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PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION,
THE following pages comprise an article which was read before the New York Historical Society in January, 1847. It was also read before the Maryland Historical Society, at Baltimore, and an assembly of citizens at Washington. The interest which was manifested on these occasions induced the writer to enlarge the plan, and introduce other matter not strictly coming within the scope of an historical discourse, but believed to be important to a complete view of the subject. He has, however, for the most part, omitted all such details as would more properly belong to a guide-book; or be invested with a local, rather than a general interest. It is believed to be the first attempt which has been made to call attention to the various questions which arise in the selection of a Seat of Government for a Nation. As such, the editor of HUNT's MERCHANTs' MAGAZINE deemed it worthy of insertion in that well-known and valuable periodical; and it is now issued in this form for distribution amongst those friends who have taken an interest in the subject. To Lewis H. Machen, Peter Force, John C. Brent, and Joseph: Gales, Esquires, he is under obligations for valuable suggestions and facts. That he may have made some mistakes, is not unlikely; but he will have accomplished his object if he shall succeed in inducing some abler pen to develop the easiest and best way of fulfilling the design proposed in founding the city of Washington.
Owing to repeated inquiries for this pamphlet, a Second Edition is now issued, with some additions and corrections.
In addition to the names mentioned in the last preface, the writer would place that of John Sessford, Esq., as of one to whom he is under obligations, and whose valuable statistical tables, it is to be hoped, may yet be printed in some convenient form for preservation.
FALSE IMPRESSIONS PREVAILING IN RELATION TO THE CITY OF WASIIINGTON.—M.R. SOUTHARD's REMARK, AND ITS APPLICATION.—SESSIONS OF congress, WHERE HELD PRIOR TO 1790—ARTICLE OF THE CONSTITUTION PROVIDING FOR A SEAT OF GOVERNMENT— DISCUSSIONS IN RELATION TO THE PLACE TO BE SELECTED–DISADVANTAGES OF A COMMERCIAL CITY--PROPRIETY OF LAYING OUT A CITY EXPRESSLY FOR THIS PURPOSE— POSITION.—INFLUENCE OF THE PROPOSITION FOR FUNDING STATE DEBTS--THE GROWTH of THE WEST ANTICIPATED WHEN THIS QUESTION wAs DECIDED–DR, PATTERSON's CALGULATION.—MILEAGE–RECENT REMARKS OF SENATORS CALHOUN AND ALLEN ON “A CENTRE OF TERRITORY,” AND INFLUENCE OF COMMERCIAL CITIES-CONSTRUCTION: OF THE ACT,
NoTwiTHSTANDING the number who annually visit Washington on business or pleasure, there are few who rightly understand the relation in which that city stands to the General Government, or appreciate its importance as the only spot where it is practically seen that, for national purposes, we are but one people. There are, it is true, forts, arsenals, and navy-yards scattered over the country, in which all are interested equally, and which awaken our pride, as citizens of the great republic; but each of these is limited to some one object, and a sight of one is a sight of all. It is only at Washington that one sees a whole district of country laid out expressly as a common centre of the nation, and a city planned solely with a view to the gratification of national pride, and for national convenience; the inhabitants of which are under the entire control of Congress, and deprived of the elective franchise, for the express purpose of removing them from the influence of party spirit, and enabling the Government to perform its functions without embarrassment or restraint.
It is the fashion to speak of the Seat of Government as a place of extravagant pretensions, never to be realized; of magnificent distances, dusty streets, and poverty-stricken people, without reference to the circumstances under which this particular spot was selected for the Seat of Government, the objects contemplated in laying out a Federal city, how far those objects have been accomplished, and to what extent any failure on this score is to be ascribed to the inefficient legislation of Congress. There are gross misstatements made every year by those who ought to know better, and the tendency of which is, not only to prejudice the interest of those who reside upon the spot, but to foster a public sentiment which works no small amount of injury to our institutions and country at large. It is that spirit which undervalues every place, however sacred its associations, if not accompanied with the bustle of commerce and manufactures; which confines itself to the present, or, if it looks into the future, only looks with business-like eyes; and which has, in a measure, broken up that feeling of patriotism and sentiment, which gathers around certain hallowed spots, and the cultivation of which, as in the case of popular songs and traditions, has, in every country, proved one of its greatest safeguards. In one of his reports, the late Senator Southard spoke of Washington as the “only child of the nation;” and the thoughtful visiter who stands on the terrace of the Capitol, and looks upon the scene around him, instead of dwelling with contempt upon the scattered piles of brick and mortar, will, if we mistake not, in view of the circumstances under which it was brought into being, the honored names connected with its foundation, and its identity of interest with the Union, recogmise the full force of the expression, and feel a corresponding interest in its present and future position. The subject, too, is fraught with matter of grave reflection to the statesman and philosopher, as illustrative of the influence exerted by a political capital, the principles on which one should be selected, and the expediency of any future change in our own country. . It is, therefore, that we propose to present, as briefly as possible, an outline of the arguments which led to the act for establishing the present Seat of Government, a sketch of the site selected, and the plans adopted for carrying that act into effect, with a view of the present position and future prospects of the city. The sessions of the old Congress were held, according as the exigencies of the war, or the convenience of members from different sections required, at Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, and New York. During this time, there appears to have been great anxiety and rivalry amongst the different States, for the honor of having this distinguished body in their midst. New York tendered the town of Kingston for the Seat of Government; Rhode Island, Newport; Maryland, Annapolis; Virginia, Williamsburgh. On the 21st October, 1783, Congress had been insulted at Philadelphia, by a band of mutineers, which the State authorities were not able to quell. On this occasion they adjourned to Princeton, where they held their sessions in the hall of the college; and it was probably owing to the recent disturbance, that the subject of a permanent Seat of Government was now taken up, and continued to be, at intervals, the subject of discussion up to the formation of the Constitution. We have no register of the debates, but a large number of resolutions were offered, and votes taken. Two of the most prominent propositions will throw some light upon the views as to place and plan which were entertained at that time. On the 7th October, 1733, on motion of Mr. Gerry, it was resolved that buildings for the use of Congress be erected on or near the banks of the Delaware, or of the Potomac, near Georgetown; provided, a suitable district can be procured on one of the rivers aforesaid for a Federal town, that the right of soil, and an exclusive or such other jurisdiction as Congress may direct, shall be vested in the United States. This, afterwards, underwent various modifications, one of which was to have buildings erected both on the Potomac and Delaware, until, finally, it was repealed on the 26th April, 1784. On the 30th October following, Congress met at Trenton, and the subject was again taken up, and, after a long debate, resulted in the passage of an ordinance, appointing three commissioners with full power to lay out a district not exceeding three, nor less than two miles square, on the banks of either side of the Delaware, not more than eight miles above or below the falls thereof, for a Federal town. They were authorized to purchase soil, and enter into contracts for erecting and completing, in an elegant manner, a Federal house, President's house, and houses for the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, War, Marine, and Treasury; that, in choosing the situation for the buildings, due regard be had to the accommodation of the States, with lots for houses for the use of their delegates respectively. At the Congress which met at New York, January 13, 1785, great but unsuccessful efforts were made to substitute the Potomac for the IDelaware. The three commissioners were here appointed, but never entered upon their duties; for various delays occurred, and numerous efforts appear to have been made to repeal or alter it. On May 10, 1787, Mr. Lee, of Virginia, moved the following resolution: .