One Door Closes, and Maybe, Just Maybe–Another One Opens

City Tavern - Philadelphia

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”  Thomas Jefferson

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  Thomas Jefferson

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”  Thomas Jefferson

Of all those doors that were shuttered as a result of the recent government shutdown, the turn of the latch that most resonated with my personal being was the one on the entrance to the City Tavern in Philadelphia. As someone who has spent many of my days and evenings on both sides of the bar, I know firsthand the plight of those that pull the pints and tend the tables. And there is no act of Congress that will replace the lost revenue of those who depend so heavily on the generosity of those from the general public that can actually get through the front door.

But beyond the fiscal concerns and hardships brought on by the current state of political paralysis in Washington, there was the irony of having to close those places that are meant to honor our past and  to further our faith in the future function of our  government. 

City Tavern SignOne does not padlock the pulpit just because there is conflict within the congregation.

While the majority of  Americans have bolstered their own patriotic passions by visiting some memorial or battlefield, I have decided that I  much prefer the reconstructed confines of that colonial era establishment to rouse my own feelings of national fervor. There are a couple of reasons for my fondness of the City Tavern. One, you can actually toast our liberties with something a bit more in keeping with what the Founders would have put in their cups. And two, other than those that succumbed to the slow poisoning brought on by an over indulgence of Blackstrap, mutton chops, and Flip, there is not the usual senseless loss of life attached to this consecrated piece of ground–truly a place where giants once roamed.      

Among those extraordinarily gifted gentlemen that attended to some portion of their corporal needs at this outstanding American public house were  Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. And it is in their words and insights that we can find the potential source and possible solution to our current political debacle. Like many of the nation’s founders, both men had some healthy concerns about  the future course of the new government.

In a letter to the  American people published prior to his retirement from the presidency in 1796, George Washington warned against the possible damage political parties might bring upon the republic. Having already been witness to the extreme acrimony and partisanship between Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party and  Alexander Hamilton’s  Federalists, Washington was leery of political parties operating within a popularly elected government.  He feared that the competing political organizations would attempt to silence and punish legitimate opposition, promote regionalism and create undue fears and suspicions among the population.

Unfortunately, American’s have on far too many occasions throughout our history been the sorry victims of our first president’s prognostications. And like most organized groups and institution, the lofty well-intentioned principles of both Republicans and Democrats have all too often become secondary to the self-interests and survival of the party. So it should come as no surprise that a substantial segment of the nascent Congressional class has seized upon the writings of Thomas Jefferson as a source for their inspiration and rationalization for the defunding and dismantling of government. But before they consider closing some doors again, they should also consider these words from Mr. Jefferson.  

 “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”

On September 17, 1787, one of the longest, and perhaps most contentious political debates  in our nation’s history came to an end with the signing of the United States Constitution. With the closing of the doors of the Pennsylvania State House after 114 days of  secret meetings, George Washington and a good number of the beleaguered and exhausted delegates found their way to the City Tavern. There they were able to put aside personal political differences, and rise above the rancor by raising a glass to the common welfare of all Americans.

Front Interior City Tavern - PhiladelphiaPerhaps, it is not so much the words of the Founders, but rather the behavior of those individuals that we should attempt to incorporate into our politics. But in order to open that door to a place where men of reason and benevolence gather for the greater good of the people, we will first have to open our minds and our hearts to that greater possibility!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Blue Tag

A Nation Rising

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler ChristyBy the spring of 1787, less than four years after the signing of “The Treaty of Paris” which formally ended British hostilities in America, the new nation was already facing an internal crisis of such proportions that the demise of democracy in the New World seemed imminent. In response those that had crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation agreed to hold a convention at the Philadelphia State House. Their goal was to strengthen the articles of governance so that the intense differences between the states might be resolved.

Through most of that summer the delegates argued, cajoled and deliberated over several state and individual initiatives designed to stabilize the American government. The harvest of their cultivation and compromise would be our Constitution. Benjamin Franklin made this astute observation about the document.

“There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. … It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…”

 The ultimate success of that convention may be attributed to the hand that guided those proceedings. For three months George Washington presided over what was at many times an extremely contentious affair. And when an accord was finally achieved and it was time to ink the deal, once more it was the words of Benjamin Franklin that defined the moment. As he stood waiting to attach his signature to the final draft, he made this comment about the half sun carved onto the backrest of the mahogany armchair that Washington had occupied while overseeing the Convention.The Rising Sun Chair

“I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

As American Public House Review begins its third year of publication we thought it would be fitting to spend an extended amount of time in the city where our forefathers conceived and constructed our democracy. During our two-year sojourn to America’s historic taverns we have been witness to many of the same attitudes and conditions that threatened the wellbeing of this nation in 1787. But like those men that came to Philadelphia during that long sweltering summer over two hundred years ago, we believe that when good-natured rational people gather to address their concerns and disputes – democracy shall prevail.

Following the signing of the Constitution on September 17th, many of the delegates repaired to the City Tavern for a hearty meal and ample celebratory refreshments. According to George Washington, they “dined together and took cordial leave of each other.”

in that same spirit our staff will spend some quality time in some great chairs throughout this fine city. Because like Doctor Franklin we are of the same opinion that America is not in her decline – but we are in fact a “Nation Rising.” Just don’t ask us to rise before last call.  

Check out these featured locations in the current issue of American Public House Review:                            

Posted by: Chris Poh

%d bloggers like this: