9 June 2004
[DISTRICT OF COLOMBIA]. GROUT, Jonathan (1737-1807), Massachusetts Congressman. Autograph letter signed to Johnathan Grout (his father?), New York, 3 September 1789. 1½ pp., folio, integral address leaf stamped "Free."
A RARE FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF CONGRESS' DEBATE OVER THE SITE FOR THE NATION'S CAPITAL. An unusual first-hand account of the First Congress's debates over the delicate issue of where to locate the nation's new capital. Grout explains that "...on this day the house were to take up the motion...on the permanent residence of Congress...The progress of the business has been as follows: after Congress agreed to a recess, some of the Pensilvanians, wishing to have the next sessions at Philadelphia, entered into an agreement in a private manner with the Virginians & others to the South, to fix on the bank of Potomack river for the Seat of Congress...on condition that those members would agree to have Congress set in Philadelphia until the publick buildings were finished...[T]he northern Interest...urged that it was unfair to determine on such an important matter at the heel of a long session..." Grout then recounts the next day's session, which saw last-ditch efforts of the Northern faction to prevent the capital being sited on the Potomac: "By previous agreement of all the members north of New Jersey Mr. [Benjamin] Goodhue moved that the east bank of the Susquehannah...should be...the most central & best place for a permanent residence (about fifty six miles west of Philadelphia)...This brought forth sighs & groans from the Potomacks who at once see that the Pensilvanians wou'd not dare to vote against the measure...they had then to adjourn without a determination"
The stalemate Grout describes was finally broken by a compromise in the spring 1790 session: the northern Congressional faction voted to locate the national capital on the Potomac in exchange for the southern faction's support of the Federal assumption of the states' Revolutionary War debts (a plan urged by Hamilton). LETTERS DESCRIBING THE FIRST CONGRESS'S DELIBERATIONS ARE RARE.
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