First Bank of the United States

First Bank of the United States Building

When I was walking around old Philadelphia on Saturday morning, I was surprised to find that the original buildings for both the First Bank of the United States and the Second Bank of the United States were still around. I was aware of many other historical buildings in the city, but I had never heard that these structures still existed, and in fact I’m not sure I knew they were originally in Philadelphia, although it makes sense at least for the First bank, because it was created when Philadelphia served as the nation’s capitol while the District of Columbia was being built from 1790 to 1800. There is a plaque in an empty field to the right of this building (your right, not the building’s right) indicating that the first Office of the Secretary of the Treasury stood there. It’s a shame that it no longer stands. Alexander Hamilton is probably my favorite Founding Father, and I would have loved to see where he worked as the nations first Treasury Secretary, but it was still a treat to be able to photograph this building.

In terms of historical import, the First Bank is probably most notable for being the focus of the earliest debates over the scope of the Federal government’s power under the Constitution. As such, today I think that lawyers are the most likely people to be familiar with the Bank’s history, having inevitably studied it in law school. That debate continues to this day, and one of the reasons I chose to lead with this as my first image from Philadelphia is a coincidental tie-in to current events. A Supreme Court decision on the authority of Congress to impose a mandate to purchase health insurance is due today. In fact, unless you read this almost immediately after I post, the decision could be out.

Yes, this is the much anticipated decision on the constitutionality of [pick your preferred name, the PPACA, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare]. The invaluable resource Scotusblog reports that although today is the last day on which the Court is scheduled to issue opinions, it is very likely to add one or two more days to its schedule, either Wednesday and/or Thursday. So while the decision might get pushed back from today, it will almost certainly come this week.

As I realize that nobody comes here to read my opinion on public policy or Con Law, I won’t go on about the issues, but there is a direct thread between the controversy over the First Bank and the controversy over the health care law today.  Whether that means I think they are both constitutional, neither constitutional, or one is but the other is not, is beyond the scope of this blog, but the connection meant that I could not resist making this the subject of my blog today.

On a more mundane note, I wish the folks in charge of placing light posts had not put this one directly across the street from this building, but none of my alternative compositional options to photograph the bank while eliminating the post appealed to me.

UPDATE:  I realize that absolutely nobody comes here for Supreme Court updates, but since I raised the topic I thought I would note that the Supreme Court did not announce the health care decision today and did in fact schedule an extra day to announce opinions this term, which will be this Thursday.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Awesome shot Mark. Great processing, composition, light and shadow. Tis brings back some great memories as I worked around the corner from there for 5 years. Seems like a million years ago…

  2. I like the image and the story with it, Mark. Did you consider using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill to remove the street light? Sometimes it does an excellent job.

    On a non-photography note, did you read Jonathan Turley’s recent post about expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court, I kind of like his logic behind the idea.
    Wayne Frost recently posted..The Dowager Puts On Her Best FaceMy Profile

    1. To Wayne and Mark, I considered using Content Aware Fill, and admit I did not try it. It does some wonderful things, but this seemed to be a recipe for frustration, given the nature of what had to be filled in behind the light. In particular, I expected that it would have had trouble with the banded straight ridged lines on the column. Of course, I never gave it the chance, so maybe I can revisit it some time in the future.

      Wayne, I did see Turley’s article. I like Turley generally. For years he has been one of the better people in the field of public commentary on Supreme Court jurisprudence and Con Law. He generally manages to present a clear and coherent point of view while also honoring opposing views and presenting them fairly. He does that better than most, but I’m not too taken with his proposal here to gradually increase the number of Justices to 19. He is concerned with the public perception of the Court, and while I think that’s important, I’m more interested in better decisions than better perceptions. The point of the expansion seems to be that as a matter of math, it makes it less likely that we will have decisions that come down to a one vote majority. And as a matter of math that is true, but our bigger problem, I believe, is we have two fundamentally different core philosophies on jurisprudence. Each side believes the other is acting dishonorably, but the problem is they have different foundational views. This causes problems even before you get to specific cases, where each side would probably argue for different results if they were starting from the same point. By the way, these first principles are largely irreconcilable. I am clearly in one camp, even though I try to honor the good faith of the other side.
      Losing an important case 7-2 (or 12-7) does not seem more legitimate than losing 5-4. I don’t see Turley’s proposal fixing this.
      The focus on vote tallies leads to just another subject of unnecessary contention, as liberals now complain that conservatives are too willing to exercise raw power and impose their views with a bare majority, while conservatives point the finger back and complain that liberals are inflexible and refuse to ever join a conservative majority because they happen to think the law requires it, even if they dislike the result. Blech. It’s just a proxy for what both sides clearly care about, which is how each case turns out regardless of the vote. I’d rather folks argue honestly and directly about that, and acknowledge and address the foundation differences, rather than get caught up in sideshows. I don’t have an answer or solution, but I do not see Turley’s proposal helping much. I admire his attempt to address things with a proposal that seems at least fair to all, and I also like structural approaches, but this still seems alike too much of a side issue.
      One last note, Turley’s article was published in the Washington Post, who now does 2 things I can’t stand and which combined are intolerable. First, they break up short articles into 3-5 web pages, in a pathetic attempt to inflate their page views. Then they make that even worse by letting you see 1 or 2 pages unfettered, but you have to sign up and sign in to see the remainder of the article. So I never read the last third of Turley’s article. While I cannot completely eliminate the possibility it would have changed my mind, it seems unlikely, in large part because he is too good of a writer to leave his most persuasive point to the end.

  3. It’s good thing to know that original buildings still exist and still functioning well. Great shot dude! 🙂

  4. Nice shot, Mark. I like the lighting and the sky. I’m with Wayne. Content Aware is a great tool.

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