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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Benjamin Hawkins and Hugh Williamson to Alexander Martin
Hawkins, Benjamin, 1754-1816; Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
October 24, 1783
Volume 16, Pages 908-910

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Princeton, 24th October, 1783.


During the present month Congress have taken several resolutions respecting their future residence. We shall take the liberty of giving some detail of the progress of the business. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware & Virginia were Candidates for the honor, not to say the advantages, of giving a residence to Congress; after much debate it appears that Seven States were for erecting public buildings on the Delaware, four States had voted for a station near the falls of the Potomack. On the 7th instant it was “Resolved that buildings for the use of Congress be erected on or near the banks of the Delaware provided a suitable district can be procured on or near the bank of the said River for a foederal town and that the right of soil and an exclusive or other such jurisdiction Congress may direct shall be vested in the United States.

“That the place on the Delaware for erecting buildings for the use of Congress be near the falls.”

On the 8th a motion was made by Mr. Williamson and seconded by Mr. Read.

“To reconsider the resolution of yesterday by which the residence of Congress is to be fixed near the falls of the Delaware, in order to fix on some other place that shall be more central more favorable to the Union and shall approach nearer to that Justice which is due to the Southern States.”

On putting the question after some debate there were five States for reconsidering and six against it. Though in this attempt we failed of a revisal and repeal of a vote it is clear that we injured the foundation.

Congress then proceeded on a place for the temporary residence of Congress. It was agreed by eight States that Princeton is not a convenient place for transacting the business of the United States. The

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question was put and negatived for adjourning to Trenton. The question was then put for adjourning to Philadelphia and was negatived. Five States only being for the question. A motion was made for adjourning to Annapolis and the question was lost, five States only being for it.

On the 20th Inst. Congress resolved as follows, vizt. “Whereas there is reason to expect that the providing buildings for the alternate residence of Congress in two places will be productive of the most salutary effects for procuring the mutual confidence and affection of the States. Resolved that buildings be likewise erected for the use of Congress at or near the lower falls of Potomack or Georgetown provided a suitable district on the banks of the river can be procured for a foederal town and the right of soil and an exclusive Jurisdiction or such other as Congress may direct shall be vested in the United States and that until the buildings to be erected on the banks of the Delaware & Potomack shall be prepared for the reception of Congress their residence shall be alternately at equal periods of not more than one year and not less than six months in Trenton and Annapolis. And the President is hereby authorised and directed to adjourn Congress on the 12th day of November next to meet at Annapolis for the dispatch of public business.”

You will readily believe that we contended with zeal for fixing Congress on the waters of Chesapeak Bay, when you observe the steps that we took for defeating the vote respecting Delaware. We urged that the center of the United States, if length only be considered, is as far south as Georgetown, but when the breadth is considered, the center is 100 miles to the Southward of Georgetown. That a wise Government should look forward to the numerous States that are fast rising out of the Western Territory. That if the center of the Inhabitants alone is considered there are already 300,000 more Inhabitants to the Southward of Delaware than to the Northeastward of it, and the balance is daily increasing to the Southward. As to the climate there is a very good one to the falls of Potomack and none of us was to expect personal immortality on the Globe. That our dignity and duration would depend on our regard to Justice & equality. That posterity would laugh at our federal buildings and desert them if we should unwisely for selfish purposes fix them on a corner of the Empire. The history of palaces in Williamsburg

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and New Bern were so much in the road and were proofs so much in point that we could not forget them.

We need hardly inform you that our zeal on this occasion was excited by additional arguments which we did not detail, viz, the honor and prosperity of the Southern States. The attention and of course the trade of Europe must ever be drawn in a particular manner to that part of the Empire where Congress resides. Hence by removing Congress to Southward the progress of population must be increased in those States and their consequent wealth. Having succeeded so far as to remove Congress to the Southward for six months or a year we are not without hopes that some future Congress will prevent their return to this side of the waters of Chesapeak. You will be so good as to assure the General Assembly that on this as on every other occasion, we have used our utmost efforts in pursuing what we suppose to be the interest & the desire of our constituents.

Enclosed is a Copy of the ratification of the Treaty with Sweden. Within a few days you will receive an authenticated Copy of the preliminary Treaty with England and our ratification of the same, but as we have not yet heard of it being ratified by the British King we only send the Treaty & ratification as information; for we shall hardly descend to any recommendations while there is a British Garrison within the United States.

You will also receive a proclamatiou for the discharge of the whole Army except a sufficient Garrison for West Point.

We have the honor to be, &c.,