Photobook: Three Surveyors and One Other Guy

‘Three Surveyors and One Other Guy’, from a historical plaque in downtown Springfield, Illinois, spotted during my journey here following the life and ideas of Abraham Lincoln

National Surveyor’s week this year will be March 18-24, 2018. Happy National Surveyors week!

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New Podcast Episode: Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead… Read the written version here

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Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead.

The Peoria County Courthouse as it appears today, Peoria, Illinois

It was this 1854 speech delivered here in Peoria, however, that’s widely credited with first putting Lincoln on the political map in a big way. Lincoln had mostly withdrawn from politics, having served many years in the Illinois state legislature but only winning one term in higher office in 1846 in the United States House of Representatives. The furor over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened the door to the expansion of slavery, drove Lincoln back into politics, by his own account. He had always been rather reticent about the slavery issue, concerned that too much controversy over it would destabilize the country. The recent passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was only one of the many major events that revealed the controversy was unavoidable.

The Trial of John Brown by Horace Pippin, 1942 at the De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. John Brown was one of those who led abolitionists into Kansas territory to combat pro-slavery advocates, and in the process, indiscriminately killed pro-slavery settlers. He led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was executed for treason.

For one thing, Kansas-Nebraska Act’s underlying political doctrine of popular sovereignty, where the states could decide on the legalization of slavery themselves by vote, led to such extreme regional disputes as Bleeding Kansas. People flooded into the territory (Kansas was not yet a state) to push the vote one way or another through violence as well as numbers. Those on the pro-slavery side wanted to preserve the political power of the slave states and to be able to settle in Kansas with their slaves if they so chose. Those opposing slavery wanted to keep slavery out of Kansas as a matter of principle and, more often, to make it a place where people could make a new life for themselves without having to compete with slaves for jobs and with wealthy slave-plantation owners for land.

Secondly, while attractive to many from both sides at first glance, the principle of popular sovereignty revealed its weaknesses over time and proved deadly to Douglas’ political career. Abolitionists and other free state citizens did not want to abide by fugitive slave laws which required that free states return escaped slaves, and did not want to protect the right of visitors to own slaves within their borders. They saw this as an imposition of slavery into territories that abolished it. Slave states regarded the refusal to return escaped slaves as an attack on their property rights, and an unfair limit on their right to travel freely from state to state. Popular sovereignty turned out to harm, not help, the cause of preserving the Union.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Peoria County Courthouse commemorating his Oct 16, 1854 speech here

The Peoria speech was Lincoln’s second public delivery of his first detailed and straightforward denunciation of slavery on moral grounds. While the speech did not promote the national abolition of slavery, Lincoln made the historical case that Thomas Jefferson was a reluctant slave-owner caught up in a social institution that he abhorred, but like slave-owners of Lincoln’s day, he felt trapped in it. So, Jefferson hoped and planned for its gradual dissolution. He used his influence to make sure the Northwest Ordinances of 1787 and ’89 banned slavery in all new territories of the United States, shifting the balance of political power away from the slave states and towards those states whose prosperity resulted from the industry of free people. Lincoln argued that continuing to prevent the spread of slavery was the only way to realize Jefferson’s hope while doing what was politically possible to assuage the evils of slavery until it faded away naturally. Though we, with Frederick Douglass, might be scornful of and impatient with Lincoln’s apparent have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards slavery as a terrible moral evil but allowable in the South if it held the Union together, the speech contains the outline of the basic moral principles underlying Lincoln’s increasingly anti-slavery platform as his presidency and the Civil War progressed.

The version of the Peoria speech that’s come down to us was transcribed by Lincoln himself for publication in Springfield’s Illinois Daily Journal, in seven issues on October 21st, then the 23rd-28th, 1854. This is lucky for us as few transcripts of that series of exchanges between Douglas and Lincoln survive. Lincoln had delivered the first version of this speech in Springfield and had clarified and refined it, as well as making a few changes to tailor it to the Peoria audience.

Commerce Bank at the approximate site of old Rouse’s Hall at Main St and Jefferson Ave, Peoria.

Frederick Douglass ambrotype, 1856, by an unknown photographer, image public domain via Wikimedia Commons. He spoke in Peoria in Rouse’s Hall about three years after this picture was taken.

Then I head to Jefferson and Main, to the site of Rouse’s Hall. Frederick Douglass lectured here on February 25th, 1859, and according to the Peoria Daily Transcript newspaper, his speech was so well received that Douglass decided to add a follow-up one a few days later. The Transcript reported that ‘appreciative and intelligent’ audience braved the weather in large numbers to hear this famous orator speak.

In the first speech, Douglass presented his argument that all human races had a common origin, supporting his views with ‘history, philosophy, and science’. He was not making a Darwinian case since On the Origin of Species would not be published until the fall of that same year. The Transcript also reported that the speech included an argument about slavery which ‘he had not yet exhausted,’ so presumably Douglass was presenting the larger case that since all human beings belong to a common natural family, there can be no claims of superiority that would justify one branch of this family oppressing another.

In their notice of the second speech scheduled for March 1st, the Transcript predicted that the crowd would be even larger, given the enthusiasm of the audience during the last one and the fact that this one was better advertised. They also confirmed that Douglass revealed the true ‘heinousness of Slavery’ by showing how black and white people belonged to the same human family, with the same ‘inherent faculties of the soul.’ Douglass, proclaimed the Transcript, was living proof that natural genius is to be found in all races in equal measure, and all it takes for the black race to achieve its potential and improve their faculties is to enjoy equal access to all that culture has to offer. One of the ways for his fellow black citizens to do so, Douglass said, was self-improvement: since they were not given equal chances to improve themselves, they must take their chances into their own hands as far as possible until legal and social equality was achieved.

Writing about ‘Our Recent Western Tour’ in Douglass’ Monthly, published the next month of April, 1859, Douglass spoke optimistically of the future, based on the mostly warm welcome he and his fellow speakers had received during the tour. In years past, he had often been subject to humiliation and rude treatment by audience members and people of the towns he traveled to. This time, he wrote, they were usually treated with courtesy, respect, and friendship, and the number of committed abolitionists seemed to be ever-increasing. As Douglass wrote, ‘We think a Negro lecturer an excellent thermometer of the state of public opinion on the subject of slavery…’ Though he found the overall temperature warming, he still encountered some chill between-times, as the next story will reveal.

Rouse’s Hall, image courtesy of Peoria Public Library

Robert Ingersoll in 1868. This photo would have been taken around the time that Frederick Douglass would have called on him in Peoria, when Ingersoll was about 35 years old, a married father of two, and the Attorney General of Illinois.

This also happens to be one of my favorite stories about Robert Ingersoll. It likely occurred during one of Frederick Douglass’ return visits here for an 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall. This year is consistent with Douglass’ account: it must have happened in the late 1860’s since Douglass wrote it was ‘a dozen years ago or more’ in his final autobiography, 1881’s The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. For all of the Transcript’s glowing review of his speeches and the audience’s enthusiasm, Douglass recalled finding little welcome offstage here on his first visit, so he dreaded going back. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be able to find a hotel that would accommodate him at all! Douglass mentioned this to a friend who he was staying with in Elmwood, a previous stop on his speaking tour. This friend said to him, ‘I know a man in Peoria, should the hotels be closed against you there, who would gladly open his doors to you – a man who would receive you at any hour of the night, and in any weather, and that man is Robert J. Ingersoll.’ (He got the middle initial wrong.) Douglass expressed concern about disturbing his family and was glad he didn’t have to since the ‘best hotel’ gave him a room. But he was intrigued his friend’s description of Ingersoll’s hospitable and unbiased personality, and about his ‘infidel’ views (these quotes are Douglass’ own, presumably tongue in cheek. Douglass was a religious skeptic in many ways himself). So Douglass went to call on the Ingersoll family at home the next morning. Douglass went on to describe the warmth of his welcome in fulsome terms, and to point out that this ‘infidel’ gave him a more Christian welcome than anyone who would define themselves that way ever had. His impression of Ingersoll’s face with its expression of ‘real living human sunshine’, I notice as I reread Douglass’ story, accords with the one I wrote in the first part of this account: ‘He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.’

In that March 6th, 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall, Douglass spoke of the temperature dropping once again. The Civil War had ended just under two years before, and the North had not yet sorted out what they perceived as ‘the Negro problem.’ Even many of the most ardent Abolitionists were not ready to accept black people as equal members of their own communities. Like Lincoln had for most of his life, they considered slavery wrong but didn’t think that black and white people were fully if at all compatible as friends, coworkers, fellow politicians, and so on; certainly not as romantic partners. And many still thought condescendingly of freed black people as some kind of amorphous mass of downtrodden creatures that should be humbly grateful for the new freedoms that were bestowed on them, and therefore not demand too much. Douglass, of course, rejected this view. Black people had fought, and fought hard, for their own freedom, and those who fought with them, while brave and often motivated by sincerely held moral beliefs, were also acting in their own interests. The test of whether the emancipation of the black race was a true one, consistent with our American principles laid out in our founding documents, was to see how well the United States protected the rights of black people from there on out.

Parking lot where Robert Ingersoll’s mansion and then the National Hotel used to stand, at the north corner of Jefferson Ave and Hamilton St, kitty-corner from the Peoria County Courthouse

Period view of Robert Ingersoll’s grand house at Jefferson and Hamilton, image from the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum webpage

In 1876, Robert Ingersoll took his law practice solo and moved his office into his third and final Peoria home at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Ingersoll family lived here until they returned to New York in 1877. All three locations of Ingersoll’s homes, by the way, are taken from Edward Garstin Smith’s The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. Smith provides street corners and some landmarks, but since he gives us no street numbers, doesn’t specify north, south, east, and west, and most of the landmarks have changed, I don’t always know just where to photograph. He does tell us that the National Hotel was later built on the site of this home, and Ingersoll’s ‘splendid mansion,’ a four-story affair, was ‘moved to the side of the lot’ of the hotel. Then, with further digging, I find an old postcard of the National Hotel site on the Local History and Genealogy Collection of the Peoria Public Library’s website. Once again, they come through admirably!

Peoria National Hotel postcard, pre-1911, courtesy of US Genealogy Express. This hotel was built on the site of the Ingersoll family’s third and final home in Peoria.

Another image of the New National Hotel at the former site of Robert G. Ingersoll’s home at the northeast corner of Jefferson & Hamilton. It was built 1883 and razed in 1970, having suffered a fire. It’s now a parking lot. Local History and Genealogy Collection, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois

Corner of Main and Jefferson, Peoria, IL, pre-WWI, Local History and Geneology Collection, Peoria Public Library, IL.

The first home of Ingersoll in Peoria, which he rented, was in the 100 block of North Jefferson Ave, between Main St and Hamilton Blvd, and at the time Smith wrote his biography of Ingersoll, the site was occupied by the YMCA building. This site would likely be across the street from the Courthouse square; it’s my understanding that no other buildings ever occupied the square, based on all the old photos and atlases I could find of Peoria. That would place it somewhere near the Rouse’s Hall site, perhaps to the north of it where the tall building next to Commerce Bank is now. (See the Commerce Bank at Main St and Jefferson Ave photo above.)

N Jefferson Ave between Hamilton & Fayette, Ingersoll's house stood about where the 1st building on left does now 2017 Amy Cools

N. Jefferson Ave between Hamilton and Fayette. Ingersoll’s second house in Peoria stood about where the first building on left does now

Ingersoll’s second home, which he also rented, was on North Jefferson Ave as well, on the 200 block between Hamilton and Fayette. It was still standing when Smith wrote his biography in 1904. This may be where Ingersoll lived when he met and married his wife, and perhaps where they lived when their daughters were born; Smith doesn’t provide a timeline for their moves between each house. Ingersoll married Eva Amelia Parker in February 1862, and his daughters Eva Robert Ingersoll and Maud Robert Ingersoll were born in 1863 and 1864, respectively. So he had already completed his time of service in the Civil War then he settled down to make a family with Eva.

As I’ve written before, Ingersoll was a dedicated family man. He spoke eloquently and movingly of the joys of family life. It was a home filled with love and mutual respect, by all accounts. No wonder Ingersoll’s face almost invariably looks so amiable and friendly in photos! There’s a card I discover among the digital archives from the Robert Ingersoll Papers in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library which includes a photograph of Ingersoll cuddling two of his grandchildren over a poem he wrote titled, simply, ‘Love.’ I’ll leave you with this as I end this part of my account of my day in Peoria, and I’ll pick up the rest of the tale very soon

Farrell, C. P., “Robert Ingersoll, Love,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

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Sources and inspiration:

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

East, Ernest E. Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria: An Historical and Pictorial Record of Seventeen Visits from 1832 to 1858. Peoria, 1939

Electoral history of Abraham Lincoln‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. II. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Garrett, Romeo B. Famous First Facts About Negroes. New York: Arno Press, 1972

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Insurance Maps of Peoria, Volume 1. Sanborn Map Company of New York, 1927. (Showing the street numbers before they changed in 1958)

Kelly, Norm. ‘The Hall That Rouse Built‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2015

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Draws the Line’, Peoria, IL – posted by KG1960 on Waymarking.com

Lincoln, Abraham. ‘Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.’ via the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home National Historic Site website and ‘Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois: [Oct. 16, 1854] in reply to Senator Douglas‘. Seven numbers of the Illinois Daily Journal, Springfield, Oct. 21, 23-28, 1854. [Peoria, Ill.: E. J. Jacob]

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

MacMillan, Lois. ‘Close Reading: Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854‘, published at Quora: Understanding Lincoln

Peck, Graham. ‘New Records of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1854 Illinois State Fair: The Missouri Republican and the Missouri Democrat‘. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 30, Issue 2, Summer 2009, pp. 25-80

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Havre de Grace and Philadelphia Sites

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, Old City Philadelphia

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, Old City Philadelphia

Listen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes

Third day, Tuesday March 22nd

I head north, the direction of freedom for the American slave of the antebellum south. Spoiler alert: so did Frederick Douglass! To his and all of our great benefit, he took his life and whatever fortunes he could hope to enjoy in Maryland into his own hands, and made his risky bid for freedom in September 1838 at age 20.

Douglass was a particularly clever young man, and by this time, had educated himself to an impressive degree for anyone his age, let alone one who had to get his learning on the sly while working more than full time. He had honed his skills, become more resourceful, and gained a wider circle of friends, and he counted on all of these to make this attempt more successful than the first…

… Read the original account here

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Fourth Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Colonne de Juillet at center of the Place de la Bastille, Paris, France

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

I wake up, get some fresh pastries and baguettes, eat breakfast, and make the day’s sandwiches. It’s another beautiful clear morning, and I’m eager to get out there.

If anyone tells you that traveling in Paris is necessarily expensive, don’t believe ’em. You can make delicious sandwiches with charcuterie and cheese that cost less than about $1-2 euros each in ingredients, fresh baked breads and basic pastries are super cheap, sightseeing is free and so is the entertainment if you know where to look. Take a tall can of beer or a bottle of wine to the left bank of the Seine, near the sculpture garden, and watch the dancers in the evening, even join in if you’re more talented than I; watch the acrobatic street performers on the Pont au Double bridge to the Île de la Cité; let your ears guide you to the many talented street musicians to be found near every bridge and in many other public places.

If you’re sick of sandwiches, pastries, and fruit, I found one grocery store (turns out, it’s a chain) that sells nothing but frozen foods: delicious and well-prepared meals that are much, much cheaper than going out. And Airbnb has done wonders for making inexpensive but comfortable travel accessible to just about anyone. So you can easily be frugal and have a great time, saving your money to spend on the really amazing things to do here, like going inside the Pantheon or splurging on a fine meal (rue Cler is the place to go for this: excellent food while not overpriced).

Baguette, salami, and cheese picnic sandwiches

Before I tell the tale of my day’s adventures, let me start with a site I stop by on the morning of Aug 11th that I’ve forgotten to mention. I had a little window of time before I was due at Gare du Nord to meet my husband and head off to Berlin for a few days’ detour to visit family, so I was able to visit just one place associated with my traveling philosophy adventures. So from my little cubbyhole apartment on Boulevard Voltaire, I head down Boulevard Richard Lenoir, a lovely wide street with a shady tree-lined park running down the center, where I find a fresh-faced grandmother playing ping pong with her young charge on one of the outdoor tables. What a great way to start the day!

Place de la Bastille

I’m heading for the Place de la Bastille, the site where the notorious prison once stood, which by the late 1700’s had become a symbol of unchecked monarchial, aristocratic, and clerical power. When it was stormed by an angry mob of working people of the professional class and soldiers who were sent to quell the uprising but joined it instead, the Revolution was understood to have begun in earnest. July 14th, 1789, is celebrated to this day as the pivotal juncture on the road to French liberty. The day before it happened, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thomas Paine of the impending political storm that was about to break any moment, given public outrage over the King’s perceived disdain for the will of the people as embodied in the National Assembly and the popular unrest that was already raging throughout the city.

Historical plaque at the Place de la Bastille

When King Louis XVI observed how violently unhappy his people had become under the established system of government, he took steps to regain their confidence and to show them he was dedicated to reform. He appointed the marquis de Lafayette, a great favorite of the people, as Commander of the National Guard. Lafayette immediately proceeded to organize the full demolition of the Bastille, which the crowd had already begun. He entrusted Paine with the mission of delivering the key of the Bastille as a gift to Washington, a symbol of the French unity with America in their commitment to democratic rule. Given the unrest in Paris and the enmity between the British, French, and American navies (it was the persistence of the British practice of forcefully boarding American ships and impressing sailors into British service that led, in part, to the War of 1812), it took awhile for Paine to get it delivered to the United States. He was ultimately successful, and key of the Bastille resides at Mount Vernon to this day.

Steps and sandy walkway, at the park at the site of the Tuileries Palace

So now back to August 18th’s adventures.

I zigzag my way from rue Montmartre to my first destination of the day: the site of the Tuileries Palace. From May of 1793, the Convention, or the French revolutionary government, met at Palais Tuileries.

Here, Thomas Paine called for leniency for the royal family, arguing as forcefully as he could that the Revolutionary government’s show of mercy would be an inspiration to the world, setting itself apart from centuries of European bloodshed in the pursuit of power, and also show its commitment to progressive Enlightenment principles. The Tuileries had, by this time, become a dark and neglected palace since King Louis XIV moved the monarchy out of the city to Versailles.

Paine’s arguments did no good. On October 6th, 1789, the King and Queen were forced by the Women’s March to move back to the Tuileries so they could be more accountable to the people of Paris and the nation. Versailles was seen as a symbol of a corrupt and wealthy monarchy that had set itself apart from its subjects, collecting taxes and imposing the royal will without sufficient regard for the overall rights and well-being of its people. Most of this was mostly true, although King Louis XVI conducted himself better in these respects than most of his predecessors; he showed himself ready and willing to make substantial reforms, and anxious to see his people happy. Unfortunately, Louis’s attempts to make things right did not succeed, and he was guillotined on Monday, January 21st at what’s now known as the Place de la Concorde nearby, where Mary Wollstonecraft slipped on the blood of executed victims of the Terror that summer.

Historical sign at the Jardin des Tuileries

Carousel at the Jardin des Tuileries

The Tuileries palace no longer stands: it was destroyed in 1871 in a subsequent revolution as an ancient symbol of monarchy and oppression. A long raised terrace all what remains of the palace site, situated between the Louvre, which was also almost destroyed at the same time the Tuileries palace was, and the Tuileries gardens, preserved as a beautiful public space open to all. Paine would approve: he was a committed populist, and often got in more trouble for his insistence on disseminating his views to the public as widely as possible by writing in concise, direct, and accessible prose and forgoing profit to make his books affordable, than he did for the ideas themselves. Meritocrats, big-government proponents, and monarchist sympathizers such as John Adams, for example, considered Paine little more than a rabble-rouser.

Arched entryway to the courtyard at the Hôtel de Salm

The Hôtel de Salm, now the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur

Columns at the Hôtel de Salm. Note the lovely cameo bust in the round niche

My second destination for the day stands near the Left Bank of the Seine. The Hôtel de Salm stands facing the quai Anatole France on the river side, and facing 64 rue de Lille, formerly named the rue Bourbon, on the other. Built in 1987 during Thomas Jefferson’s sojourn in Paris, it was one of the buildings which most inspired his design for Monticello. Originally a private home, it’s now the headquarters of the Legion of Honor. It’s a beautiful building, and I especially share his enthusiasm for this one; as he put it, he was ‘violently smitten’ with it. It’s much more welcoming than the imposing colonnade of the Louvre, especially the front entrance on rue de Lille (see the first two photos). It’s inspiring in its beauty and classical style yet friendly, more of and for the people, so to speak, meant more to welcome than to impress or intimidate.

The Hôtel de Salm, now the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, the side facing quai Anatole France

Statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Left Bank near the Pont de Solferino

As I round the building to take in all of its aspects, I see that the statue of Thomas Jefferson I had passed by on my first day in Paris stands kitty-corner from the Salm, at quai Anatole France and rue de Solferino at the foot of the Pont (bridge) de Solferino.

123 rue de Lille, formerly rue de Bourbon, in the 7th Arrondissement. Paine may have lived at this address for awhile, but I have my doubts. It certainly wasn’t this building, it dates later than his time

The next site I seek is much farther west on rue de Lille, formerly rue de Bourbon, number 123 in the 7th Arrondissement. Again with this address, at the time of my visit I haven’t found confirmation whether this number is the modern day address or the address at the time. In any case, I’m looking for the marquis de la Fayette’s Paris house, where Thomas Paine lived for much of 1791 working on French edition of The Rights of Man. He had returned to Paris the previous fall to celebrate his being elected an honorary French citizen in recognition of his defense of human rights.

Doorway of 123 rue de Lille, formerly rue de Bourbon

Later in that same fall, in early November of 1790, Edmund Burke’s Reflection on the Revolution in France was published. It was a scathing indictment of the extremist and anti-traditionalist nature of the French Revolution, and predicted it would end in disaster, in bloodshed and in even greater tyranny as a ruthless dictator would be sure to seize power amidst the ruins. As history has revealed, Burke was actually correct in his predictions in the short term. But the Terror had not yet begun, and Mary Wollstonecraft and Paine both offered impassioned arguments against Burke’s positions on the nature of legitimate governmental authority and the possibility of instituting a new order based on reason. Wollstonecraft got to it first with her Vindication of the Rights of Men, published less than a month after Burke’s treatise, and it quickly became a bestseller.

Paine had his Rights of Man published the next spring, also by Wollstonecraft’s publisher Joseph Johnson, in London on February 22nd, 1791. Almost immediately after its first printing, Paine left for Paris to work on the French edition, and the second, bargain-priced printing in London, released March 13th, really made the book take off. It made him a more celebrated author than ever as well as, more than ever, an enemy of the British crown, especially after Paine released the second part in 1792. William Pitt, the minister of Great Britain, unleashed a public campaign against Paine, just as he did against the French Revolution, and Paine was forced to flee the British isles for good in September 1792, returning to France, his new home country, until 1802.

Crue du 28 Janvier and Crue de la Siene 1910 lines, Paris, France

I can’t find any indication on the building before me, 123 rue de Lille, that it once belonged to Lafayette. I’m certain that this is the right street, though, based on more than one source, so as  I walk back, I look carefully for plaques that might indicate that his house was elsewhere on this street. I don’t find such a plaque, but I do see many buildings marked with a line and the text ‘Crue du 28 Janvier, 1910’ with a line. I remember that, a few days previously, I had seen the corner of a small building on the Seine walkway, right down by the water, marked with a series of dated lines. It appears there was a severe flood in 1910, and a series of pretty bad ones over the last century or so.

Passage des Petits-Pères

I return to my apartment to gather some things: I’ll be spending the night in Saint Quentin en Yvellines to greet my husband as he finishes his epic bike ride. Since it’s on my way back, I swing by the Passage des Petites Pères to see if there’s anything I missed when looking for White’s Hotel, the hangout for American expatriates that Wollstonecraft and Paine frequented and where Paine lived intermittently. It still seems likely that the building that houses the Galerie Vivienne is the former White’s Hotel, but Hotel de Normandie is a candidate as well, in its location on the left side of the Passage where the odd numbers are assigned.

To be continued….
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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution‘. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Hôtel de Salm, Palace of the Legion of Honor‘, Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor website.

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Jenkinson, Clay. ‘The Magna Carta‘. The Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast, episode 1141.

Morgan, George. The Life of James Monroe. Boston: Small, Maynard, and Co., 1921

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Women’s March on Versailles‘. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Jefferson and Slavery

Throughout my history of ideas travel series following Thomas Jefferson, slavery was on my mind a lot: the institution as a whole, and Jefferson’s relationship to it. I was reminded of it constantly: by an original book from his own collection titled ‘The Horrors of Slavery’ now in the Library of Congress, which also displays a slave sale contract between himself and James Madison from 1809; the slave quarters and artifacts at Monticello; museum displays and plaques in D.C., Williamsburg, and Philly; and signs telling the story of his brief but telling correspondence with Benjamin Banneker.

As every student of American history learns early on, Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence and his stated beliefs contrast sharply with his life as a slaveowner. And nearly every place I find something written about Jefferson, this contradiction is addressed but never really resolved.

Jefferson was in favor of the abolition of slavery early in his career as a lawyer and member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Having made little headway in the antislavery cause as a younger statesman, he rather abruptly gave up the fight in the 1790’s, proclaiming it unwinnable in his generation. While he continued to argue now and again that slavery was a moral and political evil, he chose to continue the expensive lifestyle of traveling, entertaining, building, and collecting fine wine, books, and art that he loved. This kept him in debt, so he funded it all the the familiar way: he remained a slaveowner for the rest of his life.

When I was in Philadelphia’s Old City, I visited the site of the President’s House and read the posted stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there during George Washington’s tenure. As I read, I thought of how often I’d heard and read excuses made for Jefferson, Washington, and their fellow slaveowners, another common theme I encountered throughout my trip. Some sought to minimize their moral responsibility for slaveowning on the grounds they were ‘stuck’ in the institution already so they just had to ‘make the best of it’; others claimed that many were actually working on the problem in their own way but had to go slowly because of how entrenched the institution was, and so on. The most common excuse I encountered was that they weren’t really all that bad as slaveowners; in fact, they were benevolent because ‘they treated their slaves so well’, and their slaves were really better off than many free people of the laboring classes.

These ring hollow to me: they all sound like pretty lame attempts to make sense to ourselves of our history as self-professed champions of liberty who have simultaneously oppressed racial, ethnic, and ideological minorities throughout our history. I had read accounts before of Jefferson’s, Washington’s, and others’ so-called benevolent brands of slaveowning, but when I look around at these artifacts and displays, I really can’t see how true benevolence can ever coincide with that institution. As Jefferson himself wrote in his Notes on Virginia, The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it.’

The real answer to that conundrum is: it never made sense, and it never will. Jefferson knew it, evident not only in his embarrassed response to Benjamin Banneker, he said so over and over again, explicitly in some cases, between the lines in others. George Washington knew it too, as evidenced by his changing attitudes on slavery; indeed, all of our nation’s founding generation knew it.

That’s why they fought over the words of the Declaration of Independence, especially the original draft which more plainly revealed the stark contradiction between the colonies’ demand for liberty for themselves while they remained enslavers of others. That’s why they fought over slavery again during the Constitutional Convention and how that weird three-fifths clause got in, because they couldn’t solve the problem of how slaves could be persons deserving representation while neither free nor citizens. That’s why debates over how to treat black Revolutionary war veterans were never satisfactorily resolved, why the John Brown plot happened, why the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott decision and the Civil War and the Plessy vs Ferguson decision and the 1963 firehosing of the Baltimore Children’s Crusade and the Baptist Church bombing and the riots in Baltimore in 1968 and again this spring happened, and so on and so on.

The only excuse I’ve heard in defense of slaveowners like Jefferson and Washington that makes a particle of sense on the face of it is that freed slaves would likely have a worse time of it on their own than they might have under their protection. Free black people often did suffer terrible mistreatment, including terrible wages, racist criminal codes, segregation, kidnapping, and re-enslavement; freed slaves often had to choose between living where they had few prospects and leaving their still enslaved loved ones behind. Therefore, the argument goes, the attempts of some conscience-stricken slaveowners to keep their slaves while treating them more humanely were really quite benevolent. 

While there’s evidence indicating some good intentions on the part of some slaveowners, this argument just doesn’t hold up that well either when examined in the full light of history. To his credit, Washington kept more slaves on his plantation than was financially healthy for him so that families would not have to be split up, and tried to work out a way to eventually emancipate all of them with some financial provisions. Jefferson was squeamish about allowing slaves to be beaten in front of him and rarely allowed it, and paid many of them bonuses for good work. It seems on the whole, Washington has a far better record when it comes to gentler treatment and concern for the slaves’ own interests, and he freed all of them in his will though he couldn’t bring himself to do it during own his lifetime. It turns out there’s plenty of evidence Jefferson often had others whip his slaves when he wasn’t there to see it, especially when the profits from his nail business dropped off. And Jefferson’s habit of accruing large debts by his habit of living far beyond his means caused almost all of his slaves to all be sold at his death, and many slave families to be broken up, parents, children, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands torn away from one another. 

And many freed slaves actually did do quite well for themselves, or at least as well as they might have otherwise. Plenty of other plantation owners freed their slaves, and many free black people did very well for themselves in the North, West, and even in some areas of the South. Jefferson and Washington could also have allowed their slaves to make the choice for themselves whether or not they wanted to remain under their protection. They had both (Jefferson earlier in life, Washington later) come to the firm conclusion that slavery was morally wrong. They just couldn’t bring themselves to make the hard choices and personal sacrifice to fully act on their convictions.

So it’s not that, as the cliche goes, that we’re judging Jefferson, Washington, and other slaveowners by the standards of our own time, not theirs. Here’s what makes it all the more painful and injurious to our American self-image as bearers of the standard of liberty: we’re judging these Founding Fathers by their own standards, and by the standards of others in their own time, those principled lovers of freedom who did free their slaves, who decided to do the difficult but the right thing, according to the principles of the Declaration and those Washington professed later in life.

As to the issue of ‘treating their slaves so well’: consider what really went into keeping people enslaved besides whippings.

Slaves were denied the chance to make their own decisions and to enjoy the full range of human relationships that free and happy people need. The marriages of slaves were not held sacred by their masters and they could not enjoy the security of family bonds and affection. At any time, wife, husband, sister, brother, parent, and worst of all, children could be taken and sold elsewhere, never to be seen again. This happened all the time, since there was no plantation large enough to hold exponentially increasing slave families. They were provided no incentive to enjoy fulfilling occupations, since they are denied the fruits of their labor, they had a narrow field of roles to choose from or none at all (surely noone chose to be a field hand!) and there was not much personal reward for a job well done. They could be and very often were whipped, denied food and other necessities, and otherwise punished for any infraction, despite wishful hypotheses that slaves were too financially valuable to be treated badly. (Sorry, Pollyannas, history’s not on your side). They often were treated harshly even if the plantation owner didn’t desire or order it because slaveowners relied on their overseers, which they couldn’t watch most of the time, to get results.

And worst of all, because it left slaves most vulnerable to every sort of oppression and robbed them of great solace, slaves were denied education, especially higher education. Enforced ignorance was one of the surest ways to keep slaves from plotting escapes and revolts, to keep them from learning about the wider world they could wish to be a part of, from learning moral and religious arguments against slavery, and from the prospect of a good job if they ran away.

The Bible was often used to justify slavery: there are many instances of slavery in the Old Testament that Yahweh seems perfectly comfortable with, and Paul advises slaves to be obedient to their masters and to return to them if they ran away. Paul does say you should be nice to your slaves, but that’s the farthest his morals go in the matter. Like the myth of the Garden of Eden, Paul tries to instill in his readers a particular moral virtue. But if Jefferson, Washington, and their fellow slaveowners had read their Genesis a little more carefully, they might have discovered that there’s more there than a simple morality tale about obedience.A closer reading of the Garden of Eden story reveals a much deeper insight: human beings of spirit and will, of wit and intelligence, of curiosity and integrity always have, and always will, long for knowledge and self-determination. And they must and will have it, even if danger, privation, suffering, or destruction be the price.

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Sources and Inspiration:

‘Benjamin Banneker’, Africans in America, PBS.org
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p84.html
Letter to Jefferson: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h71t.html
and Jefferson’s response: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h72t.html

Gordon-Reed, Annette. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy.
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997. https://books.google.com/books/about/Thomas

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.
http://www.jonmeacham.com/books/thomas-jefferson-the-art-of-power/

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves”, Frontline, PBS.org
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/video/lives.html

Wiencek, Henry. ‘The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson’, Smithsonian Magazine, Oct 2012.
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 3: Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Third day, April 21st, 2015

I wake up very early to beat rush hour traffic and head northeast to Philadelphia.

My husband Bryan and I visited Philadelphia several years ago and had explored the Old City, so I have a fairly clear memory of the general layout and some of the sites I’m looking for. But we hadn’t seen Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution was signed, because 1) it was being renovated at the time, and the front of it was covered by scaffolding and a gigantic dropcloth printed with an image of the facade and 2) it was a weekend day during tourist season and they were mobbed by tourists, out of tickets to tour the inside by the time we got there. I had learned my lesson, and this time around, I make a beeline for the visitor’s center to get my ticket. Even on a Tuesday in April, there was an over three-hour delay between the time I get my ticket and the time I will be admitted. That’s no problem since I have plenty of exploring to do, but if you plan to go sometime, my advice is to get your ticket as far ahead of time as possible.

The President’s House Site, Old City Philadelphia

I start my wanderings with the President’s House site, where the first two Presidents of the United States, George Washington and John Adams, had lived while the White House was being built. (Adams moved in to the unfinished White House in 1800, during the last months of his presidency.) Jefferson visited this house many times during both of their administrations. The foundations exist and were excavated and studied, and now have an open-air exhibit there, which was brand-new when we were there years ago.

It’s a lovely exhibit, not only describing the house and the presidents and their families that lived there, but telling the stories of Washingtons’ slaves, left out of history until recently. More on this in a later piece.

Benjamin Franklin’s Grave, Christ Church Burial Ground, Old City Philadelphia

Next, I visit the Christ Church burial ground across from the Free Quaker Meeting House, where Jefferson’s friend and personal idol Benjamin Franklin is buried. I head first to Franklin’s tomb, where he lies with his wife and members of his family. Franklin had the virtues Jefferson admired most: he was a curious, adventurous, learned, and sociable man; a gifted politician, diplomat, storyteller, and above all, a scientist. In other words, Franklin was the embodiment of the ideal Enlightenment man. More about Franklin to come.

When I ask one of the men attending the gate where another of Jefferson’s colleagues, Dr. Benjamin Rush, is buried, he’s very glad to show me the way, exclaiming that Rush is his favorite among those notables buried here. Rush was also a great friend of Jefferson’s and frequent correspondent, and without his efforts, Jefferson and John Adams may never have resumed their friendship, which had been strained by the infighting among Washington’s administration between Adams and Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans, and broken by their contentious presidential races.

Benjamin Rush’s Grave, Christ Church Burial Ground, Old City Philadelphia

The man who showed me the way is right: I would find Rush an excellent subject of another history series like this in his own right, as he lived a long, fascinating life. In addition to his role as a founding father of the United States, he cared deeply about important social issues and founded or served in several public service organizations. He was also curiously backward-thinking and innovative at the same time as a physician: for example, he continued to practice and promote blood-letting as a medical cure even as the medical field was doubting its efficacy and phasing it out, and had rather medieval-sounding theories about how disease is spread; yet, he was a pioneer in the study of mental disorders, describing them diseases of the mind instead of ‘spiritual’ maladies, and is often referred to as the founder of American psychiatry.

I discover that Francis Hopkinson is buried here as well. He was another good friend of Jefferson’s, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence and fellow member of the American Philosophical Society; he helped lead its revival after the Revolution. ‘Philosophical’, in that time, was a broader term than it is today, referring to inquiry into everything that exists and how it all works; scientific inquiry was included. Franklin put it this way: the APS was a foundation dedicated to ‘the promotion of useful knowledge’. (I prefer Franklin’s description to today’s conception of philosophy and approach it much the same way.) More on the APS shortly.

5th and Market Streets, Old City Philadelphia

Then on to the corner of 5th and Market, where Mary Houses’ boarding house stood. There’s nothing now marking the site that I could find. After the death of his wife (Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson to the rest of the world, Patty to him) in September of 1782, he was inconsolable for awhile. His friend and protege James Madison helped persuade him to go to France, where he could assist in negotiations with Britain over the Treaty of Paris. He took his oldest daughter Patsy with him. The two had grown very close after Martha’s death, and he wished her to receive some of her education in Europe. The treaty ended up being finished before the weather would allow for the journey overseas, and after a stay of a couple months or so, he returned to Monticello, then on to other government positions. He was appointed minister to France in 1784, and returned to stay at Mrs. Houses’s, with Patsy, on their way to Paris again that summer.

Statue in Honor of Religious Liberty, Old City Philadelphia

As I turn around to head to my next destination, I notice a beautiful statue in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History, across the street from where the boarding house had been. It’s entitled ‘Religious Liberty’.

There was a historic exchange between George Washington and his administration, of which Jefferson was Secretary of State, and the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, which was an important moment in the new nation’s history of establishing a completely secular government which tasked itself with defending the right to complete religious liberty. (We’re still figuring out how to best go about it to this day.) Jefferson had made the establishment of religious freedom among the most important missions in his life; he directed that his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom be one of only three of his accomplishments carved on his tombstone. For a nation which had just separated themselves from the Old World, torn apart with one bloody religious conflict after another over for centuries, religious liberty was a wonderfully freeing, invigorating, humanistic social experiment.

Near the Bourse, Old City Philadelphia

Then on to a site at the east end of the Bourse, a funny name for the old commodities exchange building, now a retail, dining, and business center. (It’s so nice inside, I’m tempted to stop here for refreshment, but it’s still early and I have much to see.) Francis’s Tavern used to stand here, on Fourth Street between Market and Chestnut. Jefferson lived here for awhile while he was Vice President in the late 1790’s until the government moved to the new capital in 1800. John Adams and many other government officials stayed there as well.

I go next in search of the site where Benjamin Randolph’s house used to stand: I know it’s not there anymore but I’m hoping for a plaque. After all, it was the first place Jefferson stayed in Philadelphia; he rented rooms from Randolph, cabinet maker, in 1775 when he arrived on June 11 as a newly elected member of the Second Continental Congress.

Benjamin Franklin’s house site near Chestnut between 3rd & 4th, Old City Philadelphia

It’s somewhere between 3rd and 4th on Chestnut. But I don’t know exactly where, and I find nothing indicating where it had been. Instead, I’m drawn to a sign indicating the site of two buildings Ben Franklin owned and lived in with his family the last five years of his life is located just down an alley next to the National Liberty Museum. I take a peek. Those curved concrete structures you see among the steel outlines of the original shapes of the buildings are windows into the archaeological excavations of the sites. So interesting. I love archaeology; I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid. (Like most kids of the Indiana Jones generation, I’m sure!)

Carpenter’s Hall and surrounding buildings, Old City Philadelphia

Across the street, I find Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Continental Congress met. Jefferson wasn’t a delegate to that first one in 1774, but he wrote ‘A Summary View of the Rights of British America’ that year which Washington and Adams, who attended, admired and passed around to the other delegates. It was among the reasons Jefferson was eventually asked to write the Declaration of Independence since he had already done such an excellent job on what Washington called ‘Mr. Jefferson’s Bill of Rights.’

The Hall is open to the public, so I go inside. I ask a man attending the door, and a woman working behind a counter, if either of them knows of the site I’m looking for, but they don’t. The woman helpfully goes to her computer to see if she can find anything, but no luck.

I’m glad I asked though. By way of explanation as to why the site may be lost to history, the man tells me a brief history of how the National Park service took over Independence Hall and the Old City area of Philadelphia in the 1950’s, and the shockingly careless and reckless way they went about ‘restoring’ it (by today’s standards). The old buildings were crumbling and crowded by shabby, more modern buildings, and the city quickly had much of them condemned so they could be cleared away and the character of the old city could be revealed.

Carpenter’s Hall, Old City Philadelphia

So, the man continues, the National Park Service ‘marked everything with an X’ that wasn’t immediately identifiable as having to do directly with the founding of the nation, and the wreckers went to work. Philadelphians who knew the city and its history better, however, started flooding the NPS and city officials with letters, informing them that they were knocking down important historical buildings, among them the first military building of the new nation, to the right and in front of Carpenter’s Hall (which they rebuilt from the rubble they had just made of it; you can see it in the first photo of the Hall above, to the right of the cobblestone alley) and Gilbert Stuart’s house, painter of some of the most iconic portraits of Jefferson, Washington, and other founders. OOOPS!!!

The man’s story reminds me of what I discovered in NYC in my Rose and Stanton series, that until very recently, we Americans had a distinct lack of appreciation for our historical architecture. In the restless pursuit of progress, we went about knocking our old buildings down with wild abandon, as long as someone could make a few bucks by doing so. Much of our history has been lost in this way, and in my opinion, many United States cities have been uglified as a result. Sigh. I wonder if this is part of the reason why Europeans historically have disliked and distrusted American tourists. I’m glad to say we’re much better about such things these days.

The Todd House, Old City Philadelphia

Reconstructed 18th century garden behind the Todd House, Old City Philadelphia

Then to a reconstructed 18th century garden behind the old Todd house. The garden is pretty, with lots of gorgeous tulips and trees with their new tender springtime leaves, but like the old-style gardens behind the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, too rigidly geometric in design for my taste.John Todd’s young widow Dolley married Jefferson’s close friend, protege, and ‘Father of the Constitution’ James Madison just a year after Todd’s death in 1793. (If it seems a little heartless to move on so quickly, well, what else could a woman do in those days? It was either be married and have social standing and financial support, or single, jobless, and unless you inherited money, penniless.) Anyway, it’s a handsome house, but just like the others.

Philosophical Hall, Home of the American Philosophical Society, Old City Philadelphia

To my amusement, a plaque I come across states more or less the same observation I’ve been making in my historical tour of this area. In 1799, a visiting British diplomat reported ‘The regularity of Philadelphia is so great, the streets are so much like each other and the houses so nearly the same size (being built of one coloured brick) that I do not think there is anything else wor
thy of remark about it.’

I suddenly notice how quickly time’s passing, and I hurry back to the Independence Hall square to queue up for my visit, since there’s a security inspection first. After I’m cleared and waiting with the tour group, I find I’m actually standing right next to my next intended destination, Philosophical Hall (one of the two halls of the American Philosophy Society), behind and to the left of Independence Hall if you’re facing it from the front.

Independence Hall, Old City Philadelphia

I’m so disappointed to find that the APS museum, which has an amazing-looking Jefferson-and-science exhibition going on right now, is closed, and will not be open again till Thursday. So, so sad! because I won’t have the chance to get back before I leave. My first big disappointment of the trip.

But anyway, I do get to go inside Independence Hall, beautifully restored. I discovered that the only original artifact here, besides the building itself and its architectural accoutrements, is the large chair on which Washington sat, presiding over the room on its dais in the center of the long wall. Here, Congress conceived of the Constitution, debated its contents, signed it, and voted it into law. Cool.

Congressional Meeting Room, Independence Hall, Old City Philadelphia

First Senate Building, site of Washington’s and Adam’s presidential swearings-in, next to Independence Hall

After wandering around Independence Hall and getting a good look at it from all sides, I find, in front and to the right, the place where Jefferson’s hero Washington (hero in integrity and military prowess, but not politically or even intellectually) was sworn in as the first President of the United States, as was Jefferson’s dear friend and despised political enemy Adams. The first sessions of the Senate and House of Reps were also held here, until the new capitol building in Washington D.C. was finished in 1800.

I leave the Independence Hall grounds and continue my tour around the corner down 5th Street, where the American Philosophical Society’s beautiful Library Hall stands (across the street from Philosophical Hall). It’s a reproduction of the original, with a grand statue of its founder presiding over its facade in a large central niche over the front entrance.

The American Philosophical Society Library, Old City Philadelphia

‘Jefferson’s Three Greatest Men’ (Locke, Newton, and Bacon), The American Philosophical Society Library

As aforementioned, the APS was founded in 1743 by America’s most-loved brainiac, Ben Franklin. Franklin was America’s native scientist extraordinaire, and spent his life conducting scientific experiments, disseminating knowledge to the public as widely as possible, participating in politics, and traveling the world. In other words, he lived out the virtues and carried out the practices of Jefferson’s designated ‘Three Greatest Men’ Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Locke. Jefferson admired Bacon for his primary role in inventing the scientific process of observation, theory formulation, and experiment; Newton, for his brilliance in mathematics and logical reasoning and his radical new approach to physics; and Locke, for re-evaluating human nature and their rights and formulating a new political theory more in keeping with human dignity.

Dr. Benjamin Rush house site, Old City Philadelphia

The exhibits in the main entry hall are fascinating and beautifully laid out.

I leave Library Hall and return to where I had left Todd house earlier to hurry back for my Independence Hall tour. I find what I’m looking for: the site of the aforementioned Dr. Benjamin Rush’s house, down the street from the Todd house on Walnut, at the 3rd Street end of the block. Jefferson visited this house regularly.

I continue my tour to the site of Robert Bell’s print shop. The first edition of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ was printed here in January of 1776. As you probably know, Paine’s pamphlet was the most famous and most eloquent exposition of the colonies’ cause for independence from Britain, and did more to popularize and gather support for it than any other publication. Jefferson was a great friend and admirer of Paine, and shared not only his political views, but many (yet not all) of Paine’s progressive religious views, probably best described as Deistic with shades of Unitarianism.

Site of Robert Bell’s print shop, which created the first printing of Tom Paine’s Common Sense, Old City Philadelphia

Declaration House (formerly Jacob Graff’s house), Old City Philadelphia

In fact, Jefferson remained a staunch supporter of Paine even after his reputation suffered and most of his friends abandoned him following his publication of his anti-clerical, unorthodox ‘The Age of Reason’. Always the champion of freethought and religious liberty, Jefferson put his money where his mouth was and put his own political career at risk by welcoming Paine as an honored visitor to the White House.

I realize I’ve been a little haphazard in my site-seeking, and should skedaddle back to re-visit Declaration House, a little museum where Jacob Graff’s house used to stand, just outside of the Old City area at 7th and Market. Jefferson lived here in 1776, where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I had visited this site a few years ago during my visit years ago with Bryan, but this journey I’m on won’t really be complete unless I return for at least a brief visit. Graff’s actual house is no longer standing, just the house that was next to it, but I remember that the original rooms were carefully re-created. I arrive to find that the Declaration House, the museum, the old house next to it, and the grounds are closed ’till summer at least, according to the guard standing watch, due to construction around the site.

I return to Old City, to the corner of Market and 2nd near Christ Church, where John Dunlap’s print shop used to stand, which printed the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence. I can’t find a plaque or anything else to indicate exactly where it stood. (I subsequently discover there is a small, rather obscure plaque marking the site, on the building you can see in the far left of my photo: it’s to the right of the right-hand door that’s obscured by the white tile-covered structure. So hurray, I take a picture of the correct building without realizing it!)

Ale, soup, and bread at City Tavern, Old City Philadelphia

Last but not least, I return to City Tavern, where, because I can very sentimental at times, I pay way too much for a ‘Thomas Jefferson ale’ as I had when I was here years ago with Bryan, and accompanied it with some indifferent (yet welcome, since I was tired and hungry) soup and bread. Jefferson spent a lot of time in the original City Tavern, and ate a lot of his meals here, as did Adams and Franklin, among others; the one I’m sitting in is a reproduction, built very recently in 1975, but faithful enough to the original style that it’s hard to tell at a glance that it’s not an original artifact.

Then off on a happy early evening stroll across Philadelphia’s beautiful and vibrant downtown, to grab a coffee and sit down in the lovely Belle Arts public Free Library to type up my notes.It’s been a very long, fascinating day.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes.

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Sources and Inspiration:

American Philosophical Society website.

Benjamin Rush‘, Penn Biographies, Penn University Archives and Reference Center website.

George Washington and his Letter to the Jews of Newport‘, Touro Synagogue website.

Gilbert Stuart: The Complete Works. Website

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

James Madison‘, White House website.

Jefferson: Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.

Jefferson’s Walking Tour of Philadelphia‘. apsmuseum.org: website of the American Philosophical Society

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson HourPodcast.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.

Religious Liberty‘, article, History page of the National Museum of American Jewish History website.

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves“, Frontline, PBS.org

Timeline of Jefferson’s Life‘. Monticello.org. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania