The signing did not take place July 4, 1776, and had no formal gathering as seen in the dramatic painting. The decorative display of the room does not accurately reflect the room where the men signed the Declaration of Independence, but it doesn't matter. Trumbull was creating a symbolic event and while he takes liberty with the room, he is completely accurate with the faces of those in the room capturing the qualities of Jefferson and Adams. Washington is absent and McCullough explains why. The intent by Trumbull is to show the brave intentions of the men in Congress who were making a declaration against the King of England claiming freedom for the thirteen colonies and making them traitors to the crown. The painting is symbolic of what the country stood for at that time. Pretty heady stuff. It is easy to get swept up in the story as David McCullough reveals the individuals in history, bringing the time alive and making it vibrant.
The rest of the lecture explains the importance of education to the Founding Fathers and books that influenced David McCullough making him pursue the career of being a historian. He talks about reading, "Ben and Me" by Robert Lawson, as a six-year-old and I thought to myself... I've never seen a kid that young read that book. It goes to show what a gifted man McCullough is and quite brilliant himself. He then quotes many other books that influenced him growing up. He's 82 years old so his book list had some unfamiliar names for me. I'll have to check them out. I did know the children's books, however, and I have seen N.C. Wyeth's glorious illustrations of Treasure Island. Although McCullough mentions Wyeth pictures in The Last of the Mohicans and Drums as influencing him.
The last part of the lecture focuses on how history needs to come alive. A writer can have all the facts but if there are not interesting individuals or empathy or heart in the history being revealed, then it won't hold readers interest. History has to be literature, he says several times, as well as, "History is about change and the power of ideas." He ends by explaining that the American experiment was an unfulfilled promise with a government of laws and not of men, equality and justice, the importance of the individual, freedom of thought and religion, and a love of learning. You can read the lecture printed at the web site: http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/david-mccullough-lecture. Be inspired.