Interview with Larry Schweikart, Author of What Would the Founders Say? (Sentinel 2011)
Published By: All Right Magazine on March 23, 2011
In this exclusive interview, “Glenn Beck’s Favorite Historian” Larry Schweikart discusses his new book, the food police, straying from the Founding Fathers’ vision of America and more.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: Your new book is What Would the Founders Say?: A Patriot’s Answer to America’s Most Pressing Problems. In it, you identify TARP as the wrong answer to the Panic of ’08 and even single it out as possibly the greatest deviation from the vision of the Founding Fathers. In this case, what would be the second greatest deviation?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: Not to dodge but some context is necessary: the Founders did not view a “bailout” as necessarily bad if and only if it involved national security. If William Duer’s banking house had been, say, Eli Whitney’s musket factory of 10 years later, I think you would not have seen any hesitation to save the company. That said, the second greatest deviation—and all the Founders, including Hamilton, agreed on this, was that the country should be brought out of debt as quickly as humanly possible.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: Speaking of banking and fiscal policy, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of the book is a complete retooling of the legacy of Alexander Hamilton. Have conservatives been somewhat wrong in idolizing Jeffersonianism at the expense of Hamilton and the Federalists?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: Absolutely, and the big-government types have been totally off base in seeing Hamilton as “their guy.” Both men held a deep concern for the potential of government to abuse the people. But Hamilton thought that the best way to control the impulses of the wealthy was to put them, as it were, in thrall to the government through their loans to the government. Hamilton greatly feared the masses. Well, aren’t we seeing, to some degree today, what happens when large blocs of people get access to the public trough? I think Hamilton has been vindicated to some extent. Jefferson, on the other hand, talked a good game when it came to “small government,” but like many liberals he only walked the walk when it came to military cuts—although he had to fight America’s first foreign war, and did so successfully with ships provided by the Federalists (that he opposed).
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: On the subject of Jefferson, you mention the idea of adding an amendment to the Constitution that forbids borrowing. It sounds great for peacetime, but did Jefferson mention how it might work in time of war?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: No, he didn’t and I’m not enough of an expert on the national budget in 1805-6 to know what impact the Barbary Wars had on expenditures. But both he and Hamilton shared the view that loans ought to be repaid.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: It was sobering to learn about the connection between the energy crisis of the 1970s and the bailout of the Penn Square Bank in 1982. Is it safe to say that we repeated bailout history in ’08 and ’09 after the $4.00 per gallon gasoline?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: Yes, it’s not too far off. What most concerns me about the 1980s is that the mainstream histories miss the fact that to some degree (and economists are divided as to how much), the S&L Crisis in the 1980s was directly linked to deposit insurance, just as the state bank failures of the 1920s were almost exclusively linked to deposit insurance schemes.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: Reading some of the quotes from the Federalist papers and the like, it is very apparent that the English language has undergone dramatic changes since the 18th century. Do you think that’s part of the problem in straying from the founding principles?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: Actually, I do not. The Founders themselves had largely “American-ized” English by 1776, and that hadn’t changed their principles. But certainly some terms are incredibly poorly taught and understood—particularly “democracy,” “republic,” “militia,” and so on. Thus it’s hard to understand that the representative republic that the Founders envisioned was light years away from what has unfolded since. Some of that could not be helped, mainly because of technological change that reduced the participatory potential of everyone. But other elements we brought on ourselves, such as eliminating the property requirements to be able to vote. It’s astounding to look at participation levels from 1787-1820: nearly two-thirds of those who could, voted, and certainly there was well above 50% turnout for most elections. Well, this stands to reason. When it was a privilege, when only those who had something to lose economically could vote, then they turned out at election time. But merely the evolution of the language itself, I don’t think, has caused problems.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: You suggested a “wall of separation” between education and the state. If it could be done politically, what would education be like in that case?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: The biggest surprise to me was that almost all of our Founders, to a man, believed in 1-6 grade public education. I was sure I’d find widespread resistance to that, but they all thought an educated electorate was crucial. However, they also all believed that in addition to math, science, and language all students should learn basic patriotic history—that a multiculturalist view of the world would destroy the nation. They came close to even using those terms. They also all believed that some form of Christianity should be a part of every curriculum. Since I think it is impossible to turn back the clock on the poor public education system today—even up to the college level—I think a massive disempowerment of the public school system through private schools and home schools is the only hope left.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: You have come to the conclusion that the Founding Fathers would rebel against the American government in its current form. Obviously we did not reach this stage overnight, so hypothetically, what year would the rebellion have begun?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: I don’t know. History is funny in that when you’re in the middle of it, you’re never sure where turning points are. Do you really think that even Admiral Chester Nimitz or General Douglas MacArthur thought that the Japanese were pretty much finished after Midway? Or that Sam Houston, with fewer than 1500 men would be able to turn his army around and attack Santa Anna in broad daylight in open field? Or even that the people chopping on the Berlin Wall in 1989 were going to be allowed to keep going until it was down? In retrospect, it’s easy to say, “Sure, that was the turning point.” But how many of us (I know Pres. G. H. W. Bush thought this way) were waiting for Soviet tanks to roll into East Berlin and put a stop to the shenanigans. Is the Tea Party the vanguard of a revolution, or the last gasp of a dying carcass? My own guess is that the U.S. has such untapped power and reserve that if the right man or woman would come along and galvanize (most of) us, we could undo the 60 years’ worth of New Deal garbage in three or four years. But I don’t know if the majority of the population is quite there yet. After all, look at how quickly Margaret Thatcher was able to
accomplish what she did in England—a nation much further down the socialist road than we are.
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: On the subject of Big Government, one compelling line is that you tell your history students that the government is “coming for your Ho-Ho’s.” Do they seem to believe it?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: No. They laugh. But it’s all so incremental—none of them see the connection between effectively banning smoking, which is done by a minority
and has clear health risks, to banning other food and beverage products that do not (or at least, not to most of us). Moreover, few of them see the connection between a politicized, perverted science that says what it needs to say to get grants and “real” science that demands absolute, incontrovertible proof before issuing statements of “fact.”
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: The chapter on food and drink is perhaps the most interesting of them all. It was quite surprising to learn about the Founders’ obsession with ice cream. Was that a new food at the time?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: As far as I know, it was quite new, and Jefferson brought his own ice cream maker from Europe. The problem was ice. In most places, if it wasn’t
winter, it was impossible to get ice. Frederick Tudor, the Ice King, finally began to sell ice all across America, but not until the 1820s or the end of Jefferson’s life. So it’s unlikely he ever had the wherewithal to make ice cream on a regular basis anytime but winter, and who wants it then?
ALL RIGHT MAGAZINE: Finally, how can people get a copy of What Would the Founders Say? and otherwise keep up with you?
LARRY SCHWEIKART: What Would the Founders Say? is available wherever books are sold and on our website, http://www.patriotshistoryusa.com which will have links to take you to any of your favorite booksellers.