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I allude to the canopied throne in Independence Hall, a piece of ornamental furniture occupied by the Speaker of the Continental Congress at the time when Independence was declared, and which remained a feature of the historic room until some time after the Revolution.
Nothing can be farther from our idea of the birth of American liberty than the introduction upon the scene of a throne with royal emblazonment. The mere suggestion would seem like a desecration of our most cherished sanctuary, where assembled the noble patriots who declared these Colonies free and independent. It certainly does seem like an incongruity to picture John Hancock, him of the bold signature, descending from a throne or anything that savored of monarchy to affix his autograph to the immortal Declaration.
No painting or engraving, so far as known to the writer, portrays anything like such an accessory to the equipment of the chamber. No artist appears to have had the temerity to give us a true view of the Chamber of Assembly, with its gallery for the public and the ornate trappings over the windows and Speaker's chair. The memorable scene of signing the Declaration is generally depicted as one of extreme republican simplicity, in fact painfully so, giving the generations of the present day the impression that the interior of the State House, the finest public building in the Colonies, was as plain and devoid of ornamentation as a Quaker meeting-house, and in every case, as it now appears, incorrect in most vital detail.
Now, in the face of the accepted pictures of the Chamber of Assembly, or east room of the State House, we here have the statement of a picture of this throne, or, as it is called, “ The Throne of Congress,” supported by the Book of Laws and the Sword. And this picture appears as described on the handkerchief.
Unsupported by corroborative evidence, this statement would most likely, in the absence of the original, be received as a piece of artistic or poetic license on the part of the artist who sketched the design, and who for purposes of his own inserted a symbol of royalty so distasteful to patriots of all nations.
I will now read a piece of evidence in support of the existence of a throne in the east room. It was written by an eye-witness, the Prince de Broglie, who visited the State House in 1782:
“ The State House, where Congress assembles, as does the Council of Pennsylvania, and where also the Courts of Justice are held,
PROC. AMER. Philos. soc. XXXVII. 157. D. PRINTED MAY 17, 1898.
is a building literally crushed by a huge massive tower, square and not very solid.
“Congress meets in a large room on the ground floor. The chamber is large, without any other ornament than a bad engraving of Montgomery, one of Washington, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It is furnished with thirteen tables, each covered with a green cloth. One of the representatives of each of the thirteen States sits during the session at one of these tables. The President of the Congress has his place in the middle of the hall upon a sort of a throne."
Now the phrase, “sort of a throne," might mean nothing, if coming from a modern American, more than a very dignified seat; but, coming as it does from a French nobleman of the ancient regime, it certainly suggests the idea of regal state. The least we can expect from it would be an ornamental chair on a dais surmounted by a canopy and ornamented with the symbols of the home government.
With these facts before us we may well assume that the symbol was an actual and not a typical one, and that it could only have been introduced into the general design by one familiar with the old Council Chamber.
We now come to another phase of the subject; how so elaborate a piece of furniture happened to be a part of the equipment of the Chamber at the time when the Continental Congress took the step which eventually made the Colonies an independent nation. The solution of this problem is comparatively easy. When it is taken into consideration that the room in which Congress met had for years been used by the Assembly of Pennsylvania, and was more or less elaborately equipped with fine furniture and hangings, there can be but little question that ample provision was made for the august Speaker and for the Governor when he was present on State occasions in the shape of an elaborate canopied dais, surmounted by the royal arms and other insignia of monarchical authority.
A somewhat similar arrangement with royal insignia over the seat of the Chief Justice ornamented the west room. The final disposition of these symbols of kingly authority appears in the issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, Wednesday, July 10, 1776, where we are told that on the evening of Monday, July 8, the day upon which the Declaration was publicly read, “Our late King's coat of arms was brought from the hall in the State House and burned amidst the acclamations of a crowd of spectators."
A throne with royal arms in Independence Hall! Words could hardly express a greater incongruity. Yet, to be historically correct, the learned Committee who have charge of the restoration of Independence Hall if they wish to place the ancient Chamber in the exact condition it was in on July 4, 1776 (and I believe that is the intention) will certainly have to introduce a canopied dais or throne in the eastern end of Independence Hall.
Another apparent historic incongruity in our old broadside is the legend which gives to General Charles Lee the credit for the capture of the Hessians at Trenton, when, as a matter of fact, that General was then a prisoner of war in the hands of the British. The explanation of this curious statement is that Lee claimed to have sent Washington the necessary information from New York, and formulated the plan of battle which brought about the capture of Rhal's forces. This, it appears, was believed in Europe to have been the case, and the design was evidently made and published before the news of the battle of Monmouth and the subsequent court-martial of Lee reached the continent.
In closing this paper I repeat the wish that its dissemination may bring to light, either at home or abroad, one of these symbolical compositions so curiously wrought in threads of silk and used in the interest of American Independence, the only description of which, so far as known, is the broadside found in the archives of the American Philosophical Society. Further, the finding of one of these serviettes would give to us the true design of the Throne of Congress, which for years was a feature of Independence Hall.
Stated Meeting, February 4, 1898.
Present, 12 members. Acknowledgments of election to membership were received from Profs. C. F. W. McClure and Henry B. Fine.
The Standing Committees for the year, appointed by the President, under resolution of the Society, were announced, as follows:
Finance.—Philip C. Garrett, William V. McKean, Joel Cook.
Hall.– William A. Ingham, Joseph M. Wilson, Horace Jayne.
Publication.—Daniel G. Brinton, Persifor Frazer, I. Minis Hays, Frederick Prime, Samuel P. Sadtler.
Library.-Edwin J. Houston, Frederick Prime, T. Hewson Bache, Albert H. Smyth, Samuel P. Sadtler.
Michaux Legacy.—Thomas Meehan, Angelo Heilprin, William Powell Wilson, Burnet Landreth, Henry Trimble.
Henry M. Phillips Prize Essay Fund.— William V. McKean, Craig Biddle, Joseph C. Fraley, C. Stuart Patterson, Mayer Sulzberger, the President, the Treasurer.
Programme. William Pepper, Persifor Frazer, William A. Ingham, Joseph C. Fraley, I. Minis Hays.
The death was announced at Philadelphia, on January 29, 1898, of Dr. Theophilus Parvin, aged 69 years.
Prof. W. B. Scott read by title the following papers intended for the Transactions : " The Osteology of Eliotherium” and “Notes on the Canidæ of the White River Oligocene.”
Prof. W. B. Scott presented a paper on “The Exploration of Patagonia.''
Pending nominations Nos. 1432, 1435 and 1445 to 1450 were read.
The Society was adjourned by the presiding officer.
Stated Meeting, February 18, 1898.
Present, 20 members.
The Special Committee on Prof. Scott's papers, entitled " Notes on the Canidze of the White River Oligocene" and ". The Osteology of Elotherium," recommended their publication in the Transactions, which was so ordered.
The Special Committee on Dr. Harrison Allen's papers presented for the Transactions, entitled “The Glossophaginæ" and “ The Skull and Teeth of the Ectophylla alba," recommended their publication, which was so ordered.
The death was announced of Rev. William C. Cattell, D.D., on February 11, in his seventy-first year.
The President, on motion, appointed Dr. McCook to prepare an obituary notice of Dr. Cattell.
Dr. Carl Lumholtz read a paper on “ The Huichol Indians of Mexico and Their Objective Symbols,' which was discussed by Dr. Brinton and Mr. Culin.
Pending nominations were read and spoken to, and the Society proceeded to the election of new members, after which the Tellers reported the following persons had been elected members :
2367. Thomas H. Montgomery, Jr., Philadelphia.
Stated Meeting, March 4, 1898.
Vice-President SELLERS in the Chair.
Present, 9 members.
Mr. T. H. Montgomery, Jr., a newly elected member, was presented and took his seat in the Society.
Letters accepting membership were read from W. L. R. Emmet, Thomas H. Montgomery, Jr., and Percival Lowell.
The death, in his eighty-third year, of Rev. James Legge, D.D., LL.D., of Oxford, England, was announced.
Pending nominations 1432 and 1451 and new nominations 1452 and 1453 were read.
The Society was adjourned by the presiding officer.