Independence Hall has been called the birthplace of the United States for many reasons. It is within these walls that the delegates from 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence and where the Constitution of the United States was debated, drafted and signed. During British occupation, Independence Hall was used as a barracks and hospital for American prisoners. The second floor of the building was once home to a museum of natural history, and the basement once served as the city dog pound.
Constructed between 1731 and 1756, Independence Hall originally began as the State House of the Province of Pennsylvania. It consists of a central building with bell tower and steeple, attached to two smaller wings that were demolished in 1811and 1812 and have since been reconstructed. The building is a fine example of Georgian architecture, with understated lines that reveal Philadelphia’s Quaker heritage. Numerous restorations have returned it to its original late18th century appearance.
The bell tower steeple was the original home of the Liberty Bell and today it holds a Centennial Bell that was created in 1876. The original Liberty Bell with its distinctive crack and famous inscription, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” is on display in the Liberty Bell Center.
The historical significance of Independence Hall centers on the Assembly Room, where in 1775 the Second Continental Congress convened. In this room the Congress chose George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775 and adopted and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It also functioned as the first national government. In the same room, the design of the American flag was agreed upon in 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781 and the Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787. Notable figures of that time included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington.
Today the Assembly room is arranged as it was during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when the delegates nailed the windows shut and closed the doors in order to draft and debate the Constitution in private. George Washington’s “rising sun” chair dominates. The original inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and an original draft of the U.S. Constitution are on display in the adjacent West Wing.
Independence Hall is the centerpiece of the 18.2 hectare (45 acre) Independence National Historical Park located in Philadelphia. The Park is home to about 20 buildings of historical significance including Old City Hall, Congress Hall, the First and Second Banks of the United States, the Liberty Bell Center and the site where Benjamin Franklin’s home once stood.
The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are of fundamental importance to American history. But these documents have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations and the United Nations Charter.