Washington, D.C., trivia buffs might be excited to answer a question about the first president to spend his presidency in the completed White House (Thomas Jefferson, for those of you playing at home), but could they tell you where George Washington and John Adams lived during most of their presidencies?
Our first two presidents lived at The President’s House in Philadelphia, PA. Just a block north of Independence Hall, the house was the Executive Mansion of the United States during Philadelphia’s tenure as America’s capitol from 1790-1800. Prior to this famous period, the house already had a unique and established history. William Penn’s grandson, Richard Penn, used the house as the Governor’s Mansion for the colony of Pennsylvania. The British commandeered it as a general’s headquarters during their occupation of the city from 1777-1778. Benedict Arnold got his treason practice started here, too. The President’s House is also noted as the location for early legislation signings, namely the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 (Washington), and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 (Adams).
It’s ironic that Washington passed the Fugitive Slave Act while in Philadelphia, as the site now serves to remind us about the history of our involvement with slavery. In 2002, historian Edward Lawler, Jr., published his discovery that the entrance of the newly planned Liberty Bell Center was a mere five feet away from the location where Washington built housing for several of his slaves. A public outcry demanded that this site be commemorated, especially focusing on the lives of nine people who were enslaved descendants of Africans. Where the house once stood, there is now a commemorative exhibition that gives an outline of the presidencies, an outline of the house, and an exploration of the lives of President Washington’s slaves in Philadelphia.
Today, a visit to Independence National Historical Park allows WorldStrides DiscoverNow! travelers to explore the two great founding documents of America: the Declaration of Independence (interpreted at Independence Hall) and the Constitution (interpreted at the Constitution Center). Students will also experience the Liberty Bell and its association with independence and abolitionism, Betsy Ross and her flag, and much more colonial and revolutionary history. It also includes that central, but far less noble, story of slavery in America. This great land was built on great concepts and great aspirations, but also on hundreds of years of free labor. The hypocrisy of declaring that “all men are created equal,” while denying a great portion of this nation even the basic right of freedom, is explored in this space.
Are you visiting Philadelphia with a WorldStrides DiscoverNow! program this spring or summer? Let us know what you think about the President’s House and the Liberty Bell Center.