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The Compromise of 1790

Hamilton, Alexander. Painting  by John Trumbull (copy). (Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, National Archives)

Hamilton, Alexander. Painting by John Trumbull (copy). (Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, National Archives)

On June 20, 1790, when Congress was temporarily meeting in New York City, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson hosted a dinner. In attendance were Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Representative from Virginia James Madison.

Keep in mind these men were on opposing ends of the political spectrum. Hamilton, a Federalist, wanted the Federal Government to hold the bulk of the political and economic power; Madison and Jefferson, Republicans, wanted that power to remain with the states.

Nonetheless, the three men met to discuss a prolonged deadlock in Congress, and this meeting was a pivotal turning point in what is known as the “Compromise of 1790.”

Back in January 1790, Hamilton had given his “First Report on Public Credit” to Congress. One of the most contentious issues in the report was Hamilton’s recommendation that the Federal Government assume the states’ substantial Revolutionary War debts.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

Hamilton believed this was necessary to establish the United States’ credit and promote investment. Furthermore, the debt rested in the hands of a small number of wealthy citizens. Hamilton knew these men would take a keen interest in the success of a country that owed them money.

The assumption issue had been debated in Congress for months. Northern members supported it because their debts were largely unpaid but Southern members, including Madison, opposed it because southern states had paid off a significant portion of their debt.

At the same time, Congress had been at a standstill over the location of the permanent capital. Although the Constitution mandated a seat of the Federal Government, it had not specified an exact location. Congress, over the course of its first year, had considered more than a dozen potential locations.

The Funding Act, as introduced in the Senate, June 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate)

The Funding Act, 1790 (bill version). (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When Senator Pierce Butler of South Carolina presented a new Residence bill on May 31, 1790, he left the location blank. The deadlock continued into June, when the Senate failed to pass a motion to fill the spot with “the easterly bank of the Patomack.” Subsequent motions designating Baltimore, MD, and Wilmington, DE, also failed.

Hence the dinner meeting. Key was a bargain in which Madison agreed not to block assumption of state debt and convince enough southern members to support it. In exchange, Congress would first pass legislation locating the capital city on the Potomac, after a 10-year temporary move to Philadelphia.

This may be one of the earliest examples of legislative “log rolling,” or voting trading in Congress. Although there is no dispute that this meeting took place, historians have been skeptical to what extent it had on the eventual compromise.

Nonetheless, Congress passed the Residence Act in July, establishing the permanent capital in what would become Washington, DC. And the next month, Congress passed the Funding Act, which included the assumption of states’ debt.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

The Residence Act, introduced May 31, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

The Residence Act, introduced May 31, 1790 (bill version). (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)


Protecting Copyright and the “Encouragement of Learning”

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Today’s post comes from Madeline Espeseth, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

In 1789, David Ramsay, author of History of the Revolution of South Carolina and History of the American Revolution, petitioned Congress to pass a law granting him the exclusive right of “vending and disposing” the books within the United States. This was the first time the issues associated with protecting writers’ rights was brought to Congress’s attention.

Congress received seven petitions relating to copyright legislation during that First Congress (1789–1791). On May 31, 1790, Congress enacted the first Federal copyright law, “An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, Charts, And books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned.”

The Copyright Act of 1790 put in place several important protections: copyright holders had control over their work for 14 years, with the opportunity to renew the copyright if they outlived the first term; persons who had not received permission to make copies of a protected work were to pay a fine of 50 cents for every page of work they had printed; only works copyrighted in the United States were protected; and only works of U.S. citizens could be copyrighted.

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version, page 2. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

British writers were extremely displeased with the provision that international works and writers were not protected under U.S. copyright law.

To express their frustration and “want of a law by which exclusive rights to their respective writings may be secured in the United States of America,” 56 prominent British authors, including Thomas Moore, Benjamin Disraeli, and Harriet Martineau, petitioned Senator Henry Clay, who presented the letter to Congress on February 2, 1837.

British authors were not entitled to royalties for their works printed in the United States, most of which were “appropriated by American Booksellers . . . and that the names of the Authors being retained, they may be made responsible for works which they no longer recognize as their own.”

Despite objections from international writers, protection did not come until Congress passed the International Copyright Act of 1891. For international authors to get a copyright in the United States, they first had to obtain one from their own government, and they had to be a citizen of “proclaimed country,” meaning the U.S. President had recognized it as a nation.

Letter from British authors to the Senate regarding copyright laws, and protection for international works, page 1, February 2, 1837. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Letter from British authors to the Senate regarding copyright laws, and protection for international works, page 1, February 2, 1837. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

The copyright law went under three major revisions in 1909, 1976, and 1998. These changes became necessary due to longer life expectancies; changing mediums that required protection, such as photographs and film; desire to be on par with international copyright laws; and the adoption of the “fair use” clause.

The most recent change in copyright law was the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which also became known as the Sonny Bono Act or the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

The act extended the length of copyright to be the life of the author plus 70 years. Previously, copyright protections lasted 50 years after the author died, which was 20 years shorter than copyright protection in European countries.

Most members of Congress thought the issue was not contentious, but it stirred up heated debates from copyright holders and prominent artists who wanted to increase the length of protection to be equivalent to foreign governments.

Letter from British authors to the Senate regarding copyright laws, and protection for international works, February 2, 1837. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Letter from British authors to the Senate regarding copyright laws, and protection for international works, February 2, 1837, signature page. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

The extended copyright protection guaranteed that the financial benefits of copyrighted work extended beyond the creator to also accrue to the copyright holders’ descendants.

Notable opposition came from librarians and archivists. They thought that extending the length of copyright would make it difficult for educators and researchers to use copyrighted works, which would hinder “the progress of science and useful arts.”

Despite some controversy sparked by current copyright law—such as how copyrighted works can be used for educational purposes and when unpublished works become a part of the public domain—the current copyright laws fulfill the same needs as the law passed by the First Congress: to protect author’s right to create and distribute materials, and encourage creativity and innovation.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

Letter from the estate of L Ron Hubbard to Senator Orrin G. Hatch regarding the Copyright Term Extension Act, May 11, 1995, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Letter from the estate of L. Ron Hubbard to Senator Orrin G. Hatch regarding the Copyright Term Extension Act, May 11, 1995, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Letter from the estate of L Ron Hubbard to Senator Orrin G. Hatch regarding the Copyright Term Extension Act, May 11, 1995, page 2. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Letter from the estate of L Ron Hubbard to Senator Orrin G. Hatch regarding the Copyright Term Extension Act, May 11, 1995, page 2. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)


National Archives War Memorial Plaque

National Archives Memorial Plaque (Photo courtesy of the National Archives History Office)

Photograph of National Archives Memorial Plaque, May 15, 2015. (Photograph courtesy of the National Archives History Office)

Hanging in the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance lobby of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, is a small plaque with the names of four men:

Ralph Leroy Dewsnup, Charles Edward Lewis, Julius Mayers and Augustus Julius Siko.

These four men were National Archives employees who died serving the United States during World War II.

In 1946 the National Archives created the plaque to honor these men and their service to our country.

The plaque’s dedication ceremony took place on January 29, 1947, in the Pennsylvania Avenue lobby, although now the plaque is displayed on a different wall than where it was originally unveiled.

The ceremony, attended by more than 100 National Archives employees, began with an invocation. Two National Archives staff members then performed a rendition of Kipling’s “Recessional.”

Bess Glenn, the employee association’s president, then unveiled the plaque.

Performance of "Taps" at War Memorial Plaque Dedication,, January 29, 1947. (Records of the National Archives)

Performance of “Taps” at War Memorial Plaque Dedication, January 29, 1947. (Records of the National Archives)

She remarked, “To give expression to our feeling of respect and admiration for these lost comrades, the employees of the National Archives have erected this memorial plaque. In honoring these four men we honor also all members of our staff who were in the armed services of our country.”

Following the unveiling, Archivist Solon J. Buck received the plaque, noting that while the National Archives staff was small in size, they had a larger percentage of staff who served in World War II than any other Federal agency.

The ceremony concluded with “Taps” played by the bugler from the Ceremonial Detachment at Fort Myer, Virginia, and then the color guard withdrew.

Here are the biographies of the four men, as printed in the original program:

RALPH LEROY DEWSNUP

Ralph LeRoy Dewsnup, son of Hyrum E. and Jennie Ransom Dewsnup, was born on June 13, 1915, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He received his early education in the public schools of Pocatello, Idaho, and Salt Lake City. Ralph graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in June 1936. Shortly thereafter he and his wife, Ruth Belnap Dewsnup, came to Washington and on August 30, 1937, he entered upon his duties at the National Archives. His military service began on August 21, 1941. At the time of his death on December 10, 1943, Major Dewsnup, Army Air Forces, was on a search rescue mission near Chabu, India. He was awarded posthumously the Soldier’s Medal for heroism on a similar mission between September 25 and October 25, 1943.

CHARLES EDWARD LEWIS

Charles Edward Lewis, son of Dorvel D. and Lillian E. Lewis, was born on May 23, 1923, in Elkton, Virginia, and received his education in the public schools of that town. On June 4, 1942, he began working at the National Archives, where his father was and still is employed. Charles, a resident of Vienna, Virginia, entered the service of his country on December 4, 1942. Serving as a photographer in the Army Air Forces with the rank of sergeant, he was killed in action over China on December 16, 1944.

JULIUS MAYERS

Julius Mayers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Myron Mayers, was born on July 11, 1917, in New York City. His early education was received in the public schools of that city, and he graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1937. He obtained his Master of Arts degree in history from Columbia University in 1939. From May 26, 1941, until April 17, 1942, when he entered the service, he served on the staff of the National Archives. Lieutenant Mayers, Chemical Warfare Service, died on March 22, 1945, at Bani, La Union Province, Philippine Islands. His widow is Mrs. Caroline R. Mayers.

AUGUSTUS JULIUS SIKO

Augustus Julius Siko, son of Steven and Elizabeth Siko, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on December 19, 1921. He graduated from the Poughkeepsie High School in June 1940 and entered upon his duties at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, on June 27, 1941. His military service began on November 21, 1942. Lieutenant Siko was a member of the Army Air Forces at the time of his death on October 14, 1943, at Neighbors, California. His widow is Mrs. Frances Mazzarelli Siko.

Placard showing members of National Archives staff in armed forces, February 22, 1943. (Records of the National Archives)

Placard showing members of National Archives staff in armed forces, February 22, 1943. (Records of the National Archives)


Location, Location, Location: Settling on a Capital City

Today’s post comes from Judith Adkins, an archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Senate Resolution that Congress should meet in Philadelphia, May 24, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Senate Resolution that Congress shall meet in Philadelphia, May 24, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

While the First Congress met for its two sessions in New York City, delegates from Pennsylvania longed to move the seat of government back to Philadelphia, home of the Continental Congress.

On May 24, 1790, Senator Robert Morris of Pennsylvania offered a resolution, “That Congress shall meet and Hold their next Session in the City of Philadelphia”—the first overture on the issue during the second session.

Three days later, Congressman Thomas Fitzsimons, also from Pennsylvania, introduced an almost identical resolution in the House of Representatives.

Debate ensued.

That spirited discussion was recorded in the Annals of Congress, the predecessor publication to today’s Congressional Record. Representative Elbridge Gerry worried that Congress would become “a political shuttlecock, bandied about between two rival cities.” Some in Congress argued for keeping the government in New York until a permanent residence had been determined.

Other members insisted that Philadelphia be made the permanent seat of government. And still others proposed Baltimore or Wilmington as temporary homes.

In late June, the House and Senate reached a compromise: the permanent capital would be located along the Potomac River, satisfying the fervent wishes of Southerners. But first Congress would move temporarily to Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania delegation was gambling that Congress, once established in the City of Brotherly Love, would choose to remain there permanently.

That gamble did not pay off. Ten years later, the Federal Government left the banks of the Delaware River for the banks of the Potomac as planned. Congress convened in Washington, DC, for the first time on November 17, 1800.

Vote in House Journal on motion to move seat of government to Philadelphia, February 9, 1808. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Vote in House Journal on motion to move seat of government to Philadelphia, February 9, 1808. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

For years afterward, however, many members of Congress grumbled about the change. Some considered the District of Columbia to be a poorly planned, mosquito-infested backwater not fit to be the capital of a great nation.

Others believed that having the seat of government in the agrarian South gave that region too much power at the expense of the more commercial North. Unable to reconcile themselves to Washington, members of Congress attempted to move the seat of government several times.

On February 2, 1808, Representative James Sloan of New Jersey offered a resolution, “That it is expedient, and the public good requires, that the seat of Government be removed to the city of Philadelphia for ____ years.” According to the Annals, his resolution sparked heated debate on the House floor, including the usual criticism of DC.

“As to city,” said Representative William Milnor, “it is a burlesque upon the term to call this a city.”

Others members rejected this line of thinking. Representative Matthew Lyon of Kentucky asserted, “The reason why you have not now a large population or great improvements is that you are always talking about moving.”

Some congressmen believed that removal would be unconstitutional, arguing that the framers intended the seat of government, once established, to be permanent.

Others congressmen declared that relocation would violate local business contracts, erode public trust, and waste money already invested in the city.

Emotions ran high, and Sloan even reported receiving a death threat. On February 9, 1808, a motion for further consideration of his resolution was voted down, 51 to 35.

Select Committee report and resolution to inquire into the expediency of removing the Seat of Government, October, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Select Committee report and resolution to inquire into the expediency of removing the Seat of Government, October 3, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

The issue came to the fore yet again during the War of 1812. On August 24, 1814, the British invaded Washington and set fire to most of its public buildings, including the Capitol, White House, and Library of Congress. Some delegates saw the extensive damage as an opportunity to try once more for removal.

On October 3, the committee appointed to look into the matter resolved that it would be “inexpedient” to relocate the capital.

However, Representative John Fisk of New York immediately made a motion to amend that resolution by striking out inexpedient and substituting expedient.

The first vote on that altered resolution resulted in a tie of 68 to 68. Ultimately the Speaker of the House broke the tie in a final vote that approved the resolution, 72 to 71.

A bill was then introduced to move the seat of government temporarily from Washington to an unspecified location. Rumors circulated, including ones that the new site might be Baltimore or Lancaster. But most speculation centered on Philadelphia.

Bill for Temporary Removal, October 3, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Bill for Temporary Removal, October 13, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Although the bill called for temporary removal, opponents of the legislation suspected that permanent removal was its authors’ real aim.

To ensure that any relocation would be only temporary, Representative Thomas Telfair of Georgia proposed an amendment stipulating “that the President’s House, Capitol, and Public Offices, shall be re-built upon their former sites in the City of Washington.” At that point, advocates of removal backed down. On October 15, 1814, the amended bill was put to a final vote and rejected.

As late as 1870, some members of Congress still hoped to relocate the seat of government, though the goal was no longer Philadelphia. In January of that year, Illinois representatives Jesse Moore and John Logan argued that the seat should be moved to the Mississippi River Valley.

President Ulysses S. Grant finally put the matter to rest by publicly stating his opinion that removal would require a constitutional amendment. Facing the prospect of a Presidential veto if they attempted anything short of that, proponents of removal abandoned the fight once more.

This 80-year saga, an intertwining of national story and local story, serves as a reminder that Washington’s current stature—as a major city and as the nation’s capital—was by no means a foregone conclusion.


National Archives commemorates Memorial Day with video

To commemorate Memorial Day, the National Archives has released a short video about the importance of the holiday.

Timed for the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death and the upcoming sesquicentennial of the 1866 founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (the fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans), the National Archives created the video “Memorial Day 2015: Why it Matters.”

The video features Rodney Ross, an archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC, with an introduction by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

Ross demonstrates the importance of National Archives records to everyday Americans through the prism of a single National Archives document—a page from the muster roll of a Civil War soldier from his hometown of Batavia, Illinois.

Oscar F. Cooley's Compiled Military Service Record. (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, National Archives)

Oscar F. Cooley’s Compiled Military Service Record. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

The soldier, Union Pvt. Oscar F. Cooley, was killed in action during the siege at Vicksburg on June 8, 1863.

In the video Ross recounts his Memorial Day memories as a child growing up in Batavia, and shares an image of a statue from Batavia’s West Side Cemetery inscribed with the names of Batavians, primarily those with the 124th Illinois Volunteer Regiment, who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Ross speaks at the Grand Army of the Republic Monument on Pennsylvania Avenue—just across the street from the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

This monument honors the sacrifice of Union soldiers who fought and died to keep the United States of America “a free and undivided republic.”

Ross explains the origin of Memorial Day, the holiday originally called “Decoration Day.”

The holiday was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, a Civil War Union veteran and national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11.

Logan proclaimed: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

No longer an “unknown” soldier, in this video Ross honors fellow Batavian Private Cooley and his supreme sacrifice.

Visit the Batavia Historical Society for information on Batavia, Illinois, and Memorial Day.

Grand Army of the Republic Memorial with National Archives Building in the background, May 18, 2015. (Photograph Courtesy of Jeff Reed)

Grand Army of the Republic Memorial with National Archives Building in the background, May 18, 2015. (Photograph Courtesy of Jeff Reed)