Has American History Become A Foreign Topic?

During a recent trip to New York I did some sightseeing in lower Manhattan and visited the Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street. It’s the site of the first meetings of the U.S. Congress and where George Washington was inaugurated as the country’s first president on April 30, 1789.

The U.S. capital subsequently moved to Philadelphia in 1790 and the Federal Hall building was torn down in 1812. Today a building that was the first U.S. Customs House and was later used by the U.S. Treasury occupies the site.

There’s a beautiful bronze statue of George Washington on the front steps of the building that attracts a lot of attention from tourists. And those willing to climb the steep steps will find a museum inside that’s maintained by the National Park Service. One of the most interesting exhibits is a slab of concrete from the old Federal Hall building that George Washington stood on while taking his oath of office. It shows that some Americans were so proud of their young nation’s short history that they thought it was important to save the slab when the original building was demolished. The fact that it’s been preserved for more than 200 years is also impressive.

But my admiration of my fellow Americans was tempered by the fact that most of the visitors in the museum were foreign tourists. It made me sad to think that American history is more important to foreigners than it is to many of us.

historic stone slab, 1789
Stone slab George Washington stood on during his inauguration in New York City in 1798. (Jeff Burgess)

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