One of the regrets of my life is that I did not study Latin. I'm absolutely convinced, the more I understand these eighteenth-century people, that it was that grounding in Greek and Latin that gave them their sense of the classic virtues: the classic ideals of honor, virtue, the good society, and their historic examples of what they could try to live up to.
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History is about life. It's awful when the life is squeezed out of it and there's no flavor left, no uncertainties, no horsing around. It always disturbed me how many biographers never gave their subjects a chance to eat. You can tell a lot about people by how they eat, what they eat, and what kind of table manners they have.
You have to get inside the people you are writing about. You have to go below the surface. And that's to a very large degree what all writers are doing - they're trying to get below the surface. Whether it's in fiction or poetry or writing history and biography. Some people make that possible because they write wonderful letters and diaries. And you have to sort of go where the material is.
I don't pick my presidents because they were great presidents. I'm not much interested in ranking presidents and who is the best and who is the worst. I am much more inclined to be interested in them if they had an interesting life and if they were a complete person - and by that I mean they also had flaws and failings.
Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free, " Jefferson said, "expects what never was and never will be." And if the gap between the educated and the uneducated in America continues to grow as it is in our time, as fast as or faster than the gap between the rich and the poor, the gap between the educated and the uneducated is going to be of greater consequence and the more serious threat to our way of life. We must not, by any means, misunderstand that.
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The more Adams thought about the future of his country, the more convinced he became that it rested on education. Before any great things are accomplished, he wrote to a correspondent, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.
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George P. A. Healy; "I knew no one in France, I was utterly ignorant of the language, I did not know what I should do when once there; but I was not yet one-and-twenty, and I had a great stock of courage, of inexperience-which is sometimes a great help-and a strong desire to be my very best.
Just to be heading away from the sea, to be immersed in a beautiful landscape again, to hear the sound of crows, was such a welcome change, and all to be seen so very appealing, a land of peace and plenty, every field perfectly cultivated, hillsides bordering the river highlighted by white limestone cliffs, every village and distant che¢teau so indisputably ancient and picturesque.
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Charles Sumner; 'A Smacking breeze has sprung up, and we shall part this company soon; and then for the Atlantic! Farewell then, my friends, my pursuits, my home, my country! Each bellying wave on its rough crest carries me away. The rocking vessel impedes my pen. And now, as my head begins slightly to reel, my imagination entertains the glorious prospects before me...
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Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat. After several days on the river, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off in a borrowed wagon to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow-covered wastes of the Badlands to the railhead at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, the entire 40 miles. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in Roosevelt's eventful life. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say they haven't time to read.
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One might also say that history is not about the past. If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past. Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, and their contemporaries didn't walk about saying, "Isn't this fascinating living in the past! Aren't we picturesque in our funny clothes!" They lived in the present. The difference is it was their present, not ours. They were caught up in the living moment exactly as we are, and with no more certainty of how things would turn out than we have.
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Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world." Winston Churchill Christmas Eve Message, 1941 as printed in "In the Dark Streets Shineth.
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Government is nothing more than the combined force of society or the united power of the multitude for the peace, order, safety, good, and happiness of the people... There is no king or queen bee distinguished from all the others by size or figure or beauty and variety of colors in the human hive. No man has yet produced any revelation from heaven in his favor, any divine communication to govern his fellow men. Nature throws us all into the world equal and alike... The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation it is impossible they should be enslaved. Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable... There is a danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living wth power to endanger public liberty.
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The author perceives nuances of Abigail Adams' character in the occasional errors she makes in readily quoting John Milton. Rather than giving the observer a reason to quibble, they are evidence that she had absorbed Milton's works enough to feel comfortable quoting them from memory.
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One of the regrets of my life is that I did not study Latin. I'm absolutely convinced, the more I understand these eighteenth century people, that it was that grounding in Greek and Latin that gave them their sense of the classic virtues: the classic ideals of honor, virtue, the good society, and their historic examples of what they could try to live up to.
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Rather than literally burning the midnight oil, which he judged to be unhealthy, John Adams advised his son to make the most of college by developing an inquisitive outlook that would prompt him to get to know the most exceptional scholars and question them closely. "Ask them about their tutors, manner of teaching. Observe what books lie on their tables. Fall into questions of literature, science, or what you will.
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The author perceptively outlines what might be an underrated aspect of his subject and of many others whose public achievements are of note - a "gift for friendship". McCullough says Adams, despite his towering intellect and curmudgeonly demeanor, had a soft heart for other people and a genuine interest in their particulars.
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Housetops were covered with 'gazers'; all wharves that offered a view were jammed with people ... As British officers happily reminded one another, it was the largest fleet ever seen in American waters. In fact it was the largest expeditionary force of the 18th century, the largest, most powerful force ever sent forth by Britain or any other nation.
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The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation and for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too they would never forget.
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There are innumerable writing problems in an extended work. One book took a little more than six years. You, the writer, change in six years. The life around you changes. Your family changes. They grow up. They move away. The world is changing. You're also learning more about the subject. By the time you're writing the last chapters of the book, you know much more than you did when you started at the beginning.
Love of learning will never let you down. You can have a quest for money, you can have a quest for power, you can have a quest for fame and they are sometimes gratifying and sometimes self-destructive. The love of learning is always gratifying and never self-destructive. The more educated, the more cultivated a society becomes, better off is everybody.
Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer.
Unlike the people you see in Mathew Brady's photographs from the Civil War, the men and women of the Revolution seem more like characters in a costume pageant. And it's a pageant in which the performers are all handsome as stage actors, with uniforms and dress that are always costume perfect.
History is not just about dates and quotations. And it's not just about politics, the military and social issues, though much of it of course is about that. It's about everything. It's about life history. It's human. And we have to see it that way. We have to teach it that way. We have to read it that way. It's about art, music, literature, money, science, love - the human experience.
George P. A. Healy; "I knew no one in France, I was utterly ignorant of the language, I did not know what I should do when once there; but I was not yet one-and-twenty, and I had a great stock of courage, of inexperience""which is sometimes a great help""and a strong desire to be my very best.
With the situation as gray as it could be, no one was more conspicuous in his calm presence of mind than Washington. They must be "cool but determined" he had told the men before the battle, when spirits were high. Now, in the face of catastrophe, he was demonstrating what he meant by his own example. Whatever anger or torment or despair he felt, he kept to himself.
We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who've taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.
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I feel very strongly that history is about everything. It isn't just about politics or the military or social issues. If art, music, engineering, science, medicine, finance, the world of architecture and technology - if those are left out, then you're not getting a full sense of the human condition. History is human and we human beings are involved in all kinds of things and that's part of our humanity.
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