senate history philadelphia


225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

The First Congress faced many of the same issues as the Confederation Congress had under the Articles of Confederation. One of those issues was where the U.S. capital city would be located. The Confederation Congress voted in 1784 to move to capital to Trenton, New Jersey. However, the capital was never moved from New York City because they could not secure the required votes to appropriate the money to build the new city along the Delaware River.

At the start of the First Congress, the question was still highly contested. Some members wanted the federal city to be located along the Delaware River while others wanted the city further south along the Potomac River.

On July 24, 1789, this petition was sent to Congress by citizens of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Organized by John Cox, the petition outlined 13 reasons the district should be located in their 10 square miles along the Delaware River. He cited a victorious Revolutionary War battle near the location to exemplify its defensibility, and continued by listing the advantages of the land itself. Not only did his location have the best fishing, timber, stone for building, and wildlife, but it even had the “cheapest and best of all manure, The Plaster of Paris” to use as fertilizer. As if that was not enough, the land would be “capable of supplying wood, as well for fuel as for other purposes, by water to the end of time.

Congress continued to debate the issue until it passed the Residence Act in 1790, which established the temporary and permanent seat of the federal government.

Petition of John Cox and Others in Support of the Establishment of the Permanent Seat of the Government on the Delaware River, Sen 1A-G2, 7/24/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate