What was the impetus that propelled your interest in the study of the political and intellectual culture of the United States during the 19th Century?
I became interested in US political and intellectual culture during my undergraduate studies at Hillsdale College. Professor Paul Rahe’s course on the Constitutional Convention sparked my fascination with that event, and in subsequent classes I found myself drawn to questions about how the Constitution was implemented in practice after ratification. Early constitutional debates about the economy, social mores, and party politics reveal much about how the second and third generations after the Founding understood the work of their forefathers, and this is what I’m interested in studying.
What are you currently working on?
My dissertation research explores memory of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in conjunction with the historical development of various forms of constitutional exegesis, particularly originalism. I look at the reception of published records from the Convention in popular culture and political debates to determine what nineteenth-century Americans knew about the writing of the Constitution and how that knowledge played a role in the controversy over slavery.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I first learned of the Claremont Institute from my professors at Hillsdale. I also read the Claremont Review of Books and follow the Institute on social media.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
I truly enjoyed the Publius Fellowship seminars. Rare are the moments today when like-minded people who have a shared understanding of Truth may gather to have intellectual conversations. The experience was refreshing and inspiring. It was also fun watching beautiful Fourth-of-July fireworks from the Newport Beach harbor. That was certainly one highlight of the fellowship!
There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
The Claremont Institute’s philosophical heritage, a kind of intellectual genealogy stemming from Strauss and Jaffa, makes their fellowship programs unique. Fellows feel that they are part of an institution that is not transient, but rather has made and will continue to make an impact on conservatism by educating the next generation of American statesmen. The fellowships are guided by this heritage, and also by the institute’s mission, “Recovering the American Idea.” The Publius Fellowship distinctly stresses that in order to “recover” the “American idea,” we must first know what the American idea is and how we have lost sight of it as a nation. The program skillfully combines breadth and depth into a balanced yet intense three-week study of the United States, from the Founding to the present, where professors emphasize how critical it is that conservative leaders understand the Founding, as well as its defenders, critics, and usurpers. Additionally, the amount of time that fellows spend together opens doors for friendship and leaves room for fun as well. Most significantly, the program encourages and inspires its participants; fellows leave with a renewed sense of purpose to fight for their nation and preserve Truth.
Who would it be and what would you discuss, if you could have a conversation with one of the framers of our Declaration of Independence?
Thomas Jefferson seems to have been a rather complex man. If I could have a conversation with him, I’d be interested in hearing what inspired his original draft of the Declaration and then what transpired between that draft and the final copy, particularly on the question of slavery. If I could tell him what happened after, that the nation fought a civil war over the question, I wonder if he would feel that his generation could have done more to prevent such a conflict or if it was nearly inevitable.
In today’s current political climate do you believe a Constitutional Convention has a chance of being held and why?
There may be some chance that we could hold a constitutional convention today, but we would have to ask ourselves if it would produce improvements upon the current document. That question, I believe, we may safely answer in the negative. Not only do we not have enough quality statesmen, but Americans today no longer agree on fundamental principles of right and wrong, of what is good for the human soul and what is good for society. If we don’t share a foundation in Truth, how can we begin to deliberate over the particular details, the complexities of practical governance? Real deliberation was the true genius of the 1787 Convention. More to the point, sadly, many Americans don’t understand the purpose of having a constitution and are content to let the administrative state govern at will. If we were to call for a constitutional convention today, we would first have to convince our fellow citizens that the Constitution, as written, or perhaps as amended, is worth preserving.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
Because I study the Convention, I look forward to hopefully seeing James Madison’s notes from Philadelphia. It is my hope that seeing his hand-written papers—what he crossed out, underlined, or wrote in the margins, for example—will provide some insight into what he was thinking while taking notes at the Convention or recalling what happened there after the fact.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The greatest challenge facing the United States today is that the character of many American citizens, though not all, appears to be unfit for self-government. If this seems harsh, we must at least acknowledge that much of the American public is uneducated and apathetic. Ignorance of the Constitution has long threatened constitutional government by weakening the people’s vigilance in political affairs and thus contributing to the rapid growth of a tyrannical administrative state. Our nation’s historical and constitutional illiteracy poses a greater threat to the republican regime, to limited government, and to liberty than most Americans even recognize. Although globalism competes for this spot, the most threatening challenges facing the United States actually come from within.
Why do you believe Hillsdale College is a shining light in the field of higher education?
Hillsdale College demonstrates that it is still possible in the 21st Century to experience education in accordance with human nature; that is, an education which orients itself towards the highest things. Even though we live in a world dominated by technology and obsessed with all things new, shiny, efficient, and convenient, there is great value in slowing down, reading the Great Books, studying history, literature, art, science, politics and philosophy, and spending time contemplating man’s relationship with his fellow man, with nature, and with God. While Hillsdale’s mission is worthy in and of itself, the success of the college and of its students furnishes additional testimony that a classical liberal arts education steeped in our Judeo-Christian heritage and the tradition of the American Founding provides training for life, not merely for a career, and is thus a most worthwhile endeavor. Moreover, the high standards, academic rigor, and intellectual community at Hillsdale contradicts the dominate narrative that people today are too lazy to pursue challenging, meaningful work, or that students are unable to think for themselves and must be told what to think. Imagine the kind of society we might have if more universities were dedicated to educating their students in self-government, character development, and respect for their Creator and their nation.
What books are you currently reading?
Currently I’m reading John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Leonard W. Levy, Original Intent and the Framers’ Constitution, Harry V. Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom, and Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause.
Do you have a favorite quote? Why does it resonate with you?
One of my favorite quotations is from Psalm 46: “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.” I’ve endured great hardship in my life, but have always felt the strength and comfort of Christ. There are countless verses like this throughout Scripture, but I find the emphasis in this verse—that God is within us, that He is our strength—particularly beautiful.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
Wisconsinites, and those in the Midwest generally, are admirably focused on their communities. Growing up in Wisconsin and then attending college in Michigan, my neighbors were exceptionally kind, willing to help each other out, and attentive to those around them. Good neighbors create communities with a safe, trustworthy atmosphere and that’s something I’ve always appreciated about the Midwest.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
I love to go clay target shooting. Sporting clays is nostalgic for me, as my family went out shooting frequently when I was growing up. Even before I could shoot, my mom would bring me along in a little red flyer wagon and as I got older, I would help score and pull targets. I’ve also learned to enjoy the mental game and discipline required in competitive shooting, but walking a sporting clays course with friends is always a great time.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’ll have my doctorate within the next 2-3 years, if all goes to plan, and my first book published shortly after that. In 10 years, I will hopefully be married and homeschooling children, perhaps teaching part time at a private liberal arts college, or working with a K-12 classical education program. I’d love to have a large family, a few dogs, and a comfortable home. God has blessed me abundantly thus far, and I’m gratefully excited for whatever the future has in store!