Thursday, January 05, 2012

Newt Gingrich's surprising mis-educational moment about hemp

At the Concord, NH Holiday Inn Wednesday morning at about 10:45, I was leaning through a doorway into the absolutely jam-packed Newt Gingrich event. Newt was in full blown professorial form elucidating our liberties from our founding texts. At one point, after noting Jefferson's soaring ode to liberty "that [all Men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," Newt said God gave us the right to bear arms. Really? Was this in the time of Adam, or of Moses, or the Prophets? Was this left out of the New Testament? Perhaps, God only gave us the right after the first firearms were invented -- anticipating the American revolution. Did God give the right to bear arms to all other persons in all other countries? Do the God-given rights mentioned in our Bill of Rights apply to all persons in other countries too? Or did God only give these rights to the American people? How did the Members of Congress and the Senators at the First U.S. Congress get the message?

But I am digressing. Newt Gingrich started taking questions from the New Hampshire public. Typically he stuck to talking points.

But one question, drew a howlingly inaccurate answer from the acclaimed historian and former professor. One of the students from among a dozen Students for Sensible Drug Policy present in New Hampshire for the political activity asked about Washington and Jefferson growing marijuana at Mount Vernon and Monticello, and why it is illegal today. The student, of course, used the current popular term for the hemp plant to avoid potentially mystifying Dr. Gingrich.

According to The Washington Times, Mr. Gingrich replied,

"I think Jefferson or George Washington would have rather strongly discouraged you from growing marijuana, and their techniques of dealing with it would have been more violent,"
which is pretty absurd since we were talking about hemp. (There is no record of Washington or Jefferson growing any varieties of the hemp plant (i.e. marijuana) to get high.)

Here's an excellent 90 second Video of the official guides at Mount Vernon providing a tour of hemp production there under George Washington's expert and profitable management. It made me wonder if Newt Gingrich ever did "the tourist thing" and visited Mount Vernon while he served in Congress.

Sam Stein at Huffington Post provided a more detailed report of the whole exchange.

Should Gingrich have known about Washington and Jefferson's hemp cultivation?
Since Federal law has since 1937 forbade "hemp" cultivation (since it "looks" like marijuana), we could expect that many Americans and Members of Congress would be completely ignorant of the fact that marijuana, then called hemp, was widely cultivated in 18th and 19th century America.

Newt's Ph.D. from Tulane University was in Modern European History, so if his study of history ignored early U.S. history to favor his academic specialty, his ignorance of Jefferson and Washington would be perfectly excusable.

But in his campaign stump speeches he purports to be an expert on the founding fathers: what they believed, how virtuous and industrious they were, how they knew the value of a profit and how to make one, etc. I may be used to an unusually high standard in History professors since I took courses with Roger Lane at Haverford College. But I think it would be unlikely that a well educated historian concerned about the lessons of Revolutionary times would be ignorant that hemp was a widespread major crop in America, one of the "Naval Stores" (cordage, tar, pitch and timber) that were important to build wooden 18th century sailing ships for trade and war.

In 2010 Newt Gingrich wrote two novels about George Washington and the Revolutionary War. Perhaps he is not a particularly curious researcher.

Or perhaps he was just trying to B.S. his clever way around a question that he want to sneer at.

As it happened, seven hours later on Wednesday evening, another SSDP student, Brian Broom-Peltz, caught Governor Romney leaving his rally in Peterborough, NH to ask him about "industrial hemp." Governor Romney said he didn't know what that was. Oh well, perhaps if Brian had said industrial marijuana or cannabis hemp or something.

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2 comments:

Thinking CAP said...

Newt said God gave us the right to bear arms.
Hm, maybe he said God gave us the right to bare arms. Or maybe, God gave us the right to arm bears.

Typical politician, I’d like for him to say that in violence-plagued innercities which have been trying to ban guns.

This page:
http://www.umsl.edu/~keelr/180/highsociety.html
from this page
http://www.marijuanalibrary.org/7_presidents.html
has some interesting notes, with citations, about various luminaries in early U.S. history.

It even says “Dr. Burke, president of the American Historical Reference Society and a consultant for the Smithsonian Institute, counted seven early presidents as cannabis smokers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce. ‘Early letters from our founding fathers refer to the pleasures of hemp smoking,’ said Burke. Pierce, Taylor and Jackson, all military men, smoked it with their troops.”

And for Gingrich to say they would be more violent than the atrociously immoral and bankrupting behaviors carried out today is just plain sick. An affront to God and the settlers. To hear the laughter at the end of the clip is very very sad.

Anonymous said...

Re: "(There is no record of Washington or Jefferson growing any varieties of the hemp plant (i.e. marijuana) to get high.)"

There is that very curious reference in Washington's diary about removing the male plants. Haven't yet read of an alternative explanation.