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WASHINGTON, the beautiful capital of to-day, is one of the latest instances of a national capital founded by design. Rome grew on the Tiber because of the seven hills. The great king, Clovis,
, chose Paris for his capital because its site on an island of the Seine promised protection from his fierce enemies, the Northmen ; and the emperor, Charles V., made the wilderness city Madrid his court town because of its inaccessible and defensible position. But the latest example of a people choosing a wilderness site and erecting there its capital, to be enriched by a nation's revenues, and made historic by its statesmen, orators, and generals, is to be found in our own capital city of Washington. The story of its birth forms one of the most interesting chapters in its history.
The idea of a national capital originated in one of
the gloomiest perious of the nation's history, and as the result of conditions that threatened to destroy it almost before it had begun to live. On Thursday, the nineteenth day of June, 1783, Congress was sitting in the old City Hall at Philadelphia. The English yoke had just been broken. The thirteen colonies were free ; but their national unity was by no means established. They were rather a group of independent sovereignties with warring interests— the smaller States arrayed against the larger, the Northern section against the Southern. The Confederacy's treasury was empty; it had no credit ; worse still, it was heavily in debt to its soldiers for arrears of pay, and to the States for money loaned to carry on the war. There was no President, and no capital city to be the rallying point of national feeling and aspirations. On the morning of this nineteenth of June, a courier spurred in with news that a body of the unpaid soldiers, then encamped at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were under arms and on the march to Philadelphia to demand of Congress their arrears of pay, and that they would be followed next day by all of Armand's legion, with the same object in view. Congress in great fear appealed to the Executive Council of Pennsylvania for protection, but President Dickinson declared that the State militia could not be relied upon in a matter of this kind, and that the soldiers must be allowed to enter the city. Whereupon, we are told, Messrs. Isard, Mercer, and others," being much displeased, signified that if the city would not support Congress, it was high time to remove to some other place.” The next day
the mutineers entered the city, and for two days, officered by their sergeants, held Congress in a state of siege. They formed a cordon around the hall where it was assembled, and remained under arms all day, sometimes pointing their muskets at the windows, but refraining from actual violence. After adjournment, as the members came out, mock opposition was made to their passage, but they were finally allowed to retire to their homes. At the evening session a resolution to adjourn to Princeton was introduced and discussed amid the most alarming rumors. The debate continued for several days, but at last, after the city had been five days in the hands of the soldiers, Congress adjourned to Princeton, in New Jersey.
This forced adjournment impressed the legislators the necessity of establishing a federal capital. If laws were to be made and respected, they said, law-makers must be secured from intimi. dation. Accordingly, in October, 1783, we find El bridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, moving that buildings for the use of Congress should be erected on or near the banks of the Delaware or Potomac, provided that a suitable spot could be procured for a federal town, and that the right of soil and exclusive jurisdiction should be vested in the United States. This resolution became a law and endured for six months, when it was repealed. At its next session, in October, 1784, at Trenton, Congress advanced the project still further by appointing three commissioners to lay out a district on either bank of the Delaware.
But the Southern members strenuously opposed this plan, and advanced several weighty and ingenious arguments against it. There was, first, that of locality. The Delaware was not a centre of population, nor yet a geographical centre; it would be dominated unfairly by Northern ideas; exposed to the insidious influence of the money power lodged in the hands of the merchants of New York and Philadelphia, and be in danger of intimidation from mobs. They proposed as a compromise the banks of the Potomac, a geographical centre, a centre of population, and, as they argued, soon to be the artery through which the products of the great West should seek the sea. For these statesmen—Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, at least-had already projected a Chesapeake and Ohio canal and a national road which should pierce the Alleghanies at the passes of the Potomac, and render a city on the banks of that river the entrepot of the West ; and they ardently desired that this future city should become the national capital. The Northern members were too strong for them, however, and after a heated discussion the original resolution prevailed. But the influence of Washington and Jefferson was exerted to prevent the commissioners from taking action, and we hear nothing more of the project until 1787, when the Constitution, which made of the many States one nation, was adopted. By Article I, Section VIII, Clause 16 of that instrument, Congress was given power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district not exceeding ten miles square, as may by cession of