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Philadelphia in 1787 Previous Next
Digital History ID 3234


The Constitutional Convention took place in the nation's largest and most diverse city. Philadelphia in 1787 had about 40,000 inhabitants. On its streets could be found wealthy Quaker merchants, German-speaking farmers, African-American slaves, and Delaware Indians. Piles of rotten garbage and abandoned animal carcasses also lay in the streets.

Five percent of Philadelphia's citizens owned half its taxable wealth. The city government was a closed corporation whose members chose their own replacements. Meanwhile, more than half of Philadelphia's population existed on the edge of poverty. Prostitution and disease were widespread. Many streets were open sewers. Servants spent their evenings in the taverns of a rough waterfront district called Helltown.

Across Walnut Street from Independence Hall (then called the Pennsylvania State House), was a four story prison. Prisoners called out for alms and cursed passers-by who failed to oblige.

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