500 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
This building was originally the Pennsylvania State House, but today it is known as the meeting place for the development of our new nation. The Continental Congress began to meet here during its second session in 1775. The city of Philadelphia was selected to host these meetings due to its central location and large population. Because of the Continental Congress’ epic decision for independence in 1776, which we celebrate on July 4th, their meeting place has become known as Independence Hall.
The Declaration of Independence has four references to God:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the cause which impel them to the separation. (See Jeremiah 31:31-37.)
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.... (See Genesis 1:27-28.)
We therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States;.... (See Matthew 25:31-46.)
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. (See Romans 8:28.)
This historic building is more than just the birthplace of independence; it’s also the birthplace of the American Constitution. The Constitutional Convention met here in the summer of 1787 and was presided over by the victorious general George Washington. The founding documents of America were discussed and debated in the eastern chamber on the first floor of the building. In this room you can see a chair with an ornate carving of the sun on its back. This is the seat where Washington sat while presiding over the convention. Benjamin Franklin said he often contemplated the sun on Washington’s chair. With the signing of the newly framed Constitution Franklin declared, “I now have the happiness to know it is a rising, not a setting sun.”
Before Franklin was able to make such a positive Declaration, the assembly endured many long days of difficult debate. On June 28, 1787 the Convention arrived at such an impasse that Franklin called for a day of prayer. He reminded the delegates that years before, during the American Revolution, it had been a regular practice to pray during their time of need, seeking God’s aid. He said it was time for the delegates to follow their own example from before in the same room. To buttress his call for prayer, he appealed to passages from the Bible. He reminded the delegates of Psalm 127:1 which says “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (NIV). He also appealed to Matthew 10:29 reasoning that if God sees even the sparrow fall to the ground, how much more he would notice an empire rising to power. So it has been the custom of the American Congress from the beginning to have a chaplain lead the meetings in prayer on behalf of the country and its representatives.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
The chamber on the west side of Independence Hall is the location of the original Pennsylvania supreme court. One of its judges was John Morton, a Pennsylvanian with Finnish lineage. As a member of the Pennsylvania delegation chosen to address independence, he found himself in the position of having to cast the deciding vote for Pennsylvania either for or against independence since two were in favor and two were opposed. By casting his vote in favor of independence, Pennsylvania committed itself to the cause of liberty, leading other states to follow its example. John Morton was the first of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to die, passing away from natural causes just months before the Battle of the Brandywine in 1777. He is buried in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.
For Morton and his fellow Pennsylvania delegates, including Benjamin Franklin, to serve on behalf of the colony, they had to take a religious test that declares: "I [name] do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, one God blessed for evermore; and do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration." (For a Biblical text that teaches that the Scriptures are inspired, see 2 Timothy 3:16-17.) While such religious tests have been ended by the U.S. Constitution, the role of the Bible in the courtroom has not.
The procedures in the courtroom during Morton’s day, even until today, have called upon witnesses “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God” with the witness’ hand upon the Bible as testament to the veracity of his witness. George Washington spoke strongly in favor of the use of placing witnesses under oath in legal proceedings in his farewell address at the end of two terms as President under the Constitution. He declares, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
The second floor of Independence Hall is a large open room that served many purposes including banquets and dances. It also has offices where the original Pennsylvania governors worked. But in the time of the British occupation of America when the American soldiers were living in huts at Valley Forge, it was used by the British as a hospital for captured American soldiers. These heroes, many of whom died of illness in the makeshift hospital, were buried in unmarked graves in nearby Washington Square. This reminds us that while freedom is a great gift from God (Leviticus 25:10), it has ever required men of courage to defend it. These men believed the truth of Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (KJV).