The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation.
Ask many people where the United States first began and they would likely answer, "Washington, DC." But the correct answer would be New York. To be exact, Wall Street. Federal Hall National Memorial is located across the street from The New York Stock Exchange. The building went through quite an evolution between the late 1700s and the present day. When it was first constructed, it served as the colony's city hall.
Here court cases were tried and the Stamp Act Congress assembled. The group was also known as the First American Congress of the United States, which met between October 7th and 25th, 1765. This was the body that officially protested taxation without representation. During this time there were protests (some violent) against the Stamp Act. As proposed by Parliament, the act mandated that specially stamped paper must be used for all playing cards, newspapers, legal papers and other documents. When British business with the Americas suffered as a result of the protests, the act was repealed.
Another important event that took place in Federal Hall was the writing of the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. It was written by James Madison who initially wanted to simply modify portions of the Constitution that were already written. After much opposition to the idea of tampering with the document, he wrote the amendments instead. The Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution in 1791. Madison was also the co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party.
Freedom of the Press was born here as well. A German-American named John Peter Zenger was acquitted of committing libel against William Cosby, the royal governor of New York at the time. Zenger was a journalist who began printing the New York Weekly Journal in 1833 in which he published criticism of Cosby over his salary. Zenger would spend eight months in prison before going to trial. His lawyers, Andrew Hamilton and William Smith, Sr. set the precedent that if a statement could be proven true, it was not libel and thus not punishable by law. It was a landmark case that established Freedom of the Press.
The most famous and important event that took place at Federal Hall was the inauguration of the country's first president, George Washington, on April 30, 1789. Although the original structure was demolished, a piece of the concrete from where he stood to take his oath is displayed in the museum along with the bible he swore on. The same bible has been used in the inaugurations of Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
Cover Photo Credit: National Park Service