Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17
Records of the Federal Convention
[2:127; Madison, 26 July]
Col. Mason. observed that it would be proper, as he thought, that some provision should be made in the Constitution agst. choosing for the seat of the Genl. Govt. the City or place at which the seat of any State Govt. might be fixt. There were 2 objections agst. having them at the same place, which without mentioning others, required some precaution on the subject. The 1st. was that it tended to produce disputes concerning jurisdiction--The 2d. & principal one was that the intermixture of the two Legislatures tended to give a provincial tincture to ye Natl. deliberations. He moved that the Come. be instructed to receive a clause to prevent the seat of the Natl. Govt. being in the same City or town with the seat of the Govt. of any State longer than untill the necessary public buildings could be erected.
Mr. Alex. Martin 2ded. the motion.
Mr. Govr. Morris did not dislike the idea, but was apprehensive that such a clause might make enemies of Philda. & N. York which had expectations of becoming the Seat of the Genl. Govt.
Mr. Langdon approved the idea also: but suggisted the case of a State moving its seat of Govt. to the natl. seat after the erection of the public buildings
Mr. Ghorum. the precaution may be evaded by the Natl. Legislre. by delaying to erect the public buildings
Mr. Gerry conceived it to be the genel. sense of America, that neither the Seat of a State Govt. nor any large commercial City should be the seat of the Genl. Govt.
Mr. Williamson liked the idea, but knowing how much the passions of men were agitated by this matter, was apprehensive of turning them agst. the system. He apprehended also that an evasion might be practiced in the way hinted by Mr. Ghorum.
Mr. Pinkney thought the seat of a State Govt. ought to be avoided; but that a large town or its vicinity would be proper for the seat of the Genl. Govt.
Col. Mason did not mean to press the motion at this time, nor to excite any hostile passions agst. the system. He was content to withdraw the motion for the present.
Mr. Butler was for fixing by the Constitution the place, & a central one, for the seat of the Natl Govt
[2:261; Madison, 11 Aug.]
Mr. King remarked that the section authorized the 2 Houses to adjourn to a new place. He thought this inconvenient. The mutability of place had dishonored the federal Govt. and would require as strong a cure as we could devise. He thought a law at least should be made necessary to a removal of the Seat of Govt.
Mr Madison viewed the subject in the same light, and joined with Mr. King in a motion requiring a law.
Mr. Governr. Morris proposed the additional alteration by inserting the words "during the Session" &c".
Mr. Spaight. this will fix the seat of Govt at N. Y. The present Congress will convene them there in the first instance, and they will never be able to remove; especially if the Presidt. should be Northern Man.
Mr Govr Morris. such a distrust is inconsistent with all Govt.
Mr. Madison supposed that a central place for the Seat of Govt. was so just and wd. be so much insisted on by the H. of Representatives, that though a law should be made requisite for the purpose, it could & would be obtained. The necessity of a central residence of the Govt wd be much greater under the new than old Govt The members of the new Govt wd. be more numerous. They would be taken more from the interior parts of the States: they wd. not, like members of ye present Congs. come so often from the distant States by water. As the powers & objects of the new Govt. would be far greater yn. heretofore, more private individuals wd. have business calling them to the seat of it, and it was more necessary that the Govt should be in that position from which it could contemplate with the most equal eye, and sympathize most equally with, every part of the nation. These considerations he supposed would extort a removal even if a law were made necessary. But in order to quiet suspicions both within & without doors, it might not be amiss to authorize the 2 Houses by a concurrent vote to adjourn at their first meeting to the most proper place, and to require thereafter, the sanction of a law to their removal. The motion was accordingly moulded into the following form: "the Legislature shall at their first assembling determine on a place at which their future sessions shall be held; neither House shall afterwards, during the session of the House of Reps. without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor shall they adjourn to any other place than such as shall have been fixt by law"
Mr. Gerry thought it would be wrong to let the Presdt check the will of the 2 Houses on this subject at all.
Mr Williamson supported the ideas of Mr. Spaight
Mr Carrol was actuated by the same apprehensions
Mr. Mercer. it will serve no purpose to require the two Houses at their first Meeting to fix on a place. They will never agree.
After some further expressions from others denoting an apprehension that the seat of Govt. might be continued at an improper place if a law should be made necessary to a removal, and the motion above stated with another for recommitting the section had been negatived, the Section was left in the shape it which it was reported, as to this point. The words "during the session of the legislature" were prefixed to the 8th section--and the last sentence "But this regulation shall not extend to the Senate when it shall exercise the powers mentioned in the article" struck out. The 8th. section as amended was then agreed to.
[2:510; Madison, 5 Sept.]
So much of the (4) clause as related to the seat of Government was agreed to nem: con:
On the residue, to wit, "to exercise like authority over all places purchased for forts &c.
Mr Gerry contended that this power might be made use of to enslave any particular State by buying up its territory, and that the strongholds proposed would be a means of awing the State into an undue obedience to the Genl. Government--
Mr. King thought himself the provision unnecessary, the power being already involved: but would move to insert after the word "purchased" the words "by the consent of the Legislature of the State" This would certainly make the power safe.
Mr. Govr Morris 2ded. the motion, which was agreed to nem: con: as was then the residue of the clause as amended.
Farrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1937.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago