Author and historian David McCullough discussed the recent terrorist attacks during the inaugural Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Sept. 19, 2001. Details...
Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough says although the United States suffered a terrible blow from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he is confident the country will emerge from the crisis with renewed strength.
“We’re being put to the test as we never expected to be,” McCullough told an audience of 2,000 people in Alumni Gymnasium. But in what could have been the country’s darkest hour, McCullough says the extraordinary character of America’s fiber came shining through. “As this week went on, suddenly, this country that supposedly has no heroes, had heroes.”
McCullough, whose latest book “John Adams” has been at or near the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for 16 weeks, says heroism and achievement in the face of great odds have always been part of the American story. “All of us are descended from people who have endured greater troubles, who had it worse, who suffered more,” McCullough said, using the Founding Fathers as an example.
“None of them had any experience in building a nation,” McCullough said. “And first, they had to win the war,” against the British. “By the fall of 1776, the army was in trouble. The war was over, and we had lost. It was the nadir, the low point, of the United States of America,” McCullough said. “If they’d taken a poll in 1776, they would have scrapped the whole thing,” until George Washington’s victories after crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night of that year boosted morale and changed the course of the war.
In the midst of its latest crisis, McCullough believes America can draw strength from the framers of our society. “They had backbone, those people. They believed in the ideals that we have enjoyed in this great nation for (more than) 200 years. Let’s rise to the occasion. Let’s remember who we are. We’re Americans,” McCullough said.
McCullough also discussed the life of John Adams, America’s second president. Adams’ speech at the Philadelphia Convention in 1776 provided the spark which led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. “If Jefferson was the pen of the Declaration of Independence, Adams was the voice,” McCullough said.
Adams fiercely believed in the value of education and its importance in a democratic society. Adams, a farmer’s son who attended Harvard on a scholarship, understood that “we cannot be a self-governing nation if we are uneducated, ill-informed and ignorant,” McCullough said. Adams’ commitment to education is displayed in the Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest constitution still in use in the world today, which he authored.
McCullough was on campus to deliver the inaugural Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture at Elon. Endowed by James Baird and his, wife, Jane, of Burlington, N.C., the lecture series will bring recipients of the Pulitzer Prize to the Elon campus. The Pulitzer is the nation’s most prestigious award in journalism and the liberal arts.
McCullough won the Pulitzer Prize for “Truman,” and is the author of other notable books, including “The Johnstown Flood,” “The Great Bridge,” and “Brave Companions.” An author, essayist, teacher and lecturer, McCullough received an Emmy for his work as host of “Smithsonian World” and “The American Experience” on public television.