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The library building adjacent to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. | by denisbin
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The library building adjacent to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia. Although the largest and oldest city of Pennsylvania, it is not the capital- that is Harrisburg (pop. 500,000.) which became the capital in 1812. Philly, as it is known, has 1.5 million people but the metropolitan area has 5.5 million. The city is the fifth largest in the USA. Nearly half of the 1.5m inner city population are African Americans. The city straddles the Delaware River (named after the local Indian tribe) and the Schuylkill River. It started out as part of William Penn’s Commonwealth (i.e. Pennsylvania is not a state, like Massachusetts) but prior to this Dutch (hence Schuylkill) and Swedish traders had settlements here. The Quaker Penn founded his Commonwealth in 1682 to provide religious toleration for all, including Catholic Calverts, Dutch Mennonites (now called Amish) and many German settlers. The city grew as a trading centre and by the time of the troubles that led to the War of Independence in the 1770s it was the largest city of the colonies with around 30,000 inhabitants. (At that time Boston had around 18,000 inhabitants, and New York, 22,000 residents) Because of its geographic location mid way between Massachusetts and the Carolinas it became the focal point for the War against England. The first and second Continental Congresses to discuss grievances against the English were held in Liberty Hall in Philadelphia, and Philadelphia became the national capital in 1790 until that was moved to Washington DC in 1799. It was the leading financial, trading and cultural centre of 18th century America.

 

Benjamin Franklin was a leading citizen of Philly. He became a Founding Father, and was a noted scientist (electricity), inventor (the lightening arrestor) and philosopher. He edited the local newspaper that helped to incite fury against the British. During the War of Independence he was the Ambassador to France securing financial and other assistance for the rebelling colonies. In his day he was esteemed second to Washington in the New Nation. He was the first US Post Master and is depicted on the $100 note.

 

During the War of Independence the British twice attacked Philadelphia. The Continental Congress which was meeting there fled to Baltimore and General George Washington defeated the English at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. The British attacked again in 1777 and then the Continental Congress fled to Lancaster; Washington was beaten at the Battle of Brandywine (near Wilmington) and the citizens of Philadelphia fled. The French helped the Americans drive the English out 10 months later! Some of the old cobblestone streets that would have witnessed this drama still exist in Philadelphia. The Historic City area was declared a National Monument in 1972.

 

Independence Hall. The ‘Founding Fathers’ were wealthy businessmen and politicians from all the colonies. It was an unheard of thing and revolutionary for the colonies to come together to discuss any issue. However, these business men and politicians were furious about the Boston Tea Party (the tax on tea) and other trading issues. Their first meeting, named ‘First Continental Congress’ was in 1774 and they agreed upon a set of resolves and petitioned George III, expressing loyalty but wanting their grievances remedied. Those present included Washington, John Dickinson (we visit his plantation later), Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, etc. At the Second Continental Congress in 1775 they established a Continental Army, and after a yearlong deliberation, agreed upon and signed the Declaration of Independence. The declaration was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson. It was signed in Philadelphia on 4th July 1776. The Founding Fathers met here again in 1787 to draft the formal Constitution which was later ratified by the colonies. After independence the meeting was known as the Confederation Congress. After the peace treaty with England in 1783 it became known as the Articles of Confederation. Almost all meetings were held in Philadelphia. Once the failures of the style of weak national government known as the Articles of Confederation were realised the politicians met again to formulate a Constitution with much stronger national powers. The first Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution was primarily written by James Madison (a later President from 1809-17.) It took several years before the required 9 colonies of the original 13 had ratified it. The United States with a Congress came into operation in 1789. Washington was the first President. The old Pennsylvania colonial Assembly Hall which became the Continental Congress is now known as Liberty Hall. It is a great example of American Georgia style architecture.

 

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Taken on October 3, 2012