This collection of speeches by noted historian and author David McCullough reminds us of the men and women who, though many are barely remembered today, shaped the extraordinary country that we live in today in ways large and small. The speaker reminds us how special and unusual it is to live in a country that can name its precise birth date, that was specially and specifically designed to be governed by and for its people, and one that has been shaped by immigrants of every nationality. He emphasizes the dedication, bravery, and literacy of our Founding Fathers; he stresses how fortunate we are to live in a country where public education, public libraries, and higher education (universities) have always been esteemed. He discusses the importance of history, not because our Founding Fathers knew they were doing remarkable things. In fact, they did not. Everyone lives in their own present and can never fully predict what historical impact their actions will have and to be honest, neither can we. And yet we can act with certain values, ideals, and historical perspectives to guide us. As McCullough says, we all live in “trying times”. History teaches us that. No society throughout history ever thought life was “easy”. How we conduct ourselves, make our marks on society, and instruct the generations that come after us are just as important for us as it was for the Greeks, the Founding Fathers, or for those who lived during the World Wars.
The historian illustrates these truths with examples of subjects that he investigated most for his various published works, namely: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Harry S Truman, the ex-pat Americans in Paris of the Belle Epoque, Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal, to name several. The examples greatly overlap from speech to speech, but in each, the reader gets a slightly different context.
I think speeches such as the ones Mr. McCullough has collected here are more important now than ever. We think we live in an unusually trying time, a particularly divisive time, but history will tell you that is not quite accurate. We face unique challenges, to be sure. We lie in a time when neighbors are pitted against neighbors in ways that are both sad and unnecessary. But this is nothing greater or more challenging than what those before us dealt with in order to get us here. America is an exceptional place, not because we are better than any other country, but because we are part of a grand experiment of freedom, learning, and self-governance that is unparalleled in the history of man. We have a rich and noble history, one worth studying, admiring, and valuing. Millions have fought and died for the freedoms we often take for granted, and no one presidential administration or Congress or irresponsible journalist or controversy-fanning media outlets can take that from us. How we, as stewards of this great nation, conduct ourselves and pass this treasured democracy onto our children and grandchildren is up to every one of us, each and every day.
May you have a wonderful July 4th holiday and remember all those Americans who came before us, who gave us the lives we enjoy today!
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