June 20, 2024

Independence Hall, Philadelphia – An Englishman enters the heart of the American revolution and meets a revolutionary

Independence Hall, Philadelphia (RDSmith)

To get into Independence Hall is completely free as befits the home of American liberty. You do though need a timed ticket, which I had neglected to pick up. It was only the kindness of a colonially-dressed guide that got me in at all. It added to the sense that was to develop of being an English spy in this bastion of America.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia (RDSmith)

Independence Hall was originally the State House of Pennsylvania but underwent a name change to reflect its importance to the United States. It is where the Constitution was written and the Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4th 1776. It is now a World Heritage Site.

Congress voting Independence

I thought I was queuing for a tour of the building, but when I entered with a pack of school children we were shown into a lecture room. A Park Ranger named Joanne Schiluzzi then gave a rousing talk about the period, starring the revolting Americans (Hurrah!) and the English (Boo!) which was full of interesting information. Her ability to change the children’s attitude from one of joking and irreverence to one of interest was amazing. ‘All men are equal,’ she quoted, but pointed out that this did not include women. Or slaves. John Adams drew the line of who was equal to whom at property owners.

Assembly room - The 'Declaration of Independence' room

So Philadelphia was the birthplace of the USA and was the capital until 1800 whilst Washington was being built. We learned where the British Coat of Arms was (on the wall behind the speaker), why it isn’t there anymore (it was pulled down and burned). The British added to their list of misdeeds by using the Hall as a barracks in September 1777 during a brief period when they were back on top. She pointed out that without the French there would be no United States. In the Assembly room we saw Washington’s chair that had half a sun on it. Franklin wasn’t sure if it was rising or setting – until the Declaration was signed, then he felt it was definitely a rising sun. In the same room the design of the US flag was decided. No wonder the respect in which Independence Hall is held.

Syng inkstand

I entered the West wing and saw the ink stand said to have been used for the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The building also houses old documents including a copy of the Declaration which was read out in Philadelphia.

The Declaration of Independence

I peered at the John Nixon copy of the Declaration of Independence.  The lighting was low to protect the old printing. There was a man leaning against the wall. I took no notice.

‘Are you thinking of overthrowing the government?’ called the man.

I looked up in surprise. With all the guns and scanners around that wasn’t the sort of statement anyone makes in jest. The man was big-bellied and perfectly calm.  I hadn’t been thinking of overthrowing the government, at least not until he planted the idea. I’d been trying to figure out the old fashioned script on the Declaration.  I gave revolution but a moment’s thought. It wasn’t for me. I shook my head, though I was wondering what would happen if I said yes.

‘Nor me,’ the man said. ‘Don’t want to interfere with my 41K.’ But he looked disappointed, as though he’d expected more from me.

I cut short my perusal of old documents, smiled politely and exited, wondering what a 41K was. As I left the Hall I considered which part of my demeanour made me look like a government-overthrower. Was it the way I brushed my hair? Or my trousers? Had I accidentally made a secret sign that overthrowers use to recognise each other? I’ll never know.

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