6/16/08 - May 15

In today's excerpt - a tense and awkward juxtaposition at Independence Hall in 1776 -- a building then known as the Pennsylvania State House. During the same period, the the Second Continental Congress was on the ground floor of the Pennsylvania State House, resolving to separate from Great Britain, the rightful tenant of that building -- the Pennsylvania State Assembly -- was meeting upstairs and affirming its loyalty to the Crown:

"With fighting under way between the Americans and the British in New England, the Second Continental Congress and the Pennsylvania Assembly shared Pennsylvania's capitol building. ... Delegates to Congress and members of the Assembly could cross paths in the central hallway. ... Members of either group might encounter [William Penn's descendant] Governor Penn, who met periodically with representatives of the Assembly on the second floor to tend to the routine business of the province. ...

"To the aggravation of the more radical members of the Congress, the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1775 and early 1776 remained dominated by members with strong allegiance to Britain. At the outset of the Second Continental Congress, the Assembly instructed Pennsylvania's delegates to take actions that would best restore 'Union and Harmony between Great-Britain and the Colonies.' Even though American and British troops were at war, the Assembly instructed its delegates to 'dissent from and utterly reject any Proposition ... that may cause, or lead to, a Separation from our Mother Country, or a Change in the Form of this Government.'

"The tension between the Congress and the Assembly reached a breaking point on May 15, 1776. On that day, in an action that John Adams called 'the most important resolution that was ever taken in America,' the Congress recommended that the colonies should form new governments if their present governments were not 'sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs.' Within the walls of the Pennsylvania State House, the action meant that the Congress had invited the extralegal government of Pennsylvania to replace the Assembly meeting upstairs. ...

"The Pennsylvania Assembly did not officially adjourn until the following September, but the work of creating a new state government began in the State House on July 15 with the convening of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. Signifying the revolution that had occurred in Pennsylvania politics, many of the convention delegates were farmers, artisans, soldiers, with only a few delegates of the type of gentlemen who previously occupied the Assembly."


Charlene Mires


Independence Hall in American Memory


Penn Press


Copyright 2002 by the University of Pennsylvania Press


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