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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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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…
 
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…
 
The classic Western novel Shane opens in a valley in Wyoming Territory in 1889. Trouble is brewing. The local big cattleman is finding the homesteaders a nuisance. He wants the whole range for his own uses and is bent on driving them out, whatever it takes. The land is theirs by right of settlement and guaranteed by the government, but the nearest …
 
Twenty-Twenty seems to have spread like a virus into 2021. A third of the way through the year and still across the country citizens bludgeoned into isolation, locked in their homes by the latest mandate, huddled around computer screens and cell phones hour by hour awaiting announcement of the next tribulation. It was too much to take in; disorient…
 
Sports fairly practiced—especially individual sports—are a great meritocracy revealing, for all the world to see, the beauty of excellence. In American history, sports have also been an arena for the working out of the great American principle of “liberty to all.” Only by living up to this principle, which is the measure of America, is it possible …
 
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…
 
Ely Parker was born in 1828 to Elizabeth and William Parker of the Tonawanda Seneca tribe of the Iroquois confederacy in western New York. Parker became a leader in his tribe at a very young age, trained as a civil engineer, and earned himself a reputation in that field. In 1857, when he was 29 years old, he moved to Galena, Illinois as a civil eng…
 
The “real American Revolution,” as John Adams said, took place in the minds and hearts of the American people in the years leading up to 1776. This Revolution of thought gave birth to a Revolution of words and deeds; and Revolutionary thought, word, and deed together became the American Founding, a “human event” unsurpassed in the history of the wo…
 
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…
 
It’s not every day that a poet sits down and writes a poem that becomes a national hymn. But that’s what happened to Julia Ward Howe in November 1861. The country was a year and a half into the Civil War when she and her husband visited Union Army camps with a friend, passing time in the carriage singing army marching songs, including the popular “…
 
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…
 
By July 1776, American revolutionary John Dickinson maintained that he did not entertain any doubt whether America should declare independence, only when. He opposed, in his words, “only the time of the declaration, and not independence itself.” His reasons for this opposition were weighty, well-considered, and shared by many. For one last time, he…
 
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…
 
By summer 1776, the most powerful navy in the world was conveying the greatest British expeditionary force in history across the ocean to suppress the American rebellion. George Washington’s ragtag Continental Army seemed no match for this great force. They suffered one defeat after another. Winter was coming on. Enlistments would expire at the end…
 
Abigail Adams recorded that when her husband and Thomas Jefferson visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, Jefferson fell upon the ground and kissed it and John Adams cut a chip from Shakespeare’s chair. Jefferson and Adams both revered Shakespeare, as did Abigail, and they all understood how necessary it was for a free people to revere what deserves reve…
 
P.G. Wodehouse was one of the best writers in the English language in the 20th century and the funniest. He wrote nearly 100 delightful books, each one of which in perfectly orchestrated sentences, can make you fall laughing out of your beach chair. He became an American citizen in 1955, wrote an autobiography titled “America, I like you.” Read any…
 
Until the election of 1860, the truths proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence had been the ground of American civic friendship, above all the central truth that all men are created equal. Fidelity to this most American idea held the country together through many divisions since 1776. The Confederate States rejected that idea. America had los…
 
The election of 1800 in America came after a decade of bitter and extreme party strife. Each side accused the other of aiming to overthrow the Constitution and preparing the way for tyranny. There was no precedent, including the experience of 1776, for resolving such differences without appealing to bullets. But ballots prevailed and power was tran…
 
Americans are being reminded how fragile and precious an achievement it is to establish the legitimate authority of government through peaceful and free elections. But there would be no ballots without the bullets of 1776. We hold elections in America because, as the Declaration of Independence says, we think “the just powers of government are deri…
 
Streets and roads are very different animals. Willie Nelson sang, “I just can’t wait to get on the road again.” No one ever sang, “I just can’t wait to get on the street again.” Songs about country roads hold spacious truths because whether they are red dirt roads or roads with seven bridges, country roads are rich with the mysteries of life.…
 
Benjamin Franklin ran away at seventeen with barely a penny in his pocket. Through hard work and his own genius, he made a life for himself in the printing trade, and was able to retire at the age of 42. He then spent the next 42 years of his life, from 1748 to 1790, pursuing his scientific and philosophic inquiries and doing all he could—and this …
 
The son of an Italian immigrant, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1913. He played guard in the famed Seven Blocks of Granite offensive line of Fordham University in the 1930s before going on to become one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. His name is synonymous with winning. His steadfast spirit inspired the …
 
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…
 
Billy Fiske was “the first U.S. citizen to join the Royal Air Force and the first American pilot killed in action during the war in Europe” in World War II. He was a New Yorker who had lived some years in Europe and who had won Olympic gold medals in the sport of bobsledding. He was a graduate of Cambridge University, and he told his British friend…
 
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