of stuff. And in that process I got a PHD in history. I managed to win a congressional seat and run a company of advise the military. But the most important of all, I found lots of really interesting cookies. And I was really excited about the idea of creating Newt’s World as a podcast because I want to share with you a lot of the cookies are fun and they’re really interesting.
Newt Gingrich: And some of them are weird, some of them are informative, some of them are just amazing. And uh, it’s an amazing world we live in. There’s an enormous amount to learn. None of us will ever know 1% of what we could know. And so I hope when this journey that you’ll find the podcast interesting. Sometimes it’ll just be me. Sometimes there’ll be some fascinating people who do remarkable things. Every once in a while it’ll be a mystery, uh, something we don’t quite understand. Uh, and I think that Newt’s world is a world that you, I hope, have a lot of fun and go out together and we’ll look for cookies. So this is our very first newt’s world and I think the now find that starts at the right place with the father of our country, uh, with the man on his shoulders. We all stay in George Washington and that’s why I’m thrilled to be inviting you to join me on a regular basis and come into newt’s world and we’ll go look for cookies too.
Newt Gingrich: I wanted to start the entire podcast here with George Washington because literally we all stand on his shoulders to the degree that this is a country that has a remarkable ability for freedom, that is open to everyone, and that creates a framework within which normal people can lead an unusual and extraordinary lives. All of that started and was based on Washington, one of the best biographies of Washington describes him as literally irreplaceable, that he is the man that was, are the essential person for the entire creation of America. And I think that’s true. Every time Callista and I go down to Mount Vernon and we look at that house he lived in with Martha, and we look out on the Potomac, we realize that, uh, there was, he had this sense a who loaded being a farmer. He loved the land. Uh, he had a sense of, of solidness, uh, partly because he was so big physically.
Newt Gingrich: Uh, I always tell people that if you played Washington in the modern era, you should be basically an NFL offensive lineman. And he was physically so large for a time when the average man was about five’ six, he was also considered the best horseman in the colonies, which is if you’re that big physically and you’re that good, a horseman is astonishing and we should kind of had this strength, both physical and moral. Part of his physical strength just came I think biologically he was just that big. And he worked as a farmer. He worked as a frontiersman here. He used his body his whole life when he was serving in the legislature. And people often forget this, Washington was a professional politician, ran for office. And it was a very funny story, he’d been out on the west and thought of himself as a hero and ran for office the first time.
Newt Gingrich: And in that era you had a one day election campaign. Everybody gathered at the polls and uh, the candidates bought alcohol and got free beer, free wine, free whiskey. And Washington said, no, I am a military hero I don’t need to buy anything. And he came in last the following election, he bought the largest quantity of alcohol ever bought. And a Virginia election. And he won. People said he’d be in learn the trade here, but which also fed Washington’s general pattern. Many, many experts have studied his campaigns and said, we made many mistakes once. You never find him making the same mistake twice. So he’s down in Williamsburg at the House of Burgesses. And I always recommend to people who go to Williamsburg because it is such a remarkable creation of that era. And a, you can go to the taverns in Washington went to him in the evenings.
Newt Gingrich: They didn’t have TV, they didn’t have computer games. So they’d sit around playing cards and drinking and talking with each other. And it was a very famous squiring governor Byrd and governor Byrd would find some stranger. And he said, I’ll bet you a shilling that George Washington can break a walnut between his thumb and his first finger. No, I urge you sometime to try this because this takes extraordinary strength. And so he’d go over Washington, be playing cards or tile telling stories and he say, Colonel Washington, this stage he had become an honorary colonel in the Virginia Militia, Alicia, uh, would you mind breaking a walnut? And Washington would break the wallet. He’d collect the Schilling, presumably bought portion and a drink for the favor. But it was again a sign of an age when people value being strong physically Washington was the strongest. He’s also morally strong in the sense, first of all, you can, you can get from Mount Vernon the rules he wrote at 14 years of age, which he had copied out of books and which were rules for being a gentleman and he wanted very much to have respect.
Newt Gingrich: He wanted a, what the Romans had called Virtu. Essentially you are a virtuous person, not in our modern sense of sin, but in the sense that you have served the community. You are bigger than the normal history you’re going to live on in history as a person who’s done his job. And so Washington wanting to project this sense of authority and sense of I am and it says, and in fact, I am noble and kind, in a world where there, and there was no nobility in the new world at that point. That was the famous story of Washington, um, me in Philadelphia. Uh, and uh, I think at the constitutional convention and the Governor Morris takes a five pound bet, that he can walk over and slap Washington on the shoulder and he goes over, he gets close, he gets closer, Washington turns, it looks down on him cause Washington look down on everybody except Jefferson.
Newt Gingrich: And Morris stands and looks at him and says, good evening, General Washington walks back over to the ice, says, here’s your five pounds. It is physically impossible to touch Washington because he is projects this almost force field of dignity that you can’t penetrate. And he used that to enormous effect. Now ironically, when he was a general, for example, serving the places that were pretty desperately valley forge in the winter, he would go out and throw medicine balls with the troops. He would do. He was physically very engaged, so it’s not that he was incapable of being close. He loved to dance. He was, he was capable of being closed, but when he decided that he was aloof, he was aloof beyond anyone normally being able to deal with them, and that was very important that he didn’t start that way. He grew into to that person he started as a relatively poor kid, went to the Caribbean, got a slight case of smallpox, which turned out to be really valuable because it meant that he wasn’t vaccinated.
Newt Gingrich: He also was in a position where he watched life in the Caribbean and realized he didn’t particularly like that life came back home he’s not wealthy personally, he’s adequately willow, but he knew he’d have to earn a living. So we became a surveyor. By the time he is 19 years of age, he is serving in fact of Yoda, a little Washington, which is a town that has a remarkable restaurant in little Washington, which is a usually in the first place to get a Michelin Star in America. Washington laid out the entire town. I’m 19 years of age now. To give you a sense of how the world’s different looking at map little Virginia is about 70 miles west of Washington and about 50 miles south. That was the frontier, not Kentucky, not Texas. I mean western Virginia was the frontier and Washington spent a large part of his youth in the frontier.
Newt Gingrich: A first as a surveyor where you earn fairly good money, you also learn something. People tend to forget. Surveyors can look at topography. So as, and when he’s a general officer, later he looks at a battlefield with a level of technical knowledge that No other general officer has. He knows how to, he knows the distances cause he surveyed, he knows the rolling hills. He knows that’ll look for gullies. He knows how in an age when you didn’t have helicopters, you didn’t have tanks and you didn’t have cars. Even a small rise is a big deal if the other guys got to come up it because it wears them out and slows them down. And so he’s very good at looking at terrain and he learned all this. By the time he was 19 to 20 years of age. He’s given an assignment. He’s, he’s very precocious. He’s very close to the Fairfax family and they were one of the largest land owners in the colony of Virginia.
Newt Gingrich: He gets an assignment to go west. Is this supposed to be a peaceful assignment The French had come down from Canada. They have occupied the place where the Ohio river is formed by two rivers coming together and where three rivers stadiums nowadays is given a letter to take to them that says, you got to get out of here. And the French basically think you’re a nice young guy but we’re getting out of here. So Washington picks a fight. He’s not as, he was not assigned to pick a fight. He’s just very pugnacious the very young and he then ends up at a place called Fort Necessity where they stop and I’ve, I’ve been out visiting Fort necessity, which is still exist as a national, a historical monument. And this is clearly assigned, these not applying his surveyor skills because the, the Ford is in the bottom of a valley where the other guys of above are shooting down at you.
Newt Gingrich: Furthermore, they have huge rain. The place gets totally wet. Their powder gets wet. They have no choice except to surrender. Very fortunate for America. He wasn’t killed. I mean at that point, the French and Indians who were their allies are really pissed off at Washington. And here’s this young guy out here picking a fight. And you can, you can literally argue that the seven years war, which we call the French Indian war, the seven years war, which was a global war, it goes to use it in India. It goes in Europe, it’s in North America, it’s in the Caribbean. It started by George Washington who just picks this fight in the fight, starts from going down to Washington, comes back home. Now imagine this, your early twenties your first big assignment, it’s a total mess. So what does he do? He writes a pamphlet. He says, I was really right.
Newt Gingrich: I did exactly the right thing. And the only thing you could have done, none of it was my fault and I’m really proud of the ordeal. Okay, well, yeah, I wish person doesn’t know anything about what’s going on. There’s no television, there’s no live coverage from fort necessity. And so the only explanation of what happened is Washington and copies of it get to London and he’s, he’s now a persona. He’s a real person. So along comes the British finally say, okay, this is be a real war. You’ve got to get engaged. They send an army and Washington gets some of his first basic lessons. And this is something people often forget. Washington learned a lot about war by being at war. You didn’t learn about war by, you know, reading theoretical works and so they need a colonial adviser. Now the British aristocracy was totally contemptuous of the colonials and I thought they were basically stupid and lazy and cowardly.
Newt Gingrich: And furthermore, they weren’t pretty sure it’s regrets. They’re also contemptuous of British soldiers, not contemptuous of Hessian mercenaries because they’re British aristocrats. So Washington is assigned in and he asks advice from, he says it is not helpful to march down the middle of the road and red outfits because the other side will cheat and they will fire from behind trees and you’re going to get killed. And General Braddock explains, you obviously don’t understand European warfare, but just relax. They actually leave. If you go to the army war college at Carlisle, you can see the post from which they left and they might again remember the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which is next to Harrisburg, is the beginning of the frontier. So they’re now marching through the Pennsylvania forest. And surprise surprise, they get attack by people who are cheating they’re wearing outfits to blend into the forest.
Newt Gingrich: And the French are not wearing the normal white French uniforms, which they, they do when their informal warfare, when they’re fighting in the woods, they were in stuff that fits the woods. The Indians, of course have no uniforms anyway. And so the combined French and Indian forces attacks, Braddock is killed almost immediately. Uh, and uh, the British forces disintegrating. They’re confused, they’re scared, they’ve lost a commander. And the one guy who’s on the tallest horse is Washington, and so Washington starts to rally them, get them reorganized, get them the hell out of the way because they’re in real danger of being a massacred, but Washington and that fight is has four bullet holes in his coat and has two horses shot out from under, and he writes to his brother the next day that God must have really been protecting him because at some point 1 of those bullets should’ve hit him and it was lucky then.
Newt Gingrich: Then he began his system being up on these horses, which was important for his men’s morale is they can see the, at least have a leader, even if he’s the colonial, but at the same time it sort of makes you a target. About a decade later, he runs into an Indian chief then of the tribal council and the chieftain says, God must have some big role for you because I personally shot at you 13 times. He said, all of us were trying to kill you because you were so obvious and we just couldn’t, couldn’t hit you. And now that’s important later because Washington after that fight in his own mind is a man of destiny. In some ways. He’s like Charles de Gaulle, the sense that you know, I have been saved and actually suddenly very similar to what Reagan and Pope John Paul the head when they had both had assassination attempts and they got together and they talked about two things.
Newt Gingrich: They both been actors, the Pope was an actor before he became a priest, they’ve both been shot and they sort compared medicine. What do you think God wants you to do since you’re pope? What do you think God wants you to do since you’re president? And Washington had this kind of thing in the back of his head, which gives him a very calm certainty that it’ll will work. It will be hard. So he goes back home. Mary’s a very wealthy widow who brings him mt Vernon. Uh, and I think a genuine love match. Um, she has two children. They never have children on their own. Washington raises the children as his own and uh, he and Martha Entertain it, and this is one of the things to remember. Colonial Virginia, if you were reasonably wealthy in Washington in land was the wealthiest colonists, not as wealthy as the Fairfax’s, but the Fairfax eventually leave during the revolution, at which point he becomes the wealthiest person in America, in land, not in money, but you always entertain.
Newt Gingrich: And if, even if you look at it, if you go to mount Vernon and you look at the register of who comes by, there are always people coming to visit. I mean, at one point, uh, later in his life, James Madison comes over and spends I think six weeks living with Washington writing, arguing and writing about the constitution. And they’re just used to this. This is, this is their life. Washington regularly will ride up to Alexandria and if you want to, you can go to Gatsby’s tavern, which still exists, uh, which was the site of Washington’s birthday parties and he wouldn’t, they all ride up together and have a great party and a few drinks intended to party during the daytime so they could get home. Uh, but it was, this was all real. It was a social life. It was a nice life in Washington.
Newt Gingrich: Is faced with the same problem as every other American, which is you are trying to, have a cash based economy with no cash and you’re dealing with British merchants who are constantly cheating you, cheating you in the sense that they want to pay you less for what you sell and charge you more for what they sell. So you’re always juggling as very tight financial burden. And you’re not particularly happy with the British and Washington and serving in public life as a legislator, but mostly he’s a farmer then and a gentleman who is nice to people who come wandering through and then the British decide that they going to pay for the debt coming out of the seven years’ war by raising taxes on the Americans and their rationale is not crazy. Their rationale is, look, we saved you from the French. We saved you from the Indians. Things are relatively safe. You ought to pay your fair share. Now the American attitudes, very different. The American attitude is, you know, it’s not our fault that you’re a profit, good government in London and that you wasted all your money and they, you’re by corruption.
Newt Gingrich: And uh, no, we’re not gonna pay you anything. We’re happy to have you around. But frankly, since we no longer have any threat from the French, why do we need you? And so you have this weird moment where the British think that generosity is going to lead the Americans out of gratitude, don’t want to pay taxes. And the Americans are saying, no, the very fact that you won means we will need you and Washington in the faction. That’s fine. You know, but I don’t think I want to pay any taxes. I don’t like those guys anyway though, always trying to cheat me. He’s not in fire Brown. He’s not out there saying, let’s rebel, let’s do something. But he’s, he’s clearly in the group around Patrick Henry and others who want to stand up to the English. And then of course, you, you end up with a series of events again, thinking yourself as a planter, sitting on the Potomac River, having a nice life.
Newt Gingrich: You’re not connected by cable TV, you’re not connected by Internet. Uh, you know, you don’t get any text messages. You occasionally read things and so one day you read or you hear from somebody who, who’s riding through spending the night that there was the massacre in Boston and the British shoot when British troops had shot Americans who were protesting. Well you sort of lean, you know, start thinking about that. Cause that happened here. That had happened in Williamsburg too. I feel a little pissed off that the British are shooting Americans and the alienation starts to build and a call goes out to come to Philadelphia and let’s talk about how bad this was getting. The British decided to impose taxes that the British Americans really getting mad about a particular attacks on tea, which leads to the Bostonians. They’re dressing up as Indians and having a tea party, throwing all the Indian east Indian company tea into the river.
Newt Gingrich: And ironically the British thought they’re being clever because they actually had organized it so that the price of tea would be less under the new rules, even though you pay taxes and the Americans go, no, no, it’s the principle. We don’t care that it’s cheaper we care that The part of the money goes to you and we’re not going to pay your money. And so they cheerfully throwing all of these bales of tea, which are very valuable into the Boston harbor, which really makes the British pretty mad. And so the British decided that they’re going to close down on Boston and ultimately isolate the city of Boston to punish it in the theory that that will then scare the rest of the Americans into being obedient. But what it really does is just make some angry. So the call goes out. They can be, they meet then what is called the continental congress, which was a huge breakthrough.
Newt Gingrich: I mean, these people hadn’t thought of themselves as Americans. They were Virginians, they were Georgians, they were Massachusets. They spoke very different dialects in the sense of the tone of their language, the patterns they ate differently. And they hadn’t really begun to identify that they were Americans. And now they have this problem. And Washington, one of the people who’s drifting towards being more and more alienated and more and more angry, and he’s ultimately affected I think in part by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is world-class scientists recognize all over the world. He is a very successful businessman who makes enough money by 40 to sell his businesses and devote himself to public life. Uh, he, uh, writes poor Richard’s Almanac every year, uh, and is very widely known as the first, a postmaster general of the colonies and therefore has connections in all of the colonies because he’s handles the mail and he is sent by the colony of Pennsylvania to London to plead with the British and to basically say, look, there’s some things we need solve and we can be, we can be nice.
Newt Gingrich: And he spends about seven or eight years in London and he ends up suddenly realizing they’ll never accept it. There are aristocrats. He’s not an Aristocrat, even though he’s a world famous scientist, even though he’s wealthier than some of the aristocrats, he’ll never be anything in British society. And it’s just totally infuriating. And somebody once wrote that he left America as an Englishman and he returned as an American. And so his spirit, he’s very widely respected and people like Washington look to him and say, you know, you’ve been there, you’ve lived there. What are you thinking? Then he’s basically saying, I don’t think we have any choice. These people are never going to treat us fairly. They think that we’re servants. And so the spirit begins to build, and the British began sending troops to Boston because they’re determined to crush the spirit of resistance.
Newt Gingrich: And they think that if they can break Boston, that will symbolically shift the whole country. Now, one of the myths about Washington is that he’s sort of self effacing. He’s this guy who really wasn’t ambitious, but I’ve always thought one of the most telling things is on the continental congress, there is only one person wearing a military uniform. He’s also one of the two biggest people that steps in the villa. Jefferson’s thin but tall, very call the Washington and big as he had this huge guy walking around in the uniform of a Virginia militia. Uh, and saying everybody, of course I wouldn’t want to go to Boston. Um, a, I don’t want you to think I’m a military man, just because standing here in my uniform. But it just seen it, it was the appropriate thing to wear. And gradually they all look around these things cause they have a problem politically.
Newt Gingrich: They need a southerner to go to Boston because they need to unify colonies. They can’t appoint a Bostonian or a New Hampshirite. And the commander of the army, because they’ll have no linkage to New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Virginia is the biggest colony and wealth and population at that point. So they can turn to, he says, great reluctance. I will accept this burden all the way here, that I will be inadequate and probably will fail. But as long as you recognize that I’m only doing this because you want me to, I will go to Boston. And I think it’s hard for us to realize you’re this guy who’s in many ways in Aristocrat, he’s very wealthy. He, you know, he rides a horse very well in the style immersed. If you’re a farmer, you know, ride a horse the way George Washington does, he rode to the foxes and he shows up in the yard.
Newt Gingrich: You have to think about this. You have a new England army and this weird guy shows up from Virginia speaking a slightly strange English and with an attitude of being sort of last year and a little lustier, you know, and he’s gotta really think about this cause he realizes he gotta find a way to get to all these New Englanders to follow them or he’s got a problem. And so he really works at it and he spends a lot of time with the troops. And again, I think there’s a vantage of, we underestimated, have you imagined this as a movie scene? You’d have this, as I said, a guy in the modern era who was the size of an NFL offensive lineman and you’re walking around the camp. Well, it’s pretty obvious when he walks around the camp cause he towers over everybody. He’s also the strongest guy in the army.
Newt Gingrich: Well it gives them a certain sense of immediate acceptance that he should be the leader and he designs a very intelligent strategy and they move from the Canon in a position where the British have to flee. And so Washington in a matter of a couple of months has driven the British out of Boston, which was an enormous achievement at that point. You can imagine everybody’s excited and everybody’s positive and there’s a problem because the British have a navy and they’re not leaving. They just left Boston and went to Canada to regroup and they’re probably going to come back to New York, which is in many ways the key town for the whole, the whole war is, it’s a big port. It links in. If you can break New York, then you cut off New England from the rest of the country. So Washington takes his army in marches, New York and they feeling pretty good about themselves.
Newt Gingrich: And then his first grade outing, he’s been very successful and he has the declaration of independence, read to everybody and we’re all pumped up and they have a real problem. It’s not a very good army. They’re not trained very well. They don’t have very good equipment and they’re up against the best army in the world and the British land and just knock them over the place, capture a bunch of them and kill a bunch of them. And they’re in real danger of being annihilated. And one of those miracles of Washington refers to what you said has said later in life that anybody who think so that God wasn’t watching over us, he have, he used the word Providence, um, misunderstands how it happened. Because what happens is the Gloucester fisherman common say, look, we can, we can get the army across and get you out of Brooklyn before you’re annihilated.
Newt Gingrich: If we go at night and the oil navy probably won’t see us and we’ll get certainly a large part of you across or the night they decide to do this, you toggles it and the British can’t see anything. And so Washington’s getting these troops in egos last, he’s getting all these troops in these boats, they’re rolling across to Manhattan, but they’d been beaten. There’s no question. They just, they just ran head on into the British and lost. They get into Manhattan. Well, they have this huge problem. One British man of war has more artillery than the entire American army has at any point in the revolutionary war. These are big ships, nearly equivalent in modern naval aircraft players. They’re powerful. And if you’re close to water, they’re gonna just knock you about with artillerY. And so they’re driven out of Manhattan where they losing it. And at one point, general green, his probably his best general as this clever idea.
Newt Gingrich: We’re going to name this Fort Fort Washington. And the moral effect of defending for Washington, 3000 men will stand firm well for Washington falls, in fact they’re not. They’re not capable of fighting British. So Washington suggest to Green in the furture you should, they should probably not try gimmicks. And he flees across to claims and then he flees across into New Jersey and week by week it gets smaller, tighter, more defeated. A Washington who’s very smart guy about people in a way that you wouldn’t expect given his austerity. Washington knows the Thomas Payne is written tremendously important pamphlet on the revolution and probably the best selling pamphlet describing the revolution. And so he goes to him and he says, look, you wrote that when everything was great in the summer and we had a problem because all of us thought we were going to win easily and now we’re getting beat and I need a new pamphlet.
Newt Gingrich: And so cause I don’t need you to be a rifleman. Payne’s actually in the army. And he says, you had written common sense. It’s the most widely read explanation of the revolution. And he says, go to Philadelphia and write, explained to us what we’re living through. And so Payne writes the crisis, which begins, these are the times that try men’s souls and people read it. And they suddenly go, Oh yeah, this is what I’m listening to. And Payne basically says, look, you know, hell is gonna grab onto you as long as it can and it’s not going to be easy to be, and you’ve gotta be any compares. Basically fighting the British trying to fight your way out of hell. And people read it and they go, okay, this is not going to be easy. It’s not going to be this week. So Washington ends up Christmas Day, the week before Christmas, he’s dropped from 30,000 then to 5,000 of the 5,000 2,500 are sick.
Newt Gingrich: So He’s actually got a 2,500 of the 2,500 effectors. One third do not have boots and I’m actually marching and burlap bags leaving a trail of blood. So Washington is sitting here, 2,500 men left, cross the river in New Jersey. Questions in Pennsylvania across the river in New Jersey is the British army. And Washington brings all of his generals in. He says, we have a really big problem. We don’t win the victory. Most of our men actually expire sometime in January. If they don’t have some reason to stay, we will have no army left. So we have to win. Simple. So I propose, let’s cross the Delaware at night during the snow storm in the Ice March 11 miles to turn surprise the British army actually militia who are there, who pay mercenaries, which is an honorable job back then. Um, and then we’ll have won a great victory and then people will be excited and be okay.
Newt Gingrich: Every one of his generals looks at him like he’s insane. Well, they go we’ve losing now since September, we shrunk down from 30,000 to 2,500 and Washington has a plan, which has three image, but I’m going to cross the river at three different places in the coordinated attack, which even a first-class professional army would have had a hard time and they’re just staring at it. And it’s really important to this one to go back and think about Washington in the ambush because he’s sitting there as a guy who’s had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes and he’s sent thinking, you gotta take risks. You know, they’re all guys who hadn’t had that experience and they’re gone. I don’t want to take, are you crazy? I don’t want to take this risk. And then he has the winning argument. He says, look, this army disappears. The revolution is over, the revolution is over. We’re all going to be hung.
Newt Gingrich: So you don’t have anything. So we might as well try to win. It was at least that way we have a shot. So they cross over and interestingly he has the officers who can read weeding pains, the crisis to the troops as they get on boats. Yeah. And this is not, this is a, so the very subtle man he has, he’s got to get the morale up and eventually mind the mouse. He doesn’t want said a all power comes out at the end of a rifle and somebody corrected it and said, no, all power comes from the person who’s willing to shoot the road. and that’s
Newt Gingrich: exactly right. You got to keep them around him. So he takes his 2,500 men and then in a situation in which can only be described as a miracle, they cross over. There’s this huge snow, snow storm coming from the north, which means it’s coming to their back, but it’s coming to the face of the hessian troops. The Hessians run into a small Virginia Unit, which is off on its own without any authority, which arouses them about two or three in the morning and jump up. The stand arms are all getting cold and wet and this small unit takes off. Washington runs into this unit and thinks they’ve ruined that chance of success. The Hessians are going to be awake, probably going to get slaughtered. But what the hell have no choice? Well, just the opposite happened. Hessians stand outside for about an hour. They get totally soak.
Newt Gingrich: They realize that this was just a girl unit that was wandering through. They all go to bed. This and it’s not. that he Hession’s were drunk. The actions were in the middle of a snow storm. Now here’s the key thing to remember in Europe, there are no real battles fought in winter. Um, I think 1767 to 1944 the German army never launches a winter offensive. The last one. I think it’s in 1767 and then the Battle of Bulge in 44 yes. Winter’s hard. I mean, it’s cold and it’s miserable. Americans, deer hunt in the winter, Americans are all in the woods in the winter, so the Americans are gone. Oh, we had a snow storm. Okay, Hessians are going, we’re going to snow. Stay on the stand, the house, because no rational European army would be out in the snowstorm. So they’re safe. Well, they wake up in the morning and Trenton Beckon’s a very small town and has just two streets.
Newt Gingrich: And so if you put cannon at the end of the two streets, you control the town and the Hessians are all in these little houses and they can’t get out of them. And they finally, you know, semi-organized Washington captures 800 first-class professional soldiers for the loss of one American and then does a very intelligent they run the hill because the British army is filming and they get crossed the river before the British can get there. Now victory really matters. They go from 2,500 effectives. within Two weeks to 15,000 people. This is cool. Winning. Same the crap as a football. You know when people like to go to the game where they will. So they show up in Washington that has enough troops to go back across the river. And most importantly examples of Washington system, they get to Trenton this time, Cornwallis and the British are ready.
Newt Gingrich: Ready? They are charging them the road from Princeton, Washington calls a council of war and in the council of war there are two farmers. And I always said mom teaching military courses. I always say officers, why do you think there are two farmers? Cause they the only two people who knew the territory. So the British would never have done this because as an aristocrat you don’t listen to the farmers. They haven’t had military training. They only had one great advantage. They actually know the neighborhood well. It turns out that there is a sunken road on the south side of Trenton. He goes from Trenton to Princeton that you cannot see if you’re on the northern road through Princeton to Trenton. So Washington takes his entire army, runs down the road, and the British are running towards Trenton and he’s running towards Princeton. And my favorite Washington painting is Washington and Princeton with the cannon sitting there.
Newt Gingrich: And the British captured British flags behind it, Washington at this point is about 44 years old is standing jauntily leaning on a British cannon looking like the Fox hunter who’s caught the bus. It’s the best picture because we tend to see Washington backwards. We see the guy who’s president late in his life is still a young, energetic, aggressive guy. So the revolutionist survive and Washington’s now in a position to continue to develop the army. But it’s important to remember this is not everybody worships Washington. And if you’re not in the army with Washington, you’re thinking, this guy’s not had a very good run here. I mean, okay, did okay in Boston, got got cleaned out in New York and cleaned out in New Jersey. I mean, can we do better? And of course during this period when the Americans win at Saratoga where the British army collapses and you suddenly have an interest in some of the other than Washington. So there’s about a third of the continental congress who would like to fire Washington and is actively plotting. And one of the reasons when Washington ends up for the next year going into valley forge where he’d been promised there’d be food, there’d be equipment to build houses, et Cetera, and they had nothing. And I think they had like one ax.
Newt Gingrich: People in Congress are deliberately setting him up to fail because they want to get rid of him. And again, you get a sense of Washington settled in Washington who had no children themselves, had basically adopted the Marquis de Lafayette who was in his early twenties as kind of like a stepson you love Lafayette. Lafayette loves him. And so lastly, I’d happens to write a letter to the congress that says, you know, French king thinks so highly of general Washington, that if something were to happen to him and he was no longer in command, I really fear that all French money, French ammunition, French uniforms, French assistance would disappear. And I certainly because of my deep belief in revolution wouldn’t want that to happen. Well, that’s it. Washington. We asserted that he’s in charge. He also understands that he still doesn’t ever really get on them. And the guy shows up named Stueben, who is a character in his own right, almost 70 to do an entire novel.
Newt Gingrich: He’s a German officer, claims more credit than he really deserves claims higher rank than he really deserves. Um, shows up and says, you know, I can train your army and this is one of those miracles, a little bit like Washington listening to farmers. Stueben was around for a while and realizes if I tried to apply European systems, they will all rebel because they’re Americans. So I can’t just go in and force obedience in Europe, I can force obedience because the peasants expect me to porcelain in the u s though, you know, they’ll just throw me out. And so he figures out you have to tell Americans why you’re doing it. But if you’ll tell them why you’re doing it, they actually learn faster than the Europeans. And so he begins to train this army again when they’re in valley forge. Washington is very careful about a number of things.
Newt Gingrich: Um, they have a huge bake house, which makes all the bread for the army and uh, they turn it into a theater. And so the bake bread in the morning in the evening, they have plays. Washington’s favorite plays, Cato, which is a markable study in 18th century Britain, you could not directly attack the king because that’d be treason. So they tended to write about the Romans cause you could write about tyranny and corruption in Rome. And that’s not really attacking the king. Although everybody who sees the play knows you’re talking about the king. So Cato is, is about the, the Roman senator at the time of Caesar, um, refuses to accept Caesar as the head of the government and Caesar all ultimately chases him accross Mediterranean and ends up face to face and says, look, I want you to live here, my friend. I really believe in you.
Newt Gingrich: All you have to do is swear loyalty. You’ll be rich and happy the rest of your life. And Cato says, you know, my son’s already been killed. Freedom is worth everything and we’d rather die as a free person than live swearing loyalty. This is Washington’s favorite play cried every time you saw it. And it was the center in a way of Washington’s own belief that he was in rebellion because he was a free man and he is not going to give in. And so they would, I think they showed it three times that winter and then they showed other things. He was very concerned about morale. I mean, how, how do you keep morale up? And they began to build a real army. They collide with the British shortly after valley forge and they beat them head to head. And the British suddenly realize they have a real problem. We can no longer count on the Americans breaking them, Washington then chases them across New Jersey.
Newt Gingrich: And the British ended up going back in to New York City where the Royal Navy can sustain them. Now by this stage, you’ve also got a French army showing up. You have a French navy occasionally showing up your French money showing up, which is really important. Uh, but Washington can’t win. Can not break in to New York champ drive the British out of New York. Oh. The British have done is they’ve got Washington sucking the, basically laying seeds to New York. Well, the British army, he moving troops into South Carolina and Georgia and trying to reconquer the colonies from the south coming north, which turns out also to fail because Washington sends Green is the best general and they organize a guerrilla warfare and ultimately organize regular warfare and gradually start chewing up the British in the south. What is it? The southern war is a really miserable, nasty war and it was good that Washington couldn’t go there because he would not have liked it.
Newt Gingrich: Uh, it isn’t who he wanted. He believed deeply. You had to have a regular army that had discipline because it was the base of civilization. He did not want to be involved with a little war. He knew how to me even fought it, fought the Indians. He understood a lot about how to fight a goal and he thought it would. In the end it’d be so bitter and so bloody that it would shatter the society and so he really worked hard to keeping them together. And one of the great gambles if ever, if you ever get a chance to look at a map or Shannon sitting in New York, French army, is actually sitting in Rhode Island and all of a sudden corn Wallace, it has a large British army, finds himself cooped up in Yorktown, Virginia. I remember this is people are marching who trains no airplanes, no cars. And Washington has to make a decision.
Newt Gingrich: If I leave New York, there’s people who were getting terrible been there for seven years and leave New York. I down through Philadelphia and get to Yorktown. will Cornwallis still be well, the French navy show up. Well the French army work with with me and can I raise the money to pay the troops and if it works I might be able to win the battle that will lead to the end of War. If it fails, we may will collapse because we’ve been at this so long and was so tired. This is one of the great strategic analytics. I’m no, I’m, look, imagine courage to sit there and think this through though. You know, what am I doing? I’m going to move the British forces left behind that they think I’m still in New York and we’re going to march as fast as we can and when I get Philadelphia, we’ll see governor Morrison, beg him to bring together all the rich people in the city soon as enough money to pay the army to keep moving.
Newt Gingrich: And hopefully by the time I get to Yorktown, if you’re marching, this is on the Long March. Hopefully by then French navy will have shown up so we can cut Cornwallis off. So we can’t, British navy can’t take him off Yorktown. Well, it is said that when Washington crossed the last Ridge and could see Yorktown and beyond your time, the French fleet and he physically jumped off his horse and did a Jig. The only people said it’s the only time when they terrible war, they saw him just lose control. He was so excited because he had him. So the French and the British and the French, the Americans lay siege Cornwallis who’s a good professional British officer later on goes on to become a very successful governor General of India recognizes after a couple of days that you know he can’t win. So he sends the word that he’s prepared to surrender to the French and the French the way back, not surrender to Washington. And then he says, I am not surrendering to Washington, I’m sending a junior officer. At which point Washington says, fine, I’m sending a junior office. So General Lincoln has I think a brigadier general at the time, accepts the surrender of the British and supposedly the band plays the world turned upside down.
Newt Gingrich: Now Washington at that point does the most heroic thing, which people really undervalued. They go back north because the war is not over. I mean the fighting’s over now, the diplomats are negotiating. You got to work out all the details so you have to keep an army and his officers get really angry because they’re not getting paid. The congress in that period was setting a standard. The current congress was matching. It was often irresponsible, often failed to do and should do. Often had moved on policies and in this period they weren’t paying the army. So the group of the officers get together and decide that Washington should become a dictator. And there was a precedent for this because a hundred years earlier than the was civil war, Cromwell, emerged and established a detention. And in fact a lot of people had worried about Washington getting to be too powerful and too popular precisely because he would become, Cromwell. It was A great scene where the officers have met in the school room and Washington who was it?
Newt Gingrich: And as he recounted, he took out his glasses in order to remind him that he’d grown old and the service was country and he pulls out this letter reads a letter, the essence of which is you really think that we rebelled against George III to create George I. This would destroy everything that we fought for for years. Yeah, he says, I’ll go, okay, you know, people won’t be dictator. I guess we’ll continue. He then does something that is remarkable. And George the third says, if Washington gives up power, he’ll be the greatest man of the century. So Washington on the way home, having been, I always tell people when they get frustrated and they get tired of trying to do something. Washington spends eight years in the field, he’s in Mount Vernon for two weeks in the entire war and he loves mt vernon. So now he’s on the way home.
Newt Gingrich: So he goes to Annapolis where the continental Congress meeting and you can actually go to the State House and they still have the room and I have it set up with statute. Congress is sitting, Washington is standing in, the congress, is sitting to show that he is obedient to them, but that they are his superior court. And he gives them his sword who literally says, I’ve now done my job. I’m returning to you, the sword that I was given back in Philadelphia. And then he goes home, he’s at home, he’s happy being a farmer, Martha’s happy. Um, and things don’t work very well. And it turns out people who get this virtually every state as they’ve now become cease to be columns has to rewrite its constitution. They all fail. And so yet people getting pretty good practice of writing constitutions and people got involved in a variety of fairly dumb ideas.
Newt Gingrich: Repudiating the debt inflating the currency. And people be under Washington and say, you know, we’re going to have to do something to fix this. And this was not working. And it’s creating a vacuum where the British and the French in Spanish can come in and exploit us Washington writes, several of this. Founders says, no, people aren’t tired enough yet. We’ve got to finish celebrate and we gotta finish getting over this. And I’m not going to go now because if I go now, it’ll be too soon. So he’s very patient now again, everybody in their brother is coming to mount Vernon to spend the night to have dinner, chat with him. He should be receiving letters from all over the country. Finally, a group gets together on Annapolis and they get him to come to the meeting and I say, we’ve got to fix the articles of confederation.
Newt Gingrich: This is not working? We need to have a meeting to fix the current system. So he’s the center of this. If he’s willing to sign the letter, people will show up. He doesn’t sign the letter. It would never happen. So he agrees is the lead signer basically says, I’m going to go to Philadelphia and try to fix this. Why don’t you come join me? So every state sends a delegation to Philadelphia in 1787 so yeah, again, it’s very different than people think. First of all, when they meet for 55 days, it’s in secret. There’s no press corp, there’s no press secretary. Don’t tell anybody anything. Second, at several points It almost breaks down, at one point the oldest man there. Benjamin Franklin says, we need this. We need to stop. Have a day of fast and prayer. Get our head on straight. Because right now we’re just screwing up. They do that, they get a sermon, they pray the past though together they talk and people who study, they carefully make a point that I think is often very misunderstood about Washington.
Newt Gingrich: Washington is presiding inevitable and so he’s sitting up here, you can actually go and look at the room in Curzon in Philadelphia. But at lunch at breakfast, at dinner. He’s constantly politicking. What if we did this? What if we fixed that? What if we pulled this to maybe if you work with so and so you can work something out. So his his underlying influences enormous, but it’s all private. It’s not public speeches. It’s not speaking from the chair who represents the whole, you mentioned and they do something which is really quite remarkable. They’re sent there to fix the articles of confederation and by the time they all get there, they go, this is stupid. They are not going to work. lets just write a constitution. So what did you technically have a coup d’eta? I mean, you know, group of people who decide they’re going to six, the whole thing.
New Speaker: they have no authority to do it. They just asserted they then publish it. And again, Washington, when his thing started and Madison in particular was all over Washington, you’ve got to go do this. You gotta go into this. The reason Madison ends up living in Mount Vernon was Washington plan. You come here, you do the reading, you put down the writing, you do all the work, and when you get that done, okay, but I’m not going to do all the junk, you’re the intellectual. I’m not on my farm. So Washington’s happily entertaining at night and while going around running is fun. Of course Madison is trapped in who loves it, is trapped in a room at Mount Vernon thinking through the whole thing. They then do something that’s quite remarkable. They go to the 13 states and they say, basically you have to vote. We will not be legitimate unless you vote.
Newt Gingrich: And the greatest political brochure in history is the federalist papers, because that’s what it is. It’s a campaign document and J and Hamilton and Madison write it, and you get Washington sending a letter out to the whole country saying, basically, this is what we’ve done. We need you to vote. Yes. This is important not an overwhelming margin. The country says yes, and they adopt the constitution, which point of course they’ll turn the meeting and go, Gosh, we’re gonna need a first president. Well, Washington saying, wait a second, I’m in Mount Vernon. I’ve done, you know I’ve done my share. No, no, no, no. You’ve got to come up. So he agrees. He and Martha go to New York by the end of the first term and he’s very consciously, he is setting the precedents, which we still live. And he knows that operates that way. He mentioned Jefferson and Hamilton to serve in the cabinet. They hate each other. They, each day, each subsidize a newspaper to attack the other. He doesn’t care. He says, you guys are invaluable. You’re gonna stay here if I gotta be here, you gotta be here.
Newt Gingrich: late in the first term, New York newspapers are attacking Martha for holding high tea, which they regard as a first step towards monarchy. Washington is so angry and he says, I’m going home. I have served a term, it’s over. I am not going to subject my wife Martha to this kind of vicious behavior. Threat of Washington leaving is so central to the survival of the United States as a concept that Jefferson and Hamilton, who have become bitter opponents who decide their hostility, get together jointly, go to see him and they say, you can’t go home. The country’s not stable without your leadership, without your prestige, the country won’t last. You have to stay for one more term. He very grudgingly agrees he really is so angry about the news media treatment of his wife, but they convince him that the country he has to stay and as a patriot, in the end he’s going to do what the country needs and it’s a very important, very difficult period.
Newt Gingrich: Uh, Britain and France are engaged in a deep war, which will last until 1815. He’s trying to make sure the United States doesn’t get drawn in on either side. You’ll see he understands that it would just tear the country apart. So he’s being very careful about not getting into European politics and not getting into conflict. At the same time on our Western frontier, particularly in Pennsylvania, farmers have gotten really angry about a tax break, which was designed to help big distillers of east and actually hurts the small farmers in the west who are producing corn whiskey in small batches. And so they’re refusing to pay their taxes. And there’s what became known as the whiskey rebellion. And it takes the prestige of Washington to insist that the law be enforced. And he literally organizes an army, which they’re about to send into Western Pennsylvania in order to force people to pay their taxes confronted by Washington’s prestige and by Washington seriousness.
Newt Gingrich: And by the size of the army, he’s raising the farmers ultimately cave. The laws are changed a little bit, so they have a face saving way out. The whiskey rebellion disappears. But that’s the kind of thing going on that indicates how shaky this new country is. Uh, and how little people understand the concept of a central government, and that it has power which can reach all the way to the boundaries of the country without Washington’s prestige that might not have been survivable. He does stay and then he really is done. Uh, one of the greatest things he does is he goes home. And that’s really important because it sends a signal that power is loaned to you, you don’t own it, and that you have a duty to limit yourself to be disciplined. And with the exception of president Franklin d Roosevelt in World War II, no president has violated the Washington principle of a maximum of two terms.
Newt Gingrich: And in fact, after Roosevelt, we passed a constitutional amendment to block anybody from serving more than two terms. So Washington set the principle that he served the people. They didn’t serve him. The power was deliberately limited. He goes home. Finally, the Mount Vernon, a place he loves. He relaxes. He goes back to being a gentleman farmer. He’s just drowning and visitors because everybody wants to drop by and see the great man. He’s out riding on a wet, cold, rainy day. He comes down with a fever. In that generation, the doctors thought they would help you by bleeding you. They put leeches on him, probably hurting him by draining some of his blood. Although there are some modern studies indicate the Leeche’s actually had for some kind of diseases. They were actually very helpful because they had certain things that they’ve actually put in your body. But in the case of Washington, they’d probably further weakened him. His throat seized up and he finally died
Newt Gingrich: Martha was left alone. She probably did something, whichever historian I’ve ever since has regretted. She burned all of them letters because she felt it was private. She didn’t want people to see what Washington had written to her or she’d written to Washington. And so she literally shortly after his death eliminates all of the personal records which had grown up over a long lifetime and would have been fascinating. The country mourns him. The country realizes that he only had been the father of the country, uh, that he really was the first in their hearts. Uh, and that, uh, he was the symbol of what a free society was supposed to be, which is why our national capitals named for him and one of the Washington monument stands there as a memorial to a man who had literally created the modern system of freedom under the rule of law that we’ve come to take for granted.
Newt Gingrich: So when you look around the world and you see countries failing, you see people who are in desperate trouble. You see places where the rule of law doesn’t exist. You look at kleptocracy corruption, dictatorship. It’s really important to remember that the United States could have been that kind of country, it still could someday be that kind of country, but that people can make an enormous difference. The founding fathers collectively and by their commitment to the rule of law to the constitution made that difference. And the person who was indispensable, who really surmounted all of the others, they all looked up to him. They all followed. His judgment was president Washington first as a general then as president, but above all, as a human being, Washington personified the kind of dignified patriotism there was at the heart of the rule of law. Each of us can learn from Washington and each of us can learn about freedom above discipline, about persistence. Each of us can come to understand, uh, why he loved so much or why he loved freedom so much. And then we can teach others that anybody anywhere on the planet and learn to be free, can learn to live under the rule of law, can learn to pursue happiness. And Washington in that sense is a person for all of humanity, not just America and a person for all time, not just the 18th century.
Newt Gingrich: I want to thank my long time writing partner and fellow George Washington historian Bill Forstchen. I also want to thank the Fred w Smith National Library for this study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and frankly the person who did more than anybody else to create that library. Gay Gaines, you didn’t see the books, articles and documents that we relied on in researching this episode on our show page at newts world.com new toil is produced by Westwood. One executive producer is Debbie Myers. Our producer is Garnsey Sloane. Our editor is Robert Borowsky. Our researcher is Rachel Peterson. The Arb work for the show was created by Steve Penley. The music was composed by Joey Salvey. Special thanks to Tim, CBN and Robert Mathers. Please subscribe to newts world on apple podcast, Spotify, Google play, and wherever you get entertaining podcast. On the next episode of Newt’s world, we’ll introduce you to the con man of Congress. It’s a sweeping portrait of a coverup.
Next Podcast: I think this is probably the biggest congressional scandal going back 30 40 50 years. We don’t know how bad this scandal really was and may still be.
Newt Gingrich: I am Newt Gingrich. This is Newt’s world.