Historical Highlights

The Permanent Seat of Government Act

July 16, 1790
The Permanent Seat of Government Act Image courtesy of Library of Congress In November 1800, Congress moved to the new federal city in Washington, D.C. The image depicts the U.S. Capitol grounds, from the west front facing Pennsylvania Avenue.
On this date, President George Washington signed into law the Permanent Seat of Government Act, which established the location of the new federal city. On July 9, the House approved the relocation of the federal government by a vote of 32 to 29. The bill stated that the new federal district, “not exceeding ten miles square . . . be located as hereafter directed on the river Potomac, at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and Connogochegue.” The debate about where to place a permanent seat of government had been a source of controversy since the Continental Congresses and continued throughout the First Congress (1789–1791). Two of President Washington’s Cabinet members, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton fashioned a compromise with the tacit support of one of the House’s most influential Members, Representative James Madison of Virginia. In exchange for locating the capital in a southern locale, southern Representatives dropped their opposition to Hamilton’s program to have the federal government assume the states’ Revolutionary War debt.

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