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American Flag

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Advice to His Teenage Grandson (from a letter sent to the 16-year-old Thomas Jefferson Randolph on November 24th, 1808)

“I was often thrown into the society of horseracers, cardplayers, Foxhunters, scientific and professional men, and of dignified me; and many a time have I asked myself… which of these kinds of reputation should I prefer?”

2. Great Men Cultivate Love by Booker T. Washington (from his autobiography, Up from Slavery)

“I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him…”

3. ‘The Light Has Gone Out of My Life’: Young Teddy Roosevelt in Love and Grief adapted by me (from Edmund Morris’s Theodore Rex)

“When, as ex-President, he came to write his Autobiography, he wrote movingly of the joys of family life, the ardor of youth, and the love of men and women; but he would not acknowledge that Alice ever existed…”

4. Whether I Stand High or Low in the Estimation of the World by John Adams (from a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 1st, 1774)

“I will not willingly see blockheads, whom I have a right to despise, elevated above me, and insolently triumphing over me. Nor shall knavery, through any negligence of mine, get the better of honesty…”

5. The Fourth of July According to Ronald Reagan (from a 1981 essay)

“In recent years, however, I’ve come to think of that day as more than just the birthday of a nation. It also commemorates the only true philosophical revolution in all history… Ours was a revolution that changed the very concept of government.”

6. When and How You Should Break the Law by Martin Luther King (from his televised interview on Meet the Press, March 28th, 1965)

“…  I don’t think any society can call an individual irresponsible who breaks a law and willingly accepts the penalty if conscience tells him that that law is unjust.”

7. Meet John Adams by David McCullough/ Meet Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meacham

“Adams could be high-spirited and affectionate, vain, cranky, impetuous, self-absorbed, and fiercely stubborn; passionate, quick to anger and all-forgiving; generous and entertaining. He was blessed with great courage and good humor, yet subject to spells of despair, and especially when separated from his family or during periods of prolonged inactivity.”

“He drove his horses hard and fast and considered the sun his ‘almighty physician.’ Jefferson was fit and virile, a terrific horseman and inveterate walker… He delighted in archaeology, paleontology, astronomy, botany, and meteorology…”

8. ‘Tragedy without Reason?’: Robert Kennedy Endures His Brother’s Death by Arthur Schlesinger (from Robert Kennedy and His Times Vol. One)

“… he was struggling with that fundamental perplexity: whether there was, after all, any sense to the universe… He scrawled on a yellow sheet:

The innocent suffer—how can that be possible and God be just?”

9. A Shallow Pretext for Extorting Compromise by Abraham Lincoln (from his 1861 letter to James T. Hale)

“We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten…”

10. Alexander Hamilton the Bachelor (from his 1779 letter to John Laurens)

“She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape), sensible (a little learning will do)… But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better…”

Honorable mentions: Those Who Won Our Independence by Louis Brandeis; ‘The Strongest of the Stricken’: Robert Kennedy Reacts to His Brother’s Death by Arthur Schlesinger; The School of Affliction by Thomas Jefferson; John in Joe’s Shadow by Robert Dallek; The Great Anniversary Festival by John Adams