Lewis Lehrman

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Lewis Lehrman
Born August 15, 1938
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.) Harvard University (M.A.)
Political party Republican
Website lewiselehrman.com

Lewis E. "Lew" Lehrman (born August 15, 1938 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) is an American investment banker, businessman, Republican politician, economist, and historian who actively supports the ongoing study of American history based on original source documents. He was presented the National Humanities Medal[1] at the White House in 2005 for his scholarly contributions. His philanthropic work specializes in American History, the study of President Abraham Lincoln and monetary policy. He was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the Lincoln Forum. In addition to co-authoring Money and the Coming World Order and The Case for Gold, Lehrman's has written Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point,[2] (2008), The True Gold Standard, Newly Revised and Enlarged, Second Edition[3] (2012), Money, Gold, and History (2013) and Lincoln "by littles" (2013). He has written for major news publications such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and has lectured widely on American history and economics. Lehrman also writes for the Lincoln Institute[4] which has created award-winning websites on the 16th President. Lehrman achieved national political prominence in a 1982 campaign for Governor of New York, in which he ran against Democratic candidate Mario Cuomo, losing the election by only two percentage points. He is a senior partner at L. E. Lehrman & Co.,[5] an investment firm he established in 1981. He is also the chairman of the Lehrman Institute, a public policy research and grant making foundation founded in 1972. He and Richard Gilder were awarded the National Humanities Medal in an Oval Office ceremony on Thursday, November 10, 2005.[6] The Medal was presented by President George W. Bush. He converted to Catholicism. [7]

Early life and education

Lehrman was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Rose (Herman) and Benjamin Sachs Lehrman, who was chairman of the Rite-Aid Corporation.[8][9] He is a former President of Rite Aid, a writer, businessman and an economic historian. Washington political columnists Evans and Novak reported that Ronald Reagan considered naming him Secretary of the Treasury before selecting Donald T. Regan. In his memoirs, Regan wrote that he was urged to "placate my critics by appointing Lewis Lehrman, a prominent New York conservative, as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.” Regan did not want to do so, writing: “Although Lehrman was a capable, even a brilliant, man, I declined. I knew that he and I would clash because he would not be content to take a backseat. I wanted an administrator, not a person with policy objectives of his own.”[10] Lehrman was also considered for the post of Treasury Undersecretary for Monetary Affairs. Secretary Regan preferred monetarist Beryl Wayne Sprinkel.[11] Unlike Sprinkel, Lehrman was critical of the floating exchange rate policies of Milton Friedman, the leading academic monetarist. Treasury Secretary Regan said he sought the “the best monetarist I can get.”[12]


Lehrman had written several memos for President-elect Reagan on monetary and fiscal policy—including one entitled "The Struggle for Financial Order at the Onset of the Reagan Presidency." Another, co-authored by Congressmen David Stockman and Jack Kemp, was entitled: "Avoiding a GOP Economic Dunkirk."[13] Conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote that "Stockman had been deeply impressed by Lehrman's arguments and used them as the inspiration for his own more specific paper."[14] Writing of the Lehrman memos, New York Times columnist Leonard Silk warned that if Lehrman was named to a Reagan Administration post, "this will point the direction in which the Reagan administration economic policy is moving. But it is not yet there and there is strong opposition among more traditional conservatives."[15] With bank interest rates over 20 percent and annualized inflation rates approaching 15 percent, the economic emergency which Lehrman had first proposed and which had been subsequently endorsed by Stockman and Kemp was ultimately rejected. [16]

Rite Aid Corporation was an outgrowth of a family wholesale grocery business in central Pennsylvania, Louis Lehrman & Son, founded by Lehrman’s grandfather Louis and expanded by his father Benjamin.[17] On holidays as a teenager, Lehrman began part-time at the firm. He later worked summers and holidays at the company while continuing his education at Yale and Harvard before enlisting in the Army Reserves.

In 1962 in Pennsylvania, the company began opening health and beauty stores; it was then a small-town competitor for both customers and store leases. Lehrman joined the company full-time in 1964—the same year the first Rite Aid pharmacy was opened in New York State. "Lehrman was forced to go from town to town, looking for older stores in downtown areas where landlords were more desperate for tenants, even unknowns," reported the New York Times. "Having found a site, he and his partners would devote a Saturday in painting and remodeling (usually spending less than $10,000) and a Sunday to stocking shelves. On Monday, the store would be open for business."[18]

Rite Aid went public in a successful 1968 stock offering and continued its expansion. At the time, with 32 percent of the company’s stock, Lewis Lehrman was the company's president and largest stockholder.[19] Alex Grass, Lehrman's brother-in-law brought into the business by Lehrman's father, was eventually named chief executive. In a 1971 interview, Lehrman claimed that Rite Aid's management was untraditional and "not hung up on any of the prejudices that handicapped all the old-line retail drug chains. We didn't know whether a pharmacist was necessary to a store or not."[20]

Lehrman stepped down as Rite Aid president in 1977 and as chairman of the Rite Aid executive committee in 1981, eventually severing all ties with the company. His role in what Lehrman called "help[ing] to build Rite Aid" became a political issue in Lehrman's 1982 New York State gubernatorial campaign when Grass, who was then the company's chairman and CEO, took issue with published articles that gave credit to Lehrman for the company’s growth. New York Magazine's Michael Kramer interviewed Grass for a profile on Lehrman. Lehrman "wasn't the founder. I was," said Grass. After quoting Grass's version of the founding of Rite Aid, Kramer wrote: "Grass of course, is denigrating Lehrman, and as for the facts, they aren't facts at all, or at least they are disputed facts. They are disputed by a host of former and present Rite Aid officers and directors with whom I spoke." Kramer went on to quote other Rite Aid officers and directors. Lehrman "took a sleepy little company and breathed life into it," said one company director. Maxwell Rabb, a Rite Aid director and former ambassador to Italy, declared: "Lew's role was at least the equal of anyone else's."[21]

Lehrman argued: "Rite Aid was built by a dedicated team. I was a key leader of that team." Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Blustein wrote: "A number of Wall Street followers of the company say Mr. Lehrman's contacts in the financial community helped bring the company public in 1968. 'I got the impression that both parties brought real contributions, that it was on a par,' says one securities analyst. Others add that Mr. Lehrman was the man most analysts sought when they had questions. And to Rite Aid's fast-growing army of field personnel, Mr. Lehrman was the inspirational force, says Henry Kowalczyk, Rite Aid's vice president for security.[22] Lehrman responded to critics: "I'm disappointed when a family member is unhappy. Rite Aid is a big business. It was built by a dedicated group of people and there were more than Alex and me."[23]

Lehrman was a managing director of Morgan Stanley in the late 1980s. After Morgan Stanley, in 1991, he established an investment company, L.E. Lehrman & Co. He was also an investor in George W. Bush's Arbusto Energy.

Gubernatorial campaign

Lehrman was the president of Rite Aid until 1977, and resigned all positions in 1981 to run for governor of New York the following year, saying "elective office is the only way to get things done.".[24] He was well known for wearing red suspenders in his campaign commercials. On June 16, 1982 Lehrman was picked as the official GOP designee for the Governorship, getting "68.88 percent of the weighted votes at a hectic meeting of the Republican State Committee in Manhattan."[25] He would later win the primary and become the Republican Candidate for Governor.

Popular historian Samuel G. Freedman wrote that "Lehrman's goals for the party went far beyond solvency or an orderly transfer of power. What was needed was a populist uprising with a manifesto to match. Lehrman planned to create both the same way he had created the Rite-Aid network, by driving to cities and towns and paying attention to Main Street."[26]

The Republican gubernatorial candidate came into conflict with some top Republican members of the legislature with over his tax reduction program. Asked about their differences in the final “Inside Albany” debate, Lehrman said: "I've put this issue to the voters. I'm not putting it to the legislators. Who rules New York State, 211 legislators or 18 million free people? That's the question. Who rules the government of the State of New York? Is it owned and operated by the politicians and the bureaucrats, or is it owned for the purpose of benefiting the 18 million people who live here? That's the issue."[27]

Running on the Republican and Conservative Party lines,[28] Lehrman was defeated by then-Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, 51–48%. Cuomo ran on the Democratic and Liberal Party lines, after defeating New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch in the Democratic Party primary election. Lehrman won the Republican nomination in a primary against attorney Paul J. Curran, after several other Republican candidates dropped out of the race. Political scientists Peter W. Colby and John K. White noted a sharp upstate-downstate split in the race with Cuomo carrying a 575,000-vote advantage in New York City. "Lehrman carried the rest of the state by 400,000 votes" and won "fifty-two of the fifty-seven upstate counties."[29]

The debates between the two gubernatorial candidates were sharp exchanges on issues involving the state's economic and crime problems. The New York Times reported after the New York Post debate at the beginning of October: "Lieut. Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and Lewis E. Lehrman argued virtually uninterrupted for 50 minutes yesterday in their first debate of the New York gubernatorial campaign. What were to have been two-minute opening statements stretched to 25 minutes as the two—intense but seemingly not angry—alternated ripostes and kept their own informal time limits. At one point, Mr. Cuomo gestured to the four panelists and said, 'Maybe we should let them play.'"[30]

High national and state unemployment hurt Lehrman’s campaign. “The general election campaign for governor was billed as a ‘referendum on Reaganomics.” However, if this election had been a referendum on Reaganomics and unemployment, Democrat Mario Cuomo would have won by a margin reflecting not only his party’s enormous voter-registration edge, but allowing room for a few disgruntled Republicans and Independents as well,” concluded a Princeton University thesis on the gubernatorial campaign. “Instead, Lew Lehrman was able to use technologies such as television and direct mail to campaign ‘offensively’ on issues which were more favorable for him such as the death penalty, crime, welfare fraud, prayer in schools, and unpopular record of the [Hugh] Carey Administration. Moreover, he was able to blunt the Reaganomics issue by widely publicizing an economic plan of his own.”[31] Lehrman himself was critical of the national Republican strategy in the election at a time when U.S. unemployment was over 10 percent: “I believe the Reagan Administration should be making a major effort to show clearly how we are going to rebuild the economy and create 20 million jobs in the next 10 years," he told the New York Times. He added: “A slogan like 'Stay the Course' is inadequate.”[32]

At that time in U.S. election history, the size of Lehrman’s commercial buy was virtually unprecedented. The Christian Science Monitor reported late in the campaign: "The ads have aired so frequently that the New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon showing a parrot next to a television set. The parrot says, 'I'm Lew Lehrman. Lew Lehrman for governor!...' The barrage of television ads have effectively turned Lewis Lehrman into a household term. In his Borough Park, Brooklyn, campaign swing here recently, one youngster shouted, 'There's the man on TV!'"[33] Cuomo sought to make Lehrman’s spending a campaign issue. Lehrman “was a clean slate upon which any image could be drawn through television and radio ads,” wrote Cuomo in the Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo. “The polls indicated that neither the gold standard nor Reaganomics would enhance the image—the public knew little of the former and New York State was suffering severely from the Reagan Recession and budget cuts—so these issues were ignored. Instead, television ads—four or five million dollars’ worth to begin—depicted Lehrman as a genial family man who knew how to produce jobs—his successful business career was proof—and stop crime—with capital punishment.”[34] In his diary, Cuomo complained about Lehrman’s high spending on direct mail and television advertising, but admitted in late October 1982: “A strange problem has developed. We have more than we can spend—much more!”[35] Cuomo would go on to serve three terms as governor before he was defeated for re-election in 1994.

1982 New York State Republican ticket

  • Governor: Lewis Lehrman
  • Lieutenant Governor: James L. Emery
  • Comptroller: Edward Regan
  • Attorney General: Frances Sclafani
  • U.S. Senate: Florence Sullivan

American history

Lehrman attended the Hill School, a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Lehrman's involvement with the teaching of history began as a Carnegie Teaching Fellow at Yale University in 1960 and subsequently at Harvard University, where he completed a master's degree as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. In the 1970s he returned to Yale to head up a review of the humanities curriculum for the Yale University Council. For the Gilder Lehrman Collection, Lewis Lehrman and Richard Gilder collected historical documents in order to place them into a collection where they would be available to scholars and the public. First put on deposit at the Morgan Library, the Gilder Lehrman Collection is now on deposit at the New-York Historical Society. By 2006, the GLC had amassed more than 60,000 documents and other historical items, mostly on 18th and 19th Century America. Articles from those periods have been used in exhibits at George Washington's Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, the Morgan Library and the New-York Historical Society. Lehrman himself has written and lectured about Abraham Lincoln's legacy in the centrality of American history.[36]

In 1972, Lehrman founded the Lehrman Institute, a public policy think tank in New York City which focused on the study of economic and foreign policy from a historical perspective. Lehrman and investor-philanthropist Richard Gilder, both former students at Yale University and members of Wolf's Head Society, went on to found the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Collection of American historical documents in 1994. Lehrman has said that "the building of the collection was to get... documents... out of private hands and into a place where they could be serving American students [and] American teachers."[37] They also founded the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute at Gettysburg College, which awards the Lincoln Prize "annually for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War soldier, or a subject relating to their era",[38] as well as the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, which awards the Frederick Douglass Prize for the best work in these fields.

"Over the last two generations our public and private schools have been eliminating civics classes and replacing the study of American history with social studies classes," Lehrman said in a newspaper interview. "In many American colleges today you can graduate with a degree without ever taking a full course in American history. I respect the fact that this is a free country... but I do not regard the ignorance of American history as a good thing."[39] In a 2008 interview with Humanities magazine, Lehrman described the efforts to support American history scholarship he had begun with Gilder: "[W]e want history to be a public thing. Which is why Dick and I, working with Gabor Boritt, established the Lincoln Prize for the very best work on the era of Mr. Lincoln and the Civil War and, with David Davis, the Frederick Douglass Book Prize for the very best work on abolition, resistance, and slavery. We want to help attract the interest of the general public. And scholars and teachers should be honored for the immense effort they make to write and to study and to teach American history."[40] The first prize was "announced on Feb. 12, 1991, the 182d anniversary of Lincoln's birth, with subsequent prizes announced every year on his birthday eve, Feb. 11."[41] The first Lincoln Prize recipient was film-maker Ken Burns for his Civil War series on PBS. Subsequent winners have included historians Michael Burlingame, Richard J. Carwardine, David H. Donald, Eric Foner, John Hope Franklin, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Allen C. Guelzo, James McPherson, James Oakes, and Douglas L. Wilson.

Because of their conservative credentials, the support of Lehrman and Gilder for history projects was sometimes controversial. In 2005, David Brion Davis, a self-described "leftish Democrat" who worked with them on the Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition defended them: "Despite our major political differences, I have never encountered even the most subtle attempt at ideological influence of any kind with respect to my teaching, writing, cocurating a national exhibition on slavery, or making proposals as a member of the Advisory Board of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History."[42] In 2013, Lehrman published The American Founders, a collection of essays on the military and civilian leaders of the Revolutionary War era.

Abraham Lincoln

Lehrman founded the Lincoln Institute to provide support and assistance to scholars and groups involved in the study of the life of America's 16th President. 'The Lincoln Institute promotes the development and dissemination of printed materials, broadcast products, conferences and Internet resources on Mr. Lincoln. It encourages scholars to cooperate with one another and to contribute to the development of historical materials and the transcription of primary sources for both physical and virtual display.

The Lincoln Institute also produces and maintains six websites about Abraham Lincoln and the people with whom he lived and worked.

  • Mr. Lincoln's White House[43] examines the events and people who worked with President Lincoln in Washington during the tumultuous years of the Civil War.
  • Mr. Lincoln and the Founders[44] examines the impact of the Founders, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on Mr. Lincoln's life, political thinking and political actions in the 1850s and 1860s.
  • Mr. Lincoln and Freedom[45] details the progress of Mr. Lincoln's opposition to slavery from his years in the Illinois State Legislature to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.
  • Mr. Lincoln and Friends[46] reviews the many men and a few women whose friendships helped determine Mr. Lincoln's political progress and success in the Springfield, Illinois state capital and in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
  • Mr. Lincoln and New York[47] discusses the many ways in which the center of 19th-century American political, media and economic power interacted with, supported and tormented Mr. Lincoln both before and during his Presidency.
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom[48] is a resource for scholars and groups involved in the study of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the impact he had on the preservation of the Union and the emancipation of black slaves.

Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point addresses two speeches given by Abraham Lincoln at Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, in October 1854. These addresses catapulted Lincoln into the debates over slavery that dominated Illinois and national politics for the rest of the decade. They also formed the foundation of his politics, principles and the themes of his Presidency. Lehrman's book on the often-overlooked speeches was published in July 2008.

In 2013, Lehrman published Lincoln "by littles," a collection of his essays on Lincoln and the Civil War. "I think Mr. Lincoln is the very best example by which to teach American history," Lehrman said in an interview about the book. "Here is a man who had fewer than 12 months of formal education, born absolutely dirt poor, grew up literally on the frontier with bears and panthers in the deep woods of Spencer County, Ind., which was the edge of the frontier in 1818, and out of nothing in terms of inheritance and education, he taught himself to be a surveyor, he taught himself to be a lawyer—he didn't go to law school. No Yale law school or Harvard law school for him. He studied the books on his own and then took the test before the Supreme Court of Illinois and was known to be one of the five most successful lawyers of Illinois. And the rest is history, as one says."[49]

Conservative causes

In addition to his historical scholarship work, Lehrman is also active in civic and conservative causes. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Project for the New American Century for one year. In the late 1970s he was a Trustee to the American Enterprise Institute and was a member of the Heritage Foundation until the 1990s. In addition, Lehrman was an early member of the Manhattan Institute and a trustee of the Pierpont Morgan Library.

In 1983, he helped to found Citizens for America, an organization which aided Oliver North's campaign to supply the anti-communist Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. The impetus for the organization came from Jaquelin H. Hume, a friend of President Ronald Reagan, had conceived the project and sold President Reagan on getting Lehrman involved. Reagan called Lehrman: “The President and I had a long talk. The conclusions of our discussion were very simple. We agree we needed a national civil league, an activist enterprise, people who agreed on first principles, that would focus on economic and national security policies. Our first purpose is to induce a mutation in the climate of opinion in American among opinion leaders. We would join the intellectual debate in every town, village, and city through our Congressional district committees.”[50] In his diary, Reagan wrote: “Lew Lehrman & Jack Hume came by. They have a great plan for getting our supporters organized at the Cong. District level.”[51]

At the time, Lehrman was considered a possible future Republican presidential candidate.[52]

In 1985, the organization was run for a short time by future lobbyist and convict Jack Abramoff. Abramoff was later fired for mismanaging the organization's funds.[53] During that year, Citizens for America sponsored a meeting in Angola between Angolan, Nicaraguan, Afghan, and Laotian anti-communist rebels. Lehrman personally attended the event, called the "Democratic International". Lehrman stepped down from Citizens for America in September 1986 and was succeeded by Gerald P. Carmen, former ambassador to Switzerland.[54]

Position on the gold standard

From very early on, Lewis E. Lehrman "became a big fan of Jacques Rueff, Charles de Gaulle's finance minister, and a true believer in the gold standard."[55] Lehrman was a member of the U.S. Gold Commission in 1981 with Congressman Ron Paul. In 1982, they co-authored the book The Case for Gold[56] with a team of economists that included Murray Rothbard. Lehrman's singular point of view appears in many periodicals including The Wall Street Journal,[57] the Washington Post,[58] National Review,[59] American Spectator[60] and The Weekly Standard.[61] Additionally, Lehrman contributed to Money and the Coming World Order, originally published by the New York University Press and republished by The Lehrman Institute in 2012, and wrote The True Gold Standard (2012). In promoting a return to the Gold Standard, Lehrman was allied to James Grant, editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, with whom he testified before the United States House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology in March 2011 and September 2012.[62]

Lehrman launched the Gold Standard Now in 2011 as an aggregator of monetary policy news and to advocate that "America should lead by unilateral resumption of the gold standard."[63] In 2013, Lehrman published Money, Gold and History, a collection of his writings on monetary policy and his advocacy of the gold standard. One commentator noted that “Lehrman is one of a very small group of contemporary gold advocates able to successfully bridge the gap separating practical conservative intellectualism from fleeting, half-baked idealism.”[64]

Lehrman repeatedly argued that paper currency was injurious to working Americans. “The primary argument upon which I would rest my case for a gold standard,” Lehrman said in a 2013 interview, “is that it preserves the purchasing power, the wages, the salaries, of all those who are unable to defend themselves in the halls of Congress in Washington or elsewhere, in citadels of power like Wall Street.”[65]

The Lehrman American Studies Center

In 2005, with Lehrman's funding, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute established the Lehrman American Studies Center. This center, as stated on its website, worked to "enrich higher education by creating the right conditions for vigorous discussion and contemplative scholarship—particularly within the scope of American Studies." The center provided a variety of programming, including an annual two-week summer institute at Princeton University for young academics, and maintained an online library of teaching resources. "I learned at Yale how much can be gained from the close interaction of students with historians," Lehrman noted in a magazine interview. "We have tried to replicate that model at the Lehrman Institute, at the Gilder Lehrman Institute, and most recently with the Lehrman American Studies Center at ISI."[66]


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External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Perry B. Duryea, Jr.
Republican Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Andrew O'Rourke