From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Executive Director - FlagsOver the past few months I have been spending time with visitors in the new Pennsylvania Icons exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania (see “Pennsylvania Icons: State Treasures Telling the Story of the Commonwealth,” Winter 2016). There is a small but very powerful section of the exhibit entitled “Pennsylvania and the Nation.” It is a dramatic reminder of the close connection between Pennsylvania’s history and the country’s history. It also provides a lesson in civics that has special relevance in an election year.

At the entrance to this part of the exhibit are reproductions of two large Works Progress Administration murals from our collection. One is of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the other shows the framing of the U.S. Constitution. Both events depict the nation’s Founding Fathers at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Inside the small, dimly lit gallery are three fragile but evocative flags. The first, on the left wall, is the banner of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, which crossed the Delaware with Gen. George Washington on Christmas Day 1776 and fought at a number of crucial battles during the American Revolution, from Trenton and Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown, to Monmouth and Springfield.

On the opposite wall is a striped flag from the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, in which President Washington as commander in chief led troops to western Pennsylvania to enforce the federal authority created by the Constitution, ratified just seven years earlier.

On the back wall is the Pennsylvania state flag that stood behind President Abraham Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863. In his speech Lincoln noted that the Civil War in which the nation was engaged was testing whether a republic based on human liberty and equality could persevere.

Each of these flags reflects an important moment in the shaping of the nation. But they also remind us that the process did not end with the adoption of the Constitution. In fact, when the framers met in Philadelphia they knew they were not creating a perfect government. The Constitution was ultimately the result of many compromises between competing philosophies and beliefs. The goal was to create, in their words, “a more perfect Union,” not a perfect Union.

This exhibit and several articles in this issue of Pennsylvania Heritage remind us that the work of creating a more perfect Union still continues today. History teaches us that America has never been perfect, but it also demonstrates that each generation has contributed to making it a little more perfect. We hope our museum visitors will be inspired to do no less.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC