Jon Meacham on the NBC News set outside the funeral of Sen. John McCain, at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

For the finale of the Democratic National Convention, historian Jon Meacham will speak from Nashville, urging Americans to remember that "history, which will surely be our judge, can also be our guide. ... From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, we're at our best when we build bridges, not walls."

The assignment from the Democratic Party was spare yet daunting: Define "The Soul of America," the title of Meacham's 2018 bestseller. Oh, and please keep it under five minutes.

Previewing his remarks, Meacham, who also eulogized George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush in 2018, told me the common denominator of the best of American history is liberation and hope, not fear and selfishness:

It's not a partisan issue. Presidents from Truman to Reagan to Bush 41 prevailed in the Cold War, which was about freedom versus tyranny. And at home, do you want to be Bull Connor, or John Lewis? Joe McCarthy, or Margaret Chase Smith? Do you want to tear down, or do you want to build?

Meacham speaks from his library, surrounded by photos and posters from past presidential campaigns — including a portrait of Lewis, Meacham's latest subject ("His Truth Is Marching On," out Tuesday).

  • "By habit, I see the world historically and theologically," said Meacham, a devout Episcopalian and author of 10 books. "History and theology tell us we're at our best when we look outward rather than inward."

Meacham's roots are in journalism: He said he's voted for candidates of both parties, and has never endorsed a candidate before.

  • "This president poses such a clear and present danger to the things we should value most that I think it's incumbent on all of us who believe that to say something."
  • "Joe Biden is a good man. We need him."
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