#DiGiWriMo – November 17

It was a tale of two cities, almost three. In 1800, President Adams approved an act to relocate the capitol from New York to Washington, which came to be known as the Accommodation and Removal Act,

to make provision for the removal and accommodation of the Government of the United States.

But that is only the end of the story. The whole tale has far more detail.

Jefferson arrived at the nation’s capital in New York in 1790 to begin his service as Secretary of State. The southern legislators, led by Madison, wanted a decentralized farming economy where slavery would be preserved. The Northerners, led by Treasury Secretary Hamilton, wanted their debts from the war to be assumed by a strong national economy and were willing to grant taxing powers to that government in exchange for debt assumption.

The plot thickens.

The southern states, flush with slave labor and agricultural cold cash, had not incurred significant war debt and stood to gain very little from a federal assumption of the war debt. But northern industrialists and businessmen, holders of the overwhelming majority of the war debt, figured that their combined fortunes would grow even larger with their debts being assumed by a growing, and taxing national government.

Now, unrelated (perhaps) to the debt assumption issue, the Constitution mandated a central location for federal authority, but did not specify where the location would be. There were at least 16 possible cities being considered, all between New York and the Potomac. Madison, a Virginian, advocated for a site on the Potomac, near Washington’s Mount Vernon home. But votes were leaning towards Philadelphia as a more central location.

Hamilton, Treasury Secretary, supported a strong central governing authority, with a strong fiscal policy arm, and read the Constitution as supporting the same.

On a June evening in 1790 Thomas Jefferson hosted a dinner at his New York residence with Madison and Hamilton. Legend has it they worked out the deal over the dinner table. As a nod to Madison and Jefferson, the capital would move from New York to Washington, not Philadelphia. As a nod to Hamilton, the federal government would assume all war debt of the states. But as an additional nod to Madison, Virginia who owed very little war debt, would have its share of the combined federal debt reduced by $1.5 million. Hamilton would support the relocation of the capital to Washington, and the Virginia delegation would convince all the states bordering the Potomac to vote for Hamilton’s debt assumption plan.

Did I leave anything out?

For a ten year interval, Robert Morris negotiated into the agreement a short, temporary stay for the capital in Philadelphia, hoping that perhaps, a case could be made for permanent relocation to the City of Brotherly Love. But at the end of the ten year interregnum, and no doubt influenced by a mid-decade yellow fever epidemic, the Virginians won out and the move was made to Washington.

Oh yeah. Let me tell you the Library hook. Physically moving the capital to Washington required a Congressionally-approved appropriation, i.e., funding for moving all the stuff, the records, books and papers of the legislature and executive departments, and for furnishing the President’s house and congressional offices. A single clause in that appropriation provided “for the purchase of a library to assist the Congress in its work.”  And hence, the Library of Congress was born.

p.s. Did I forget to say that one of my ancestors, George Hairston, Virginia (Henry County) politician, farmer and slave breeder, was the richest guy in America at the time?




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