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Birthplace of a Nation

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil...."  
    ----- Excerpted from Common Sense by Thomas Paine ----

To many of us who spend our 4th of July at an outdoor barbecue, watching baseball, or in the grips of yet another holiday sale at the mall, the real meaning of Independence Day is easy to lose sight of. It was in 1776 on July 4th that church bells rang out over Philadelphia, signaling that the Declaration of Independence was approved and officially adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

This image of the Declaration is taken from the engraving made by printer William J. Stone in 1823 and is the most frequently reproduced version of the document. The original Declaration, now exhibited in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, has faded badly--largely because of poor preservation techniques during the 19th century. 
The First Continental Congress had convened in Philadelphia nearly two years earlier to address a declaration of rights and grievances to King George III. On May 10, 1775, by the time the Second Continental Congress had convened, the situation had grown much worse. Not only had England done nothing to resolve the American complaints, but armed conflict had broken out at Lexington and Concord, and Congressional delegates were now called upon to direct a war that few desired.

In June of 1776, Henry Lee of Virginia offered a resolution declaring that the colonies should be "free and independent states" and called for the establishment of foreign alliances and a plan of confederation. Congress then appointed a committee to draft a statement to the world presenting the colonies' case for independence. The committee consisted of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft which was presented to the congress on June 28th. After various changes, a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th. Of the 13 colonies, 9 voted in favor of the Declaration, 2 voted against it (Pennsylvania and South Carolina), Delaware was undecided, and New York abstained.

Although the signing of the Declaration was not completed until August -- and even then, a few signatures were still missing --  the 4th of July has been accepted as the official anniversary of U.S. independence. The first Independence Day celebration took place the on July 4th of 1777. By the early 1800s the traditions of parades, pageants, patriotic speeches, and fireworks were established as the way to celebrate America's birthday. It was not declared a legal holiday, however, until 1941. 

Built between 1732 and 1756 as the Pennsylvania capitol, the State House (now Independence Hall) is famous as the place where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the Constitution was drafted. 
Courtesy of National Park Service
Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia commemorates and interprets many of the people, places, and events associated with American independence. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. The cornerstone of the park is Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and where the Constitution of the United States was debated, drafted and signed. A section of the park, where Benjamin Franklin's home once stood, is dedicated to teaching about Franklin's life and accomplishments. The park also interprets events during the years when Philadelphia was the capital of the United States (1790 to 1800). 

Visiting the Park

Although the park is relatively small in total area (45 acres), it includes about 20 historic buildings that are open to the public. The best place to begin is at the visitor center, located at 3rd and Walnut streets. You'll be able to watch the 28-minute film "Independence," obtain park maps (in 12 languages), or have park rangers answer your questions. If you only have a short time to visit the park, the National Park Service recommends that you visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion first. Generally, five to eight hours are needed for a basic visit of the park; two days are required to leisurely visit all the park sites.

Tours of Independence Hall are given approximately every 15 minutes throughout the day. Tours of the Todd House and Bishop White House are available by signing up at the Visitor Center. Rangers offer programs at all other sites on a first- come, first-served basis.

For further information, contact the park at:

313 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 597-8974 - Visitor Information
(215) 597-1785 (TTY)

Three other national parks located within a mile of Independence Hall NHP include the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, and the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church National Historic Site.

Other useful resources:

National Parks in Pennsylvania - explore the state's national parks, from the Allegheny Portage Railroad to Valley Forge.

Revolutionary War Parks - links to other national parks, state parks, and resources on the American Revolution.

Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau  

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention (1774-1789) - from the Library of Congress.

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