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Every generation of Americans has been faced with the same question: how should we live? Our endlessly interesting answers have created The American Story. The weekly episodes published here stretch from battlefields and patriot graves to back roads, school yards, bar stools, city halls, blues joints, summer afternoons, old neighborhoods, ball parks, and deserted beaches—everywhere you find Americans being and becoming American. They are true stories about what it is that makes America beaut ...
 
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One of America’s greatest and most beloved film directors, Frank Capra, was just six years old when he arrived in New York on a steamer from Sicily with his poor Italian immigrant parents in 1903. Growing up, he worked hard, excelled in school, and fell in love with American freedom and the American common man giving us such films as “Mr. Smith Goe…
 
Great American philosopher, Lorenzo Pietro Berra, more commonly known as Yogi Berra, was a baseball legend. As a player with the New York Yankees, he won Ten World Series championships, with 18 All-Star games, three Most Valuable Player Awards, 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in, which earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. After his playing c…
 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has been called, “the most popular poet in American history.” When Longfellow wrote, few Americans remained who had a living memory of the American Revolution. With his poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” he succeeded in preserving part of that heroic memory in verse for many generations to come, the way Homer did for ancient Gree…
 
This episode is about an American warrior and the warship that carries on his name. The ship and her crew operate in more than 48 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The area is more than 14 times the size of the continental United States; it includes 36 maritime countries, 50% of the world’s population, and the world’s 5 largest…
 
Helen Keller was 14 years old when she first met the world-famous Mark Twain in 1894. They became fast friends for life. Keller, who was deaf and blind, loved to listen to Twain tell his stories by putting her fingers to his lips. As she said of Twain, “He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measur…
 
On New Year’s Day 1863, President Lincoln signed the proclamation he had promised a hundred days before. Lincoln understood better than anyone the constitutional challenges to emancipation. He took the greatest care to draft the proclamation in terms that could be defended before the highest court in the land. Then in the last weeks of his life, he…
 
January 1, 1942 had been set aside by President Roosevelt as a Day of Prayer. He had good reason for doing this; it was a dark time. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor just a few weeks before. Then Hitler declared war on the United States. America was suddenly at war with the greatest military powers in Europe and in Asia. British Prime Ministe…
 
From August to the last week of December, as David McCullough writes, “1776 had been as dark a time as those devoted to the American Cause had ever known.” As the year ended, despite the stunning and historic victory at Trenton the day after Christmas, there was good reason to fear that Washington’s army would dissolve and with it any hopes for the…
 
At the time of the American founding, celebrations of Christmas in America varied widely, from Puritans and Quakers who shunned or ignored it, to other Protestants and Catholics who honored it in their own Christian ways, to those who spent the day in “riot and dissipation,” like an ancient Roman Saturnalia. But E Pluribus Unum—out of many one—was …
 
December 7, 2021 is the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II. It is one of many days in the American year that inspire reflection on the most violent and determinative human event: war—and the art of war that aims to control and direct that most uncontrollable human undertaking.…
 
In January, 1835, the first volume of a book named Democracy in America was published in Paris. It was a great critical and commercial success. The author, a young French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville, became a celebrity and was awarded cherished honors and prizes. And his book stood the test of time. Almost two hundred years later, it is …
 
Sarah Josepha Hale was born in New Hampshire in 1788. In an era when the average American life expectancy was forty years, she lived until 1879—91 years—and has been remembered by posterity primarily for two things: the poem popularly known as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Hale made herself “one of the most i…
 
“Chesty” Puller was a Marine’s Marine. To this day, in Marine Corps boot camp, recruits are exhorted, “Do one more for Chesty! Chesty Puller never quit!” His combat service record is astonishing: he is the most decorated Marine in history. Chesty insisted that he did not love fighting. But if there was a fight, he wanted in on it, and he generally …
 
I had some time on my hands, and before I knew it, I had time on my mind. Time flies, marches on, and sometimes just stands still. You can buy time, be on borrowed time, or run out of time. We can all see in these strange days, that time—with thanks to Mr. Shakespeare—is out of joint. Madison and Lincoln would join Silent Cal in reminding us—to tak…
 
Turning to the back of the American one-dollar bill, I behold on the right side the “obverse” and on the left side the “reverse” of the Great Seal of the U.S. I pause to mention that to heraldry experts the “obverse” is the front and the “reverse” is the back of something. Why bring up heraldry experts? Because heraldry is the discipline of designi…
 
“Follow the science” and the “experts”—became popular maxims in America in the strange years 2020 & 2021, as government bureaucrats, politicians, media stars, and celebrities—themselves no scientists (or experts either)—struggled to figure out what, if anything, science and the experts wanted the rest of us to do. Following science and experts turn…
 
The first duty of civic education is to teach each new generation of Americans what it is about the country that makes it worthy of the last full measure of devotion; or in my odd way of putting it, what is the essential and beautiful goodness in the country that makes it worthy of love. Understanding this and helping others understand it is the mo…
 
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses . . .” These are among the most world-famous lines of any work of American literature, and whoever hears or reads them identifies them immediately with the most famous statue in America. But that is usually where the familiarity ends. Many serendipities would be needed before these lines would com…
 
Every year in August, the oldest synagogue in America—Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island—holds a public reading of a letter written by George Washington to the congregation early in his first term as the first President of the United States. The letter ranks high among the documents affirming and defining the unprecedented American experiment…
 
Among the many challenges to the statesmanship of the framers of the Constitution, none was more fundamental or intractable than the problem of slavery. On August 21 the Constitutional Convention, meeting in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, officially took up a provision that forbade the Congress they were designing forever …
 
Jefferson drafted the Declaration, a committee reviewed it, corrections were made, and on July 2-4, Congress—in the midst of much other pressing business of fighting a war—edited it into the final form. They made important changes, including deletion of a passage denouncing the king of Great Britain for imposing the slave trade on America. This del…
 
Slavery has been around since the beginning of human history. It was practiced among the native peoples of north America before and after Europeans arrived, and it was legal in every American colony in the years prior to the American Revolution. Then a great historic change began, a revolution in the hearts and minds of the British colonists that w…
 
America’s greatest enemy is not the Chinese or the Russians, or some other foreign tyranny—though they might indeed kill us if we continue so fecklessly to defend ourselves. But what will they kill? The body of a country that has lost its soul, unless we do something about it. Our greatest enemy is the bad ideas that have miseducated Americans so t…
 
The Hollywood Western was a great achievement of American popular art—an epic of the eternal frontier, where trouble is always brewing and everything is at stake: the law is out of town, and if a hero doesn’t ride into your valley, you’re going to lose the things you hold most dear. On the eternal frontier, we are always faced with the problem of e…
 
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