What John Adams Would Say About the 2008 Elections?
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 don’t think you can predict how they would react to the present day, political scene or the particular individuals. I think they would applaud those candidates who have a sense of history, who understand that they the candidates themselves must in every thing they do as best they can try to measure up to the high standards established before they came alone, that is part of the importance of the sense of history. It is not just knowing what happened before you came on the scene, but realizing the you too are part of history that you too are involved in the unfolding of the history of our time and you too all of us will be judged in time to come as to how we played our part, in our day and in our way and that the judgment of the long run is the judgment that matters most. One of the great senses, a great part of my own satisfaction gratification from the result of this mini series is that I think it will remind Americans at this crucial moment in this election year of what being a citizen involves and what public service can amount to that character counts that being a system of government where by we govern ourselves requires that you have an informed and committed population. It sets so often you should vote because as part of being a citizen. It isn’t deep but it so it is only the beginning of being a citizen. John Adams is a shining emblem of the transforming miracle of education. John Adams came from a back ground is humble or more humble than that of Abraham Lincoln. His father was a farmer, a shoe maker; his mother was almost certainly illiterate, but because he had a scholarship to go to college when he was 15 years old. He discovered books that he said he read for ever. He became the most widely deeply read American of that very bookish time and he and Jefferson and others all felt that unless we were educated, unless we are informed, unless we are well read and thoughtful about our role as roles as parents and the citizens. That the system wasn’t going to work, it would break down. Jefferson said any nation that expects to be ignorant free, expects what never was and never will be. In other words we must be informed and educated and care about whether the system worked and I think that it is enormously encouraging, enormously exciting that so many young people, young Americans are taking part in this current election year, the way they are. I think it is marvelous and I think it is historic and it’s importance should not be over looked.
Recorded on: 3/3/08
We can't expect the system to work if we are ignorant, McCullough says.
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