On April 12, The King’s College welcomed finance legend Garland S. Tucker III for a conversation with Amity Shlaes on Tucker’s book Conservative Heroes: Fourteen Leaders Who Shaped America, from Jefferson to Reagan (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2015). Tucker is chairman and former CEO (2001-2016) of Triangle Capital Corporation, a publicly traded specialty finance company in Raleigh, N.C. Shlaes chairs the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation and teaches Coolidge at The King’s College, where she is a Presidential Scholar.
Held in the City Room before a full audience of students and faculty, Tucker and Shlaes’s conversation served both as an engaging review of a thread in American history and as an exemplar of what it means to be Kingsian. President Gregory A. Thornbury said, “Garland Tucker built a whole company around his expertise. He also never let go of his passion for American history. At the same time he’s also this phenomenally dedicated believer and contributor to various ministries in the kingdom of God.” Tucker’s life demonstrates that “you don’t have to choose between a career, a life of scholarship, and a life committed to the kingdom of God.”
Conservative Heroes chronicles statesmen throughout American history who worked to preserve the principles of liberty, limited government, and a Judeo-Christian view of the natural order. “Even though the issues were different, their values were very similar, and the way they lived out those values was exemplary,” Tucker said.
Shales began by probing Tucker on his inclusion of John C. Calhoun, who explicitly defended slavery in the antebellum era. Tucker responded that the majority of Calhoun’s career was spent arguing the tariff and the economic system. “He was wrestling about how, in a democratic republic, do you protect a minority?” Without condoning his stance on slavery, Tucker said, we can admire Calhoun for his work to preserve the union while carving out protection for minority views.
Tucker went on to discuss Josiah Bailey, a relatively unknown senator who banded together a group of conservative democrats to block President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 “court-packing” plan, an attempt to neutralize opponents to the New Deal by adding more judges to the Supreme Court. Bailey worked to “safeguard the collateral upon which credit rests” by respecting property rights and balancing the federal budget.
Tucker and Shlaes also touched on the influential but under-celebrated career of John Davis, who was Solicitor General and Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Woodrow Wilson. His legal work overturning portions of the New Deal earned him President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s scorn as “Public Enemy #1.”
At the start of their conversation Shlaes quoted historian Peter Geyl’s aphorism, “History is an argument without end.” By Tucker’s admission, his book steps into a long argument about the role and size of government. Tucker celebrates American statesmen who share his particular conservative viewpoint, supporting a limited government that sets boundaries on sinful people and sees private virtue as crucial for a republic to continue.
However, what is remarkable about these fourteen men is that aside from their politics, they were leaders of integrity. Tucker related how his research assistant Rob Ferguson, whose political views completely oppose Tucker’s own, was willing to appear in the acknowledgements to the book. “I can honestly say that I don’t agree with anything they said,” Ferguson told Tucker, “But they were great men and I wish we had more like them.”
To a student’s question about heroes who didn’t make the cut, Tucker said he would have included Margaret Thatcher had his study not been limited to the United States. “Don’t read anything into the fact that there was no woman on the list. If anyone tries to do an update on the book, I would include Amity Shlaes.”
Garland Tucker III graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Washington and Lee University and received his MBA from Harvard Business School. In addition to Conservative Heroes, he is author of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election.
Amity Shlaes is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale College, and has written four New York Times bestsellers, including The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression and The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy.