Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed well-known economist and author George Washington Entrepreneur John Berlau to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Berlau discussed recent accolades and elements of his recent book about George Washington as an accomplished man in many areas. He added that it was impressive how even though Washington’s education ended around 15 years of age that he would seek to educate himself by reading books in areas that he would work in.
Leahy: We are joined now by my very good friend. The well-known economist and author. He has a great book. We’ve talked about it before on George Washington. George Washington Entrepreneur. Jon Berlau. Good morning Jon.
Berlau: Thanks so much, Mike for having me on to talk about George Washington Entrepreneur.
Leahy: Let me just read some of the descriptions here of your book. Some of the blurbs. Amity Shlaes, biographer of Coolidge. At a time when others downgrade so many historical figures, Jon Berlau lifts a worthy man higher, George Washington. Berlau gives us a fascinating tour of Washington’s business side illuminating the relationship between entrepreneurial, military and political achievement. Amity Shlaes says this is a fabulous book. You can’t get any higher praise than that Jon.
Berlau: I was honored for her to praise George Washington Entrepreneur. She’s a fine historian herself of Calvin Coolidge. She’s into the Calvin Coolidge Foundation. And other things about the new deal and other parts of our era. So I was really honored to have that and others including you having the praise of the book.
Leahy: Now look. I am a huge history buff as you are. And I’ve read biographies of historical figures my entire life. Which is like a long time of reading historical biographies. And George Washington and Abraham Lincoln perhaps are the two figures in American history of whom most has been written. How many biographies are there of George Washington? 500? I mean there’s a lot.
Berlau: Yes. I’d say at least over 100. Yes.
Leahy: Quite a few. And yet this is really quite remarkable Jon. You came up with a concept and a way of looking at George Washington that was unique. And so how did you come to that point of view?
Berlau: Well I study as you know at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and before that, I was a journalist for publications like Investors Business Daily. How people form businesses. And also the government red tape that kind of gets in their way. And when I was hearing Mount Vernon and the scholars there have been helpful to me.
Rebuilding about 15 years a whiskey distillery he had started and it just blew my mind. I had no idea that here George Washington who I revered. I think I was in the boat with most Americans who had trouble relating as opposed to Franklin and Jefferson was how he did the whiskey distillery business.
And then when I found out about the other businesses he was in like he was in flour mills. He was the first to bring mules to America. Provide a big hand to early American inventors with machines like the steamboat. I just realized that he was in his own way as creative and as much of a genius as say, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton. And that all of his business correspondence which there was so much of they hadn’t been able to put it online. So this was a way for other Americans and I could relate to him.
Leahy: You’ll find this interesting Jon. Which was the one of him to be the first one to bring mules to America. Interestingly enough just 20 miles from our studios here in downtown Nashville in Columbia, Tennessee which is the only city in America that once a year celebrates, wait for it, mule day.
Berlau: That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Well, mules still have their uses. Their uses at the time were they could plow more than horses and other things. But like in Afghanistan they were used to carry things and people and places where they didn’t really have roads. They’re still used in a lot of different capacities. And we still have to thank George Washington who’s known among mule breeders and enthusiasts as not only the father of our country but the father of the American mule.
Leahy: What’s interesting about that Jon is that if you look at the scope of somebody’s life and you say what did they do in their life that was significant? For many people being the guy that brought mules to America would be one single accomplishment that would be significant. And yet it’s only one of many accomplishments of George Washington.
Berlau: Yes. That’s the thing. He’s so overshadowed of course and deservedly so by being a great general and a great president. Voluntarily giving up power twice that it overshadows him. He might have very well if he hadn’t done those political and military things would have been known as one of America’s first entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial genius that he was.
Leahy: Yes. The element that I think distinguishes George Washington in leadership in the country was not necessarily his speaking ability but his ability to access circumstances. Be they in business, or in war, or in politics. To gather in the information. To think about it and then determine the right course of action. A very common sense practical American way to go.
Berlau: Yes. He had very good listening skills where he would not say a word during public sessions of the constitutional convention. But I was surprised by in going through his writings, which are accessible online. And I tell readers in George Washington Entrepreneur how much of an articulate writer he could be in saying things.
And how much in his business correspondence and other things like writing letters to the British haggling over tobacco and other things. And the things he wrote about politics in his farewell address. He could be very articulate and was very well-read which was overlooked. He learned from experience and listening to people. But he read things from everything from political philosophy to how to ride a horse. He wrote self-help books on how to be a better horseman.
Leahy: So here’s another quote about your book from a good friend of mine Craig Shirley. “Just when you think a scholarship on a first president has been exhausted, along comes a book like George Washington Entrepreneur to open your eyes and impart new knowledge about our greatest president. Berlau is an exquisite writer and historian.”
That’s from Craig Shirley, the well known Reagan biographer and also the biographer of Newt Gingrich and the author of Mary Ball Washington who was the mother of George Washington. Tell us a little bit about his early life, the death of his father when he was 12 or 13? And his relationship with his mother which formed him into this practical common sense get it done, guy?
Berlau: Yes. Well, he did not have, privilege is a word thrown out today. And George Washington wasn’t among the poorest of the poor when he grew up but wasn’t as privileged as the other Founding Fathers.
Leahy: Like Jefferson and Madison?
Leahy: Who grew up on some of the biggest plantations in Virginia at the time.
Berlau: Right. George Washington’s father died when he was 11. And then his older half brother went to English boarding schools. His family could not afford that or send him to college. So his formal schooling ended around the time he was around 13 or 14. He worked with a tutor and may have gone to another school.
There is actually not that much known about his life before he was say like 15 and started writing letters on his own. And we don’t know who his specific teacher was. We do know he had lesson plans. So he just basically started something of self-education when he was like 13 or 14. But he read books about mathematics.
Books that usually went along with his work. He read about mathematics. He started out as a land surveyor and he read mathematics and books about surveying to help him with that job. He learned from his older brother half brother Lawrence who had lived at Mount Vernon and owned it at the time. Mount Vernon was actually meant to be his.
Listen to the full second hour here:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “John Berlau” by the Competetitve Prize Institute. Photo “George Washington, Entrepreneur” by Amazon.