A 4th of July Lesson
Though I grew up seven miles from Washington, D.C., and only minimally appreciated it then, I always get juiced up on America’s uniqueness when I revisit the U.S. capital. To say it is “rich in history” is to understate not only the facts, but the impression it leaves.
While government and government leader bashing is a necessary sport in our representative democracy, visiting Washington, D.C. is an experience in appreciating those individual freedoms and the sacrifices that have been given to preserve them. It is not just about freedoms, but about the unique experience of governing and preserving individual liberty.
Last week, it was only coincidence that, as the July 4th celebration nears, we were on a self-guided mini-tour of Washington, D.C. that concluded with a personalized tour of the Capitol building directed by a congressman.
“We” means my wife, one son, and two granddaughters, 13 and 10. The congressman was Tim Murphy, Republican from western Pennsylvania’s 18th district. The two and a half-day trip was planned over a year ahead and centered around the congressman’s schedule. He had offered the Capitol building tour as an auctioned off prize at a church fund raiser. We won the bid.
Seeing again, the original Declaration of Independence, and even the working papers of the Bill of Rights, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other citizens and U.S. visitors enforced the reality of Independence Day and reality that those signers, plotters, and activists, with certainty, faced hanging for their thoughts and deeds.
Freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and the right to petition your government, be free from arbitrary arrest and detention did not come cheaply nor easily. Visiting the war memorials for World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and glancing at the rows upon rows of grave marker crosses at Arlington Cemetery is a crushing reminder of that.
The somber and appropriately hushed atmosphere at the Holocaust Museum, is an excruciating reminder of what the destruction of freedoms looks like. A tour of the Newseum, a six floor exhibit combining news media history with parallel historical events, is a reminder of the power and need for vigorous and diverse and unfettered voices to record our history and preserve freedoms.
The two hour, evening tour of the Capitol building, given by congressman Murphy was entertaining and enlightening complete with interesting historical anecdotes, insider asides, and access to normally not accessible places. Among those was the floor of the House of Representatives where we examined the original desk of Daniel Webster and saw his hand-carved name inside its drawer. We viewed, also, the bullet hole in the desk of an unknown congressman who survived an attack by a group of Puerto Rican radicals in the 1950s.
The old Senate chambers in the Capitol building reeks with history as does the original meeting room of the U.S. Supreme court. A final touch was the view from the private “congressional” balcony, where from the Capitol site, you can see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. The congressman concluded with a short lecture to the girls on the importance of studying, paying attention to, and participating in the freedoms we have.
That we, in our earlier tour, were a handful out of thousands and thousands of visitors to the capital those two days, who traveled and explored freely without being asked for identification nor being harassed, nor followed, was one proof of our freedom.
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