10 questions with ‘Essential American’ editor Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the editor of the new book, “The Essential American: A Patriot’s Resource.”

The book is composed of “25 documents and speeches every American should know” and includes a forward by Cushman’s father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Cushman, who co-authored a previous book with her father, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

She recently agreed to answer 10 questions from The Daily Caller about her new book:

1. Why did you decide to do this compilation?

My goal for “The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches that Every American Should Own,” was to compile the documents and speeches that form the core — the foundation of our nation. These are the stories that have forged our national character. They illustrate the ideals and values of our nation. In a world often dominated by the media message of the minute, it is important that we remember, recall, and reread our nation’s history. This reflection and remembrance provides us with a solid foundation, strength, and inspiration — reminding us that America is exceptional.

2. Among the 25, is there one that is particularly touching to you?

President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Even today, as I reread it, tears fill my eyes. He so poignantly reminded the nation of where we were, of what they had suffered, and provided guidance for the future.

He articulates the heart wrenching reality of the Civil War, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”

He ends with grace towards his enemies, who would assassinate him a few weeks later.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

President Lincoln was greeted later that night by a free black man, Frederick Douglass, who provided his opinion, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

I completely agree, a sacred effort.

3. Are there any inclusions that you think will surprise some?

The “Remember the Alamo” speech by Captain Mosley Baker included in “The Essential American might surprise some. But once you understand the context, you begin to understand the independence of Texans.

4. Which speeches or documents just missed the cut?

The initial target number for “The Essential American” was 21 documents or speeches, but we had too many to chose from — so we expanded to 25 documents and speeches. Even at 25 there were great documents and speeches that were not included.

There are two speeches by President Ronald Reagan included, “A Time for Choosing,” his 1964 televised speech endorsing Barry Goldwater, and his remarks in 1987 at the Brandenburg gate when he issued the challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Initially Reagan’s “Pointe de Hoc Speech” was included as well. It was very hard to narrow down the list to 25 — but we really wanted the compilation to reflect the essential pieces of our nation’s history.

5. Many of the speeches included in this compilation are related in some way to war or a struggle against a great enemy. Why do you think that is?

Just as times of conflict reveal our character in our personal lives, times of conflict in our nation’s history reveal our national character. These periods provide a sharp contrast between what could and what did happen. They provide the backdrop for our leaders to articulate clear choices. Patrick Henry did this when he uttered his famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Before his speech, the overriding belief was that we might be able to negotiate, to avoid war. Henry’s speech made it clear that this wasn’t true.

6. Abraham Lincoln is most represented in this compilation. What do you think that suggests, if anything?

“The Essential American” overweighed two periods where we were formed as a nation and when the union was saved. The founding fathers and the originating documents are represented by seven of the documents. Four of the documents and speeches are from the period of the Civil War. It’s impossible to understand America without understanding these two critical, nation forming periods. Before the Civil War there was an ongoing tug of war, and an underlying possibility that our nation could be pulled apart by various forces. President Lincoln provided the leadership that saved the United States.

7. Are there any speeches that President Obama has given that you think may be able to make the cut in a future anthology of great American speeches?

We talked about this during the compilation. Since this is a compilation of historic speeches, we are too close to our current president to judge. We’ll have to see once time has passed and an additional perspective is gained by the passage of time.

8. If you update this book a decade from now, would you like to include a speech by a President Newt Gingrich? Do you think that is a possibility?

Now that’s a tough question. Based on my previous answer, dad would have to run in 2012, win, and then step down after one term to be potentially included. If he were still a sitting president in 2020, we would have to wait until the 2030 update.

9. Do you think Americans have lost touch with their history?

We are so bombarded by the media message of the minute that it’s often overwhelming. It takes time and effort to remember, recall, and reconsider these important national stories. That’s why I compiled “The Essential American,” so Americans would be able to go to a single source. We also include a timeline of over 400 historic American events, a list of Presidents and First Ladies, a list of Supreme Court Justices, and a free DVD with over 1,200 documents.

10. Any plans to write or edit another book? If so, about what?

Oh yes. “The Essential American” is my second book. I also write a weekly column for Creator’s Syndicate. I love to write. I’ve already started a novel about a southern political family — I’m sure your readers will enjoy it as well.