For most people who know me, my love of history is very evident. I taught it to high school students for a number of years, and have extensively studied it beyond even what that would require. Visiting historical sites is as much of a thrill for me as riding giant roller coasters is for enthusiasts of that nature, or as jumping out of a plane is for those who are into the parachute experience.
So, with the opportunity to combine a little business with pleasure, I’m spending the end of this week in Washington, DC. Having mostly a free day yesterday, and realizing that it is not all that far to Philadelphia, I decided to go there and see the sights. It was in the mid 60’s, temperature wise, so it was a great drive, about two and a half hours, with construction, traffic, and having to stop at several toll booths along the way. I took I-95 to Baltimore, then over to New Castle, Delaware and hopped across the bridge to 295, going up the New Jersey side to Camden, then across to Philadelphia via the Ben Franklin bridge. Four states in less than three hours is quite an experience.
Independence Hall is a small, colonial style building sitting in the middle of a bustling downtown area, surrounded by its own quiet park, big trees, and sense of history. Being the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and signed, it is a rather plain place.
The tour lasts fifteen minutes. Inside, on the ground floor, are two rooms. On the right is the old Pennsylvania colonial courtroom where, when the Declaration was being contemplated across the hall, the King’s Coat of Arms hung above the judges’ seat. Some of the trials, and the way they were conducted, in that courtroom provided the rationale for the meeting that took place across the hall in July of 1776, trials where the jury was all male, all white, and the King’s interests determined the verdict.
I stood in the legislative chamber where both the Declaration and the Constitution were drafted, and was overcome with emotion. Such a small, plain room, sunlight streaming through the windows, with most of its original woodwork and brickwork, thinking that the whole world was completely changed, and a process was set in motion which would ignite some of the most idealistic changes in human history, in that place.
Oh, there was a long, long way to go from both 1776 and 1789, and an awful lot that had to change from the way things were in those days. People eventually came to accept ideas and incorporate into their lives practices that would not have been thinkable when those documents were drafted, but there was enough forward thinking there on those occasions to plan and prepare for future possibilities and the men who met there were remarkable by any standard. What a gift, and a blessing from God.
It was great, for part of one day, to cross a boundary to a simpler time, and be refreshed and inspired by something as simple as a 15 minute walk through one of the most revered buildings in this country, and perhaps on the entire planet.