Call the Show 800-520-1234
LIVE: Mon-Fri, 6-9AM, ET
Hugh Hewitt Book Club
Call 800-520-1234 email Email Hugh
Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Dr. Larry Arnn On Washington’s First Inaugural Address And First State Of The Union Speeches

Email Email Print

HH: It is the last radio hour of the week. That means it’s time for the Hillsdale Dialogue. I end most weeks with a conversation with Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale Collge, or one of many of his colleagues at the Hillsdale College, or perhaps many of them at one time. This week, it’s just Dr. Arnn as we are completing the second week of a two week investigation into the principles and the character of the American Republic when it was founded, the principles on which it was founded, the character of the people who founded it. Dr. Arnn, how are you, good to have you back.

LA: Very well, How are you, Hugh?

HH: I’m good. Before we go there, Chuck Todd was on with me last hour, and I played for him an excerpt of an interview that I had with Vice President Cheney earlier this week that I said has become Hughbiquitous, if you’ll pardon the pun, around the world. And I want to play for you what the Vice President had to say and get your reaction to it. This is Vice President Cheney talking to me two days ago.

HH: Is he naïve, Mr. Vice President? Or does he have a far-reaching vision that only he entertains of a realigned Middle East that somehow it all works out in the end?

DC: I don’t know, Hugh. I vacillate between the various theories I’ve heard. But you know, if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world, reduce our capacity to influence events, turn our back on our allies and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing. I think his actions are constituted in my mind those of the worst president we’ve ever had.

HH: Now Larry Arnn, Karl Rove came on and had a quibble with Vice President Cheney, saying that James Buchanan was worse than Barack Obama. So…

LA: (laughing) Okay, well, that’s, you know, there’s something to that.

HH: So that’s what I thought. I’d led you arbitrate between Cheney and Rove.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Who’s worse – Obama or Buchanan?

LA: So Abraham Lincoln didn’t say anything between the time he was nominated for president, and until he got on the train to go to be inaugurated. They didn’t campaign for president back then. But he almost did break his silence about James Buchanan, because Buchanan was about to agree to let Fort Sumter go, whereas in Article 1, Section 8, it says the federal government has control over such installations. And so Lincoln was going to release something that said if he does that, I will undo it. And then Buchanan didn’t quite get there, and the crisis remained when Lincoln got into power. So there’s the rival to Obama.

HH: (laughing) Now…

LA: (laughing) Yeah, I don’t…you know, Churchill said of the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments in the 30s, you know, steadfast for drift, foursquare for hesitation. And he said of the League Of Nations back then about the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, he said they put sanctions on Italy, but they exempted everything that really mattered to Italy, especially oil, and he said willing to wound, but…willing to strike, but afraid to wound. And so we on the one hand take a really strong position and lead, right, and claim that our vast military power is waiting in the wings to undo, you know, any harm that’s done because of these agreements. But meanwhile, we spa the strength of the military power, and so there’s a potential policy of trying not to be involved. And that might work, although I doubt it, and there’s a potential policy of being strong. But when you are heavily involved and you’re weak, you could get hurt very badly.

HH: Very badly. Now I, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about George Washington in this hour, because some of the references that the always amazing Kyle has sent to me are quotes from our first president. How do they compare, our current president and our first president when it comes to character, in your estimate, Dr. Arnn?

LA: Well, George Washington was a lot taller than Obama in every way.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) Boy, that’s really flip. Yeah, so George Washington, so first of all, describe his character, right? George Washington was known to be incredibly brave on a battlefield. He did several spectacular things that made people stand agape as he performed it. The Battle of Trenton, at Princeton two days after Trenton, at the Battle of Monmouth, during the retreat down from Long Island at a bridge, crossing the Delaware, going the wrong way that time, in all of those things, George Washington was massively brave. And George Washington was known to be a very passionate man. And he was extremely self-controlled. Also, he was modest. Washington, his speeches, his great speeches, his first and last inaugural address and his state of the Union messages, those speeches are full of his humility before the American people, and his sense that he was not qualified. And this, by the way, at a time when no one else could be considered for the job that he held. In fact, the job could not have been created but for him. So am I describing opposites from what we have today?

HH: Well, yes you are, but I’m curious as to, because it’s much more interesting than the comparison which is so obvious, sometimes it’s not that hard. Where did that come from, do you think? I know you’ve studied Washington, you’ve studied Lincoln, you’ve studied statesmen, you’ve studied Churchill. Where does that come from? He had a tough growing up. His father died. I mean, just where did it come from?

LA: Well, it comes from God, finally, but it’s the same thing in any human character. We were born with gifts and tendencies and, you know, capacities and deficiencies. We’re all born with all of those. And then we have a hand in our own making, because the moral purposes we form, we, Aristotle said, you know, said the word character, that comes from the Greek word that means to etch or engrave, and that means the thing carved into you. And we do part of the carving. And the way we do it is we make choices, and we do the right thing, we do the wrong thing, against pressure, against temptations of danger or pain or pleasure. And George Washington, when he was a boy, he wrote out 112 rules of civility. He’s a little boy. And there’s things like don’t bite your nails, don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t talk and overtalk somebody else, and then a lot of good ones about courtesy and restraint and modesty. And then the last one is labor to keep alive in your breast the celestial fire known as conscience. And so what George Washington did was he fashioned himself into a great man.

HH: Now where did those things come from? Did he copy them out of various, you know, a reader book like Jefferson would keep a day book. Did Washington keep a day book where he would jot down stuff? Or would these I shall set about putting down my 112 rules, and they sprang like Athena from the head of Zeus?

LA: No, when he was a boy, they would put them to doing something like that, and Washington kept his, and had them all his life. And so that’s why they’re preserved. We don’t have, by the way, Washington’s letters between him and his wife, which must have been marvels, by the way, because she was a marvelous woman and suffered with him much during the Revolutionary War. And she burned them. And that was a sense of propriety, I think, which he manifested all the time. There’s a great thing, and by the way, I have recently found it. It nearly killed me, and then all praise, by the way, to the National Park Service, because there used to be in the Second Bank of the United States, which is just behind Independence Hall, a statue of Washington by Houdon, one of the best of the sculptors of Washington. And at the bottom of it was a quotation from a diplomat which I will paraphrase. And now that I have it, I’ll offer to put it on or on your website so people can read it, because I in a hurry, because when I go to Philadelphia, I often dart into that building, because it’s an art gallery now.

HH: Yes, I’ve been in it. Yeah, beautiful.

LA: And there was this statue, and there was this inscription on it, and it was from a diplomat. And it says that Washington was a very cool person, that he hardly ever showed emotion, but that when he got to talking about the prospects for the future of the empire of liberty the Americans were building, he would grow animated. And I love that quote, because that’s in insight into him, because people who knew him well knew he was extremely self-restrained, and also that he might explode, he had so much strength of will and passion in him.

HH: Yeah, I read in a biography where he was often given to G-damning this and G-damning that, not often, but occasionally, with explosive wrath having to do with political perfidy more than anything else. I don’t think it was with lack of courage or battlefield reverses, but…

LA: At the Battle of Princeton, Washington marched his horse through the American troops sitting straight up on his horse. He was a tremendous horseman, by the way. He could make his horse do whatever he wanted without using his hands, and his knees and his feet. And he marched his horse on the British troops, drawn up, and this is two days, the day and a half after the Battle of Trenton, which was, by the way, only a desperate effort to get some kind of a victory to end the first year of the Revolutionary War.

HH: Okay, hold that thought. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn on the Hillsdale Dialogue hour, stay tuned.

— – — – –

HH: I have a feeling our mutual friend, Jack Templeton, will be downloading this, because he is always, always lecturing me about how Washington is overlooked, Larry Arnn, and does not get the praise due him. So I wanted to make sure as we approached the Battle of Trenton, and you’ve told this anecdote, that if only for Jack, you got to tell it in full without being rushed.

JA: Yeah, there you go, and yeah, God bless Jack Templeton. What a great man. Yeah, so he, you know, first of all, the reason they go across the Delaware and try to surprise the Hessians on Christmas morning is that they only think they can win if these guys are drunk and in bed. And they’ve got to win something before the year runs out so they have another campaign next year, because the Revolution might dissolve. And then of course, Cornwallis comes down from the north toward Trenton, and he’s routing the American troops that are there, and their victory is going to be taken away from them so fast that the benefit of it will be lost. And so Washington goes up there to help stop the British. And he gets there at Princeton, and there’s a rout going on, and they’re running. And Washington just walks his horse through them. And he doesn’t look at anybody. And his, we have a record of this from a man named Fitzwilliam, who was an adjutant to Washington, and he says, and you know, the British troops are lined up and they’re about to fire, and Washington walks towards them with sword up, giving the command to fire. And it doesn’t look like he has any way to know whether anybody is with him. But partly by his presence, because he was a very beautiful man, very large man and a tremendous horseman, they had turned around and formed with him. And there was a fusillade between the two sides, and Washington was shrouded in smoke. And Fitzwilliam records that he takes his cap and puts it over his eyes, because he couldn’t stand to see the sight of Washington crushed by the bullets. But no, when it cleared, Washington was still on his horse walking steadily. And the British turned around and ran from him. Now by the way, people know this about this man, right? Now at the Battle of Monmouth, it’s a much bigger battle, and there are basically 20,000 people in the field, and the Americans start to run, and he does the opposite thing there. He’s whipping the ones who are running and cursing and screaming. And everybody turns around and goes back at the British, and that’s the biggest battle that we won until Yorktown. And it was an open field battle, and the Americans ended the day in possession of the field. And that was a big turning point in the war. And of course, people saw that, too. And then this guy, and see, there’s no bragging in this guy, right? He gets, he’s asked to go to the Constitutional Convention, he sits there and says very little, he blesses the thing, and it just carries enormous weight that he does that. And so that thing, right, real distinctions behind a man who doesn’t make any claim for himself.

HH: But he does make claims about what a free government needs, and the kind of people it needs, and the character of those people. And I want to start with his general orders of 1776 that Kyle has circulated to you and me on the need for warlike virtue, because this is not very P.C., Larry Arnn, not very P.C. at all.

LA: No.

HH: And so shall you read it or shall I?

LA: You read it.

HH: The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves, whether they are to have any property they can call their own, whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, that would be you and me and everyone listening, under God on the courage and conduct of this army, our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of a brave resistance or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or to die. Our own and our country’s honor call upon us for vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us then rely on the goodness of our cause and the aid of a Supreme Being in whose hands victory is to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of our countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings and praises. If happily we are the instruments of saving them from the tyranny meditated on against them, let us therefore animate and encourage each other and show the whole world that a free man contending for liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on Earth. Shades of Henry V.

LA: Yeah, I mean, you see, and Washington’s battlefield proclamations, of which there are many, often read like that. And the theme is often that free people have to fight better than mercenaries. The Hessians are from the German state of Hesse. And they make the, and by the way, the state, they’re tremendous soldiers. And the state makes its living renting out its army to people like England so they can go fight battles for them. And they’re very brave. And their sort of code of honor is that they’re serving their own state, in gaining its revenue, by fighting for other countries. And so these are among the best troops in the world. And they are well paid, by the way, and Washington’s point is we are free and they are servants, he says, in one of the battlefield proclamations. Do not let them see you run. Now isn’t that, by the way, the opposite of the politics of victimology that’s on everywhere today?

HH: Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely. You know, yesterday, the University of Michigan, two days ago, not far from you, the University of Michigan banned the showing of American Sniper because it was anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and Chris Kyle, who was honored by the movie, was called by the petitioners a killer. Jim Harbaugh, your new football coach at the University of Michigan, tweeted out well, I’m showing the movie to my football players, and God bless Chris Kyle, or some effect of that, and the University melted under the blowback as it ought to have. And yesterday on the program, it was said by one of my guests, John McCain, that Jim Harbaugh ought to be the president of the University of Michigan and not the president of the University of Michigan for allowing the whole façade to come along. Can you imagine George Washington calling Chris Kyle a killer?

LA: Well, he is a killer.

HH: He is a killer, but in the best sense, as is George Washington a killer.

LA: Yeah, George Washington was a killer, too, by the way. That was the point, right?

HH: Yes.

LA: In other words, this character thing includes the assertive virtues, but with the restraint that is only done in the name of freedom, and never to govern anybody except by their consent. You see, it’s that mixture of things in Washington that makes him great. Same thing in Churchill. Churchill is defeated in 1945 having become, and being regarded by the electorate, by the way, as the greatest man in the world. And he bows humbly and will not criticize the people for electing the socialists that he hated. And that’s Washingtonian, right? And it’s not the practice of great statesmen in free countries to style the people as victims in order to make the government stronger to do things for them.

— – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, we’re going to have to frustrate young Kyle again, because he gave us two weeks’ worth of material that we’re going to cram into four weeks, because it’s just simply, I’m not going to short this. This is such great stuff. I read the Ben Franklin stuff on what you need to move to this country, and we’re going to go through it all, because it’s such great stuff. But in juxtaposition to the warlike virtue that Washington both embodied and thought necessary and proclaimed necessary, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, and as was pointed out by Kyle and others, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont have similar pronouncements, concludes this phrase. A frequent recurrence of the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantage of liberty, and to maintain a free government. The people ought consequently to have a particular attention to all those principles in the choice of their officers and representatives. Now this is a partisan critique, and I just announced it as such. You’re not, and Hillsdale is not partisan, but this is a partisan…this president is not known for his frugality. And I think that is unfortunate. The last president, I believe, was.

LA: Well, he tried, and we haven’t really had wonderfully frugal presidents for a long time. But the principles, you see, look, yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, I don’t know if you caught it, but there was an article by two Nobel Prize Winners, Berg and Davidson.

HH: I did not see it.

LA: And they called for a moratorium on something while conferences are held to figure out the ethics of the summit. And the something was altering the part of the human DNA, genetic line, that’s in what they call the germ line, the part that is inheritable, because we’ve got to the place now where we can change people. And there are two possibilities. One is to remove known defects in the human genome, and see, this will be, once you change it, by the way…

HH: Wow.

LA: …then that part of the human genome becomes a manufactured item, even, by the way, if you could be successful in changing it back. But in 1931, Churchill says this. I’m telling you the story so that people will understand that there are two alternative sets of principles of government, and they lead to two alternative ways of living. In 1931, Churchill says, and the same year Brave New World was published, he says you know, we’re going to be able to eventually to breed people for the purposes we want them to serve. We could have some bred for thought, and some bred for toil, and that he didn’t read Brave New World for more than 20 years after this. But he saw a play called Universal Robots that had the same idea in it. And he said if we get power to simply remake ourselves, how are we going to use that power, because by the way, remember these, this list of virtues that you just read, from one of the greatest constitutions ever written, John Adams had much to do with it, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, the virtues that are listed are piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality. Now think what those are, right? Courage occurs elsewhere in this document, by the way, but piety is humility before God. And justice is giving the right thing to each person, including not more to yourself or more to anyone for any favoritism. Moderation – the right disposition towards pleasure, temperance, the same thing. Industry and frugality – working hard and spending little. And you see, if the people possess those virtues, those are possessions of them, and they can enjoy the benefits of having those virtues. And the public can enjoy the benefits of freedom. Whereas on the other hand, if everything that happens is somebody else’s fault, and the government exists to fix it, take this took that I just named. You should read it, Hugh, in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, because these guys, by the way, they’re very sensible. They said this is a very big step that we’re in a position to take now. We will alter for all time human beings, and it will spread through the whole population through the generations.

HH: Of course, it would.

LA: Whatever we do to it, and that’s, you know…

HH: Wow.

LA: We’re at that point now, and that’s been predicted forever, and it’s here.

HH: I will be back and with Dr. Larry Arnn, and we’ll talk about that. We’ll also talk about George Washington’s first inaugural address, and his first annual message to Congress.

— – – – –

HH: This week, Jonah Goldberg, a mutual friend of Dr. Ann and mine sent us both a complimentary note. I replied that long ago, I learned hang around with the smart people, and people will mistake you for one of them. It’s sort of like camouflage, and it’s worked. It’s absolutely worked with Jonah. George Washington, the first inaugural address, and George Washington, the first annual message to Congress, Larry Arnn, I know he had a ghost writer for the second of those. Did he have a ghost writer for the first?

LA: We don’t know. I don’t know, and I think it’s not known. We know about the first inaugural address, because it happened to be James Madison. And you know, high-priced help.

HH: High-priced.

LA: Somebody must have told Washington hang around smart people, and people will think you’re one of them.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) But yeah, but Washington, you know, it is an interesting thing about the first annual message to Congress, by the way, because Washington delivered one annual message to Congress in person, and then he thought that was useless, and he stopped doing it.

HH: He stopped walking up the road?

LA: He just sent them a letter.

HH: Yeah.

LA: I think it was the second where he went over there. So they are beautiful, and you know, just remember, so I’m in the college business, right, right now, and tonight, we have senior dinner over at my house. And all the seniors come over. We take six nights, and we have them in small groups, and I make them give toasts and sing, and they talk about the college, and they toast each other, and they renew, and reaffirm their friendship. And then they go out in the world to be good. And they are free people, and they understand, because you know, we teach that around here, and it’s not just that we teach it. Since we’re so notorious for teaching it, ones come who think like this. They think that their life is their responsibility. And they’ve got to behave themselves in order to deserve their freedom. And it’s a lot of fun, and you know, I’ll confess it to your audience, I’ve given more wine to college seniors than any man who ever lived.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And they don’t get drunk.

HH: And I hope they quote Washington. There exists in the economy and course of nature and indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxim of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity. In other words, he’s saying, there’s a cause and effect here, and you’re encouraging that cause and effect.

LA: And see, by the way, that by James Madison and George Washington is as good a summary as you will ever find of classical philosophy as regards ethics, about how do you live your life. Aristotle, that is the point, what you just read is the point of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. And that’s, you know, this very brave and very self-restrained man who handed his sword to Congress after he beat the greatest army in the world and secured our independence and went home to a private life, and they invite him back, and he is the paragon of virtue. That’s why he’s chosen, not for his beautiful speeches, by the way, although they are beautiful. And then because his deeds are powerful speeches. And then when he speaks, everyone can believe it.

HH: And then when he writes, and I want to pause on this. This is from the first message. There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, this is George Washington telling the Congress, with perhaps the assistance of James Madison, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is, in every country, the surest basis of public happiness. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to work at it.

LA: You know, the Northwest Ordinance passed in the summer of 1787, the first American law about education. It says religion, morality and knowledge is necessary to good government and a happiness of mankind, and therefore schools and the means of education shall ever be encouraged. So first of all, think of the goals. Now powerful economy, not students are factors of production, not compete with China. The purpose of education is so that people can live well.

HH: And in that first message as well, Washington and Madison says we’ve got to persuade those who are entrusted with the public administration, which is broader than just the elected, that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights. What a rebuke to the people in the federal bureaucracy, Larry Arnn. They’re not bad people, but how many of them seek to, and how many federal bureaucrats go out to enlighten landowners, for example, of their rights against the bureaucracy?

LA: Well, you know, there’s an article in the paper this week, I mean, gosh, you know, the world is very exciting right now, isn’t it?

HH: Yes.

LA: And there’s an article in the paper this week about a Congresswoman sending letters to a bunch of college presidents about the backgrounds of professors whose writing she doesn’t like. And these are scientists, by the way, and they doubt certain things that it’s a crime or a thought crime to doubt. And she wants to know details of who gives them money and stuff like this.

HH: Wow.

LA: And in other words, you know, and by the way, her job, she swears an oath to the Constitution, the purpose which is protect our freedom to say what we want. And that, all of that, I mean, that just seems, it’s very dangerous times right now, and this document that we’re studying, by the way, is the thing that has done the best in human history at assembling power for the protection of rights and restraining its use to the protection of rights. And that’s why it’s worth studying.

HH: And more of it, more of it next week when we return to the essential character of the people of the founding, and why it can educate and illumine both our excellences today and our deficiencies. Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, thank you. All of the Hillsdale Dialogues are available at You can also go to to sign up right now for Constitution 101. If you like a little bit of this stuff, the 30 minutes we give you each week, then give yourself the hours and hours and hours that the Hillsdale Dialogues provide you, over a hundred. And the online courses, whether Constitution 101, whether the Federalist Papers, whether the progressive era, whether the presidency and the Constitution, they are all available, they are all absolutely free. Adopt them into your curriculum, secondary school teachers. If you’re a homeschooler, use them all. And get Imprimis, absolutely free, the speech digest with the most for you on a monthly basis. All you have to do is go to

End of interview.


Listen Commercial FREE  |  On-Demand
Login Join
Advertise with us Advertisement
Book Hugh Hewitt as a speaker for your meeting

Follow Hugh Hewitt

The Hugh Hewitt Show - Mobile App

Download from App Store Get it on Google play
Friends and Allies of Rome