What is John Adams' legacy?

David McCullough is called the "citizen chronicler" by Librarian of Congress James Billington. His books have led a renaissance of interest in American history--from learning about a flood in Pennsylvania that without warning devastated an entire community to discovering the private achievements and frailties of an uncelebrated president. His biography of Harry Truman won him a Pulitzer, as did his most recent biography of another president, John Adams.

Meeting Thornton Wilder at Yale as an undergraduate inspired McCullough to become a writer--his first love, in fact, had been art. While at college he also met his wife, Rosalee. He learned his craft working at Sports Illustrated, at the United States Information Agency, and at American Heritage. McCullough researched and wrote his first book in the precious hours away from his job with American Heritage; The Johnstown Flood came out in 1968. It was a story and region familiar to McCullough, who was born and raised in nearby Pittsburgh. The book was a success and he became a full-time author.

Since then, McCullough has given us six more books--The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, Truman, and John Adams--earning him two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and two Francis Parkman Prizes from the American Society of Historians. His other honors include a Charles Frankel Prize, a National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, and a New York Public Library’s Literary Lion Award.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

David McCullough: The legacy of John Adams is an example of a man who was willing to go through almost every conceivable kind of inconvenience hard ship and pain to achieve a Nobel objective, to create a nation her people would govern themselves, against the forces that wished otherwise. It had never happened before in history such a revolution had never been successful and he was working with others who had had no more experience in creating this dream come true then he had and they succeeded. I am not everybody of that revolutionary era was a hero, hundreds of people, went over to the other side, went over to the British side, where hundreds of them gave up, hundreds just sat back and watched and said well we will be on which ever side wins. Thousands of them, the estimates are that maybe as much as the 1/3rd of the country were simply waiting to see what happened, but this group this ragtag group very much of them many of them, if you saw them today you would think they look like homeless people, starving, hopeless looking army at one point, would not where and would not lose faith and any scenic, any skeptic, any self centered materialistic, keenest of the kind that would turn up his or her nose at such idealism was proven wrong, they did succeed, they succeeded against tremendous odds and we wouldn’t have what we have in the way of freedoms and idealism a body of the secular faith that you will, its the words so that, that’s his legacy and the legacy of the English. I think John Adams never failed to answer the call of his country to serve, John Adams is the only founding father who never owned a slave as a matter of principle. These were principled people and Abigail no less than John Adams.

 

Recorded on: 3/3/08


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