At this time, in 1787, the constitutional convention was gathering in Philadelphia. In the history of America, this is a nearly mythological event. The men (alas, they were all men and white) got together to develop a more satisfactory document to be the foundation of this newly formed country.
They’d had the war of independence and won, to nearly everyone’s surprise. They’d been toddling along with some articles of confederacy, and that wasn’t working so well.
They came together to come up with a better plan.
That’s well-worn history. What’s interesting to me is what prep work, what reading they had done to get ready for this moment. Europeans came to America just slightly after the printing press has been invented. It could be considered that the USA was an afterbirth of the printing press is a very real way.
Americans read, and literacy was highly valued. Towns of any barely significant populace had a newspaper and they were widely read and shared.
But the books! The libraries that were shared!
I found this lovely article by Forrest McDonald
“As early as 1766 the New York Gazette and Mercury observed that “every lover of his country hath long observed with sacred pleasure, the rapid progress of knowledge in this once howling wilderness, occasioned by the vast importation of books; the many public and private libraries in all parts of the country; the great taste for reading which prevails among people of every rank.” The editorialist’s enthusiasm was well founded. By the time of the Revolution, nine sizable college libraries existed in British North America, and more than sixty subscription libraries (several of which, like Franklin’s Philadelphia Library Company, boasted that tradesmen and mechanics considerably outnumbered “gentlemen” among their users).”
Americans read. Then and now. And our culture believes in the benefit of reading, and the benefit of learning.
We do read even now. We ask questions to find out what the story is and what we should do about it.
Those signers of the constitution, they read a lot of the same books. But they had different opinions. I know they wrote to each other about their viewpoints and hashed them out in letters to one another and letters to the editors of those many newspapers. They had been chewing on these ideas for a long time.
Books are different now. Newspapers are different now. But that discourse is still going on.
Radio, then TV, and right now podcasts and YouTube are allowing news and opinion to be shared.
The conversations between experts, opinions from ordinary people, and any mix of either are going on all the time.
Books are still part of it, and so much more. We’re still discussing way to form a more perfect union.