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Presidential Visit to Congress Hall - Woodrow Wilson - October 25, 1913

Posted on Thursday, December 31, 2020

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With the Newly Restored Congress Hall as the Setting, President Woodrow Wilson Rededicated the Home of the United States Congress from 1790-1800

On October 25, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, gathered with other dignitaries at Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Congress Hall had been restored to the condition it was in when the United States Congress met within the building from 1790-1800. Congress Hall, which is adjacent to Independence Hall at Independence National Historical Park, was rededicated by President Wilson, and it was declared a historic structure.

Woodrow Wilson Attends Rededication of Congress Hall on the Front Page of the Philadelphia Inquirer - October 25, 1913

President Wilson's arrival in Philadelphia was the top story in The Philadelphia Inquirer's October 26, 1914 edition, as seen above. Other dignitaries who met in Philadelphia for the rededication ceremony included Philadelphia city officials, members of President Wilson's cabinet, and the Governors of each of the original thirteen states which once sent their representatives to Congress Hall from 1790-1800, while Philadelphia served as the Capital of the United States. Many then current Congressional representatives were also in attendance to sit where their predecessors had once sat over a century before. Representatives in attendance included the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Champ Clark, who also spoke at the event.

Congress last met in Congress Hall on May 14, 1800 before they departed for the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Following the departure of the U.S. Congress, the interior of Congress Hall had been reformatted to serve its original intended purpose as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. The building served as a courthouse until 1895 at which point it was only used periodically by the Philadelphia City Government and Philadelphia historical societies which led the charge in refurbishing this hallowed hall.

The Inquirer remarked at the loving care that went into restoring Congress Hall into how it would have looked in the 1790s when Congress met there, with even details such as authentic paint colors addressed. The Inquirer also noted the layout of the building -- the U.S. House of Representatives met on the large first floor and the U.S. Senate met on the second floor, which also contained committee rooms. In particular, the small committee rooms drew attention to the fact that while the building was once ample for its purpose, it seemed "so puny and insufficient now, and demonstrated clearly the great growth of the Nation."

Wilson's visit also drew attention outside of Philadelphia, and newspapers across the nation published stories on the rededication of Congress Hall. The Louisville Courier-Journal even gave an overview of the historic events that occurred while Congress met inside historic Congress Hall including:

Woodrow Wilson Waves to Crowd at Rededication of Congress Hall -The Philadelphia Inquirer - October 25, 1913

The Inquirer article also detailed the full itinerary of President Wilson's visit which included a parade to welcome the President to Philadelphia which Wilson viewed from the famous Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. From there, Wilson Traveled to Congress Hall where he stood on a restored second story balcony to wave to an assembled crowd. The Inquirer noted that Wilson stood on the same balcony from which President George Washington gave his farewell address and retired from public life in 1797. Wilson then observed the rededication ceremony of Congress Hall, which took place on the first floor of Congress Hall. At the end of the ceremony, Wilson was the last to speak.

A story in the Knoxville Sunday Journal and Tribune published on October 26, 1913 included the entirety of President Wilson's speech on that day, an excerpt of which follows:

"There has come over me since I sat down here a sense of deep solemnity, because it has seemed to me that I saw ghosts crowding in a great assemblages of spirits, no longer visible to us, but whose influence we still feel as we feel the molding power of history itself.

I feel today a compulsion of men, a compulsion of examples which were set on us in their place. And their examples remind us not only of public service, but of public service shot through with principle and honor.

I can feed my own mind as happily upon the circumstances of the revolutionary and constitutional period as you can, but I can not feed my thoughts with them in Washington now because every-day problems arise which wear some new aspect. I must fall back if I would serve my conscience upon those things which are fundamental, rather than upon those which are superficial. I ask myself this question: "How are you going to assist in some small part to give the American people, and by example, the peoples of the world, more advantage, more liberty, more happiness, more substantial prosperity, and how are you going to make that prosperity a common heritage, instead of self possession?"

The men of the day which we now celebrate had a very great advantage over us in this one particular: life was simple in America then. Our task is very much more difficult."

Wilson's Visit Today

Congress Hall, where Wilson gave his speech, is a key stop on The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia! The current home of the United States Mint and The First Bank of the United States, both mentioned above, are among the institutions chartered while Congress met in Congress Hall. The First Bank and U.S Mint are also stops on The Constitutional.




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