is communications manager for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
As Congress debates the future of health care on Capitol Hill, consider the story of Philadelphia's Congress Hall, the former seat of the federal government celebrating the 230th anniversary of its groundbreaking.
First, some background.
Andrew Hamilton (not that Hamilton) pitched the idea for the building in the 1730s, intending it to serve as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. In typical bureaucratic fashion, construction didn't begin for nearly four decades.
The structure, adjacent to today's Independence Hall, became one of the first municipal buildings in the city upon completion. But it would soon be repurposed for more than arbitrating Philadelphians' legal squabbles.
After the outbreak of war in 1776, the fledgling nation's capital shuffled along the eastern seaboard: Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, and Annapolis. At the time of the courthouse's completion, Congress called New York City home.
Politicians vied for the location of the permanent capital. New York made a strong case. But many wanted a city completely under control of the government. Virginians - still a powerful faction - envisioned a site along the Potomac.
The question was solved with Congress' passage of "An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States." While the future capital of Washington, D.C., was being settled, Philadelphia was to serve, from 1790-1800, as the seat of power. The courthouse, renamed Congress Hall, would act as the government's home base.
The House of Representatives met on the first floor, while the Senate bickered on the second. The Supreme Court found a sanctuary in a back room.
The building, now a part of Independence Mall and restored to its Early Republic specs, was the setting of several seminal events in the country's early history. Washington's second inaugural, the peaceful transfer of power to John Adams, and the ratification of the Bill of Rights took place within its walls.
The Bank of North America and the creation of the U.S. Mint also trace their origin to debates in Congress Hall.
After the federal government left the city for Washington in 1800, the building reverted back to a courthouse. It stands today, at the corner of Sixth and Chestnut, welcoming visitors from across the country and around the world.