If the Founding Fathers Could See Us Now
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.
David McCullough: I think if John Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, and the others were to come back today they would be amazed that the system of government that they created is still in place; that the constitution is still there; that we still have the Bill of Rights at that they created. And I think they would be very proud of that we have an independent judiciary, for example—that the legislature is in two parts, Senate and the House, and that the President is the chief executive.
That would all please them enormously because the odds were that it would not survive. That the nation is survived, it did not pull itself apart. They would be amazed by our dentistry, our medicine, our capacity to build skyscrapers and bridges and all of that, the speed at which we communicate and the speed at which we move from one place to another. I think they would think they would feel that we were rather soft and that we really hadn’t been through anything like they had experienced. I think that their stomachs might turn little at the role of money in our politics now and the degree to which politics has been turned into merchandising and marketing and advertising and ballyhoo.
Recorded on: March 3, 2008
If John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton came back today, they would be amazed that the system of government that they created is still in place.
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