[DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA]. LEE, Richard Bland (1761-1827), Congressman (Virginia). Autograph memorandum, titled "The Seat of Government: Memorandum or Statement of the Compromise or Arrangement originally made in Congress between the friends of the establishment of the permanent seat of Government in District of Columbia & the funding system," n.d. 4½ pages, folio.
"THE SPIRIT OF COMPORMISE": AN INSIDER'S CANDID ACCOUNT OF THE DEAL BY WHICH THE U.S. CAPITAL WAS ESTABLISHED IN WASHINGTON D.C.
A lengthy, informative account of the historic compromise to relocate the nation's capital from New York in return for Virginia's support of Hamilton's plan for the Federal government's assumption of the states' Revolutionary War debt. Richard Bland Lee, one of 11 Virginia congressmen in the first Congress, sheds interesting light on this intricate and momentous act. He insists that one of the motives among those wishing to relocate the capital was a desire for a place where they could "be exempt from all fear of violence to their persons," which the streets of Philadelphia and New York, he says, did not provide. Besides, he adds, many Congressmen asked why Philadelphia and New York should be fit for the nation's capital when their state capitals were in Harrisburg and Albany! Others, particularly southern delegates, "dreaded the creation of a great monied Capitol in the city of New York...which might be wielded to the detriment of the nation..."
Southerners generally opposed Hamilton's plan for assumption, seeing it as a bailout of debt-strapped northern states. Virginians were especially opposed since they had largely paid off their war debts. Hamilton warned Jefferson that the New England states would make the assumption of their debts "a sine qua non of the continuance of the Union." So Jefferson arranged his famous dinner with Hamilton and Madison where the three men hammered out a deal. There would be some modifications of the bill to suit Virginia interests, the capital would be moved to the Potomac (after an interim stop for 10 years in Philadelphia), and Virginia's delegation would vote for the bill. Madison would still vote no, but not speak strongly against it.
According to Lee, "the chief agent" in striking the deal with "certain members from Virginia and Maryland" was the "late Speaker Sedgewick," that is, Theodore Sedgwick, former Speaker of the Massachusetts legislature and a leading Federalist in the Congress. Lee explains Sedgwick's strong support of the plan as a legacy of Shays's Rebellion in 1786. "The load of note debt with which that State was oppressed had previous to the adoption of the Constitution, caused a most alarming insurrection therein," and the continued debts "threatened to crush [the state] to atoms." Once Jefferson and Hamilton struck their deal, "Mr. Sedgewick was left to manage his Eastern Brethren as he pleased so as to produce the promised result" on the floor of the Congress. "He fulfilled his contract & success crowned his efforts. This measure grew out of necessity and the Spirit of Compromise which had just before produced the establishment of the Constitution itself. The compromise was known & approved by Mr. Jefferson late President of the United States, Mr. Madison, now President of the United States and many other distinguished characters."