The Graff House : The Declaration House: Where Liberty was Framed

Just a block away from the Liberty Bell stands a reconstructed model of the Graff House- where one of our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty, the Declaration of Independence was written. Though often forgotten by many, the Graff House is one of the most important sites in the Independence Mall area because without it, the contents of our Declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson, may have been very different.

When the Second Continental Congress assembled in the summer of 1776, the “shot heard around the world” had long been fired. (The battles of Concord and Lexington had occurred the previous April.) Whether they liked it or not, the colonists were engaged in a battle for independence. Congress wasted no time in establishing a Continental Army led by George Washington to stand against the Redcoats. While war waged on, a divided Congress sent an Olive Branch Petition to King George III in hopes of making amends, but he refused. With all hope for peace then gone, Congress banded together in support of Independence. In order to achieve that, however, they needed support from their fellow colonists. Immediately, a committee of five men was selected to draft a declaration of independence made up of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson. The intended goal of this article was to rally the people together for a common cause-Freedom from Great Britain; while also serving as a sign of hope and inspiration to oppressed peoples all over the globe.

To accomplish this task, the committee chose Thomas Jefferson. Not only did he possess the greatest literary skills but he was also the only delegate from Virginia, the first and most prosperous colony in the New World. In desperate need of time to reflect upon such an assignment, Jefferson left his lodgings in the busy city and moved to the outskirts of town. On 7th and Market Streets he rented the second floor in the home of Mr. Jacob Graff, a bricklayer, who had built the house but a year earlier. It was here that, in just three weeks, Jefferson drafted one of the world’s most inspiring documents.

However, he didn’t do it by himself. Though it may come as a surprise to many, Jefferson was opposed to originality. In letters written by Thomas Jefferson, he clearly stated that he did not want to “offer any sentiment which had never been expressed before.” Besides working with the committee, he searched for any written article that expressed the true feelings of the colonists in regards to their King. He used George Mason’s Declaration of Rights, theories from philosopher John Locke, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and even newspaper articles - all of which expressed a growing wish among the people to form a government of their own, separate from Great Britain. There were many reasons why the colonists felt the need for independence. Some complained of the many injustices brought upon them by the King. Some believed, like John Locke, the sole purpose of government was to protect each man’s rights. Still others argued it was simply stupid for an island that lay across the ocean to govern such a vast territory. On his uniquely portable desk, Jefferson cleverly incorporated all of these attitudes into the Declaration’s main body of grievances

Jefferson also used this opportunity to voice some of his own convictions, in particular regarding equality. The notion of equality has changed much over the years; originally it included only white property-owning men. As time went on and circumstances changed, Jefferson’s most beloved phrase- “all men are created equal…”- came to the aid of all men and women, regardless of race or religion. Yet this is not to say that Jefferson would have wanted it otherwise. In a deleted portion of his original draft, Thomas Jefferson bravely condemned slavery, viewing it as a violation “of its (human nature) most sacred rights of life and liberty, in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery...” Such a passage may express Jefferson’s forewarning that the issue of slavery would destroy the Union. Arguably, it may also convey his belief that equality should be extended to all men.

After 1776, ownership of the Graff House quickly changed hands before being torn down in 1882 to make room for the Penn National Bank. Later, it became a Tom Thumb hotdog stand until the rebuilding of the Graff House in 1975. Despite its later history, the site is considered a national landmark. It is the literal home of liberty which proved a refuge for Jefferson as he embarked on the quest for a new nation.


  • Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and other Writings, Official and Private (Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Maury, 1853-1854).




701 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

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