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This proposal was opposed by Southern members, on the ground that it would give undue influence to the General Government, and would thus weaken the State Governments; that it would not be justified by the Constitution, the powers of that instrument being specified, and this was not among them; that it was unjust, because it would make no discrimination between those States which had taxed themselves to discharge the claims against them, and those which had not made the same exertions. In favor of the measure it was asserted by Northern members, that the debts contracted by the States were not contracted for the benefit of the individual States, but for the common good of the Union, in the war against the common enemy; that the measure would put an end to speculation, by fixing the value of the securities; that it would restore public confidence. A large amount of these securities were owned at the North, where they were obtained in the course of trade. Many of them had been purchased at very low rates, as was said, for a song. After a very heated debate, highly irritating to the parties, the resolution failed to pass, by a majority of two against it.


July 9, 1790. Mr. GooDHUE, of Massachusetts, moved in the House: “That the permanent seat of the General Government ought to be at some convenient place, on the east bank of the river Susquehanna, in the State of Pennsylvania.” In support of his motion, he prefaced it with the following remark: “The Eastern members, with the members from New York, have agreed to fix on a place upon national principles, without regard to their own convenience, and have turned their minds to the Susquehanna.” The place contemplated was Wright's Ferry, about 35 miles from navigable water.

This sectional movement on the part of Eastern and Northern members, in favor of a place which had not a great deal to recommend it, awakened very strong sectional feelings on the part of the Southern members, who were in favor of the bank of the Potomac, as an appropriate place. To this place the Northern members were strongly opposed, proposing, instead of it, if not Wright's Ferry, Germantown and Baltimore.

In view of the above-mentioned combination of Northern members, TICHARD H. LEE, in the course of his speech, said: “It is well known with what difficulty the Constitution was adopted in Virginia. It was then said that there would be Confederacies of the States east of Pennsylvania, which would destroy the Southern States; that they would unite their councils in discussing questions relative to their particular interests, and the Southern States would be disregarded. To these suspicions it was answered: “No! It was contended that the magnanimous policy, arising from mutual interests and common dangers, would unite all the States, and make them pursue objects of general good. But if it should be found that there were such Confederacies as were predicted, that the Northern States did consult their partial interests, and form combinations to support them without regard to their Southern brethren, they would be alarmed, and the faith of all south of the Potomac would be shaken.”

Mr. MADISON said, in the course of his remarks: “But give me leave say that, if prophets had arisen in that body, (the Convention of Virginia,) and brought the declarations and proceedings of this day to view, I as firmly believe Virginia might not have been a part of the Union at this moment.”


This measure became combined with the Assumption Bill. Each had failed by small majorities; both were afterwards passed. The Eastern and Middle States were for the assumption; the Southern States were against it; the latter were for the Potomac for the seat of Government; the former were for the Susquehanna. The discontent was extreme on each side, at losing its favorite measure. At last the two measures were combined. Two members from the Potomac, who had voted against the assumption, agreed to change their votes: a few from the Eastern and Middle States, who had voted against the Potomac agreed to change in its favor; and so the two measures were passed.

Mr. JEFFERSON gave this account of it, omitting his strictures: “This measure (the Assumption of State debts) produced the most bitter and angry contest ever known in Congress before or since the Union of the States. I arrived in the midst of it; but a stranger to the ground, a stranger to the actors in it, so long absent as to have lost all familiarity with the subject, and as yet unaware of its object. I took no concern in it. The great and trying question, however, was lost in the House of Representatives. So high were the feuds excited on this subject, that, on its rejection, business was suspended, Congress met and adjourned from day to day without doing any thing, the parties being too much out of temper to do business together. The Eastern members threatened secession and dissolution. HAMILTON was in despair. As I was going to the President's one day, I met him in the street. He walked with me backwards and forwards before the President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically the temper into which the Legislature had been wrought; the disgust of those who were called the creditor States, (the Northern,) the danger of the secession of their members, and of the separation of the States. He observed that the members of the Administration ought to act in concert; that though this question was not of my department, yet a common duty should make it a common concern; that the President was the centre, in which all administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of us should rally round him, and support, with joint efforts, measures approved by him, and that the question having been lost by a small majority only, that an appeal from me to the judgment and discretion of some of my friends might effect a change in the vote, and the machine of government, now suspended, might be again set in motion. I told him I was really a stranger to the whole subject; that, not having yet informed myself of the system of finances adopted, I knew not how far this was a necessary sequence; that undoubtedly, if its rejection endangered the dissolution of the Union at this incipient stage, I should deem that the most unfortunate of all consequences, to avert which all partial and temporary evils should be yielded. I proposed, however, to him, to dine with me, next day, and I would invite another friend or two, bring them into conference together, and I thought it impossible that reasonable men, consulting together coolly, could fail, by some mutual sacrifice of opinion, to form a compromise which would save the Union. The discussion took place. I could take no part in it but an exhortatory one, because I was a stranger to the circumstances which should govern it. But it was finally agreed that whatever importance was attached to the rejection of this proposition, the preservation of the Union and concord among the States was more important, and therefore it would be better that the vote of rejection should be rescinded—to effect which, some members should change their votes. But it was observed that this pill would be peculiarly bitter to the Southern States, and that some concomitant measure should be adopted to sweeten it to them. There had before been propositions to fix the seat of Government either at Philadelphia or at Georgetown, on the Potomac ; and it was thought that by giving it to Philadelphia for ten years, and to Georgetown permanently af. terwards, this might, as an anodyne, calm the ferment which might be excited by the other measure alone: so two of the Potomac members (WHITE and LEE, but the former with a revulsion of stomach almost convulsive) agreed to change their votes, and HAMILTON undertook to carry the other point.” Abridgment of Debates, vol. i., p. 250.

The Northern members contended with great earnestness against the Potomac for the seat of Government; Mr. BoudLNoT, Mr. AMEs, Mr. LAWRENCE, severally, proposing the Delaware, Germantown, Baltimore, instead of the Potomac, which latter finally received a majority of the votes, probably through the influence of HAMILTON. The Northern States, by the assumption of State debts by Congress, obtained millions, which enriched many of their inhabitants, indeed, some of the members who helped to pass the bill. The Southern States obtained for the seat of Government their favorite location, and a much better location than Wright's Ferry, which had been selected by the combination of Eastern members.

This is the first sectional combination in Congress for carrying a measure that I have seen noticed. The assumption of State debts furnished the occasion of the first threat of secession, and breaking up the Government. It was made by the Northern members.


July 5, 1793. The House proceeded to consider the bill sent from the Senate, entitled “An act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters,” which lay on the table; whereupon the said bill, with the amendments agreed to yesterday, was read the third time; and on the question that the same do pass, it was resolved in the affirmative; yeas, 48, nays, 7.

The bill came down from the Senate, whose debates were not published, and seems to have passed the House without debate, and almost without discussion, there being but seven votes against, and two of these, Messrs. MERCER and PARKER, from slave States. Nor does it appear to what part of the bill they objected, whether to the part in relation to fugitives from justice, or to those who fled from service, for both classes of fugitives were comprehended in the same bill. It was passed on a message from President Washington, founded on a communication from the Governor of Pennsylvania in relation to a fugitive from justice who had taken refuge in Virginia, and because it was necessary to have an act of Congress to give effect to the rendition clause in the Constitution. There was but little necessity, in those times, and long after, for an act of Congress to authorize the recovery of fugitive slaves. The laws of the States and still more, the force of public opinion, were the owners' best safeguards. Public opinion was against the abduction of slaves; and, if any one was seduced from his owner, it was done furtively and secretly, without show or force, and as any other moral offence would be committed. State laws favored the owner to a greater extent than the acts of Congress did or could. In Pennsylvania an act was passed in 1780, and repealed only in 1847, discriminating between the traveller and sojourner and the permanent resident, allowing the former to remain six months in the State before his slaves could become subject to emancipation laws; and, in the case of a Federal Government officer, allowing as much more time as his duties required him to remain. New York had the same act, only varying in time, which was nine months. While these two acts were in force, and supported by public opinion, the traveller and sojourner

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