Philadelphia and the Birth of a Nation

Here is the State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is now called Independence Hall, and it is the birthplace of our country.

Independence Hall

Behind the left lower four windows is the very room where the Founders met  from 1775 to 1776 during the Second Continental Congress to debate the fate of the nation and then craft the Declaration of Independence. They met here again in 1787 to write the United States Constitution.

Meeting Room in Independence Hall

When I look at the picture above that I shot yesterday with my own iPhone, and I compare the background wall features to those in an image I lifted from Hulton Archive/Getty Images below, it gives me goosebumps.

I also went to Congress Hall, where the new congress met from 1790 to 1800.

Congress Hall

On the first floor, the congress met. The second floor contained the senate chambers and meeting rooms.

Podium at Congress Hall

The podium seen here on the congress floor itself is a replica, but the chair supposedly original. This is the podium where John Adams took the oath of office on March 4, 1797. That was the first time in the history of the world where immense power was peacefully transferred in a democracy from one man to another, rather than through death of a monarch, war, intrigue, and other treacheries.

I went to Carpenters Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774.

Carpenters Hall

Then I went down a few blocks  and had lunch at the City Tavern, the hangout where Washington, Adams, Jefferson and the rest of the gang ate, talked and partied. I was served by a waiter wearing a full colonial outfit. I had a dark beer and turkey pot pie while reading a Kindle book on my iPad about Obama. That seemed ironic and anachronistic at the same time.

City Tavern

The Founders were building a nation from scratch. They were building an agrarian country with only 2.5 million people, of which about half a million were slaves. In comparison, the county of San Diego today has more than 3 million people.

Did they know that they were building a superpower? What would they say if they saw the country today? What would happen if Washington could meet with Obama? Would Jefferson get a kick if I showed him the map of  the country on my iPad and then drilled down to Google Streetview and showed him Monticello?

Other than being in awe of being allowed to stand in such hallowed rooms, there were two things that stood out and struck me:

The first was how modest everything was. The rooms, the facilities, are quite small and very peasant-like, modest, well – colonial. Here were the brightest Americans of their day creating a nation out of nothing, with no money and no power, based only on ideals and vision, and driven by the sheer will and staying power of the individuals. There were no huge palaces like in England, France, Russia and Germany. These people were honest farmers, merchants and intellectuals, living modestly, yet creating a powerful legacy.

The second was how close everything was together in old Philadelphia, but how far away it was from Boston, New York and Richmond. It’s 330 miles from Boston to Philadelphia.

Boston to Philadelphia

In good traffic, I can drive it in a day. The plane ride takes about an hour.

When John Adams left Braintree for the First Continental Congress in the winter of 1774, it was bitter cold. He rode a horse and he had just one companion with him. There were only dirt roads with frozen ruts. In the spring they turned into knee-deep mud. If he traveled 10 miles a day on his horse, it would have taken more than a month, traveling every day. There were no Travelodges along the way. He had to find taverns for food and shelter, and often probably slept in barns as a guest on a farm. He had to buy three meals a day along the way. After an arduous journey, taking a month or two, he spent the majority of a year in Philadelphia, before he went back home in the fall. His wife had to tend to the farm, raise the children, take care of the estate, during his absence. The only communication was letters, and letters also took weeks to go back and forth.

Other than the Pennsylvania members of the congress, all others had to travel and make huge personal sacrifices to be part of the birth of the nation.

Because of their work and sacrifices, I get to fly from Philadelphia to San Diego in eight hours today – and I complain when the flight gets redirected to Indianapolis to avoid a thunderstorm at O’Hare.

We really are standing on the shoulders of giants.

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