…the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution made an extraordinarily careful study of history. They’d been studying history all their lives. Benjamin Franklin was eighty-one years old, hunched and crooked, when he signed the Constitution in 1787, with his gnarled and speckled hand. In 1731, when he was twenty-five, straight as a sapling, he’d written an essay called “Observations on Reading History,” on a “little Paper, accidentally preserv’d.” And he kept on reading history, and taking notes, asking himself, year after year: What does the past teach?
The United States rests on a dedication to equality, which is chiefly a moral idea, rooted in Christianity, but it rests, too, on a dedication to inquiry, fearless and unflinching. Its founders agreed with the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume, who wrote, in 1748, that “Records of Wars, Intrigues, Factions, and Revolutions are so many Collections of Experiments.” They believed that truth is to be found in ideas about morality but also in the study of history.
Jill Lepore, These Truths, xv.