This exhibit tours historic locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home of Ben Franklin and the U.S. Constitution.
Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” was founded in 1683 by William Penn (1644–1718), who also founded the colony of Pennsylvania. Like Pennsylvania itself, the new city attracted many members of the Quaker faith to which William Penn belonged. The new city had a number of natural advantages: a safe inland port, easy access by river to agricultural lands in the interior, and easy access by sea to New York, Boston, Charleston, and other seaports. Roads in Britain’s North American colonies improved during the 1700s, making Philadelphia’s central location even more important to American life. Its shipbuilding industry flourished, and many of its merchants did well in the West Indies trade. The city was an important staging area for British troops during the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in North America). Because of its size, influence, and central location, Philadelphia also became the center of American government during the American Revolution (1775–1783) and during the early years of the United States. There are many traces in Philadelphia of stirring events from American history. The Independence National Historic Park maintains over 20 museums and other sites that celebrate Philadelphia’s role in American history, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
Independence Square has been a hub of information since colonial times. This open space lay next to the State House, the main government building, and was surrounded by attorneys, printers, and others who had business with the government. Benjamin Franklin lived nearby and walked through this square on his way to the Pennsylvania Assembly or to meetings of the Library Company and other Philadelphia civic groups. Citizens gathered in here to debate whether Pennsylvania and the other North American colonies should break with Great Britain and, in 1776, to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. During the unusually hot summer of 1789, the framers of the United States Constitution strolled out to this space when they needed fresh air. Today the square is part of the Independence National Historical Park.
Independence Hall is the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here, in 1776, that the nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1781, Congress drew up the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first constitution. In 1789, delegates from thirteen new states met here to debate and shape the United States Constitution. This building and the adjoining Congress Hall were the political center of the nation until 1800, when the government of the United States moved to Washington, D.C. Today this building is the focal point of Independence National Historic Park.
National Constitution Center
At the far end of the mall is the National Constitution Center, which inspires active citizenship as the only place where people across America and around the world can come together to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. A private, nonprofit organization, the Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling its Congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a non-partisan basis.” As the Museum of We the People, the Center brings the Constitution to life for visitors of all ages through interactive programs and exhibits. As America’s Town Hall, the Center brings the leading conservative and liberal thought leaders together to debate the Constitution on all media platforms. As a center for Civic Education, the Center delivers the best educational programs and online resources that inspire, excite, and engage citizens about the U.S. Constitution. For more information, call 215-409-6700 or visit constitutioncenter.org.
American Philosophical Library
This modern building is on the site of the Library Company, which was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and a group of his friends. It was the first free library in North America. This building is also a library, operated by the American Philosophical Society. Franklin wrote a proposal for the foundation of this society in 1743. This library and the museum across the street demonstrate the eagerness of middle-class people like Franklin to acquire education. They taught themselves science and tried to keep up with the latest thinking in philosophy, economics, and politics. For example, during the late 1740s Franklin and other Library Company members conducted experiments with electricity. Later, in 1752, Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm and proved that lightning was electrical.
Benjamin Franklin’s house was located on Market Street, near the corner of Fourth Street. There are only traces left of the original structure. To see these traces, visitors can walk through the arched doorway. In the interior court, a “ghost building” outlines where the house once stood. The Benjamin Franklin Museum is also located in this interior court.
Carpenters’ Hall was and is owned by the Carpenters Company of the City and County of Philadelphia, a society of builders. This building is a reconstruction of the original building. Carpenters’ Hall was the site of the First Continental Congress, which convened here in 1774. The purpose of the Congress was to discuss how Britain’s thirteen American colonies should respond to the Intolerable Acts, a new set of British laws that the colonists considered unfair.
President's House Site
During their terms in office, Presidents George Washington (1790–1797) and John Adams (1797–1800) lived in a three-story brick house at the corner of Sixth and Market Streets. Although the original building is no longer there, the public can now walk through a reconstruction of its floor plan and thus imagine the lives of the presidents and their households. The two presidents differed in their styles of living. Washington’s household contained more people, including slaves. Adams did not own slaves. He kept a smaller household and lived more simply than Washington did.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
National Constitution Center