It's always intensely satisfying when any historically-based author sees their research validated. I generally try to verify facts through three separate sources so the history is truthful and easily supported, but each time I face another account of my subject or time period, I hold my breath for a second until I see what angle the presenter takes, and then I cheer when all the pieces align. It's a weird sort of fun, I know. . .
So it was an added pleasure this past weekend, when Tom and I accompanied our oldest son and his family to Philadelphia, ( I love that city anyway), to visit the "Please Touch" Children's Museum, and a museum docent presented a new glimpse of young America's struggle for recognition and world respect, topics underlying my Free Men and Dreamers series. This wondrous child-friendly facility is a brilliantly fun place which I will delve into in another post. Today, it is the building itself that stirs my interest.
The Memorial Building that houses the children's museum is one of only two buildings remaining from Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exposition. This 100th-year birthday celebration of America was quite a she-bang. It was the first World's Fair hosted by America, a huge promotional effort to reassure the world that this infant nation had not imploded after the Civil War, that it's government had not failed as had other democratic experiments, and most of all, this birthday party was a shout-out to every nation on the earth that not only were we still alive and well, we were planning on being a world leader of industry and economy. In short, we were putting every nation on notice that we were no longer willing to be ignored, trampled or coddled. We weren't willing to wait seven generations to be validated as a people. We had invested 100 rocky years to prove the mettle of the Constitution, the power of freedom's light to build a strong citizenry, and the incentive of free-enterprise to encourage brilliance and industry. We were letting the world know that after a centennial of experience, we had become a nation and a people to be respected, and if need be, to be reckoned with.
As one docent put it, the Centennial Exposition was America's opportunity to give posthumous credit to Abraham Lincoln's determination to not only preserve the union, but to drive it forward using freedom as an incentive for ingenuity, harnessing the capabilities of all it's citizens. And what the world saw was astonishing!
We led in technology, in agriculture and horticulture at that fair. This infant nation had catapulted past it's political parents in most areas of science and technology, and what was the fuel? Liberty, self-determination, free-enterprise. . .
We saw that superlative trend continue into the next centennial, and then something happened in the last few decades. We're losing our edge, falling behind. We no longer produce the same percentage of home-grown engineers and scientists. Other nations send their most promising students to our schools, while the percentage of our own scientists and engineers is dropping.
When things get muddled and unclear, we often hear a call to return to the beginning . . . to get back to basics. That's why I love Philadelphia. This is where our national "basics" were determined. This is where we can find our national roots, our national soul.
So crack open a bio of a Founding Father, read the Constitution, study the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or google George Washington's Farewell Address. Let's all get back to what made America great--what made us crow back in 1876. We've still got it. It's in our collective souls.