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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.