The Council Chamber of the Royal Governor is located upstairs at the east end of the building, facing Long Wharf and the harbor. This room was the setting for many important speeches and debates by dedicated patriots with the British crown. In 1761, James Otis argued eloquently against the Writs of Assistance, the Crown's policy which permitted warrant-less searches of private homes and businesses. Otis lost the case, but his impassioned speech about the rights of privacy was one of the events that led to the American Revolution. "Then and there," recalled John Adams, "the child Independence was born." Photo courtesy of Brian M. Kutner.
THE MASSACHUSETTS ASSEMBLY
The central area of the second floor was the meeting place of the Massachusetts Assembly, the most independent of the colonial legislatures, and the first to call for sectional unity and the formation of a Stamp Act Congress. One of the world's first visitors galleries was installed in Representatives Hall in 1766. Photo courtesy of Daniel Doke.
HOME OF THE COURTS
The building's west end was the original home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the oldest court in the nation. The Court was also involved in the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution, upon which the United States Constitution is largely based. Photo from Bostonian Society Collections.
Official proclamations were read from the Old State House balcony, on the east side of the building, facing the town square and State (formerly King) Street, the main commercial street in the 18th century. The square beneath the balcony was the site of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, when a handful of British soldiers fired into a taunting crowd, killing five men. Today a circle of paving stones marks the area of the Massacre. On July 18, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was first proclaimed from the balcony, to the jubilant citizens of Boston. Later that day, the rooftop statues of a lion and unicorn, along with other symbols of royal authority, were pulled down and burned in a bonfire.
AFTER THE REVOLUTION
The Old State House served as the seat of the new Massachusetts state government until a new State House was built on Beacon Hill. On January 11, 1798, all government functions left the building when the governor, state legislature, and other state officials moved to the new State House. From 1830 to 1841, the building was used as Boston's first separate City Hall. In 1841, the building returned to commercial use, entered a period of decline, and suffered many alterations made to accommodate its tenants. Photo from Bostonian Society Collections.
SAVING THE OLD STATE HOUSE
In 1879, a group of determined citizens formed the Boston Antiquarian Club. Two years later, the group reorganized as the Bostonian Society, and organized a museum of Boston's history in the Old State House. Today, the Old State House is located amid the skyscrapers of downtown Boston as a museum of Boston's role in the American Revolution. Operated by the Bostonian Society and owned by the City of Boston, the Old State House is a site within the Boston National Historical Park on the Freedom Trail.