Act to Establish Temporary and Permanent Seat of Government


For last month or so I’ve been adding historic pieces of legislation here on my blog. The aim here, and the general aim of this blog, is to keep an ongoing, on-line journal that features things that I’m either interested in or things that I have created. Historic pieces of legislation related to the District of Columbia fall into the former category, and today’s entry is the text & scans of the act that established the Temporary (Philadelphia) and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States in a “district of territory” that would eventually become named the District of Columbia.



FULL TEXT

An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States

SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a district of territory, not exceeding ten miles square, to be located as hereafter directed on the river Potomac, at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and Connogochegue, be, and the same is hereby, accepted for the permanent seat of the government of the United States. Provided nevertheless, That the operation of the laws of the state within such district shall not be affected by this acceptance, until the time fixed for the removal of the government thereto, and until Congress shall otherwise by law provide.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be authorized to appoint, and by supplying vacancies happening from refusals to act or other causes, to keep in appointment as long as may be necessary, three commissioners, who, or any two of whom, shall, under the direction of the President, survey, and by proper metes and bounds define and limit a district of territory, under the limitations above mentioned; and the district so defined, limited and located, shall be deemed the district accepted by this act, for the permanent seat of the government of the United States.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the said commissioners, or any two of them, shall have power to purchase or accept such quantity of land on the eastern side of the said river, within the said district, as the President shall deem proper for the use of the United States, and according to such plans as the President shall approve, the said commissioners, or any two of them, shall, prior to the first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress, and of the President, and for the public offices of the government of the United States.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That for defraying the expense of such purchases and buildings, the President of the United States be authorized and requested to accept grants of money.

SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That prior to the first Monday in December next, all offices attached to the seat of the government of the United States, shall be removed to, and until the said first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, shall remain at the city of Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania, at which place the session of Congress next ensuing the present shall be held.

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That on the said first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred, the seat of the government of the United States, shall, by virtue of this act, be transferred to the district and place aforesaid. And all offices attached to the said seat of government, shall accordingly he removed thereto by their respective holders, and shall, after the said day, cease to be exercised elsewhere; and that the necessary expense of such removal shall be defrayed out of the duties on imposts and tonnage, of which a sufficient sum is hereby appropriated.


By proclamation on January 24, 1791, President Washington directed that a survey be made. This survey moved the southern boundary point of the “ten miles square” farther south so as to include a convenient part of the Eastern Branch and also the town of Alexandria.

In line with the new survey, on March 3, 1791 Congress amended the act of July 16, 1790 as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That so much of the act, entitled ‘An act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the government of the United States,” as requires that the whole of the district of territory, not exceeding ten miles square, to be located on the river Potomac, for the permanent seat of the government of the United States, shall be located above the mouth of the Eastern Branch he and is hereby repealed, and that it shall be lawful for the President to make any part of the territory below the said limit, and above the mouth of Hunting Creek, a part of the said district, so as to include a convenient part of the Eastern Branch, and of the lands lying on the lower side thereof and also the town of Alexandria, and the territory so to be included, shall form a part of the district not exceeding ten miles square, for the permanent seat of the government of the United States, in like manner and to all intents and purposes, as if the same had been within the purview of the above recited act: Provided, That nothing herein contained, shall authorize the erection of public buildings otherwise than on the Maryland side of the river Potomac, as required by the aforesaid act.

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