"I agree to the Constitution with all its faults." Benjamin Franklin
So, it was my job, my honor and privilege, a few years back to show and tell about the "miracle in Philadelphia" (the title, illustrative and true, of the book by historian Catherine Drinker Bowen) And that it was, when a group of distinguished, hardheaded gents gathered to hammer out the governmental machine, the cogs, belts, and compromises; the finagling and consensus-cobbling together of the Engine that would run a nation. And at last, most of the delegates bent down, one by one, charged their quills with ink, and signed the United States Constitution on Monday, the 17th of September, 1787. 225 years ago today.
Not that they didn't have their reservations. Not that men - and women – don't still argue, yell, picket, even come to blows over that ever-changing piece of work.
"The new government would work, Benjamin figured, as lone as the people ran it well. As long as the citizens were good and strong, there government would be, too. The delegates took Benjamin's advice and agreed to accept the new laws "unanimously." As they signed the Constitution, he gazed at the carve sun on the tall, curvy chair. At last, he had "the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun." In Philadelphia today, in Independence Hall, that wooden sun on [George] Washington's chair still has not risen nor set. Citizens still argue. The miraculous Constitution is an ongoing experiment, a work in progress."
Amen to THAT!
The show? Poring, paging, clicking and casting about for images of those long-gone fellows, who once were boys. Visualizing them, arranging them as they might have looked in that tall-ceilinged room. Man oh man, long before I actually visited Independence Hall, I painted those wonderful green-draped tables and candlesticks for the Geo. Washington book, the John Adams, the Thos. Jefferson, and finally, the Franklin. Always I try my best to see those men in their natural fibers. In what looks to young, modern eyes, their quaint costumes. Gosh, I love those full-skirted coats! Drawing, scribbling the scene in pencil. A lot of erasing. Transferring the image to a smooth white field of pricey cardboard. Painting, but above all imagining, involving plenty of staring at the board, out the window, the scene. That time, that place, those minds at work, those men, well remembering how much suffering there had been in the past twelve years, since the first shots at Lexington. Well knowing that all could still be lost if the citizens were not able to get it together.
Were unable to read and learn and govern themselves – ourselves, for crying out loud.
Anyway, a decent lifetime off in those gents' unknowable future, 75 years to the day from the signing in Philadelphia, about 130 miles to the southwest, as the proverbial crow – eagle? – flies, was a ghastly clash in our country's horrifying reckoning over the business left undone at Independence Hall. What happened when more than a 100,000 soldiers met at the bloody dreadful time/space intersection at Wednesday, 17 Sept. 1862/Sharpsburg, Maryland. The bloodiest day in American history, 150 years back in our barely imaginable past. I painted some of it, too, in my Ghosts of the Civil War, but shoot – oh I did my best to show the mayhem, but how could colored water on bleached white cardboard ever compare to the sounds of cannon and the screams of horses and men? The smells – smoke, sweat, and blood. The earth trembling as it surely did at the Battle of Antietam?
And when it was over, at the end of the day, more than 17,000 men were wounded. Nearly 1,800 captured or missing. 3,650 souls found themselves in the Blue Beyond. Heaven Orientation. Whatever awaits us all.
That's history for you. Dates & places? Sure, but think of it this way: Each little factoid on the calendar grid is an opportunity to remember. It's a Life & Death deal.