Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Good To Be First

Magnet # 110:  Delaware, the First State

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Tomorrow, Delaware celebrates the anniversary of the day it unanimously ratified the Constitution in 1787 and became our nation's first state.  It's one of the small state's claims to fame, and it's not lost on their tourism bureau - in fact "It's Good Being First" is their current slogan.

Delaware passed through several ruling powers on the way toward its statehood.  Henry Hudson claimed the land for the Dutch and they were the first Europeans to settle there.  However, all of their settlers died because of Indian disputes, and the Swedish established their own colony there.  The Dutch did return, however, building new settlements and eventually taking over that of Sweden's.  But before long, the British were able to gain control of the entire area.  Delaware's settlers soon found themselves under the control of William Penn and his Pennsylvania territory, which gradually diminished.  But when the time came for the colonies to divide from Britain, Delaware proved to be less interested than other colonies.  They enjoyed more freedom than many of their neighbors, and were content to stay that way.  But some leaders realized that it was in the colony's best interests to side with its powerful neighbors, especially Pennsylvania, in their cause to break free from Britain.  They were able to convince others that Britain was engaging in unfair acts, and in June of 1776, the colony decided to separate from both Britain and Pennsylvania.  When the Revolutionary War began, many in Delaware were still loyalists, and the British were able to occupy parts of the area and take control of the Delaware River.  But some determined patriots still gave them trouble.  By the time the war came to an end, a majority of Delaware's leaders were eager to enter a United States with equal representation for each state.  When the time came to vote to enter the Union, the delegates gathered at the Golden Fleece Tavern in Dover did so in record time.  Their prompt action that night gave their state its claim to being the first state.  They only beat Pennsylvania by five days.

When I visited Delaware's State House earlier this year, I had a really nice time.  As soon as I turned around from checking in with security, a guide was waiting to show me around.  Delaware may not have one of the most impressive or beautiful state capitols, but I was impressed with how laid back it was.  Sometimes, tourists can't even enter the Senate or House chambers, but in Delaware, they can walk in and have a look around and even sit in an official's chair or climb right up on the stage.  While I thought that was pretty cool, I didn't take advantage of it.  State officials can also personalize their desks in the assembly rooms, tucking family photos, letters from children, and other mementos beneath the glass that cover them.  I thought it gave the rooms a very personal touch that some more formal state capitols are lacking.  Visitors can also travel upstairs and walk right up to the Governor's office and have a look in (it isn't used very much), and travel down the halls lined with portraits of former governors.  Representatives may even be at work in their offices and visitors have an opportunity to see them there.  My guide was enthusiastic and very informative and I enjoyed learning more about Delaware's history.  Unfortunately, I wasn't around at 3 in the afternoon - from what I understood, that's when they have a procession out on the nearby Green and shoot off a cannon every weekday.  Sounded pretty cool to me.

If you haven't had a chance to visit Delaware yet, I definitely recommend it.  It has plenty of history, and a nice casual, small town atmosphere.  It's not just first in statehood - it has other noteworthy accomplishments, like the first log cabin.  And if you get a chance to see them shoot the cannon on The Green, I'd like to hear all about it.

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