Plans will be unveiled Wednesday for the Museum of the American Revolution at 3rd and Chestnut streets, to be built in the geographic heart and soul of what was then the most radically innovative idea in government in world history. It will be a great building, a tremendous tourist attraction and a wonderful place to view a nationally significant collection of Revolutionary War treasures available under one roof anywhere in the country.
That's terrific but it will fail if it does not do much more than that. Its real purpose is to show us what we can be by showing us what we used to be. Too many of us believe today that we are paralyzed by politics, global economics, terrorists, dangerous nation states and our own inability to get along. It is often our common thought that during the times of the Revolution we had more unanimity, that the paths were more defined or our leadership less flawed.
In fact, they were not simpler times. The idea that a nation could be formed, let alone function, without sovereigns whose lineage stretched back to divine appointment was political heresy to many. The idea that an army could be formed from farmers and shopkeepers and that they could defeat the most powerful army and navy in the world was risk-taking that seemed preposterous to most people.
The men who lived and governed in those times from the Declaration of Independence, through the long war, to the adoption of the Constitution were, indeed, legendary but they were not always unified and they were hardly flawless. Some of the very best did not want to separate from what was then the most-powerful nation on earth. Some had blind spots that allowed slavery to coexist with the notion that all men are created equal. Few thought of women's rights or the kind of equality we demand for all today.
Yet they remained fiercely determined to create a place that would be sustained through an idea, rather than through force, and to put aside these differences to make it work. And it has been sustained. The ideal and its supporting voices echo against oppression throughout the world to this day. When the museum of the American Revolution opens its doors ,we will easily be inspired by those people and what they built.
It will be good to reacquaint ourselves with guys who would not have called off the game because of a little snow. n
Ed Rendell is former governor of Pennsylvania and author of A Nation of Wusses: How America's Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great.