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.
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 … [ Read all ]
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.
Today’s post comes from Judith Adkins, an archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
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.
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 … [ Read all ]
Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.
In 1781, Rhode Island began acquiring nicknames.
American newspapers called it “the perverse sister.” “An evil genius.” The “Quintessence of Villainy.” The name “Rogue Island” stuck all the way to 1787, when the Constitutional Convention began and the small state refused to send delegates. Although this press war started because Rhode Island vetoed an act passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation, it lasted for nearly 10 years.
On May 29, 1790, “the rogue’s” persistent efforts to defy the national government finally failed, and it became the last state to ratify the Constitution, more than a year after it went into effect.
Ironically, Rhode Island played a key role in advancing the Constitution it strongly opposed. In 1786, an electoral revolution took place in Rhode Island that swept the populist Country Party into power. Infuriated by the prospect of a national tax, this faction opposed the expansion of the national government and favored an inflationary monetary policy.
In a single month, the legislature printed 100,000 pounds worth of paper currency. The resulting rampant inflation made Rhode Island—for many Americans—a dark symbol of what ailed the Confederation. Opponents of … [ Read all ]
Today’s post comes from Kate Mollan, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.
From the earliest days of the First Congress there were clamors for the Senate to open the doors to its chamber so that the public and press could witness the proceedings. Unlike the House of Representatives, the early Senate chose to hold its deliberations in secret.
On April 29, 1790, a resolution to open the chamber was made. A day later, the Senate rejected it. This was the first of several unsuccessful motions to open the chamber during the first few years of the Senate’s history.
As there is no record of the debate, the Senate’s reasons for maintaining secrecy are largely unknown. However, it is likely there was concern that the impulse to speak to the assembled public and use more impassioned rhetoric might impede doing the people’s business in an expedient fashion. By keeping its doors closed, the Senate was following the example of the Continental and Confederation Congresses as well as the Constitutional Convention.
Meeting in secret also meant greater freedom of discussion. Many senators looked … [ Read all ]