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Time Magazine and Our Nations Founding: Then & Now

By now you’ve probably read about this week’s issue of Time Magazine in which Managing Editor Richard Stengel ponders if the Constitution is even relevant to our country anymore.

NRO’s David Azerrad calls the article “deeply flawed” on even the basics of the Constitution, and Michelle Malkin notes how Stengel conveniently hides behind the First Amendment when it comes to journalism but seemingly wants to disregard the rest of it.

It’s old. And dusty.

Yesterday I was cleaning out my elderly mother’s garage when I found a copy of the July 4th, 1976 Bicentennial issue of Time Magazine. The special edition issue was structured “to reconstruct  with the tools of both history and journalism, and in our [Time’s] distinctive newsmagazine format, at least part of the life and soul of the events that gave birth to our nation”.


(Click on the linked photo to read the full letter from Grunwald.)

Imagine my surprise to read in it a letter from then-managing editor Henry A. Grunwald opining how “refreshing it is to return to our origins, to our fundamental values, and to try to illuminate how earlier Americans saw the world and their place in it.” Grunwald even goes so far as to suggest our nation actually was founded on Divine Providence by offering a quote from George Mason, author of the Virginia Constitution”:

“Taking a retrospective view on what has passed, we seem to be treading upon enchanted ground.”

Each department heading that normally appears every week in the magazine thoughtfully reported on life as it was during the week of July 4th, 1776. The Nation, this is the largest segment taking up over half of the whole magazine, reported on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It included a full page on how the document was edited by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson, another lengthy report on the chronology of events leading up to Independence, the inspirational forebears of the Document itself including Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, along with numerous profiles of the Declaration signers and of the colonies themselves.

The World section included reports on happenings in Britain under King George III along with a profile of Empress Catherine II of Russia, and report of Captain James Cook return to Haiti. The Religion segment differentiated the beliefs of the main American religions of the time; Theatre contained a review  London actor David Garrick farewell performance at the Drury Lane theatre; Music reviewed Christopher Willibald Gluck’s French Opera ‘Alceste’; and even Modern Living provided the latest in ladies powdered wigs styles.

So, it only took 35 years for Time Magazine to go from thoughtful retrospection and reverence of our founding era and documents to wondering if they are, in the case of Stengal, irrelevant.

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