Yesterday, America celebrated the 235th anniversary of our formal declaration of independent status from Great Britain. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Usually we spend it with family and friends, enjoying favorite foods and lighting off fireworks. In between the burgers, Chinese coleslaw, watermelon and fireworks, though, I try to take a moment and remember the reason for the day.
Despite the imperfections of the U.S. government, the members of the Continental Congress risked disgrace, imprisonment, financial ruin and a traitor’s death as soon as they signed the Declaration of Independence. The likelihood of defeating Great Britain, then the most powerful nation in Europe, seemed a distant dream. So did the hope of establishing a united government among 13 colonies who each guarded her privileges jealously against the others. (The U.S. Constitution came about after the Revolutionary War, by representatives empowered only to improve the Articles of Confederation.)
Despite the odds against them, the delegates took a breath and a leap of faith, and signed.
My family had a chance to visit Philadelphia a couple of years ago, and we took great pleasure in spending the day at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell museum and historic center of the city. The exterior of Independence Hall and the room where the Continental Congresses met are familiar images, but our tour included the other rooms and floors as well.
Besides serving as a civic meeting place, the colonial public court met across from the Assembly Room. This picture shows part of the elevated bench where the justices sat, and the stand where witnesses were interviewed by counsel. The clerk sat at the small table to the right of the witness and immediately front of the judges so that he could hear and transcribe the proceedings. Still, the high point for us was to see the room where founding principles of our country were debated and voted on.
On the next floor, the Long Gallery is set up for a banquet, with the tables set up along one side. The rest of the floor would be cleared for mingling or possibly dancing to music provided by a harpsichord at one end. John Adams once confided to his beloved wife Abigail his hope that future generations would mark Independence Day with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” I’d like to think that some of those celebrations were held at Independence Hall, the building where America was truly born.