Party Politics. Two-hundred years ago on July Fourth, Philadelphia threw a big bash to honor the ratification of the Constitution; but the parade planners had more in mind than just bells and whistles and fabulous floats. Jeffrey St. John gives us first-person coverage of the parade--and its political purposes.
PHILADELPHIA, JULY 4, 1788: A single sunrise cannon shot and the peeling of bells at Christ Church signaled the start of a lavish daylong ``Procession'' through the cobblestone streets of this city to celebrate a dozen years of American Independence and last month's Ratification of the new Constitution. The patriotic pageant also signaled the start of a Federalist campaign to sweep the first national elections that are mandated by the document. Federalist leaders concede that some of the same issues debated during the bitter 10-month Ratification struggle are likely to re-surface in the coming election campaign for control of the new government.
The sound of the single cannon salute from the sloop Rising Sun, moored in the Delaware River, had hardly faded away when 10 nearby ships ran up on their masts white pennants with the names, in gold letters, of the States that had ratified the Constitution.
Exhausted mounted-express riders brought the news late last month that, in the North, New Hampshire on June 21 had become the necessary ninth State to give the new Constitution legal life. From the South came the news that powerful, populous, and all-important Virginia on June 25 had by 10 votes become the 10th State to approve the document. (Without Virginia's approval, Gen. George Washington, a resident of that State, could not be considered a nominee for President.)
Philadelphia's Federalists decided they would turn their planned July 4th celebration into the most elaborate and expensive public pageant ever - with one eye on luring the seat of the new national government away from New York City, and the other eye on the First Federal Elections for President, Vice President, and the House and Senate seats.
James Wilson, a Pennsylvania Signer of the Declaration and the new Constitution, told a capacity crowd gathered on the city green, renamed ``Union Green'' for the occasion, that the benefits expected to flow from the Constitution would not become a reality unless each person regarded his vote as crucial in the forthcoming First Federal Elections.
``Let no one say,'' Mr. Wilson, in his pronounced Scots burr, told the sea of upturned faces, ``that he is but a single citizen; and that his ticket will be one in the box. That one ticket may turn an election.
``In battle, every soldier should consider the public safety as dependent on his single arm. At an election, every citizen should consider the public happiness as depending on a single vote.''
The Federalist election themes appear to have been contained in today's ``Procession'' of 5,000 marching participants, extending for a mile-and-a-half through the city which, according to organizers, took three-and-a-half hours to pass by viewers.
An estimated 17,000 spectators, half the population of this port city, lined the narrow city streets, stood at open windows, or watched from rooftops the horse-drawn floats that depicted the last dozen years of American history - from the Declaration to the new Constitution.
The most spectacular float of the Procession was the ``Grand Foederal Edifice.'' Drawn by 10 white horses, it stood 36 feet high, consisting of a domed building made of painted papier-m^ach'e and supported by 13 Corinthian columns. Three remained incomplete to symbolize that New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island have not yet ratified the Constitution.
Mounted militia and military units afoot stepped smartly to fife and drum playing a specially composed ``Federal March.'' They were joined by parading merchants, tradesmen, mechanics, craftsmen, and representatives of over a dozen other manual trades to demonstrate that they all believed the Constitution is a ``New Roof'' for the infant Republic.
In the future, many parade officials insist, all will be sheltered by the new Constitution in safety, happiness, and prosperity. Especially if bricklayers and carpenters who marched in today's parade should participate in the physical construction of buildings for the new national government in Philadelphia, where both the Declaration was signed and the new Constitution debated, drafted, and signed.
Francis Hopkinson, poet, Signer of the Declaration, and one of the main planners of today's Procession, penned ``The New Roof'' as a metaphor for the Constitution. It would, he writes, replace the rotting and leaky old Articles of Confederation. In another piece, ``The Raising: A New Song for Federal Mechanics,'' he places emphasis on the democracy of the document:
COME muster, my lads, your mechanical tools,
Your saws and your axes, your hammers and rules;
Bring your mallets and planes, your level and line,
And plenty of pins of American pine:
For our roof we will raise, and our song still shall be,
Our government firm, and our citizens free.
Every business, trade, and occupation was represented in the seemingly endless stream of marchers and floats. The past was represented by horse-drawn floats depicting Independence, the French Alliance, the Constitutional Convention, and the Federal Roof.
The future was represented by the Manufacturing Society's float, the huge wagon covered with cotton cloth of its own make. Most of the spectators were puzzled by the new inventions on the wagon. This writer was told they are a wool carding machine and a spinning jenny of 80 spindles for making cotton.
But the greatest cheers went up from the crowd when the float ``Federal Ship Union'' heaved into view. On the foreheads of its 10 horses were painted the name of each ratifying State. Sources say the float was built in only four days, its wheels and machinery hidden under a sheet of canvas painted by the portrait artist Charles Willson Peale. The bottom of the ``ship'' was the barge taken from the Serapis that was captured by American naval hero John Paul Jones.
The ``Constitution'' float was mounted on a light blue carriage, decorated with Liberty Caps, 20 feet long with rear wheels eight feet in diameter. A framed copy of the document was mounted over a painted banner proclaiming ``THE PEOPLE.'' In the center of the float stood a 13-foot-high eagle emblazoned with 13 silver stars in a field of blue, the eagle's talons gripping an olive branch and 13 arrows.
Following the ``Constitution'' float was Procession Grand Marshal Francis Hopkinson leading a long line of city and State politicians and members of diplomatic corps. A printer's float was producing fresh copies of an ``Ode'' that the politician-poet had composed for the parade, printers flinging them to the crowds as they passed. Carrier pigeons were released with toasts of the day and the ``Ode'' for delivery to the 10 ratifying States, which read:
Hail to this festival! - all hail the day!
Columbia's standard on her roof display!
And let the people's motto ever be,
``United thus, and thus united, free!''
When the last of the Procession had reached Union Green, dinner was served to those 17,000 souls not too exhausted to eat and who were not put off that no alcoholic spirits were served during the 10 toasts to the new Union. In the shade of the floats ``Grand Foederal Edifice'' and ``Federal Ship Union,'' thousands of cups filled with cider were raised as each toast was offered at a trumpet blast. Each was answered by 10 artillery salutes and repeated by the sloop Rising Sun at her moorings in the Philadelphia harbor.
``To the people of the United States,'' went the first of the 10 full-throated toasts. The concluding one: ``To the whole family of mankind.''
Mr. Hopkinson said later that as the clock in the Philadelphia State House struck 6, the 17,000 celebrants ``soberly retired to their respective homes.''
As bonfires illuminated the streets, the sky shown bright and beautiful with the appearance of the aurora borealis. For many this is a sign that the heavens look with favor on what has gone on before and what is still to come.
One observer has told this correspondent that today's procession employed for the first time on a massive scale poets, painters, and musicians in the services of a national political election. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Signer of the Declaration and one of the key sponsors of the pageant, confirms that today's procession was deliberately staged to form a long historical link in the minds of those who watched and who are expected to vote in the First Federal Elections this fall.
``The connection,'' the prominent and pioneering Philadelphia physician observes, ``of the great event of Independence, the French Alliance, the Peace and name of General Washington with the adoption of the Constitution was happily calculated to unite the most remarkable transports of the mind which were felt during the war with the great event of the day, and to produce such a tide of joy as has seldom been felt in any age or country. Political joy is one of the strongest emotions of the human mind.''
JEFFREY ST. JOHN's ``Constitutional Journal: A Correspondent's Report on the Convention of 1787,'' appeared in the Monitor during the Bicentennial summer of 1987, and was published in hard cover by Jameson Books, Ottawa, Ill. This report - an account of the July 4 celebration of 1788 - is taken from Mr. St. John's sequel, ``A Child of Fortune: The Road to Ratification of the U.S. Constitution,'' to be published next April to mark the bicentennial of George Washington's inaugural. St. John's researches for this account include:
Catherine Drinker Bowen, ``Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787.'' London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967.
Carl Van Doren, ``The Great Rehearsal: The Story of the Making and Ratifying of the Constitution of the United States.'' New York: Viking Press, 1948.
Merrill Jensen and Robert A. Becker (editors), ``The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections: 1788-1790, Volume 1.'' Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
John Bach McMaster, ``A History of the People of the United States.'' New York: D.Appleton & Co., 1893.
Kenneth Silverman, ``A Cultural History of the American Revolution.'' New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976.
US Department of State, ``Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Volume 4.'' Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905.