The art of compromise was never more apparent than during a trip to visit Independence Hall the day after the official nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate. After evenings of booing and chanting and protests, Independence Hall seemed a civil way to spend a late morning.
The visit is free, but you do need to get timed tickets at the Visitor Center, a simple matter. Once you pass through security, the Park Service will guide you into an air-conditioned room to go over some of the basics of American history – such as how the British instituted a tax on the American colonists to pay for the French and Indian War. The main taxes were sugar, tea and stamp (paper). Here we were reminded that the states at that time felt like individual countries, but one uniting factor was taxation against representation.
We were instructed about how Thomas Jefferson was chosen by the Second Continental Congress to write what became the Declaration of Independence because he was diplomatic, unlike some of his Northern brethren. He learned how he wrote it in less than three weeks, but there were more than 80 revisions made during the meetings ultimately led to the signing on July 4. There were issues that weren’t resolved, such as slavery. Benjamin Franklin wanted wording abolishing it; but the language wasn’t included because it would cause the Southern states to revolt. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, had a slave with him in Philadelphia. So compromise was in order for the greater a good, an issue that would be revisited 80 years later when Abraham Lincoln visited the same spot. Perhaps knowing this was the intent of some of the founding fathers.
I was thinking about this an hour later as we sat down to lunch at the City Tavern, a reconstruction opened in 1976 and on the same site where George Washington once met with the Marquis de Lafayette. The menu isn’t original to the 1700s (thank heavens), but you can feel how parties with different opinions would gather and resolve their differences over drink. Behind us were supporters of Bernie Sanders (who dined at the same restaurant as we did the night before) who were going to leave before Clinton gives her acceptance speech on Thursday. This too parallels what we heard at Independence Hall. There were representatives from the states who left and declined to sign the Declaration of Independence. That is our right in this country – the right to express our differences.
“However hard it may be to picture the founders resorting to rough-and-tumble tactics, there was nothing genteel about politics at the nation’s onset,” wrote Ron Chernow in the Wall Street Journal. “For sheer verbal savagery, the founding era may have surpassed anything seen today. Despite their erudition, integrity, and philosophical genius, the founders were fiery men who expressed their beliefs with vehemence.” Ron Chernow is the author of “Washington: A Life” and “Alexander Hamilton.”
Chernow wrote that in 2010. I anticipate that 2016 may come close.
Signing off in Philadelphia