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Independence Hall

Independence Hall
Independence Hall

Chestnut between 5th and 6th Sts.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in secret to approve Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Indepedence, and thus a new nation was born. Not that Jefferson acted like July 4 was a historic day. Instead, he went shopping (starting another American traditional: shopping on holidays).

It wasn't until July 8th that the signing of the Declaration of Independence was announced. The Sherriff of Philadelphia County was sent to read the Declaration to the crowd that had gathered behind Independence Hall. His name: Colonel John Nixon. A certain 20th century President claimed to be a descendent of Colonel Nixon. Maybe you can guess which one.

This was also the first time fireworks were launched in honor of Independence. Thirteen rockets were fired, along with thirteen cannons in the harbor.

More than a decade after this joyous occasion, a much different group met in Independence Hall. The new nation of independent states was in a tense situation, arguing over trading rights and boundaries. Washington chaired this potentiallly failing effort to unify the country. This time, they locked the doors, nailed the windows shut and met through the heat of a Philadelphia summer. Lo and behold, they devised a new form of government, and at the end of the summer, they came up with the Constitution. According to legal scholars, this document is one of America's most successful exports, as over two hundred democracies have borrowed from it to establish their form of government.

In that fall of 1787, it was questionable whether the Constitution would pass at all. One of Pennsylvania's parties was dead set against it, but they did not hold a majority in the Assembly. The Republican party held a slight majority, and wanted the Constitution approved. When the opponents would not attend the Assembly to prevent a quorum, the Republicans had the sergeant at arms go into the street and physically drag two of the opposition into the State House and, on September 28, the Constitution passed. This was one of the earliest examples of Republicans "getting out the vote."

Inside the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall, 1st floor), an alternate delegate just arrived from Virginia was presenting his credentials to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress. John Adams had his first look at this promising young lawyer, Thomas Jefferson, whose reputation as an excellent writer in the Virginia Assemby preceded him to Philadelphia. Despite his legal defense of the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre, Mr. Adams was already a prominent force for independence in the Congress.

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