Federal Hall in 2006
Federal Hall, built in 1700 as New York's City Hall, later served as the first capitol building of the United States of America under the Constitution, as well as the site of George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States. It was also where the United States Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress. The building was demolished in 1812.
Federal Hall National Memorial was built in 1842 as the United States Custom House, on the site of the old Federal Hall on Wall Street, and later served as a sub-Treasury building. It is now operated by the National Park Service as a national memorial commemorating the historic events that occurred there.
The original structure on the site was built as New York's second City Hall in 1699 - 1703, on Wall Street, in what is today the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. In 1735, John Peter Zenger, an American newspaper publisher, was arrested for committing libel against the British royal governor and was imprisoned and tried there. His acquittal on the grounds that the material he had printed was true established freedom of the press as it was later defined in the Bill of Rights.
In October 1765, delegates from nine of the 13 colonies met as the Stamp Act Congress in response to the levying of the Stamp Act by the Parliament of Great Britain. Drawn together for the first time in organized opposition to British policy, the attendees drafted a message to King George III, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting the colonies' "taxation without representation".
After the American Revolution, the City Hall served as the meeting place for the Congress of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, from 1785 until 1789. Acts adopted here included the Northwest Ordinance, which set up what would later become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, but more fundamentally prohibited slavery in these future states.
In 1788, the building was remodeled and enlarged under the direction of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was later selected by President George Washington to design the capital city on the Potomac River. This was the first example of Federal Style architecture in the United States. It was renamed Federal Hall when it became the first Capitol of the United States under the Constitution in 1789. The 1st United States Congress met there on March 4, 1789, to establish the new federal government, and the first thing they did was count the votes that elected George Washington as the first President of the United States. He was inaugurated on the balcony of the building on April 30, 1789.
Many of the most important legislative actions in the United States occurred with the 1st Congress at Federal Hall. Foremost was the proposal and initial ratification of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution; twelve amendments to the Constitution were initially drafted (ten were later adopted), and on September 25, 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was proposed in Federal Hall, establishing the freedoms claimed by the Stamp Act Congress on the same site 24 years earlier. Also, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was enacted in the building, which set up the United States federal court system that is still in use today.
Customs House and Treasury Building
In 1790, the United States capital was moved to Philadelphia, and what had been Federal Hall once again housed the government of New York City until 1812, when the building was razed with the opening of the current New York City Hall. Part of the original railing and balcony floor where Washington was inaugurated are on display in the memorial. The current structure, one of the best surviving examples of classical architecture in New York, was built as the country's first Customs House. Designed by John Frazee, it was constructed of Tuckahoe marble and took more than a decade to complete. It opened in 1842.
In 1862, Customs moved to 55 Wall Street and the building served as one of six United States Sub-Treasury locations. Millions of dollars of gold and silver were kept in the basement vaults until the Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system in 1920.
In 1882, John Quincy Adams Ward's bronze George Washington statue was erected on its front steps, marking the approximate site where he was inaugurated as President in the former structure.
In 1920, a bomb was detonated across the street from Federal Hall at 23 Wall Street, in what became known as the Wall Street bombing. Thirty-eight people were killed and 400 injured, and 23 Wall Street was visibly damaged, but Federal Hall received no damage. A famous photograph of the event shows the destruction and effects of the bombing, but also shows the statue of Washington standing stoically in the face of chaos.
Federal Hall National Memorial
The building was designated as Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site on May 26, 1939, and redesignated a national memorial on August 11, 1955. As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Federal Hall was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 21, 1965.
On September 6, 2002, approximately 300 members of the United States Congress traveled from Washington, D.C. to New York to convene in Federal Hall National Memorial as a symbolic show of support for the city, still recovering from the September 11, 2001 attacks. Held just four blocks from the World Trade Center site, the meeting was the first by Congress in New York since 1790.
The site closed on December 3, 2004 for extensive renovations. In 2006, Federal Hall National Memorial reopened after a $16 million renovation, mostly to its foundation, after cracks threatening the structure were greatly aggravated by the collapse of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.
It was reported on June 8, 2008, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and ABC News invited 2008 United States presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to a town hall forum at Federal Hall. Both candidates declined the offer "because they do not want it limited to one television network."
The National Park Service operates Federal Hall as a national memorial. As a national memorial, the site is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. It has tourist information about the New York Harbor area's federal monuments and parks, and a New York City tourism information center. The gift shop has colonial and early American items for sale. Normally its exhibit galleries are open free to the public daily, except national holidays, and guided tours of the site are offered throughout the day. Exhibits include George Washington’s Inauguration Gallery, including the Bible used to swear his oath of office; Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger; and New York: An American Capital, preview exhibit created by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Two prominent American ideals are reflected in the current building's Greek Revival architecture: The Doric columns of the facade, designed by Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, resemble those of the Parthenon and serve as a tribute to the democracy of the Greeks; the domed ceiling inside, designed by John Frazee, echoes the Pantheon and is evocative of the republican ideals of the ancient Romans.
The current structure is often overshadowed among downtown landmarks by the New York Stock Exchange, which is located diagonally across Wall and Broad Streets, but the site is one of the most important in the history of the United States and, particularly, the foundation of the United States government and its democratic institutions.
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