Q&A Richard Gilder & Lewis Lehrman with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb
Lewis Lehrman & Richard Gilder, Co-Founders, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
LAMB: Richard Gilder, can you remember the first time you met Lew Lehrman?
RICHARD GILDER: Yes, I can - vividly. You know, I’m a stockbroker, and interested in growth stocks, especially. And there was this exciting story called Rite-Aid somewhere in Pennsylvania. I mean, everywhere in Pennsylvania is somewhere in Pennsylvania. This happened to be near Harrisburg.
So, we hiked down there, and Lew and his brother-in-law are running this company. And Lew was all business. I mean, this was a great stock, and I was doing very badly in the market then. It must have been ‘69 or ‘70. I was just having a dreadful year. I’d started the firm a year earlier. We’re down 80 percent.
And so I only held Rite-Aid - it was one of the few stocks I bought that went up that year. And I just was so excited I sold it.
But Lew was - I mean, he was right on the ball, smart as hell. He didn’t smile. I don’t think his lips - you know, we got about an inch and a half, that was the most.
He was the outside man, making acquisitions, but had the strategy. His brother-in-law was the inside guy, dealing with the unions and the internal controls and the merchandise. So, they were a terrific team.
But I was - never forgot that - even though a) because it was one of the few stocks that went up that year for me, and b) you don’t meet a guy like Lew that often. And so, I had this riveting impression of him.
And some years later, he had left Rite Aid, come to New York, which was beginning his public service career. And he formed Lehrman Corporation. It may have been formed before, but this must have been, say, nine years later - eight, nine, years later - ‘78 - something like that.
And a mutual friend said, “Let’s have breakfast with Lew. He’s looking for investment ideas.”
So I did. And I told him about a stock called Federal Express which just went public, and I was all excited about it, and how terrific it was. And here we are at breakfast, and Lew said, “OK. Buy me 5,000 shares.”
I mean, that’s a nice order, believe me, for a stockbroker. So, I don’t know, must’ve been 50-odd. You know, we had it bought in about a minute and a half.
And not two or three weeks later, something happened, you know, knocked the stock down 10 points. He’s got a 10-point loss. And I’ve got egg, you know, over various parts of my face.
But I called and said, “You know, Lew, stock’s down 10. But I don’t think it’s real important. Their earnings missed by a penny. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. This is a super story.” You know, I’m, you know, trying to get the egg off, you know, with some degree of gentility.
And he says, “So, it sounds like I should buy some more.”
I said to myself, “Is he kidding?” I said, “By all means, Lew.”
He said, “Fine. Buy me another 5,000.”
Now, that doesn’t happen often in life. So, that was the beginning of just a great friendship.
LAMB: Lew Lehrman, what do you remember from the first time you met Richard Gilder?
LEW LEHRMAN: A guy who looks just the way he does now - outstanding salesman, extremely energetic, very shrewd, always asking questions that were very difficult to answer.
This meeting that we had when I was at Rite Aid wasn’t as crucial, though, as the relationship we established. I left Rite Aid in 1977 and, as Dick said, established an investment firm. And at that time, Dick and I noticed our philosophical agreements on certain political questions, political issues, the importance of growth for the American economy and, well, people from all walks of life.
So, that meeting - or, I should say, that part of our relationship inaugurated a partnership which has found its way into public life, politics, and the teaching of American history.
LAMB: Do you have any idea, combined, how much money you two have spent on history since 1994?
LEHRMAN: Well, Dick, you’re the numbers guy.
GILDER: Yes. Well, the documents probably are the large part of it. But I would guess between, I don’t know, 125 and 150 million, something like that.
LAMB: Is it equal? Did both of you put in equal?
LEHRMAN: No. I should answer that.
I mean, Dick is - well, there are some people who know how astoundingly successful he has been as an investor and in the investment business. And I can say that unselfconsciously because it’s true.
And he has been what some have described as the 800-pound gorilla in our American history partnership for both teaching, collecting and organizing curriculum for the rebuilding and restoring of American history - let’s call it preeminence.
LAMB: Take the 125 million and then take out your collection for a moment, and how much have you spent on teachers and the institute and the prizes and stuff like that? Any way of dividing them?
LEHRMAN: I - rough, rough, rough - I mean, super-rough - I never thought about it this way. My guess is 100 million, maybe, on the documents, and 25 to 50 on the programs.
LAMB: Why do you do it?
LEHRMAN: Well, the documents were the original initiative that Dick and I planned and executed together on a - really, on a business plan.
And the notion was that, throughout America - unlike most European countries, or almost any other foreign country, the great documents of American history are still often in private hands - families. And they do not exhibit these, nor do they make them available to scholars, researchers or students.
And so, the teaching side of the building of the collection was to get all of these documents, manuscripts, treaties, that formed the - you know, the structure of American history from the colonial period to the present out of these private hands and get them into a place where they could be serving American students, American teachers, not to mention, you know, Americans from all walks of life who are interested in document-based study and biography in American history.
The second thing was, we thought it was underappreciated, if I may, as an investment opportunity.
So we had two criteria: one, it had to be a document that was truly a substantive document saying something important about American history that others would profit from studying and reading even as elementary or secondary school students.
The second was that the document, not being obscure, might also have a - an investment value, because that often is a very good test of how much a document will be appreciated by the market - by those to whom we really wanted to make it available.
On the whole, both judgments, I think, over a period of - let’s see, 16 years now - have worked out.
LAMB: What document did you pay the most for?
GILDER: Was it a document or maybe a statue?
LEHRMAN: It was - it was the bust of Thomas Jefferson.
LAMB: Where did you buy it? When did you buy it?
GILDER: You got to understand, in our relationship, I don’t have the patience to be a collector. And I don’t have the knowledge, either. Lew does the work. I mean, he is a - he taught history, he understands it - well, I’ve learned a great deal about it.
But Lew is a Carnegie fellow, he taught at Yale and Harvard, and was only called away because the family business needed him. He could have been teaching today, for all we know, because he loved it - and especially Mr. Lincoln.
So, Lew has had the responsibility of building the collection, building the network of dealers, reading up, doing all the things that collectors do.
One day, I got a call from him because he - on any important purchase, you know, he’s a - he’s well-mannered, wants to call me and let me have some of the blame. So he said, “There’s this Houdin bust of Mr. Jefferson’s that come on the market.”
I was a - no, I was not a trustee of Monticello. I’ve been since, but I wasn’t at the time. And Lew said, “It’s going to cost, you know, seven figures - low seven - it’s going to be in the millions.”
And I said, “Lew, don’t we have enough on our plate to collect documents and maps and broadsides and all that? I mean, once you get into works of art, isn’t that a whole ‘nother (ph) league? But I’ll leave it to - I’m against it, but I’ll leave it to you.”
So, of course he bought it. And it was a fabulous acquisition. It got us involved with Monticello. I served - and still do serve - as a trustee. It’s one of the top boards I’ve ever been on. They accomplished so much in these last 10 (INAUDIBLE), and had begun, well before I got on the board, with the momentum.
We are now editing the Jefferson Papers - the retirement years - down there. We’ve built the Jefferson Library. We have the International Center for Jefferson Studies. Scholars come from all over the world.
And when we - the minute we bought it - they’re so on the ball - we got this call from Dan Jerdan (ph), “Could we borrow - could we borrow your bust? We’d love it to have it right in a prominent place.”
So, I don’t happen to like to look at statues. Lew was on the acquisition hunt. So, we said, “Sure.” And we got to know him that way. I got on the board. Lew’s been down there a number of times.
And I love to tell this story because it makes Lew look good, it makes me look like willing to go along, you see?
I mean, in other words, if you don’t have the brainpower, find someone who does. I’ve had fabulous partners - and especially Lew - in my life. So I did.
LAMB: What is the Gilmer - Gilder Lehrman Institute?
LEHRMAN: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was established - I believe it was in 1994. And it was sort of an organic outgrowth of the work that Dick and I did together on building this collection.
And in order to deploy the collection, in order to make it a mechanism for teaching American history, we felt we needed an enterprise - active enterprise. And thus, the name Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
And the idea was, at the beginning, to start by sponsoring lectures on American history by distinguished American historians and biographers, which we did. And that gave rise to our relationship with David Brion Davis, a - probably the founder - I think, in fact, the founder of modern global slavery studies and, in particular, the Atlantic slave trade. And David Brion Davis was the Sterling Professor of History at Yale. And he was one of our early lecturers.
And one thing led to another, and we established, almost at the same time, the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University for the study of slavery abolition, or slavery resistance and abolition.
So that these two enterprises, among a couple of others, have a purpose of recruiting teachers, establishing history high schools - of which there are now 29 full-time or part-time, summer seminars for the purpose of teaching high school teachers those - about those areas of American history - the revolution, the founding, the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War - that they may not know enough about.
They apply to - for these seminars, they get selected. Approximately 30 of them go to about 24 campuses in the United States and two in England - Oxford and Cambridge - annually during the summer. And there they are met with a curriculum - a systematically organized curriculum by the finest scholars in the field for this particular area that they're studying, the idea being they can carry these studies back.
These are just a few of the activities of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, but it's the active enterprise deploying the strategy for teaching American history.
LAMB: Mr. Gilder, where's the institute located physically?
GILDER: It's right here in New York.
GILDER: Well, we have a couple of offices. Our collection now is at the New York Historical Society and the people associated with that. We have another office on Vanderbilt Avenue - right around the corner - which takes care of the school operation.
You know, we now are asking people around the country to contribute to open a history high school in their town, or have a summer teaching seminar with their university - their local university. And it's going so well. People love to contribute to education, and our guys know how to do it.
So, we can kind of - let's say you live in Pittsburgh, you would like to have some high school teachers in Pittsburgh have this summer training experience. We'll organize the whole thing.
Maybe you'd like to start a history high school.
What's a history high school? It's a four-year typical high school, but the kids give up all their electives. So you take all the usual stuff you have to have - literature, math, science, and so forth - but you end up with a history course, at least one every year, sometimes two. And you end up knowing a lot about American history after those four years.
Because the way it's taught, generally speaking, if you happen to be out ill for a week, you're going to miss George Washington. At our schools, you're going to live with George Washington for six weeks.
Same thing with the Civil War. In our - as we got more and more into it we realized, the more we got involved, the more shocking we felt people's lack of understanding of our great story is.
And here's the only country built on ideas, and these ideas have got to be mastered. I'd like to inject them in every person. You know, all men are created equal - I mean, just start with that. And the sacrifice that all these people made. And the mistakes we've made, and the slavery experience, and the terrible stuff. And yet here we are, this fabulous country. And people take it for granted.
And, I mean, I just feel so grateful, you know, that my ancestors came here 150 years ago. I mean, I'm thrilled. But I still - I still feel grateful for it.
LAMB: Where did your folks come from originally?
GILDER: My mother's side were Alsatian Jews, and my father's side were Bohemian Jews. This was around 1830, 1840. They came over, they had a few bucks.
My mother's side went south to Mississippi and Louisiana, where they spoke French. And Dad's crowd just went right to New York.
LAMB: Lew Lehrman, what about your family? Where are they all from originally?
LEHRMAN: Well, the granddaddy that I knew the best, a real hero in my life, was a - was a Louis Lehrman - L-O-U-I-S, whereas I'm L-E-W-I-S.
And he came here approximately 110 years ago. And he was from Western Russian, whereas my mother's side was from the Baltic. I'm not sure exactly all the little towns they lived in.
They also were Jewish immigrants, but unlike Dick's well-heeled Bohemian immigrants, mine were penniless.
And my grandfather actually was one of eight brothers, all of whom eventually came here, although I didn't know all of them.
My grandpa went west to Indiana, and then he settled in Central Pennsylvania. And as a result, we were very much a part of the community. It was a wonderful, open community where I grew up.
And my grandfather made a modest success. He was a grocer. My daddy was a grocer.
My mother, stemming from this Baltic side of the family, so to speak - she was the one who wanted to make sure I got a good education. And she was the one who encouraged (ph) every student impulse in me. So I wound up getting good grades, wound up going to Yale.
And I can tell a story about my grandfather that I think is - tells the kind of background I - that I did come from - a patriotic, unselfconscious, unapologetic American commitment (ph).
When Grandpa was near death, I was at Yale, in my first year, I think.
LAMB: You were a '60 graduate?
LEHRMAN: Yes. So this was 1956, I believe.
And I told Grandpa, when I visited him at his apartment, that I was thinking of doing what every Yale undergraduate thought was a really very special to do - I was thinking of making a European trip to see all about European culture.
My grandfather was scandalized. What would you ever want to do going to Europe? I mean, everything is here in America. This is the new Jerusalem. This is a place that has everything that you need and everything that you can see.
And I tried to persuade Grandpa that there were things that he may have not known in Europe that I wanted to see. But he was not to be persuaded. He (ph) was all about America.
LAMB: And you were '54 Yale. And I want to ask you the Yale question. What difference did it make to the two of you that you started at Yale with your college stuff?
GILDER: That was a coincidence, but I always - I always look up to Yale people.
I was a legacy. My father was class of '25; and my uncle, class of '34 chef (ph). So, you know, I kind of got greased in back there in 1950, when I graduated from the Mount Hermon School.
Lew had to work to get in.
LAMB: But what is Yale? I mean, what is the importance of Yale to â€¦
GILDER: Well, Yale has always had a fabulous history department, and did in those days, too.
But I was - I was just brought up by my father to love Yale. I mean, he never said a word - that I had to apply or should apply. But, you know, in class of '25, he was a bit of an outsider, being a Jewish guy, in those days. Although there were still good number, but nothing like as many as when I was there - maybe eight percent, nine, percent when I was there. But he loved the place.
LAMB: Let me ask you both about - and I don't have the facts of it, you just reminded me of it, but Professor Donald Kagan, who's at Yale - there was an attempt to underwrite a chair on his behalf. And I don't remember - were you involved in that?
GILDER: No, no, but I know the story.
LAMB: But the reason I bring it up is because you are both periodically criticized for wanting your conservative agenda - to push your conservative agenda through this history stuff. And I want to talk a little bit about that.
But go - why did - what happened to the Donald Kagan story?
GILDER: That was the Bass - one of the Bass [inaudible]
LEHRMAN: It was Lee.
GILDER: [inaudible]family. Lee Bass [inaudible]
GILDER: [inaudible]felt that history was unbalanced at Yale - which I think it probably still is. And not having anything like what Princeton has, with the Bobby George (ph) Madison Center there.
And he undertook to change that, I guess, through Donald Kagan, who is probably on the conservative side.
And I think what really happened was that, just as that was going on, Rick Levin, Yale's, I think terrific, president, had just come on the scene. There was a little bit of a budget crunch, and they agreed to sort of have (a) across-the-board, departmental, every department, three percent to five percent cut.
And so they went right to Kagan and said, "You're going to have to cut this program."
Word got back to Lee Bass, who said, "Nonsense. We're not going to do that. Our money's the same."
And the Yale faculty wasn't too thrilled anyway with an outside investor donor dictating academic policy. You know, that's very hard to do. That's sacred ground as far as these tenured professors are concerned - so, a combination of things.
And finally, Bass said, "I want to have control over the faculty appointments in the department." Well, of course, that's - anybody - that is a no-no anywhere. So, on that basis, they had to turn down the gift.
LAMB: We'll take that up - go to Lew Lehrman on this, the Alexander Hamilton exhibit that you all are behind at the New York Historical Society. The criticism that I read, that you two wanted to engineer a - the Hamilton exhibit for purposes to further your own political beliefs because Hamilton represents you more, say, than some of the other people in history. Start with that. What's your reaction when you read that criticism?
LEHRMAN: Well, the issue - Alexander Hamilton is an historical one and, of course, he (ph) can always become a philosophical divide. Alexander Hamilton was one of the greatest of the founders. He had virtually disappeared from the pantheon of American founders as early as the post-New Deal period.
He was the man who created our financial statecraft. He was the man who founded our central bank. He reorganized the finances a - really, an utterly bankrupt Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War and gave rise to the post-Constitution Convention economic boom as a result of stabilizing the financing and the ...
GILDER: Wrote the Federalists Papers on which the Constitution was based.
LEHRMAN:... and so, yes, he was a man for all seasons, even though he had his flaws. And we believe that, first, the New York Historical Society, being established in 1804, Alexander Hamilton having been killed in a duel in 1804, and the New York Historical Society inaugurating its 200th anniversary, it was perfect.
Here was this immigrant from the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton, penniless 15-year-old boy who comes to America, creates the truly extraordinary American story. What could be better?
He founded the "New York Post." He founded the Bank of New York. He probably was - is the greatest New Yorker, although one can make a reasonable dispute on that. What better way to lead with the New York Historical Society Bicentennial, or in New York, with a figure so prominent in the founding, and a New Yorker of which we do not have as many, perhaps, as we would like at the New York Historical Society.
Well, Alexander Hamilton was also, in many respects, thought to be a conservative. Jefferson himself, a slaveholder, certainly had conservative attitudes toward some institutions. And Jefferson had always gotten the pass on being a Libertarian, so to speak, given some of the things that he had to say.
Well, it simply isn't a full and robust story about this terrific conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson. And like the Lee Bass story, which Dick just mentioned, Lee's desire was to establish a program in western civilization at Yale, you see, which had been dropped. Now, you can view that as a controversial ideological thing, or you can just talk about embracing the study of the background of American history and of all of the culture of Athens, Jerusalem, Rome and the United States of America, which, I think, was Lee Bass' intention.
Well, it became controversial, also, on philosophical grounds. So, too, did the Alexander Hamilton exhibit, instead of - some on the left, so to speak, or some dissident interpreters, saw it as an attempt to - because Dick and I had just joined the board of the New York Historical Society, wanted Alexander Hamilton to be the primary vehicle for the restoration of the New York Historical Society.
LAMB: Let me ask you, Mr. Gilder, this question. Why is it that college professors are allowed to say and write anything they want to about history, but when somebody like you gets into it, there's automatic criticism for your particular views?
GILDER: Oh, you know, I don't even mind that. I can't answer the question, because it's a tough - I hate any tough questions, you know that. But Lew ran for governor. He got the conservative nomination before he got the Republican nomination ...
LAMB: In '82.
LEHRMAN: In 1982.
GILDER: ... and lost by a hair. And I supported him every inch of the way. Raised some money for him, and got my first taste of politics.
But, frankly, I didn't mind any of the publicity, because the New York Historical Society has been sort of a back number (ph), you know, it's right next to the American Museum of Natural History, that has millions of visitors a year. I'm a trustee there too, so I know the numbers, and they do a fabulous job - although all of that, in the last 12 to 13 years since Ellen Futter and Lewis Bernard as chairman are doing a dandy job there.
Couldn't we reinvigorate this organization? And they wanted us to. In other words, they felt we had - the existing board had preserved the place, had saved it.
Betsy Gotbaum (ph) had come and it was closed a few days a week, back in the early '90s and this board did a darn good job of stabilizing it, doubling the budget, bringing in some money through various techniques, but now they're ready for growth. And they knew that what they had, they really couldn't grow. They needed some more energy and a few bucks and so forth, and so Lew and I were invited to join.
Our collection is now there on deposit. We invested $1 million for a vault for it, lovely headquarters, and the place is getting exciting. We're going to have a slavery show in the fall, which will be really interesting. Slavery in New York, how - what part did slavery play in the development of New York City? How did New York City, itself, encourage slavery? Or did it? And how has it affected the story of this town? Fascinating. And where that's going to be, politically, who the heck knows.
If you look at our advisory board, on the Gilder Lehrman Institute, we have lots of folks on all sides of the political spectrum, probably more left than right. We have Eric Foner, for example, Joyce Appleby, David Brion Davis, calls himself a liberal, I think most ...
LAMB: You have Arthur Schlesinger.
GILDER: We have Arthur Schlesinger. And they all come to meetings and they contribute.
LAMB: And the Burnses, both Ric and Ken Burns.
LAMB: That's not an assigning - I don't know what their politics are, but how do you get people like that to serve on your advisory board?
GILDER: Because they know we love history. And I don't care where you come from, and neither does Lew. What we want is to be interested and love American history.
You want to come at it and say, "Well, ours is a great story of communism," fine. As Arthur Schlesinger said, the only way you can overcome a bad idea is with a good idea. So, we'll have lots more controversy, discussion. We'll bet on the great American story.
LAMB: Do either one of you ever get - feel like there's an enormous amount of pressure coming at you because it's the money people are after?
LEHRMAN: Well, there's no doubt that people are interested in having Dick and me invest in their ideas, their programs, their books, their seminars, although it is not quite so craven as politics. I'll never forget Henry Kissinger's comment to me when I was running for governor, he said, "Lewis," he said, "there's nothing so craven as a politician looking for money."
So, in the case of scholars and teachers, you know, on the whole, they're driven not by financial incentives or rewards, they're driven by a great desire to teach, in our case, American history.
Now, if they have a point of view which is different from mine or different from Dick's, as David Brion Davis, the historian and professor of history said, "Not a single person in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History programs has ever received either a direct or an indirect influence from either of us."
So, in investing, so to speak, in the teaching of American history, we begin with the view that, if you love your country, you will love American history. And if you are disappointed with the institution of slavery and its history, which we teach, you will be exalted by the fact that America emancipated the slaves, and that Pennsylvania was the first sovereign jurisdiction in the world to emancipate its slaves voluntarily.
So, for us, the story of slavery is as much the story of emancipation as it is of slavery. And as a result, whether one is on the left or on the right, he can feel very comfortable about getting a hearing from both Dick and me, as well as the very talented people - which we should talk a little bit about - who run not only the collection, but the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, as well as the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale.
LAMB: Let me ask you about the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History headquartered here in New York City. How many people work there?
LEHRMAN: I'd like to tell you, but I don't - because the number keeps changing, but I think we probably have 15 or 16, you know, Vanderbilt they have a new (ph) office, and probably another six, seven up at the New York Historical Society.
GILDER: Is that about right?
LEHRMAN: We have a few more. And also, the staff increases with interns, who are extremely capable because they're recruited because of their inspiration.
LAMB: How much does it cost a year to run the Institute?
GILDER: Well, let's say it's probably somewhere between - and it's not that I'm being coy, I don't really know - but my hunch is, strong hunch, it's probably, say, between $1 million and $10 million, somewhere in the middle there.
LAMB: Between one and 10?
GILDER: I don't want to be wrong, you see.
LAMB: Do you know, Mr. Lehrman?
LEHRMAN: I think Dick's is a good first approximation since, you see, we don't disclose all of the financials, although we produce an annual report, and our report is disclosed for tax purposes. It's not something that we've been anxious to advertise.
LAMB: Why is that?
LEHRMAN: Well, we're most interested in the substance of what we do. We want people to judge us on the substance. And as a result of the fact that we do a lot of the financing internally, although we have increasingly raise funds externally from foundations, individuals, even government programs, recently a federal government program for teaching, we don't want to be distracted by the amount of money that is invested. We want people to judge the quality of the work.
LAMB: Is that set up as an endowment or do you both have to come up with the money every year?
GILDER: No, it's annual. And the philosophy, or theory, or anything, of what Lew and I do, is we provide the stability. So, the organization, a few years ago, was pretty much New York-based or Eastern-based, the growth part, where we now are moving all over the country. We have programs in 50 states. We have teachers who come to our seminars, all these history - 20 - how many history high schools? All of those are with - much of that is with outside money. So, the growth part is what we're now appealing - so, it's the public investors.
LEHRMAN: It needs to be said - Dick won't say it about himself - but Dick is, in every significant respect, the senior partner in this effort. He has - he's just been unstinting in the scale of the investment to launch the enterprise. I mean, you can't go out and sell shares to the public for a new private enterprise in order to get something this big and this concentrated on doing things according to the very highest standards of academic and scholarly excellence without a very huge upfront investment. Dick made that commitment.
LAMB: Let me ask you about things that you do at the Institute. For instance, you are the ones that underwrite the Lincoln Prize every year, based at Gettysburg College. How long have you done this? And when did it start? And why did it start?
GILDER: Are we in the 15th year? You know the story.
LEHRMAN: The 15th, yes, the 15th year.
LAMB: I read that Ken Burns was your first, in '91 or '92.
LEHRMAN: That's right.
GILDER: He was the first. Well, actually Gettysburg, there's a marvelous teacher there, named Gabor Boritt (ph), Hungarian-born, and very enterprising. And he and Gordon Haaland (ph), then president, sought Lew out as a known Lincoln scholar who had this reputation as a retail millionaire, thanks to his Rite Aid success. Would he back this prize?
And Lew had known that I was interested in battlefield preservation, and so he proposed that I join in in this. And I said, "Delighted." And Gettysburg was thrilled.
So, we flew down there. And they said, "Well, you know, the Pulitzer prize is $3,000 a year. We think the Lincoln Prize should be $5,000." So, I said - you know, Wall Street type - "Well, you know, people would pay $3,000 for the Pulitzer Prize. It isn't the money. But here, this is a new prize. Let's make it $50,000 to get people's attention."
So, it's the largest academic prize, and it is created by the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute at Gettysburg College. I wanted to call it the Lincoln and Soldiers prize, but Lew and the others, I think wisely, said, "Look, Lincoln - let's make it about Mr. Lincoln." I wanted the soldiers because that's the marketplace. Mr. Lincoln's brilliance had to be ratified by the troops.
LAMB: How do you win it every year? And again, is it an endowment at Gettysburg?
LEHRMAN: It is an endowment. It's a modest endowment, but it's necessary, and it's sufficient to take care of all the costs associated with the effort to pick the winner. And we established in the very beginning, a constitution of the prize. We, every year, under Gabor Boritt's (ph) chairmanship, select independent jurymen and jurywomen to canvass every book that is being published on the antebellum era, the era of the Civil War and Mr. Lincoln, as well as ...
GILDER: And works of art.
LEHRMAN: Works of art, a museum exhibitions, public television - like Ken Burns' 11-hour series - and, after canvassing all that's been published in, for example, the year 2004, the jury makes a selection of one, two, three, sometimes four finalists, and they sometimes recommend the order in which they prefer them.
The constitution of the prize requires the trustees of the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute then to review the jurymen's selections. They make a presentation to the trustees, and then the trustees go into a - I don't know whether you would call it an executive session, where they deliberate on the recommendations of the jury.
The trustees must choose a book chosen by the jurymen, but not necessarily in the order that, perhaps, the jurymen recommended them. And, in general, the trustees have consistently selected what the jury's recommended, but from time to time they have reversed the order from second to first place, from first to second, all, of course, being named finalists.
LAMB: Do you have anything to say about who the winner is, either one of you?
GILDER: We're on the seven-person board, and Lew and I and Jim Basker (ph), who's our president, are three of the seven members. The others are Gettysburg people - Gettysburg trustees or maybe outside people who collect Lincolnia (ph).
LAMB: Do you ever let your personal feelings get into the decision process?
GILDER: All the time. You know, we're human. I mean, I may love a book and Lew may not and I just, you know, I love this book. And here's why. And I think other people will love it, too. You know, and we go back and forth.
LAMB: And what about the Douglass prize? When did that start and what is - that's $25,000.
GILDER: That's right.
LEHRMAN: Yeah, that started about six years later.
GILDER: Well, first we created the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery Resistance and Abolition ...
GILDER: At Yale. And that was based, really, on the work of David Brion Davis, who's a Sterling Professor of History. Yale was willing to do it - they weren't thrilled about it, but they were willing to do it. But lately, since then, the center's done real well.
LAMB: So, the Douglass prize goes to - what kind of winner?
LEHRMAN: The Douglass prize is selected very much, according to the same standards as the Lincoln prize. While it's done within the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, and it's gone ...
LAMB: It's Frederick Douglass, by the way.
LEHRMAN: That's right.
LAMB: And why is it ...
LEHRMAN: Frederick Douglass is the great black abolitionist who is known by many, but should be known by all. And we felt that it was important to name a book having to do, that year, with ...
LAMB: Why only $25,000 versus the $50,000?
GILDER: There are fewer books. It's a much thinner subject. We have about 150 submissions for the Lincoln Prize each year, on average. The Frederick Douglass prize might have maybe 40 to 50, anything on (ph) the world about slavery.
LAMB: Are you involved in that decision also?
GILDER: Also, we are, same way.
LAMB: Same seven-person board?
GILDER: Yale is a little starchier than Gettysburg, so they - you know, we had to work out a little bit more delicate balance to make sure the Yale faculty had proper, you know ...
LAMB: Well, this year, Ron Chernow won your new Washington Prize from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, $50,000, again. Well, Ron Chernow wrote a book about Alexander Hamilton, so explain that one.
LEHRMAN: Well, that's a great story because there's no question about Hamilton studies on the merits have risen almost exponentially, just in the last 10 years. And almost immediately after we established the Lincoln Prize, Dick and I started talking about the importance of the Founders Prize, or a Founders Prize to zero in on the Revolutionary period and the founding period.
And it's taken us 10 years to get there, but thanks to Mount Vernon, the Ladies of Mount Vernon, the Regents of Mount Vernon, Washington College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the decision was made to call it the Washington Prize, and this is the first.
And Chernow's book on Hamilton is a path-breaking book. I mean, others have called it monumental, it gets the customary adjective magisterial, but what it does, it covers Alexander Hamilton's life in its entirety, from its exalted achievement to some of the more disappointing aspects, like his adulterous affair, which he himself exposed to the public in order to save his reputation as a punctilious secretary of the Treasury.
And, of course, there were many fine books that were competing with Chernow's Hamilton, such as Gordon Wood's Benjamin Franklin. But, the Chernow book was a unique contribution building on the work that had been done, for example, by Rick Brookhiser, who wrote the Alexander Hamilton biography, I think, in 1998.
LAMB: And wrote your exhibits that you did over at the New York Historical Society.
GILDER: That's true.
LEHRMAN: That's right. He was the natural to do it because, in fact, Rick Brookhiser was one of the, you might call, the founders of the studies of Alexander Hamilton in the '90s, which had really, generally, been forgotten in the eddies of American historical studies.
LAMB: Now, as the Washington Prize in endowed like the other two? Same thing?
LEHRMAN: It's financed very similarly by contributions from all three parties, both on the intellectual side, which is to say in this selection of the jury and the trustees, and on the financial side.
LAMB: And, you both are involved in that selection also?
LEHRMAN: We are.
LAMB: Do you have any other prizes in store for history buffs?
GILDER: Well, we do give - last year we started awarding prizes to history teachers. And, Jim Basker - brilliant idea - we pulled together a group of education folks from every state and we said, "Now please, each of you, pick the best history teacher in your state." And they did. And then the 50 teachers, themselves, selected the number one teacher. We had a presentation, by the First Lady of the New York Historical Society a few months ago, for this wonderful teacher from Michigan.
Those are all $1,000 prizes. Every teacher gets $1,000 and the winner an extra $1,000, but we might enlarge that. We have History Round-table Prizes for kids who write about the Civil War, Civil War focused essays ...
LAMB: What's the best way for people listening say, "How do I find out about all of this?" What's the best way to find out?
GILDER: Well, that's the Web site.
LAMB: The Web site, and do you know the address? We'll have it on the screen.
LEHRMAN: gilderlehrman.org, or something?
GILDER: Yes. www.gilderlehrman.org
LAMB: And, that's the best way to interact with what you all do.
LEHRMAN: Because, you'll see there are links to other Web sites that are integrated into our American History Teaching Program, so that would, you know, the best. Now, there is an online search for our entire collection, of which there are 60,000 items.
And it goes without saying, that Dick and I did not prepare that online search. Sandy Trenholm and her team at the New York Historical Society - an extraordinary curatorial team, which is seven or eight in number, but expand with interns - have probably made the most, I think it's probably the most useful American historical collection of original manuscripts and documents available for focused study by students, literally, at every level: secondary, high school, college.
LAMB: Let me go to that History High School Program that you talked about. Somebody is watching, saying, "I want to be one of those high schools," what's - what do they get if they can get you to get interested in what they do? Is there money involved in it?
GILDER: I'm not quite sure what you are asking me?
LAMB: If you're a history high school ...
LAMB: ... in other words, one of your Gilder Lehrman History High Schools ...
GILDER: I see.
LAMB: ... I mean, how - what benefit is it?
GILDER: Well, we provide the know-how. These are public schools, so they're going to be funded by whatever municipality, you know, whatever state it's - the town is in. But, we provide the lesson plans, we'll train the teachers, if necessary. We're happy to have them come to our summer seminars. We provide textbook aids. The whole Web site is available, which, is just one teaching skill. We have like 150,000 teachers - 150,000 unique users of our Web site, most of whom are teachers.
LAMB: But do you run into the possibility that a teacher says, out in a high school, "I don't need Gilder Lehrman to tell me how to teach history?"
LEHRMAN: Well, there's no question but that they're free to do that, and they're free to do that especially after they examine the workbooks - curriculums that have been prepared for teaching American History. I think I have received two or three letters in the entire history of our programs where there have been objections to the way that we've gone about it and the rate of growth of the number of users, like 250,000 careful visits to our Web site, clearly, representing not only teachers, but students, making use of the Web site for teaching ...
LAMB: Is that daily or monthly or ...
LEHRMAN: Annually. And it's - we just ...
GILDER: Unique users.
LAMB: These are the ...
GILDER: So, they may use it 50 times.
LEHRMAN: Yes. There's about 1.5 million hits or - I'm not really sure of number of hits, but yes, 250,000 users. I don't know how that would be rated by the specialists and statistics of Web site usage, but, you know, our Web site has only been up in the form of it presently is for a few years, I think, three, and it's been, that scale of it and the scale of it and its utility has been intensified and its been growing. The number of visits have been doubling every year, since we launched it.
LAMB: Let me ask you both about your own personal interest in history. If you had to name one or two people, that would be your favorite historical figures, who would they be?
GILDER: Well, Lew will say Abraham Lincoln, and it's very hard to (INAUDIBLE) say that, but I don't want to be, you know, duplicate his -- I've always thought Henry Clay was an underrated American.
GILDER: Because he had the whole idea of growth. I'm just big on growth.
LAMB: You also are behind something called the Fund for Growth.
GILDER: The Club for Growth.
LAMB: I mean, the Club for Growth, which is a political ...
GILDER: That's right.
LAMB: ... based foundation.
GILDER: That's right. It's based on sort of, a Reagan program, on the economic side. We strictly stick to economics: lower taxes, smaller government.
LAMB: Did you start that? The Club for Growth?
GILDER: I was one of the founders of it. Yes.
LAMB: And when did that start?
GILDER: That started around 2000, or 1999, maybe.
LAMB: And it was run by Steven Moore?
GILDER: It was run by Steven Moore. And now it said run by a terrific guy compact to me Pat Toomey, who almost became Senator from Pennsylvania, lost by a hair to Arlen Specter.
LAMB: Go back to Henry Clay though: growth.
GILDER: Well Clay was all for the program which was finally - I mean Mr. Lincoln was also a Whig and the Whigs were a growth party. So he wanted better highways, better navigation, ultimately, that theory led to be to the Transcontinental Railway, Land Grant colleges, Homestead Act, I mean growth, growth, growth.
And he was from Kentucky, so, a southerner, a slave holding state. And yet - all of his in-laws and relative were slaveholders - and yet, every one of those ideas he had, in a way was antislavery. So, I think clay with the remarkable guy. And various things he - various weaknesses he had, maybe kept him from the presidency. But I think - just as an honest stock guy, so I'd I like - I mean, history is a big, to me, opportunity, because it should have tons of attention and has very little.
LAMB: How much of your life nowadays is still being a stockbroker?
GILDER: Oh, I work full-time. I love the business. Don't get me wrong, I'm just back from Asia and I'm going - I mean, I'm just - I going to Kansas City today to see clients and explain to them why we're doing so lousy this year.
And, believe me, I'm up to my ears in it. But I love history too, I've been 15-20 hours a week on the New York Historical Society, which is going to be one of the great institutions, not just of our city, but of our country.
LAMB: Now, Lew Lehrman, Lincoln is obvious, is there anybody but Lincoln, that you would pick?
LEHRMAN: Well, you know, one could say - before we leave Mr. Lincoln, one could say about him, exactly what Dick said about Henry Clay. This was a man, who probably was the - Mr. Lincoln was the best-prepared man in economic philosophy, economic theory and economic institutions.
Most, people forget, that Mr. Lincoln, not only was a pro-growth man and a Whig all of his life, but up until 1854, he had spent his entire life in American politics, talking about the principles of economic growth. How we can make America a prosperous country, for all people from all walks of life. And, of course he was antislavery from the very beginning and didn't have the burden of owning slaves being, in principle, against slavery, like Mr. Clay or Thomas Jefferson.
For me, Alexander Hamilton is, in addition to Mr. Lincoln, not least because his greatness has been overlooked, and I think it's important for us to pay a lot of attention to those men and women who have been overlooked in the Pantheon.
In fact, American History can be said to be composed of hero's and heroine's, too many to enumerate. And, especially the unknown soldiers, the unknown immigrants, whose names will never get into history books, but who have - when you think about it, the Chinese immigrants who made the Transcontinental Railroad possible by pounding the spikes ...
GILDER: The Irish guys who built the Erie Canal.
GILDER: And the African's, ...
LEHRMAN: And the African Americans, I mean, 10 million of them transported through the Middle Passage, these are all hero's.
GILDER: But not to the U.S., most of them went to Brazil and ...
LEHRMAN: Fair enough.
LAMB: What would you both say to the cynics watching saying, "Well of course these two guys would like Alexander Hamilton or Henry Clay or Abraham Lincoln because they both have really done very well in this system and they're able, now, just to push through history their basic thoughts of it.
LEHRMAN: But, they set the example for us. I mean, Lincoln, in - he sets the example for us. He did not accept slavery in its present form. His campaign, after 1854, was to prohibit the extension of slavery into the territories, while respecting in every important aspect the Constitution of the United States.
This was a man who probably made the most significant decision of any commander-in-chief in - at war, in our country's history, by the Emancipation Proclamation in January. He sets the example, while it never takes away from the extraordinary story of the millions of unknown heroes of our history, and the same with Alexander Hamilton. Flawed, in many respects and temperament and excess, as some many of us are, but still, it did not keep him from making this extraordinary attribution to the founding of our country.
LAMB: Mr. Gilder, your name pops up in so many things, I just started writing them all down. You helped start the New York Sun, am I right about that?
GILDER: I'm one of the many investors.
LAMB: And Arthur Hertog, who's on your ...
GILDER: Roger Hertog.
LAMB: I'm sorry. Roger Hertog who's on your advisory committee, also ...
LAMB: ... helped start that. You are somewhat involved in the Manhattan Institute.
GILDER: Well, I'm less involved now. I was chairman, now I'm chairman emeritus.
LAMB: And what does that do?
GILDER: It's a so-called, think tank, which is trying to remove the obstacles to growth: educational, political, systematic. That's how I describe it. And they've done great. They have wonderful analysts who are working on -the published City Journal, which is a quarterly and it discusses activities in this state that could be improved, in the country at large, that could be improved. They use research to focus on problems and then come up with solutions.
LAMB: Mr. Lehrman, a good question, it seems to me, that for the future some of this stuff you say is endowed, some of it isn't. How are you planning for the day when neither one of you are involved in this anymore?
LEHRMAN: Well, in a word, we have outstanding people, like Jim Basker and Lesley Herrmann, who run the Gilder Lehrman Institute, Professor David Blight, at Yale, who is the director of the - an outstanding scholar who directs the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Abolition of Slavery Resistance.
We have great people in charge of the prizes, like Gabor Boritt at Gettysburg College, and one could go on. Sandy Trenholm, who is just a young lady, who is the Chief Curator of our collection, she happened to be the outstanding senior in my Lincoln seminar at Gettysburg College and after college came to work for us when the collection was still a very small thing.
So that, from a management standpoint, which is probably the most important thing, we just have outstanding leaders and executives. At the moment, we're the primary - we have the primary responsibility for financing it, but it would appear that if we look at the budget for 2005, that we will have raised as much as $1.5 million, perhaps even more, our hope is. This is only May. We'll have raised more from foundations, to whom we're making presentations, and to individuals who will help finance it.
LAMB: Before I forget it, you -- Rite Aid -- your association with Rite Aid, did you own Rite Aid?
LEHRMAN: I was the major - I think I was the largest stockholder, along with one other person. And in 19 - we built the company during the '60s and the '70s. In 1977, I resigned as president, never looked back. I guess, that's almost, 30 years ago.
LAMB: Are you still making money?
LEHRMAN: I have an investment business. I started out, as Dick said, looking for really smart guys who would help me find really good companies in my invest business and Dick was one of the first. We still have a very strong business relationship. I have my own investment company.
Although, in plain English, I tend to concentrate on Russia, at the moment, which I also think it's a country with a remarkable opportunity having been for 1,000 years oppressed first by the Mongols then by the Romanov Dynasty and then by the Bolsheviks, and here we have a country attempting to establish, using America to a certain extent, as a model, a constitutional republic and having all the problems associated with doing that.
LAMB: Mr. Gilder, let me ask you the same question I asked Mr. Lehrman about the future and the money and all for the Gilder Lehrman Institute. What happens when you're not involved?
GILDER: Well, that's a good question and an interesting one and we're in the early stage of being a growth stock, so I think our chore for the next - one of our big chores - for the next 10 years is to make darn sure that the continuity is there, whether it be our family or among our pro-history pals who have deep pockets and, it's true, this country's been good to us.
But when I got married, my biggest present was a $50 bill from my aunt. So, we've got tremendous opportunity and I think that American History shows that. So, there are plenty of people who love history, and I know ...
LAMB: Where do you want this to go between now and the next 10 years?
GILDER: You know, I wouldn't have thought it would be where was five years ago. The thing is, Jim Basker has had so many darn good ideas and Lew and I are in the wonderful position of saying, "That a boy Jim, keep it up, Jim, that's terrific, you should do more."
So if we can keep that - I know this sounds a little fatuous, but if we can keep attracting the people we can, they're going to make us look fabulous. Lew makes me look good now.
LAMB: Lew Lehrman, you have five children?
LEHRMAN: I do.
LAMB: And their ages?
LEHRMAN: Twenty-five to 34.
LAMB: Any of them interested in history?
LEHRMAN: They're all interested in history, although they do like to get out of my way when the subject comes up.
LAMB: And you have how many children?
GILDER: I have four.
LAMB: And any of them - what's the age range on them?
GILDER: Well, they're from say, 48 to about 41.
LAMB: Any of them interested?
GILDER: Well, my youngest is a Latin and Greek Professor and he's beginning to show an interest in history, so we're going to build on that a little bit.
LAMB: We only have a couple of minutes left, of all the things you're involved in in history, what's your favorite? Of all the different things that your - Gilder Lehrman Institute does, or even the teaching you do, what's your favorite?
LEHRMAN: And I get especially gratified when a classroom full of students, 80 percent of whom are immigrants or first generation, are asked to vote on who - whom do they prefer in the Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian conflict. And the last time I got a little vote on that, 80 percent voted for Hamilton and 20 percent voted for Jefferson.
LAMB: Mr. Gilder, I forgot to ask about this earlier, you - were you behind the statues of Hamilton and Burr, the ones with ...
GILDER: I wish I could take credit for that, but it was not my idea.
LAMB: Was it a part of this whole exhibit, I mean, you did help fund that?
GILDER: Oh, yes. Well, a lot of people helped fund the exhibit. We raised over $5 million for it.
LAMB: But the statute, those statues were mentioned by a lot of people ...
GILDER: Yes, and they're still there.
LAMB: ... why do you think they got people's attention?
GILDER: You know, you just can't help it, you see them there, A, they're small, you see the guns at different angles, there's nothing like a statue. I mean, the National Constitutional Center learned that and they have statues of all of the signers, it's a brilliant thing.
LAMB: And what about, we only have 30 seconds, your favorite thing of all this?
GILDER: Well, right now, I'm wildly excited about the combination of the Gilder and Lehrman Institute and the New York Historical Society. We have two different missions, but both focused on history. And Lew and I are working now, very hard, on the Historical Society, because Jim and Lesley and our team at GLI have done such a dandy job. There our job is to get out of the way, whereas here, our job is to get in the way. I like to get in the way.
LAMB: On that note, we'll get out of the way and we thank you, Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman.
LEHRMAN: Thank you.
GILDER: Thank you, Brian.
LAMB: Gilder Lehrman Institute for the Study of American History.
GILDER: Yes, sir.
LAMB: Thank you.