“We The People….”
Have you ever visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia? If you have not, you are in for a magnificent and fascinating experience. When you drive to Independence Mall, you will see the gleaming white building with the stirring words of The Preamble inscribed across the top of the façade: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
If there was ever a more idealistic statement of purpose stated in more beautiful prose — I don’t know what it is. The Preamble needs to be read aloud to truly appreciate the meaning, cadence and power. During the long hot summer of l787, the men who had come from different states with different agendas argued passionately over every article. There were major conflicts that had to be resolved and they fought over each with vigor and brilliance. Finally, they hammered out compromises that resulted in our system of government with three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial — Articles I, II and III of the Constitution. One of the most important compromises was the bicameral legislature: the Senate with two members from all states large and small ; the House of Representatives with the number based on population.
The National Constitution Center opened on July 4, 2003. One enters the building into a soaring space of the Grand Hall, with brightly colored flags of the fifty states hanging from the curved ceiling. It’s a smashing introduction into the past and the present. A colossal United States flag completes the setting. Light streams through the glass walls. It is a scene of stunning simplicity and beauty. First stop is the Kimmel Theater where a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation of “Freedom Rising” envelops the visitors. An actor stands center stage in this theater in the round and tells the dramatic story of how the country began. The words, the music, the pictures — all add up to an exciting introduction. The shows, lasting about l7 minutes, start at 9:40 a.m. and run continuously through the day.
Next, one goes to the Center’s Exhibit Hall that presents unique and interactive ways to learn how the Constitution is as important today as it was 200 years ago. The ‘Faces’ pillar has a continuous stream of faces from our history that moves across screens. One touch to a face and the story of the person appears. Voila! Another touch brings another story. It is hard to let go of touching these memorable faces and move to the next exhibit.
There’s the Supreme Court area, high backed black leather chairs, where one can sit and pull up famous cases on a computer screen. One can follow what happened as the High Court listened to conflicting arguments. Then, the viewer is asked how he or she would have decided the case. I chose” Nixon versus the United States”. Of course, I knew their decision and I also knew how I would have decided it.
There are one hundred interactive and multimedia exhibits in the Hall. One can sit at a Senator’s desk, or enter a voting booth and vote for a favorite president or actually take the Presidential Oath of Office. Each visitor or family can wander or proceed at an individual pace. There is also a museum store and a special kid’s store as well as the Delegates Restaurant, and Stars and Stripes Lunchroom.
The last place one visits is the Signers Hall where life size bronze statues of all the original signers of the Constitution stand on the wooden floor as if a discussion is taking place. A few, like Benjamin Franklin, are seated at desks. George Washington towers behind the desk where the visitor can sign the Constitution itself. The three dissenters who did not sign are at a separate small table in the back of the room. They would not sign without a bill of rights, which did not happen until 1791.
The feeling of walking among these lifelike famous figures, as they gesture and appear to be animatedly involved in their arguments, transcends time. The Signers Hall conveys a sense of living history. It is the summer of l787 once more and you are a United States citizen— privileged to be among them.
General Information: The National Constitution Center is open 363 days a year from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Located at 525 Arch Street. Tel. 215-409-6600 Admission: Adults $14.50. Children $8.