A Great and Happy People

Come listen to — and discuss — speeches, poems, debates, songs, court rulings, letters, and other texts from American history interpreted in bold new ways by performing artists. From the funny to the fiery, A Great and Happy People celebrates the words and the ideas that make us who we are.

About the series

The concept behind the show is simple: We research the history of a particular topic in U.S. history and select readings from different texts related to that topic, from poems and excerpts of plays to letters, speeches, court rulings and newspaper articles. We then invite some top-notch actors to interpret the pieces and, after the show, discuss them.

About the name

The name A Great and Happy People comes from a letter written by President George Washington to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island: “If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.”

2016 season

Civil Rights Martin Luther King, Jr. Day / January 18, 2016

  • “The Rebel”
    By Pádraig (Patrick) Pearse / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Romer v. Evans
    By Anthony Kennedy / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Speech before the Circuit Court
    By Susan B. Anthony / Read by Lacey Zeiler and Tim Uren
  • Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country
    By Frederick Douglass / Read by phillip andrew bennett low
  • Special Message to Congress
    By Lyndon B. Johnson / Read by Tim Uren
  • Letter to Thomas Jefferson
    By Benjamin Banneker / Read by Duck Washington
  • To the Hebrew Congregation at Newport
    By George Washington / Read by Lacey Zeiler

Education + Science Pi Day / March 14, 2016

  • Excerpt from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
    By Mary Shelley / Read by phillip andrew bennett low
  • Affirmations of Humanism
    By Paul Kurtz / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Excerpts from the Corps of Discovery journal
    By Meriweather Lewis / Read by Lacey Zeiler
  • On the Bombing of Hiroshima
    By Harry S Truman / Read by Katherine Glover
  • Speech at Rice University
    By John F. Kennedy / Read by Leslie Vincent
  • In the Event of Moon Disaster
    By William Safire for Richard M. Nixon / Read by Matthew Kessen
  • Excerpt from On the Origin of Species
    By Charles Darwin / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Scopes and Kitzmiller v. Dover
    By William Jennings Bryan and John E. Jones III / Read by Tim Uren and Matthew Kessen
  • Letter to Charles McCarthy
    By Kurt Vonnegut / Read by Tim Uren

Sacrifice + Peace Memorial Day / May 23, 2016

  • Gettysburg Address
    By Abraham Lincoln / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Letter to Benedict Arnold
    By George Washington / Read by Katherine Glover
  • Speech on the Indian Removal Act
    By Andrew Jackson / Read by phillip andrew bennett low
  • Speech by Little Crow
    By Thaóyate Dúta / Read by Lacey Zeiler
  • Against Imperialism
    By William Jennings Bryan / Read by Tim Uren
  • Excerpts from Speeches by Jeannette Rankin
    By Jeannette Rankin / Read by Matthew Kessen
  • Farewell Speech
    By Dwight D. Eisenhower / Read by Duck Washington

Rebellion + Union Independence Day / July 4, 2016

  • Declaration of Independence
    By Thomas Jefferson, et al. / Read by Tim Uren and the audience
  • The American Crisis, Pamphlet I
    By Thomas Paine / Read by Matthew Kessen
  • Farewell Address
    By George Washington / Read by phillip andrew bennett low
  • Address in Independence Hall
    By Abraham Lincoln / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Mississippi Declaration of Independence
    Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Men of Color, To Arms!
    By Frederick Douglass / Read by Katherine Glover
  • “The Congressional Library”
    By Amy Lowell / Read by Rachel Flynn
  • West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
    By Robert H. Jackson / Read by Leslie Vincent
  • Remarks at the Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association
    By Thurgood Marshall / Read by Duck Washington
  • To the Hebrew Congregation at Newport
    By George Washington / Read by Leslie Vincent

Labor and Invention Labor Day / September 12, 2016

  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
    By Adam Smith / Read by phillip andrew bennett low
  • “The Chimney Sweeper”
    By William Blake / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • To Tramps, the Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable
    By Lucy Parsons / Read by Tim Uren
  • Testimony from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire trial
    By Kate Alterman / Read by Lacey Zeiler
  • “I Hear America Singing” and “Brass Spitoons”
    By Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes / Read by Pat Harrigan
  • Address at a Union Dinner
    By Franklin Roosevelt / Read by Katherine Glover
  • Interview with Jonas Salk
    By Jonas Salk / Read by Tim Uren
  • Congressional testimony
    By Stephen Colbert / Read by Duck Washington