I love this book. It’s a chronological collection of the most important 15 of many speeches America’s most honored historian gave over 27 years, ending in 2016. For me, the book is essentially about the importance character has played in the American saga. I...
I love this book. It’s a chronological collection of the most important 15 of many speeches America’s most honored historian gave over 27 years, ending in 2016. For me, the book is essentially about the importance character has played in the American saga.
I should start by saying that my favorite American era is the Revolutionary War, and for a book I wrote about George Washington’s Liberty Key (Mount Vernon’s Bastille Key), Mr. McCullough graciously sent me a note to confirm an idea I thought I heard him say sometime earlier in a video interview: “The American Revolution was all about character.” Elsewhere, he had previously written, “Character it’s what counts most of all. [That’s] what’s taught in the story of the Revolution.” This was complemented by renowned historian Gordon Wood writing: “The Revolution is the most important event in American history. … The things we believe in came out of that revolution.”
So I very much welcomed this 2017 book from Mr. McCullough, which I bought and read as soon as it came out. As I reread it now, here are a few of the “character” gems I find:
Referring to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela: “And we saw greatness, too, in the conduct and character of the white man he replaced, President F.W. de Klerk.” “History teaches that character counts. Character above all.” “As Truman saw the presidency, the chief responsibility was to make decisions and he made some of the most difficult and far-reaching of any president. If not brilliant or eloquent, he was courageous and principled. The invisible something he brought to the office was character.” Per John Adams earnest wishes, now engraved on the White House mantelpiece: “I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” “The Greeks said that character is destiny, and the more I read of the human story, the more convinced I am they were right.”
I would point out that, for a new edition, the following assertion on page 91 might be clarified: “A third of the country was for it [independence], a third of the country was against it, and the remaining third, in the old human way, was waiting to see who came out on top.” According to “All Things Liberty,” this frequently characterized split in revolutionary-era Americans was made by John Adams. However, he was referring not to the American Revolution but the American view of the French Revolution. From my own research on the American Revolution, other historians place the ratio somewhere around 10% for the American Revolution, 10% against, and 80% just wanting to be left alone. However, as the Revolution progressed, the percentages varied wildly depending upon prospects for independence. It''s been written that, at most, those for the Revolution did not exceed 45% and those against 20%.
Overall, however, and this single issue aside, “The American Spirit” is a great book. Typical of all of McCullough’s works, it’s well-researched, well-written (almost poetic at times), and well-spoken —the chapters were, after all, speeches. True to his advice to educators, he makes history his “story.” And, indeed, a fascinating story it is, full of intriguing, little-known facts about America’s heroes that inform, entertain, and inspire.
Bottom-line: highly recommended!
“Character is Key for Liberty!” Check out how “Character, Culture, and Constitution” played “key” roles in the American and French Revolutions:
George Washington''s Liberty Key: Mount Vernon''s Bastille Key – the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul
, a best-seller at Mount Vernon.