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Top Political Sites To See In Philadelphia’s Historic District

Philly is overflowing with centuries of political history

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National Constitution Center
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Having hosted numerous political conventions, including the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the 2000 Republican gathering and the 1948 conventions for all three parties (Democratic, Republican and Progressive), Philadelphia is used to being in the political spotlight.

It was here where disgruntled colonists created a new form of government, and many of the places where those meetings, debates and activities took place still stand.

Here are a few iconic locations with deep-rooted connections to the American political process.

01

Independence Hall

Birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

Independence Hall Independence Hall
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Risking “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” 56 courageous men gathered at the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall, defying both the blistering summer heat of 1776 and the King of England to launch the colonies to independence. Eleven years later, representatives from 12 states convened there to shape the U.S. Constitution, creating a unified nation and designing a form of government never before seen.

Where: Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut Street

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02

The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation

Commemorating the lives of nine enslaved Africans at the nation’s first executive mansion

The President's House attraction in Philly The President's House attraction in Philly
— Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

The paradox of a nation fighting for its freedom while allowing the practice of slavery is told in The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Marking of a New Nation. Built on the remains of the executive mansion where President George Washington resided and held nine enslaved people, the open-air memorial utilizes timelines, videos and archaeological fragments to depict this powerful and challenging story.

Where: President's House, 524 Market Street,

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03

The Liberty Bell Center

Dramatic home of the internationally known symbol of freedom

The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia
— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

The Liberty Bell Center recounts the powerful history of the world’s most famous bell, from its role of summoning lawmakers to session and alerting citizens of public meetings to serving as an international symbol of freedom and justice. The inscription “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” inspired abolitionists in their quest to eliminate slavery, suffragists in their fight for women’s rights and other leaders in their fight for civil rights.

Where: Libery Bell Center, 526 Market Street

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04

Declaration (Graff) House

Where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence

Declaration (Graff) House Declaration (Graff) House
— Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Each night, after delegates argued and debated their next move against King George, Thomas Jefferson retired to his rented rooms in the home of Jacob Graff to contemplate the colonies’ future. In what is known as the Declaration (Graff) House, Jefferson drafted what would become one of the world’s most influential documents, the Declaration of Independence.

Where: Declaration (Graff) House, 2 S. 7th Street

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05

Benjamin Franklin Museum

Revitalized museum dedicated to the life and legacy of America’s favorite Renaissance man

Benjamin Franklin Museum Benjamin Franklin Museum
— Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

America’s favorite Founding Father was also one of the most politically adroit. At the Benjamin Franklin Museum, visitors follow the life of the statesman/diplomat/inventor and his influence in shaping governmental policy in America and abroad.

Where: Benjamin Franklin Museum, 317 Chestnut Street

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06

National Constitution Center

The world’s only museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution

— M. Kennedy for Historic Philadelphia

At the National Constitution Center, visitors experience artifacts, live performances, interactive exhibits and special exhibitions, including one of 12 surviving original copies of the Bill of Rights. It’s the only institution in America where people of all perspectives across the country and around the globe can debate, celebrate and educate themselves about the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution.

Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street

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07

Museum of the American Revolution

An expansive collection of art and artifacts from the nation’s Revolutionary Period

Museum of the American Revolution exterior Museum of the American Revolution exterior
— Photo by J. Fusco for the Museum of the American Revolution

The drama unfolds exhibit by exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution. Three blocks from Independence Hall — the spiritual home of the Revolution — this high-tech exploration into U.S. history reveals the strategic wins, crushing losses and the personal and world-altering consequences of the war.

Where: Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street

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08

Carpenters’ Hall

Meeting place of the First Continental Congress

Carpenters' Hall exterior Carpenters' Hall exterior
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The first organized grumblings of discontent with the British crown bubbled up when delegates from 12 colonies assembled in Carpenters’ Hall for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The contentious meeting resulted in a defiant trade embargo against England and inspired Patrick Henry’s fiery oratory. An acclaimed example of Georgian architecture, Carpenters’ Hall still displays the delegates’ chairs and the original banner carried during the 1788 Constitutional parade.

Where: Carpenter's Historic Hall, 320 Chestnut Street

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09

Independence Square and Independence Mall

The birthplace of American democracy

— G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

Independence Square and Independence Mall have long been the focus of individuals and groups exercising their First Amendment right to address politically charged topics. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke on Independence Square, as did Susan B. Anthony, who interrupted the Fourth of July centennial celebration to deliver the Women’s Declaration. And the first organized gay rights demonstration took place in front of Independence Hall.

Where: Independence Square, 1 N. Independence Mall W.

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10

City Tavern

Colonial America is recreated at this authentic tavern in Old City

City Tavern City Tavern
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

During the summer of 1776, the Founding Fathers wrapped up their daily discussions at the State House and decamped to the City Tavern, where they practiced the fine art of politics over a meal and mug of ale. Reopened in 1976, City Tavern recreates that Colonial dining experience as staff attired in 18th-century dress serve 18th-century victuals and beverages.

Where: City Tavern, 138 S. 2nd Street

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11

Powel House

A luxurious 18th-century mansion that influenced the U.S. Constitution

Powel House Powel House
— Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

When the British army occupied Philadelphia in 1777, they took over the Powel House, under the protests of power couple Elizabeth and Mayor Samuel Powel. Years later, delegates to the Continental Congress of 1787 continued their sometimes vehement debates at the Powel House as they framed the U.S. Constitution. The fourth amendment banning unreasonable search and seizure speaks directly to the Powels’ experience.

Where: Powel House, 244 S. 3rd Street

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12

Second Bank of the United States

— M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Before becoming a gallery featuring more than 100 portraits of 18th- and 19th-century political leaders, military officers, explorers and scientists, the Second Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress in 1816, was the focal point of the banking wars between financier Nicholas Biddle and President Andrew Jackson. Believing the bank was unconstitutional and a threat to republican ideals, Jackson’s anti-bank stance was a critical campaign issue and one reason he defeated opponent Henry Clay in the presidential election of 1832.

Where: Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street

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13

Congress Hall

Home of the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800

Congress Hall Congress Hall
Both Presidents John Adams and George Washington were inaugurated in Congress Hall. — M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia

If the walls of Congress Hall could talk, they’d provide the lowdown on the debates that took place when representatives and senators from the fledgling nation assembled here. Located next to Independence Hall, the House of Representatives met on the first floor, which looks as it did for John Adams’ inauguration in 1797, with desks for 106 representatives from 16 states. The Senate convened on the second floor in more elaborate quarters that boast carpeting adorned with an American eagle encircled by the seals of the United States.

Where: Congress Hall, 526 Chestnut Street

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14

Old City Hall

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From 1790 to 1800, the U.S. Supreme Court met at Philadelphia’s Old City Hall. One of the first rulings on states’ rights was decided here in 1793 when the Supreme Court heard the case of Chisholm versus Georgia. At issue was whether the court had jurisdiction over the state of Georgia and if “the people of the United States form a nation.” Ultimately, it was agreed that Georgia was subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Where: Old City Hall, 504 Chestnut Street

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Independence Hall
The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation
The Liberty Bell Center
Declaration (Graff) House
Benjamin Franklin Museum
National Constitution Center
Museum of the American Revolution
Carpenters’ Hall
Independence Square and Independence Mall
City Tavern
Powel House
Second Bank of the United States
Congress Hall
Old City Hall
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