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Biden speaks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Here’s its history.


President Biden is set to deliver a speech on the “soul of the nation” Thursday evening in Philadelphia, with its famed Independence Hall as the backdrop. It’s far from the first presidential speech at the historic building. Here’s a primer on 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 wrote the Constitution in the summer of 1787. It’s where the Liberty Bell rang and where George Washington was named commander in chief of the Continental Army at the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1797, he made his final public appearance as president next door at Congress Hall — which together with Independence Hall is now part of Independence National Historic Park.

Independence Hall started as Pennsylvania’s statehouse. First commissioned in 1732, it took more than 20 years to build, not because it was so grand — though it was the grandest building in the 13 colonies — but because the provincial government kept running out of money to fund 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 crack, is now displayed across the street. The current interior has been styled to look how it would have in the 1700s, but it is not the exact space the Founders inhabited.

Even once the capital moved to Washington, the importance of Independence Hall remained. In 1865, more than 300,000 mourners paid their respects to Abraham Lincoln in Independence Hall, where his body lay in state following his assassination. A few years earlier, he’d spoken there just before taking the oath of office.

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In 1915, former president and future U.S. chief justice William Howard Taft presided there over the League to Enforce Peace, a predecessor to the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Other presidents who have spoken in front of the hall 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 tourism bureau.

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

Biden is expected to focus his speech on threats to democracy from “MAGA Republicans” ahead of the midterms this November. Critics who may oppose any partisan undertones to Biden’s speech, take note: There’s recent precedent for a president using a historic location managed by the National Park Service to make partisan remarks.

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