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Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Text and History of Declaration

Suggested Reading

Signers of the Declaration
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Independence National Historic Park
Independence National Historic Park
Independence National Historic Park

Location: Philadelphia County, in downtown Philadelphia; address: 313 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa.. 19106.

This park in the old part of Philadelphia is not only preeminent among the sites associated with the signers of the Declaration of Independence, but also notably commemorates other major aspects of the Nation's founding and initial growth and many momentous national events. These include meetings of the First and Second Continental Congresses; adoption and signing of the Declaration, which marked the creation of the United States; and the labors of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which perpetuated it. As historian Carl Van Doren has said: "On account of the Declaration of Independence, [Independence Hall] is a shrine honored wherever the rights of man are honored. On account of the Constitution, it is a shrine cherished wherever the principles of self-government on a federal scale are cherished."

Independence Hall was originally the State House for the Province of Pennsylvania. In 1729 the provincial assembly set aside funds for the building, designed by lawyer Andrew Hamilton. Three years later, construction began under the supervision of master carpenter Edmund Wooley. In 1736 the assembly moved into the statehouse, which was not fully completed until 1756.

Independence Hall
Independence Hall. (National Park Service, Ralph H. Anderson)

As American opposition to British colonial policies mounted, Philadelphia became a center of organized protest. To decide on a unified course of action, in 1774 the First Continental Congress met in newly finished Carpenters' Hall, whose erection the Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia had begun 4 years earlier. In 1775 the Second Continental Congress, taking over the east room of the ground floor of the statehouse from the Pennsylvania assembly, moved from protest to resistance. Warfare had already begun in Massachusetts. Congress created an Army and appointed George Washington as commander in chief. Yet the final break with the Crown had not come; not until a year later would independence be declared.

On July 2, 1776, Congress passed Richard Henry Lee's resolution of June 7 recommending independence. The Delegates then turned their attention to Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration, which had been submitted on June 28. After modification, it was adopted on July 4. Four days later, in Independence Square, the document was first read publicly, to the citizens of Philadelphia. In a formal ceremony on August 2, about 50 of the 56 signers affixed their signatures to the Declaration; the others apparently did so later.

Long, hard years of war ensued. In the late autumn and winter of 1776-77, the British threatened Philadelphia and Congress moved to Baltimore. Again in the fall of 1777 it departed, this time for York, Pa. During the British occupation of Philadelphia that winter and the next spring, the redcoats used Independence Hall as a barracks and as a hospital for American prisoners. In the summer of 1778, the Government returned. On November 3, 1781, Congress officially received news of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. Independence practically had been won.

Earlier that same year, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union had gone into effect. Under the Confederation, Congress stayed in Philadelphia until 1783, and later met in other cities. In 1787 the Constitutional Convention also held its highly secret sessions in Independence Hall, in the same chamber in which the Declaration had been adopted.

About the same time that Philadelphia became the second Capital (1790-1800) under the Constitution, after the Government had moved from New York City, Independence Hall acquired three new neighbors in Independence Square: City Hall (1791), on the east; County Court House (1789), on the west; and American Philosophical Society Hall, on the southeast. Beginning in 1790, Congress met in the County Court House (subsequently known as Congress Hall). The following year, after sitting for a few days in Independence Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court moved to City Hall. In 1793 George Washington was inaugurated for his second term as President in Congress Hall, and 4 years later President Adams also took his oath of office there.

In 1799 the State government vacated Independence Hall and moved to Lancaster. The next year, the Federal Government relocated to Washington, D.C. The city of Philadelphia then used City Hall and Congress Hall, and various tenants occupied Independence Hall until the city acquired it in 1818. For example, during the period 1802-27 artist Charles Willson Peale operated a museum there. He and his son painted many of the signers and heroes of the War for Independence. These portraits form the nucleus of the park's present collection, which is exhibited in the Second Bank of the United States Building; a special room is devoted to the signers.

Independence Hall
Independence Hall in 1778. (Engraving by an unknown artist, from Columbian Magazine, July 1787, LIbrary of Congress.)

Stately and symmetrical Independence Hall, a 2-1/2-story red brick structure that has been carefully restored, is the most beautiful 18th-century public building of Georgian style in the United States. The tall belltower, reconstructed along the original lines in 1828 by architect William Strickland, dominates the south facade. Smaller two-story, hip-roofed, brick wings, erected in 1736 and 1739 and restored in 1897-98, one of which serves as a park information center, are connected to the main building by arcades.

The interior focus of interest in Independence Hall is the Assembly Room, the eastern one on the first floor. Probably no other room in the United States has been the scene of such political courage and wisdom. In this chamber, members of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention formulated and signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The room is about 40 feet square and 20 feet high. Twin segmental-arched fireplaces along the east wall flank the speaker's dais. Massive fluted pilasters raised on pedestals adorn the paneled east wall. The other three walls are plastered. A heavy Roman Doric entablature borders the plaster ceiling. The furniture arrangement at the time of the Continental Congress has been duplicated. The only original furnishings are the "Rising Sun" chair and the silver inkstand with quill box and shaker used by the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.

Assembly Room, Independence Hall
Restored Assembly Room, Independence Hall, where Members of the Continental Congress adopted and signed the Declaration of Independence. (National Park Service, Robin Miller, 2001.)

The other large room on the ground floor, where the U.S. Supreme Court held sessions for a few days in 1791 and again in August 1796, housed the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and later other State and local courts. The paneled walls are decorated with massive fluted pilasters of the Roman Doric order. The central hall between this room and the Assembly Room is richly adorned with a Roman Doric order of columns and entablature, fully membered. On the second floor are the Long Room, Governor's Council Chamber, and Committee Room. These are furnished to represent the activities of the Pennsylvania legislature and government prior to 1775.

Congress Hall
Congress Hall, seat of the U.S. Congress from 1790 until 1800.. (National Park Service, Robin Miller, 2001.)

The Liberty Bell is a worldwide emblem of freedom. The source of the 2,080-pound bell's name is the "Proclaim Liberty" inscription, engraved on it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges (1701). In 1750 the Pennsylvania assembly authorized erection of the Independence Hall bell tower, and the next year ordered a bell from England. After it arrived in 1752, it was cracked during testing and was twice recast by local workmen. As the official statehouse bell, it was rung on public occasions. In 1777, before the British occupied Philadelphia, the Government moved it temporarily to Allentown, Pa. Traditionally the bell cracked once again, in 1835, while tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall. The exterior appearances of City Hall and Congress Hall have changed little since the 1790's, when many of the signers served in the Government. The interior of Congress Hall has been restored and refurnished as the meeting place of Congress in the 1790's. Exhibits in City Hall describe the activities of the U.S. Supreme Court during the same period of time, and portray Philadelphia life during the late 18th century. Carpenters' Hall, a block east of Independence Square, is still owned and operated by the Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia. The hall memorializes the First Continental Congress and possesses architectural significance.

Carpenter's Hall
Carpenters' Hall, meetingplace in 1774-75 of the First Continental Congress. (National Park Service, Jack E. Boucher)

The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and the oldest learned society in the United States, still maintains its headquarters in Philosophical Hall. Its distinguished membership once included 15 of the signers. The society's collections also contain furniture and documents associated with them.

In the years 1789-91, the Library Company of Philadelphia (organized in 1731), one of the first public libraries in the United States, erected Library Hall, across from Independence Square on the corner of Library and Fifth Streets. Numbering among the members were 11 signers, including company founder Franklin. Library Hall, reconstructed by the American Philosophical Society, now serves as its library. The Library Company is quartered elsewhere in the city.

In addition to the preceding buildings, numerous sites associated with the signers have also been identified within the park. Many of them have been marked. On some, later buildings now stand. In a few instances, the National Park Service has excavated and stabilized foundations. Outstanding among the sites is that of the Jacob Graff, Jr., House, two blocks from Independence Hall on the southwest corner of Seventh and Market Streets. Jefferson was occupying the second floor of the 3-1/2-story brick house when he wrote the Declaration in June 1776. His rented quarters consisted of a bedroom and parlor. He likely did much of his writing on a portable writing desk of his own design. In 1791 the Graff House was also the residence of signer James Wilson. It was demolished in 1883.

Other sites include those of the home (1766-90) and other structures associated with Franklin, on Franklin Court in the block south of Market Street between Third and Fourth Streets; two adjoining homes (1785-90 and 1790-95) of Robert Morris, on the southeast corner of Market and Sixth Streets, one of which was the unofficial Presidential Mansion (1790-1800), where John Adams resided (1797-1800) while President; Clarke Hall, on the south west corner of Chestnut and Third Streets, the residence of Samuel Huntington (1779-81) and Thomas McKean (1781); Benjamin Rush's home (1791-93), on the northwest corner of Walnut and Third Streets; the James Wilson home ("Fort Wilson") (1778-90), on the southwest corner of the same intersection; and City Tavern, near Walnut and Second Streets, a gathering place for members of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, as well as other Government officials.

In connection with the U.S. Bicentennial commemoration, the National Park Service has reconstructed the Graff House and the City Tavern.

The graves and tombs of seven signers are also located in the park. Five (Franklin, Hewes, Hopkinson, Ross, and Rush) are in Christ Church Burial Ground, at the southeast corner of Fifth and Arch Streets; and two (Wilson and Robert Morris) in the yard of Christ Church, on Second Street between Church and Filbert Streets. The graves of Hewes and Ross are unmarked. A rose garden, dedicated in January 1971 to the memory of the signers of the Declaration by the Daughters of the American Revolution, is situated in a plot in the area between Walnut and Locust and Fourth and Fifth Streets.

Buildings and sites in the park that are mainly of interest in other themes of history than that treated in this volume include: the First Bank of the United States; the Second Bank of the United States (Old Custom House); New Hall (Marine Corps Museum); the Pemberton House (Army-Navy Museum); the Philadelphia (Merchants') Exchange; the Bishop White House; the Deshler-Morris House, in Germantown; the Todd House; St. George's Church; St. Joseph's Church; St. Mary's Church; Mikveh Israel Cemetery; and Gloria Dei (Old Swede's) Church National Historic Site.

Graff House
The Graff House about 1855. By this time, alterations had rendered it almost completely unrecognizable from its original appearance. Among other changes, it had been joined to an adjacent building and raised a story higher, more than doubling its size. (National Park Service)

The structures and properties in 22-acre Independence National Historical Park, most of which are open to the public, include those owned by the city of Philadelphia, but administered by the National Park Service. These consist of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, City Hall, and Independence Square. In recent years, to enhance the setting of the area, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has created Independence Mall in the three blocks directly north of Independence Hall. Federally owned buildings include the First and Second Banks of the United States; the Deshler-Morris House, administered by the Germantown Historical Society; Todd House; Bishop White House; New Hall; Pemberton House; and the Philadelphia Exchange.

Among those privately owned buildings whose owners have co-operative agreements with the National Park Service are Carpenters' Hall and Christ Church, both National Historic Landmarks. The American Philosophical Society owns Philosophical Hall, another Landmark and the only privately owned building on the square, but also operates Library Hall, on federally owned land.

In 1948, upon recommendation of the Philadelphia National Shrines Park Commission, Congress created Independence National Historical Park. This act specified the Federal Government's role in the commemoration of existing historic sites and buildings and the acquisition and management of others. The entire undertaking is guided by an advisory commission of distinguished citizens. Many individuals and private and civic organizations have contributed to the preservation and beautification of the park.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004