American Philosophical Society — Library & Museum

Philadelphia
PA

Philosophical Hall in Philadelphia

QUICK FACTS
  • In 1766 Benjamin Franklin is elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society, serving until his death in 1790.
  • Astronomer and mathematician David Rittenhouse, who had been vice president of the Society, serves as its next president (1791 - 96) until his death.
  • In 1794 Philosophical Hall temporarily becomes home to the Philadelphia Museum, Charles Willson Peale’s museum of natural history and important personages, until 1802.
  • Thomas Jefferson is elected as the Society’s third president (1797 - 1815), serving while he is simultaneously Vice President (1797 - 1801) and third President (1801 - 09) of the United States.
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Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram to promote Useful Knowledge, the Society was the first of its kind in America, and it quickly gained an international reputation, which it continues to have today.

Philosophical Hall, built in the Federal style to house the Society in 1789, is now the home of the American Philosophical Society Museum. Adjacent to Independence Hall, it features special exhibits of art, scientific instruments, rare books, original manuscripts, natural history specimens, and curiosities.

Across the street is the Library, which contains 350,000 volumes and bound periodicals, eleven million manuscripts, 250,000 images, and thousands of hours of audio tape related to the history of science, medicine, and technology. Rotating exhibits in the entrance highlight the Library’s rich collections.

What ultimately convinced Americans that they must revolt in 1776 was not that they were naturally and inevitably republican, for if that were truly the case evolution, not revolution, would have been the eventual solution. Rather it was the pervasive fear that they were not predestined to be a virtuous and egalitarian people that in the last analysis drove them into revolution in 1776. It was this fear and not their confidence in the peculiarity of their character that made them so readily and so remarkably responsive to Thomas Paine’s warning that the time for independence was at hand and that delay would be disastrous. By 1776 it had become increasingly evident that if they were to remain the kind of people they wanted to be they must become free of Britain.

Gordon S. Wood
The Creation of the American Republic, 1776—1787 (1969)