Constitution of 1787 1st Congress

Constitution of 1787 1st Congress




On April 30th, 1789, George Washington was escorted to the newly-renovated Federal Hall located at Wall and Nassau Street.  The newly remodeled building:

… came richly laden with historical associations, having hosted John Peter Zenger’s trial in 1735, the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1788. Starting in September 1788, the French engineer Pierre-Charles L’Enfant had remodeled it into Federal Hall, a suitable home for Congress. L’Enfant introduced a covered arcade at street level and a balcony surmounted by a triangular pediment on the second story. As the people’s chamber, the House of Representatives was accessible to the public, situated in a high-ceilinged octagonal room on the ground floor, while the Senate met in a second-floor room on the Wall Street side, buffering it from popular pressure. From this room Washington would emerge onto the balcony to take the oath of office. In many ways, the first inauguration was a hasty, slapdash affair. As with all theatrical spectacles, rushed preparations and frantic work on the new building continued until a few days before the event. Nervous anticipation spread through the city as to whether the 200 workmen would complete the project on time. Only a few days before the inauguration, an eagle was hoisted onto the pediment, completing the building. The final effect was stately: a white building with a blue and white cupola topped by a weather vane.[1]

There was, as yet, no U.S. Chief Justice so the oath was administered by New York Chancellor Robert R. Livingston on Federal Hall’s second floor balcony, overlooking a crowd assembled in the streets.  Mrs. Eliza Susan Morton Quincy, wife of Josiah Quincy, provides this account of the inauguration:

I was on the roof of the first house in Broad Street … and so near to Washington that I could almost hear him speak. The windows and roofs of the houses were crowded; and in the streets the throng was so dense, that it seemed as if one might literally walk on the heads of the people. The balcony of the hall was in full view of this assembled multitude. In the centre of it was placed a table, with a rich covering of red velvet; and upon this, on a crimson velvet cushion, lay a large and elegant Bible. … All eyes were fixed upon the balcony; where, at the appointed hour, Washington entered, accompanied by the Chancellor of the State of New York, who was to administer the oath; by John Adams, the Vice-President; Governor Clinton; and many other distinguished men. … His appearance was most solemn and dignified. Advancing to the front of the balcony, he laid his hand on his heart, bowed several times, and then retired to an arm-chair near the table. The populace appeared to understand that the scene had overcome him, and were at once hushed in profound silence. After a few moments, Washington arose, and came forward. Chancellor Livingston read the oath according to the form prescribed by the Constitution; and Washington repeated it, resting his hand upon the Bible. Mr. Otis, the Secretary of the Senate, then took the Bible to raise it to the lips of Washington; who stooped, and kissed the book. At this moment, a signal was given, by raising a flag upon the cupola of the Hall, for a general discharge of the artillery of the Battery. All the bells in the city rang out a peal of joy, and the assembled multitude sent forth a universal shout. The President again bowed to the people, and then retired from a scene such as the proudest monarch never enjoyed. Many entertainments were given, both public and private; and the city was illuminated in the evening.[2]

President Washington, Vice President Adams, and the members of Congress retired to the Senate Chamber. Here the President delivered the first inaugural address that was drafted by James Madison. Washington explained his disinclination to accept the presidency and highlighted his own shortcomings, including “frequent interruptions in health,” “unpractised in the duties of civil administration,” and intellectually “inheriting inferior endowments from nature.” Washington left the presidential prerogative "to recommend to your consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” to Congress except for suggesting they consider amendments to the constitution that were proposed by the states’ conventions.  

After the inauguration, each branch of Congress went about establishing its own rules for conducting the nation’s business. The House and the Senate also established joint committees drawing up conference rules.  They dealt with the logistics of communication with the President and between the two legislative bodies.   There was much for everyone to do in forming this new republic ranging from immediately raising revenues for funding the federal government to reformulating existing departments and passing laws, including the Northwest Ordinance, that were enacted under the Articles of Confederation. Three important acts would be passed establishing three executive departments under the U.S. Presidency -- after Congress rejected a U.S. Senate Committee’s proposal that the president should be called "His Highness the President, Protector of the Liberties of the United States."  The major legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Washington in 1789 included:

  • On June 1st, 1789: An Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths was the first law passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President George Washington after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Parts of the law still remain on the books;
  • On July 4th, 1789 An Act for laying a Duty on Goods, Wares, and Merchandises imported into the United States was passed to immediately establish the tariff as a regular source of revenue for the federal government and as a protection of domestic manufacture;
  • July 20th., 1789 An Act imposing Duties on Tonnage is passed and laid out various rates of duty on the tonnage of ships and vessels entered in the United States from foreign countries;
  • On July 27th, 1789 An Act for Establishing an Executive Department, to be Denominated The Department of Foreign Affairs was passed. John Jay, Articles of Confederation Secretary of Foreign Affairs turned down reappointment but agreed to serve as acting Secretary until a Presidential appointment was confirmed.  During the enactment of this bill a debate arose as to the power of removal of the Foreign Secretary.  One side contended that the power belonged to the President, by virtue of the executive powers of the Government vested in him by the constitution. The other side maintained that the power of removal should be exercised by the President, conjointly with the Senate.  The important question was decided by Congress in favor of the President's power to remove the heads of all these Departments, on the ground that they are Executive Departments;
  • On July 31st, 1789 An Act to regulate the Collection of the Duties imposed by law on the tonnage of ships or vessels, and on goods, wares and merchandises imported into the United States was passed establishing ports of entry in each of the eleven states where duties were to be collected.  North Carolina and Rhode Island, who had not ratified the new constitution, were subject to same goods’ duties as from foreign countries. Be it therefore further enacted, That all goods, wares and merchandise not of their own growth or manufacture, which shall be imported from either of the said two States of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, or North Carolina, into any other port or place within the limits of the United States, as settled by the late treaty of peace, shall be subject to the like duties, seizures and forfeitures, as goods, wares or merchandise imported from any State or country without the said limits;
  • On August 5th, 1789 An Act for settling the Accounts between the United States and individual States was passed appointing and paying commissioners to carry into effect the May 7th, 1787 ordinance and subsequent resolutions established by the USCA “… for the settlement of accounts between the United States and individual States;”
  • On August 7th, 1789 An Act to establish an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of War was passed.  Former USCA Secretary of War Henry Knox was re-appointed by President Washington and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Department of War oversaw all military affairs until Congress created a separate Navy Department in 1798. The National Security Act, passed by Congress in 1947, designated departments for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. A National Military Establishment, renamed the Department of Defense in 1949, administered these departments;  
  • Also on August 7th, 1789 An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory Northwest of the river Ohio was passed.  This bill was the reenactment of the Northwest Ordinance passed by the USCA in July 1787 so that “… may continue to have full effect, it is requisite that certain provisions should be made, so as to adapt the same to the present Constitution of the United States.”  Former USCA Governor Arthur St. Clair was re-appointed by President Washington and confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • On August 20th, 1789 An Act providing for the Expenses which may attend Negotiations or Treaties with the Indian Tribes, and the appointment of Commissioners for managing the same was passed;
  • On September 1st, 1789 An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes was passed providing for the licensing and enrollment of vessels engaged in navigation and trade;
  • On September 2nd, 1789 An Act to establish the Treasury Department was passed.  The act assigns duties to the Secretary, Comptroller, Auditor, Treasurer, Register, and Assistant to the Secretary. It prohibits persons appointed under the act from engaging in specified business transactions and prescribes penalties for so doing. It also provides that if information from a person other than a public prosecutor is the basis for the conviction, that person shall receive half the fine.  Alexander Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Washington and was confirmed the same day by the U.S. Senate;
  • On September 11th, 1789 An Act for establishing the Salaries of the Executive Officers of Government, with their Assistants and Clerks was passed;
  • On September 15th, 1789 An Act to provide for the safe-keeping of the Acts, Records and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes was passed.  This law changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State because certain domestic duties were assigned to the agency. These included: Receipt, publication, distribution, and preservation of the laws of the United States; Preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of Presidential appointees; Preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's seal; Custody of the Great Seal of the United States; Custody of the records of the former Secretary of the Continental Congress, except for those of the Treasury and War Departments.  Thomas Jefferson was appointed by President Washington September 25, 1789 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following day.   Chief Justice John Jay served as Acting Secretary of State until Secretary Jefferson returned from France. Other domestic duties for which the Department was responsible at various times included issuance of patents on inventions, publication of the census returns, management of the mint, control of copyrights, and regulation of immigration;
  • On September 22nd, 1789 An Act for the temporary establishment of the Post-Office was passed.  “That there shall be appointed a Postmaster General; his powers and salary and the compensation to the assistant or clerk and deputies which he may appoint, and the regulations of the post-office shall be the same as they last were under the resolutions and ordinances of the late Congress.” Samuel Osgood was appointed Postmaster General by President Washington on September 26th, 1789 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following day;
  • Also on September 22nd, 1789 An Act for allowing Compensation to the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, and to the Officers of both Houses was passed.  Unlike the USCA, whose members were paid by their respective states, the congressmen were paid $6.00 a day from the new federal treasury;  
  • On September 23rd, 1789 An Act for allowing certain Compensation to the Judges of the Supreme and other Courts, and to the Attorney General of the United States was passed with salaries ranging from $4,000 for the Chief Justice to $800 for the Delaware Federal District Judge.  The Attorney General’s salary was set at $1,500 while Associate Justices of the Supreme Court were paid $3,500;
  • On September 24th, 1789 An Act for allowing a compensation to the President and Vice President of the United States was passed with the salaries of $25,000[3] and $5,000 respectively.
  • On September 24th, 1789 the Judiciary Act was established.  The Act calls for the organization of the U.S. federal court system, which had been sketched only in general terms in the U.S. Constitution. The act established a three-part judiciary that was made up of district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court.  The act also outlined the structure and jurisdiction of each branch.  John Jay was appointed U.S. Chief Justice and Edmond Randolph appointed Attorney General  by President Washington on September 24th, 1789  and the two were  confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 26th
  • On September 25th, Congress proposed the Bill of Rights.  The amendments were introduced by James Madison as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the states. While twelve amendments were proposed by Congress, only ten were originally ratified by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted 203 years later as the Twenty-seventh Amendment, and the other technically remains pending before the states.  
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  • On September 29th, 1789 An Act to regulate Processes in the Courts of the United States was passed authorizing the courts of the United States to issue writs of execution as well as other writs;
  • On September 29th, 1789 An Act making Appropriations for the Service of the present year was passed.  Specifically the bill provided for  “a sum not exceeding two hundred and sixteen thousand dollars for defraying the expenses of the civil list, under the late and present government; a sum not exceeding one hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars for defraying the expenses of the department of war; a sum not exceeding one hundred and ninety thousand dollars for discharging the warrants issued by the late board of treasury, and remaining unsatisfied; and a sum not exceeding ninety-six thousand dollars for paying the pensions to invalids”;
  • On September 29th, 1789 An Act providing for the payment of the Invalid Pensioners of the United States was passed.  The act specified “that the military pensions which have been granted and paid by the states respectively, in pursuance of the acts of the United States in Congress assembled, to the invalids who were wounded and disabled during the late war, shall be continued and paid by the United States, from the fourth day of March last, for the space of one year, under such regulations as the President of the United States may direct”;
  • On September 29th, 1789 An Act to recognize and adapt the Constitution of the United States the establishment of the Troops raised under the Resolves of the United States in Congress assembled, and for other purposes therein mentioned was passed. The act specified “that the establishment contained in the resolve of the late Congress of the third day of October, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, except as to the mode of appointing the officers, and also as is herein after provided, be, and the same is hereby recognized to be the establishment for the troops in the service of the United States;”
  • On September 29th, 1789 An Act to alter the Time for the Next Meeting of Congress was passed adjourning the bi-cameral congress until January 5, 1790

The 1790 session of the first congress was also notable. One of the most important measures that this congress faced was addressing over two hundred amendments to the U.S. Constitution proposed by the states during the ratification process.   After eliminating replication, the number stood at nearly 90 with most calling for a reorganization of the federal government’s structure. James Madison was able to push his reluctant colleagues into considering 17 new amendments.  Congress would eventually whittle these down to 12 amendments in 1790 which they sent on to the states for ratification.  Ten of these amendments were ratified by the states and today they are known as the Bill of Rights. 





[1] Ron Chernow, George Washington: The Reluctant President, Smithsonian magazine, February 2011
[2] Eliza Susan Quincy, Memoir of the life of Eliza S.M. Quincy, Wilson and Son, Boston, 1861, page 52
[3] The1789 historic standard of living value of $25,000 income or wealth is projected to be $658,000 in 2012 dollars.

Capitals of the United States and Colonies of America



Philadelphia
Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
Philadelphia
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Baltimore
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
Philadelphia
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
Lancaster
September 27, 1777
York
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
Philadelphia
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
Princeton
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Annapolis
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Trenton
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
October 6, 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Philadelphia
December 6,1790 to May 14, 1800                               
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present





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