The Interstate system lived up to its name on I-55 and-57 as we passed through five states – Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois within 300 miles. Our destination was Coles Creek Campground located on Carlyle Lake, yet another Corp of Engineer Campground that would be home for two days (see slideshow below). This gave us one full day to ride the MetroLink into downtown St Louis where we would stand in awe of the Gateway Arch. After that, we drove north to Springfield, Illinois where we stayed for a few days in a campground a short distance from the capital city.
By 8 am, we arrived in St Louis to see the city’s recovery from the 4th of July festivities. Scattered about the streets and avenues of the central downtown area was much evidence from the night before when hundreds of people viewed the fireworks over the 630-ft tall Arch while consuming adult beverages and assorted food truck munchies. City workers were busily cleaning up the grounds and tearing down the bandstands as we walked from the 6th & Pine Metrolink station through Kiener Plaza to the Old Courthouse that stands stately yet eclipsed by very tall modern buildings. You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this was National Park territory. Unfortunately, the courthouse was under renovation and all we could do was watch a Park Ranger enter the building.
Let me talk about that Old Courthouse for a second as it is within the Gateway Arch National Park. The Old Courthouse has historical significance that cannot be overstated. It is where court decisions were made in Missouri that eventually led up to the dreadful and what many constitutional scholars refer to as “the worse decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court”.
In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott, both born into slavery and among several hundred other enslaved people had the courage to come to the Old Courthouse and file a petition for their freedom. After a mistrial, a win and a loss, the couple filed a suit in Federal Court that was eventually considered by the Supreme Court in 1856. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B Taney read the opinion that the suit for freedom should be dismissed for two reasons which can be summed up as follows:
At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, African Americans were not considered to be citizens, therefore, the Scotts had no right to sue in court, and secondly, the Missouri Compromise was invalid, thus no territory has the power to pass laws that limit slavery because, get this, the right of property of a slave was guaranteed by the Constitution.
How’s that for originalism? At the risk of going off on a political tangent, I’ll move away from the ‘originalist’ concept which has reached the American conscious as of late and instead talk about one of the most profound consequences of traveling through the United States, and that is how we have come to see that one place can be tightly connected to another despite the great distance that may separate them or obvious differences in appearance. With that, I’d like to describe the Dred Scott decision and how it is connected to our perceptions gained from our visit to the Gateway Arch and later, Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Museum in Springfield, Il.
Most people will visit the Gateway Arch to marvel at a magnificent feat of architectural design and engineering – and to take a thrill ride on the tram up one of the legs of the arch to its top. They’ll consider the exceptional precision of less than one inch required to connect the two legs at the top. They’ll ponder the “caternary curve” that is as wide on the ground as it is high. But I wonder how many give greater thought to the reason it was built in the first place. And not just as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and to give a great bow to the city of St Louis, but for its meaning as it was envisioned by the designer, Eero Saarinen.
The Gateway Arch is a tribute to the country’s Manifest Destiny, that which inspired westward expansion. Despite it being built a century or more beyond the peak of westward expansion, the Arch was built in St Louis out of recognition of the river city that was once the capital and gateway to the new territory back in the day, like back during the Dred Scott days. Enjoy the slideshow below of my photos of the Arch.
The United States as we know it today, including all the interstate highways that connect them would not exist without the vision of Thomas Jefferson. By his ambition and leadership, the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition that embarked from St Louis, a new world opened itself to hundreds of thousands of immigrants that populated it from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. But what can’t be ignored is the fact that much of the westward expansion that came out of the Louisiana Purchase and later from the acquisition of Mexican territory was, at the very least, burdened with political controversy. In a nutshell, the south wanted westward expansion of slavery, the north wanted free states. The fight between free and slave territories and for the creation of free vs slave states to join the union went from state-level conflicts to a full blown Civil War.
Which brings us to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, to be exact. Because it is Lincoln who led the Union through the Civil War and proclaimed emancipation so that African Americans could become Union soldiers and help win the war, the United States would not be 50 in number without the leadership and vision of Abraham Lincoln.
By signing the Homestead Act during the Civil War, Lincoln added support to federal resources used to ramp up westward expansion with the intention of gaining a Union foothold west of the Mississippi River. Expansion became very much part of the Civil War as Union volunteers fought to gain free states as well as remove slavery from the southern states. Given this, I suspect Jefferson and Lincoln would approve of Gateway Arch and the fact it is a National Park employed by a union of 50 states.
Although it came at a great price to so many people, the fact that we can travel 3000 miles in our home from one coast to the other without showing a passport and visit dozens of national parks and monuments and 48 state capitals if we like while doing so, is simply an amazing thing. Red or blue, north or south, rich or poor- every state is sticker-worthy in our minds and we are fortunate to be able to travel through each of them.
One last thing, while visiting Springfield the capital of Illinois, we toured the State Capitol which was a highlight for us. See for yourself with this slideshow.