The Meeting Place of Congress under the Constitution

Located at the Corner of Chestnut St. and South Independence Mall, Philadelphia, PA 19106


This building to the West of Independence Hall is where the House of Representatives met, on the first floor, and where the Senate met, on the second floor. Before the American Constitution was adopted, the Congress elected one from its own number to serve as its president. This of course changed with the new Constitution. The motivation for two bodies in the new congress was due to a recognition of human selfishness or depravity. James Madison’s minutes of the constitutional convention say that he “was not a little surprised to hear this implicit confidence urged by a member who on all occasions, had inculcated so strongly, the political depravity of men, and the necessity of checking one vice and interest by opposing to them another vice & interest. … To reconcile the gentln. with himself it must be imagined that he determined the human character by the points of the compass. The truth was that all men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”

John Witherspoon, Madison’s teacher at Princeton and delegate to the earlier Continental Congress, took human depravity seriously as he argued in favor of America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation: “There is one thing that has been thrown out, by which some seem to persuade themselves of, and others to be more indifferent about the success of a confederacy—that from the nature of men, it is to be expected, that a time must come when it will be dissolved and broken in pieces.  I am none of those who either deny or conceal the depravity of human nature, till it is purified by the light of truth and renewed by the Spirit of the living God.  Yet I apprehend there is no force in that reasoning at all.  Shall we establish nothing good, because we know it cannot be eternal?  Shall we live without government, because every constitution has its old age, and its period?  Because we know that we shall die, shall we take no pains to preserve or lengthen out life?  Far from it, Sir:  it only requires the more watchful attention, to settle government upon the best principles, and in the wisest manner, that it may last as long as the nature of things will admit.”

Our Founders’ somber assessment of human depravity is affirmed by the Bible in passages such as Romans 3:10, 23, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”