Joe Rogers: An American pilgrimage

Published 5:32 am Monday, July 3, 2017

In an early celebration of our nation’s birthday, I visited Washington, D.C., last week.

O.K., that’s a fib. I actually visited to celebrate my own birthday, a four-day swing that included a side trip to one of the nation’s previous capitals. (See below.)

But my self-serving excursion also provided fodder for today’s Joe Rule, which is this: To call yourself a true American, you have to visit Washington at least once.

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I know, there are lots of other places in this country with merit, too. I’m on record promoting the attractions of Boston, for example, another city that figures prominently in this country’s history.

Along those same lines, Philadelphia makes for an excellent destination. In addition to sights like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and that museum Rocky Balboa made famous, it serves up a sandwich – the Philly cheesesteak – that is a worthy rival to the po’boy in the national competition for Best Sandwich That Isn’t a Cheeseburger.

I could go on about others large (Chicago) and small (Providence, R.I.), far (Seattle) and near (Nashville). New Orleans, of course, is its own world. New York holds some allure – two Major League Baseball teams, for starters.

Well, one and a half.

And I’m a new fan of Annapolis, Md., a picturesque little port that, in addition to housing the U.S. Naval Academy and State Capitol, served as this nation’s temporary capital in 1783 and 1784. George Washington resigned his commission before Congress there. Who knew?

Also, I understand the appeal of natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful, and manmade ones like Mount Rushmore and the Disney tourism juggernauts.

But it’s Washington that rightfully lays claim to our allegiance as Americans. And I say this despite what’s going on there now. (If you’re happy with the situation, I suggest mental health counseling.)

I’d visited Washington before, of course. I’d been to the Capitol and assorted monuments and memorials, with which the city is liberally sprinkled.

The various outlets of the Smithsonian Institution (or, as Barney Fife called it, the Smith Brothers Institute) are a major treat – and I used the word “treat” advisedly. They’re all free, and there’s enough variety to suit just about any taste.

From Dorothy’s ruby slippers to Lincoln’s top hat to Lucky Lindy’s Spirit of St. Louis, they’re all (and so much more) at one or the other museum.

But I’d somehow managed to miss what are arguably the most important artifacts that Washington has to offer, the so-called Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Consider that oversight now remedied.

They’re impressive to behold, though the Declaration, in particular, is greatly faded and hard to read. As for the Bill of Rights, well, I confess a personal and professional affinity for the First Amendment, but the others have their place, too.

The Constitution?

O.K., not perfect, hence the 27 amendments. Women and minorities got short shrift, a considerable flaw. But, all things considered, about as good a job as human beings are capable of.

And, in this day and age, about the only thing holding this creaky Republic in one piece.

Happy Fourth, y’all.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jrogink.