Editor’s note: The following column is adapted from Juan Williams’ “We the People” which has just been published in paperback by Broadway Books.
As I look at the history of the United States after World War II, I see a constellation of great men and women, similar to our Founding Fathers, who forged the nation we have today in 2017. The more I read, the more I begin to connect dots that previously were separate in my mind. The more lines I draw, the more I become convinced that there is an important story to tell here. In telling that story, I can explore how we got here—to this time of profound change—and forecast where we are heading as a nation.
Behind our high rates of immigration, our global economics, our massive military, and the law enforcement apparatus that has our jails packed, the current state of national affairs is tied to the people who set in motion the changes we are living with every day.
Some of those people are famous, while others are not so well known. In some cases their lives are so recent that history has not had time to make the judgments needed to celebrate or curse them.
None of them was purely virtuous or purely wicked in either their private or public deeds, though some leaned more heavily in one direction or the other.
To my mind, the great men and women of postwar America include Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bill Bratton, Billy Graham, and many others. To understand them is to understand America in the twenty-first century. It is the story of a family—a new founding family for today’s America.
Their stories cannot be adequately told as either hagiography or pathology. They were reflections of changes building the country in the times in which they lived. What distinguishes each of these founders—both new and old—is that at some point during their lives each of them took action, developed ideas, or organized movements that set the groundwork for the way we Americans live in the twenty-first century.
To my mind, the great men and women of postwar America include Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bill Bratton, Billy Graham, and many others.
To understand them is to understand America in the twenty-first century. It is the story of a family—a new founding family for today’s America.
They have kept faith with the ideals of the Founding Fathers while reshaping the country.
They advanced the Founding Fathers’ audacious concept of a nation of free people forever able to maintain their own independence and liberty.
These recent innovators have met the never-ending challenges, even threats, to the idea of a strong, free, creative people.
By recognizing the story of this new founding family, we do not ignore or diminish the contributions of the great men and women who came before them. For as long as the Republic stands, every American—statesman or layman—will be in the debt of the original Founding Fathers: Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, and the rest of them.
Through their courage and wisdom and sacrifice, they began what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the great American experiment.”
The country they founded was built to endure long after they had passed from this world. And so it has. The experiment is still ongoing, and by recognizing its progress, we are paying tribute to their memory.
Adapted from "WE THE PEOPLE." Copyright © 2017 by Juan Williams. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.