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meet one day before the President's door while the question of the site for the capital was still undecided, and at once began to talk of the absorbing topic. Hamilton expressed his fears that a dissolution of the Union impended. The Eastern States, he said, had openly threatened secession, and so embittered were Northern and Southern members of Congress that they would not meet together for the transaction of business. No great principle was involved in the location of the capital, and he asked if a compromise could not be effected by which the Northern States should allow the capital to be placed on the Potomac, and the Southern States consent that the debts of the creditor States should be assumed by government. Jefferson thought that, as the crisis was so imminent the matter might be arranged, and invited Hamilton to join him at dinner next day and discuss the matter with two or three friends. Mr. Jefferson (who gives the account) does not tell us who composed the dinner party, but it probably consisted of his friends Madison and Lee, of Virginia, and Robert Morris, of Pennsylvania, the friend of Hamilton, and the great financier of the Revolution. As a result of this dinner the matter was arranged. The capital was placed on the Potomac, and Congress passed a funding act, with an amendment permitting the general government to assume twenty-one million dollars of state debts.
We think, however, it would be erroneous to attribute the result entirely to this compromise.
Washington had from the beginning been greatly in favor of the movement, and his known wishes undoubtedly had great influence with Northern members. In the next chapter we shall see how he devoted heart and soul to the task of creating his capital in the wilderness.
We can only know what was in the minds of the fathers concerning this capital city by studying the Act of Congress which created it. This instrument passed Congress on July 10, 1790, and was entitled : “An Act establishing the temporary and permanent seat of government of the United States.” Its provisions were:
“That a district of territory not exceeding ten miles square, to be located as hereafter directed on the river Potomac, at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and Conogocheague, 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 direct. 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 them, shall, under direction of the President, survey and by proper metes and bounds define and limit
a district of territory under the limitation above mentioned, and the district so defined, limited, and bounded shall be deemed the district accepted by this Act for the permanent seat of the Government of the United States. That the said commissioners, or any two of them, are to have power to purchase or accept such quantity of land on the eastern shore of 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 of December in the year 1800, provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress and the President, and for the public offices of the government of the United States. That for defraying the expense of such purchases
. and buildings the President of the United States be authorized and requested to accept grants of land and money."
Not a penny for building the new city was appropriated—in fact, with an empty treasury and a bankrupt credit, Congress was powerless to vote an appropriation, even if so disposed.
To President Washington was committed the task of selecting a site for the new city, and of appointing commissioners for erecting it. Hitherto his influence had been a silent one. From this moment he appears as the chief actor in the founding of the capital, although so closely connected with him as almost to be considered joint founders were two other famous men of that day, Jefferson and Madison.
There are in the Department of State three large boxes filled with time-stained letters of the three statesmen, giving interesting details of the evolution
of the city, and these are supplemented by a large volume in the War Department entitled, “ Letters of the Presidents of the United States," and filled with writings by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, nearly all bearing upon this topic. There is also here a commissioners' letter-book filled with letters and copies of letters that passed between the President and the commissioners appointed by him to lay out the district and the city. On these sources chiefly we shall draw for our account of the birth of the city. These letters show the three sages to have been in frequent consultation during the succeeding four years on the absorbing topic. Whether at Mount Vernon, or Monticello, or Montpelier, or at Philadelphia, or on other journeys, the federal city seems to have been ever in their thought.
The first step was the selection of a site. Some fourteen miles above the President's home at Mount Vernon, the Potomac is joined by the Eastern Branch, a small stream but then navigable at high water to the little port of Bladensburg, six miles inland. A V-shaped plain lay between the two rivers, and extended some three miles along the Potomad and about a mile inland, where it was lost in the blue, wooded hills of Maryland. These hills swept in a semicircle from one river to the other, and on the Potomac ended in high bluffs and even crags. At the foot of the bluffs a trading port known as Georgetown had been established by Scotch emi. grants as early as 1695, and which at this time enjoyed a lucrative trade with London, Liverpool, and the West Indies. Her docks were burdened with