tv American Artifacts CSPAN November 25, 2016 12:43pm-1:39pm EST
became a museum. one of the reasons this building is a national historical landmark, one of the reasons that it is such an important building in the history of the united states is because it does put us in touch with this 400-year history. it's a constant reminder that our history begins far to the south. that our history has enormous roots that reach into mexico, into spain and it's a great symbol of the hispanic history of the united states. the roots that we have in this countr country. >> to mark the centennial of the national park service, american history tv is featuring historic sites and national parks from c-span cities tour. for more information about our travels, check out our web site, cspan.org/citiestour. you're watching american history
tv all weekend and on holidays, too, only on c-span 3. each week american history tv's american artifacts visits museums and historic places. next we travel to independence national historical park in philadelphia to visit the assembly room inside independence hall where both the declaration of independence and the u.s. constitution where debated and essentially signed this program featuring national park service ranger matthew ifill is about one hour. >> we are in a building that is built in the 1730s, so about 40 years before there is any such thing as a united states of america and at that time, of course, pennsylvania was a british colony and this was its capital building. they would make laws for pennsylvania and each of the 13 colonies has its own governments and these are the issues in a lot of ways that will lead to
the creation of the united states, most of which is going to happen in this room because the colonies as time goes forward, at least the people of the political class, will start to grow dissatisfied with the way the brissish government is treating them, is affecting their lives locally and, of course, one of the other side issue as americans living in colonies don't get to vote in british elections so when the parliament in london makes laws for americans, the most famous being taxes and such that you get to learn about in school we're going to say this is taxation without representation and it's that idea that you're not getting the voice. thomas jefferson would write in the declaration of independence about government existing with the consent of the governed and meshes are feeling like they're not getting that consent and especially when it starts disappearing locally as well as connected with the home country
in london and britain that they're really going to get this growing dissatisfaction. so this room is long in use by pennsylvania but by 1775 pennsylvania will essentially be inviting the continental congress into their space. the continental congress had met in philadelphia about a year earlier although they chose not to meet here at independence hall that year, they met down the street at carpenters hall. the first set of meetings, what we call, the first continental congress is this sit down and an idea of expressing to the british government what would be under british constitution bill of rights at that time, this notion of redressing grievances that we would have as british subjects and ultimately t lly t write to the king and say look, we are loyal british subjects in
america but these things are happening, we have these grievances over these loss of rights, this loss of our connection with the government, the fact that, they're taking away some of our local government, they're closing down our local courts, they're giving us these rules to follow that we have no say. so they write this letter to the king which, again, perfectly within your rights under british law and they also agree as a group on an association that these 13 colonies will kind of work together in future on these big issues. so what's going to happen is they go home after that set of meetings in the fall of 1774 because obviously communicating across the ocean in the late 1700s is going to take a little while so they're not going to come back to philadelphia until the spring of 1775. however things have changed in those few months in the area of boston you're going to have battles in the towns of
lexington and concord in april. so when congress is coming back here to philadelphia, this is sort of the news. they're actually finding out in some way about some of the conflict that has begun. so suddenly things being a lot more serious leads to more serious circumstances when congress starts to meet in this room in may. the first big thing they're going to tack is this notion of, again, working as a group, but the idea of maybe fighting for those rights, of actually taking that militia minuteman army up around boston and making it an american army, they called it the continental army. so in june of 1775, one of the first really big steps that's going to be taken as far as changing the world, if we want to say that, is going to be creating this continental army, this american army, 13 separate colonies that have always sort of run their lives separately
and for years had not necessarily resisted working together but it never particularly worked out that they all wanted to work together at the same time. they finally create this army june 14, 1775, taking the beginnings of the army up in boston that had fought against the british already, making it the american army and then to me most importantly picking george washington to be the commander of that army. now i think that is really one of the most important decisions made in this room because if you think about the way this war will go for the young united states, it's eight and a half years. george washington will be the only commanding general we will have for all of those years and at the end he will succeed. now, of course, back in 1775 they're still figuring out what they're fighting for so that leads to one last letter to the king. we call this one the olive branch petition and it, again, like they had done before, starts off with the idea that we
are loyal british subjects fighting for our rights, again going, following the chain of command in britain to the king to ask he assist us in redressing these write is a declaration called the declaration of the causes and necessity of taking up arms. now both of these things are going to be written in july. and again, it is just essentially putting out there to the world exactly what we are looking to do, to basically correct this situation that we feel has gone against us and that our rights are being threatened or taken away. well, unfortunately, the british government in london will decide that they're not going to really communicate with the continental congress. the king himself will announce that there is this rebellion in america, and the british government will essentially issue this letter to americans that says, if you're going to be involved in this rebellion, we're going to view you as a
traitor and the crime of treason, of course, as serious then, as now, could very well lead to a death penalty. so by early 1776, that news gets to philadelphia. so we're now half a year-plus into the war, and it is getting very clear that negotiating, talking, isn't particularly solving anything. of course, you do have this very radical bent of men that are in this room that are pushing more and more towards this idea of independence and finally you get the last big push which is thomas payne's book, "common sense," actually published here in philadelphia in january of 1776 selling tens of thousands of copies through the colonies. payne's simple argument is we don't even need those guys in london. we're better off on our own over here. we can run america better than the british ever could. and so this idea of independence
kind of swells through that spring. by june, virginia introduces a resolution for american independence. but they decide to not address it right away if june. they are going to want to consult their home governments, their colonies or states, if we want to start calling them that, because we are getting to that point. but at the same time they kind of want to put something on paper. so while they're each consulting home to see what home says they should do, they're also going to form this five-man committee. john adams of massachusetts who's probably in a lot of ways one of the most significant guys in congress those early days. he is really pushing for that creation of the army in 1775. also the navy in the fall of 1775. he's pushing in the spring of 1776 that each of the colonies write its own constitution which
is, again, another step towards independence that each colony sort of getting rid of that hold charter that they'd had from the british government, their old constitution, so to speak, in creating a new independence constitution. so he's one of the leaders in a lot of this movement. also on the committee is a man named robert livingston of new york who actually goes back ten years to the meetings held over the stamp taxes. you have a man from connecticut named roger sherman who's going to end up signing not only the declaration of independence, the united states constitution, but also the articles of confederation. there is only two men who can make that claim. so he is on our committee. benjamin franklin from right here in philadelphia, who is far and away, i would say, the most famous american at the time. 70 years old, oldest man in congress. one of the younger men in congress is our fifth member, of course thomas jefferson, 33 years old but kind of that
growing reputation for his writing and his political thought. and the committee sort of sitting deciding what they want to say decides jefferson should be the writer. so he works then for about 17 days on the declaration of independence. and he will especially go to john adams and benjamin franklin for some of their ideas and critiques of his writing. but generally it is his work. he is building on a lot of other things that both he and others had written. some of the grievances that the growing reputation for his writing and his political thought. and the committee sit, deciding what to say, decides jefferson should be the writer. so he works then for about 17 days on the declaration of independence, and he will
especially go to john adams and benjamin franklin for some of their ideas and critiques of his writing. but generally it's his work. he's building on a lot of other things that both he and others had written. some of the grievances they'd already been talking about make up the big bulk of that declaration of independence. by june the 28th, the declaration is sort of back here in the assembly room. but that's a friday. they'll wait until the next monday to start debating. so july the 1st begins debate on independence. now, the first thing they'll debate is not the declaration but the idea. so they'll start discussing, is this really the best idea for us to do. should we become these free and independent states? most of the men in the room are at that point where they're ready to make this step. but there are others that aren't loyal. they'll not have loyalists in the continental congress. they wouldn't want anything to do with it. but they are men that are more conservative saying this may not be such a good idea. john dickinson is probably the most important of them. he was years earlier, the author of the letters of a pennsylvania farmer, which is again against some of those various taxes and acts, stamp taxes and so on. he's probably one of our best known political writers of the day. but he's sort of pulling back saying the idea is how are we going to win a war against the british? this doesn't seem like the best idea in the world to declare our independence because this cuts off any chance of negotiating with the british. others might look at the idea we don't really have anybody helping us. again, britain is one of the great powers of the world. america is maybe 3 million people and certainly there's a good chunk of them remaining
loyal to the crown. there will be battles in this war after all with just americans on both sides. so there's some saying maybe we should slow down but most of the men are ready to move forward. so on july 1st, they'll hold a nonbinding committee of the whole vote. the vote is on the question of being free and independent states. now, here's how voting works in the continental congress. you have 13 states or colonies, depending on your time period. each gets an equal vote. so one vote per state. they have different numbers of men at each table. some states allow their delegates to decide amongst themselves. some states will give their delegates specific instructions. so here in the room on july the 1st, you're going to have nine of the delegations voting yes that we should be free and
independent states. two will vote no, and two will be either divided or not voting. new york is still waiting for their formal instructions from home so they're not going to technically vote at all. delaware is divided. they have two of their delegates in the room. one for, one against. so they're divided. pennsylvania and south carolina are going to vote no. so on the rest of the first and into the second, because the second is the day they want to take the binding vote, the official vote, the politicking is we want to try to make this unanimous. now, new york they're going to sort of ignore because they haven't gotten any instructions. new york's going, we have to wait until they tell us what to do. delaware fortunately has a third delegate. he's at home. they call for him to get here. he rides overnight through the storm. if you did the state quarters, you would notice delaware has a guy riding on a horse, his name is caesar rodney.
so he gets up here from delaware on the 2nd to vote and break the tie and make delaware's vote a yes for independence. then pennsylvania and south carolina. south carolina has three delegates. we assume that it's 2-1 and they manage to get one of the guys to switch his vote. so south carolina will be on board. and pennsylvania is more complicated. they've got one of the bigger delegations. so when that vote goes south for pennsylvania, they'll convince two of the guys to just sort of walk away when they're ready to make the final vote so it can be unanimous. they don't have to vote against how they feel. john dickinson is one of those that actually will sort of not vote amongst the pennsylvania delegates. so instead of a one-vote loss, it becomes a one-vote win and now it's 12-0. we ignore new york at the moment. so on july 2nd of 1776 they'll vote more or less unanimously
with new york kind of waiting to approve the notion of being free and independent states. that's a day john adams would write to his wife and say, this is what we should celebrate with parades and fireworks and speeches and so on. sadly for poor july 2nd is never gets remembered because the rest of that day, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th are the days of debating on the declaration of independence. now, the declaration is about four pages long. they're going to go through more or less every word. they'll make a significant number of changes, but they'll not change the basic nature of a lot of what jefferson writes. they'll add some words here and there. the most famous part for most of it is the opening paragraph or two. most of that remains intact. the early listing of grievances, the things that we've been talking about for several years as far as what we're worried
about the british doing. most of that remains intact. probably the most famous section that gets changed is the section about the slave trade. specifically slave insurrections is another part of that. one of the big arguments that virginia makes is, their governor essentially said in the leading days of the war that slaves should basically kill their masters and seek their own freedom. which for a slave-holding state, slave insurrection is a very frightening thing. that's very much on the mind of jefferson. this idea of slave insurrections, bringing more slaves into america becomes more of that. we don't want more slaves we have to worry about in these kind of days. so he kind of goes after the slave trade, blames the king for importing these folks, and that is a bit controversial in this room. because you do have a fair number of slave holders and
slave holding states that kind of don't want to talk about this. it does get put aside. it's not an attack on slavery so to speak, but some of these things worried about the british doing that would affect lives in america. so at any rate as you get into july 4th, they are going through pretty well every bit of that declaration of independence, but they finally take a little out, adding some words here and there. they get to something that all of the men in this room representing all of the 13 states can agree. and they are ready to vote. on the 4th, it's 12-0 with again new york waiting. and so july 4th becomes, for americans, our day of independence because it's the day we literally had something concrete to hold up to the world. this was the day we said, here's what we're fighting for. right here. there's a long list.
and again, when we look at the declaration of independence, we focus on that top, that opening section. all men are created equal. the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. for them, really it's that list of reasons why they were doing this. it justified independence. it justified a war against their own government, which essentially is what this started out being. and it basically said it's the british fault for this. this is all the things they did that are really not legal by the british constitution and british bill of rights. we're just acting the way we have to act because we got to this point where we can't stay under this rule anymore. they had something on july 4th they voted yes and voted right away to send it out. they said, we want this to go to states and the army and let people know what we're fighting for. that's really what they needed. because if you pull back to the big picture in the summer of 1776, we're not winning the war.
the british army is invading new york. that summer, massive invasion. hundreds of ships, tens of thousands of men sweeping down through long island, manhattan and into new jersey. by fall of 1777, the british army is sitting in this very room. they capture philadelphia. washington and his army spend their winter at valley forge. so those early years, those early days are not good ones for the young united states. but we had a declaration of independence we can hold and announce to the world what we're fighting for. and we had a general in washington that would keep going in those difficult days. we had an army that managed to survive those bad winters at places like valley forge and we managed to sort of keep ourselves going. long enough that we can make changes. before we get to that, one other thing about our declaration of independence about this room that people expect is that i will tell you they sign the declaration of independence right behind me on the 4th of july. well, sadly, they didn't.
it probably, the simplest explanation is nobody thought about it that day. they hadn't gotten to the point of preparing a nice fancy handwritten one. they wanted the words agreed to. they wanted it voted on and they wanted people to read it. they actually sent it to a printer. the oldest are printed on a printing press and have no names on the bottom. jump ahead a couple weeks to the middle of july. one of the men here in july will make a proposal that we -- the word they use is engross the declaration of independence. make a formal written version and then it be signed by the delegates. i'm sure most of the men said, why didn't we think of that sooner? naturally, that's a really good idea. so they're going to have it handwritten. and by the beginning of august, it's done and checked over. they make sure it's all right. they'll start signing. about 50 guys sign it on august 2nd. a few more over the next couple of weeks. one guy might not be for a
couple more years because he wasn't here for a while as a member of congress. that's the one if you go to washington, d.c., national archives, that's the one most of us think of as the declaration of independence. but it's one that we, like everything they're going to do here in this room is one that we get to by process rather than by some master plan at the beginning. they are making it all up as they go along and figuring it out as they go. the other big thing that's going to happen late that year of 1776, benjamin franklin is going to go to france. and he is going to be the guy that's going to help convince france to come into the war on our side. and while the british army is actually in this room, in early 1778, benjamin franklin is signing a peace treaty with france. that's changing the whole nature of the war. because the british suddenly find they have to worry about a french navy.
the united states doesn't have much of a navy to threaten the british fleet, but france does. so they have to worry about that. the british have to worry about being invaded. certainly guys like benjamin franklin working with lafayette in france work on the king to try to get some invasion of england going. you'll have to worry if you are great britain about islands in the caribbean, you'll be fighting in asia, africa, all over the world. so a lot of resources suddenly aren't coming here to north america which makes george washington's life easier. we'll get money from france. we'll get supplies from france. we'll get eventually french troops, plus that french navy. if you think of our victory at yorktown, probably the biggest of the war, we're probably not going to get that victory without the french navy. so eventually the war slowly, and it is slowly, turns in our favor. 1783, back in paris, john adams and benjamin franklin sign a peace treaty.
so it's really back in 1783 that the continental congress can finally breathe that sigh of relief and know that we actually have achieved this american independence which would be nice if that's the end of our story, but of course there's more to do. go back 1776. each colony, each state writes its own constitution. each one is different. each one has its own sets of government and laws. i'll use pennsylvania. this room was pennsylvania's legislature. pennsylvania decides to write a constitution that's so radical for its day they get rid of the position of governor. they're not going to have really a chief executive for pennsylvania anymore. they'll have a fairly democratically run one-house legislature as opposed to the standard two houses that most of the states are going to use,
that the united states knows throughout its history. pennsylvania has a very different setup. it proves to be too radical to work. and it's only going to last about 14 years. they'll have to redo it and go to the traditional governor, two houses of legislature setup. but this is the idea in 1776, each of these states is going to start itself over. now the problem is, being all a little bit different, and one of my colleagues loves to talk about that today. we still have differences from state to state as far as speed limits and some of the little rules for driving are going to be different. and so we still have some of those vestiges there. but the problem was in those early days they kind of manifested themselves in ways that threatened what someone like george washington is very much a nationalist believing in this idea of the united states would sit and go, hmm, that would be really bad for us. because you have states that
start fighting with each other over who owns what land. they don't particularly want to cooperate with each other. now, what do we have in the way of government? state governments, very much hold the cards. there is our continental congress. now, the articles of confederation sort of sets the rules for the continental congress. that's an idea that comes into this room with benjamin franklin. at the very beginning of the war, it's an idea he dusted off from the 1750s during the french and indian war. he put together this idea of confederation between the enemies to work together to defend themselves against enemies such as france. he dusts off the old ideas. rewrites this first version of the articles of confederation. the day after they chose the committee to write the declaration of independence, they also chose a committee with a member from each of the states to write the articles of confederation. the main writer, another
pennsylvanian, john dickinson. again, dickinson would be famous for kind of trying to slow us down for independence. but at the same time he's making those arguments, he's actually writing the articles of confederation. an agreement between how the united states is going to operate. where essentially the congress would run the war, run foreign policy, the states would run their internal, but they would cooperate with each other. you wouldn't have to pay taxes and tariffs as you went from state to state. well, the first problem with the articles of confederation and ultimately what dooms it, you can see by how it is signed. the signing will take place when the continental congress comes back to philadelphia after the british have left in 1778. british leaves philadelphia in june. back to washington after the the british leave philadelphia in june. congress is back meeting here in july. and on july the 9th, they are ready to sign the articles of confederation. the way the signing of that one works is a little bit different. the declaration of independence is signed by the delegates and most of them signed it on the same day. the articles of confederation is
signed as each state approves it. their delegates will sign it. they are waiting for the states to make their decision. half sign the first day and over the next week, most of the rest will sign. now ultimately, one state, maryland, will hold out for close to two years. so the signing will begin july 9th, 1778 and won't finish until march the 1st of 1781. two and a half years. for most of that time, it's maryland by itself saying no. technically this cannot go into effect until all 13 states have agreed and signed. maryland is feuding with mainly virginia, their neighbors, over land to the west. when the revolutionary war comes to an end we go from our old colonial boundaries which would be about the appalachian mountains, although the colonies each sort of figured they kept going. now we end at the mississippi river. that's a lot of new land. you think of all the states
between the east coast and mississippi river. well, all the old states and colonies are looking at that land going that would be great as part of my state. maryland and virginia are arguing over who gets the potomac river and things like that. maryland is going, i don't want to sign this thing until everything is settled. there's your issue that arises. and there will be others. there's a bill at one point trying to pass through this room to raise money on essentially imports. take money from imports, like a tax tariff and you put that to paying the soldiers. seems pretty logical. why would you not want to raise money to pay the army fighting for independence. 12 of the states agreed. seems like a good idea. one, which happened to be rhode island, the smallest of the states said no, and the vote failed. the states individually have a lot more power and sometimes one can defeat 12. so a lot of people start thinking, this isn't working so
well, including members of the congress. so by the end of the war, you have members of the congress writing letters to officers in the army as the war is winding down saying, you know, maybe the army should try to throw their weight behind putting something a little bit more strong together here in philadelphia because this isn't really working between the states. maybe we need the strength of that army. now, george washington, of course, is very much a believer in this idea of civilian control. that's one of the great principles that we've embraced in american history from our beginning points and i think george washington is a big part of that. one of what a lot of people would look at as one of his greatest moments, at end of the war up in newburg, new york, he's going to call a meeting together of all his officers as this word of, you know, maybe the army trying to change government a little bit. and he's against it.
so he calls a meeting, puts some of the guys he feels are behind a lot of this talk in charge of the meeting. he says he's not going to be there. he wants them to talk amongst themselves. then he shows up. now, washington is not a public speaker. this is not a man who wants to stand up and make speeches. if he can avoid it he's going to do it. but he comes and he starts making a speech. and he wants to read this letter. so he pulls out a pair of glasses and puts them on and said i've not only grown gray the service of my country, but half blind as well. he's talking about this idea of what they fought for together for eight years. and that it not be ruined by rash actions at the end. he's got guys in tears. and the whole thing sort of -- what we call the newberg conspiracy kind of goes away. and even though the problems hadn't been solved, this idea of military intervention in our civilian government, fortunately, fades out of view.
but still washington does believe that something stronger is needed, but he is one of those guys who is going to go through the proper channels. so george washington is a virginian. his state is fighting with their neighbors in maryland. what can george washington do about that? he can have a meeting at his house and invite virginians and marylanders to sit together. he'll do that after the war ends. about a year or so after. he has this mt. vernon conference. and they'll sign an agreement together solving essentially years of problems between maryland and virginia which then leads to a meeting in maryland, the next year, where they'll invite more states. they'll get five states to meet in annapolis. the annapolis convention. and again, the big result is it's going to lead to a bigger meeting. they're going to go. now our friend john dickinson is again is going to the continental congress with a letter he's written saying we want a big meeting in philadelphia back in the same room. we want to really talk about the
future, and we want everybody to come. they'll sit down starting in may of 1787, what we today call the constitutional convention. they'll sit in this same room and address these issues plaguing the young united states. it's going to start with about 11 states. new hampshire will show up late. unfortunately, rhode island will never attend these meetings. now, this time they're not about to let one state keep them from getting something done. the way they end up setting it up, they're going to pretend there's only 12 of them. and not only that, but when they vote, they'll go to the people in each state. let the people vote on a special convention and then the special conventions will approve or not approve the constitution for each state, and then you need nine states, three-quarters of them, to put this new constitution into effect. these are guys who are definitely trying to engineer something because they know something needs to be done to hold these states together.
they know as separate entities, you go back to benjamin franklin's design, the snake cut in pieces. that benjamin franklin had put together during the french and indian war when he's calling for this union, join or die. a snake put in pieces is going to die. a snake together is dangerous. that's the idea a lot of men are embracing in that summer of 1787. the questions they'll face in this room is what exactly is it that we want. so the first days of meetings are these very esoteric debates about the nature of federal government, national government, what's the difference, what do we want? they're getting deep into these things. they start saying we want this national government. and then they start saying, well, then what is it going to be? well, virginia had come very organized. james madison is going to get credit for putting together a lot of the virginia plan that's submitted by edmond randolph, who is eventually our first attorney general.
another virginian is chosen by nomination from pennsylvania to sit in the back of the room and lead the constitutional convention. and that will be george washington. the big hero of the day, of course, equal now to franklin as far as american fame goes, and so washington will take the lead in the constitutional convention. and, in fact, the very chair in the back of the room behind me is the chair in which washington sat which, interestingly, is the only item in this room that we today have in this room that we know for certain was here as a part of those events. that chair was made in 1779 after the british left philadelphia. a lot of things were gone between the americans coming and going, the british coming and going. we just don't have all the contents of the building anymore. so pennsylvania's government has to make new furniture, including that chair for the speaker of pennsylvania. so that was in the room on that
spot when washington took that position in 1787. so the virginia plan, three branches of government, somewhat familiar to us today, here's some of the issues that are going to face that plan as far as when you start debating. because other plans are going to get thrown out by other men. virginia's plan, one of the biggest things is this notion of voting based on american people. seeing the states at artificial. everybody in all the states is americans. so whenever we do things, we should just be americans. why be virginians or somebody from massachusetts or delaware or anywhere else. let's be americans. well, naturally, the other side of that coin, as some of the states would look, is that virginia happens to have more people than any other state. so voting by people is definitely good for virginia. so a small state like delaware pretty much embraces one idea
and that is the idea that every state be equal. the way it's always been. every state get an equal vote. delaware is going to refuse to anything that doesn't involve equality amongst the states. you get the small states naturally liking delaware's idea. the big states, virginia's idea. and that's an issue that will go on for a month off and on. virginia's idea of congress is that we have these two houses. upper house, lower house. what becomes our senate and house of representatives. again, it's based on population. but as you start debating it, you have others saying, base it on states. so eventually when it seems like there's no answer to be found, it would be connecticut that would make the compromise. what we call the connecticut compromise or the great compromise, would give us this question of how about a senate where every state is equal, house of representatives where we base things on people. both sides getting some of what they want.
and eventually, of course, that's exactly how it would go. but not everybody loves that. so you aren't sure if everybody is going to go for that, but that's pretty much how they slot in for congress. now the president. there's another one. there's multiple ideas of president, of executive. the virginia plan, as they start working through it, is ultimately a seven-year executive elected by congress. so a little bit different system obviously than we're used to today. the -- another plan, edmond randolph of virginia, says how about having three presidents at once? he's talking about three regional presidents. then you have alexander hamilton of new york who wants a very strong executive. he says how about president for lifetime which, needless to say having gotten rid of a king a few years ago was not overly popular to these men. eventually they settle on a president for four years at a
time. then that level of electoral college. we get a lot of questions about that here. why would they do that electoral college? there's probably several reasons. one is simple distance. the idea of having states that are days and days and weeks apart of each other from georgia to new hampshire with not a lot of great roads and travel can be difficult, so having this notion of sending people together to vote makes a lot of sense. mechanically. then also you have this idea that with the electoral college you're making sure the smaller states have a certain amount of say. so you're trying to balance a lot of different things. and talking about that, again, one of the things that will plague the young united states is something that does come up in this room that summer of 1787. this is the idea of slavery. is this the time to make that big step and do away with slavery? unfortunately, it wasn't.
the southern states, obviously, are fairly attached to it. they don't particularly want to talk about it. the only -- slavery, the word doesn't even make it into the constitution. you have one little notion of the slave trade, which they talk about in 20 years, maybe we can discuss doing away with the slave trade, importing slaves from africa. but that's about all the mention you get. now, of course, anyone that's anti-slavery, which there are guys in this room decidedly so, is not very happy that we put this off for 20 years. the entire discussion let alone any action. and, of course, southern states would look at, in 20 years this is going to come up again. we're not real happy about that because we didn't put it away forever. you have a lot of people looking at sections of this constitution that aren't very happy. now who writes the constitution? declaration of independence, that's easy. thomas jefferson was on the committee but he basically wrote it. constitution, there's really not going to be that one obvious writer.
you're going to have a five-man committee called the committee of detail, which name is exactly what it sounds like. the guys putting in the details of what this government is going to be. three of the five will be on the united states supreme court. one will be our first attorney general. so that's the kind of men you're going to have on there. the very much legal minded men. probably the main guy who puts together most much their reports is james wilson from pennsylvania. he is one of the signers of the declaration of independence as well. he will end up on the united states supreme court. and more than likely, he came up with the three words, "we the people" at the very beginning of the constitution. that's the beginning of the committee detail report. we the people. nothing else that would be recognizable to us today but he does start out with "we the people." now as they go through this committee of detail report, eventually they get to a point where they've worked out how they want it to be. they form another five-man
committee. this is the committee of style. here's where some of your heavy hitters are going to be. alexander hamilton and james madison on this committee. but the guy who probably will take up the pen and do most of the writing is a pennsylvanian named guvernor morris. a man with a wooden leg. but another one of these men very gifted with the pen. and morris is a friend of george washington's. there's a story that comes from that summer with morris and alexander hamilton basically there's a bet made that hamilton makes with morris because morris says i'll just go up and slap george washington on the back and say, how are you doing kind of thing. washington is this very formal guy who doesn't even like to shake hands. he prefers to bow. he can kind of be a bit on the aloof side, especially in public. so hamilton is like, you're never going to do that.
in fact, i'll bet you dinner you're not going to do it. of course, morris goes and does it and washington gives him one of his glaring looks. i'm sure hamilton is standing in the corner laughing like mad. morris is the one that's going to write that, we the people of the united states, in order to form a more perfect union, the famous preamble we know. so at the end of the day, you have this constitution. by september the 15th, 1787, four pages. that's all it is, four pages. there's no bill of rights at that time. they had kind of talked about it. alexander hamilton would say we don't really need one. the whole thing's kind of a bill of rights. the government is only going to have the power we give it. so why do we even need it? the others say, that's how we'd like to do it, we'd like to see something like that there. so again, even by the time they are finished you have guys that look at parts or the whole and say, there's this i don't like, that i don't like.
i don't like this senate because it gives too much power to the little states. the president is too strong, not strong enough. we didn't deal with slavery. there's no bill of rights. so at the end, you come in the last day and it's not at all certain everyone is going to agree. now remember, they are signing it to send it out for their states to vote on it. so it's important to the group as a whole to try to have everyone on board because these are the guys that have to sell this new constitution to the people, to that "we the people," so that they will then put it into effect. so you're going to have benjamin franklin come in the very last day of meetings. franklin is 81 in that summer. there are days that he's literally being carried in and out of these meetings, can hardly walk. fortunately he's still the great sage, the elder statesman. on the last day he brings in a speech in which he says there are things in this constitution i do not approve but then he said, at present, i'm old enough
to know i'm not perfect. my ideas aren't perfect. nobody in this room is perfect. and we should all basically put aside our doubts and sign our names on this thing. he actually says we should all doubt a little our own infallibility. a typical franklin phrase. anyway, he says one of his great famous statements in the room. he says we should all sign because i do not expect anything better than this. in fact, i am not sure that this is not the best. to me one of the most famous triple negatives in american history. i'm sure some of the guys in the room are scratching their heads. what did he say, did he say to sign it? did he say not? in the end, it's hard to argue with franklin. 41 men are in the room that day. 38 men will sign 39 names. okay, there's a little bit of a story to that one. john dickinson, who actually refused to sign the declaration
of independence, again, not that he was loyal to the british particularly, but that he was saying this isn't the right time, this is a bad idea, we're rushing too much, so he never signs the declaration of independence. he's sick the day the constitution is going to be signed. so he tells his fellow delegate from delaware, george reed, look, i want you to put my name on that thing when you sign it. george reed signs twice. once for himself, once for john dickinson. so 39 men would signed the constitution. three would not. different issues. you have elbridge jerry of massachusetts who made a speech that last day, saying there was an excess of democracy which we called the worst of all political evils. the fear of democracy at that point in history is made evident a few years later in the french revolution when their new government went to the point of renaming months and cutting off
6,000 heads and that's the fear of democracy that leads to some sort of chaotic anarchy. which ultimately in history leads to a dictator, which is ultimately what france does. leading to napolean. they went back to rome and saw the same things happening. democracy was tempered here and britain which is where we get the ideas of having that mix. have a mix of states and people we have a president and a congress, we divide our powers. it's the idea that there's no one place where it has too much strength coming. jerry is a little afraid the democracy will overrun, so he won't sign it. randolph won't sign it. he's one of those guys that likes to hedge his bets.
he ends up supporting it when virginia's voting on it. but he wouldn't sign it in this room. because he's afraid that guys like patrick henry will go against him because he knows patrick henry is one of those guys that doesn't think it's a great idea. and the other one, george mason is looking at the idea of the bill of rights and kind of wants to see that. so he's not crazy about parts of it. a lot of the guys from the big states like massachusetts or virginia don't like the senate. there's all kinds of issues. most of these men will put aside their doubts and sign their names. september 17th, 1787. at that point, franklin looks at the chair where washington sits and says look behind washington's head. this carving of a half sun on the back of the chair. he said all summer i've been trying to decide if that sun is supposed to be rising or setting, and i could not make up my mind. until now. now at length i have the happiness to know that is a rising and not a setting sun. he felt good. he'd been working for this since the 1750s, this unity of the american states, and he finally
sees it happening. one of the great stories that comes afterwards, he's supposedly asked what kind of a government they'd created here in philadelphia and he said it's a republic if you can keep it, his last warning to us. think about the united states. one of the things i like to finish with is this idea that we're still using that same constitution and same government but it's also allowed us not quickly but definitely allowed us to improve because ultimately, slavery in the united states doesn't really end by the civil war, technically, it's the constitution. 13th amendment. the 15th amendment will give equality in voting by color. 19th amendment gives equality in voting by gender. through the years we have faced every issue that came up and our constitution has allowed us to solve things and continue to move forward. so, again, i always think back
to franklin and his rising sun and that's exactly what we've seen through the years. this little humble room is really everything that the united states has been and will be. it's going to grow from events that happened over about a 10-11 year period in this room and it's amazing when you think of this humble place and the men that sat here and the things they did, it's really incredible the things that have grown from this space. the pennsylvania state house is the real name of independence. it was pennsylvania's capitol until 1799. pennsylvania moves its government west to ultimately the center of the state, to harrisburg. well, at that point the building, they're using space in the building and renting it out. it's not the capitol building anymore. but the city of philadelphia had started building buildings here on the block. and by the early 1800s, essentially the city is going to buy this building and this whole
block is going to serve as our city hall. so through the 19th century, this is city hall. the second floor of the building would hold meetings for philadelphia city council until 1895. but the first floor is probably one of the first places in the united states that becomes an historical place. by the 1820s, '30s, '40s, people are coming to visit. it gets the nickname independence hall. probably this room, in fact. was independence hall before the whole building became independence hall. one of the most famous incidents, a triumphant trip through the united states, the 1820s, we have very few of the founding fathers and soldiers from the army that are left. but every town that lafayette visits, you gather all the old veterans like thomas jefferson and john adams are alive and they get together and celebrate lafayette.
so it's a wonderful sort of exclamation of patriotic memory. it's probably one of the first where we're looking and embracing history. people are starting to be able to purchase their copies of the declaration of independence and put them above the fireplace. and we're celebrating the words and the actual document. so fortunately, this room kind of becomes a historic place before they've gotten to the point of totally getting rid of the building and tearing it down to build something new. we're really lucky in a lot of ways it was in use long enough it became important. by the mid-1800s, this whole thing is a museum. one of the most fascinating stories in this room when the liberty bell, of course spent almost a hundred years in our bell tower cracked, they put it on display in this room. and one of my favorite days that's not one of the days of
the revolutionary war actually comes 150 years ago this year in april. after abraham lincoln was assassinated. his body lay in state in this room. he came here to philadelphia, washington's birthday 1861 on his way to be inaugurated. he made a stop, made a speech at independence hall, washington's birthday and he actually said in this room he would rather be assassinated on the spot than fail the ideals of the founding fathers, exactly the kind of strength that america needed at the time. and sadly, four years later he comes back having been assassinated, but having succeeded in saving the united states. they put his casket next to the liberty bell. they ran about 100,000 people through this building in a day to pay their respects to lincoln. the united states was born and
the ghost of the founding fathers, kind of present at that one time. that's the kind of thing that makes this room so great. and the park service comes in, in the 20th century, after world war ii, and unfortunately, the one thing that changed a lot of the walls, they made them fancier. it's a little plain room and they wanted to have paintings up and our big thing was let's get it back to the way it looked. so we kind of stripped it back down to the plain walls you see today but again, the main structure fortunately, survived the years and we were able to figure out well enough the paint colors and we were able to get it back to what we think is pretty much how it looked. the furniture is from the time, it's not necessarily the original furniture, again in the early days nothing would save the british army captures philadelphia. nobody's thinking about the history until we have some and they kept using it for different
things, so we don't have all the contents in the room but we think everything here is a good match as to what was here. as best we can tell from our investigation and our research, this is pretty close to how it looked. 12 100 years ago this past august president woodrow wilson created the national park service. and today we're featuring stories throughout the country visited by c-span cities tour staff. this is american history tv only on c-span3. charles pinckney was the south carolina delegate