Congress Hall

Congress Hall
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
December 6, 1790 to May 14, 1800

Chestnut St & 6th Street
Philadelphia,  PA 19106

Congress Hall is located on the corner of Chestnut and 6th Streets and was originally built to serve as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. It was designed by architect Samuel Lewis and construction began in 1787 and completed in 1789.  The US Congress, assembled in New York's Federal Hall, passed the An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States, which established a temporary U.S. Capital in Philadelphia from 1790 - 1800.  It was signed into law by President George Washington on July 16th, 1790.  The new Courthouse, consequently, served as the meeting place of the U. S. Congress from December 6, 1790 to May 14, 1800 with the House of Representatives meeting on the main floor, while the Senate assembled upstairs


An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States - image from An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera 
The building was tendered for the purpose of temporarily housing the federal government by the Philadelphia Commissioners.  In this building President George Washington and Vice President John Adams' inaugurations occurred for their second terms. Vice President John Adams presided in the Senate while Speaker Frederick A. Muhlenberg presided over the House of Representatives. In Congress Hall, the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth US Congresses convened until the adjournment of the first session of the Sixth Congress on May 14, 1800.  Sadly, the announcement was also made to Congress of former President Washington's death in this chamber.  Representative Henry Lee would deliver his famous oration to over 4,000 citizens , appropriating, with the modification of a word or two, John Marshall's expression that the dead hero was " First in war, First in peace, and First in the hearts of his countrymen."
On the morning after Christmas Day, the House convened in its chamber in Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Once assembled, the Representatives somberly proceeded to the city’s German Lutheran Church to attend a memorial Joint Session for former President George Washington who had died of a throat infection on December 14 at his Mount Vernon (Virginia) home. Major General Henry Lee—Washington’s military protégé and a Member of the House from Virginia in the 6th Congress (1799–1801)—delivered a spirited oration to an audience of 4,000 mourners including President John Adams and his wife, Abigail. “Where shall I begin in opening your view to a character throughout sublime?” Lee said. “Shall I speak of his warlike achievements, all springing from obedience to his country’s will—all directed to his country’s good?” He then traced Washington’s military accomplishments in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, and his service to his nation out of military uniform—culminating in eight years as the first U.S. President. Washington, Lee intoned, had been “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” At the conclusion of the service, Members of the House returned to their chamber where they adjourned for the remainder of the day.  - US House Historical Highlights


Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200. - Click Here for more information

The structure at Fifth and Chestnut streets was begun after the passage by the Assembly of the Charter of 1789. The large elegant Georgian brick building was finished in 1791 and almost immediately appropriated for the uses of the national government. 


Congress Hall, First Floor, House of Representatives Chamber - Independence National Historical Park Picture
On the first floor, the Speaker of the House sat in a large arm-chair, with a table before him like a toilette, covered with green cloth, fringed. The Speaker's seat was elevated about two feet and was located on the west side of the hall. The members' seats were in three rows of desks, rising one above another in the form of a semi-circle, opposite the Speaker.  These writing-desks were mahogany with large armed chairs with leather liottoms. There are two fire-places, on each side of the hall with stoves. 
There was a good deal of room outside the semicircle, or, as we speak  "without the bar," to which we introduce strangers to hear the debates, and where considerable numbers are always In attendance, as welt as in the gallery, which is at the north end. At the south end, without the bnr. there is an area or half circle with three large windows, looking into a large square or walk, the only mall in the city, and two doors from the hall open into it.
Congress Hall, Interior, Second Floor,  Senate Chamber -  Independence National Historical Park Picture

Theophilus Bradbury, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, wrote his daughter on December 26th, 1795 that:
The Senate chamber is over the south end of the hall; the Vice President's chair is in an area (like the altar in a church) at the south end. The senators' seats, two rows of desks and chairs, in a semi-circle, but not raised from the floor. The floors of both halls are covered with woolen carpets. The lower room is elegant, but the [upper] chamber much more so. Vou ascend the stairs leading to the chamber at the north end, and pass through an entry, having committee rooms on each side; in that on the east side of the Senate chamber is a full length picture of the King of France, and in the opposite room is one of his Queen. . . . They wore presented by the King. There is a building on the cast side of the hall on Chestnut street for offices, connecting the hall with Pennsylvania state-house, in which their General Court is now sitting: this is as large a building as Congress Hall, and these buildings form the north side of the square or mall."  
 According to the US Senate Historian's The Senate Moves to Philadelphia:
A specially woven Axminster carpet, featuring the Great Seal of the United States, covered the plain board floor. The chamber's thirteen windows, hung with green wooden Venetian blinds and crimson damask curtains, provided added daytime illumination, while candles placed on members' desks lit the chamber for rare late afternoon and evening sessions.
The members who inaugurated this chamber were an experienced lot. More than three-quarters had served in the Continental Congress and in state legislatures. Ten had participated in the Constitutional Convention. Nearly half were college graduates; two-thirds had some legal training.
The large back room on the second floor,  known as the Common Council Chamber, is where the Supreme Court of the United States assembled in 1791. Its sessions continued to be held here until August 15, 1800. In Congress Hall sat Chief Justices John Jay, John Rutledge and Oliver Ellsworth. The associate justices, during the ten years, were William Cushing, James Wilson, John Blair, James Iredell, Bushrod Washington, Samuel Chase, Thomas Johnson, William Paterson, and Alfred Moore.

Among the historic events that took place here were the presidential inaugurations of George Washington (his second) and John Adams; the establishment of the First Bank of the United States, the Federal Mint, and the Department of the Navy; and the ratification of Jay's Treaty with England. During the 19th century, the building was used by Federal and local courts. The building, inside and out, has been restored as much as possible to the period of time when the building was the U.S. Capitol.

Capitals of the United States and Colonies of America

Philadelphia
Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
Philadelphia
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Baltimore
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
Philadelphia
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
Lancaster
September 27, 1777
York
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
Philadelphia
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
Princeton
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Annapolis
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Trenton
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
Nov. 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Philadelphia
December 6,1790 to May 14, 1800
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present





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