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Historical Context


Reading 1
Document 1
Document 2
Reading 3



Table of

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: From State House to World Heritage Site

History of Independence Hall
Construction began on the Pennsylvania State House about 1732 and continued through the 1740s. Prior to its construction, the Pennsylvania Assembly had conducted the colony's affairs by meeting in private homes and taverns. The Assembly moved into the impressive new building in September 1735 while construction was still underway. At the time, the State House was considered the most ambitious public building in the colonies. The first floor included two chambers–one for the Supreme Court and one for the Assembly. The upper floor housed a chamber for the Governor and his advisors as well as a gallery to serve as a waiting room and a space for public entertainment. Covered walkways called arcades connected the main structure to two wing buildings–the east wing held public documents and the west wing held books on the upper floor. In 1750, the Assembly authorized the addition of a bell tower. By 1753, the tower and wooden steeple were complete and a bell bearing the inscription, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof…" was hung.

When delegates to the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in May 1775, the Assembly Room of the State House provided a suitable meeting place. The Continental Congress continued to meet here and conduct the business of the new nation for much of the Revolutionary War. From September 1777 until June 1778, however, British forces occupied Philadelphia and forced Congress to relocate. While using the State House as a hospital and troop quarters, British soldiers damaged the building and destroyed much of the furnishings. After the occupation, the State Assembly repaired the building and remodeled the second floor to create a space to conduct business while the Congress continued to use the Assembly Room. The wooden steeple above the brick tower was removed because of decay, and the brick tower was covered with a low roof. In June 1783, angry soldiers demanding back pay surrounded the State House and forced Congress to leave Pennsylvania. No longer needed to house the national government, the State House underwent general repairs and alterations before the Pennsylvania Assembly resumed meeting in the Assembly Room. Four years later, however, the Assembly again temporarily gave up the use of its chamber to the members of the Constitutional Convention.

From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia again served as the seat of the national government while a permanent capital city was being built on the Potomac River. During this period, Congress met in nearby Congress Hall (built in 1787-9) rather than in the State House. In 1799, the government of Pennsylvania moved to Lancaster, and the following year the Federal Government moved to its new home in Washington, D.C. In 1802, artist Charles Willson Peale received permission to modify the State House and rent the second floor and the Assembly Room to display his natural history collection and portraits of founders of American government, military heroes, and men of science and letters.

In 1812, the State allowed City authorities to tear down the wing buildings and replace them with two large fireproof office wings. In 1816, the City purchased the entire block on which Independence Hall stood from the State, thus saving it from possible destruction by private developers. At the time, however, the building was not revered for its association with the founding of the United States. That began to change in 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited Philadelphia as part of an extensive tour of the United States. At the age of 20, the French officer Lafayette had served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War and developed a life-long friendship with the future president. Preparations for elaborate ceremonies to be held in the Assembly Room during Lafayette's visit drew attention to its state of disrepair and sparked interest in restoring the room and honoring the memory of the American Revolution. It was during this period that the Assembly Room was first referred to as the "Hall of Independence" and the State House yard was named Independence Square.1

In 1828, the City began an effort to restore the building by hiring architect William Strickland to rebuild the wooden steeple. The new steeple followed the general design of the original, but included a clock face on each side. In 1831 the City hired an architect to restore the Hall of Independence "to its ancient form."2 The building was used to exhibit paintings and entertain distinguished visitors to the city. In 1852, the City decided to celebrate July 4 each year in the "said State House, known as Independence Hall."3 This is the first recorded use of the term Independence Hall to denote the whole building. In 1854 the Mayor of Philadelphia opened the Assembly Room to the public, filled with more than 100 oil portraits from Peale's collection.

As plans to commemorate the 1876 Centennial unfolded, Independence Hall received even more attention. Members of a Centennial committee located and brought back furniture thought to have been used in the Assembly Room in 1776. Over the next 20 years, the building served as a museum of Revolutionary War period artifacts. In the 1890s, when the last City offices moved out of the building, interest in restoring the whole building to the period of the Revolution mounted, and a more accurate and extensive restoration occurred. During this time, the 1812 office buildings were removed and replaced by wings and arcades which resembled the original 18th-century design.

In the early 20th century, the City of Philadelphia oversaw the restoration of other historic buildings on Independence Square such as Congress Hall and the Supreme Court Building. In 1942, a group of citizens established the Independence Hall Association. The Association campaigned tirelessly to achieve recognition and protection of Independence Hall and the surrounding buildings. On June 28, 1948, Congress created Independence National Historical Park "…for the purpose of preserving for the benefit of the American people as a national historical park certain historical structures and properties of outstanding national significance located in Philadelphia and associated with the American Revolution and the founding and growth of the United States…."4 The City of Philadelphia continues to own the Independence Hall group of buildings, but the National Park Service operates and maintains them.

Even after the park was officially established, it took millions of dollars and years of work to restore the area. The country's Bicentennial in 1976 was the impetus for a major effort. Independence Hall, the primary historic structure within the park, was painstakingly analyzed and restored. Teams of experts carefully studied 18th-century drawings and documents as well as analyzed paint layers and other physical evidence to help unravel the physical history of the building. This time-consuming effort resulted in the recreation of Independence Hall visitors know today.

Worldwide Influence
More than 600,000 people visit Independence Hall each year. This landmark is revered not just by citizens of the United States, but by people around the world because of its association with the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. In 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The flames kindled on the Fourth of July, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them."5 Indeed, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are recognized for inspiring political thinkers in many parts of the world. Leaders of many nations have adapted the concepts, wording, or spirit of these documents to suit their own circumstances and goals.

The Declaration of Independence has served as inspiration for colonies striving for freedom from colonial powers and for groups who hope to change the framework of their governments. Its influence has been felt in Europe as well as Latin America and beyond. For example, in 1898, the Declaration of Independence of the First Philippine Republic from Spain set forth principles and language very similar to the U.S. Declaration. In 1903, Sun Yat-sen of China came to the United States to seek support for a revolution in his country. He put together a pamphlet which listed grievances against the imperial government much like the list Jefferson put forth in 1776. During and after World War I, many nationalities wanted the right to govern themselves. A conference of Eastern European leaders actually met in Independence Hall in 1918 and produced the "Declaration of Common Aims of the Independent Mid-European Nations" which had a similar form and style to our Declaration of Independence. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh referred to the universal applicability of the U.S. Declaration's principles in the opening of the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam.

The United States Constitution has had a lasting global impact as well. Several nations have closely studied the U.S. document and paraphrased portions of it and adopted similar principles. In Europe, the draft of the French Constitution (1793) used the United States Constitution as a source of inspiration as did the Constitution of the Second French Republic. Venezuela's 1811 Constitution incorporates parts almost verbatim, and the Constitutions of Mexico (1824) and Uruguay (1830) similarly illustrate careful consultation of the United States Constitution. When Brazil became a republic in 1889, it was renamed the United States of Brazil, and its Constitution carries the same sentiments as ours. The Preamble to the United Nations Charter (1945) mimics that of our Constitution, beginning "We the Peoples."

To honor the role Independence Hall has played in promoting the ideals of freedom and democracy, the United Nations designated the building a World Heritage Site in 1979. Only sites deemed to be of outstanding universal significance receive this recognition. According to the World Heritage List nomination for Independence Hall, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution "enunciate enduring as well as universal principles and eloquently express mankind's aspirations for justice and freedom. The two charters have transcended the particular circumstances of their creation and any deficiencies in their scope or application to become part of the political and philosophical heritage of the world."6

Questions for Reading 2

1. For what purpose was the State House built? What role did it play in the formation of the United States?

2. What were the major events in the history of the State House? Create a time line covering these events.

3. What event first prompted interest in restoring Independence Hall? Why do you think this event had such an impact?

4. What are some examples of the global impact of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?

5. When was Independence Hall designated a World Heritage Site? Based on what you have learned, why do you think Independence Hall received this honor?

Reading 2 was compiled from Independence: A Guide to Independence National Historical Park (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1982); "Independence Hall" World Heritage List Nomination, 1979; Joy Hakim, From Colonies to Country: 1710-1791 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Charlene Mires, Independence Hall in American Memory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002); Edward M. Riley, The Story of Independence Hall (Gettysburg, Penn: Thomas Publications, rep. 1990); Sandra Steen and Susan Steen, Independence Hall (New York: Dillon Press, 1994); Anna Coxe Toogood, "Independence National Historical Park"(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984; and Russell F. Weigley, ed. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982).

1Charlene Mires, Independence Hall in American Memory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 72.
2Edward M. Riley, The Story of Independence Hall (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1990), 43.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., 51.
5 Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1821. As quoted on the National Archives and Records Administration's Charters of Freedom web page.
6 "Independence Hall" World Heritage List Nomination, 1979, 18.


Comments or Questions

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