Independence Hall, Philadelphia


William Penn was a man of vision. When, in 1682, Thomas Holme surveyed for him the site of Philadelphia, the Quaker pioneer gave instruction that ” the Centre Square,” one mile from the Delaware, be set apart for the public buildings of the city and colony.

But for many years after the founding of the city, Centre Square was far out in the country. During these years temporary public buildings were provided for official meetings, including the Assembly, but in 1728 steps were taken to erect a suitable public building within reach of the people of the young city. Ground was bought on Chestnut Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, and the State House was begun in 1730. The total cost of the building was $16,250. Two wings were added in 1739 and 1740; these cost some $12,000 more.

Two years after the completion of the main building the Pennsylvania Assembly passed an act in which this statement was made:

“It is the true intent and meaning of these Presents, that no part of the said ground lying to the southward of the State House, as it is now built, be converted into or made use of for erecting any sort of Building there-upon, but that the said ground shall be enclosed and remain a public open Green and Walks forever.”

Eighty years after the passage of the act an attempt was made to divert the State House yard to other purposes. In a curious old document, dated February 6, 1816, W. Rawle and Peter S. Duponceau made an argument against this diversion, showing conclusively that the State House Square had been ” irrevocably devoted to the purpose of an open and public walk.” Thanks to their efforts and the efforts of others who have labored to the same end, the grounds are to-day, and must forever remain, open to the use of the people.

The first public function held in the new State House was a banquet, given in the ” long room,” in the second story. Of this Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette of September 30, 1736, said :

” Thursday last William Allen, Esq., Mayor of this city for the past year, made a feast for his citizens at the State House, to which all the strangers in town of note were also invited. Those who are judges of such things say that considering the delicacy of the viands, the variety and excellency of the wines, the great number of guests, and yet the easiness and order with which the whole was conducted, it was the most grand, the most elegant entertainment that has been made in these parts of America.”

The builders were dilatory. It was 1736 before the Assembly was able to hold its first session in the chamber provided for it, and not until 1745 was the room completed. Three years more passed before the apartment intended for the Governor’s Council was ready for its occupants.

In 1741 the tower was built, and on November 4 Edmund Wooley sent to the Province of Pennsylvania an interesting bill, ” for expenses in raising the Tower of the State House “:

Provision was made in 1750 for the extension of the tower for the accommodation of a bell, and on October 16, 1751, the Superintendent of the State House sent a letter to the colonial agent in London. In this letter he said :

” We take the liberty to apply ourselves to thee to get us a good bell, of about two thousand pounds weight, the cost of which we presume may amount to about one hundred pounds sterling, or, perhaps, with the charges, something more. . . . Let the bell be cast by the best workmen, and examined carefully before it is shipped, with the following words well-shaped in large letters round it, viz:

” ` By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania, for the State House in the city of Philadelphia, 1752,’

” And underneath,

“‘ Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof—Levit. XXV. 10.’ ”

When the new bell was hung it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper. Isaac Norris wrote :

” We concluded to send it back by Captain Budden, but he could not take it on board, upon which two ingenious workmen undertook to cast it here, and I am just now informed they have this day opened the Mould and have got a good bell, which, I confess, pleases me very much, that we should first venture upon and succeed in the greatest bell cast, for aught I know, in English America. The mould was finished in a very masterly manner, and the letters, I am told, are better than [on] the old one. When we broke up the metal, our judges here generally agreed it was too high and brittle, and cast several little bells” out of it to try the sound and strength, and fixed upon a mixture of an ounce and a half of copper to one pound of the old bell, and in this proportion we now have it.”

But when the bell was in place it was found to contain too much copper, and Pass & Stow, the founders, ” were so teazed with the witticisms of the town,” that they begged to be allowed to recast it. In June, 1753, this third bell was hung, and in the following September the founders were paid £60 13s. 5d.

In 1752 arrangements were made for a clock. The works were placed in the middle of the main building, immediately under the roof. These were connected by rods, enclosed in pipes, with the hands on the dial plates at either gable. Early views of the State House show these dials. The cost of the clock, which included care for six years, was £494 5s. 51 /2d.

During the twenty years that followed the installation of the clock and the bell the State House became a civic centre of note; but not until the stirring events that led up to the Revolution did it become of special interest to other colonies than Pennsylvania. On April 25, 1775, the day after news came to Philadelphia of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the great bell sounded a call to arms that was the real beginning of making the building a national shrine. In response to the call eight thousand people gathered in the Yard to consider measures of defence. On April 26 the newspapers reported that ” the company unanimously agreed to associate for the purpose of defending with arms their lives, liberty, and property, against all at-tempts to deprive them of them.” This determination of the people was soon sanctioned by the Assembly, and Pennsylvania prepared to raise its quota towards the Army of the Revolution.

On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in the Assembly Chamber, and took action that made inevitable the adoption of the Declaration of Independence the next year. On Friday, June 7, 1776, in the Eastern Room on the first floor of the State House, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following :

” Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

At the same time the Pennsylvania Assembly was considering, in the chamber upstairs, what instruction to give to its delegates. When the Assembly adjourned the Continental Congress removed to the upper room. There, on July 2, the Virginian’s motion was carried. Later the Declaration itself was adopted, and on July 4, it was

” Resolved, that Copies of the Declaration be sent to the several assemblies, conventions, and committees or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the Continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of the United States and at the head of the army.”

It was ordered that the Declaration be proclaimed from the State House on Monday, July 8, 1776. On that day the State House bell sounded its glad call; for the first time did it indeed ” proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there-of.” And in the hearing of those who gathered in response to its call the Declaration was read.

From that day the State House has been known as Independence Hall, while the State House Yard has become Independence Square.

The sittings of Congress in Independence Hall were interrupted by the approach of the British. For five months the building was used as a British prison and hospital. But on July 2, 1778, Congress returned; the building once more belonged to the nation.

The building became more than ever a national shrine when, in 1787, the Constitutional Convention met there. On September 17, 1787, the votes of eleven States were recorded in favor of the Constitution, and Benjamin Franklin, looking toward a sun which was blazoned on the President’s chair, said of it to those near him, ” In the vicissitudes of hope and fear I was not able to tell whether it was rising or setting; now I know that it is the rising sun.”

In 1790, the Congress of the United States met in the western portion of the buildings on the Square, erected in 1785 for the Pennsylvania Assembly.’ This building was, by that body, offered to Congress and accepted for the term of ten years, until the Capital should be removed to the shore of the Potomac.

During these ten years, and for thirty-five years more, the Liberty Bell continued to sound notes of joy and of sorrow. On July 8, 1835, it was tolling for Chief Justice Marshall. When the funeral procession was on Chestnut Street, not far from Independence Hall, the bell cracked. Since that day it has been mute.

The passing years have brought many changes to Independence Hall, as well as to the Liberty Bell. The bell cannot be renewed, but the historic building and the Square have been restored until they present essentially the appearance of the days of 1776. The chief difference is in the steeple. The present steeple was built in 1828. It is much like the old steeple, but a story higher.

As the visitor passes from room to room of the venerable building, and examines the relics and studies the portraits of the great men who gathered there so long ago, his heart is stirred to thankfulness to those who dared to call a nation into being, and he cannot but think that it is good to live for one’s country.