Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 30: Our Constitutional Sights

Kennedy v Ford!

Is the American version of democracy a viable system, or is a world where citizens love JFK more than Gerald Ford an utter travesty? YOU make the call!

Among our nineteen official annual road trips, we’ve had a few experiences in which we found ourselves falling short of our goals, not quite exploring our targeted locations to the fullest, and promising ourselves to keep them in mind in case we had time in the future to call do-over. Some of the cities and states we’ve visited are extremely unlikely to see us return, for better or worse. But we like the idea of arranging second chances where possible and merited.

Once upon a time, Philadelphia was supposed to be the center of our 2010 road trip. As I wrote in the present-day commentary for that particular travelogue:

Some of our road trips simply needed more days that what we allotted. We thought we’d learned that lesson on our 2005 drive to San Antonio, when we spent more time in the car than we did on foot in Texas, because their state is like a separate continent compared to home. Our trip to Philadelphia encountered similar issues but for a different reason. We’d found so many interesting sights to see near Philly that we barely left any time for the city itself…

This year we had a few different ideas what to do after leaving New Jersey and entering Pennsylvania. Two contenders rose above the rest: either head southeast for our introductory foray into the first state of Delaware, or go back to Philadelphia. We wouldn’t have time to venture too far into Delaware, but any attractive excuse to step foot inside its border would’ve been nice, if only to cross another state off our bucket lists. After a considerable amount of research on its nearest regions, our hypothetical Delaware to-do list looked like this:

1. Check out their capitol dome
2. Visit the gravesites of the exactly zero Presidents buried there
3. Reenact the “Hi! We’re in…Delaware” scene from Wayne’s World

…and that’s the story of why our next several chapters feature our grand return to Philadelphia. And what better way to dive into the original capital of the United States of America than to visit a giant museum dedicated to the Founding Fathers and some of their most important words that made America work?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

National Constitution Center!

The building is this big, and yet I have no memory of spotting it in 2010 even though we walked a block away from it.

The National Constitution Center opened in 2003 at the north end of Independence Mall, the polar opposite of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center. More than just a museum, the National Constitution Center also hosts speeches, discussions, and debates about Constitutional matters involving participants from all over the political spectrum, including at least three former U.S. Presidents. The Center is nonprofit and nonpartisan, except maybe to anyone touchy enough to think “Our Constitution is a good thing” is a terrible hot take. Either way it’s all about American civics in general, where they came from, and how they got where they are today, with stopovers for all the best Bill of Rights amendments.

wall quotes!

Entryway quotes from one Republican and one Whig.

(Minor point, in case anyone thinks to ask: if there was a concerted tribute to the Second Amendment, I didn’t see it, and neither of us photographed it. I like to think an arsenal would’ve stood out to me, like the one at Rutherford Hayes’ museum on Day One, the polearms at the Met in NYC in 2011, or the medieval weaponry at the Art Institute of Chicago on my very first, regrettably undocumented trip to the Windy City in 1993.)

We the People Mosaic!

A “We the People” mosaic on the way in.

Phyllis Wheatley!

Preserved artifacts include this autographed 1773 copy of poet Phyllis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in the section covering 1865’s 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Wheatley, born in Africa but dragged to America as a child slave, was emancipated shortly after its publication.

Jefferson to Madison!

In this 1795 letter to Congressman James Madison, Virginia constituent and activist Thomas Jefferson (between elected jobs at the time) condemns the 1795 Jay Treaty as a disappointing sophomore follow-up to 1783’s all-time classic Treaty of Paris.

New York churches!

Looking to exercise freedom of religion? Here’s a handy obsolete guide to New York houses of worship.

Supreme Court dockets!

Supreme Court dockets, for kids who’ve never seen or had to testify for one.

American law book stacks!

A rare intersection of art and law: a sculpture comprising stacks of “a fraction of” all the books out there containing American laws. This is why no lawyer in America knows every law ever in all fifty states.

Interactive Constitution!

I didn’t get the Interactive Constitution racetrack. Something involving chain reactions and figurative domino effects, I’m guessing.

Nixon pardon!

That time in 1974 when Gerald Ford granted a Presidential pardon (per Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution) to his predecessor Richard Nixon in hopes that it might help the country move on, forget anything ever happened, act like everything is fine, and hopefully catch the subtle implication that only guilty people can be pardoned. A bit too subtle, judging by the next few years’ election results.

Texas poll tax receipt!

For fans of evil voter obstruction: a 1940s Texas poll tax receipt. Back in the day, several states used to suppress certain underprivileged voting blocs by charging citizens $1.75 or so to register to vote. 1964’s 24th Amendment abolished poll taxes nationwide, overriding Texas’ own state constitution, which was begrudgingly amended two years later after the Supreme Court cordially jumped down their throats.

As you’d expect in a nation with a democracy in it, or a republic, or a democratic republic, or a presidential system, or an anti-monarchic inclination toward freedom and lack of overt tyranny…

(Cut. Take two, and action:)

As you’d expect in a nation with voting in it, the subject of elections is a big deal at the National Constitution Center. To engage visitors and immerse them in the experience — even those who can’t legally vote for real, such as kids — they have an entire fantasy election system set up.

voting booths!

Voting booths maintain privacy for the sake of the integrity of these fake elections.

voting booth screen!

The fake voting machines toss up two random Presidents and let fake voters fake-vote for the most awesome or least loathsome between the two at hand.

Clinton v Bush!

Projectors share the results overhead, presumably not altered by fake Russian hackers.

As a special added bonus at the time of our visit, the Center featured a temporary exhibit starring Broadway legend Alexander Hamilton, one of the Constitution’s 39 signers and a member of the Constitutional Convention’s Style and Arrangement committee.

Hamilton bust!

A Hamilton bust sculpted in the 1810s by Italian artist Joseph Lanelli.

Hamilton's hair!

A lock of Hamilton’s hair, trimmed in 1804 and saved by his wife Eliza for decades after his death by dueling.

Hamilton defense!

A 95-page book written in 1797 by Hamilton to defend himself from accusations of corruption. Part of his defense relied on confessing to adultery in deep, intimate detail including a 58-page appendix that’s just love letters from his affair.

Hamilton Playbill!

Obviously the most important relic on the premises.

The most fascinating part of the cavernous Center lay ahead on the second floor. Besides the panoramic view of Independence Mall, I mean…

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

Nixon peering!

Nixon’s eyes follow you everywhere and threaten to pierce your very SOUL.

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