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AN ESSAY ON THE SEAT OF THE Federal Government, AND THE EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION OF CONGRESS OVER A Ten Miles District; WITH OBSERVATIONS On the Economy and delicate Morals necessary to be observed in infant States. [ First published in Philadelphia, Sep - Pelatiah Webster, Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects 
Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects, published during the American War, and continued up to the present Year, 1791 (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1791).
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AN ESSAY ON THE SEAT OF THE Federal Government, AND THE EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION OF CONGRESS OVER A Ten Miles District; WITH OBSERVATIONS On the Economy and delicate Morals necessary to be observed in infant States.
AS the fixing the Seat of the Federal Government is a subject, which has of late engrossed the attention of many people both in and out of Congress, perhaps a sew observations on the nature and consequences of that measure may be useful, and, of course, acceptable at this time. I offer my best thoughts with freedom, without meaning to offend.†
It appears to me, that deciding, or even pressing, the question of the permanent residence of Congress is very improper at this time, because,
I. Congress have it in their power, without moving this question, to obtain every accommodation for themselves which can be necessary for years to come, and in a situation as nearly in the centre of the present population of the States, and as convenient for the whole Union, as any that can be obtained by any fixture of place that can be made, and all this without any expense of the States.
It is certain, that Philadelphia can and readily would furnish any and all public buildings, which Congress can need for their two Houses; and it is likewise certain, that all the public officers have such liberal appointments, that they can very well afford to pay any small rent which would be necessary for their offices.
It is farther certain, that Philadelphia is nearer to the centre and general convenience of the States, in their present state of population, than any spot either on the Potowmac or Susquehannah, or any other place proposed for the permanent residence of Congress, and will probably continue so for many years.
II. Fixing the seat of government will be altogether useless, till a sum of money can be advanced, sufficient to purchase the soil, and erect the necessary buildings; which will require (according to the estimate of the Lower House of Congress) 100,000 dollars. But it is certain, that, in the present state of our finances, and the numerous and pressing demands on the treasury, we are in no condition to advance any such sum; we have large debts called for in the most pressing manner, by creditors both foreign and domestic, whose demands we are bound to satisfy with the first monies we can raise, either from our own resources or our credit; these demands, I say, we are bound to satisfy, on every principle of justice, public faith, national honor, and common honesty, nay, by every inducement of gratitude, and even compassion.
It follows then, that to delay these payments, in order to squander away 100,000 dollars on buildings of no immediate use or necessity, is an act of very high injustice, and even wickedness; it is prostituting the justice, honor, and even morality of the nation, to very little more than vain show and pageantry.
It may, indeed, be doubtful what sort of justice or gratitude is due to the purchasers of alienated certificates; but there can certainly be no doubt of the justice and gratitude too, which is due to the original holders of certificates, who actually rendered their services, supplies, and cash to the States, in the time of their highest dangers and distresses.
These men did in fact pay the purchase of our independence; and can it be supposed, that Americans can enjoy all the rich blessings of their independence, and, at the same time, refuse payment to the first purchasers of it, who come like beggars to solicit payment, to relieve them from the penury and distress which they suffer for want of it?—Must all this scandal, meanness, and wrong be incurred, in order to lavish immense sums on a parcel of large edifices, to be reared up in the woods, and which are no more necessary to the present honor, safety, or even convenience of the States, than a fifth wheel to a coach? Common sense forbids it.
It is manifestly as wicked, shameful, inhuman, and ridiculous for a State to do this, as for an individual to purchase a large estate, enjoy the rich produce of it, and refuse to pay the original purchase of it, because the creditor happens to be a poor creature, who cannot compel him to payment. Can such a man, with any reason, expect either the blessings of Heaven, esteem of mankind, or any kind of prosperity in possession of such iniquitous affluence and inglorious grandeur? whilst the original purchase-money is wrongfully withheld from the creditor; and the money due to him is laid out in sumptuous buildings and gaudy parade.
I should think, that gentlemen who can propose such a plan, have forgot the great principles of justice, public faith, and economy, on which alone the honor, establishment, and safety of a nation can be founded, and, instead of these, have adopted the sentiments of young beaus and girls, who think the highest distinction consists in the finery of their dress, and set that miss down as undoubtedly the most respectable, whose clothes and jewels are the richest and most brilliant.
When there is an estate much involved, it commonly happens that some debts, on account of greater original merit, better earnings, or other causes, are deemed to be of a higher nature than others, and are therefore entitled to a precedency or priority of payment; the original holders of the public securities have undoubtedly this claim, and are therefore entitled to precedency of payment, and the States are undoubtedly furnished with sufficient resources to pay them, or, at least, their annual or half-yearly interest; and these resources ought not to be diverted from so necessary and honorable an object, to the vain purposes of ridiculous parade or extravagant appointments, or other Utopian expenses.
But it may be objected to this by honest men, who will say, ‘we approve the justice and reason of this proposition; it coincides with the very sentiments of the heart, and meets both the honest and grateful feelings of our souls; but, alas! it is impracticable, because the original holders of the public securities cannot be ascertained and discriminated from others who are not such; many who are really original holders, will not be able to prove that they are such.’ In answer to this, I readily admit that any man who presents himself as an original holder, and claims the benefit of precedence of payment, must prove himself to be such, i. e. the proof will lie on him, and which almost the whole of them will be able to produce with the utmost certainty, because their names are recorded in the public offices, in which their accounts were settled, and out of which their certificates issued, and tho’ some few will not be able to make this proof, and so must lose the benefit for want of proof, yet this affords no reason why those who can make proof, should lose the benefit of it; we might as well deny that authenticated deeds should be admitted as good evidence of titles of lands to the possessor, because many people have purchased estates, but have either neglected to procure the proper deeds, or, by some misfortune, have lost them, and, of course, must lose their estates, for want of the proper evidence of that right which is really in them.
III. In the late public debates of Congress on the subject of fixing the permanent seat of government, gentlemen differed so extremely in their estimates of the distance of stations, convenience of passage both by land and water, salubrity or unhealthiness of places, slate of population, and many other circumstances necessary to be taken into account, that it appears very plain, that the internal geography and many other local qualities of the United States are not sufficiently defined and understood, to enable us to six even the centrality of the States, and ascertain many other things absolutely necessary to be known and considered, in determining the permanent seat of government. Therefore, it is prudent to put off that determination, till the data on which it manifestly ought to depend, can be more fully known and ascertained.
IV. It is expected that four or five States will soon be added to the present Union;* the accession of two of them we hope to be very near, and it is unreasonable to push the decision of a question (which is thought by many to be of the utmost consequence to the whole Union) by only a part of the whole, when, by a little delay, in no manner prejudicial to us, a decision may be obtained, in which every part may have its due weight and influence.
But there is another reason against an immediate decision of the question (and perhaps of more consequence than this) which is drawn from the present state of Congress, viz.
V. In the late discussions of this subject in Congress, different gentlemen adopted different spots or places for the seat of government, and became divided into two parties nearly equal; each contending for his favorite spot with all force of argument and energy of zeal; and both parties adhered to their several favorite positions with such pointed and inflexible obstinacy, and worked themselves up to such an acrimony of debate, that it became impossible to force the decision, without giving a sort of triumph to one party, and subjecting the other to very sensible mortification; and as the majority must be very small, if the question is pushed on to a decision (for the parties are nearly equal) it is much to be feared that the affair will produce much dissatisfaction, and perhaps destroy mutual confidence and good-humor, which may in future weaken our counsels, and lessen our unanimity in matters that have no connection with the seat of government; for it is well known, that irritated parties rarely adopt much accommodating temper or benevolent condescension one towards another.
England and France, Holland and Italy, give us, in their histories, dreadful lessons of the tragical effects of state-parties, and I pray God, we may have prudence enough to put an early stop to them, if we find them in small beginnings growing amongst us.
For these reasons I wish the said decision may be postponed; I would wish this, if it was only to give gentlemen time to cool, and, when cool, to revise their opinions and arguments.—Time softens the acrimony of the mind, takes off the edge of the passions, makes room for charity and benevolence, and may perhaps produce such a spirit of accommodation, as, together with new information and new lights that may be thrown on the subject, may produce in a future time a decision which will strengthen our union, without any danger of weakening or destroying it.
Perhaps it may appear in future time, that neither of the spots contended for are on the whole eligible, and, of course, both parties may yield their favorite positions, without giving any cause of triumph to their opponents.—But there are still other reasons for a postponement of this decision not yet mentioned, viz.
VI. Centrality will undoubtedly be (cæteris paribus) the principle on which the seat of government ought to be placed, because every part of the Union has equal right to accommodation; but this must be a centrality of population, not of territory; it cannot matter much whether the seat of government is at little or great distance from those parts of the territory, which consist of uninhabited woods and lakes.
But this centre is, in its nature, a moving point, and must and will continue so, till the population of every part of the territory is complete, and becomes invariable, which, in the common course of human events, can never happen. And no kind of establishment which we can give to the seat of government, will keep it fixed and unmoved, when future reasons and future counsels shall operate against it.
Therefore, it is altogether vain and highly imprudent to endeavour to fix our seat of government by laying out any more money than is of immediate use and absolute necessity, in furnishing the accommodations of it, and especially at a time when our finances are extremely low and deranged, our people greatly burdened, and the honor and justice of the States every where suffering in a scandalous manner, by our breaches of faith and failure of public credit.
But tho’ centrality is the principle (cæteris paribus) on which the seat of government ought to be placed, yet (cæteris non paribus) it may become otherwise; many other things may occur, to make a removal from centrality absolutely necessary.
VII. The seat of government ought to be in a place where the court and officers of government, and all the vast numbers of people, both citizens and foreigners, who have occasion to resort there, may be accommodated in the best and most convenient manner; but it is certain, that neither the one nor the other have any chance for such accommodations on the desert banks of the Potowmac or Susquehannah for many, many years to come; therefore, I think it best to defer moving to either of the places for the present.
VIII. The seat of government ought to be in a place of the greatest attainable intelligence, that the rulers may take benefit of the most extensive correspondences of men of all professions, of foreigners resorting from every part of the earth, of the most complete libraries, maps, &c. &c.
Congress may have concerns with all the world. Not a citizen in the States can have a connexion in any part of the earth, but, on some occasion or other, Congress may have the matter before them. They must preside over all improvements of the country, in which the experience and information of foreigners may be of essential use. We may be interested in the customs of foreign nations, which nobody can explain so well as their own people residing among us, &c. &c. &c.
It is not supposable that the Members of Congress will come from home, furnished with competent knowledge of all the subjects they will have occasion to consider and decide; and if they have not this knowledge, they must obtain it by information, as other folks do, and, of course, must be furnished with the means of information; but I think we might as well immure them in the bottom of a well, or shut them up in a cave, where they would be effectually cut off from all intelligence of the world, as place them within the desert, dreary fogs, and disheartening agues of either the Potowmac or Susquehannah, where there is nothing grand and majestic to be seen, but the ice and floods, and nothing lively to be heard or felt, but musketoes. I am of opinion, the defects of nature must be corrected by art, before either of these places can become the best centre of intelligence in America; and therefore, I think Congress need not be in much hurry to move to either of them.
IX. It is necessary the seat of government should be placed where the manufactures, agriculture, trade, and wealth of the country can receive the best protection and encouragement, and be most easily and properly directed and regulated by the government. The great first principles of our wealth are our great staples of manufactures and agriculture; these both receive their invigorating principle from our trade, for nobody would labor much to raise the produce of the earth, or make fabrics, if there was no trade to make a vent for them, or no market where they could be sold.
This, of course, brings the whole into action on the various seats of navigation, and, of course, it is absolutely necessary that the seat of government should be near such seat of navigation, that government may have the best opportunities to cherish and protect these most important interests, which not only comprise the grand wealth and resources of the subject, but out of which must be derived the great and most capital supplies of the government.
Farther, if it is necessary that the seat of government should be near any of these seats of navigation and trade, it is evidently most necessary, that it should be placed near to the greatest seat and centre of them.
But neither the banks of Potowmac nor Susquehannah are near any such centre, nor have either of them any chance of ever possessing such advantage; therefore, I think it best to put off at least for the present an emigration to either of them.
X. It is necessary that the seat of government should be placed in that position, which is most convenient for the defence and protection of the Union. Our State is yet young; we are yet ignorant how far, and in what light, we may be considered in the political systems of the European or African nations, or what designs they are or may be meditating concerning us; I suppose, our derangements and pressures since the peace have set us in a somewhat disadvantageous light among them; but nature will soon give us consequence, as, in the ordinary course of events, another century will make us as numerous, and perhaps as powerful and rich, as the greatest of them, and, of course, we shall be as respectable, if we have wisdom enough to improve our advantages.
The two colonies of the European powers, to which we are contiguous, are so thinly inhabited and weak, that I conceive we are in little danger from them; the Indians we can easily manage; our connexions with all the other nations of the world must depend on navigation, for we can neither pass to them, nor they to us, otherwise than across the sea.
I suppose nobody does now, or perhaps ever will, wish for any other than commercial connections with any of them; but even our commerce may require protection, and as the caprices of mankind are sometimes very vicious, and may lead to actions very provoking, it is not impossible we may be insulted on our own coasts, or even in our harbours, if we are wholly void of force to protect them.
All this brings into view the very great importance of our navigation, which is the great means of our commerce, and, of course, of our wealth, which will doubtless require very extensive and numerous shipping; and these will make a naval force, greater or less, at least in some degree, necessary; and as this is an object on which not only the wealth, but even the character and safety, of the States will capitally depend, it instantly rises into view as an interest, an accommodation, of such vast magnitude, as to require a sort of precedence of consideration, of most capital and decided attention; and, of course, will at least require the seat of government to be so near to the seat of it, as may be necessary to give it all the inspection, support, and protection, that a matter of such capital consequence must require from government.
The banks of Potowmac and Susquehannah are too remote from any practicable seat of a navy, to admit any probability that it will ever be properly attended to by a court at such distance. We have no instance of any nation, which pays a proper attention to their navigation, whose seat of government is at a great distance from their principal harbours.
France and Spain have good harbours, and every inducement and advantage for building and furnishing a complete navy, but their capitals are far removed from the sight of ships, and, of course, they are neglected.
On the contrary, the courts of England, Holland, Venice, and Genoa, have their harbours near them, and their shipping is rarely neglected or out of order.
In as much, then, as capital considerations ought ever to control capital decisions, I have no doubt but a seat of the federal government will be looked for and found, not on the banks of Potowmac or Susquehannah, but near to some navigable water, proper for the capital station of a navy; and to recede from this principle will indicate not error of judgment, not corruption of heart alone, but absolute, total madness; and for the justice of this remark, I appeal to the sentiments of all the citizens of America, and of all their friends in the world.
Time has fully justified Peter the Great, Czar of Muscovy; who, on the force of this very principle, removed the feat of his Empire from its ancient position, near 500 miles farther from the centre of his dominions, and into a climate and soil much less desirable, merely to gain a situation contiguous to a harbour for his ships; in consequence of which his Empire is amazingly enriched by trade, and become very respectable for its naval force.
But I suppose it will be strongly objected to any delay of fixing the seat of government, that, till that is done, Congress cannot come into possession of their exclusive jurisdiction over ten miles square of territory, which is to surround their seat when fixed, and not before; and, of course, till then they cannot enjoy the advantages of it.
This is a measure that has been adopted and approved by so many votes of Convention, Congress, and particular States, that I suppose myself very stupid, whilst I cannot see any kind of fitness or propriety in the measure, or any advantages that will naturally result from it. But as stupidity is no crime, and nobody can be rightfully blamed for not understanding what is totally out of the reach of his mental powers, or for not seeing what does not appear visible to him, I will venture to give my thoughts on this subject, in full expectation, not of blame and censure, but of being deemed most uncommonly stupid and dull, in not being able to comprehend what is so very clear and plain to other folks.
I. In the first place, I can easily conceive that Congress ought to have and enjoy all powers, authorities, and jurisdictions,that are or can be necessary to preserve their own dignity, respectability, and state; sufficient fully to secure them, to all intents and purposes, against all contempts, violences, intrusions, or embarrassments, and to regulate and adjust their own order, economy, and even ceremony, in the most proper and decent manner, which they can devise; and that they shall be fully empowered to try and punish all violations and trespasses in any of these respects, either by acts of their corporate or aggregate body, or by such judges or officers as they shall appoint; and that all these powers shall be superior to, and uncontrollable by, any other power or authority whatever.
All these powers of self-preservation ought undoubtedly to exist in the fullest manner in that august body, and their prudence in the exercise of them may safely, and must necessarily, be relied on by the citizens of the States, without instituting any superior authority to control them.—But, in the second place, it appears to me,
II. That these powers, authorities, and jurisdictions must not be fastened or limited to any particular place; but must be inherent in that august body, and must go and come with them when and wheresoever they move.
If, by the invasions of an enemy, a conflagration of their edifices, the infections of a plague, or any other cause, they should find it convenient to remove their court or the seat of their residence to some distant place, they must carry all these jurisdictions and powers with them; it will not do well to leave them behind; their use will be as great and necessary in the place to which they move, as it was in the place they have left, and it would be hard upon that august body, to add to their calamities of removal, the additional mortification of being lessened and deflowered by it.
III. I have no idea that the citizens of any one district should be any more subject to the authority and control of Congress, or should be entitled to their benefits or notice in any way whatever, more than all the rest. Every citizen has equal right to all the benefits of, and owes equal duty to, that supreme body. Any distinctions of this sort lay a foundation for partialities, expectations, or at least jealousies, which are very pernicious in society; and altho’ the citizens of the ten miles district may be few at first, yet we shall probably find (whatever objections Congress have to a residence in cities) that buildings and inhabitants will multiply round their court very soon into a large city; in which numerous occasions will probably arise to operate on the above-mentioned sources of discontent and chagrin.
IV. Congress will have to make a whole code of laws for the ten miles district, to appoint every judiciary and executive officer, and to superintend the administration of the whole; and if they are as slow about that, as they are in organizing the federal government (and the case is quite as novel, and the ground equally untrodden) this work may probably take up their time many months; and as the States pay them about 1000 dollars a day, during their session, the administration of the district will soon cost the States 100,000 dollars; which is much more than either we can spare, or the district can be worth to us.
V. The whole police of the district will be a solecism in the federal government; their laws will be made and imposed by people that are not of their election, but by strangers, not by even their own fellow-citizens. It is altogether at the option of Congress, whether they may appoint one officer of their police, either judiciary or executive; they have no voice in taxation or giving their own money; they do not belong to the Thirteen States, for they are no part of either of them, and, of course, not parties to the confederation, nor are they a State of themselves; the process of none of the confederated States can run there, so that, for any thing they can do, their district will be a refuge for debtors, thieves, and even murderers.
They must submit, right or wrong, to the decisions of their rulers, for they have no appeal, no refuge from injury or tyranny; and this is no very comfortable circumstance, if we consider a little how common it is for courts to oppress the cities in which they reside. And if, under these circumstances, the district should think themselves oppressed, and should happen to rebel or raise an insurrection, the force of the Union must be called in to quell them; and this will occasion another expense to the States, both of blood and treasure, which I strongly object to.
VI. Besides all this, I know not what they will do, or what will become of them, if Congress should happen to remove from them finally, and not return; here must be another new road cut to their final destination, I know not how nor where.
After all this trouble and expense, I cannot see one single benefit or advantage which can accrue to the Congress, or the States, or the district, from the whole of it; the powers and jurisdictions above described appear to me to contain every thing, every authority which Congress can possibly need. I take it they are all comprised in the constitution, tho’ not particularly enumerated there; but if it should be judged that these powers are not given explicitly enough in the constitution, they can easily be added by way of amendment, and I dare believe every State will readily ratify them.
But I am tired of gazing at this ten miles district, this unnatural object, this sport of police; for I can really make nothing of it; and so I quit it, being willing to refer it over to Congress to make something of it, if they can.
I now return from this long and wearisome discussion of this great objection against any delay in fixing the seat of government, and return to my principal subject, which I mean briefly to revise, and reduce the matter to very few words, as follows:
We have every necessary building for the use of Congress ready made, and have no need of new ones; and if we did need them, we have no money to spare to build them, so long as our debts (of most poignant pressure and distress) are unpaid;—the geography and other circumstances of the States are not sufficiantly known, to enable us to ascertain the most central place for a seat of government;—the present violent heats in Congress about this subject render a decision of it dangerous at this time;—we expect an accession of new States, who ought to have their weight in the decision, but they must be excluded, if the decision is pushed before their accession;—that any attempt to establish a permanent seat of government of long duration, is impracticable and vain, as the just and central point for such a seat will, in its nature, be always moving, and future reasons and counsels will alter any establishments we can now make;—that the seat of government ought doubtless to be situated in the place of the greatest intelligence,—in the centre of commerce and navigation,—and as near as may be to the most capital and convenient station or harbour of the navy,—and in that place which is most convenient for the general protection and defence of all the States.
Upon the whole matter, the great internal sources of our wealth, which are derived from the labor of our people, either in the way of husbandry or manufactures, all tend to a centre in the line of navigation, which runs near the seacoast, from one end of the States to the other; the external wealth derived from our trade with foreign countries, tends to and centres in the same line; here both meet and receive their invigorating principle, viz. their market.
The market or sale is the principle which gives life and vigor to both these: this principle is put in action on this great line of navigation; here the sales of both are made; the one is purchased and shipped for exportation, the other is purchased and sent off for consumption, into the various parts of the country.
On this line, then, is the great seat and centre of negotiation, both of our home produce, and our imported wealth; here are to be found the great exchanges of the nation, and, of course, the greatest plenty of cash, and here are found the great banks, the richest repositories of money, and the grand conduits of its circulation.
On this same line runs the greatest course of intelligence and advice from one end of the States to the other; and next to this are the communications which are conveyed by sea, from the remotest countries on one side, and by the great roads leading from the extremities of the interior country on the other; but both centre and unite on this grand line of communication: for the truth of this I appeal to every post-office in the Union, and to every man whose business has any connexion with the general communication of the country.
It is farther obvious, and so intuitively plain that it cannot need a proof, that a court, whose business lies with all men and all places, ought to be seated in the greatest centre of that communication which connects them all.
It follows then, by the most intuitive evidence, that the seat of the federal government ought to be placed on the great line of navigation, and as near the geographical centre of it, as the great centre of wealth and communication can be found, and as near as may be to the grand station of the navigation, both of commerce and force, which must insure the wealth, honor, and safety of the whole.
Another obvious and very interesting reason why the seat of government ought to be placed in the grand centre of trade and communication, is this, viz. very many people will have business of importance with the federal court or some of its public offices, which may be well enough done without their personal attendance, and they will have many more opportunities of sending their business by some person of confidence who is going to the court, than they could find, if the court was held in some out-of-the-way place, far from such centre of general resort.
It is easily observed, that a person in Boston has more opportunities to send to New-York, which lies on the great road of general communication, than to Albany, which lies across the country: a person at Pittsburg has more opportunities to send to Philadelphia, than to any place of half the distance, which lies either north or south of it; any person in the country may send to their capital easier than to a neighbouring town, which lies in any direction which crosses the road to their capital at right angles.
Besides, many people will frequently have business with the court, and private business of trade, at the same time; and it is a great advantage to be able to do both with but one expense of journey and time; to people who live at great distance, these advantages will be very considerable, and the instances very numerous, tho’ perhaps the mentioning the matter here may seem trifling.
These statements of facts, observations, and reasonings appear to me proper, important, and convincing; and for the truth, justice, and fitness of them, I appeal to the heart of every American, to that approving power which is to be found in every human breast, and which no man can control, when the matter proposed strikes the mind with a force of evidence, which, however disagreeable the subject, will compel the assent.
I farther make the same appeal to the conscience of every man, who makes truth the sole object of his pursuit, and who has honesty and firmness enough to control the little sordid passions, which local attachments, sinister interests, or party zeal may call up and stimulate to corrupt his judgment, or to prostitute it; but perhaps, in the present corrupt state of human nature, no degree of virtue or natural firmness will make a man at all times proof against these little passions.
It is lamentable, when we see a man of dignity of conduct, noble sentiments, great comprehension of mind, extensive erudition, and sound judgment, forget the great principles of his subject, lose his balance, and fret himself out of temper, in patronizing any little local interests and partial attachments.—Good Heaven! how he lessens! how he sinks! how out of character he appears! like a clergyman of sanctity grown foolish with drink; a grave judge losing his law in a passion; or a senator, entrusted with the confidence and counsels of a nation, fribbling and acting like a fool to please a courtezan.
If the above principles and reasonings are allowed to be just and conclusive, our next business will be to look for a place for a seat of government, to which they will apply; I will venture to propose Philadelphia for the place.
I. It is as near the geographical centre as any place in any manner capable of accommodating Congress; its distance from the south line of the States is about 700 miles; from the north-east extremity, about the same; from Mississippi, on an east and west line, perhaps a little more; the said east and west line will divide the territory of the Union into two parts, of nearly equal acres.
The computation cannot be made with accuracy, because the northern boundary, as well as the northern part of the western boundary, is little known, and, of course, the lines, having never been measured, cannot by computation be reduced to certainty; but as far as the best maps we have may be depended on, the difference is not very great, tho’ the southern part is the largest of the two, but is greatly covered and incumbered by many huge mountains of immense length, every where rendered incapable of cultivation by their height, precipices, and rocks, also by vast barren plains of hot, coarse sand, and by dry knolls of land full of shrubs, hard soil, and stones; all which can never be capable of but small cultivation, if any at all. The northern part is better land, more capable of extensive and uniform cultivation, has a better air, and climates much more healthy.
The present population of the northern part is the most numerous, if we may compute from the number of Delegates in Congress, which are sent from the two parts, allowing seven of the Pennsylvania Delegates to the northern part, and one of them to the southern; as the said line leaves about one-eighth part of Pennsylvania on the southern side; but the inhabitants of the northern part are much the most robust and industrious, and, of course, the most likely to increase the wealth and strength of the Union.
The inexhaustible fisheries in which the northern people are concerned, will add greatly to their population and wealth, for the wives of fishermen are noted for bearing the most numerous and strongest children: the simple herring-fishery is said to be one of the greatest sources of wealth and population in Holland; if so, it is probable the immense fisheries of our northern people will have a similar effect, and of much greater extent.
Indeed, the chance of rapid population is generally much greater in the northern part than in the southern, for their natural increase is much greater, and their people are not only more enterprising, but stronger and more industrious, and, of course, more able and fit to endure the hardships of new beginnings. The natural increase of New-England is not less than 30,000 souls yearly, and their emigrations will be almost wholly to the westward, not to the southward, for they are generally prejudiced against the southern climates.
From all this it appears, that Philadelphia is as near the centre of the Union, as any point which can be found in the great line of navigation, and in all probability will continue to be so for at least an age or two to come.
II. Philadelphia is, and undoubtedly will be acknowledged by every one, the greatest centre of wealth, trade, navigation, and intelligence, both foreign and domestic, which is any where to be found in the United States: this needs no proof.
III. It is seated on the banks of the river Delaware, which is the best station or harbour for shipping that can be any where found, or even desired. It has the following qualities or accommodations: 1. It is capable of easy and most impregnable fortification and defence from the chaps of Newcastle Bay, 80 miles from the sea, up to the city, which is about 50 miles above the said chaps. So that, by its distance from the sea and its defences, it is perfectly secure, or may be easily made so, against any sudden surprisal, or even invasions, of an enemy. 2. It affords sufficient water for any ship that ever was built, as far up as Wilmington, which is 15 miles above the said chaps, and 24 feet water from Wilmington up to the city. 3. It affords the best anchorage, and is wholly secure against all winds, tides, and storms, the whole length from the said chaps up to the city. 4. The common tides rise and fall about 6 feet, which is a great advantage in many respects. 5. Its waters not only produce no incumbrance to a ship’s bottom, but instantly kill all worms, cockles, and other vermin which may happen to infest a ship on her first arrival from sea. 6. It is furnished with the greatest plenty of timber, iron, and all other materials and stores for building, rigging, and repairing ships, and provisions for victualing them. 7. It is furnished with all natural conveniencies for dry docks; which may be built in sufficient number and extent for every purpose of cleaning ships. 8. It is spacious enough to afford anchorage and every other accommodation of security for perhaps all the ships in the world. 9. The port of Philadelphia, being the grand centre of commercial navigation, will always furnish plenty of seamen, and render the manning of a navy always easy, or at least practicable. These are the rare, singular, and excellent advantages of this port and river.
I know of but one considerable inconvenience which can be objected to it, viz. the ice usually stops navigation in the river about two months in the year; but this is in the middle of winter, when we rarely wish to have ships at sea; and if they should happen to come on the coast in that season, they may easily make a harbour in New-York or Chesapeak Bay; ships that winter in the river are easily secured against any damage from the ice, as we never have any floods which rise more than a foot or two above common high-water.
IV. Philadelphia can surnish more local accommodations for Congress, and all the vast number of people who will resort to the seat of government, than any other city in America. When compared with any of them, it has more houses, more inhabitants, more riches, more churches, and more play-houses, and quite as much virtue, tho’ perhaps somewhat less sociability, but more punctuality in payments, which is some indication of more honesty.
V. The climate is temperate, and the air, good; the spring and sall are delightful; the winters mostly moderate, with no more snow or frost than in necessary for the convenience of the inhabitants and the growth of vegetables, &c. the heat of summer is rarely intense, and if at any time it becomes violent, it seldom lasts long; it is very uncommon to have the Mercury at 90°.
But I suppose the greatest objection to it is its numerous population. I cannot conceive what objection Congress can have to residing in a large city; their accommodations are better and cheaper, their intelligence and communication more full and easy, their means of information from conversation, large libraries, maps, &c. are much greater, and their dignity and respectability more conspicuous than they could possibly be in lesser places.
I never heard of the least inconvenience, which the English Parliament ever suffered from sitting in Westminster, which is the most populous spot in Europe. The city of Rome, which contained 6,000,000 of people, was the seat of the Roman government, and all the inconveniencies which were felt, arose not from the continuance of it there, but from the removal of it to Conslantinople; this soon brought on a division of the Empire into Eastern and Western, or Roman and Grecian; which soon terminated in the total ruin, and even extinction, of the Western Empire; the courts of most of the States and kingdoms of Europe are held in the most populous cities, without any mischiefs arising from their population that I ever heard of.
But if there are mischiefs in this, they are unavoidable, for let them fix their seat where they please, a populous city will soon grow round them, which can never be avoided without repeated removals.
I never heard of but one inconvenience arising from the largeness of the city which is the seat of Congress, which is this, viz. the various allurements and pleasures of the place are apt to divert some of their Members from their attention to the public business and their duty in the House; but this, I conceive, is by no means to be remedied by running away from the mischief, but by imposing severe laws on their own Members, and rigidly punishing, and even expelling,suchof them as are guilty of any immoral and scandalous practices, which reslect disgrace on their body, or corrupt their morals or counsels; orsuchwho, on any account, neglect their attendance and duty in the House.
When persons appointed to such high and dignified stations, happen to be so lost to all sense of duty, honor, and even shame, as to disgrace themselves and the august body to which they belong, by levities, debaucheries, negligence of their duty, and of the most important interests they are appointed to manage, these men, I say, are the proper objects of punishment; and if they cannot be reformed, the honor and safety of the States require that they be expelled from the House. And this, I conceive, is the only practicable method of curing the mischief; and this, if put into proper execution, will very effectually cure it.
It is very manifest that the dignity, the honor, the respectability, example, and even universal visible virtue of Congress are in their own keeping. No other authority can interpose to correct a failure in any of these, unless it is the awful tribunal of the press, which is a most dreadful court, that always multiplies and increases the mischief in order to remedy it; and I should suppose, a Congress of the least degree of prudence would take the matter under their own direction, in order to prevent an appeal to that most sovereign, indeed, but most mortifying and disgraceful, of all umpires.
The virtues and example of Congress are of infinite importance to the Union. Vices and corruptions planted in a court (where they make their first appearance with a sort of brilliance, derived from their connection, or at least close neighbourhood, with the first honors of the nation) have a very high introduction, and spread fast among the people. Nobody can watch and suppress the first budding of this fruitful source of evil, more fatal than the opening of Pandora’s box, but Congress itself.
There is no situation in either town or country, no grandeur of show or pompous parade, no virtues of a few, no combination of every excellency in the President, nor any strength, wealth, and majesty of the States they represent, which can give dignity to Congress, so long as the Members have not virtue and discretion to give dignity to themselves, and fitness to their resolutions. The vices, the negligence, and even the levities, of a few, will tarnish the glory and lessen the dignity of that august body, and diminish the confidence of the subject in them.
Some very extraordinary things which have lately passed, induce me to turn my attention to the great principles of economy and delicate morals, which are absolutely necessary to be practised in an infant State.
I. Any appearance of pomp, grandeur, and magnificence of dress, of equipage, of buildings, or of entertainments should be carefully avoided.
1. Because the dignity, the establishment, the defence, and internal police of the States, do not at all consist in any of these; Fabricius, with his disinterestedness and poverty, exhibited in Greece a much more striking sample of the dignity and excellence of the Roman mind and police, than Lucullus, when he returned to Rome thro’ the same place, with all the blaze of Eastern luxury and magnificence.
2. Our people being generally of middle rank, have not been accustomed to these grand appearances, and are apt to think there is something foppish and puerile in them, something that indicates weakness and vanity, or, which is worse, may imagine they are designed to exhibit and keep up a sort of hauteur, loftiness, and pride of station, which is to cow down and dispirit the subject, and depress him with a sense of his own inferiority, when he comes near the court.
3. Luxuries and levities, magnificence and show, take up much time, and are inconsistent with that gravity of counsel, fixed attention, and steady pursuit, which the great affairs of the nation require of its ministers; it is well known that hard students, or men deeply engaged in pursuit of any kind of business, neglect all pageantries, and generally despise them.
4. All these appearances are attended with expense which is not only needless, but hurtful; as it must be a burden either to the public treasury, or to the individual concerned, and may probably become a very bad example of luxury and little pride, which a young State, like all new beginners, should ever avoid.
Besides all this, the great bulk of our citizens are made up of people who set out in the world with small beginnings, and, by unwearied industry and thrift, have by little and little accumulated the competency they now enjoy. Any departure from this line of conduct they have commonly seen followed by poverty and wretchedness; such people have a high sense of the value of money, because, by long labor and careful economy, they have earned and preserved it. To people of these fixed habits, any excess of liberal grandeur and sumptuous parade must appear very dangerous; like a gulf which will soon swallow up all the public money; this makes them averse to the payment of taxes or cash, which is like to be consumed and lost in prodigal expenses.
More than all this, very great numbers of our people are derived from ancestors, who left their native soil on account of religion; whose devotion and morals were very severe, and a religious gravity and austerity of manners has marked the character of their descendants ever since; not so much as a play-house could be admitted, till very lately, in the most capital cities; and, of course, every excess of levity, gaiety, dress, equipage, parties of pleasure, gallantries, amours, &c. &c. appear to such people like debauchery, dissipation, and corruption of morals, and prudence directs that not only evil, but all appearance of it, is to be avoided.
Some respect should certainly be paid to the strong habits, customs, tempers, and sentiments of any people, by persons who reside among them, especially by persons who have the management and direction of their most precious and delicate interests. I am sure the gaieties, pleasures, and expenses of New-York, since the new Congress have resided there, are the common talk and lamentation of the people where I live; who are not the most noted in the world for rigid manners or parsimony of living.
II. Another great article of economy, most necessary to be observed by Congress and all the States, is the appointments or emoluments annexed to all public offices. Making money or accumulating fortunes ought not to be the ruling object either in those who give, or those who take, public offices; the greatest integrity, learning, and official abilities are commonly found among men whose habits are formed under the practice of moderate living and prudent economy; who would very cheerfully accept a public office with very moderate emoluments, and execute it in the best manner.
An abundant sufficiency of men of this cast may be found in the Union, whose mediocrity of desires and prudent economy will enable them to afford very well to accept the place on moderate terms; and whose habits of industry, steadiness, and integrity will almost insure a faithful and proper performance of the duties of it.
What madness is it then to pass by this sort of men, and offer the public offices to men of either such great fortunes or great business, that they cannot afford to attend to the duties of them, without very great emoluments? To hear men talk in Congress of the sacrifices of fortune which they make by accepting their places, raises my indignation; not against the impatient sufferer so much, indeed, as against the fools who appointed him, who, I conceive, made much greater sacrifices of their common sense in giving him the place, than he did of his money in accepting it.
Besides, where a man’s wants are supplied by his diligence, he will naturally be very industrious and persevering; but it is commonly found that industry is very apt to abate, where the occasions of it are lessened or removed. I do not know a more effectual way to spoil a public officer, than making him too rich; such a man is apt to turn over the public concerns to clerks or subalterns, and to devote more of his time to indolence or pleasures, than to the business of his office.
Whether any of these observations will apply to the compensations which Congress have voted to themselves, the great officers of state, the collectors and officers of the revenue, the door-keepers, and sundry other public officers, I leave to be discussed another time; without going into any detail of that matter at present, I have only to say, that the compensations are generally deemed (by people I have conversed with) to be about double of what they ought to be, in order to insure the business of the respective offices to be well done: and as they are amazingly higher than the States of the Union in general allow to their officers of a similar nature, I suppose they will be thought excessive, and, of course, will be complained of, and probably viewed with uneasiness and dissatisfaction.
Certainly the extravagancies of the courts of Europe in this respect are no kind of rule for us, and I think any gentleman might be ashamed to quote their example (which is and ever has been universally exploded in America) as a reason why we should imitate it. But it may be noted, that no compensations allowed in Europe or America to the Members of any Parliament, Diet, States General, Assembly, or any other body similar to that of Congress, ever were one-third of what Congress have granted to themselves; at least this is true as far as I could ever gain information of the matter.
I suppose they give no credit for the honor of their stations, their acquaintance with all the capital characters in America, and all those of Europe, which repair to the federal court, their information of the state and principle of the manufactures, agriculture, commerce, and policies of all the States of the Union, the opportunities they acquire of serving their children and friends, and the consequence which their residence in Congress will ever after give to them and their families in their respective States, whenever they shall return home. I should suppose all these advantages, or even any one of them, would be compensation enough for a few months’ residence in Congress, without any money at all; especially if their simple and necessary expenses were born by the public into the bargain.
III. Economy absolutely requires the payment of the public debts, at least the annual or half-yearly interest of them; the public would derive greater advantages from this, by the general animation of every sort of business it would produce, than would compensate the burden of raising the money to do it, even if we pay no regard to the public justice, honor, credit, morality, gratitude, and even compassion, which all conspire to enforce the same measure.
But if all this cannot be done at present, enough may doubtless be done to satisfy the original holders of the public securities, who are manifestly the most meritorious, as well as the greatest, sufferers, and the most distressed and ruined by the public defaults of any among us; but I touched on this before, and it is needless to add more on this dreary subject in this place.
IV. Economy requires that the public monies should be raised in that way that is easiest to the people, and least troublesome, disgusting, and expensive in the collection; an impost on imported luxuries and articles of unnecessary consumption, but just high enough to reduce the excessive use of them down to that degree, which is most conducive to the health, morals, and wealth of our people, together with the small impost on other articles already assessed, will, I conceive, produce all the supplies which the public exigences require; the collection of all this will be cheap and easy; a few officers in the places of navigation will be sufficient; and the importers who pay the duty, will be few, and will all be reimbursed in their sales.
But a general excise (which, I hear, is in contemplation) will require an almost infinite number of officers, whose pay will amount to vast sums, and whose duty will be of the most disgusting and mortifying kind to the people; for my part, I had rather pay a dollar a gallon, impost duty, on all the spirits and wines I consume, than suffer the mortifying intrusions of an excise-officer, to examine my liquors, tho’ his demand was but a shilling; and after all, it will be totally impossible to collect this duty in the exterior parts of the States with any kind of general uniformity and equality, as all experience has ever made manifest. But I have treated this more fully in my Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Essays on Free Trade and Finance, to which I refer any body who wishes to see my sentiments on this subject more fully explained.
I write with the most unlimited freedom, and I expect the candor of my countrymen; if my sentiments are wrong, condemn them; if right, approve and adopt them; it is not an itch of writing which impels me, but a zeal for a good government and a wise administration prompts me to write, and dictates every line. I lament that any one advantage of my country should be lost for want of proper management, or that we should ever incur the old censure of fools, having a price put into their hands, but no hearts to improve it. May Heaven direct our public counsels, and give prosperity and establishment to our union.
[* ] The seat of Congress was at New-York at that time.
[† ] Tho’ the United States of America contain about 640,000,000 acres of land, which have every advantage of soil and situation that any country can boast, and tho’ their territory is equal to Great-Britain, Germany, France, and Spain, taken together, yet their population and civil establishments are both young, and, as yet, in the tender state and small beginnings; and, of course, the greatest attention is necessary to that police and economy, which must strengthen, increase, and connect the whole. I therefore hope, that the humble attempts of the author to point out and patronize some leading principles of both these great objects, which are really of most essential consideration, will meet the candor and favorable attention of Congress and the Public.
[* ]North-Carolina and Rhode-Island had not, at the time this Essay was published, acceded to the Union under the New Constitution: the accession of some new States was expected, viz. Vermont, Kentucky, &c.