Biden speaks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Here is his story.


President Biden gave a speech on “Soul of the Nation” Thursday night in Philadelphia, with its famous Independence Hall as a backdrop. This is far from the first presidential speech in the historic building. Here’s a look at Independence Hall’s origins, transformations, and key moments throughout its 269-year history.

Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence was approved in July 1776 and where the Founders debated and drafted the Constitution in the summer of 1787. It is where the Liberty Bell rang and where George Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army at the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1797 he made his last public appearance as neighboring speaker at Congress Hall – which, along with Independence Hall, is now part of Independence National Historical Park.

Independence Hall began as the Statehouse of Pennsylvania. First commissioned in 1732, it took more than 20 years to build, not because it was so grand – despite being the tallest building in the 13 colonies – but because the provincial government lacked money to finance its construction.

Today, the brick shell of the main part of the building is original, but just about everything else has been replaced or renovated over the centuries – the steeple, the clock, the wings. The Liberty Bell, with its famous creak, is now on display across the street. The current interior was designed to look like it would have looked in the 1700s, but it’s not exactly the space the founders lived in.

Even after the capital moved to Washington, the significance of Independence Hall remained. In 1865, more than 300,000 mourners paid their respects to Abraham Lincoln at Independence Hall, where his body lay in state after his assassination. A few years earlier he had speak just before taking the oath.

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In 1915, former President and future Chief Justice of the United States, William Howard Taft, chaired the Peace Enforcement League there, the predecessor of the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Other presidents who have addressed the room include John F. Kennedy in 1962, Gerald Ford in 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial, and Ronald Reagan in 1987 for the Constitution’s bicentennial, according to Philadelphia’s Tourist Office.

It’s also a popular stopover for presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton spoke there on the eve of the 2016 election.

In a fiery speech on September 1, President Biden explained how extremist Republicans threaten American democracy. Here are the highlights. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Biden focused his speech on threats to democracy from “MAGA Republicans” ahead of the November midterms. Critics who might object to any partisan overtones of Biden’s speech, take note: there are previous recent for a president using a historic site run by the National Park Service to make partisan remarks.

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