Visitors to Philadelphia often make it a point to stop by Independence Hall to see the building where, on July 4, 1776, the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. However, few realize when planning their trip that it was also in this building that the United States Constitution was debated and adopted 12 years later.
For those that want to learn more about this important document, the US Congress set up the National Constitution Center as a way to “disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.”
Sitting directly across Independence Square from Independence Hall (and directly across the street from the US Mint), the National Constitution Center is unlike any other museum I’ve visited.
Visits to the center start with a live-action program about the Constitution. While it was very well done, I found this to be less about learning about the Constitution and more of a pep rally for how awesome it is. While it is done in a non-partisan way, I typically visit museums to learn, not to feel good. Because of that, I found the program to be a bit underwhelming, though I can certainly see why others would enjoy it.
Moving on to the museum, I felt that the National Constitution Center did a much better job fulfilling their purpose of increasing “awareness and understanding of the Constitution”.
The museum features information about the history of America’s government through a series of present-tense accounts of how the government has changed over the years. The panels take you from the foundations of American independence through the Articles of Confederation and to the Constitution and how it has been changed over the years.
For me, the most interesting part of this section was the information about the events that have changed and challenged the Constitution over the last 225+ years. And, while the museum focuses more on words than artifacts to tell its story, there are several interesting items on display including a letter written by Susan B. Anthony, President Truman’s vacation shirt, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s judicial robes.
In addition to teaching about the Constitution, the National Constitution Center also presents great information about civics. Mock poll booths allow visitors to answer questions to figure out which president you most agree with. There is even a Presidential podium where you can recite the Presidential oath and a citizenship test to see if you know enough to become a citizen of the United States.
The most interesting part of the museum however is the Signers’ Hall. Featuring 42-life size statues of the members of the Constitutional Convention, visitors can walk among the statues and get their photos taken with their favorite Founding Father. Walking among the statues of people who’ve always seemed larger than life, I found it interesting that I towered over most. But I suppose their short height belies their importance to the foundations of America.
Overall, I didn’t particularly enjoy my visit to the National Constitution Center. It struck me as more of a pep rally for the Constitution than a museum. While I did feel they did a good job being unbiased (I had it written in my notes before I knew it was in their mission statement), I just feel like the center didn’t really offer any new information that I hadn’t learned in elementary school.
However, if you’re looking for a crash course in the history of the US government or if you have a child that is especially interested in the subject, I can see how this could be a worthwhile stop. Ultimately though, with so many other amazing things to do in Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center just seems quite skippable.
Note: My visit to the National Constitution Center was hosted by Visit Philly. As always, the opinions expressed in this article are my own.
National Constitution Center
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday: 10am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $14.50, Children: $11
Address: 525 Arch Street
4 thoughts on “Visiting the National Constitution Center: A Skippable Pep Rally for the US Constitution”
I have to disagree with you on this one. Maybe it’s because I was a lawyer before I was a travel blogger, but the Constitution Center is one of my favorite museums. I think it’s especially valuable to visit for foreign visitors to Philadelphia, but also for US Citizens, most of whom apparently did not have your exposure to the Constitution in elementary school. I also never tire of the multi-media theater in the round program. I think it shares some of our national historical angst, but it has brought a tear to the eye of many of my visitors—-even the Brits! To get the most out of the museum, you do have to be willing to read. There also is usually a traveling exhibit of some sort on display which unfortunately, usually has an additional admission fee. For political junkies, the Center often sponsors evening talks and discussions with “experts” of various stripes discussing issues of the day.
Disclosure: my name in tiny letters is on a plaque opposite the entrance to the cafeteria as a donor to the museum under the “Power of an Hour” campaign to raise museum funds from attorneys.
I can definitely see why some would really enjoy visiting the National Constitution Center, Suzanne, which is why I noted that it likely would be a good fit for anyone wanting a civics lesson. I’m just not sure it’s worth a few hours of time for the average visitor to Philly. Either way though, I’m glad you enjoy the museum!
I do love Signers Hall and the interactive nature of the Constitution Center for visitors. For those visiting Philly to focus on history it is a must do along with the Portrait Gallery, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall – all of the historic attractions. The average Philly visitor is here for one/two days for history and rarely do they explore outside of Old City (sadly because we have so much art, theatre and food to enjoy). My UK work colleagues and other foreign guests enjoy the center to learn about the U.S. history – I think many from the US should visit because sadly they may know more about reality TV than US history, it’s the nature of our world today.
In context to all other sights you may have visited which are more diverse, I can understand why you did not love the Center
Suzanne, I appreciate the thoughtful comment. Personally, though, I can’t see recommending the National Constitution Center, even if they spent two or three full days just in the Old City, unless they were really interested in the subject. The Signers’ Hall is definitely interesting, but it seems silly to pay to enter the museum just for that. Of course, it’s always just my opinion. I know you aren’t the only one that likes the center.