Hopkinson had the last laugh, though. On July 4, 1788, Philadelphia—which had waited until 10 states had ratified the Constitution—celebrated with a “Grand Federal Procession” that was both wildly propagandistic and a spectacular success. Hopkinson himself, the Grand Marshal, planned and directed the whole event. Its 87 divisions consisted of floats, allegorical figures, and groups; bands and military organizations; state, national, and foreign officials; delegations from various societies; and representatives of trades and professions ranging from stone-cutters and farmers (motto: “Venerate the Plough”) to gun-smiths and sugar refiners (“Double Refined”).
“The rising sun was saluted with a full peal from Christ Church steeple,” wrote Hopkinson, followed by a “discharge of cannon from the ship, Rising Sun … anchored off Market Street, and superbly decorated with the flags of nations in alliance with America.” About 5,000 people marched or rode in horse-pulled floats in the procession itself, which started at Third and South streets and arrived at Union Green, part of the Bush Hill estate north and west of 12th and Market. Franklin, then president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, was “too much indisposed” to attend, but Hopkinson marched in a division representing the state’s Court of Admiralty, which he knew would be made obsolete by the Constitution. The chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rode in a 13-foot-tall bald eagle, its breast emblazoned with 13 silver stars and its talons clutching an olive branch and 13 silver arrows. (Eat your heart out, Stephen Colbert.) “Students of the university, headed by the vice-provost,” marched with representatives of the city’s other schools, holding a small flag inscribed The Rising Generation, Hopkinson noted, while at the end of the procession marched lawyers, physicians, and “the clergy of the different Christian denominations, with the rabbi of the Jews, walking arm in arm.”
And the most imposing float in the procession was the “New Roof, or Grand Federal Edifice,” designed by Charles Willson Peale: a 30-foot-tall circular temple with 10 Corinthian columns (and spaces for the columns representing the three still-unratified states) and a roof whose cupola was crowned by the figure of Plenty, holding her cornucopia. The words In Union the Fabric Stands Firm were carved into the base.
At Union Green, James Wilson [“Flawed Founder,” May|June 2011] climbed onto the Grand Federal Edifice and delivered a speech to an audience of about 17,000 people.
“A people, free and enlightened, establishing and ratifying a system of government which they have previously considered, examined, and approved!” he told them. “This is the spectacle which we are assembled to celebrate; and it is the most dignified one that has yet appeared on our globe.”
After the address, the assembled multitudes had dinner, where they were served locally made porter, beer, and cider, and drank toasts to, well, pretty much everybody.
A year later, the newly elected President Washington sent Hopkinson a letter informing him that the Senate had confirmed his appointment as a federal judge for the US District Court for Pennsylvania. In congratulating him, Washington wrote: “I have endeavoured to bring into the offices … such Characters as will give stability and dignity to our national Government.”
In November 1790, Hopkinson was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law degree by the penultimate incarnation of his alma mater, the University of the State of Pennsylvania. A year later it would merge with the briefly resuscitated College of Philadelphia (which had been closed during most of the Revolution for its overly Tory ways) into a single institution: the University of Pennsylvania.
On the morning of May 9, 1791, Hopkinson was “seized with an apoplectic fit,” in the words of Benjamin Rush, “which in two hours put a period to his existence, in the 53d year of his age.” He was buried in the Christ Church graveyard, not far from Franklin, who had died the previous year. Among the provisions in Hopkinson’s will was one that would free his two “Negro Slaves Dan and Violet,” though only after the death of his wife. An anonymous contemporary of Hopkinson’s wrote:
“And be this truth upon his marble writ—
He shone in virtue, science, taste, and wit.”
Over the decades, his gravestone deteriorated to the point that no one knew for certain where his remains were buried. Finally, in the 1930s, a plot believed to be Hopkinson’s was dug up. The skeletal remains were sent to Penn Anatomy Professor Oscar V. Batson, who concluded that they were indeed Hopkinson’s.
After his old bones were re-buried, a new headstone was placed over them, this time with a plaque listing his most significant accomplishments. It’s a pretty impressive list. But it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
May|June 2012 Contents
Download this article (PDF)
page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5