National Landmark Series: How Independence Hall Shaped our Nation
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are two documents most, if not all, American's know well. The first, declared our independence from England and the second, laid the foundation for running our new nation. Both have words meant to inspire, call to action, and instruct. We are taught to study and understand these words so as to understand who we are as American's and what we stand for. These documents didn't just come together on their own. No, they were shaped by heated debates between men who represented colonies tired of being ruled over by monarchs. They represented people who longed to live as they saw fit. But where did this happen, and how?
Independence Hall in Philadelphia Pennsylvania holds the answers.
Before any history changing events happened inside it's brick walls, Independence Hall was known as the Pennsylvania State House. Construction on this massive building began in 1732 and would not be finished until sometime in the 1740's. It was a marvel of its time with two floors that consisted of two chambers (one for Supreme Court and one for the Assembly), a chamber for the Governor and his advisers, a gallery for waiting, and a public entertainment space.
By the early 1770's, the colonies were at war with England and needed a suitable place to assemble (Delegates assemble? Rebels assemble? Doesn't quite have the same ring as the Avengers...) and meet to discuss their actions against England. Two of our most important documents, The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed in Independence Hall. The Continental Congress would use the Pennsylvania State House as a meeting place throughout much of the Revolutionary War until 1783 when they were forced out by angry soldiers looking for back pay from the new United States. Four years later in 1787 members of the Constitutional Convention would meet in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall to decide how our new nation would be governed. From 1790-1800, while a permanent capital city was built on the Potomac River, Philadelphia served once again as the seat of the Federal Government. By 1800 the Federal Government left Philadelphia and moved to its permanent home in Washington D.C.
The Assembly Room
The Assembly Room of Independence Hall is literally the room where it happened (am I right, Hamilton fans?) regarding the formation of our nation. What topics weren't discussed here? Imagine, it's a bright sunny day in May 1787, in the morning light, the heat of the day is starting as 55 men from 12 colonies arrive to settle the matter of how to govern these new United States. The excitement of winning against England still hangs in the air as each man takes his seat. The Constitutional Convention has begun. First order of business; elect George Washington as president of the convention. From there the men debated (heatedly at times) behind closed doors and windows for four months before finally designing what we now know to be our Constitution.
Can you imagine how hot it was inside the Assembly room? Still, to be a passerby outside Independence Hall and catch a glimpse at the debate being held inside, would have been amazing. My family and I visited Independence Hall last fall and had a great time. I would add it to anyone's bucket list of places to see in the U.S. The amount of history that took place in this one building still amazes me. Without the discussions that took place here, we would not have the foundations to be the nation we are today. When you visit you are standing in the same place that our Founding Fathers stood to debate and sign the Declaration of Independence, the very document that declared our freedom from England. If that doesn't give you chills, I don't know what will.
As I walked through it's halls, I made sure to touch anything and everything I was allowed to. I felt a sense of pride as an American at what our ancestors were able to do as a collective. Men who opposed each other, maybe even despised each other, came together for one common cause and found a way to work together. How inspirational is that?
Did You Know?
Facts about Independence Hall
It was here that George Washington was appointed Commander and Chief of the Continental Army in 1775
The Articles of Confederation were adopted here in 1781
Independence Hall was only associated with the founding of our nation after a visit from Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. His visit prompted the state to restore the building to honoring the memory of the American Revolution.
First record use of the name Independence Hall to describe the entire building was in 1852.
The Assembly Room became a shrine to the American Revolution during it's 1854-55 redecoration. During this time the Liberty Bell was displayed along with paintings of the Founding Fathers. Abraham Lincoln visited this shrine-like room in 1861 before his inauguration. He praised the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and after his assassination, his body was laid in the Assembly Room for two days.
During the debates of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin looked at the chair George Washington was sitting in, which happened to have a sun carved into the chair. As the Constitution was signed, he said he had great happiness to know it was a rising, not a setting sun.
If you're interested in learning more about the founding of our nation or the Revolutionary War in general, I recommend picking up one of these books:
By David McCullough
The General and Mrs. Washington
By: Bruce Chadwick
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
By: Walter Isaacson
George Washington's Secrete Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution
By: Brian Kilmeade
by Ron Chernow
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
by Joseph J. Ellis
A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation
My sources for this article: