Iconic Landmarks recount Philadelphia’s political history

Published on : Saturday, May 21, 2016

unnamedWhen delegates gather in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention in summer 2016, all eyes will be on the nation’s birthplace. Having hosted numerous political conventions, including the 2000 Republican gathering and the 1948 conventions for all three parties , Philadelphia is accustomed to being in the political spotlight. It was here where disgruntled colonists created a new form of government. Today, many of the places where those meetings, debates and activities took place still stand in Historic Philadelphia, an area that spans from the Delaware River Waterfront to 7th Street and from Vine to Lombard Streets.


Here are a few iconic locations with deeply rooted connections to the American political process:


Declaring Independence:


The first organized grumblings of discontent with the British crown bubbled up when delegates from 12 colonies assembled in Carpenters’ Hall for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The contentious meeting resulted in a defiant trade embargo against England and inspired Patrick Henry’s fiery oratory. An acclaimed example of Georgian architecture, Carpenter’s Hall still displays the delegates’ chairs and the original banner carried during the 1788 Constitutional parade.

Each night, after delegates argued and debated their next move, Thomas Jefferson retired to his rented rooms in the High Street home of Jacob Graff to contemplate the colonies future. In what is known as the Declaration (Graff) House, Jefferson drafted what would become one of the world’s most influential documents, the Declaration of Independence.

Risking “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” 56 courageous men gathered at the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall, defying both the blistering summer heat of 1776 and the King of England to launch the colonies to independence. Eleven years later, representatives from 12 states convened in the same hallowed building to shape the U.S. Constitution, creating a unified nation and designing a form of government never before seen.

When the British army occupied Philadelphia, they took over the Powel House, relegating its protesting owners, Elizabeth and Mayor Samuel Powel, to the servants’ quarters. Years later, delegates to the Continental Congress of 1787 continued their sometimes vehement debates at the Powel House as they framed the U.S. Constitution. The fourth amendment banning unreasonable search and seizure speaks directly to the Powel’s experience.

During the summer of 1776, the Founding Fathers wrapped up their daily discussions at the State House and decamped to City Tavern, where they practiced the fine art of politics over a meal and mugs of ale. Reopened in 1976, City Tavern recreates that Colonial dining experience as staff attired in 18th-century dress serve 18th-century victuals and beverages.

A Fledgling Nation:

If the walls of Congress Hall could talk, they’d provide the lowdown on the debates that took place when representatives and senators from the fledgling nation assembled here. Located next to Independence Hall, the House of Representatives met on the first floor (Lower House), which looks as it did for John Adams’ inauguration in 1797, with desks for 106 representatives from

16 states. The Senate convened on the second floor (Upper House) in more elaborate quarters that boast carpeting adorned with an American eagle encircled by the seals of the 13 original states.

When the Yellow Fever epidemic swept through the city in 1793, President Washington decamped to his country home in Germantown, about 10 miles from Old City. There, at the Deshler-Morris House, also known as the Germantown White House, he met with his cabinet and conducted business, and returned the next year for a summer escape.

One of the first rulings on states’ rights was decided at Old City Hall in 1793, when the Supreme Court heard the case of Chisholm versus Georgia. At issue was whether the central government had jurisdiction over the state of Georgia and if “the people of the United States form a nation.” Ultimately, it was agreed that Georgia was subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court. 5th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov
Before becoming a gallery featuring more than 100 portraits of 18th- and 19th-century political leaders, military officers, explorers and scientists, the Second Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress in 1816, was the focal point of the banking wars between financier Nicholas Biddle and President Andrew Jackson. Strongly believing the bank was unconstitutional and a threat to republican ideals, Jackson’s anti-bank stance was a critical campaign issue and one reason he defeated opponent Henry Clay. C

America’s favorite Founding Father was also one of the most politically adroit. At the Benjamin Franklin Museum, visitors can follow the life of the statesman/diplomat/inventor and his influence in shaping governmental policy in America and abroad.

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