H.W. Brands to speak at Hauenstein Center event

Drew Schertzer

The past is filled with events that have shaped the foundation of today, and by reviewing major events and political leaders from a different time, people may learn several lessons. Author and professor H.W. Brands will speak at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on Thursday, Feb. 22, to reflect upon some of these key moments in his lecture, “The Golden Age of the Senate.” 

“I’m going to describe the overlapping careers of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, and how the relationship among the three shaped American Democracy,” Brands said via email. “We can learn a lot from seeing how others have tackled the kinds of issues that face us.”

The event, set to start at 7 p.m., is part of the Common Ground Initiative of the Grand Valley State University Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Brands hopes that through this event students will gain an appreciation for the importance of the past in shaping the present. His talk will be mainly focused on the Great Triumvirate, composed of 19th-century U.S. Sens. Calhoun, Webster and Clay. Brands said by looking at this we can review how these individuals were able to engage in spirited yet respectful debates on issues they disagreed dramatically on. 

“It’s important to look at history for examples not just when common ground succeeded but where it failed as well,” said Scott St. Louis, program manager of the Common Ground Initiative. 

St. Louis elaborated on his point, saying that Calhoun was a defendant of slavery. While the values of that era were vastly different from today’s, St. Louis said we can understand the way self-government worked, what lessons were learned and see the aspects of their decision-making. In turn, this helps us see what challenges we face today and sets a standard for what we demand ethically of our leaders. 

Brands has spoken at Common Ground Initiative events in the past, and St. Louis said he is both a prolific writer and skilled presenter. St. Louis hopes students will have a better understanding of the Great Triumvirate after Brands’ discussion, as he has a way of taking complex historical content and making it accessible to everyone.

“I want to emphasize that common ground is a moving target throughout American history,” St. Louis said. “It provides a basis for leadership qualities like the ones Brands studies but also asks certain ethical questions to learn from the past and think critically about.”

The event will take place in part to honor Presidents Day, which is observed Monday, Feb. 19. Also, Ralph W. Hauenstein will be given the MAK award by the Michigan Historical Commission during this event. This award is given out and named for William G. Milliken, Elizabeth Sparks Adams and Frank J. Kelly.

Registration online is currently full. However, students can show up to the event prior to its starting time to go through normal admission. Attendees are encouraged to arrive 20 minutes in advance.

For more information about the Common Ground Initiative, or for future events, visit www.hauensteincenter.org/winter-2018-schedule/.