Posted by: philipfontana | September 20, 2017

David McCullough, Bk #11

David McCullough

Book No. 11

The American Spirit


Philip Fontana


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      “One of our Nation’s most distinguished & honored historians, David McCullough has taken his own place in American history…The United States honors David McCullough for his lifelong efforts to document the people, places, & events that have shaped America.” – -From The Presidential Medal of Freedom Citation, December 2006.



     Excuse Us For Living is proud to bring to you David McCullough’s eleventh book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). David McCullough has put together a collection of some of his speeches over the last three decades. David McCullough makes very clear in the “Introduction” his motivation to publish these speeches at this time of “uncertainty and contention;” “…who we are and what we stand for, of the high aspirations that inspired our founders, of our enduring values, and the importance of history as an aid to navigate in such troubled, uncertain times.”

[You can find discussion of all the other ten books by David McCullough right here on this website. Just go to the right margin and click on “Book Reviews” where you can click again “D. McCullough,” Bks #1-5, #6-9, & #10. It has been my delight to have read all eleven of his books.]

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        Above, David McCullough’s latest book of speeches, published by Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). In addition to two National Book Awards & two Pulitzer Prizes, David McCullough has also twice won the Frances Parkman Prize. Along the way to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom & fifty-four honorary doctorates, David McCullough is also the recipient of the following honors; the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, & the Gold Medal for Biography from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.


Over the years, David McCullough spoke at historic events at the Capitol and the White House, college commencements, historical societies and other institutions. His speeches were inspiring or informative, and many were both! In broad terms, the speeches are about our nation’s history, the people that were part of our American story, education and its many aspects, the most important being books and reading, and all things cultural from literature to art, music, science, and more.

David McCullough’s overall thrust here is the importance of history as a guide to America’s values and character. He fears that too many Americans are ignorant of the history that can enrich and guide our views for the present and the future. He says that history can inform people’s understanding of contemporary events and remind us of our basic values through the people that made America what it is today. What comes through strongest are decency, truth, good-heartedness, bravery, civility, optimism, hope, and “the drive to reinvent ourselves.” David McCullough seeks through his speeches to reassure people that their present fears and concerns have been felt by others in our past history and overcome!

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          David McCullough, as he appeared addressing a joint session of Congress, in 1989, for the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1779-1989. Few “private citizens” have had the distinct honor of addressing a joint session of the United States Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.


The Speeches and Their Overall Themes/Content/Messages:

#1. 1989, A joint session of the United States Congress, the Capitol, the House Chamber, Washington, D.C., the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1789-1989; biographies of the great people of the Congress.

#2. 1994, Commencement, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; addressing the problems of America’s cities through studies programs at each city’s university(ies).

#3. 1994, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony; Thomas Jefferson, all he did and stood for as a model for these new citizens.

#4. 1994, Commencement, Union College, Schenectady, New York; this the first architectural “open plan” campus and first interdenominational college in America.

#5. 1998, Commencement, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Benjamin Rush, founder of Dickinson College in 1773, doctor, educator, and more, ranks among the outstanding Americans of colonial times and of all time.

#6. 1998, Commencement, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts; the lessons of history, “history is philosophy taught with examples,” Harry Truman said, “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”

#7. 1999, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; the U.S. Presidents and the Presidency.

#8. 2000, The White House, Washington, D.C., the 200th Anniversary of the first President, John Adams, to occupy the “President’s House” in 1800; the story of our second President, John Adams, arriving from the previous capital of Philadelphia, wife Abigail’s arrival two weeks later, and their brief four months there in the unfinished mansion due to Adams’ defeat for re-election by Thomas Jefferson.

#9. 2001, sometime after the September 11 attack upon the World Trade Center, at a meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Providence, Rhode Island; the intersection of our great historic buildings and the “actors” of their time giving us today a sense of presence of our Founding Fathers.

#10. 2004, Commencement, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio; the story of the University’s founding by the Reverend Manasseh Cutler as an outgrowth of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and how education is the basis of our democracy and “happiness.”

#11. 2005, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan; the importance of history to plan for the future with knowledge of the past and the teaching of history and teacher training.

#12. 2007, 250th Birthday of the Marquis De Lafayette, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania; Lafayette’s contributions to winning the American Revolution, his 1824 yearlong U.S. visit and celebration tour of all 24 states, the unique American-French relationship and alliance over the centuries, and the great Americans in all fields of endeavor studying in Paris in the 1800’s and beyond.

#13. 2008, Commencement, Boston College, Boston , Massachusetts; learning and education are more than facts and information, they are attained through “ardor” or hard work by reading books, leaving the graduates with the charge to, “Read. Read, read!”

#14. 2013, November 22, 50 year commemoration of the loss of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas; J.F.K.’s own words, ideals, and inspiration.

#15. 2016, Meeting of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, the Capitol, Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C.; the building itself, its people from the Congress to the common folk such as the police, barbers, tour guides, etc., the 3-5 million visitors per year, the historic events that took place there, and the architects, engineers, sculptors and artists that contributed to its creation.


Excuse Us For Living cannot sum it all up and say it better than the author himself. In David McCullough’s own words about our History:


“It is a story like no other, our greatest natural resource. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years…Yes, we have much to be seriously concerned about, much that needs to be corrected, improved, or dispensed with. But the vitality and creative energy, the fundamental decency, the tolerance and insistence on truth, and the good-heartedness of the American people are there still plainly.”


Thank you, David McCullough, for your book #11. And may God grant you the years to write a book #12 & more.

Comments: Please!

Sources: David McCullough’s book, The American Spirit, 2017  



  1. Hi Phil

    I am a close follower of Hillsdale College in Michigan, and have read excerpts of David McCullough speeches at the College. Hillsdale is the only college in America that does not accept any federal funds including student loans and are free to run their college as they see fit. In addition they offer many free online courses on the constitution, the founders, and history, and economics.

    I did manage to watch one of the sessions of the Ken Burns PBS film on Vietnam. They were dealing with 1965 and the Gulf of Tonkin and the build up American troops to a combat level. I was sort of surprised as Burns and PBS were quite critical of LBJ and his Kennedy hold over cabinet, as they should be. I wonder if in future episodes they will get into race relations and the race riot at Cam Rah and the Johnsons involvement in the Sea Land Corporation. I had mixed feelings about watching, on one hand I did not support the war but did allow myself to be drafted after getting a college degree. On the other hand I never identified myself with the SDS, Jane Fonda, and other hippy antiwar groups. At the time I was drafted I was working as a Plant Protection Guard at Chrysler it was one of the few good paying jobs I could find with a I-A draft status.

  2. Looks like I have a new book to get! Well written Phil!

    • Padre Tatro, Eddie, boy, will you LOVE this one!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for looking at my post & commenting! May the quality of life there in Florida be improving with each day! Phil

  3. Bill Wonsik, Great comments!!! A a retired principal, my former gym teacher, Bill Henshaw, was a grad of Hillside. David McCullough’s speech #11 in this book was at Hillsdale College. From my article above, “#11. 2005, Hillside College, Hillside, Michigan; the importance of history to plan for the future with knowledge of the past and the teaching of history and teacher training.” Enjoyed your comments on Ken Burns’ “Vietnam.” Right! Lots of surprises to learn about that whole damn war in the PBS program. I’ve been watching parts of it. In October it will be on once a week, every Tuesday night, for 10 weeks. Then I hope to view all of it! I served in Vietnam in Cam Ranh Bay 1970. If you look in the right margin above, you will see an index with Vietnam last at the bottom. Click on it & four stories of mine on Vietnam will pop up for you to click on. You have a great story of your own! Thanks again for the comment! Phil

    • Bill Wonsik, Correction!!! Hillsdale College!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry! All changes made in the text too! Phil

  4. Good read as always Phil…this is short and sweet as I fly to the great state of NJ tomorrow!

    • Marg! Many thanks for the nice comment but most of all because your time is short flying east to NJ tomorrow! Safe trip! Peter & Kristen’s wedding is a week from this Saturday!!! Phil

  5. Thanks as usual for your words and recommendations. Of note to me: “David McCullough’s own words about our History: …” are so relevant in this decisive political time. When have our core values ever been so violated by a sitting president, and yet so sadly adulated by upwards of a 1/3 majority? M 😦

    • “M,” Your description of these times is worthy to quote!!! David McCullough speaks in simple terms in this collection of speeches which is appropriate to public speaking. But the collective effect of his words underscore “who we are & what we stand for” through real examples, real people, from our American story. Thanks! Phil

  6. “what we stand for”. Seems football player$ that make million$ don’t $stand.

    • Carl, I knew an old history teacher like you would love David McCullough’s new book. Carl, think about this issue. Shouldn’t an NFL player have the same rights as a child in a public school?

      “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The Court’s 6–3 decision, delivered by Justice Robert H. Jackson, is remembered for its forceful defense of free speech and constitutional rights generally as being placed ‘beyond the reach of majorities and officials.’ ”

      Always the history teachers WE are!!! Thanks! Phil

  7. “What we stand for “. These days I wonder what we do stand for. I think that the kneeling by the football players really is standing for American values. White America’s display of patriotism allows them to be in denial to face the real issue – the murder of black men by vigilante police execution on the street. What’s there to be proud of ? This is an unfortunate part of America and needs to be confronted. So I applaud Kap. Black men are Americans too. No officers: a black wallet does not look like a .45 and an umbrella does not look like an AK47. Yes honor our flag, our anthem, our military, and our democracy. But don’t forget to respect the lives of minority people,all people. That is America and its people are more noble than symbols. When we dishonor the people – that is the dishonor to America.

    Thanks for your visits to my blog Phil. All this is the reason I do not do political cartoons. No matter what good intentions one might have you lose and enrage half your audience and even those that support a political cartoonist’s themes eventually find something to condemn anyway . So on my blog I keep mere funny, silly, corny wholesome humor which can be appreciated by all spectrums of the political composition of America.

    • Carl! Thank you for looking at what David McCullough’s latest book is all about. Maybe he should have subtitled his book, “What we used to & still should stand for,” from what you commented. On “taking a knee” (Don’t you hate that expression?), I could not agree more with your eloquent words & substantive thoughts. We both know Trump caused this dust up for his own purposes while America is left tearing itself apart once again. I can think of many ways to permit both expression of protest against black injustices & honor to flag & country at NFL games without all this gnashing of teeth.
      And your explanation about avoiding political cartoons so as not to lose & enrage half your audience is EXACTLY what I say about my website topics. I stay away from any topic that would reflect my liberal Democratic politics for the most part. The biggest exceptions have been our NJ Governor Christie & economic inequality, on both of which I have expressed my positions.
      And your funny, silly, corny humor is right up my alley, especially with your cartoons which play on your knowledge of history.
      Many thanks for taking the time between two old history teachers! Phil

    • Hello Mr Carl D’Agostino,

      It is a pleasant surprise to find you here! May be I should not be surprised at all knowing that you have always been interested in American history.

      Thank you, Philip, for doing a “book review” on David McCullough’s latest (the eleventh) book entitled “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For”.

      • SoundEagle, Thanks for the comment here & all the “Likes” & activity on my website by you!!! Yes, Carl is a great, talented guy!!! Phil

  8. I am esp sensitive to the matter as one sees through different eyes when some of your grandchildren are of mixed race. During the Zimmerman episode ( I lived just five miles from where he did) my young granddaughter asked “Grandpa are they going to shoot me because I’m black ?”It could happen in a place like Miami is disheartening. Oh, oh dear child I hope not for it would be the end of the world for me. No flag or song could replace her and the spirit of what the flag and anthem represents should give her a feeling of safety not a fear of death.

    • Carl, No one can speak with more authority on the subject than you can relating this exchange with your young granddaughter. I am sure your reply was gentle, honest, hopeful & from the heart. Your story of your exchange with your granddaughter during the Zimmerman episode demonstrates that there MUST be freedom of speech for “the knee” & “the flag” for ALL the people of our country. Too many Americans have NO CONTACT whatsoever with minorities. I don’t know if that would be a surprise to you having lived in the South. But here up North, there are townships with little or NO minorities what soever. And many that do, have a token few families in town with kids in the schools. Tragic. These white kids go off to college never having had a dialogue, no less a friendship, with a person of color. I am proud that my three sons have many friends from all backgrounds & it has enriched all our lives. –What an anecdote! Thanks! Phil

  9. Yes, there are two Americas. Well we are more polarized with subsets of population than that. I lived In Miami for 60 years. A 6 year old kid has a vocabulary that includes drive-by ,Glock, AK47, arrest, bail, status hearing, arraignment, department of children and families, parents losing custody of children , fav adjective/noun MFer, divorce, sentencing hearing, crack, crack whore, prostitution, domestic violence, rehab, food stamps, Section 8 housing, heroin, parole officer, truancy, hood/ghetto, child abuse, police profiling of minorities, teen pregnancy, funeral , well it’s a whole different world than those in the white gated communities could never imagine and how hardened mere 6 year olds are is astonishing. Kids are not surprised at all to hear that a school classmate was killed last night for this or that reason and even expect to hear it now and then. I lived in Miami for 60 years but would never classify it as the south. Making supper for father and I and getting ready for World Series game now. The Yankees are out so don’t care who wins.

    • Carl, You speak wisely from much experience; two Americas with subsets….so true. And your litany of vocabulary words for a 6 year old Miami child is chilling!!! And classmates being killed just like in Chicago’s South-side. Yep, me too…without the Yankees I lose interest. So glad you mentioned cooking for your Dad. He’s really up there in age as I recall. May God bless him & all his needs as well as you. Phil

  10. “Uncertainty and contention” – That must rank as one of this centuries great understatements!

    • Russel Ray, What a gentleman of a historian’s with his words, “uncertainty & contention.” That’s David McCullough & his style, i.e., not to “over-alarm” the American people. Thus, ” David McCullough seeks through his speeches to reassure people that their present fears and concerns have been felt by others in our past history and overcome!” And so he uses our American history to reinforce & assure us about “who we are and what we stand for.” I have attended in recent years David McCullough speaking at Drew University, Madison, NJ, where I earned my MA in political science. And I can assure you in person he speaks frankly. At this point in this administration, I have no doubt that David McCullough would condemn this president & label his conduct of the office as an anomaly in all American history. Thanks Russel for lighting my fire!!! Phil

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    • BestSavannah, Seven years of my & not a penny earned. I have suspected others make money from their websites. I have spent 12 hours on each of the average posts. I’ll check out murgrabia’s tools! Thanks! Phil

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