Independence Hall and the Declaration of Common Aims of 1918

Black and white photo of a seated man signing a document while onlookers to his left and right watch.
Seated in the “Rising Sun” chair once used by George Washington, Professor T. G. Masaryk signs the Declaration of Common Aims inside the Assembly Room of Independence Hall. Ask a ranger if the original Declaration of Common Aims is on display during your visit to Independence National Historical Park.

Evening Bulletin, October 26, 1918

On October 26, 1918, Independence Hall hosted the signing of the Declaration of Common Aims, a document inspired by the Declaration of Independence. A group of twelve countries/cultures created this Declaration for the Mid-European Union, an ambitious but short-lived alliance whose principles reflected the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

What does the Declaration of Common Aims Say?

In the introduction of the Declaration of Common Aims, the Mid-European Union thanks America and its other allies for their help during World War I, and promises an alliance for future wars. Then, the delegation expresses that the Declaration is a set of essential rules for their peoples and governments to follow. There are six principles in the Declaration of Common Aims.
  • All governments should be fairly elected and give power to the people.
  • The people of a country have the right to demand that their government’s structure and officials should represent and serve them well.
  • Countries should be allowed to develop their socio-political values as long as no part of it is harmful to citizens.
  • Any treaty or agreement between countries should be public, even before it is approved.
  • All nations in the Mid-European Union should work together to uphold these principles in their own countries.
  • Eventually, there should be a worldwide alliance that upholds similar principles to the Declaration of Common Aims.

Who was represented in the Declaration of Common Aims?

Over 65 million people were represented in the Declaration of Common Aims. In the document, the group of countries that made up the Mid-European Union is expressed as “a chain of nations lying between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Seas…” Some of the countries represented still exist today, such as Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, Albania, and Armenia. But other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, have divided further since the Declaration of Common Aims was signed. In addition, the Declaration of Common Aims mentions several groups of people who are ethnic groups, not a specific country’s inhabitants. These groups include Uhro-Rusyns, Zionists, Italian irredentists (people requesting the return to Italy of areas with an Italian majority) and unredeemed Greeks.

Why was the Declaration of Common Aims created?

Through their alliance, the Mid-European Union sought to support newly independent countries and prevent further atrocities against citizens and soldiers. War, disease, and political oppression had ravaged these nations for centuries. Many countries in the Union, including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Romania, Ukraine, and Poland, bordered the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or had been conquered by them. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were fully within the territory of the empire before World War I. Created in the midst of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s collapse, the Union sought to establish conditions under which these nations could exercise self-determination. The Union also anticipated the peace treaties of the 1919 Peace Conference, which would give Austro-Hungarian land to several countries, creating new sociopolitical dynamics.

What is the connection between the Declaration of Common Aims and Independence Hall?

The Declaration of Common Aims was created and signed inside Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. On October 23, 1918, the Mid-European Union came to Independence Hall to begin their debate on the terms of a new Declaration. In the Assembly Room, committee leader Professor Thomas G. Masaryk sat in the “Rising Sun” chair - the same chair that George Washington sat in while he presided over the Constitutional Convention. Framed on the wall behind him was a copy of the Declaration of Independence. After three days of argument, the committee signed the document – the new Declaration of Common Aims. At 11:30 AM on October 26, Masaryk read the Declaration from the steps of Independence Hall. A young Czechoslovakian immigrant unveiled a replica of the Liberty Bell, a gift dedicated from “all Philadelphian children” to the Union.1 The bell rang twelve times, once for each representative. Prominent Philadelphian and former U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker presented a quill pen to Masaryk.2

After the Declaration of Common Aims was signed, newspapers called the Mid-European Union “a new League of Nations” as World War I was finally ending. Writers praised the new Mid-European Union, or “Mitteleuropa” (a term noting the German exploitation of countries in central Europe), because of its willingness to emulate the United States’ model of democracy. Judge William W. Porter, representing the colonial and historical societies of Philadelphia, summarized American feelings towards the new Union when he said at the morning ceremony, “Never will we Americans fail to lend our aid to those who share our ideals.3

Are the Declaration of Common Aims and the Czechoslovakia Declaration of Independence the Same Document?

The Declaration of Common Aims and the Czechoslovakian Declaration of Independence are separate documents, although they both took inspiration from the Declaration of Independence. Through their excitement over the Mid-European Union’s arrival in Philadelphia, newspapers also created confusion that endures to the present day. Since Masaryk, the soon-to-be president of Czechoslovakia, was in Philadelphia to discuss the Declaration of Common Aims, editors believed that he had also signed the new Declaration of Czechoslovakian Independence there. That Declaration was actually drafted in Washington D.C., where Masaryk worked as President of the Czechoslovak National Council. The American government recognized Czechoslovakia’s independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire as early as September 2, 1918, and the new Czechoslovakian government formally approved the declaration in Paris on October 18, 1918. The Declaration of Common Aims spoke for several countries, not just Czechoslovakia, and was more a set of shared goals than a declaration of independence.

How is the Declaration of Common Aims Similar to the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Common Aims mirrors the structure of the American Declaration of Independence and even uses some of the same language. Both documents contain a preamble with an assertion of individual rights, a list of grievances, a pledge, and signatures. The Declaration of Common Aims repeats phrases from the American Declaration of Independence, including that governments "derive their just power from the consent of the governed." While the American Declaration of Independence contains a formal declaration of independence, the Declaration of Common Aims instead contains a pledge to incorporate fair governance into future lawmaking.

What happened to the Mid-European Union?

The Mid-European Union’s grand ambitions failed in the face of long-standing conflicts over territory and culture. Delegates found themselves in conflict almost immediately during the meetings in Independence Hall, especially when it came time to draw the new borders. The Polish committee was angry that the Ukrainian representative was permitted to participate even though he had killed a Polish governor during the war. The Yugoslavian representative ripped a map apart when the delegates suggested that some land on the Adriatic coast should be given to Italy. Despite this, Masaryk persuaded the delegates to sign the Declaration of Common Aims.

One month later, at the final meeting of the Union in Paris, the delegates clashed further. There were even conflicts within single countries - the Yugoslavian representative withdrew from the committee, but southern Yugoslavs (now Serbians and Macedonians) still wanted to support the Union. The committee that expressed hope and triumph in Philadelphia dissolved just a few months later, splitting up by the summer of 1919.

Where can you see the Declaration of Common Aims?

The original Declaration of Common Aims is on display periodically in the Great Essentials exhibit, located in the West Wing of Independence Hall. At any time, you can access a transcription and a photograph of the original document at Declaration of Common Aims of the Independent Mid-European Nations. In the West Wing exhibit, you can also see copies of the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Articles of Confederation, as well as the silver inkstand that is said to have been used in signing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Declaration of Common Aims is an incredible document to behold. The original copy is adorned with beautiful full-color drawings of Independence Hall’s clock tower and the American and European Liberty Bells. The Declaration is written in neat and artistic script, perfectly suited to the bittersweet union of countries triumphantly emerging from a horrific tribulation.

The original copy of the Declaration of Common Aims is only in English, but many copies can be found split in two sections, written in English and several countries’ native languages


1 "Map Making for League of Nations Scares Peace Dove," Philadelphia Inquirer, October 26, 1918
2"Slavs Proclaim Independence at Liberty's Shrine," Evening Public Ledger, October 26, 1918
3"Slavs Proclaim Independence at Liberty's Shrine," Evening Public Ledger, October 26, 1918


"The Czechoslovak Republic: Text of the Declaration of Independence Adopted by the Provisional Government." Current History (1916-1940) 9, no. 3 (1918): 492–96.

"Slavs Proclaim Independence at Liberty's Shrine." Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, PA), October 26, 1918, 1.

Lemons, James. "Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire." Czech Center Museum Houston. Last modified December 17, 2020.

May, Arthur J. "H. A. Miller and the Mid-European Union of 1918." American Slavic and East European Review 16, no. 4 (1957): 473–88.

"New Liberty Bell Rings out Defiance." Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), October 27, 1918, 11.

"Map Making for League of Nations Scares Peace Dove." Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), October 26, 1918, 10.

Independence National Historical Park

Last updated: May 29, 2022