The Right Nation by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge includes this impressive passage explaining why the notion of America as young country is nonsense that also includes this impressive fact:
Start with the idea that the United States can no longer really be regarded as a “new nation.” There is no doubt that America is singularly lacking in ancient chateaux and schlossen…But this scarcely constitutes evidence of youth. The first settlers arrived when James I was on the throne and England was not yet Britain. Galileo was offered a chair at Harvard University, which was founded in 1636, before Charles I had his head cut off. The Declaration of Independence was signed a century before the unification of both German and Italy…Many of the traditions which define Britain as an old country in the minds of admiring Americans — the pomp and circumstance of empire, the rituals of Charles Dickens’s Christmas, Sherlock Holmes’s deer-stalker hat – were invented a century after the American constitution. “The youth of America is their oldest tradition,” Oscar Wilde quipped more than a century ago. “It has been going on for three hundred years.”
The problem is I don’t think the bit about Galileo is true. Galileo died six years after Harvard was founded, so it’s not wholly implausible. However, the sources I’ve been able to find saying it is, lead back to Mickelwait and Wooldridge and they don’t cite a source for their claim. And a commenter in this forum discussing the claim raises the following seemingly pretty convincing objections:
the early Harvard College’s emphasis was on producing “literate [Protestant] ministers,” so they probably had no interest in bringing someone like Galileo on board…[and]….at its founding in 1636, Harvard College had “nine students with a single master,” so they probably weren’t looking to spend money on recruiting foreign professors from abroad.
Still as it would be such a great fact if it was true, I’m not abandoning hope altogether. Anyone know the truth one way or the other?