In Memoriam: Robert A. Goldwin

Robert A. Goldwin

I begin with some personal reflections. I had something of a life before I knew Bob Goldwin. I had graduated from college, had played tournament tennis, and, for four years had, along with Bob, fought World War II. (We won it, incidentally.) My life changed directions--or took on its purpose--in 1950 when I began graduate studies at the University of Chicago. It was there--in fact, the first week there--that I met Bob.

I had come from Reed College, by way of a year at the London School of Economics, and had intended to study with--better that I not mention their names--Professors X, Y, and Z. Bob had come from St. John's College, where he learned about Leo Strauss. He persuaded me to study with Mr. Strauss, as we called him, and I did, then and for the next three years; and it was in those seminars that I met the men--so long as they lived--my life-long friends: Herbert Storing, Allan Bloom, Martin Diamond, Robert Horowitz, and Ralph Lerner. Bob has a photograph of six of us sitting in a row at Colgate University in 1976 during a program celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence

In 1951, I fell in love with Irene, and wondered whether it was wise for an impoverished graduate student to get married. Bob, who knew Irene, said, "Don't be a fool, marry her before she gets away." So I did. That was 59 years ago. Then in early September 1953, I went off to my first teaching position at Louisiana State University, leaving behind a very pregnant Irene. It was Bob who, two weeks later, in the middle of the night, drove Irene to the university's Lying In Hospital for the birth of our first child, and Bob who in the morning, called to say that all was well and that I was the father of a daughter, Elizabeth.

[At AEI] he edited and published a series of truly distinguished, and truly unique, constitutional studies of the sort never before published. . . .

And what did I do for him? Only this. Herb Storing and I encouraged him to quit his job with an education organization in order to finish his Ph.D. This required him and his wife and family to live for two--or was it three?--years of dignified poverty, during which Daisy acquired her 100 recipes for serving hamburger. On the other hand, however, with those academic credentials he went on to have his distinguished academic and political careers.

Of his years with Don Rumsfeld at NATO in Brussels and in the Ford White House with Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, I can say little. I wasn't there. But I can say a good deal about his work at the American Enterprise Institute. There he edited and published a series of truly distinguished, and truly unique, constitutional studies of the sort never before published, studies demonstrating, for example, how the Constitution secures religious liberties, how it separates powers, and, for another example, how it can be said to be democratic. Even before his days at AEI, he had edited a series of constitutional studies published by Rand McNally, and Storing and I and Bloom and Diamond and others contributed to these studies.

At AEI, he published his book on the Bill of Rights. Of course, many others have addressed this subject, but it was left for Bob to demonstrate that the so-called amendments did not in fact amend the Constitution or even modify it in any respect. What, then, did they do, or what was their purpose? As Bob makes clear, they were intended by Madison to give "satisfaction to the doubting part of his fellow citizens," not the hardcore Anti-Federalists, who wanted to change the Constitution fundamentally, but to the others, the body of the people who needed reassurance that their individual liberties were not threatened by the new Constitution. This is what Madison did, and this is what Goldwin shows.

And with him, we went around the world discussing the American Constitution, and the making of constitutions, new constitutions as it happened, in France, Portugal, and South Africa; and I, instructed by Bob, went to Mexico, Brazil, and Chile, countries then involved with the task of writing or modifying their constitutions.

I should say here that much of my early work, including my early scholarly work, was vetted by him. In fact, I continued to seek his advice throughout my career. He sometimes solicited work from me. He once asked me to write a response to an essay he did not like, but was obliged to publish, saying that I should not "go easy on him." I didn't, and when I turned it in, he said--and you can understand why I remember what he said--"asking you to go easy on someone is like telling a bull, about to enter a china shop, not to be too careful."

I dedicated my last book to Bob. In the inscription, I said, "To Robert Goldwin, treasured adviser and friend." And he was that; he surely was that.

Walter Berns is a resident scholar at AEI. Mr. Berns delivered the above remarks at the memorial service for Mr. Goldwin on January 14, 2010.

Remembering Bob

Bob Goldwin was a meticulous scholar with a subtle understanding of politics. I've turned to his book on the Bill of Rights, From Parchment to Power, so many times that my copy is threatening to fall apart, and I never hesitated to call Bob himself if I had a question about Madison or the Constitution. He was a gentle and generous man--besides being brilliant.

Bob didn’t advertise what he was doing and didn’t talk about it much in the years after, which was part of his essential modesty, part of what made him so admirable.

Dick remembers Bob from the Ford years, when he became a resident scholar at the White House. Bob had worked for Don Rumsfeld at NATO, and after Don became White House Chief of Staff, Bob organized a series of seminars for President Ford and the senior staff. He'd get together a small number of people, always including the president, and bring in a speaker to enlighten the group. Dick particularly remembers one Saturday when Bob put together a gathering up in the solarium on the top floor of the White House. The speaker that day was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and he talked about his book Beyond the Melting Pot, in which he and Nathan Glazer wrote about the persistence of ethnicity in America and the consequences of it. Beyond the Melting Pot was a controversial book at the time. All these years later, we know it was very prescient.

Dick says that he does not recall in all his years in Washington events like the ones Bob organized. Bob didn’t advertise what he was doing and didn’t talk about it much in the years after, which was part of his essential modesty, part of what made him so admirable. We will miss him very much.

Lynne V. Cheney is a senior fellow at AEI. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 13, 2010.

Tribute to Robert A. Goldwin, 1922-2010

Few individuals had as much influence on the thinking of conservative American policy makers and yet were as little known to the public as Bob Goldwin. Bob was a man of sweeping, ambitious ideas, but personal modesty and quiet competence. He had the rare talent of asking the right questions at the right time, and gently nudging discussions toward the "eureka" moment. Every conversation with Bob left you with a perspective you hadn’t considered before.

Bob Goldwin was the Ford administration's one-man think tank, its intellectual compass, and bridge to a new conservatism--a conservatism that was unashamed to be conservative.

Bob and I had known each other since his days at the University of Chicago. In 1972, I lured away my friend from his position as dean of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland to join me at NATO, where I served as U.S. ambassador. Two years later, I was called back to Washington to help the newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford, and one of the first people I recruited to the White House staff was Bob. Bob led seminars for President Ford in the White House solarium, bringing in some of the finest minds in America, not least his own, to discuss the toughest issues of the time.

Bob Goldwin was the Ford administration's one-man think tank, its intellectual compass, and bridge to a new conservatism--a conservatism that was unashamed to be conservative. He helped provide the intellectual underpinning that convinced many Republicans that they didn't have to apologize when they stood for lower taxes or suggested that our strategy against the Soviet Union ought not be placation.

The ideas he corralled and the causes he championed--from opposing the creation of a new international bureaucracy with the Law of the Seas Treaty in 1982 to offering wise counsel on a new Iraqi constitution as recently as 2003--were without match. Bob was a valuable counselor and a dear friend.

I considered myself one of his many students, and I know I will miss him. So too will America, but perhaps without fully realizing what is being missed.

Donald Rumsfeld is the former secretary of defense. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 15, 2010.

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About the Author


  • Walter Berns is also a professor emeritus at Georgetown University. A scholar of political philosophy and constitutional law, he has written extensively on American government and politics in both professional and popular journals. He is the author of numerous books on democracy, the Constitution, and patriotism. His most recent book is Democracy and the Constitution (AEI Press, 2006), a collection of essays. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2005.
  • Phone: 2028625859


Lynne V.
  • Lynne Cheney has spent much of her professional life writing and speaking about the importance of knowing American history and teaching it well. As chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993, she wrote and spoke about the importance of teaching children about the leaders, events, and ideas that have shaped our world, and she worked to provide opportunities for teachers to gain the in-depth knowledge that lies behind inspired instruction. Mrs. Cheney has worked to bring tales of the American past to a wide audience, writing articles about history for numerous publications on topics ranging from women's suffrage in the West to the way Americans celebrated the country's centennial. She has also turned her attention to children and their families, writing six bestselling history books for them, the most recent being We the People: The Story of Our Constitution (Simon & Schuster, 2008). She is currently working on an in-depth biography of James Madison, titled James Madison: A Life Reconsidered  (Viking, 2014), which will be released on May 6, 2014.
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