The room was stiflingly hot. Thomas had done the majority of the drafting in the second-floor parlor he rented from bricklayer Jacob Graff. He had questioned whether he was qualified for a task of such magnitude. He was only 33 after all…but John had convinced him. When he had finished drafting the document, Benjamin and John had seemed pretty impressed with his work. They only made a few edits before they and other members of the Committee of Five, Roger and Robert, submitted it to the larger assembly. The delegation’s representatives began the revision process which carried on over the course of three days. It was a task that no one was taking lightly—the stakes were way too high. The congress finished on the fourth of July, 1776.
Bells rang out over Philadelphia proclaiming the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Only one man signed that day. His name was John, too, although his surname was different from that of Mr. Adams who, with Mr. Franklin, Mr. Sherman, and Mr. Livingston, had counseled Mr. Jefferson. The rest of the signers would have more diminutive signatures making Mr. Hancock’s look rather garish, but securing him a place in history.
This is what I was thinking as our National Parks Service guide gave us an introductory talk before taking us to the famed Assembly Room of Independence Hall where the Continental Congress met from 1775-1783. This was the room where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed, where Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, where the design for the flag was agreed upon, where the Articles of Confederation were adopted, and where the U.S. Constitution was drafted. You can see the chair where George Washington, president of the Constitutional Convention, sat in 1787. The sun painted on it caused Benjamin Franklin to reflect, “I have…looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.”
On your tour, you will also see the courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Within the Independence Hall complex (past the security checkpoint) are three other areas of note: the Great Essentials Exhibit (where treasured documents are kept), Congress Hall (where the U.S. Congress met from 1790-1800 and where the presidential inaugurations of Washington and Adams were held), and the American Philosophical Society (where you can view changing exhibits from their vast collection of rare books and artifacts).
Tickets to Independence National Historical Park are free, but must be obtained in advanced from the Independence Visitor’s Center. For a small fee, you can reserve your tickets online and pick them up before your scheduled entry time. I did this and found the system simple and easy. I loved knowing that I would have my preferred time.
Around the corner of the site is Old City Hall. There isn’t much to see here, but it’s free so you might want to pop your head in see the building and visit the gift shop. To the side is Signers Garden. Check online to see if they will be reading the Declaration of Independence or conducting a muster. The Historic Philadelphia Gazette is a great resource for information. Throughout the historic area of the city, you’ll notice benches where storytellers will spin you a tale—a charming aspect. Individuals roaming around in Revolutionary War Era costume add to the historic drama. Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Link
The neoclassical, Greek Revival architecture of the Second Bank of the U.S. holds a fabulous (and free) portrait gallery with many works by Charles Willson Peale. In the same block as the bank and garden are the New Hall Military Museum and Carpenter’s Hall. Carpenter’s Hall hosted the First Continental Congress. It was also occupied by Franklin’s Library Company, used as a Revolutionary War hospital, performed a stint as the first bank of the U.S., and had many other lives. The history of Carpenter’s Hall is certainly interesting—check out the “who’s who” who occupied the building, as well as more of its history here: http://www.carpentershall.org/history/index.htm
Behind Carpenter’s Hall you’ll find 18th century gardens and charming row houses. Make sure to have reservations for nearby historic restaurant, City Tavern. After enjoying authentic 18th century fare by a renowned chef, you can walk over to Washington Square to see the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier. A few blocks from there you will find the Graff House a.k.a. Declaration House—the place where this story started. Another free site, the second story is designed to replicate the two rooms Thomas Jefferson rented while drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Philadelphia is filled with historical places to visit and there are many more things to do in Philly, but the places listed here will probably take you the better part of a day. In another piece I’ll cover places to visit in Philadelphia including the famed Liberty Bell, historical sites of founding father and important statesman Benjamin Franklin, and other historic treasures.
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