Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Independence Hall in Philadelphia can be considered the birthplace of the United States of America, as it was in this building that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the Articles of Confederation uniting the thirteen colonies were ratified in 1781, and the Constitution setting out the nation’s basic laws was signed and adopted in 1787. The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are of fundamental importance to American history and law and also have a profound impact on law-makers around the world.

Independence Hall was inscribed on the World Heritage list of cultural sites in 1979, based upon it’s meeting of the UNESCO’s definition of outstanding universal value and meeting one of six cultural criteria, namely “to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.”

The building was designed by Andrew Hamilton to house the Assembly of the Commonwealth, or colony, of Pennsylvania. Finished in 1753, it is a modest brick structure with a steeple that was intended to hold a 2,080 pound bell. Built in England, the bell has cracked twice and now stands silently on the ground in a special shelter (a reproduction now hangs in the steeple). This bell, known as the Liberty Bell, is an icon of freedom to both Americans and those around the world who seek self-determination. Its words declare: “Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.”

Independence Hall is important because of the history that has taken place within its walls. The documents that were drafted and debated here subsequently formed the basis of the democratic principles and the democracy of the United States. The cracked Bell still proclaims Liberty and Independence Hall echoes the opening words of the Constitution, “We the People.” The Hall honors the documents whose words have echoed in struggles for self-government and independence around the world.

A lot of America’s colonial, revolutionary, and federal-period heritage is preserved in Philadelphia and Independence National Historical Park. But the Park is not limited to just the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, however. Within an area of 20 city blocks located in the historic district of the City of Philadelphia, the park preserves and interprets many of the nation’s most important resources associated with the establishment of the United States of America. These sites include the First and Second Banks of the United States, Congress Hall, Old City Hall, Carpenters’ Hall, Declaration House, National Constitution Center, American Philosophical Society, and the Free Quaker Meeting House, among others.

The park tells the story of Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, in Franklin Court, where Franklin’s house once stood. One can learn here about the past and present continuing struggle to fulfill the Founders’ Declaration that “all men are created equal.”

The Independence Park Institute offers educational programs that connect participants of all ages to the resources and stories of Independence National Historical Park. With the exception of the National Constitution Center, admission to all park sites is free.

We visited Independence National Historical Park on a hot and steamy June day, just two of thousands of tourists who had come from around the country and even around the world to learn about our nation’s history and founding ideals. I hadn’t visited Independence Hall in Center City since I was a child, and it was like rediscovering an integral and fascinating part of Old City Philadelphia.