LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:
Birthplace of independence and the United States Constitution. “The Keystone State,” Pennsylvania is second of the thirteen original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution and enter the United States. The Pennsylvania State Constitution currently in use was adopted in 1968.
We have in Pennsylvania a form of government founded on principles of individual liberty and self-determination. William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” as Pennsylvania was called, provided its inhabitants certain inviolable rights through our Charter of Privileges–freedom of religion, liberty of consciousness, the election of our legislative representatives, and protections from abusive government intrusion. Of Pennsylvania, William Penn wrote that it would one day be the “seed of a nation.”
In 1751, on the 50th anniversary of Penn’s Charter of Privileges, the people of Pennsylvania celebrated our freedoms by procuring a new bell for our state house, honoring Penn’s foresight. The inscription on the bell reads: “PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL OF THE INHABITANTS THEREOF.” In 1835, 28 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, courageous abolitionists adopted the bell as a resonant symbol for their demands to end slavery—and they gave our State House Bell the name that we use today, the Liberty Bell.
Such was our form of government in Pennsylvania in 1774, when delegates from the 13 colonies began to gather here. In 1776, they declared these United States free and independent, filled with a people possessed of certain natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is for this reason that we now call our State House, Independence Hall. When America’s founding citizens returned to Philadelphia for our Constitutional Convention, they affirmed that solely in We, the People, there resides the authority to govern. Under this authority, they established a constitutional republic, providing a durable framework through which we govern, respecting individual liberty and relying on broad civic participation and engagement in public affairs. This radical notion of self-determination, clarified and strengthened through many years of debate, discourse, and consideration, is the first ray of light in a sunrise that endures still, shining the power of democracy in over 100 countries around the world today.
In Pennsylvania, the grounds we walk upon are parklands sown from potter’s fields, where the remains of many a brave and fallen revolutionary soldier are often interred below. The streets we walk on are paved with the same bricks traversed by Penn, and later Franklin and Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton, Washington and Lee. The heady courage of those early days—1701, 1774, 1776, and 1787—hangs in the air in Pennsylvania. It permeates our state; it lingers within every home and around every corner.
In the earliest days of our republic, Pennsylvania was called the Keystone State, and this for our role in joining the 13 colonies together. When these extraordinary gatherings of delegates met in Philadelphia, they declared support for a form of government that places individual liberty and self-governance at the center of our great experiment. They committed their lives and fortunes to one another to carry forward the nation through the inevitable and heavy burden of war, aiming toward an ideal of service and cooperation, a defense of liberty, and a furtherance of the power of industry and innovation. Because in Pennsylvania we cast our lots together, we are called a Commonwealth.
Where Pennsylvania established our first city in 1682, so too did America in 1776, for as Robert Morris wrote, Philadelphia is to America as the heart is to the human body. Since that day, the promise of liberty and all it inspires has flowed forth from our metropolis to course through the veins of a vast and growing nation.
Today, the Keystone State continues to bring together many diverse peoples and cultures, from both the whole of America and many corners of the world—Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell last year welcomed visitors from all 50 states and 76 countries. Proud to unite our 13 original colonies in declaring Independence, the Keystone State now joins and strengthens a national archway enlarged to 50 states and 7 territories, beckoning those who yearn to be free, inspiring those who defend the cause of liberty, and providing peace to those who seek to exercise the natural rights of humankind. Pennsylvania is to democracy as fertile earth to a farmer—with care and attention, we reap the plentiful harvest sown from the seeds of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This radical form of government endures, for as we stand here in 2019, we are merely seven years away from the Semiquincentennial anniversary of the United States, the 250th year of the people, by the people, and for the people. Many and varied are the dividends of our form of government in our first 250 years—inventing the computer, the Internet, and wireless communication; giving birth to flight, breaking the sound barrier and landing a man on the moon; animating the world with motion pictures, jazz, and hip hop; creating vast opportunity through a global capital market, a start-up economy, and a culture of hard work; and protecting our young with vaccines for cholera, plague, and polio.
But in America, we do best to celebrate our history by making the history of the future, inspiring contributions and service from one another as citizens. We aim together toward that more perfect union, recognizing that much still remains to be accomplished—providing shelter for the unhoused, food for hungry, and care for the sick, defending the rights of the oppressed at home and abroad, offering aid and asylum to those in need, securing the health and well-being of our natural environment with clean air, clean water, and safe communities, teaching all of our children to read, to work, and to vote, and continuing to advance, refine, and improve our own government from town school boards to federal offices.
Our form of government relies upon our willingness to renew our high ideals in each successive generation. We aim toward universal justice, equality, and freedom, fueled by the knowledge that our work remains incomplete. The power of democracy derives from the realization that there remain injustices to combat, rights to secure and defend, and oppression and tyranny to root out. We become America in each generation by progressing toward these ambitions.
Our aspirations as a people can only be realized through the participation of each person. Our successes and our shortcomings are tied together. We rely upon each other—through volunteerism, small and uncelebrated acts of kindness, the nurturing of our children by caring teachers, the selfless bravery of men and women in our military, law enforcement, and firefighters—these common threads of personal commitment all woven together into a banner of duty to this nation and to one another. For whether we are down the street or across the country, we are all neighbors.
Now, as we approach America’s 250th anniversary, we are asked to take stock of where we have been and where we are going. We honor our nation by seeing our past for what it has been—at turns inspiring, but not without flaws, aiming toward justice, but not without a history of slavery and oppression, aspirational and sincere, but not without demagoguery and disillusionment. We likewise honor our nation by seeing our present for what it is—democracies exist in reality, and today’s reality, so it is sometimes said, is one of an America divided. The antipathy of red and blue, young and old, rich and poor: these “divisions,” reinforced through certain beguiling echo chambers of modern technology, are said to impede our civic engagement and acts of mutuality. But another view is that we share a deeply held commitment to defend the rights that make us America—personal liberty, religious freedom, protection from unwarranted intrusion, the agency to pursue one’s own hopes and goals, the ability to be whomever and whatever each of us may wish to be. When we recognize and reject the forces that would conspire against America—incivility and ignorance, intolerance and intimidation—we are then most able to honor our nation by securing for our future the promise it contains. Let us recommit to our founding principles with courage, compassion, and daring. The promise of democracy is the realization that within ordinary people swell extraordinary possibilities.
It is now for us to carry forward our nation and to deliver this more perfect union to our children and grandchildren. The path to this future is clear before us: we can volunteer, serve, and participate, engaging one another sincerely, with compassion and civility, appealing always to the highest of human capabilities. With these principles as our guideposts, we are well equipped to reflect upon the defense of our values in the modern world. Could our founding fathers have possibly anticipated that guns would be turned upon our children in our own schools? Could they have anticipated the ubiquitous web of personal information and connectivity of the internet, and the associated challenges to personal privacy? Could they have anticipated the dislocations of vast populations and the associated crises in human rights? Many are the questions that we face today, in our generation of America, to visit and revisit. The strength of our form of government derives from the conviction that We are the People with the knowledge, patience, and determination to address and solve these problems.
As we do in America from generation to generation, let us come together again—let us return to our Keystone State, Pennsylvania—inspiring our fellow citizens through service and cooperation, strengthening our national fabric by honoring the high ideals on which our nation was founded, and supporting and defending the principles of our American Republic, at home and around the world.
In the words of General Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest shall repair.”
Dr. Andrew Hohns is the Chairman of the Board of the nonprofit USA 250 an organization founded to spark the nation’s imagination leading into and through the United States Semiquincentennial, 2026, our Nation’s 250th birthday. He was also appointed by Congress in 2016 to the United States Semiquincentennial Commission, the Commission established by Congress to direct the celebration of our Nation’s 250th birthday. Dr. Hohns is Managing Director at Mariner Investment Group and serves as Lead Portfolio Manager for two fund strategies related to infrastructure investment. He holds a BS in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters in Liberal Arts from the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD in Applied Economics and Managerial Sciences from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as a board member of the United States Fund for UNICEF and has served from time to time as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Click Here for the next essay.
Click Here for the previous essay.
Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day!
Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.