Philadelphia – birth of freedom, original location of congress, first supreme court, home of Ben Franklin, and much more. I have been to this great city several years ago, and it was great getting back. It’s narrow downtown streets, quaint shops, fantastic architecture, and very high crime rate make it a city of opposites.
When the First Continental Congress met to decide ways of recovering certain colonial rights and liberties violated by various acts of the British government, Philadelphia was the logical choice for the meeting. The principle city of the colonies, it offered not only all the amenities the delegates needed, but also a central location between the north and south. This was a major consideration in an era of slow, tedious, and sometimes dangerous times.
The congress convened at Carpenter’s Hall in September 1774 and addressed a declaration of rights and grievances to King George III. The delegates also agreed to boycott English goods and resolved that, unless their grievances were redressed, a second congress should assemble the following spring. England did nothing to satisfy American complaints, and by the time the Second Continental Congress gathered the Pennsylvania State House on 10 May 1775, the situations had worsened. Armed conflict had broken out at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, and congressional delegates were now called upon the direct a war which few desired. Reluctantly they moved from protest to resistance, assuming authority over provincial troops at Boston and appointing George Washington Commander in chief "of al continental forces, raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty".
For nearly a year, while fighting continued, Congress sought unsuccesfuly for ways to resolve the despute between England and the Colonies. No demand for independence was made until June, 1776, when Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution declaring "That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States," and calling for the establishment of foreign alliances and a plan of confederation. In response, Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration "setting forth the causes which impelled us to this mighty resolution." Most of the work of the committee fell to young Thomas Jefferson who, basing his draft on the broad foundation of universal human rights, crafted a document, which transcended the politics of the moment. Congress passed Lee’s resolution on 2 Jul, and two days later adopted the Declaration. In 1778 alliance with France legitimized American independence.
A committee organized to cope with the matter of confederation quickly provided a draft report, "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,’ which congress debated intermittently for nearly a year before adopting it as the first constitution of the United States on 15 Nov 1777. Ratified on 1 Mar 1781, the articles of Confederation were more a ‘league of friendship" among independent States than a true act of Union, but they governed the United States from the final years of the way, through the peace negotiations, and into the early years of nationhood. Their failure to provide for a strong central government, however, led to the calling of a "Grand Convention" in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the document. Revision proved impossible and convention delegates set about to create an entirely new charter that would supplant the Articles as the law of the land. The result was the Constitution of the United States. It was formally adopted on 17 Sep 1787, and ratified the next year.
The US Government under the Constitution began in New York City on 4 Mar 1789. In 1790 it came to Philadelphia, the result of a compromise whereby Southern congressmen agreed to support Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s financial proposals in return for locating a permanent capital somewhere on the banks of the Potomac River. Philadelphia was named temporary capital while the new federal city was being prepared.
Many Philadelphians hoped that, once here, they government could be persuaded to stay, and they spared no effort to make it comfortable. The new County Courthouse, on the west side of the State House, was prepared for the use34 of Congress, while the new City Hall, on the east side, was readied for sessions of the Supreme Court. Robert Morris made his elegant mansion available for President Washington and his family.
The decade during which Philadelphia served as the capital was a time of firsts and precedent-setting decisions, including the inauguration of Washington for his second term, the formal addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, and establishment of the Mint and the First Bank of the United states, and the admission of the first new states (Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee) to the union. It was here too that the federal government weathered the first internal threat to its authority (the Whisky Rebellion of 1794) and the first external threats from foreign powers in 1793, French minister Edmund Genet’s disregard of America’s proclaimed neutrality in the war then raging between England and France drew a stern rebuke from the Washington Administration, the first of a series of diplomatic disputes which, 5 years later, ended the Franco-American alliance of 1778 and brought the two nations to undeclared war. The United States and England were also on the brink of hostilities over problems arising out of the 1783 peace treaty and the seizure of American ships. Jay’s Treaty, debated and ratified in congress hall, resolved the difficulties and averted war.