They lived in the present. The difference is it was their present, not ours. They were caught up in the living moment exactly as we are, with no more certainty of how things would turn out as we have. David McCullough, referring to the Founders; "The Course of Human Events," The 2003 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, delivered Washington, DC, (May 15, 2003)
It was a rite of passage, or more precisely, the result of an accident of birth. While many of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War were fought elsewhere, The Thirteen Colonies proclaimed their independence with a document signed mere miles from our home. It was the fate of all children attending William W. H. Davis Elementary School, located northwest of Philadelphia in Southampton, to queue up silently for the obligatory stroll though Independence Hall. That was me, at age nine.
The Liberty Bell had hung nearby, in a frame out in the open air. We were all invited to touch it. Originally cast in England, it was recast by workmen John Pass and John Stow after sustaining a crack. Legend had it that the bell was rung to proclaim liberty on the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted, a story almost surely inaccurate. The present crack formed thereafter, perhaps as it proclaimed the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, a war veteran who endured brutal winter conditions at Valley Forge. It was a symbol, nevertheless, an iconic one at that. My father and his friend had gone to its side in 1943, laid their hands on the cold metal, pledged their lives in service of their country and then enlisted in the Marine Corps.
I found myself in Philadelphia again, in February of this year. I was in the company of daughter Katy, her husband Steve and their kids Graham and Greta. Graham is five, not materially younger than I was the first time I walked these grounds. I could conjure vague recollections. I had been here before, when the trajectory of my life was anything but certain. Now, one of my children had brought her son and daughter to see where America was born.
But while it is essential to remember them as individual mortal beings
no more perfect in every way than are we, and that they themselves knew
this better than anyone, it is also essential to understand that they
knew their own great achievements to be imperfect and incomplete.
The American experiment was from its start an unfulfilled promise.
There was much work to be done. There were glaring flaws to correct,
unfinished business to attend to, improvements and necessary adjustments
to devise in order to keep pace with the onrush of growth and change
and expanding opportunities. David