THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

May 25, 2017

STEVE ROTHSTEIN:  I was about to say how special this night is, but you've all beat me to it, which is great. Welcome. My name is Steve Rothstein. I'm the Executive Director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. And on behalf of all the colleagues in the Foundation, and Jamie Roth and all the colleagues from the Library, we are really thrilled you can be here. 

All of our Forums are great, but tonight is really a treat because of the speakers who are here. It's also the beginning of the John F. Kennedy Centennial Weekend. And we planned this months ago, and we really literally thought, who would be the best pair of both speaker and moderator we could get for this historic time. And this is what we've gotten, so we're thrilled that they're both here. [applause] 

Before I introduce them, just a few brief announcements. First, I want to thank our underwriters and sponsors: lead sponsor Bank of America, the Lowell Institute, including Bill and Andrew Lowell who are here tonight; our media sponsors, the Globe, Xfinity, and WBUR; and our media sponsor for the Centennial, WCVB TV.  

As I say, we're kicking off the Centennial, and there is information, when you leave or maybe on your chairs, about what we're doing over the next few days. But over the next few days, there are opportunities, from seeing a new exhibit with 100 items, including 40 that have never been seen by anyone publicly before, opening tomorrow. On Saturday in this room, we'll be doing a special Peace Corps day. On Sunday, we have an astronaut here as part of our tribute to NASA. And Monday, we're having bands and music and the Navy to honor President Kennedy's service in the Navy. And at three p.m., exactly 100 years to the minute that President Kennedy was born, we'll be having two F/A teams flying right overhead to honor President Kennedy. And then we'll be eating a cake – we need help doing this [laughter] – a cake that will serve 1000 people, designed by the same company that did the cake for their engagement many years ago. So I hope you'll join us for some of those activities.

But tonight, we have literally standing-room-only in this auditorium. We also have an overflow in our other auditorium. We're also thrilled that we're streaming this, and there are watching parties in places, including the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, and others. And C-SPAN are here. So we appreciate all of you who are here, and those that are participating online.

We have many, many distinguished guests, and I'm not going to list them. I do want to just highlight a few at the risk of offending some who I miss. But there are many members of our Board here, and appreciate their leadership throughout the year and what they do. And this is, because it's our Centennial, we invited our colleagues at Presidential Libraries around the country. And we have representatives with us tonight, either from the Presidential Library or their accompanying Foundation, from the Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; again, the Library or the Foundation.

We also have former United States Senator and his wife Paul Kirk here tonight, and former Ambassadors Alan Solomont, Nicholas Burns, and several members of the New England Consul General Corps. So join me to thank all of them. [applause] 

After the first hour of dialogue, there will be a chance for questions, and there are microphones on either aisle, so you can get up and ask those. But if you don't want to get up, or if you're in the other room, or if you're streaming, you can also tweet us – @JFKLibrary. So literally, you can stay in your seat and then somebody will read the question, or you can get up in line. We'll do the best to answer as many as we can.

After the event, Mr. McCullough has graciously agreed to sign books. And if you have them, great; if not the Bookstore has them. If you're interested in having a book signed, go out at the end, my left, your right. If you already have that or are not interested in waiting in line, go out my right, your left, just to help the traffic flow go smoothly for that.

If you haven't read this yet, this is a treasure – The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, there are so many speeches here; if I had an hour, I'd just ask Mr. McCullough questions for an hour, but I promise I won't do that. But I do want to introduce, before I get to Mr. McCullough, Charlie Gibson. [applause] 

Based on the applause, I think I speak for most people here who feel we know him, even though we may have just met him, and that for much of what I know, I learned from listening to him on the news for 34 years, both anchoring ABC World News and then cohosting Good Morning America. He interviewed everybody, including nine US Presidents. So it's just a remarkable history, and we're honored that he and his lovely wife are here tonight. 

And then David McCullough. What do you say about David McCullough? First, I feel bad because he hasn't been recognized very much in his life. [laughter] I mean, everyone pretty much as two Pulitzer Prizes, right? And two National book Awards. And the Francis Parkman Prize, twice. And the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Everyone I know has been recognized by 54 honorary degrees; actually, no one else I know. 

Join me in welcoming this amazing panel. [applause] Thank you very much.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  So we're going to do just a colloquy here for about an hour. And then as Steven mentioned, you can come up and ask questions. And if people are going to tweet questions from outside the room, boy, those are going to be pretty concise questions, I must say. [laughter] The most famous tweeter in the world probably isn't watching, so I don't think we'll– [laughter] I doubt we'll get one of those, and I shudder to think what it might be. [laughter] 

But we do look forward to this, and it is a treat for me, as somebody who was a very undistinguished history major in college, to have a chance to talk to David, who is something of a legend, as Steven mentioned.

And I'm so pleased that there are representatives here from so many different Presidential Libraries. And we do gather in the Kennedy Library, which leads me actually to wonder, and I ask you, how many books do you think there'll be in the Trump Presidential Library? [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  He is, you doubtless saw in an interview with the Washington Post, said that he'd never read a book about a President, either a biography or a book about the presidency, and that he might some day, he said. And he doesn't read books because his mind reaches beyond that. [laughter] And I began to think about the great Presidents down the years who have been avid readers of history, many of them wrote history, including John Kennedy. And even those who didn't have the benefit of a college education, like Harry Truman, read history all their lives, and realized that it's essential to the role of a leader, whether it's the presidency or leadership of any kind, about cause and effect. 

History matters. If I have one message that I would like to get across in my work and in gatherings like this is, history matters. A lot. [applause] And we're slipping in our responsibility of teaching history to our children and grandchildren. It's been going on a good long time. A number of us have, in a sense, become evangelical preachers of the importance of history. And I've lectured at colleges and universities a great deal, and I'm astonished at how much these wonderful young people don't know about our country and its story.

I had one young lady come up to me after I gave a talk at a college in the Midwest, and she wanted to thank me for coming to the campus because, until she heard my talk that day, she had no idea that all the original thirteen colonies were on the East Coast. [laughter] 

And then I had another one ask in the question-and-answer period, which is maybe my favorite – this was a university in California – "Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other Presidents have you interviewed?" [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  There may not be many books in the Trump Presidential Library, but there'll be one hell of an edifice. [laughter] The name in big letters. Which actually leads me to a second question. As an historian, what specific steps could Andrew Jackson have taken to prevent the Civil War? [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  We could go all night at this. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Well, if we're not going to stick to questions on that, I don't have any more. [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  You could be interviewing Frederick Douglass tonight. [laughter] Oh, my, oh, my. Can you believe it? I want to restore our recognition of who we are and why we are the way we are, and what we stand for. And I think more and more that, as important as grade school, high school, college, university, advanced degrees – all of that – is, and essential, maybe as important as any of it is, how we were brought up at home? How we were raised to behave? About telling the truth, for example. Or treating people with kindness, tolerance, empathy. And hard work; I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where people not only worked hard, but if you were a hard, good worker, that counted high in how you were appreciated by other people.

I remember my father used to say, "Oh, Charlie, he drinks too much, but he's a good worker." Or, "Fred, he's a terrible exaggerator and tells stories that I don't quite believe, but he's a good worker." If you were a good worker, that forgave all other failings in effect. And that's how we got to where we are, by working very, very hard.

When I was doing my Wright brothers book, they were two young men who never had the chance to go to college, never even finished high school. But they were brought up have to purpose in life. They were brought up with values at home to learn to use the English language on your feet and on paper so that you read their letters that have survived in the Library of Congress, and they're humbling in the quality of their vocabulary, their capacity of express themselves superbly.

And never to boast about yourself, never to get too big for your britches. One of the things that so impressed me at the time, and it impresses me even more given the situation we're in now, is that John Kennedy almost never talked about himself. Imagine!

CHARLIE GIBSON:  As you say, didn't use the first-person singular.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  No. No. Almost never used the first-person singular. About anything. A man who could have gone on and on, to say the least, with justification and pride of what he'd accomplished. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  You mention that actually in the book. You say, I'm searching now for the quote, talking about JFK, you say, "The first-person singular never entered into anything he said; in contrast to so many others since." Want to name names? [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Oh, there's a good lineup, yeah. It's become sort of what you do in public life, is talk about how nifty you are. In many cases, that's justified, but–

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Let me turn to the book. You mention that since the age of 50 you've been giving a lot of speeches, many extemporaneous. But you must have voluminous records of speeches that you've given that you've written down. You chose 15 for this. I'm curious why you wanted to do a book of speeches now, and why you chose these 15.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  When writing my book about Harry Truman, I loved the idea that he went out for a walk every morning. And so, I thought maybe I should try that as a way of sort of tuning up your head, not necessarily your body. And you start thinking in a way you don't if you're not walking. And so, last summer, when the comments being made by the Republican candidate for the presidency were, to me, not only appalling, but unimaginably out of place, I thought what could I do to provide some counter point of view to this. 

And I started thinking about some of the speeches that I gave at national occasions, such as the 200th anniversary of the Congress, the anniversary of the White House, Kennedy's memorial service at Dallas, which I was asked to be the speaker, and commencements speeches, and speeches that I have given at particular occasions of importance to the history of other organizations and/or universities. And I found that there were a great many where I was voicing what really matters to me and why I think history is so infinitely fascinating, and how essential I think it is as a means to enlarging the experience of being alive. 

Why should we limit our lives to just this little bit of time that our biological clocks offer, provide, when we can have access to the whole realm of the human story going back hundreds or thousands of years. And so, I set to work to take a look at which of these speeches might be appropriate. And had the help of my daughter, Dorie Lawson, who arranged all these talks that I gave, and who kept the records of what I said.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  When I read the book the first time, when I finished it and put it down, I thought, oh, he's writing in the times, or he's picking these speeches because they might be apropos to the current times.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yes.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  And while – I've heard you say before – historians basically don't really have a role in talking about current politics, but he's talking about current politics with these speeches.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  But I was talking about before current politics came on the scene. None of these speeches was written–

CHARLIE GIBSON:  But I went back and read them a second time thinking, what's the sentence, what's the paragraph, what's the point he's trying to make here that might be taken to heart by people who are in politics right now. So I went back and read it a second time, and each time I was looking in the speech, what's the one point he's trying to make here that might be taken to heart by somebody who, I don't know, might be elected President, who knows. So let me pick out a few of them.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Wonderful.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I won't do each one, but I think 12 out of 15 I found the pertinent point. Example one, first speech in the book, from 1989. You quote Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who had the guts to rebuke Joe McCarthy. She said, "I don't want to see the Republican Party" – and she was a Republican from Maine – "ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny – fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear."

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Smear, yeah.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Smear is the interesting word here. Why did you think perhaps that had application to the current time? [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Charlie, you'd be perfect if you'd only had a sense of humor. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Could you imagine somebody reading that in the current political climate and what they might think?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Wouldn't it be wonderful? [laughter] No, wouldn't it be wonderful? For a Republican to stand up as she did? And she's a woman, and she's one of the rare occasions when women were in the Senate at that point in our history. And most people today have no idea who Margaret Chase Smith was. She's one of the bravest, most admirable political figures we've ever had.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  And not many Republicans are standing up now?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Not enough. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  1998, a speech quoting Benjamin Rush, not perhaps as well known as some other patriots of that time, one of the original signers of the Declaration, speaking of good nature that mattered most in human relations. He said, and you quote him in the book, "I include candor, gentleness, and a disposition to speak with civility and to listen with attention to everybody." And then you added, in 1998, in the speech, "Words to the wise then, but perhaps in our own day more than ever."

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Indeed. Benjamin Rush is one of my favorite characters from our past, an absolutely remarkable man, 18th-century polymath, someone who's interested in almost everything. And he was an accomplished physician, he was one of the first people to encourage fair and humane treatment of people with mental illness, and not to just stuff them away in a cell as if they were animals. He was extremely courageous in his ability to go into places where the plague was rampant, particularly the yellow fever epidemic. He risked his life over and over.

And he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. When he signed the Declaration of Independence, he was all of 30 years old. We forget how young those people were. Jefferson, when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, was 33! Imagine! Washington, when he took command of the Continental Army, was 44 years old. We see them later on with their white hair and their wigs and their elderly statures and so forth, but they weren't that way then; they were very, very young. And I think that that's an encouraging fact of that part of our story. I don't think we could ever know enough about the American Revolution. 

And by the way, the new Museum of the American Revolution has just opened in

Philadelphia, is a must. For all of us. It is marvelous. And particularly as a place to take your children, your grandchildren to get them hooked on history. It's brilliantly organized. It's a spectacular building by Robert Stern. And it's right in the center of where all the historic neighborhood is. It's only a few steps down the street from Independence Hall.

But we who live in the Boston area just sort of take the reality of the miracle of that era as part of our environment, part of our world. And that's good, that's great.

I loved Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. I read that when I was still young and not really aware yet of what I wanted to do with my life. And I love his regard for John Quincy Adams, for example. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Quotes him right at the beginning.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yes. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  What I like in that quote, and I'm not here to comment on anything, but what I like so much in that quote is the word civility, which is a lost art in the public discourse of America today. And the sense of comity that existed among people who share a common goal and know that there needs to be a common end. It's gone. It's gone. And you write that it's been ever thus, that we have many instances of deep chasms of division in this country. But we come out of them. 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yes.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  What's going to bring us out of this one? The two sides seem unalterably opposed when politics trumps policy, when the sense of a national goal is gone and party goals matter more than national goals. What brings us out of this?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Leadership. Leadership of the best kind. Leaders who have the courage to stand up for their convictions, who have the backbone to do what's right, irrespective of what it means to their political future or their chance of being reelected.

And it has to come mainly from the people. 

We talk about the three segments of government – legislative, judicial and executive. But there's a fourth factor, the people, all of us. And when we stand up and say, "No more of this, we don't want to take this anymore," when we stand up and say, "There's a person right there who's saying the right thing and doing the right thing and we're going to get behind her or him and make sure that that attitude becomes potent and maybe even decisive." When someone reads about Margaret Chase Smith and says, "That's what I'm going to do," somebody in the government right now. It will happen; it will happen out of the necessity to survive. We're going to expect that.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  David, we are, I believe, and you actually write that we're a centrist nation. We are basically a country where 30, 40, 50, 60 percent of the people are in the middle, and who want government to get something done. 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yep, absolutely.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  We ain't doing it.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Well, that doesn't mean we won't. We have come through very hard times, very baffling times, very pessimistic times, and inappropriate behavior times on the part of our leadership. But we've come through them all. And very often, when we do come through them, these difficult times, these dark, clouded sky times, when we do come through we're better for having done it.

People talk about, "Oh, that was a simpler time back then." No, it wasn't. There never was a simpler time. Or, "Things have never been so bad, so dark, so foreboding." Yes, they have. And if you don't understand that, you don't understand the reality of our story. 

I like to point out that the influenza epidemic, which my parents and your parents probably went through. 1918/'19. Five hundred thousand Americans died of that disease, a disease they didn't know where it came from, didn't know when it would ever go away, if at all, or how to cure it. If that were to happen today, given the size of our population, proportionate to our population, a million-five-hundred-thousand people would die in less than a year. 

Now, imagine if that were on the nightly news every night and we were all being and more terrified who would be next in our family to die. Just as the Depression and the Civil War, horrible, horrible times. But we came through them because, among other things, we had the faith that we would, and could. And because we understood that nothing of much consequence is ever accomplished alone; it has to be a joint effort.

That's what they have to understand.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  In the introduction to this book you write:  "The fundamental decency, the tolerance and insistence on truth, and the good-heartedness of the American people are there still plainly." And then you add in a 2004 speech, that you assert that 90% of Americans share those values. How does that square with what we did in the election last November?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Well, this isn't an answer; this is part of the answer. Let's not forget, in the popular vote, Hillary Clinton won by almost three million votes. So it isn't as though it were a landslide. And Donald Trump really won by a very narrow margin. We have several major problems, obviously. One is the poisonous effect of big money in politics, the idea that members of Congress are dialing for dollars every day, half their time – half their time. The fact that we're inclined to become or have become a nation of spectators; we sit around and watch things all the time – watch television, watch athletic events, let somebody else do the performing to amuse us, to entertain us. We're not doing things as much as we should. We're not making things on our own; we're not getting out there and helping to solve these problems.

Now, that's not true of everybody, of course. We are immensely generous. We are immensely philanthropic. We care sincerely and with fervor about education, still; and we should be infinitely proud of what we've achieved in the last 200 years in the way of the greatest universities in the world. Yes, they have problems, yes, the cost has gotten out of hand, but there are no institutions of higher learning anywhere on earth comparable to our own. And never has been in all of history. This is an immensely admirable and important accomplishment, just as it's immensely important and admirable that we are making advances in medicine such as no one ever imagined. I think future historians, when they're looking back at our time right now, will say, Yes, the politics and the military and threat of war and political upheavals all over the world, all very important, but look what was happening in medicine, look what's happened just in our lifetime.

We were just looking at the diseases that John Kennedy in the new exhibit that's about to open, the diseases that Mrs. Kennedy, Rose Kennedy, John Kennedy's mother, put on a little card, file card that he had had as a child. My wife and I each had brothers who had infantile paralysis. It doesn't even exist anymore. Scarlet fever. All of that. Not to mention the DNA or the successful transplant of organs.

We're spoiled. We've been given so much that we just take it for granted. And we should be grateful. And we should be making our teachers heroes. [applause] We should have major awards. We should have statues in our towns to the great teachers that have shaped the lives of so many people. I feel that our teachers are doing the most important work of any of us, and we all ought to get behind them and make sure they understand we're all for them [applause] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Being married to an educator, I would second that. And add that they ought to be paid more. [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Absolutely, no question.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Before I leave the subject of our current President, because we could stay on that forever, what do you think John Kennedy would think of Trump's act?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Of Trump?

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Yeah.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Oh. [laughter] You know, we all know. He'd be embarrassed, he would be appalled, he wouldn't believe it. We've never had anything like this happen as a country, never had anyone even remotely so inappropriate for the responsibilities of the presidency in the job. Never. [applause] And virtually every day he makes sure that we know that it's even worse than we thought. [laughter] 

It's as if we put someone in the pilot's seat who'd never flown a plane and who doesn't think it's important to know how to fly the plane. He's just a little surprised at how much more complicated it is. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I love the fact that the fellow who was going to solve all of our healthcare problems suddenly discovered that healthcare was complicated when he got to be President. 

I was a college history major and one of the things that always struck me were the differing prisms through which history is seen – social historians, economic historians, political historians, demographic historians, natural resource historians. It goes on and on. But whatever prism you're looking through, you see history, or can see history, differently. In your mind, what are you? What kind of an historian are you?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I'm not an historian. I'm not. I have no advanced degrees in history. I've never studied history the way I would if I were an academic. I'm a writer who took up writing about people, about real people and events that really happened. And my job is to tell that accurately as possible, with the basic conviction that history is human. It's about people. It's about the human potential and human limitations. It's about good people and bad people. It's about the whole mix. And it's about stories that really happened. Barbara Tuchman, who had a great influence on me as a writer of history, said that there's no trick to teaching history effectively or writing about history. Tell stories.

And that's what I've tried to do.

I've also tried to bring down to front and center stage people who've been in the background more than they deserved to have been, like John Adams. Like the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge or the people that made the success of Panama happen. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Or Benjamin Rush.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yeah. And women – Abigail Adams. Emily Roebling, the wife of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, and now Katharine Wright, the sister of the two Wright brothers, without whom, I don't think they would have succeeded. And she's never gotten adequate credit for that, and I hope that my book does that, and brings her to the point where she's recognized as not only having been important, but interesting and admirable as a human being.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I'm also struck by how history gets revised over the years, that there are people who are seen as heroes, and perhaps they don't fare as well in the historians' eyes, then they make a comeback and there's a renaissance, et cetera. How do you think John Kennedy is bearing up?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I think he's bearing up very well, but I also think we're only at a point where we can start to really pass judgment. Truman said you have to wait 50 years for the dust to settle. It's now been 50 years. It's not just who went before him, but he has followed him, and how does he compare to them, and what are the consequences of decisions he made or didn't make. We need to look much more at the importance of decisions that Presidents didn't make that were as important as decisions they did. The decision that Eisenhower made not to go into Vietnam, for example. The decision that John Adams made as President not to go to war with France, which the whole country was dying to do, which would have been absolutely catastrophic had we done so. This is all a big part of it.

The problem with Kennedy will be that it's cut off so soon. We very rarely take a President as seriously as the others who has only served one term. And here is a President who didn't even serve one term. But yet, look what a mark he left on our sense of who we are.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  One of the interesting parts to me, as somebody who has read the volumes that Robert Caro wrote about Johnson, which are terrific books and tell great stories–

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yes, indeed. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  –it is interesting that you really have to look at the Kennedy presidency, it seems to me, and the presidency that follows, because Johnson, who might not have been inclined to be so ideologically attuned with his predecessor, really took his predecessor's agenda to heart, and it became his.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Yes, indeed.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  It's amazing how that really, in many respects Johnson may have been able to do things that Kennedy couldn't have done, had he lived.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  It'd be hard to find two men more different from each other.

What did you say, you've interviewed 11 Presidents?

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Nine. It started with John Quincy Adams. [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I've interviewed, I think, seven or six, or something like that, and I've gotten to know those through the research that I've done on past days. What strikes me is how different they are, one from another. Really different; Jimmy Carter compared to, say, George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton. And some of them, in my view, deserve more focus and attention in a way that– my instinct is that Gerald Ford deserves more attention than he's received. 

He deserves a first-rate biography because when you think of all that happened in that very brief time that he was President, and when you think of what he coped with, they tried to kill him twice. His wife suffering from alcoholism. And I was here on the Profiles in Courage panel the year we gave Gerald Ford the Profiles in Courage Award because of his pardoning Nixon. And when he did that, he knew that it would probably cost him reelection, almost certainly would. But he did it anyway, did the right thing and saved us all kinds of grief and contentious behavior on the part of people in all roles.

But the big difference today is that you start taking a look at Gerald Ford – and I discovered this when working on Harry Truman – the volume of material that you have to deal with as a researcher, as a biographer is overwhelming. Otherwise you're just sort of skimming through all this material – what's in this collection here could keep one doing research for a full lifetime and never get through all of it. Not that that's not of importance, that we have all this wonderful material, but it's a staggering mountain to try and climb. 

Every book of the kind that I write, and others write, biography and history, is a joint effort. It's a group project, because you've got editors and copy editors, to be sure, but you've also got archivists and librarians and specialists that you want to interview. So when you see those acknowledgements in the back of a biography or history, those people aren't just a sort of tip-your-hat to friends or something, those people all contributed enormously to the result that the book represents.  

And to make one more point, Charlie, we have a problem that we're not teaching history as well as we should, and we're not requiring history as a course that is required in college, in universities anymore. Eighty percent of the colleges and universities require no history to graduate. And that's wrong. I believe in required courses because, for one thing, I think it's important that young Americans at that stage in life ought to understand that in life some things are required. [laughter] Surprise, surprise.

But the satisfaction, the gratification that comes from working with good people, such as are in this Library, of having the help of not just what they know, but their ideas, their suggestions on which path you might take to make new discoveries are of invaluable importance and should never been underestimated. 

And we have right now some of the finest writers, ever, writing marvelous history and biography. And they're reaching a very large audience, and that is encouraging; people like Robert Caro and many others. Many others. And we have superb documentary films being made and broadcast by PBS and other networks. 

All that's important. In part I think it's because so many people today reach the age of 35, 45, 50 and they realize, "I don't really know much of the history that I ought to know; I'm going to read that book." Or, "I'm going to watch that documentary tonight."

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Talking about how history gets revised, there's some interesting things going on today. You're a proud son of Yale. I'm a proud son of Princeton. Yale has taken the name Calhoun off one of its colleges because of his background and things he did in his life. Princeton has gone through agonies trying to figure out exactly how to depict Woodrow Wilson, whose name is closely associated with the college. And now there are statues in the South built to Civil War leaders that are coming down to the consternation of many who live in the South. What do you think of that kind of revisionist history? And are those things proper, in your mind?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I think if you start renaming everything because someone did something that's no longer acceptable as being virtuous, like owning slaves, there's no end to how much you're going to have to rename, including the capital of our country; you'll have to take down the Washington Monument, and so forth. I'd much rather see us start to raise statues or name new buildings or monuments to those who didn't own slaves, and who did so contrary to the mode of the moment, most importantly John Adams, the only Founding Father President who never owned a slave, out of principal. And the next President in line who never owned a slave was his son John Quincy. And there are no great buildings named for either of them, no great statues for either of them. 

I think that taking the statues down in the South is the right thing to do because most all of those statues as you've doubtless read recently were put up during the Jim Crow era. They weren't done at the time of the Civil War; they were done in the early part of the 20th century. And they were really saying that, "We who believe in inequality of racial citizenship are professing where we stand on this."

I would not have renamed Calhoun College. And I certainly wouldn't take Wilson's name off of buildings at Princeton, if it were my decision. And I don't want us to start renaming our cities and towns, and the rest. 

I'm more interested in giving more attention to people we have ignored than getting too worked up about too much attention to the wrong people.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  You mentioned and you've talked a number of times here about the importance of history. And yet, we are in a situation in this country where things are changing so fast. The dislocation of the job market, for instance, is incredible. There are those futurists who say in 20 years half the jobs, maybe even more, that people will occupy haven't been invented yet.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Think of that.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I was on the board of my college for eight years. And the graduating seniors would stand up, and we, the board who confer the degrees, would be sitting up on the dais looking at them. And when I went on the board, the first graduation I had was 2007, and there were a handful of graduates in computer technology. When I left the board in 2015, the number was huge – the number of engineers that stand up is growing exponentially. Bill Gates said the other day if you're a student in college, you should study one of three things: artificial intelligence, energy or the biosciences. He didn't talk about history, he didn't talk about the humanities, he didn't talk about the social sciences. 

The pertinence of those things, are they– given how fast things are changing, do, really, the pertinence of those things stand up, or should kids be more worried as they graduate about what's changing, how to change, how to adapt, how to prepare themselves for a job market that is so uncertain.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Well, I may be stuck in my ways, and I may be so out of rhythm with the realities of modern high-tech society, and I confess to it. I don't use a computer; I don't know how to work a computer. I write on a manual typewriter. [applause]  

CHARLIE GIBSON:  What kind of a phone do you have? [laughter] Do you talk into a Pop Tart? 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Are you ready?

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Sure.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Wait a minute, where the hell is it? [laughter] I'm way ahead of all of you. There it is. [laughter/applause] Now, they tell me about all the things it can do, and that's wonderful. I only want it as a telephone. [laughter] 

But I think that the decline of the emphasis on the humanities is a very serious mistake. I really do. Let's suppose that you come out of university with a degree in chemistry or a degree high tech communications or whatever. And that might get you a very good job right away, and it might lead you into a very important and constructive career. But if you come out of a college knowing how to use the English language, you're going to be a rare bird of great value. No, truly!

Almost half of the law schools in our country today now require their incoming freshmen, who are all of course college graduates, to take a course in basic writing because they don't know how to write a presentable letter or report or analysis, and that sort of thing. They don't know how to express themselves in our language. And this is not only a handicap, it's a risky trend in any kind of reasonably civilized society. To be incapable of using the English language and expressing yourself in words, and also have no sense of the past of our country, of our nation is to be really held back, to have serious drawbacks to your qualifications for leadership in all fields. 

It must be encouraged among our students and among our universities and colleges. And there are a lot of us who are working hard to bring back the humanities. And with good reason. Think of the jobs that are open to people who can use the English language, who know how to write, who know how to think in the English language. Words are what we think with, and if our vocabularies are declining, which they are– there's very specific proof of all this. Our children today have lower vocabularies, less than what our generation has. And words are what we think with. 

And thinking, by the way, is important. [laughter] One of my favorite of all discoveries in the diaries of John Adams, and he kept marvelous diaries– by the way, nobody in public life would dare keep a diary anymore. It's true. It can be subpoenaed and used against you in court. An entry for January 15th, or whatever, said, "At home, thinking." [laughter] Can you imagine if somebody in Washington today were to write that in his or her diary as an honest record of what they did that day? Thinking!

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I would add one addendum to what you said, and it perhaps reflects the profession from which I come. There's no question that the ability to write is something of a lost art for students. A very good friend of mine who is actually pastpresident of Princeton I had dinner with recently, and she was about to read five or have five oral argument presentations for PhD candidates. And I said, "How good were their theses?" And she said, "Well, two of them were legibly written and three of them were not very good." 

But the addendum I would add is also the ability to present your argument verbally.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Oh yes, on your feet, absolutely.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  To be able to present, to be able to defend your argument orally. Warren Buffett said recently that he could predict that anybody who was a good speaker and who could logically present an argument and do it verbally to a crowd, and urged people to learn to speak publicly, he said you'll make 50% more in your lifetime than you will if you can't do that. It worked for me! [laughter]

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I guess it did. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Lord knows what I could have done if I'd been able to write. But it's important, both of those things. And I think what you're saying is so important because of that dislocation of the job market. You don't know what you're going to be doing 20 years from now. And so, in a basic grounding in moral thought, in the humanities, in the social sciences, in history, because the critical thing is that you be adaptive, that you can adapt yourself to a changing environment in the workplace.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I'd like to read something, if I may, from one of John

Kennedy's speeches that I think could not be more valid or relevant to today's situation. And think, this is a man who's new to the job still, but not new to what the proper objective of education and learning and civilized society should be. "I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization. This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor. Art is the great unifying and humanizing experience. The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose – and it is the test of the quality of a nation’s civilization. I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit." [applause] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  So with that, let me invite any of you who have questions. And I do ask you to keep them brief. I always say to audiences when they want to ask questions, don't make a speech. And while you're making your way to the microphone, just two quick questions for you. Most interesting person you've ever met? Most interesting person you've ever researched?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  One of the most interesting people I've ever met is a man named Tom Starzl who just died within the last few months. Tom Starzl should have been a name that everybody knew. Tom Starzl changed history in a way very few human beings ever do. And yet, he's largely unknown, except within the medical profession. Tom Starzl was the physician who successfully made the first double organ transplant success. He changed that whole realm. One man. And who kept at it. If I have a theme in this book, it's a line I quote at the beginning for George Washington. I think it couldn't be more true, and it certainly is true of Tom Starzl. Tom Starzl was interested in everything. Washington said, "Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages."

You've got to keep at it. You don't give up. And if you get knocked down, you don't lie there and whimper and whine, you get back up on your feet and continue on. And I think that that's something that we all need to be reminded of. And are reminded of by the examples set in the story of our own country.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Most interesting person you've researched.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I think right now a man named Manasseh Cutler, who I talk about in my commencement speech I gave at Ohio University. Manasseh Cutler was a preacher in Ipswich, Massachusetts; he had a church there. He was also a doctor, he was also a lawyer, and practiced all three of these professions, having achieved degrees in all three. And he was the man who convinced the Continental Congress in the summer of

1787, before we had a Constitution, to create what was known as the Northwest Ordinance. And that was the territory ceded to us by Britain at the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, an area the size of all of our 13 colonies and all wilderness. No roads, no bridges, no towns, nothing but wilderness and Native Americans and wolves and panthers and rattlesnakes and bears, and you name it.

And they specified in this act passed by Congress, that there were would be total religious freedom in this area, which would be made into states, five states. The five states would be Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. There'd be total freedom of religion. There would be government support for education from grade school all the way through college; hence, the beginning of the first state universities. And there would be no slavery. Imagine.

So even before we have a Constitution, even before we have a national government or President of the United States, we've eliminated slavery from what was half, geographically at least, half of our country, a phenomenal accomplishment. And this one man virtually pulled it off. And he was a classic polymath, like Benjamin Franklin. He was a brilliant botanist. He was an astronomer. You were asking me who was the most interesting man, yeah. He qualifies high. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I noticed four out of those five states went for Trump. Hillary Clinton might wish that he'd taken a pass. 

Yes, sir, over here.

Q:  We belong to probably the most liberal state in the country, Massachusetts or Rhode Island, and I'm just worried about four years from now. There doesn't seem to be a leader in the Democratic Party. We have a guy named Seth Moulton that looks pretty damn good. But he's not married; he's single, an ex-Marine. And I wonder what your feeling was, who the next leader of the Democratic Party would be.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I can tell you who I personally would be for, absolutely. Joe Biden. [applause] Joe Biden is a man of character. He also has experience, both personal and professional, where he's been knocked down and gotten back up in a way that is admirable in the extreme.

Q:  He doesn't want the job.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Oh, don't be–

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  He doesn't want it right now. [laughter] But somebody will come forth. And somebody, a very strong character and admirable attitude and outlook could come forth in the Republican Party, if this present occupant doesn't last much longer.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  It's interesting, I'm so glad that you cited Gerry Ford. It was the first time I had a chance to be a White House report for ABC when Gerry Ford was President. And the decency of the guy, to do what he did with Nixon. His first sentence when he went to the Chamber of the House – was it there he said it? – he said, "Our long national nightmare"– it was the day he assumed the presidency, "Our long national nightmare is over." He was the right man for the moment.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Oh, absolutely.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  And it's amazing the genius of the American system, how it tends to bring those people to the top.

He was a grownup. [laughter] And a gentleman. I don't know what that chuckle from the audience bespeaks; but I

think I do. Over here?

Q:  Mr. McCullough, you wrote your books based largely on newspapers and documents, letters, those sorts of sources. Since so few people write letters today, newspapers seem to be in decline, what sources do you think future writers of history will use?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I think they're going to have a lot of trouble. Truly. They'll have no letters or diaries to go by. They won't really know what we were like. What we write by computer might not last; there's a very good chance that an awful lot of it won't last. And it isn't exactly heartfelt, personal expression of the kind that letters and diaries have traditionally been. It's too bad.

If any of you, by any chance, are interested in immortality, start keeping a diary. Write about anything you want, every day, and keep on doing it till you reach the point where you think the curtain may be about to come down, and then give it to the Massachusetts Historical Society, and it'll be quoted forever. It'll be the only diary in existence. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Just as an aside, you mentioned somewhere, an interview I think you were doing, that you're reading The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, Pennsylvania, what, late 18th century, early 19th century?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  No, I'm not.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  You're not. No. Somebody else.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Some other guy, yeah.

Q:  Hi, Mr. McCullough. Your book is about speeches that you've given, and I was wondering if you would comment upon the ability of President Kennedy in his capacity as a person who gave speeches. As you stated, he had a very brief presidency, yet it seems he gave many, many, many memorable speeches; I think more so probably than any other politician who was around in the television age, where we can actually see, hear and listen to the speeches. I was just wondering if you would comment upon that ability of his.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  If he had done nothing but give the speeches he gave, he would be someone of immense value and importance in our history. He was extraordinary. And his speeches stand the test of time in a way that isn't the usual case. Except for Abraham Lincoln, and of course Franklin Roosevelt, too, no one has used words with such power and effectiveness and pertinence to the moment as Kennedy did. 

When I gave the memorial address at the site in Dallas where Kennedy was killed, I devoted most everything I said to excerpts from what Kennedy's own words were, because it's not only then that you sense the nature of this man, his personality and his talents as a leader, but the gift he had to use the language. He was, in his way, a master literary figure. And a great reader. And he understood the use of the language, the power of words.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  It's a pertinent question. It's not a lost art, totally. No, of course not. I would make the case, and I carry no water for any current politician, but Barack Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. Then I thought of Kennedy's speech on religion, which he gave in West Virginia that was so important in defusing that issue. And Obama's speech on race in Philadelphia was one of the great speeches, I think, of any President.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Barack Obama is a very powerful speaker. And a thinker of considerable importance. I think that he has been an inspiration to many young people in a way that the President ought to be. [applause] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Without that 2004, I doubt he'd have been President.  

Q:  Hi, thank you very much, and pleasure to meet both of you. My name's Carol Cohen, and firstly I wanted to say thank you for all of the information on John and Abigail and John Quincy. I was a park ranger for a summer at the Adams historical site, and everything you say and more about those people, he need a Presidential Library, both of them do. And also, as a mother of an actor.

But I want to just further comment on your belief that history should be required, and ask a question. Because I'm a professor of social studies methods, and I teach both in-service and future teachers who are going to be elementary school teachers. And you say that it's the families and the lack of learning about history and culture and learning to live with others and appreciate differences that is not going on in the house. But what about in the elementary school? I go around to lots of elementary schools, hundreds, and I'm told there's no time for social studies – "We only have half an hour a week and we have to do math, science and reading." And I brought this up at the national conference, and couldn't get an answer. So I'm wondering what yours is.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  My feeling, very strong feeling, is the way to get young people involved in history, the best time to get them is in grade school. Because they want to know about it, they want to know about Presidents and heroes of accomplishment, and so forth. And they love stories. And there are wonderful books that can be used at the grade school level.

In my own case, I was swept away as a grade school student by a book called Ben and Me, about a mouse that lived in Ben Franklin's hat. Absolutely marvelous book. And I can't go into that– Ben grew up as one of a very large family in the famous old church in Philadelphia, Ben the mouse. His name is Amos the Mouse. And I can't ever go into that church and not wonder if any of that family's descendents are still behind those walls. [laughter] 

One of our granddaughters was in a class in Hingham grade school, and the children were all told, "You can pick a First Lady or a President that you're going to be. And we're going to put on a show for all your mothers and fathers, and you're going to introduce yourself as President So-and-So and talk about yourself." And my granddaughter Caroline was Harry Truman. And another of her good friends was Franklin Roosevelt.

Well, the night of the gathering for the parents, these little people came out there and gave a wonderful account of who they were and what they did and why they should be known. And all of us were just amazed. And I know for certain that not one of those children will ever forget which President they were. It'll be with them for the rest of their lives.

That's the kind of thing that can work wonders. I think we need to bring what I call the lab technique to teaching history more than we have. And this is true all the way through high school and college. Get them involved in a project where they have to do the work. They have to dig in and get their hands dirty and do the research. We shouldn't just hand them everything and say, "Here's what you need to know, here's why this is important, this fellow, this fellow, that, and this is going to be on the test next month." No, get them hooked by getting involved in the detective case aspect of it. And that works like nothing else.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Yes, sir?

Q:  Mr. McCullough, you mentioned the importance of universities and the world class universities that we have as a great asset to the country. And there are two elements of universities today that I personally find very dismaying. One is the emphasis on political culture, PC. And even administrators seeming to fall into the trap of protecting their students from controversial opinions, providing bubble rooms, for example. And I wonder if you could comment on that.

And the second situation is, I found it dismaying the other day to watch C-SPAN, in which there were two African American professors and there were also two feminist professors, both from well-known universities, who were talking about the irrelevance of the Constitution, since they were not– blacks and women were not part of the decision making at the time. I was wondering if you could comment on that as well.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Very easy question, wouldn't you say? [laughter] It's appalling. It's very disturbing, very unsettling. I personally – and this may be too simplified a response, and it may indicate that I really don't understand the actual workings of a modern day president of a university's life and decisions – I think when that happens, there's a lack of leadership on the part of whoever's running the university.

And not just the president, but the faculty. 

The politically correct vogue is awful. It's awful. And it's unrealistic. It doesn't have anything to do with understanding reality. And we're not that kind of a country. We are still able to express our opinions, let us hope, without fear of being attacked or degraded or made to feel like a fool. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  So when speeches are canceled because of student uprisings at places like Middlebury, or when 100 students walk out of a Notre Dame graduation speech given by the Vice President, or when speeches are canceled at CaliforniaBerkeley because the students do not agree with the opinions of those who are about to speak, I presume you would oppose that. But so, too, are there people who are trying to be provocative in the way that they book these speeches.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Well, if I were the president of a university or a member of the faculty where something like this happened, I would speak out, strongly, in favor of a different attitude. And hope that the majority of the students and members of the faculty and alumni would be persuaded that the stance I was taking was the right one. 

I'm surprised at how few university presidents take any position politically. I don't understand it. Is it because they're afraid it will damage their ability to raise money? I don't know. But the old days, that wasn't how it was. They spoke out and voiced their opinion.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  How about the second part of his question involving the

Constitution and the fact that perhaps there are people in this country, because it did not represent them or did not feel that they were fully represented in earlier days that it's not important?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  We've had, I think, 17 amendments to the Constitution that have done a lot to straighten out and level the playing field.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Yes, over here?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  If I may, one of the things we need to do is teach the Constitution. [applause] Absolutely. I don't know how many of you have seen the test that new incoming Americans applying for citizenship have to pass on the history of the country. I venture to say that probably two-thirds of the country couldn't pass that test. But they have to pass it, and they do. And some of the most ardent readers and enthusiasts for American history that I've met over the years are immigrants who can't understand how many people among us know almost nothing about the history of our country. And it doesn't have to stay that way.

Q:  I know when you're researching your books you like to visit historic houses and see where these people worked and lived. What's the relevance in your mind of historic houses in today's society and why we should preserve them?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I'm sorry, I didn't–

CHARLIE GIBSON:  The importance of– you actually mention in the book that when you are doing history of an individual that you go and see– first of all, you read what they read and you go and look at their houses and where they grew up and what their surroundings were. Why is that important, and how important should we consider that as people who might be interested in a particular historic figure?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  I think it's essential. Let's remember, we have very distinctive traits that are common among animals, and one is that we're imprinted in childhood by our environment, by our terrain, what kind of a horizon is out there, and all the rest. We grow up in some section or other and we don't realize how much what we think comes from that environment. So if you want to understand somebody, you have to go to that environment and see how many other people have– for example, many of the common popular traits, characteristics, ways of Harry Truman, if you go out to Independence, Missouri, and spend some time out there, you realize that's the way a lot of people are in the expressions they use, the language they use. 

I stress very strongly, not only do you have to read what they wrote, but you have to read what they read. And what were the books, what were the guiding literary spirits of their youth or childhood that shaped them.

I remember reading a wonderful line in one of John Adams's letters to Abigail in which he said, "We may not prove successful in this struggle, but we can deserve it." And I read that and I thought, whoa, nobody thinks like that anymore. We can deserve it, even if we don't win. I was then some months later reading a letter that George Washington wrote, and there was the same sentence, the same observation.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Adams was a plagiarist? [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  And Washington. But in the 18th century, they didn't use quotation marks. So it's often they're quoting something that you don't know it; they know it. This was a line by Joseph Addison from the famous play Cato, which if they hadn't actually seen the play, they'd all read it. It was one of the most popular literary accomplishments of the 18th century. And this happens again and again. And they're shaped by what they read, just as we have been shaped by what we read. It's characteristic of the time in which they were living.

I've always felt I had to go where I could smell the night air, the cold smoke or whatever, and I could walk the walk and feel I'm entering into the lives of these people who are just as real and just as alive we are, but are no longer around.

Q:  A long, long time ago, Gerald Ford was my Congressman. So it's nice to hear the kind words that you have to say about him because lots of people really do not appreciate the kinds of things that he did for this country. So thank you for those comments, and I'll be looking forward to the book that's coming out about Gerald Ford that you said should be written. [laughter] 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  There's a wonderful historian actually, Richard Norton Smith, who was president of the Ford Library, but I don't think he's written a biography of Ford.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Not yet, no.

Q:  This has been an amazingly profound evening for me, hearing you talk. One of the issues that I have had for many, many years is that kids are not taught civics anymore. I took civics in the 8th grade. I've been a political junkie all of my life. When I talk to people about things like the Constitution – and I studied two semesters of Con law in college; I was a history and government major – I'm appalled at their total lack of knowledge and disinterest in the Constitution. But if kids aren't taught basic civics in grade school, the chances that they're going to carry that interest and concern and responsibility on as adults I think is pretty slim. So I'd like to hear your thoughts, and I'd love to know what can we do to bring it back?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Make it required. Truly, absolutely. Be required. One of the things about the military academies, they all require that kind of course. And in many ways, their graduates are coming away with an advantage that students in regular universities aren't necessarily going to have. 

When I was in college, we had to take a science course, too. And the word was out, pretty commonly understood, that the easiest science course was geology. So I immediately signed up for geology.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Called "rocks for jocks" at Princeton. [laughter] 

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  And the professor's name was Professor Flint, Richard Flint. [laughter] And of course he was known as Rocky Flint. And Rocky Flint was a very tall, severe-looking man, and very impressive. And I'll never forget, and many of the others who went through the same course will never forget, the first day he walked out on that stage and here's what he said: "Imagine the Empire State Building. Now imagine a Bible lying flat on top of the Empire State Building. Now imagine a dime lying flat on the Bible. The Empire State Building represents the history of the earth. The Bible represents the history of life on earth. The dime represents the history of human life on earth."

Now, talk about putting things in perspective. [laughter] And I quickly found that I loved geology and signed up for another term that wasn't required, because it's history. And it's relevant to so much that we just don't even both to try and understand. And I think that's what happens very often when young people are assigned to take some course or other; they suddenly find, oh, this is great.

I've always advised students to take the teacher not the course. Find out who are the great professors, who are the exciting lecturers, who are the inspiring professors. That will make the biggest difference, irrespective of what they're teaching.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I would add just one thing because it's an important question. I covered a lot of local government in my time when I was a beginning reporter, and I covered city councils and I covered school boards. And the interest in what school boards is doing varies a lot, depending on how controversial they might be. But school board members are very susceptible to lobbying by the public. And if you go to your local school board people and say, "You ought to require civics," and enough people do it, civics will be required. 

Q:  This is a question from Twitter. I'm a representative of the Library. The question is, if someone like JFK were to take office today, how do you think he would approach the foreign policy challenges that we're facing right now?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Knowledgably. [laughter/applause] He was a natural-born diplomat. Not to say that he was just smooth talking or something. He understood that diplomacy is essential in life and in relations between nations.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  I had a quote. After I heard the inaugural speech delivered last November, I went back and reread JFK's inaugural speech. And I won't cite the wellknown quotes because they are much remembered, but he said one of these quotes that I don't think many people remember: "To those people's in the huts and villages of half of the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves for whatever period is required, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right." 

Contrast that to last November: "Every decision on trade and taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families." It's a real contrast.

Q:  Hello, I’m one of the youngsters in the crowd. [laughter/applause] And good golly, you've given me a lot of homework, sir. [laughter] So my question is, I've learned the amazing fact that you have 19 grandchildren. What is one message that you constantly tell them as they've grown up and as they are growing up? What is that message, that theme as such a well-known historian and writer, what is that key that you think is so important nowadays and in the future?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  Fortunately, I have considerable Irish blood in my background, and I don't just give them one. [laughter] I'm incapable of just one. But one of my favorite quotes, and I have it framed on the mantelpiece in our house, they all see it, they all know it, is from Jonathan Swift, who said, "May you live all the days of your life." Live every day. Live all the days of your life. That's what matters – getting the most out of life while you're alive. And that feeds energy, feeds on expending energy. 

Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Black care rarely sits behind the rider whose pace is fast enough." You don't sit around and mope or feel sorry for yourself. Self-pity is an ugly human inclination. But get up and do things. Accomplish something. Make the world a little better, every day if you can, in some small way or other. Help other people who need help. Be kind. Have empathy. Put yourself in the other person's place. And try not ever to be boring. [laughter] It's not fair to be boring! It's unkind to your friends or your family. 

CHARLIE GIBSON:  And we'll go here to the final question.

Q:  Good evening, Mr. Gibson, good evening, Mr. McCullough. I'm a history teacher here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have two brief questions for you. Number one, what are you currently reading now, Mr. McCullough for enjoyment?

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  When I'm working on a book, I don't read anything but all that I need to read in order to be competent enough to write that book. So right now I'm reading all about the Northwest Territory. I'm reading biographies and autobiographies of a whole cast of characters. 

I've always wanted to write a book about people you've never heard of. I would love to have the capacity in the story itself to get you into the tent and not rely on historic, what's the word, celebrities to get you into the tent. And I was greatly influenced as a student in college by Thornton Wilder and his novels and his play. And particularly the play Our Town. I always thought, what if you could write a book about real people in a real town and have sufficient material to get inside their lives, inside their nature, drawing on letters and diaries and so forth.

And I found that in a collection in Marietta, Ohio, which was the first settlement in the Northwest Territory by people who all came out from here, from Massachusetts; and to a degree other New England states, but mainly from here. They were veterans of the Revolutionary War who had been inadequately compensated with what was then called script, instead of money, and it was worthless, by and large. So they were going to compensate for that terrible oversight or unfairness with land. 

So most of these people were veterans of the Revolution, who'd been through eight years of torment and difficulty and hard, hard slogging. And then they go out and start this whole new community in the middle of the wilderness. And I'm able to get into their lives in a way that you couldn't do for a group of people today, because we're not going to leave that kind of a record. And every imaginable thing that could go wrong went wrong.

But they would not give up. They would not give up. 

And I think this is very important: We tend very often to misjudge people because they're members of this group or that group, or this religion or that religion. And among those we've tended to misjudge are the Puritans. There's this idea that they all wore black and they were all stuffy and boring, and they were against having any fun whatsoever in life, and so forth. Not true. They wore colorful clothes. They liked to have parties. They liked to sing and dance and drink. And they had many admirable objectives in life, and one of them was education. It was essential, it was part of their faith. And to see how they took that ideal of education and freedom of religion out to this hitherto unoccupied wilderness and created these towns–

Q:  Shining cities on a hill.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  –that was exactly what they had been trying to achieve back here, it's exciting. And I wanted to know more about it. I've never undertaken a subject I knew much about; that's quite a confession. If I knew all about it, I wouldn't want to write the book because that's the adventure, learning all about it. And I'm learning all about what it was like to be a pioneer in that day and age.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  So with that, we're going to wrap things up. I'm going to ask David to do one more thing before I send you all on your way. But I really do appreciate you spending an hour-and-a-half being as attentive as you've been. As somebody who used to do two hours of live television every morning, I can tell you that that's an exercise in bladder control. [laughter] So is being here for an hour-and-a-half and being as attentive as you've always been. 

But as I read the book, I wanted to find something that would be a coda for the evening, that would be a good way to wrap it up. And I think all of us profoundly remember the period after 9/11. It was a very special time in this country, and it was a time that there was wonderful unity, unity that I wish were still around in our society. We're in a position now where we can't talk to each other at times, and that's really dismaying. And on the speech that he gave just after 9/11, David said this, and it's just a paragraph, but I put it in yellow there on the left-hand page.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH:  It's said that everything has changed. But everything has not changed. This is plain truth. We are still the strongest, most productive, wealthiest, the most creative,the most ingenious, the most generous nation in the world, with the greatest freedoms of any nation in the world, of any nation in all time.

CHARLIE GIBSON:  Thank you all. [applause] 

END