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Joint session of Congress at Independence Hall proposed for nation's 250th anniversary

Stephanie Farr, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D.-Pa., will propose a bill next week to hold a commemorative joint session of Congress at Independence National Historical Park in 2026 as part of the nation’s 250th anniversary celebrations.

If the bill succeeds, it will be only the third time a joint session of Congress has been held outside of Washington, D.C., since the capital was moved there from Philadelphia in 1800.

Boyle said he’s been working behind the scenes for months to build bipartisan support for the legislation, which he’ll introduce on Tuesday during the House of Representatives’ next session.

“In late April, I hosted more than 40 members of NATO parliament from nations in Europe and Canada (at Independence Hall) and they were blown away by being in the room where it actually happened,” Boyle said. “It had a profound impact on all of us, so I’m hoping the same thing can happen for my colleagues when we meet there in two years.”

Boyle will officially announce the bill at a news conference Monday at the Independence Visitors Center along with U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., and U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, D-N.J., and Dwight Evans, D-Pa., both of whom are commissioners for America250, the group planning the Semiquincentennial.

The bill seeks to have the joint session held on July 2, the anniversary of the day the Second Continental Congress voted to adopt a resolution for independence from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was then drafted by Thomas Jefferson (mainly) and a committee of four other men at 7th and Market Streets and approved on July 4.

Since the capital was moved to Washington, D.C., Congress has only held two joint meetings outside of that city, both of which were also commemorative in nature, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The first was in July 1987, when 55 members of Congress met at Independence Hall and Congress Hall to honor the bicentennial of the Constitution. The second was in Sept. 2002, when more than 300 members of Congress met at Federal Hall in New York City in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of 9/11.

Given there are 535 members of Congress today and there were only 56 back in 1776, it’s unlikely all members will fit in Independence Hall, which has a listed capacity of 150 people for tours.

 

“Practically speaking, one wouldn’t expect every member of Congress to show up for this. It would be more ceremonial as opposed to controversial bills being debated and passing,” Boyle said. “Last time it was held at Independence Hall and that would certainly be the goal this time.”

If the bill passes the House but not the Senate, the House could hold a session of its own at Independence Hall, Boyle said.

Boyle was fueled by both national and Philly pride when crafting the bill, noting that Philadelphia will be in competition with Boston, New York City, D.C., and Baltimore when it comes to hosting the best 2026 events.

“Holding a session of the House of Representatives or a joint session of Congress would have the effect of really centering the celebration on Philadelphia,” Boyle said. “It’s an advantage and I’m ready for battle.”

Logistical details like whether the public could attend would have to be worked out, according to Boyle, who said the timing for announcing his bill — two weeks before Independence Day — was no accident.

“Both abroad and at home we are seeing threats to democracy today in a way which hasn’t been the case at any point in my lifetime,” he said. “So I think this takes on greater symbolic value to remind all of us of the spirit of 1776 and what our founders achieved and how precious it is in this generation that we don’t lose it.”

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©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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