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Source: Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Date: July 1, 2010
Byline: Roger C. Aden

Redefining the "Cradle of Liberty": The President's House Controversy in Independence National Historical Park

In August of 1996, lifelong Philadelphia area resident Edward Lawler Jr. was giving a tour of the city's historic sites to his brother-in-law's younger brother and the brother's girlfriend. As the three stood near Independence Hall, Lawler pointed out a number of pivotal buildings and locations from the city's decade as the nation's capital. Then, Lawler said, "Their question to me was: 'Where was the White House?'" Caught off guard by this seemingly innocuous question, Lawler recalled, "I pointed behind me and I said, 'I think it's over there where the women's restroom is.' But I wasn't sure and it was embarrassing that I didn't know this because it seems to me that the White House of George Washington and John Adams was important for this city and is something that everyone in this city should know."1

Spurred by that conversation, Lawler devoted himself to a painstaking archival expedition that definitively identified the location and floor plans of the now-destroyed building — called the President's House — that was home to financier Robert Morris, British General Sir William Howe, and even Benedict Arnold, before Washington and Adams resided in it. Lawler's initial guess was correct: a women's public restroom was located at the site of the nation's first executive mansion.

In addition to pinpointing the site of the mansion, Lawler's research provided the impetus for one of the most contentious and bitter public battles over how to remember the nation's past, for he also revealed a "symbolic bombshell"2: the father of our country openly kept nine slaves at the President's House while working around a Pennsylvania law that outlawed slavery and would have allowed the slaves to earn their freedom after six months of living in the nation's first executive mansion. Washington evaded this law by returning those enslaved at the executive mansion to Mount Vernon just before six months had passed, then bringing them back to Philadelphia shortly thereafter.3

Lawler's discoveries, published initially in the January 2002 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, then amplified in an October 2005 piece in the same publication (where he provided extensive biographies of the nine slaves),4 were not well received by National Park Service officials at Independence National Historical Park (hereafter Independence Park). In addition to providing evidence that the nation's ideals were insufficiently enacted by its most revered founding father, Lawler's research unearthed another troubling fact: the footprint of the slave quarters for the President's House was a mere five yards from the entrance to the then-under-construction Liberty Bell Center — the crown jewel of a $314 million makeover of Independence Park. As Lawler later told the Los Angeles Times, "In order to enter the Liberty Bell Center, you can't avoid stepping on the very place where Washington's slaves were housed. More than a million people have walked right past without any indication that a slave quarters once stood there."5 Or, as Philadelphia attorney and community activist Michael Coard became fond of saying during the ensuing controversy, "As you enter the heaven of liberty you literally have to cross the hell of slavery."6

Lawler's findings threatened the core identity of Independence Park, affectionately known as "the cradle of liberty," and its long-standing celebration of a selective story of liberty, freedom, and equality; acknowledging and personalizing slavery was not part of that mission.7 An informal coalition of prominent historians (known as the Ad Hoc Historians), Coard's community advocacy group (called the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition), and newspaper columnists urged that park officials embrace the opportunity that Lawler's research presented. Specifically, their rhetoric offered a counternarrative of "liberty has been incompletely enacted" and a representative anecdote of "excavating the buried past." Together, these two rhetorical stories argued that the park service should recognize the more complex narrative of the nation's founding as well as how the legacy of that narrative has lingered.

In the pages that follow, I illustrate how these two rhetorical stories functioned as a type of vernacular discourse that was well suited to redefining the traditional narrative told at Independence Park. Memory sites such as the President's House, and the 29 other sites of Independence Park, serve as repositories of collective memory stories.8 In so doing, they also represent ideals deemed worthy of public remembering; they define who "we" are through a selective telling of the tale.9 Writing in the Public Historian, former park employee Jill Ogline summarized the controversy: "The fundamentals at stake have been nothing less than the place of slavery in the American narrative and Independence National Historical Park's own sense of selfunderstanding and mission."10 Lawler's research, in other words, generated a definitional dilemma: Is Independence National Historical Park the cradle of liberty or something more complicated — and seemingly less palatable? The answer, sorted out over years of rhetorical wrangling, would determine what stories were told at Independence Park as well as how both the park and ourselves were to be defined.

Redefining Places of Memory through Rhetorical Stories

Edward Schiappa explains in his book, Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaning, that public controversies are often rooted in matters of definition. He offers case studies of definitional controversies such as wetlands protection, rape, and obscenity to illustrate his point "that definitional disputes should be treated less as philosophical or scientific questions of 'is' and more as sociopolitical and pragmatic questions of 'ought.'"11 Reflecting Schiappa's contention that definitional debates are usually about values more than facts, the President's House controversy involved not so much a debate over the facts of what occurred in the residence, but about what the National Park Service ought to do with those facts.

The definitional dispute in this case is complicated by Independence Park's traditional presentation as the place where the United States was given birth. The National Park Service website for the park assures potential visitors that "the park preserves and interprets many of our country's most important resources associated with the establishment of the United States of America."12 In this respect, Independence Park synecdochically serves as what Mark Moore calls "representative ideographs" in which "one term [summarizes] a political orientation in synecdochal form."13 As representative ideographs, places of memory serve as material "terms" that house narratives about what ideals ought to be remembered.14

In Independence Park, the core narrative has been what Henry Tudor labels a "foundation myth" or "the tale of how a political society came to be founded."15 In interpretive displays, ranger-led tours, pamphlets, and even popular culture, Independence Park has represented the political narrative of the United States' founding as a place of liberty, freedom, and equality. This type of narrative, Tudor explains, provides a vision for a "morally coherent world"16 and constitutes a historical and political foundation to guide present and future actions. As a result, political foundation narratives "lend themselves especially to arguments justifying a status quo."17

According to Tudor, such narratives are not immune to alteration. They can be adapted as circumstances change through the generations, and they may be more directly challenged and modified if they seem to advocate a morally incoherent world. Yet, in the case of Independence Park (as well as perhaps all memory sites in which foundation narratives are emplaced), two difficult exigencies complicated any attempt to integrate the stories of the President's House into the foundation narrative featured at the site. First, memory places are designed to seem permanent; their installation is often intended to mark timeless truths about what we ought to remember. As Kenneth Foote writes, "the very durability of the landscape and of the memorials placed in the landscape makes [memory places] effective for symbolizing and sustaining collective values over long periods of time."18 To change an emplaced foundation narrative is to change the ideological foundations of the nation. Second, the particular timeless truth featured in Independence Park — that the United States sought and fought for independence because its citizens valued freedom, liberty, and equality — is in direct conflict with what the nation's leading founding father practiced in the President's House. Speaking more generally, Foote observes, "To mark the sites of African American resistance to slavery and racism is to call attention to glaring failures of the democratic institutions and egalitarian values in which the nation takes great pride."19

Yet John Bodnar's Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century offers several case studies of how vernacular discourses contributed to the shaping of public memory despite institutional interests that offered different visions of how the past ought to be remembered.20 In its various forms, vernacular discourse can be expressions that emanate from those without much political power,21 rhetoric that circulates through nonformal channels,22 or the symbolic work of local communities.23 This rather loose conceptualization of vernacular discourse has both its advantages and its disadvantages. Among its primary advantages is that it can refer to expressions ranging from popular culture products to public declarations, from everyday talk to computer-mediated communication; it can also describe rhetoric that is largely insular to a marginalized group or discourse that directly engages the powers that be.24

The breadth of this conceptualization is also its primary disadvantage — especially for those who seek parsimonious definitions. In addition, the designation of "vernacular" as the counterpart of "official" or "dominant" may implicitly perpetuate a binary conceptualization of public sphere activity in which only two perspectives are in competition. Even in this essay, my integration of narrative arguments from individuals and groups with slightly different points of view may contribute to an oversimplified conceptualization.

To ameliorate this possibility partially, I identify the affiliation and perspective of the rhetor whenever possible. More importantly, I emphasize the notion that most vernacular discourses are not truly binary opposites of official/dominant discourses; instead, the two discourses often operate a bit like a Venn diagram in which at least part of the vernacular overlaps the official/dominant. That is, much vernacular discourse borrows from or adapts widely accepted notions to distinguish the alternative point of view, while positioning it as relevant to those who possess more political power and cultural capital.25 Whether this symbolic overlap produces genuine accommodation and change, perpetuates inequalities in power, or something in between is a matter of perspective.26

A key question for those studying vernacular discourses, then, is pertinent to this analysis: in what ways do vernacular expressions borrow from dominant discourses in order to shape public debate and cultural formations? In this case, I argue that the coalition of interested parties seeking to redefine the President's House within the context of Independence Park used vernacular discourses to avoid the irreconcilable differences that, Moore holds, can emerge when representative ideographs come into conflict.27 Specifically, the individuals and groups collectively drew upon a counternarrative that embraced telling a larger story of liberty ("Liberty was incompletely enacted") and a representative anecdote that praised the value of learning from the past ("Excavating buried history"). Thus, although many individuals and groups openly confronted Independence Park staff about their reluctance to reenvision the national park,28 they did so within a mosaic of messages that took the less directly confrontational form of stories that were grounded in widely shared beliefs: the principle of liberty and the need to learn from/about the past.29

As I reveal the form and content of these two rhetorical stories, I demonstrate how: (1) definitional disputes occur over spaces, not only concepts; (2) definitional disputes about public places of memory display tensions over how we ought to remember the past; (3) rhetorical stories serve as an appealing type of vernacular discourse for those seeking to redefine emplaced public memories; and (4) these stories can be entwined and interdependent. I illustrate these ideas, first, through an analysis of the counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" and, second, through an examination of the representative anecdote "Excavating buried history." Together, these two rhetorical stories work to redefine the place of Independence Park and, because the park is a representative ideograph of the nation's foundations, the history of the nation.

Redefining Independence Park, and the Nation's Foundations, through Narrative Vernacular Discourse

Counternarrative: "Liberty has been incompletely enacted"

Counternarratives are stories told by disenfranchised groups that are designed to modify, rebut, or reject established or dominant narratives.30 Counternarratives, as vernacular discourse, borrow from dominant forms of rhetoric yet adapt them to counter the dominant perspective while affirming the disenfranchised group's point of view. As Michael Peters and Colin Lankshear explain, such counternarratives tell the stories "of those individuals and groups whose knowledges and histories have been marginalized, excluded, subjugated or forgotten in the telling of official narratives."31

In the case of the President's House controversy, the coalition of groups seeking a permanent memory installation32 at the site embraced the idea of the foundation myth celebrated in Independence Park — the United States was founded upon, and continues to operate under, the notion that liberty and freedom guarantee equality for all — while simultaneously arguing that an untold story of liberty — namely, that the places in the park are also sites where liberty, freedom, and equality were officially and repeatedly denied to African Americans — should also be told. Through this additional story, Independence Park is redefined as a place worth remembering, not simply as a celebratory site but also as a reminder of unfulfilled promises.

This approach is most apparent in advocates' call that the park "tell the whole story, the whole truth," not only about Washington's actions as president/slaveholder but also about the nation's failures to live up to its foundation myth. Michael Coard repeatedly urged, "You have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."33 Even though park spokesperson Phil Sheridan promised, "We, the National Park Service, want to tell a complete story of what happened there [the President's House],"34 park staff actions — a reluctance to acknowledge the site, attempts to refer to the slave quarters as "servants' quarters," a preliminary design for an installation that ignored the existence of the slave quarters, and more35 — generated skepticism about that claim. Columnist Carol Talley asserted, "What the Park Service can't get through its collective head is that this is an endless war for truth and equality."36

As these words suggest, advocates for formal recognition of the President's House urged Independence Park to drop its reliance upon selective narratives, which framed the national park as a celebratory representative ideograph of the nation's founding, and instead to tell a more complex and complete story of the ways in which liberty was denied in the nation's early years and beyond. In so doing, their story embraced the ideograph of liberty while treating the President's House site and the park as representative ideographs of the nation's imperfect enactment of its primary ideal.

Accordingly, the counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" is a diffuse story that addresses previous symbolic work at Independence Park as well as historical accounts of slavery (not) told in the United States. This counternarrative is not a discrete form but an ambiguous and wide-ranging collection of fragments that circulate around and coalesce within the spaces of the President's House, the park, and the nation. The term "counternarrative" is thus conceptually insufficient, even if practically useful, to account for the multiple arcs of the story; the rhetoric that constitutes the mosaic of this counternarrative represents neither a binary (the principle of liberty is embraced, not challenged by an opposite principle) nor a singular (multiple stories of slavery and the denial of liberty contribute to the counternarrative) symbolic form. Specifically, this counternarrative challenges the definition of Independence Park as a site of liberty, freedom, and equality by arguing that the stories of the President's House, the park, and the nation have been incompletely told — and the principle of liberty insufficiently enacted in each case.

The story begins with the building of the President's House itself. Monroe Anderson reports on, "as if a metaphor for this nation, the President's House was built by slaves for slave masters."37 Washington was therefore certainly not the first resident of the house to own and use slaves, but his actions in the home revealed the incomplete enactment of liberty in the nation's early years. In addition to his legal maneuverings to avoid allowing his slaves to become free, Washington also signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 in the President's House. This act allowed slave catchers the right to enter any state in the country to capture and return slaves to their owners. Washington himself sought to take advantage of this law as he doggedly — and unsuccessfully — pursued an escaped slave, Oney Judge, who had served as Martha Washington's maid.

The counternarrative urged that all of these details of Washington's time as president be told, even if those facts tarnished his image. "We have to tell the truth, whether it hurts or not," argued Charles Blockson, curator of an eponymous collection of African American material at Temple University.38 The park staff, as noted, were reluctant to tell a more complete story of liberty's incomplete enactment. In fact, three years earlier, Blockson had expressed his displeasure with park officials who used the term "servants" rather than "slaves" in their initial description of the President's House: "No more lying, just tell the truth."39 Similarly, Lawler later aired his frustration with park officials by saying, "I just want them to tell the truth about this place."40

In telling a more complex story of slavery, advocates pointed out, park officials and others involved in the process should not worry about damaging Washington's reputation (presumably because park visitors could easily draw their own conclusions) but on highlighting the pervasive, and heretofore submerged, dimensions of slavery. Philadelphia City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown wrote in a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion column:

Some have suggested throughout this debate that there is an attempt to shame the memory of George Washington by bringing to light his participation in the inhuman institution of slavery. But our purpose is not to shame Washington. Our purpose is to hold the Park Service accountable for telling a story of American history that provides visitors to Independence National Historical Park with an honest and accurate depiction of what happened close to that site and under Washington's direction. Done properly — with a sense of sincerity and respect — that is quite a story to be told.41

This story, as advocates claimed, inevitably involved the larger place of Independence Park, for the story of slavery in America's founding is embedded throughout the sites of the park.

Indeed, long-festering frustration about Independence Park's treatment (or lack thereof) of the practice of slavery came to the fore as a result of Lawler's research. The interpretation planned for the new Liberty Bell Center, for example, told little of the story of slavery and the abolition movement — even though the Liberty Bell itself did not attain the status of a representative ideograph until abolitionists began to use it in the early 1830s to argue that liberty had been incompletely enacted in the United States.42

In 2002, early in the President's House controversy, columnist Linn Washington Jr. railed against the park staff's reluctance to revise the interpretation planned for the Liberty Bell Center. "Curiously," he remarked, "while Park Service rangers tell Liberty Bell visitors about anti-slavery activists embracing this icon, Park Service officials resist prominently incorporating the facet of slavery at the site into the story they will tell inside the new Bell pavilion." Such resistance, Washington continued, had been practiced since the nation's beginnings. "The short shrift U.S. Park Service officials currently give to the George Washington slave quarters site," he wrote, "is comparable to attitudes pervading the U.S. Congress in the late 1790s when that body met in Independence Hall — located across Chestnut Street from Washington's slave quarters. Congress, for example, in January 1800 indignantly rejected the first petition sent by African-Americans to that body asking for the abolition of slavery by an 85-1 vote." Moreover, Washington added, the president was one of many federal officials breaking Philadelphia's antislavery laws during the time in which Philadelphia was the nation's capital. Yet, he argued, "U.S. Park Service officials defiantly sidestep these stories, shirking their legal duty to faithfully present the full history of the multiple struggles for liberty at the Bell site."43

The larger story of slavery told at Independence Park, activists argued, should also feature the fact that the person who commissioned the Liberty Bell, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Isaac Norris, "was involved in the slave trade" and that the Constitution — which was drafted and debated on the grounds of the park — effectively legalized slavery by forbidding any official discussion of the outlawing of slavery before 1808 and requiring the return of runaway slaves "even if captured in a state that had abolished slavery."44

That these actions occurred just a few blocks from Philadelphia's large free African American community should also be recognized, claimed advocates. Earlier in the redevelopment of the park, officials initially refused to excavate the site where the home of James Oronoko Dexter, a freed slave and cofounder of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, once stood. Instead, in language similar to that used in the President's House controversy, park officials argued that the site should be left undisturbed since a bus depot for Independence Park was constructed on top of it. Excavation did finally take place, resulting in a trove of artifacts, but the site was still eventually covered.45

The Dexter site controversy underscored the need, advocates claimed, to tell a more complete story of liberty in the sites of the park — and in greater Philadelphia. Even park archaeologist Jed Levin later acknowledged the importance of the Dexter dig: "It brought to the broader public this notion of a hidden African American history below ground."46 Harry Harrison, president of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, urged the creation of a "heritage trail" in the city because, he claimed, "You can't tell the whole story on that mall [in the park]."47 Indeed, telling the whole story would also require an acknowledgement that what happened in the President's House also occurred throughout the country; the story of slavery at the President's House is unavoidably implicated within the larger story of slavery within the United States.

This story, the critics argued, was one that was not often told, whether in Independence Park or any other venue in which the nation's foundation narrative was shared. For example, Karen Warrington, director of communications for U.S. Representative Bob Brady of Philadelphia, used the President's House controversy to remind readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer that many students learn nothing about the history of slavery in school.48

Accordingly, advocates responded to Lawler's findings by urging that the "whole truth" also include telling the story of slavery, even if the narrative reflected poorly on the nation's ability to enact its promise as a land of liberty. "There is a responsibility to tell the truth, describe the situation, illustrate the drama in a way where we can at least be honest," argued Harry Harrison, president of the African American Museum in Philadelphia. "We don't have to fabricate and create a Disneyland where everyone is happy."49 Undoubtedly, telling the whole story would be painful, observed Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Acel Moore: "We still are reluctant to tell the whole story. But telling it is a debt owed not only to Americans of African descent but also to all citizens of America."50

The debt, claimed Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, was one that had long been owed. He used the President's House controversy to argue that the federal government should use the occasion to provide reparations, not necessarily financial, but in the form of an acknowledgement of the role of slavery in U.S. history: "It's time to put slavery into its proper perspective in stark, uncompromising truth. In other words, tell the truth: it wasn't just in the Deep South. And, it wasn't just a small number of plantation owners who benefited."51 Indeed, as Lawler observed after attending the New York Historical Society's "Slavery in New York" exhibit in 2006, "in a comparison of tax records from 1703, 3 percent of Boston taxpayers were slave-holders, as were 6 percent of Philadelphia taxpayers, and 42 percent of New York City taxpayers."52 In addition, Lawler pointed out, slavery did not end in the original colonies of New Jersey and Delaware until 1865. Even Pennsylvania's anti-slavery law was so full of loopholes and exceptions — it was referred to as the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery — that it did not end slavery and free all of the slaves held in the state until 1847. In the north, "during the late 1700s and early 1800s, many of what later came to be called manors and landed estates were full-fledged plantations that held African-American slaves under conditions similar to those in the South."53

Moreover, in an article entitled, "The Other Side of Liberty," Christian Science Monitor reporters Stacy A. Teicher and Walter H. Robinson used the President's House controversy as the springboard for a wide-ranging examination of the history of slavery in the United States in which they pointed out that the nation's economic foundation was embedded in the practice of slavery. They quoted Harvard economic historian Sven Beckert, who asserted that American capitalism, democracy, and slavery were "organically connected."54 A telling example of Becker's point was the building of the White House and Capitol buildings in Washington, D.C. Historical "records confirm that slaves did much of the brickmaking, hauling, foundation-digging, masonry, nail-making and carpentry"55 in the construction of these edifices of freedom.

Thus, the counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" can apply to the activities within the President's House, the sites of Independence Park, and the nation. Although the President's House served as a synecdoche for the incomplete enactment of liberty, it was also the physical site at which the story of liberty could be more fully told. Thus, featuring the idea of liberty in the counternarrative increases the potency of the story. In fact, as Scott Sandage observed in his trenchant analysis of the Lincoln Memorial as a site of protest and affirmation in the civil rights movement, embracing foundational political values worked at that cherished place of public memory as well: "Black protesters... exploited the ambiguities of cherished American values to circumvent opposition, unify coalitions, and legitimate black voices in national politics."56 Similarly, the disparate groups and individuals involved in efforts to tell the whole story of liberty at the President's House in Independence Park effectively evaded formal efforts to stymie their cause, while sharing a common goal and earning credibility as spokespersons for the cause.57

The counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" also gained rhetorical potency because it was entwined with the representative anecdote "excavating buried truth." Those seeking redefinition of Independence Park as a place of public memory used this anecdote to argue that a particular past (the incomplete enactment of liberty), buried in the national consciousness, must be excavated and addressed.

Representative Anecdote: "Excavating buried truth"

Typically, representative anecdotes are described as widely applicable coping mechanisms for dealing with less-than-desirable social conditions.58 The anecdote "Excavating buried history" fits these criteria: interest in learning about, and from, the past is widely shared; it helps assuage the ambiguities inherent in always uncertain presents and futures. The representative anecdote "Excavating buried history" is based upon a generally agreed-upon notion — that we should learn from the past — yet is implicated within the specific counternarrative of the untold truths of liberty denied in the President's House, the sites of Independence Park, and the nation. To reveal the whole story about the President's House and the institution of slavery, advocates urged an excavation — both symbolic and literal — of the site of the President's House. Such an excavation, they argued, would reveal the incomplete elements of the story of slavery at the President's House and expose the foundations of the nation's bedrock principle of liberty as insufficiently enacted.

This particular representative anecdote was packed with a potent rhetorical punch because it possessed characteristics of a "rhetorical homology" in that its content reflected both broad, historical structures of discourse as well as contemporary experiences specific to the issue addressed by the rhetoric.59 "A rhetorical homology," writes Brummett, "provides linkage and connection among texts and experiences that are widely separated in time and space, but it also provides — indeed, requires — rhetorical adaptation as the form is put to use in each historical moment."60 In the case of the President's House, the rhetoric of the representative anecdote spoke to the particulars of the historical moment (Lawler's archival research uncovered many truths about the building and its occupants: the site of the building's foundation, an unveiling of Washington's evasion of Pennsylvania law, an accurate accounting of the enslaved who worked there, and more), while reflecting a predominant discursive form (the idea of seeking truth through investigation of the past).

This pattern of discourse was reflected in two distinct phases of the President's House controversy. First, when Lawler's findings revealed that the entrance of the Liberty Bell Center would rest nearly on top of the site of the slave quarters, advocates called for the literal excavation of the President's House site and the symbolic excavation of the nation's history of slavery. Second, after the city of Philadelphia and the federal government combined forces to fund an installation at the site of the President's House61 (the excavation of the site surprisingly uncovered the foundations of the bow window that became the precursor to the Oval Office, the kitchen in which Washington's enslaved chef Hercules toiled, and the underground passageway used by the slaves to move to and from the main house), advocates urged the National Park Service to redesign the project in a manner that would highlight the architectural foundations unearthed in the excavation. In so doing, they spoke to the need to embrace fully the possibilities of symbolic excavation.

As Lawler's findings began to circulate through academic circles and the community of Philadelphia, historians and community activists urged the government to excavate the history buried within the borders of Independence Park. In an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, historians Gary Nash and Randall Miller opened by observing:

The historical memory of the place where George and Martha Washington lived in Philadelphia when he was the nation's first president has been buried for a long time. More troubling, so has the history of the many slaves and servants who resided in and behind the Robert Morris house Washington leased during his stay — now the site where the new Liberty Bell pavilion will soon rise.62

They then chastised the staff at Independence Park for their refusal to reconsider their plans for the construction of the Liberty Bell Center: "The Park Service decided to 'preserve [the buried site of the slave quarters] in place,' which is to say cover them over and put up the [Liberty Bell Center]." Instead, they argued that the government must honor its commitment to preserving the nation's past. "The Park Service must deliver on its promise that these stories will not be buried." They asserted that a literal excavation of the site was necessary, as was a symbolic excavation that would more fully tell the stories of "slavery's and freedom's many meanings at the dawn of the new nation."63

The park staff's unenthusiastic response to these arguments only fueled speculation that the federal government was determined to deny the pernicious role of slavery in the nation's past. Alison Hoehne, who served as chair of the African People's Solidarity Committee, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002, "They are deliberately burying the truth about the slavery of African people here in the heart of the so-called birthplace of American democracy and freedom."64 On, Michael Z. Muhammad referred to "the plan of the National Park Service and the Independence National Historical Parks to yet again sweep Black history under the rug: in this instance, to literally bury it."65

The intensity of these feelings ran so deep, in fact, that rumors began to spread throughout Philadelphia "that the skeletal remains of slaves lie beneath the earth of Independence Mall"66 and that Washington's slaves in particular were "buried in the third block of Independence Mall, beneath the site of the new National Constitution Center."67 The ironic nature of the rumor, that the slaves were literally buried under the building that celebrates the document that defined them as three-fifths of a person and perpetuated their servitude, reinforced the links between the symbolic and literal burying of history.

These not-so-subtle and continued references to the act of burying the past not only served as evidence of the widespread use of the representative anecdote, they also revealed the faith of advocates in excavation. In essence, advocates implicitly embraced the biblical injunction that "the truth shall set you free" in the service of a secular crusade, much like the leaders of the civil rights movement did four decades earlier. Indeed, the rhetorical act of revelation sought by advocates has a homological correspondence with spiritual conversion experiences. Faith — whether spiritual, secular, or some combination of the two — provided a rhetorical foundation for the cause of the advocates; they had faith in the power of excavation and in what people would do with the truths unearthed.

After the project was funded, plans were made to excavate the site before construction began. Given the nature of the site — most of the house had long since been destroyed and new construction on the site had occurred — even the most ardent supporters of the project did not expect the excavation to reveal much about the house or its occupants. Linn Washington Jr., for example, pronounced at the commencement of the excavation in March 2007, "This dig is more symbolic than anything else."68 Yet no one could deny the powerful symbolism represented by the excavation. As Philadelphia Mayor John Street announced at the groundbreaking ceremony, "We're digging for the truth about the start of this country and the great tragedy of slavery, which affects everything we do in this country today."69 Michael Coard's proclamation about the symbolic importance of the excavation inadvertently but presciently highlighted the stakes of what the dig would reveal: "What today does is that it begins to sink the very foundation of American history as we know it."70

Indeed, the excavation revealed vital elements of the foundation of both the President's House and the institution of slavery. When the foundations of the bow window, the kitchen, and the underground passageway were discovered, the already significant public interest in the excavation increased exponentially. Officials at Independence Park (by this time new administrators and a new attitude regarding the site had been put in place) had constructed a viewing platform from which people could view the excavation in process. After the important foundation elements were unearthed, attendance at the site soared. As a result, park officials opened the platform on weekends, extended the duration of the dig, and installed a live webcam for internet viewing of the excavation.71 Approximately 1,000 visitors watched the dig during the first weekend that the viewing platform was open;72 by the time the platform was closed at the end of July 2007, more than a quarter of a million people had visited.73

The remains proved to be a tangible and cathartic reminder of the nation's incomplete enactment of liberty. Cheryl LaRoche, an archaeologist who served as Public Outreach Cultural Heritage Specialist for the dig, summarized the appeal of the excavated site: "Pointing out the foundations that survive and telling the story of what they represent has meant telling long-buried truth about the presidency, slavery and the formation of the nation."74 Visitors to the platform apparently agreed. A 25-year-old graduate student from North Carolina said the excavation provided "the whole picture of history," a retired federal government employee noted that "this part of history has not been told," and a 58-year-old physician affirmed that "truth buried will at some point rise."75

As public fascination with the excavated foundation grew over the late spring and early summer months of 2007, advocates for the project realized that the unexpected discoveries should somehow be incorporated into the design for the project. In a letter to Mayor Street and Park Superintendent Dennis Reidenbach urging the two "to allow the design team to respond fully and professionally to the newly uncovered richness of the site," the Ad Hoc Historians group reminded the decision makers that park officials' reluctance to embrace Lawler's research and their prioritizing of the Liberty Bell Center over the President's House site "combined to obscure and nearly re-bury the story of liberty and slavery on this site."76 In addition, the Independence Hall Association listed a number of redesign concepts on its website and encouraged people to post responses to the possibilities. As with the excitement at the viewing platform, the online reaction was positive and powerfully worded. For example, one online visitor asserted, "This archaeology is too important to be covered up. The National Park Service has (figuratively) buried the history of these slaves for decades, and now it may (literally) bury the only physical evidence of their existence — the slave passage."77

Such public pressure ultimately led to a decision to revisit the design for the project, even though no funding was immediately available to support construction of an installation in which the foundations would remain visible. As the Kelly/Maiello design firm considered its options, the excavated site was back-filled so that the foundations would not be exposed to the elements and then decay. The back-filled site, remarked Warrington less than a week before the new design was unveiled in December of 2007, was "covered with an innocuous patch of green grass with no clue to its history. This is a telling reminder as to how easily history can be obscured from view."78

When the new design, which included a vitrine that would allow visitors to view elements of the foundation, was shared with the public, the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial praise revealed relief that history would not remain buried: "A unique reworking of the design for the President's House memorial at Independence Mall means there will be no coverup — quite literally — of the little-known story of George Washington as a slave owner."79 Telling the "little-known story" affirms the rhetorical appeal of the representative anecdote as well, for viewing the foundation remains through the vitrine will provide tangible evidence that the truth has been revealed. Excavating the buried past has led to a redefinition of Independence Park. As Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Salisbury observed in a retrospective analysis of the development of the President's House project, "It is not an exaggeration to call archaeology a key driver of the transformation of Independence Park, carrying it from the received traditional history of Founding Fathers and 20th-century veneration of their unassailability, to the complexities of the 21st century, where greatness is not denied but made more human."80


From the outset, the President's House controversy had been backlit by irony. Lawler's research undoubtedly received much attention because it highlighted the ironic contrast between Independence Park's identity as the cradle of liberty and George Washington's denial of liberty to the nine enslaved people who worked in the nation's first executive mansion. Then, in relying upon the representative ideograph of liberty to make their case, advocates for formally acknowledging the President's House ironically revealed their faith in the U.S. system of government while lambasting how current and past representatives of that government did not fully embrace the principle of liberty ostensibly espoused by the government.

Irony is inevitable, but the type of irony one embraces is not. Referring to Kenneth Burke's discussion of irony as one of the four master tropes, Sarah Mahan-Hays and I point out that dialectic irony reflects kinship and a representative anecdote of "being with," whereas romantic irony embodies superiority and a representative anecdote of "looking down."81 That advocates for the President's House project embraced liberty suggests that they, despite their heated rhetoric, felt a sense of kinship with park officials who sought to protect the park's image as the cradle of liberty. In what may be my own enactment of dialectic irony, I point to one final irony in this controversy: The advocates seeking "the whole truth" told rhetorical stories that cannot hope to capture the complexities of the controversy or the history of the site. Indeed, Michael Coard and the Ad Hoc Historians see "the truth" differently in light of final design changes to the installation. Even as some members of the Ad Hoc Historians are upset with alterations that reflect "historical inaccuracies" in the architectural details of the house, Coard asserts, "The Ad Hoc Historians have focused on the inanimate bricks and mortar rather than the 316 black men, women, and children Washington held as slaves, in particular the nine he held here in Philadelphia. They should be the focus, because that's what history is primarily about: uncovering important buried truths."82

As Coard's comments illustrate, the President's House project will likely continue to foster diverse reactions. Even during the excavation, "comments about race and power, black and white, slavery and freedom, history and identity [were] everywhere in the air."83 These responses suggest that the completed President's House project has the potential to serve as a site at which rhetorical reconciliation may be grounded, especially if those who visit the site embody an attitude of dialectic irony.84 Coard, for example, noted that on the viewing platform, "I saw blacks and whites engaging. Sometimes it was a reasoned dialog and other times it was animated and heated. But that to me was like giving birth — it was painful, it was necessary. From those discussions, from those debates, from those arguments, comes a real movement toward the truth."85 Certainly, reconciliation is no easy matter; issues of recognition,86 material interests,87 and sincerity88 — among others — may prevent, or at least make difficult, movement toward reconciliation. Yet, such narratives — and the revised stories being told about the President's House and other sites throughout Independence Park may well function as reconciliation narratives89 — "can help alienated parties prepare to engage in reconciliation together."90

Clearly, the President's House project — when completed — holds the potential to alter the ways in which citizens of the United States engage public memories of the nation's founding in general and slavery in particular. The President's House project may have set a precedent that will accelerate efforts to sanctify — in complex and thorough ways — sites of public memory that have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.91 As Foote explains in his analysis of memory places that are sites of violence or tragedy involving African Americans and Native Americans, sanctification efforts at such sites have only indirectly addressed the issues of power lurking beneath the surface of the remembered events and people: "stress is being placed instead on celebrating the heroism, fortitude, and sacrifice of the Native [Americans] and African Americans themselves. This oblique means of confronting the past allows fresh and more encompassing interpretations to emerge that will make it easier — eventually — to question the central suppositions of the old myths."92 At the President's House site, however, the "heroism, fortitude, and sacrifice" of Washington's slaves are celebrated and the ugly stain of slavery is revealed. Moreover, this process has been anything but gradual: "the central suppositions of the old myths" were questioned directly and immediately, and then revised throughout the entire site of Independence Park.

To be sure, until the President's House is completed and visitors have experienced it within the larger context of the park, we cannot ascertain whether visitors to the site will embody dialectical irony, seek rhetorical reconciliation, and/or appreciate more complex sanctification. Indeed, given Bodnar's observations that vernacular interests are typically subsumed by official interests when the two collide in sites of public memory, and the fact that multiple publics may form around the discussion of any controversy, the President's House site is bound to disappoint many of its visitors. Just before ground was broken for the project in August 2009, Lawler and some members of the Ad Hoc Historians publicly complained that the design of the installation had been changed and was now historically inaccurate in three vital elements.93 No wonder, then, that as Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron has noted throughout the process, designs for the project — including Kelly/Maiello's winning design — do not, and perhaps cannot, adequately contain the multiple and complex stories that circulate through the site.94


This essay has illustrated the rhetorical struggles that ensue when advocates seek to redefine a place of public memory. Emplaced memories are endowed with a sense of permanence; they are literally held within a place. When that place is defined as the site of the founding of the nation, and the memories held there constitute the symbolic foundations of the nation, redefining the place and its memories is exceptionally difficult. Thus, although Edward Lawler Jr.'s breathtaking discoveries provided indisputable evidence of different memories in the place, his work was — by itself — symbolically insufficient to change the definition of Independence National Historical Park. The rhetorical work that accompanied his discoveries may have helped redefine the place of the park, but it did not directly challenge the symbolic foundations celebrated at the site.

The collective counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" embraced the notion of liberty while arguing for a more comprehensive telling of its historical enactment, but the representative anecdote "Excavating buried truths" reaffirmed the conventional wisdom of digging for, and ultimately revealing, knowledge. As a result, the park staff could not successfully argue with how the park ought to be redefined, for the counternarrative and representative anecdote sought to complete and reinforce accepted narratives. So even though the foundation myth previously featured in Independence Park narratives provided park officials with a basis for justifying the status quo, the argumentative stories told by advocates for the President's House project still provided the "morally coherent world" identified by Tudor95 by simultaneously making that world more historically complex and contemporaneously moral. As the Philadelphia Inquirer's Salisbury reported, "the ensuing [President's House] controversy compelled sweeping change in the park's narrative and allowed a host of new stories to flood onto the plain of Independence Mall.... This change is a monumental revision of America's founding mythology, historians argue — one that has not diminished the sanctity of sacred ground but magnified it."96

Author affiliation:

Roger C. Aden is Professor of Communication Studies at Ohio University in Athens.


1. Edward Lawler Jr., in discussion with the author, May 24, 2007. Lawler's guests were, of course, referring not to the White House itself but to the nation's first executive mansion.

2. Jill Ogline, "'Creating Dissonance for the Visitor': The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy," The Public Historian 26 (2004): 50.

3. The state law included grandfather clauses that ultimately allowed many residents to keep slaves until 1840. The law also granted freedom to any slave — not affected by the grandfathering — who resided in the state for more than six months, which would include the slaves Washington brought from Virginia. See Lawler's more detailed explanation, including excerpts from correspondence on the subject between Washington and his chief secretary, at (accessed January 2010).

4. See Edward Lawler, Jr., "The President's House in Philadelphia: The Rediscovery of a Lost Landmark," 126:4 (2002): 5-96; and "The President's House Revisited," 129:4 (2005): 371-410.

5. David Zucchino, "A Historic Clash of Slavery, Liberty," Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2004, (accessed January 2010). All newspaper articles referenced hereafter, unless otherwise noted, are available at this site, which is run by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization that provided much of the impetus for the original creation of Independence Park.

6. Philip Kennicott, "Plain as Dirt: History without Gimmickry," Washington Post, July 4, 2007,

7. Ogline observed that "the responsibility of preserving and interpreting icons of American civil religion such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell has been the crucible in which [Independence Park] has forged its sense of identity." Moreover, she adds that "dissonance is viewed as a threat to maintaining smooth operations" at Independence Park and other national parks that celebrate American traditions. Ogline, "'Creating Dissonance,'" 54, 55.

8. See, for example, Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), originally published in French in 1925; and Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage, 1996).

9. David Lowenthal, "Fabricating Heritage," History & Memory 10 (1998): 5-24.

10. Ogline, "'Creating Dissonance,'" 50.

11. Edward Schiappa, Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaning (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003), 3.

12. See "Visiting Independence National Historical Park," (accessed January 2010).

13. See articles by Mark P. Moore: "Constructing Irreconcilable Conflict: The Function of Synecdoche in the Spotted Owl Controversy," Communication Monographs 60 (1993): 260; "Life, Liberty, and the Handgun: The Function of Synecdoche in the Brady Bill Debate," Communication Quarterly 42 (1994): 434-47; and "The Cigarette as Representational Ideograph in the Debate over Environmental Tobacco Smoke," Communication Monographs 64 (1996): 47-64. See also Michael C. McGee, "The 'Ideograph': A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology," Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (1980): 1-16.

14. See, for example, Robin Wagner-Pacifici and Barry Schwartz, "The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past," American Journal of Sociology 97 (1991): 376-420; and Barry Schwartz and Todd Bayma, "Commemoration and the Politics of Recognition: The Korean War Veterans Memorial," American Behavioral Scientist 42 (1999): 946-67.

15. Henry Tudor, Political Myth: Key Concepts in Political Science (New York: Praeger, 1972), 65.

16. Tudor, Political Myth, 110.

17. Tudor, Political Myth, 91.

18. Kenneth E. Foote, Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), 33.

19. Foote, Shadowed Ground, 322.

20. John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

21. See, for example, Kent A. Ono and John M. Sloop, "The Critique of Vernacular Discourse," Communication Monographs 62 (1995): 19-46.

22. See, for example, Gerard A. Hauser, Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).

23. See, for example, Bodnar, Remaking America.

24. See, for example, Michelle A. Holling, "Forming Oppositional Social Concord to California's Proposition 187 and Squelching Social Discord in the Vernacular Space of CHICLE," Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 3 (2006): 202-22; Lisa A. Flores and Marouf A. Hasian, Jr., "Returning to Aztlán and La Raza: Political Communication and the Vernacular Construction of Chicano/a Nationalism," in Politics, Communication, and Culture, ed. Alberto González and Dolores V. Tanno (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997), 186-203; and Erin M. Reser, "Strategies of Negotiation in Mainstream Media: Vernacular Discourse and Masculinity in The Full Monty," Popular Communication 3 (2005): 217-37.

25. Ono and Sloop, "Critique"; Holling, "Forming Oppositional and Social Discord."

26. Hauser (Vernacular Voices), for instance, seems optimistic about the ability of vernacular discourse to alter political and cultural landscapes, whereas Bodnar (Remaking America) — despite his identification of cases in which vernacular discourse produced notable changes in those landscapes — ultimately concludes that "the dialogic activity examined here almost always stressed the desirability of maintaining the social order and existing structures" (246).

27. Moore, "Constructing Irreconcilable Conflict"; Moore, "Cigarette."

28. According to former park employee Ogline, the bureaucratic structure of the National Park Service allows administrators at each park a great deal of control over how their parks operate. Accordingly, I distinguish between Independence Park officials and National Park Service officials throughout this essay

29. I am influenced here by Samuel L. Becker's idea of communication mosaics, or the collective circulation of discursive fragments surrounding a particular subject, as outlined in his chapter, "Rhetorical Studies for the Contemporary World," in The Prospect of Rhetoric, ed. Lloyd F. Bitzer and Edwin Black (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971), 21-43.

30. Michael Peters and Colin Lankshear, "Postmodern Counternarratives," in Counternarratives: Cultural Studies and Critical Pedagogies in Postmodern Spaces, ed. Henry A. Giroux, Colin Lankshear, Michael Peters, and Peter McLaren (New York: Routledge, 1996), 1-39.

31. Peters and Lankshear, "Postmodern Counternarratives," 2.

32. Interestingly, no one has yet designated the President's House site as the location of either a memorial or monument. In all official rhetoric, the word "project" is used. I honor this word choice, although I also use "installation" in instances where "project" sounds awkward.

33. In Mary Mitchell, "Making Sure Liberty Bell Keeps It Real," Chicago Sun-Times, October 9, 2007,

34. In Nia Ngina Meeks, "Group Fights for Accurate Slave Portrait," Philadelphia Tribune, April 8, 2003,!].

35. The park staff had known since at least 1974, when it took over operation of the site from the state of Pennsylvania, that Washington had kept slaves in the President's House, yet the staff did not incorporate that knowledge into its interpretation within the park (Randall Miller, "Summary of Ad Hoc Historians Group Position," news release, September 9, 2003,, accessed January 2010). In addition, Ogline noted that even though Independence Park "had access to Lawler's research a year before publication, [it] continued to proceed toward implementation of an interpretive plan that focused on the story of the Liberty Bell rather than on the contested history of liberty itself " ("'Creating Dissonance,'" 51). The park superintendent at the time of the majority of the controversy, Martha B. Aikens, went so far as to write a guest editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer in April 2002 in which she argued that marking the President's House with an outline on the ground or reconstructing the house would only serve to confuse visitors to the site. She argued that any interpretive displays about Washington's slaves should be hosted in the Deshler Morris House, a site away from Independence Mall — but still part of Independence Park — where Washington sometimes hosted official functions (Martha Aikens, "Park Tells the Story of Slavery," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 2002, When park staff posted preliminary text for the revised Liberty Bell Center interpretation on its website in October 2002, it referred to the slave quarters as "servants' quarters." In responding to the ensuing uproar, park officials claimed that no evidence conclusively demonstrated that the structure housed only slaves (Stephan Salisbury, "Proposed Wording on Slave Quarters Draws Fire," Philadelphia Inquirer, October 31, 2002, At a public meeting in January 2003, a preliminary design plan was presented that did not include slave quarters. Despite the plan's many other laudable elements, the proposal was met with much skepticism and, in some cases, outright hostility. Community activist Reggie Bryant, for example, asserted, "None of this [design] happened until there was great pressure applied. . . . The promises made here are tantamount to those made in the back seat at a drive-in movie" (cited in Stephan Salisbury, "Design of Liberty Bell Site Criticized," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2003,

36. Carol Talley, "Let's Tell the Whole Story," The Sentinel, January 19, 2003,

37. Monroe Anderson, "The Washington Legacy,", October 16, 2007, Anderson was referring to "the widow of the aptly named William Masters, the mayor of Philadelphia in the 1750s and a powerful merchant who was most likely the city's largest slave owner." Robert Morris later purchased the house, after which it was used by a number of luminaries before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.

38. In Stephan Salisbury, "Forum Furthers Memorial to Slaves," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 7, 2004,

39. In Associated Press, "Dispute as Slavery Is Not Mentioned," November 1, 2002,

40. In Bruce Schimmel, "All the President's Men," Philadelphia City Paper, July 7-13, 2005,

41. Blondell Reynolds Brown, "Full Story Must Be Told at New Bell Site," Philadelphia Inquirer, October 25, 2002,

42. Charlene Mires, Independence Hall in American Memory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 90-91.

43. Linn Washington Jr., "Park Service Burying a Shameful Fact," Philadelphia Tribune, April 2, 2002,

44. Stacy A. Teicher and Walter H. Robinson, "The Other Side of Liberty," Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 2003,

45. Stephan Salisbury, "Beneath Independence Mall, Story of Early Free Black America," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2, 2008,

46. In Stephan Salisbury, "Remaking History," Philadelphia Inquirer, June 30, 2008,

47. In Stephan Salisbury, "Planners Rethink Slavery, Liberty Project," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 25, 2002,

48. Karen Warrington, "African American History Must be Taught," Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 2005,

49. In Salisbury, "Planners Rethink."

50. Acel Moore, "Whole Story of Slavery, Liberty Bell Still Untold," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 16, 2002,

51. Eugene Kane, "Reparations Don't Have to Cost a Dime," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 21, 2002,

52. Edward Lawler Jr., "How Much Do We Really Know about Slavery?" Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 2007,

53. Mike Toner, "Digs Unearth Slave Plantations in North," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 2, 2003,

54. Teicher and Robinson, "Other Side."

55. Frank Greve, "Slaves to be Honored for Capital Contributions," Philadelphia Inquirer, June 24, 2005,

56. Scott A. Sandage, "A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939-1963," Journal of American History 80 (1993): 136.

57. At the same time, however, the counternarrative "Liberty has been incompletely enacted" may not have resonated as richly with individuals who see a contemporary America that sufficiently affords liberty, equality, and freedom to all its citizens. For example, Robert Morris, a descendant of the owner of the President's House during Washington's and Adams's stays there, fired off numerous letters to the editors of Philadelphia newspapers arguing that slavery was inordinately emphasized in the discussions surrounding the President's House. In the most recent of his missives, he complained: "Independence National Historical Park, in coordination with the city, has kicked Morris out of the story of his own house in favor of Martha Washington's maid [Oney Judge]." Morris had letters to the editor published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 21, 2002 ( and October 11, 2005 (, the Philadelphia Daily News on October 20, 2005 (, and most recently in The Bulletin on July 16, 2008 ( The quote is from the most recent letter.

58. See Barry Brummett, "Burke's Representative Anecdote as Method in Media Criticism," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 1 (1984): 161-76; Barry Brummett, "Electric Literature as Equipment for Living: Haunted House Films," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 2 (1985): 247-61. The notion of literature serving as equipment for living was introduced by Kenneth Burke in The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1941).

59. In his initial formulation of rhetorical homology, Brummett argues that rhetoric can be more effective when its form connects content with experience ("The Homology Hypothesis: Pornography on the VCR," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 5 (1988): 202-16). I rely on his more expansive explanation of the concept 18 years later ("Rhetorical Homologies in Walter Benjamin, The Ring, and Capital," Rhetoric Society Quarterly 36 (2006): 449-69).

60. Brummett, "Rhetorical Homologies," 456.

61. Pressure from elected officials-including the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Mayor of Philadelphia, and the U.S. House of Representatives-the chief historian of the National Park Service, and the informal coalition whose rhetoric is examined here contributed to the development of a $5.1-million budget, funded by both the city of Philadelphia and the federal government, for creating a public memory installation at the site. Of the 21 design teams from across the country that showed initial interest in the project; six semi-finalists were selected in March of 2006 (one of whom dropped out), and their models were put on display for public commentary for almost two months later that year. On February 27, 2007, the Philadelphia firm of Kelly/Maiello Architects and Planners was announced as the winner of the design competition. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

62. Gary B. Nash and Randall M. Miller, "Don't Bury the Past," Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 2002,

63. Nash and Miller, "Don't Bury the Past."

64. In Stephan Salisbury, "At Liberty Bell, Protestors Push for Excavation of Slave Quarters," Philadelphia Inquirer, June 11, 2002,

65. Michael Z. Muhammad, "Philadelphia's Dirty Secret to be Told,", February 16, 2003,

66. Stephan Salisbury, "Liberty Bell's Symbolism Rings Hollow for Some," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 26, 2002,

67. Deborah Bolling, "Don't Tread on Me," Philadelphia City Paper, July 10-16, 2003, The rumors, of course, were not true; the site of the National Constitution Center, for example, underwent an extensive excavation that unearthed many pieces of evidence from colonial times, but no slave remains. The nonprofit center is independently owned and operated, but located within Independence Park; it was opened during the recent makeover of the park.

68. In Regan Toomer, "Digging Begins on Mall," Philadelphia Tribune, March 23, 2007,

69. In Joseph A. Slobodzian, "Uncovering a Slave History," Philadelphia Inquirer, March 22, 2007,

70. In Toomer, "Digging Begins."

71. The dig was expected to be concluded around the end of April, but the site instead remained open until the end of July.

72. Stephan Salisbury, "Dig at President's House Yields a Bit of Racial History," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 18, 2007,

73. Estimates of attendance vary from 250,000 (Valerie Russ, "At President's House Dig, 'We Get a Lot of Tears,'" Philadelphia Daily News, July 31, 2007, ushistory. org/presidentshouse/news/dn073107.htm) to more than 300,000 (Salisbury, "Remaking History").

74. Cheryl LaRoche, "Public History at Sites of Protest: Citizenship on the President's House Viewing Platform," Cross Ties/Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, Fall, 2007, (accessed January 2010). Even though the underground passageway was not intended to hide the slaves from the public, according to Jed Levin, the park archaeologist supervising the excavation, its symbolic power was immense: "[The passageway] seemed to suggest that a man whose name is synonymous with probity was trying to deceive both his neighbors and history about his deep involvement with the peculiar institution of slavery" (in Kennicott, "Plain as Dirt").

75. All are quoted in Niko Koppel, "A Country's Past is Unearthed, and Comes Into Focus," New York Times, July 4, 2007,

76. "Ad-Hoc Historians' Letter to the Mayor and to the Superintendent of INHP," June 27, 2007, (accessed January 2010).

77. This excerpt is part of a longer response posted on June 30, 2007, by D. F. Holly of Collegeville, PA. For the complete post, as well as the responses of other visitors to the IHA website, see: (accessed January 2010).

78. Karen Warrington, "Commentary: Tell Slaves' Story Truthfully," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 14, 2007,

79. "A Fitting and Conflicted Memorial," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 19, 2007, As of this writing, funding for the redesigned project has been secured; the project is expected to be completed in 2010. The redesign, along with a summary of the project, can be seen at (accessed January 2010).

80. Salisbury, "Remaking History." For example, Salisbury notes in the same article that exhibits at the Liberty Bell Center were revised "to include discussions of slavery, abolitionism, women's rights, discrimination against immigrants, the U.S. civil rights movement, [and] the human rights movement worldwide."

81. Sarah E. Mahan-Hays and Roger C. Aden, "Kenneth Burke's 'Attitude' at the Crossroads of Rhetorical and Cultural Studies: A Proposal and Case Study Illustration," Western Journal of Communication 67 (2003): 32-55.

82. Michael Coard, "President's House Must Be Practical, Too," Philadelphia Inquirer, August 31, 2009, The concerns of the Ad Hoc Historians are summarized at (accessed February 18, 2010).

83. Stephan Salisbury, "Slavery Laid Bare: A Historic Platform for Dialogue on Race," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 20, 2007,

84. See, for example, Erik Doxtader, "Reconciliation-A Rhetorical Concept/ion," Quarterly Journal of Speech 89 (2003): 267-92; and John B. Hatch, Race and Reconciliation: Redressing Wounds of Injury (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008).

85. In Salisbury, "Remaking History."

86. Erik Doxtader, "The Faith and Struggle of Beginning (with) Words: On the Turn Between Reconciliation and Recognition," Philosophy and Rhetoric 40 (2007): 119-46.

87. Kirt H. Wilson, "Is There Interest in Reconciliation?" Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7 (2004): 367-77.

88. Mark Lawrence McPhail, "A Question of Character: Re(-)Signing the Racial Contract," Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7 (2004): 391-405.

89. "Park sites are now seen in light of their relationship to the Underground Railroad, and a walking tour exploring that theme began four years ago [in 2004]; lineaments of a vibrant, free African community two blocks from Independence Hall... are being sketched out at a new public archaeology lab; the roles of slaves and slaveholders in the early life of such beloved institutions as Christ Church are being presented to the public" (Salisbury, "Remaking History").

90. John B. Hatch, "The Hope of Reconciliation: Continuing the Conversation," Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9 (2006): 266.

91. In Shadowed Ground, Kenneth E. Foote identifies four options available as we assess if and/or how to remember sites of violence and tragedy: sanctification, designation, rectification, or obliteration.

92. Foote, Shadowed Ground, 324.

93. See (accessed January 2010).

94. In her column of September 8, 2006, Saffron notes that "none of the designs manages to strike the perfect balance between the site's colliding themes: the birth of our democracy and the congenital taint of slavery." Inga Saffron, "Changing Skyline: A Historic Site That Has Defied Designers," Philadelphia Inquirer,

95. Tudor, Political Myth, 110.

96. Salisbury, "Remaking History."


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