David McCullough: Has He Turned Conservative?

Historians in the News

"Cicero" at the website of Buzzflash (6-14-05):

David McCullough's best-selling books on American history have been praised for their readability and criticized for their superficiality.

But no one has detected a political agenda behind McCullough's output. McCullough's books projects a patriotic warmth about his American heroes -- nothing too controversial.

And until now, McCullough, unlike such well-known American historians as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Forrest MacDonald, has steered clear of partisan political organizations, and kept his political beliefs to himself.

But a look at the fiercely conservative and influential Heritage Foundation's website shows that McCullough may have changed his mind about declaring his political affiliations -- and that some right-wing think tank chiefs think his work actually does have a deeply political message.

Last Friday, June 10, McCullough took the book tour on behalf of his latest volume,"1776", to Washington -- and to the Heritage Foundation. A videotape of the proceedings appears on the Heritage site: http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev061005a.cfm

The Foundation was sure it knew exactly what it was getting.

John Hilboldt, the Heritage director of lectures and seminars, gushed over McCullough as a"rock star historian." He noted how the story McCullough tells in his new book fits in with the Foundation's political commitments, including"preserving individual liberties," and"limiting government power."

Edwin J. Feulner, President of the Foundation, introduced McCullough by making the point that he is not"a professionally-trained historian," but an author following in a"great but sometimes forgotten tradition in the United States" --"writing history for real Americans."

McCullough, Feulner proclaimed, is"America's historian."

Limiting government power? Real Americans? America's historian -- as opposed to those American historians who don't belong to America?

The message was perfectly clear: David McCullough is the Heritage Foundation's kind of historian. If Harry Truman, the subject of one of McCullough's earlier books (and one of his heroes) had been introduced that way, by Heritage Foundation officers, he would have given his audience hell. (Although, true enough, it is hard to imagine Truman on a book tour, let alone taking it to a right-wing think-tank.)

McCullough gave the Foundation something different. He did not object to or distance himself from Hilboldt and Feulner's remarks. Instead, he smiled and profusely thanked them for their"grand introduction." Then he delivered a smooth and dramatic lecture on the importance of history as a humanizing force and on the military saga of 1776.

The lecture carried little overt political content (aside from McCullough's admirable lamentation that the state of Alabama has removed history as a subject to be taught in its public elementary schools.)


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Norman G. Owen - 7/9/2005

Like the first respondent, I'm not quite sure what the point of the original post was, but it's not exactly news in 2005 that McCullough was/is a conservative, though he may not have spread it about very publicly.

After reading the initial post I happened to see an obscure memoir fragment by 80+ year old Lewis E. Gleeck, Jr., a self-proclaimed "man of the Right" and admirer of Whittaker Chambers: "Excerpts from a Life," Bulletin of the American Historical Collection Foundation [Manila], 28-1 (Jan.-Mar. 2000), 49-77. In it (p74) he mentions, in passing, staying at the same boardinghouse in Independence, Missouri, with McCullough in 1983, and getting along very well. "Together, we listened indignantly to Senator [Christopher] Dodd's denunciation of President Reagan and discovered we were both political conservatives."

Personal disclaimer, FWIW: Lew Gleeck was always very generous and gracious to me, despite our political differences.

Norman G. Owen - 7/9/2005


Hugh High - 6/18/2005

And what is/was the point of this post ??

Is "Cicero" seriously arguing that (a) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has, as Cicero asserted, steered clear of partisan politics and, to quote Cicero, " kept his political beliefs to himself", or (b) is Cicero bothered by the fact that David McCullough has appeared at the Heritage Foundation (which is at least one reading of Cicero's note )-- if so, that is curious indeed -- that a historian would be condemned, even obliquely, for trying to educate a broader public ; or (c) has Cicero somehow determined McCullough is a conservative and objects to that -- which would be exceptionally strange , for one who would, presumably, wish to further the clash of ideas- though perhaps Cicero doesn't and, rather, wishes there to be a monopoly of ideas (with him holding the monopoly position no doubt. )

This last possibility is rather at odds with Cicero's last sentence. BUT, that raises, again, the question
" What was/is the point of this posting ? "