This Day in History: Congress on the move
During this week in 1785, the Confederation Congress relocates from New Jersey to New York. Did you know that Congress changed its location 12 times in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution?
Perhaps it’s unsurprising. Americans were fighting a King who wouldn't hesitate to hang congressional delegates for treason. Wouldn’t you always be on the move in such circumstances?!
By late 1784, Congress was at the French Arms Tavern in Trenton, New Jersey. Its total session time in that city was only 54 days: November 1, 1784 to December 24, 1784. Its move to New York occurred on January 11, 1785.
The people in New Jersey must have been disappointed. They had spent quite some time preparing the Tavern for Congress’s arrival: They had refurnished the Tavern’s “Long Room.” They’d hung new wallpaper, and they’d installed new carpet. All for a Congress that would stay less than 2 months.
Sounds about as efficient as modern government, doesn’t it?! Perhaps some things never change. (Ha.)
Believe it or not, 54 days was not the shortest stint for a city to serve as the American capital. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, takes that prize. Its court house was the capital for only one day in 1777. At that point in the Revolution, the British had captured Philadelphia. Congress was thus driven from the city, and it ended up in Lancaster for a single day before it relocated to York.
Indeed, the war often interfered with the location of Congress. During those years, Congress met in various venues in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton – and, finally, New York.
This stop in New York City would be the last, at least for the Confederation Congress. The Constitutional Convention would occur a little over two years later, and the first United States Congress would meet in New York City’s Federal Hall beginning in March 1789. We have had three U.S. Capitals since the Constitution took effect: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
French Arms Tavern, Trenton Nov. 1—Dec. 24, 1784 (Department of State; Office of the Historian)
Meeting Places for the Continental Congresses and the Confederation Congress, 1774–1789 (United States House of Representatives website; History, Art, & Archives)
Robert Fortenbaugh, The Nine Capitals of the United States (1948)
The Nine Capitals of the United States (U.S. Senate website)