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HISTORY OF THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT,
The location of the seat of government was determined by Congress with much deliberation. The sessions of the old Congress were held at various places, to meet the exigencies of the occasion and humor the spirit of rivalry manifested by the different States. The subject of a permanent seat of government was first debated in Congress after the insult offered to that body in Philadelphia, in June, 1783, by a band of mutinous soldiers, who assailed the hall during session, demanding arrearages
pay. A resolution was passed, October 7, 1783, on motion of Elbridge Gerry, to erect buildings for Congress on the Delaware or the Potomac, provided a suitable district could be procured on either of those rivers, for a
This resolution was subsequently modified, providing for the erection of buildings in both locations, and finally repealed, April 26, 1784. Congress met at Trenton in the following October, and appointed three commissioners to lay out a district, between two and three miles square, on the Delaware, for a federal town. At the meeting of Congress in New York, in January, 1785, an unsuccessful attempt was made to substitute the Potomac
for the Delaware. Two years later the Constitution was adopted, declaring (Article I., Section 8) "The Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States.” On the 23d of December, 1788, the Legislature of Maryland passed an act authorizing and requiring her members in Congress
" to cede any district (not exceeding ten miles square) which the Congress may fix upon and accept for the seat of the government of the United States. In 1789 Congress debated the selection of a location of the “ten miles square,” carefully considering the importance of a site in the centre of territory, population, and wealth, easy of access to the west, with a convenient communication with the seaboard.
The northern members were in favor of a site on the Susquehanna, while the south favored the Delaware and Potomac; and the comparative advantages of New York, Philadelphia, Germantown, Havre de Grace, Wright's Ferry, Baltimore, and Conococheague, now Washington, were warmly discussed. The South Carolinians opposed Philadelphia, because the Quakers favored emancipation. Large towns were objected to on the score of undue influence, while others ridiculed the idea of building palaces in the forest. Instances of European capitals were cited in support of the claims of New York and Philadelphia. The House of Representatives passed a resolution September 5, 1789, “That the permanent seat of the government of the United States ought to be at some convenient place on the banks of the Susquehanna, in the State of Pennsylvania.” This alarmed the southern members, and especially the Virginians, who strongly urged a location on the Potomac. Mr. Madison thought if the proceeding of that day had been foreseen by Virginia, that State might not have become a party to the Constitution. It was allowed by all to be a matter of vital importance to the Union. The bill to carry this resolution into effect passed the House by a vote of thirty-one to nineteen, and was amended by the Senate by inserting Germantown, Pennsylvania, in place of the location on the Susquehanna. The action of the Senate was agreed to by the House, with an amendment providing that the laws of Pennsylvania should continue in force in said district until Congress should otherwise direct. The Senate postponed the consideration of this amendment until the next session. Germantown was thus actually agreed upon, but the bill eventually failed on account of the postponement.
Following the example of the Maryland Legislature, in her act of cession, December 23, 1788, the Assembly of Virginia passed an act, December 3, 1789, ceding a district to Congress for the location of the seat of government, and also a resolution asking the coöperation of Maryland in inducing Congress to fix the seat of government upon the banks of the Potomac, and promising to advance a sum of money, not exceeding $120,000, towards erecting public buildings,—Maryland advancing a sum not less than two-fifths of that amount. Maryland acceded to the proposition, and agreed to advance the amount of money required. Other States made like offers of territory, in their anxiety to have the seat of government within their boundaries. Congress was not disposed to act upon the question, as the greatest ill feeling and a
spirit of dissension had arisen among the members upon the funding act. An amendment, providing for the assumption of the State debts to the amount of twentyone millions, was rejected in the House. The north was in favor of the assumption, and the south was opposed to the inclination to locate the seat of government on the Susquehanna.
At this critical juncture, Jefferson, then Secretary of State, and Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, met in conference, and proposed a compromise of the two vexed questions. Hamilton thought the north would consent to the location of the Capital on the Potomac, if the south would concede the amendment assuming the State debts. It was agreed that Jefferson should ask the interested parties to dinner next day, and propose
the accommodation. The discussion took place accordingly, and it was decided to reconsider the vote upon the amendment, and two Potomac members, White and Lee, agreed to change their votes. Hamilton undertook to carry the other point with the northern members. Thus the assumption bill was passed, and also the following bill, locating the seat of government:An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent
seat' of the government of the United States.
Sec. 1. Be it enacted, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a district of territory, not exceeding ten miles square, to be located as hereafter directed, on the river Potomac, at some space between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and Conococheague, be, and the same is hereby, accepted for the permanent seat of the government of the United States: Provided, nevertheless, That the operation of the laws of the State within such district shall not be affected by this acceptance until the time fixed for the removal of the government thereto, and until Congress shall otherwise by law provide.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be authorized to appoint, and by supplying vacancies happening from refusals to act, or other causes, to keep in appointment as long as may be necessary, three Commissioners, who, or any two of whom, shall, under the direction of the President, survey, and by proper metes and bounds, define and limit a district of territory, under the limitations above mentioned; and the district so defined, limited, and located, shall be deemed the district accepted by this act for the permanent seat of the government of the United States.
Sec. 3. And be it enacted, That the said Commissioners, or any two of them, shall have power to purchase or accept such quantity of land on the eastern side of the said river, within the said district, as the President shall deem
proper for the use of the United States; and, according to such plans as the President shall approve, the said Commissioners, or any two of them, shall, prior to the first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress, and of the President, and for the public offices of the government of the United States.
Sec. 4. And be it enacted, That, for defraying the expense of such purchases and buildings, the President of the United States be authorized and requested to accept grants of money.
Sec. 5. And be it enacted, That, prior to the first Monday in December next, all officers attached to the seat of government of the United States shall be removed to, and, until the said first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, shall remain at, the city of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, at which place the session of Congress next ensuing the present shall be held.
Sec. 6. And be it enacted, That on the said first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred,