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particular States and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the Legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings.” This section was assented to without debate. Yet strangely enough, nearly two years passed before any action was taken upon it.
At last, at the opening session of the First Congress under the Constitution (New York, 1789), peti. tions from so many state and municipal bodies asking that the seat of government might be permanently located came pouring in, that Congress was forced to act. The agitation came chiefly from the Southern States, and was reinforced by the powerful influence of Washington, the newly elected President, and of Jefferson and Madison. New York and New England were satisfied with the condition of things, and objected to any agitation of the matter at that time. There were more important questions to be settled, they urged; for instance, the proposition that the Federal Government should assume the war debts of the several States—a question in which they had deeper interest for two reasons: first, because their debts were larger on account of the war than the other States; and second, because their citizens held a disproportionate share of the scrip of all the States. They were also
to having the national capital removed to any point south of New York. Pennsylvania favored a place called Wright's Ferry, on the Susquehanna, near Havre de Grace. New
Jersey declared for Philadelphia. The Southern States were unanimously in favor of a point on the Potomac. Matters were in this condition when at its first session the House passed a resolution fixing the permanent seat at Wright's Ferry, as soon as the necessary buildings could be erected, the government in the meantime to remain in New York; but when a bill designed to carry the resolution into effect was introduced, the Southern members combated it with all the eloquence and rhetorical skill at their command. Mr. Madison even went so far as to declare that had Virginia foreseen the proceedings of that day she might never have entered the Union.
“I confess to the House and to the world,” said Mr. Vining, “that viewing this subject in all its circumstances I am in favor of the Potomac. I wish the seat of government to be fixed there because I think the interest, the honor, and the greatness of the country require it. I look on it as the centre from which those streams are to flow that are to animate and invigorate the body politic. From thence it appears to me that the rays of government will naturally diverge to the extremities of the Union. I declare that I look on the Western territory from an awful and striking point of view. To that region the unpolished sons of earth are pouring from all quarters, --men to whom the protection of the law, and the controlling power of government are alike necessary. From these considerations I conclude that the bank of the Potomac is the proper situation.”
In spite of Southern opposition, however, the bill passed the House by thirty-one ayes to nineteen
nays. Coming to the Senate, that body amended by striking out the word Susquehanna, and inserting a clause that the permanent seat of the government should be fixed at Germantown, near Philadelphia, whenever Pennsylvania or her citizens should agree to pay one hundred thousand dollars for the erection of the necessary government buildings. When the amended bill came back to the House that body agreed to it, but added a slight amendment that the laws of Pennsylvania should remain in force until repealed by Congress. But this amendment sent the bill back to the Senate, and as that body adjourned without acting upon it, the bill was lost. But for this little accident Philadelphia's pretty suburb might now be the federal capital.
The South was quick to improve the opportunity, and resolved to try the force of pecuniaryinducements. In December, 1789, Virginia passed an act offering ten miles square of her territory on the Potomac for the federal city, and the sum of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars for the erection of public buildings. The same winter, by concerted action, the Maryland Legislature offered ten miles square on the opposite side of the Potomac, and the further sum of seventy-two thousand dollars for the buildings. These offers, and the resultant dicussion, created great excitement throughout the country.
The location of the capital became an issue. Every city in the Middle States desired it, and began to offer inducements to secure it. New York and Philadelphia pointed out that they had gratuitously furnished Congress with “elegant and conven
ient accommodations," while its sessions were held in their midst. New Jersey offered to provide suitable buildings at Trenton. Baltimore promised, if she should be chosen, to erect every edifice needed by the federal Legislature. In the midst of the discussion Congress sat (in Philadelphia, 1790), and at an early date a bill was introduced in the Senate “to determine the permanent seat of Congress and of the government of the United States.” Later a resolution was carried, “ that a site on the river Potomac between the mouth of the Eastern Branch and the Conogocheague be accepted for the permanent seat of government." The Eastern Branch referred to is that broad and deep estuary now forming the eastern boundary of Washington, on which the Navy Yard is placed. The Conogocheague (pronounced Conogochig) is a stream in Washington County, Maryland, beyond the Blue Ridge.
The debate upon this bill was one of the most spirited and animated of the session. The Northern members ridiculed the idea of building palaces in the woods. They thought some existing city should be chosen. Gerry, of Massachusetts, spoke of the injustice of placing the capital where nine States were north of it, and only four south of it. The advocates of the bill, however, presented many arguments in favor of it. They took up the resolution of Mr. Scott, of Pennsylvania, introduced at an early stage of the discussion, “that the site of the future capital should be as near as possible the centre of wealth, of population, and of territory,” and argued that the site on the Potomac filled these conditions as nearly as might be. They argued, too, that the site of the future capital should not be a commercial city. If it were, they said, it would exert an undue influence over measures of government by its commercial importance. It would become a favored city, too, since the government funds largely disbursed there would give it advantages in point of capital over others. And what great commercial city, they asked, would be willing to give up the elective franchise, of which it had been decided to deprive the residents of the proposed federal city, lest their votes and political influence should be too much influenced by officers of government? It was during this debate that the South Carolina Senators uttered their famous objection to Philadelphia—that the Quakers of that city were forever dogging Southern members with their schemes of emancipation.
By and by, on the ioth of July, 1790, the longdebated act was passed by a vote of thirty-two ayes to twenty-nine nays—a majority of three. A year before there had been a majority of twelve in favor of the Delaware. Some surprise was felt, and no little feeling manifested in New York and New England at this change of opinion by the majority. The general public was quite unable to account for it. It was really the result of a compromise between the leaders of the opposing factions. Alexander Hamilton, at this time Secretary of the Treasury, was the leader of the Northern section, and Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, of the Southern. The two chieftains chanced to