Federal Hall has been the site of government activity for more than 300 years. Since 1699 two buildings have stood on the site, each playing a role in national historic events. The first was, in fact, New York's third City Hall. This was where John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel in 1735, marking the country's first great freedom-of-the-press trial. In 1765 the Stamp Act Congress met here to protest English taxation, which fueled resistance to taxation without representation throughout the colonies.
In 1789, six years after the American Revolution, New York became the nation's first capital. Old City Hall was gutted, rebuilt on a plan by Pierre L'Enfant (who was appointed by President George Washington to design Washington, D.C.) and renamed Federal Hall, becoming the young nation's first capitol. On March 4 of that year the government began to function under the current constitution; eight weeks later George Washington took the presidential oath of office here. Today's Supreme Court and the Departments of State, Defense and Treasury can all trace their beginnings to Federal Hall. In 1812, after the government moved south, this second structure was razed and sold for scrap, fetching $425.
The present building is named in honor of that earlier structure. A fine example of the Greek Revival style, it was constructed in 1842 as a customs house. In 1939 the Secretary of the Interior declared it a National Historic Shrine. In 1955 Congress renamed it Federal Hall in honor of the earlier edifice. There are regular guided tours and the second floor galleries mount exhibitions for all ages. These shows, curated by top galleries and museums, have included a New York City/Tokyo exchange show of children's art, a pictorial display of the city boroughs and an exhibit on daily life in Colonial America.
Guided tours of Federal Hall shed light on the history of New York City from its European origins in 1609 up to the Civil War, concentrating on the Colonial period, the American Revolution and the Federal period. Video presentations are also available. Call for schedule, exhibit and program information.
Guided tours for school groups explore American history from 1609 to the Civil War, augmented by video presentations.