Philadelphia

At five critical junctures in American history, major political compromises have proved that little of lasting consequence can occur without entrenched sides each making serious concessions

Without major compromises by all involved and the agreement to avoid the contentious issue of slavery, the framers would never have written and ratified the Constitution

In September 1789, at the end of the Constitutional Convention, James Madison wrote in dismay to his old friend Thomas Jefferson, who was an ocean away in Paris. “I hazard an opinion,” he lamented, “that the plan should it be adopted will neither effectively answer the national object nor prevent the local mischiefs which everywhere excite disgust against the state governments.” Read more >>

A stereo view discovered in a California flea market may show the President-elect embarked on a momentous journey

It was, up to that point, the photo opportunity of the century. Read more >>

The DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE is not what Thomas Jefferson thought it was when he wrote it—and that is why we celebrate it

With his usual furious vigor, Andrew Jackson posed a question that continues to trouble us to this day

The alarm bells are ringing for Social Security again. That’s not exactly news— predictions of the exhaustion of its trust fund have been made before. Read more >>

DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE IN NAME AND FORM, an icon of postmodernism comes wrapped in centuries of architectural history

VANNA VENTURI USED TO SIT AT HER DINING ROOM TABLE AND TALK TO visitors about her house in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. “This facade will tell you a lot of stories, if you will listen to it,” she would say. Read more >>

ON IT HE GAVE THE NEW nation a new industry, wrote a protoguide to New England inns and taverns, (probably) did some secret politicking, discovered a town that lived up to his hopes for a democratic society, scrutinized everything from rattlesnakes to rum manufacture—and, in the process, pretty much invented the summer vacation itself

BY THE END OF THE FIRST CONGRESS, IN THE SPRING OF 1791, Thomas Jefferson badly needed a vacation. The first Secretary of State disliked the noise, dirt, and crowds of the capital, Philadelphia, and the cramped routines of office work. Read more >>

And how it grew, and grew, and grew…

The federal government was still in the process of establishing itself in 1792 and did not have a good year financially. Total income was only $3,670,000, or 88 cents per capita. Outlays were $5,080,000. The budget deficit therefore amounted to fully 38 percent of revenues. Read more >>
The English writer G. K. Chesterton once observed that journalism largely consists of saying “Lord Jones is dead” to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive. Read more >>

The American newspaper: beleaguered by television, hated both for its timidity and for its arrogance, biased, provincial, overweening—and still indispensable. A Hearst veteran tells how it got to where it is today, and where it may be headed.

By general consensus the first attempt to start a regularly published newspaper in America was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick , issued in Boston on September 25, 1690. Read more >>

Once seen as a vice and now as a public panacea, the national passion that got Thomas Jefferson in trouble has been expanding for two centuries

“I’m dad-gum disgusted at trying to police every half-square and every half-house,” Sen. Huey Long told a radio audience in Louisiana in May 1935. “You can’t close gambling nowhere where the people want to gamble.” Read more >>

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stood together in America’s perilous dawn, but politics soon drove them apart. Then in their last years the two old enemies began a remarkable correspondence that is both testimony to the power of friendship and an eloquent summary of the dialogue that went on within the Revolutionary generation—and that continues within our own.

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The man who may be America’s greatest artist liked to fend off the curious with the statement “My life is all in my works. ” He was right, but the works and the life take on new poignance with the release and exhibition of a once-private collection of his letters, photographs, and sketchbooks.

Thomas Eakins is now recognized as one of the greatest American painters, but in his own era his reputation was uncertain. Read more >>

The little town of Lebanon, Connecticut, played a larger role in the Revolution than Williamsburg, Virginia, did. And it’s all still there.

Natives of eastern Connecticut like to say that except for Boston and Philadelphia, the village of Lebanon stands first in America in Revolutionary importance. Read more >>

It was discovered in New Jersey in 1858, was made into full-size copies sent as far away as Edinburgh, and had a violent run-in with Boss Tweed in 1871. Now, after fifty years out of view, the ugly brute can be seen in Philadelphia.

During the summer of 1858 almost no one in the United States had even heard of dinosaurs. Read more >>

Every one of the Founding Fathers was a historian—a historian who believed that only history could protect us from tyranny and coercion. In their reactions to the long, bloody pageant of the English past, we can see mirrored the framers’ intent.

It took an Englishman, William Gladstone, to say what Americans have always thought: “The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” From this side of the water, however, Read more >>

After a summer of debate, three of the delegates in Philadelphia could not bring themselves to put their names to the document they had worked so hard to create

THE FINAL MOMENT CAME ON MONDAY MORNING, September 17,1787. The heat of summer had given way to a hint of autumn crispness. A weekend rain had cleared the air in Philadelphia and left the city fresh. Read more >>

James Wilson was an important but now obscure draftsman of the Constitution. Carry Wills is a journalist and historian fascinated by what went on in the minds of our founders. The two men meet in an imaginary dialogue across the centuries.

  His red judge’s robe looked faded and theatrical by daylight. People at the bus stop stared at him, and his face flushed near the color of the robe. But he busily ignored them. Read more >>

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. Read more >>
At the first meeting of my first class in business school, our instructor divided the class into groups and gave each group a project. Read more >>

Banking as we’ve known it for centuries is dead, and we don’t really know the consequences of what is taking its place. A historical overview.

For the last several years congressional committees and presidential task forces have been nattering back and forth about what should be done to change the legal order that establishes and specifically empowers and regulates the nation’s banks. Read more >>

A splendid gathering of American folk art—half a century before its time

In recent years Pine Street has become the center of Philadelphia’s antiques market, and the shopkeepers there would give a great deal to be able to visit a store that must have been the object of considerable ridicule to their turn-ofthe-century forerunners. Read more >>

Refugees from the French Revolution, many of them of noble birth, built a unique community in the backwoods of Pennsylvania—and hoped their queen would join them

On October 7, 1798, the streets of Philadelphia were ominously deserted. A yellow-fever epidemic was at its height. Anyone who could had fled the city, and few would enter it voluntarily. Read more >>
Benjamin Franklin was the most cosmopolitan spirit of his age. Read more >>

From wilderness to foremost city of the colonies, and then to cosmopolitan capital of the Republic—this was Philadelphia’s first century