Assembly Room of Independence Hall
Assembly Room of Independence Hall
The Assembly Room's story is one of politics, power and people. Today, the room has been returned to its 18th century appearance.
Congress Voting Independence
The Second Continental Congress
The Pennsylvania legislature loaned their room out to the men of the Second Continental Congress in May 1775. Meeting just a month after shots had been fired at Lexington and Concord, the men prepared for war. They approved the nomination of George Washington as Commander in Chief of the newly created army, and they approved the resolution creating the Marine Corps. They also pursued peace, drafting the Olive Branch Petition. King George III never responded to that petition and talk began to grow of seeking independence. On July 2, 1776, the men voted to approve the resolution for independence. On July 4, 1776, they voted to approve their document, the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was signed in this room on August 2, 1776.
The engraving called Congress Voting Independence is the most accurate image of the Assembly Room during the Revolutionary War era. Artist Robert Edge Pine began his oil painting in 1784 but died before completing the work. Painter and engraver Edward Savage finished the work but died before completing the engraving. The plate was later acquired by the Massachusetts Historical Society and engravings were printed in 1859.
Detail of the Rising Sun chair
The Constitutional Convention
The Pennsylvania legislature loaned their room out again in May 1787 to the men of the Constitutional Convention. The nation's first framework of government, the Articles of Confederation, had proven unsatisfactory. In a climate of great concern, delegates arrived in Philadelphia to address the inadequacies of the Articles. In four months, they created the U.S. Constitution, a feat George Washington called "little short of a miracle". The debates of the Constitutional or Federal Convention were heated at times, over issues like the power balance between large states and small states as well as the slave trade. During the debates, Pennsylvania delegate and elder statesman Benjamin Franklin looked at the chair where Washington was seated as the presiding officer. Carved into that chair is a sun. As the men signed the Constitution, Franklin said that he had the great happiness to know it was a rising and not a setting sun.
The Rising Sun chair was made in Philadelphia by John Folwell in 1779 to be the chair for the speaker of Pennsylvania's legislature. Carved into the chair's crest rail is a sun, a liberty pole and a liberty cap. The Assembly speaker used this chair in Harrisburg until the 1840's. The state returned it to the city of Philadelphia in 1872 for the upcoming (1876) Centennial celebration.
Interior of Independence Hall, 1856 by Max Rosenthal
Transition to Shrine
The state capital left Philadelphia in 1799, moving on to Lancaster and then Harrisburg. In 1818, the state sold this building to the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphians welcomed the war hero Marquis de Lafayette to the Assembly Room in 1824 during his triumphant return visit to America. The committee preparing for his visit first referred to the Assembly Room as "the hall of Independence". It would be decades before the entire building became known by that name. The room took on the appearance of a shrine with the 1854-55 redecoration. The Nativists rose to power at that time, a political party that used Revolutionary era rhetoric and symbols in their campaign to exclude immigrants from holding public office. President-elect Abraham Lincoln stepped into this shrine-like room in 1861 as he journeyed to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Standing in the Assembly Room, he said that he would rather be "assassinated on the spot" than give up the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. After his assassination in the nation's capital in 1865, his body returned to the Assembly Room for two days. Upwards of 85,000 mourners passed by the casket.
The Max Rosenthal image, Interior of Independence Hall, 1856, shows the Assembly Room as a shrine to the nation's founders. The Liberty Bell sits on a pedestal decorated with Revolutionary-era symbols while Charles Willson Peale paintings of the men adorn the walls. A statue of George Washington by sculptor William Rush stands front and center. These portraits and the Washington statue can be seen today in the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States.