Tales of ‘The American Spirit’

Published 9:00 am Friday, August 25, 2017

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

“One nation, under God, indivisible.”

Those words deeply mean something to you. Maybe you have fought for them. Maybe you say them daily. You see the news and they leap to mind, whether you are optimistic for the future or pessimistic about current events.

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In the book “The American Spirit” by David McCullough, you will see how the former better describes our nation.

For the past 50 years or so, author and historian McCullough has given many speeches. He has been honored to talk to graduating classes, business organizations and politicians throughout that time, and he says he often returns home knowing that “the American spirit [is] still at work.”

Yes, we have always been divided — and united.

We were united by people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Manasseh Cutler, men about whom much has been written. And yet, says McCullough, there were other “giants” in history that we never hear much about: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Speaker Joe Martin, Margaret Chase Smith, Frank Church — the list is endless.

“How can we know who we are and where we are headed,” asks McCullough, “if we don’t know where we have come from?”

Knowing why our cities grew, and why they were important explains us in better detail; take “Pitt from Pittsburgh and the loss would be devastating,” McCullough says, as an example.

We also should study the “energy” of the documents created by the Founding Fathers — and about those Fathers, we must remember that they were “living men” and fallible humans. They wrote with their reputations in mind, “staking their lives on what they believed…”

We are a country that values education. We mostly “want to belong to something larger than ourselves.” We are a nation made of people born here, and around the world. We are stewards of and teachers for historic sites. And “When bad news is riding high…” says McCullough, “… and some keep crying that the country is going to the dogs, remember it’s always been going to the dogs in the eyes of some, and that 90 percent, or more, of the people are good people…”

“We all know that. Let’s all pitch in. And never lose heart.”

The news makes you want to scream? Come over here and join the club — but bring your copy of “The American Spirit.”

There’s a lot we can learn together.

We can do that, says author David McCullough, by reading history to get a bigger picture of the arms-wide-open optimism shared by America’s brightest citizens. Here, in this anthology of speeches, McCullough displays unparalleled storytelling skills with tales of those preachers, politicians, visionaries, men, and women whose work meant everything to a growing nation. It is hard not to get caught up in McCullough’s eagerness to know those tales, and it is hard not to be stirred by them.

This book is small but its message is huge so, if you are a student of current events, give it the introspection and time it demands.

Do that, and “The American Spirit” could pledge for you a new outlook.