Logan Beirne is an Olin Searle Scholar at Yale Law School. Prior to this position, Logan was an attorney with the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, in New York City. Logan graduated at the top of his class from Fairfield University, was a Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University, and received his JD from Yale Law School, where he received the Edgar M. Cullen Prize for his Constitutional scholarship. Logan is admitted to the New York and Connecticut Bars and has served on the boards of directors for two charities: UnionDocs and Starting Artists. On a personal note, Logan is directly descended from Revolutionary War patriots and his family tree includes the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison. Some of Washington’s papers were discovered in his ancestor’s storage chest.
DWIGHT L. SCHWAB, JR.: What would you think the impact of “Blood of Tyrants” would be on the present day country?
LOGAN BEIRNE: The fundamental issues of what really are liberty and what is it to be an American. It’s facing challenges and looking at our Founding Father’s wisdom and the challenges they faced.
SCHWAB: In terms of that wisdom, what would be the Founding Father’s take on the present day debt crisis?
BEIRNE: The irony of all of this is why they created the Constitution. The debt was partly what brought the Constitution about in the first place. During the Revolutionary War, we became heavily indebted to the French who were our allies. They could have scoffed at the debt, but the founders thought of it as a moral obligation. They would say today that the debt is a top, top priority. Of course the numbers were not gigantic as they are today, but they were determined to pay it down as soon as possible.
SCHWAB: Speaking of 250-years-ago, is there really anything fundamentally different we face today as Americans that they didn’t back then? Maybe they’re just different words to explain it?
BEIRNE: In many ways that is true. Take drones for example. Washington did not have drones to play with.
SCHWAB: I thought he did.
BEIRNE: (Laughing) Killing was different then. Washington had trained sharpshooters, artillery, individuals who could go behind the lines and take out selected enemy combatants. The same principle of whom I am allowed to kill and who I shouldn’t. Not long ago President Obama gave a speech explaining how he limited the use of drones. Yet no word about American citizens until last week when it was revealed four had died in such attacks. That would have greatly troubled Washington. He believed his role was to defend his countrymen no matter what. Washington was not particularly interested in foreigners and their rights. He would not be gung ho about drone usage against foreigners, but very cautious about any use against Americans. Americans have the right of due process and the protection of the courts. There would be no American summarily executed during Washington’s tenure without full knowledge they were indeed working against their own country.
SCHWAB: Taking a turn on the subject, even Washington was not above scandals. He was accused of a nightly visit to a Jersey girl named Mary. (Laughter) When you look at something like that, which makes Bill Clinton look like a spring flower in the meadow, what would Washington and his countrymen have thought of the IRS auditing certain organizations or the Justice Department spying on journalists? What would the country had demanded?
BEIRNE: There have been huge consequences over the type of scandals we have today. Back then, aside from the Jersey girl flap, Washington’s second-in-command was caught in Martha Washington’s sitting room with a hussy. From all my research, Washington was very faithful to Martha. Scandals about Washington himself were generally gossip by his political enemies. Scandals like we have today would have been very threatening to a young country that was creating a government accountable to the people. They had just had a long war with London that they felt was destiny’s call to them as Americans. What we see today with the IRS and AP scandals is exactly what Washington and men of his times were trying to avoid.
SCHWAB: What would Washington, his cabinet, Congress – what would they have thought about terrorism? I’m sure we could equate it with some incidents from the past, but global terrorism? Washington was constantly warning Americans not to get involved with foreign entanglements.
BEIRNE: Washington was not afraid looking at foreign entanglements to say, “What’s in it for us?” He had a very selfish view of this country and didn’t apologize for it to anyone. Stay out of foreign entanglements and serve as an example to the world. Take Syria for example. What’s in it for us to get involved? You have all sorts of different countries involved one way or another there. They’re all in hate factions it seems that want to destroy America. So Washington would say, “What’s in it for us?” He would be very particular where this country would intervene. It would have to be a gain economically for the United States or to save American citizens.
SCHWAB: There are countless wars going on as we speak. Afghanistan, Syria, Iran in everyone’s business. Are there any wars going on presently that you think Washington would find to be in America’s interest?
BEIRNE: Afghanistan, yes – especially the initial phase of the war. Washington had no reservations of crushing his enemy. As far as Afghanistan goes, yes he would have become involved, if for no other reason than to destroy al Qaida and killing bin Laden.
SCHWAB: And torture?
BEIRNE: Washington was morally opposed to torture. He laid a policy of how to treat British prisoners. He was disgusted by the barbarous nature of past wars and wanted to make his fights as moral as war can possibly be. However, as the war dragged on for Washington, his stance on torture became looser as more and more Americans were killed.
SCHWAB: Washington is in political gridlock. I look down the road to the November, 2014 elections and can’t see that easing this difficult situation. What would Washington have thought of this over-the-top partisan political climate? It basically has split the country down the middle.
BEIRNE: Probably rolling in his grave. This is exactly what he warned against – political parties and partisanship. As the ink was drying on the Constitution, he saw the split beginning between Jefferson and Madison’s political views of the country – Hamilton too. The country was ready to shatter, Washington had never joined a party and he feared our decline would derive from the arguments.
SCHWAB: Well, unlike many history books I was required to read in college, usually that professor’s own book, and your book sparkles with reflections and memorable incidents. I finished it in only two days.
BEIRNE: Well, that’s the kind of book review every author strives for.
SCHWAB: Who do you think should read this fascinating book? What kind of reader?
BEIRNE: That’s the sad thing about many history classes. It makes it seem old and dead. It makes people shy away. But history is exciting and full of juicy stories, where the people are facing the same moral dilemmas we face today. I deliberately want to make this book entertaining and educational at the same time. I was gearing this book for all those people who have read the dried out, boring history books. Even the most sophisticated reader will find information they had never known about Washington and his times. I also wanted to interest those readers interested in politics. There is a lot people can learn by the way the country was run 250 years ago. It will broaden their perspective.
SCHWAB: I hope you’re right. It seems like every time I leave the house, people are staring at the device in their hand or talking on a cell phone – disengaged from society around them. A sort of “Night of the Living Dead.”
BEIRNE: (Laughing) It’s what’s happening – detached from reality.
SCHWAB: Before we end this interview, there’s one rumor we need to put to rest about George Washington. Wee his teeth made of wood?
BEIRNE: (Laughing) No they were not. He a few pairs of dentures throughout his life. They were primarily made of hippopotamus ivory and human teeth. That was pretty disgusting and of course they would rot which made people believe they were wood.
SCHWAB: Did he ever chop down a cherry tree?
BEIRNE: We believe this was created to make his image of a dignified man.
SCHWAB: Washington has be gone now since his death in 1799. He has missed two full centuries and then another 13 years. Could a man like George Washington be elected to public office today?
BEIRNE: That’s a really good question. He transcended political parties. He didn’t define himself by a set number of issues as politicians do today. He would neither be red or blue. I think he’d be purple (laughter).
SCHWAB: We’ve now had 42 presidents. Where would you put Washington’s presidency in that group?
BEIRNE: Number one. He was crucial to creating the country and its independence. So even after that, he was critical in holding the country together. Even after the Revolutionary War, the country was afraid of another war with Britain or even an attack by Spain.
SCHWAB: Okay, Washington is your top choice. Who would be your next four?
BEIRNE: Definitely Lincoln. He held the country together through incredible adversity. Ah, hummmmm. Adams is underrated (John). He served a crucial role in the transition from Washington to his presidency. The country was still on shaky ground. Adams was underrated in how he kept the nation together.
SCHWAB: That’s three presidents. Do you have two more (laughing). You don’t have to come with any others if you don’t have two in mind.
BEIRNE: I feel bad. There are many good presidents in their own way.
SCHWAB: After I read the book, I asked myself that question and I came up with Lincoln, period. Who else comes close to even polishing his buckle shoes?
BEIRNE: He is on a pedestal. He was a man who faced great uncertainty and conquered it. He’s so high up there, you’re right – there aren’t a lot of leaders that measure up. You know, polishing his buckled shoes (laughing).
SCHWAB: Thank you for sharing time with me. It’s a very entertaining and informative book that every American interested in knowing how it all started should read.
BEIRNE: Thanks. I enjoyed talking with you.