Friday, October 26, 2012

President Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee

Click Here to view the US Mint & Coin Acts 1782-1792
Sixth President of the United States 
in Congress Assembled
November 30, 1784 to November 23, 1785

Copyright © Stan Klos, President Who? Forgotten Founders 2004 & 2008 

In Trenton, “after a dozen different ballotings,” [1] with only eight States present, the USCA elected Richard Henry Lee of Virginia President on November 30, 1784. Lee would serve as president until November 22, 1785.  He was the second of three Virginians to hold the unicameral Presidency.  He was described by his peers as tall and graceful in person and striking in feature. His voice was clear and rich, and his oratory impressive. He did not waste time in flowery rhetoric, instead speaking briefly and to the point. His ideas were so lucid and expression so forcible that when he sat down after a few weighty words fellow representatives often remarked that there was no more to be said on the subject. His capacity for work was daunting, though sometimes limited by poor health; as Dr. Rush said, “His mind was like a sword which was too large for its scabbard." [2]

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200.

Richard Henry Lee was the third son of a Thomas Lee, the "empire builder," who as the 5th son of Richard Lee "the emigrant", the largest Virginia landowner at the time of his death in 1640, received a modest inheritance.  At an early age Richard Henry Lee was sent over to England for schooling at the academy of Wakefield in Yorkshire. The personal wealth and status of his family enabled Lee to choose any profession, including philanthropist. In 1752 he returned to Virginia and without any plans for a professional practice applied himself with great diligence to the study of law. Both English and Roman law occupied his attention; he was also an earnest student of history. As a young adult, Richard Henry Lee decided to rent out many of his inherited slaves as well as his inherited lands hoping to support his family on the proceeds while devoting his professional efforts to politics. In 1757 he was appointed justice of the peace for Westmoreland County. In 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, of which he remained a delegate until 1788. Richard Henry Lee was married twice. His first wife, Aylett Lee, bore two sons and daughters. His second wife, Pinkard, also birthed two daughters. 

Extreme shyness prevented his taking any part in the debates for some time in House of Burgesses. His first speech was on a motion:

to lay so heavy a duty on the importation of slaves as effectually to put an end to that iniquitous and disgraceful traffic within the colony of Virginia.[3]

On this occasion, his hatred of slavery overcame his timidity and he made a powerful speech supplying proofs of principal points of view used by the northern Abolitionists through the 1860's. Lee had no profession beyond his public service. Like Samuel Adams, he was a professional politician. In times of need, especially when the real estate market declined after the French and Indian War, he found no other way to provide for his family than seeking lucrative appointive governmental offices.

In 1769 as a member of the House of Burgesses Richard Henry Lee introduced a tax on imported slaves, he maintained would help end the inhumane trade. His critics, however, were quick to point out that his bill was self-serving as if the importation of slaves ended the value of those he already owned and leased would be driven up in the more restricted labor market. Despite this, Lee continued to condemn slavery itself. The institution he claimed harmed innocent Africans who he described as “Our fellow creatures who are no longer to be considered as created in the image of God as well as ourselves, and equally entitled to liberty and freedom by the great Law of Nature.”[4]

In March 1773, Dabney Carr proposed the formation of a permanent Committee of Correspondence[5] before the Virginia House of Burgesses. Virginia's own committee was formed on March 12, 1773. Its members were Peyton Randolph, Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Cary, and Thomas Jefferson.

He was one of the more liberal members of the committee.  In 1773 he wrote Samuel Adams, a member of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence, a letter that began a lifelong friendship between the two great leaders. The letter shows what indeed all his letters evince how ardent his patriotism was and how near to his heart was the cause of country.

SIR From a person quite unknown to you, some apology may be necessary for this letter. The name of my brother, Dr. Arthur Lee, of London, may perhaps, furnish me with this apology. To be firmly attached to the cause of liberty on virtuous principles, is a powerful cause of union, and renders proper, the most easy communication of sentiment, however artfully disunion may be promoted and encouraged by tyrants, and their abettors. If this be true in general, how more certainly is it so, in that particular state of affairs, in which every scheme that cunning can form, or power execute, is practiced to reduce to slavery, so considerable a portion of the human species, as North America does, and may contain. Every day's experience proves this, to an attentive observer. Among other instances in proof, if I mistake not, the manner of resenting the loss of the Gaspie, is one. At this distance, and through the uncertain medium of newspapers, we may never, perhaps, have received a just account of this affair. 

I should be extremely glad, sir, when your leisure permits, to have as true a state of the matter, as the public with you, has been furnished with. At all events, this military parade appears extraordinary, unless the intention be, to violate all law and legal forms, in order to establish the ministerial favorite, but fatal precedent, of removing Americans beyond the water, to be tried for supposed offences committed here. This is so unreasonable, and so unconstitutional a stretch of power, that I hope it will never be permitted to take place, while a spark of virtue, or one manly sentiment remains in America. The primary end of government seems to be, the security of life and property; but this ministerial law, would, if acquiesced in, totally defeat every idea of social security and happiness. You may easily, sir, perceive, that 1 understand myself, writing to a firm and worthy friend of the just rights and liberty of America, by the freedom with which this letter is penned. Captain Snow, of your town, who comes frequently here, and who takes care of this, will bring me any letter you may be pleased to favor me with.[6]

Samuel Adams response would mark the beginning of the establishment of Adams-Lee faction of the Continental Congress and USCA.

SIR Your letter to me of the fourth of February last, I received with singular pleasure, not only because I had long wished for a correspondence with some gentleman in Virginia, but more particularly, because I had frequently heard of your character and merit, as a warm advocate of virtue and liberty. I had often thought it a misfortune, rather than a fault in the friends of American independence and freedom, not taking care to open every channel of communication. The colonies are all embarked on the same bottom. The liberties of all, are alike invaded by the same haughty power. The conspirators against their common rights, have indeed, exerted their brutal force, or applied their insidious acts differently, in the several colonies, as they have thought, it would best serve their purpose of oppression and tyranny. How necessary, therefore, that all should be early acquainted with the particular circumstances of each, in order, that the wisdom and strength of the whole, may be employed upon every occasion. We have heard of bloodshed, and even civil war, in our sister colony of North Carolina; and how strange is it, that the best account we have of that tragical scene, should be brought to us from England.

This province, and this town especially, have suffered a great share of ministerial wrath and insolence. But, God be thanked, there is, I trust, a spirit prevailing which will not submit to slavery. The compliance of New York in making annual provision for a military force designed to carry acts of tyranny into execution, the timidity of some, and the silence of others, are discouraging. But the active vigilance, the manly generosity, and the steady perseverance of Virginia and South Carolina, give us reason to hope, that the fire of true liberty and patriotism, will at length spread itself through the continent; the consequence would be, the acquisition of all we wish for. The friends of liberty in this town, have lately made a successful attempt to obtain an explicit political sentiment of a great number of the towns of this province, and the number is daily increasing. The very attempt was alarming to our adversaries, and the happy effects of it, mortifying to them. I would propose it for your consideration, whether the establishment of committees of correspondence among the several towns in every colony, would tend to promote that general union, upon which the security of the whole depends. The reception of the truly patriotic resolves of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, gladden the hearts of all who are friends to liberty. 

Our committee of correspondence had a special meeting on the occasion, and determined to circulate immediately, printed copies of them, in every town in the province, in order to make them as extensively useful as possible. I am desired by them, to assure you of their veneration for your most ancient colony, and their unfeigned esteem for the gentlemen of your committee. This indeed, is a poor return I hope you will have the hearty concurrence of every Assembly on the continent. It is a measure which will be attended with great and good consequences. Our General Assembly is dissolved, and writs will soon be issued, according to the charter, for a new Assembly, to be holden the last Wednesday in May next. I think I can almost assure you, there will be a return of such members as will heartily co-operate with you in your spirited measures. The enormous stride in erecting what may be called a court of inquisition in America, is sufficient to excite indignation in every heart capable of feeling.

I am expecting an authentic copy of that commission, which I shall send to you by the first opportunity, after I have received it. The letter from the new secretary of state to the governor of Rhode Island, which, possibly you may have seen in the newspapers, may be depended upon as genuine. I received it from a gentleman of the Council of that colony, who took it from the original. I wish the Assembly of that province had acted with more firmness than they have done; but as the court of inquiry is adjourned, they may possibly have another trial. I have a thousand things to say to you, but am prevented from want of time, having had but an hour's notice of the sailing of this vessel. I cannot conclude, however, without assuring you, that a letter from you, as often as your leisure admits, would lay me under great obligations.[7]

In August 1774, Mr. Lee was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. 

He was a member of the committees for stating the rights of the colonies, for enforcing commercial non-intercourse with Great Britain, and for preparing suitable addresses to the king and to the colonies - Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Georgia, and the then Floridas - that had not sent delegates to the congress.

In the second Congress Lee drew up the address to the people of Great Britain, which along with a last petition to the king, was carried over to London by Richard Penn in August 1775. About this time Mr. Lee was chosen lieutenant of Westmoreland County, an office which, after the analogy of the lord-lieutenancy of a county in England, gave him command of the militia; hence he is often addressed or described, in writings of the time, as "Colonel Lee."

For more than a year he openly and warmly advocated a declaration of independence. After the May 17, 1776 Virginia Convention instructed its delegates in congress to propose such a measure, it was Lee who took the foremost part. On June 7th, 1776 he moved:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. 
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.  
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective  Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

Resolved that it is the opinion of this Committee that the first Resolution be postponed to this day three weeks and that in the meantime a committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration to the effect of the said first resolution + least any time skid be lost in case the Congress agree to this resolution - Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses National Archives

John Adams seconded the motion. Congress deferred action for three weeks, in order that more definite instructions might be received from the middle colonies. In an uncanny twist of fate Mr. Lee was called home by the illness of his wife. It was at this time that Thomas Jefferson was appointed in his place as chairman of the committee for preparing a draft of the proposed Declaration of Independence. For the same reason, the task of defending the motion, when taken up for discussion, fell mainly upon John Adams, who had seconded it.

 Resolution for Independency Manuscript,   which  was passed on July 2, 1776.   

John Adams was successful in defending Mr. Lee's motion, and on July 2, 1776, the United Colonies of America officially became the United States of America. It was July 2, 1776 that John Adams thought would be celebrated by future generations of Americans.

The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." -- John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

Neil Ronk, Senior Guide and Historian of the Christ Church Preservation Trust holds up John Dunlap's 1777 York-Town printing of the 1776 Journals of Congress flanked by NCHC Honors Students. The Journals have been opened to July 2nd 1776, marking the passage of the Resolution for Independency. - For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website
Thomas Jefferson went on to author the formal Declaration of Independence, which was passed by Congress on July 4, 1776, immortalizing the young delegate forever. During the next four years Mr. Lee served on more than a hundred committees. Richard Henry Lee only had one drive, full speed ahead and his pace as Congressional Delegate resulted in failing health on several occasions forcing Lee to return to Virginia to recuperate. From 1780 until 1782 he did not take his seat in Congress because the affairs of Virginia required his leadership and good work in the state assembly. During this period of the Revolutionary War the British Army controlled the ports and key cities in Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1781 Cornwallis overwhelmed Southern Virginia while Benedict Arnold burned Richmond. Additionally in the Virginia two questions of great importance were being debated in the legislature. The first related to the propriety of making a depreciated paper currency, the U.S. Continental, legal tender for debts. The second was a resolution to disclaim all debts to British merchants contracted by citizens of Virginia before the beginning of the war. In these debates Richard Henry Lee took a strong position against paper money, and he vehemently condemned the repudiation of debts, declaring that it were better to be "the honest slaves of Great Britain than to become dishonest freemen."

United Colonies of America, July 2, 1776 manuscript naming the historic resolution: "Resolution for Independency"  which  is clearly marked on this original Continental Congress manuscript passed on July 2, 1776.  The roll indicates that New Hampshire was the first State to vote for Independence

United Colonies of America Resolution For Independency with roll call vote results written on the July 2, 1776  -  Image courtesy of the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives

United Colonies of America roll call vote result written on the July 2, 1776 "Resolution for Independency"  which  is clearly marked on this original Continental Congress manuscript passed on July 2, 1776.  The roll indicates that New Hampshire was the first State to vote for Independence.  Mew York is not listed as the delegation abstained from the vote -  Image courtesy of the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives

As Colonel of the Westmoreland Militia his troops secured key ports, one a Stratford Springs, along the Potomac River aiding the Continental Army in their mission to keep the trade routes open to Virginia. He was successful and soon Washington won a sweeping Victory at Yorktown. During the negotiations of the subsequent Treaty of Paris Lee remained very active in the Virginia assembly. He successfully led the effort to establishing sound methods of funding Virginia's public debt and providing for the revival of public credit. These Herculean accomplishments did not go unnoticed by his colleagues in the Unites States in Congress Assembled as the Definitive Treaty of Peace with Great Britain exacted a heavy monetary measure from the United States restoring Tory land holdings and repaying British merchants for goods used and seized during the Revolutionary War. The citizens and government of the United States were dire financial circumstances as the debt was staggering and the Continental Currency had collapsed. In the hopes that Mr. Lee could duplicate his financial success managing Virginia's debt at a national level, the Delegates elected him President of the United States in Congress Assembled on November 30, 1784 with the following resolution:

The committee, to whom were referred the credentials produced by the delegates from the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, report, "That they have carefully examined the credentials to them referred, and are of opinion, that the honorable Samuel Holten and George Partridge, of the State of Massachusetts; the honorable David Howell, of the State of Rhode Island; the honorable William Churchill Houston and John Beatty, of the State of New Jersey; the honorable Joseph Gardner and William Henry, of Lancaster, of the State of Pennsylvania; the honorable Samuel Hardy, James Monroe and Richard Henry Lee, of the State of Virginia; the honorable Hugh Williamson and Richard Dobbs Spaight, of the State of North Carolina; the honorable Jacob Read, John Bull and Charles Pinckney, of the State of South Carolina; and the honorable William Houstoun and William Gibbons, of the State of Georgia, appear to be clearly and indisputably entitled to their seats, are authorized to sit and vote in the present Congress of the United States. Eight states being assembled, the United States in Congress assembled, proceeded to the election of a President, and, the ballots being taken, the honorable Richard Henry Lee was elected.

In 1784, Richard Henry Lee was elected as a delegate to the United States, in Congress Assembled.  There was a movement after the Annapolis’ session failure of the Committee of the States to make the President a “more powerful and serviceable official,” but it resulted in no increase in Presidential powers. 
Lee’s accomplishments as a delegate in Virginia did not go unnoticed by his colleagues in the United States, in Congress Assembled. The Definitive Treaty of Peace with Great Britain exacted heavy monetary measures from the United States and its citizenry restoring Tory landholdings and requiring the repayment of British merchants for goods used and seized during the Revolutionary War. The citizens and government of the United States were in dire financial circumstances as the debt was staggering and the Continental Currency collapsed. 

THOMAS'S MASSACHUSETTS SPY: OR, WORCESTER GAZETTE, December 16, 1784, reports that Richard Henry Lee is elected President of the United States in Congress Assembled in Trenton, N.J. Article states "This is the gentleman who first made the motion in Congress, for declaring the States of America independent, in the year 1776."

Richard Henry Lee was elected by the Delegates as USCA President because they hoped that Colonel Lee could duplicate his financial success managing Virginia's debt at the national level. The Adams-Lee faction had finally come into power and even the staunchest conservatives trusted that Richard Henry Lee would lead the country onto a path of financial stability.

Was Delaware, Virginia, or New Hampshire the first US State?

The USCA assembled in the French Arms Tavern that was erected in 1730 as a private residence of stone and stucco.  The building was two stories high, with a gabled roof that measuring 45 feet in width and 43 feet in depth plus a narrower extension in the rear.   The house stood on the southwest corner of King (now Warren) Street and 2nd (now State) Street in Trenton, New Jersey.  The rear extension on the Second Street side served as kitchen and servant's quarters.    The building was owned by John Dagworthy until his death in 1756. For two years during this period, from 1740 to 1742, it was the official residence of Governor Lewis Morris. In 1760 it was sold to Samuel Henry, an iron manufacturer, who made it his residence until he leased the property to Jacob G. Bergen in 1780 for use as a tavern. 

Before opening the tavern, which he named "Thirteen Stars," Bergen made extensive changes in the building. He added a third story, with a gabled, dormer-windowed roof; converted two of the first-floor rooms into one room 20 feet in width and 43 feet in length, which became known as the "Long Room;" and set up a barroom in the basement. In 1783 the building was described as a "Dwelling-house 45 by 43 Feet, 3 Stories, 11 Rooms, eight with Fireplaces, a Kitchen and Stabling for 12 Horses."  The Building’s name later changed to the French Arms celebrating France’s role in the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown when John Cape took over the tavern’s management.  Bergen returned to the tavern in 1783 and retained the French Arms name.

In 1784 a commission appointed by the New Jersey Legislature leased the tavern, which was still the largest building in town, for the use of the USCA. The Long room walls were repapered, the floors were carpeted and a platform erected in the center of the south side of the room between the two fireplaces. Thirteen new tables covered with green cloth and forty-eight new Windsor chairs were provided for the delegates.[8] 

Richard Henry Lee's Presidency was a busy one, attending to the needs of the new nation. Lee's candor and straightforwardness bore few secrets. In a November 18, 1784 letter to Samuel Adams he wrote, "I shall be extremely happy to be aided by your counsels during my residence in Congress."[9] Richard Henry Lee's letters are abundant and well-published and consequently we know that President Lee favored low taxes by funding the debt with foreign loans. Lee, in fact, reviled duties and was a staunch opponent of Congress' willingness to tax the citizens at a Federal level.

The USCA stay at Trenton was brief and most of its time was spent in appealing to the states to send delegates. John Jay, who was a strong opponent of President Lee, had returned as a delegate to USCA at Trenton and was not in favor of a Trenton capitol.  Additionally, Jay had yet to accept the position of Secretary of Foreign Affairs.  He was lobbied hard by both southern and northern delegates to accept the position.  Jay hesitated because he wanted the capitol in his hometown of New York along with the right to select his owns clerks and assistants as Foreign Secretary. 

On the topic of the capitol, the Southern States made every effort to have the alternate sessions at Trenton and Annapolis repealed campaigned.  On the 20th of December the USCA passed a resolution that repealed the proposed two capitol system and provide money for the erection of federal buildings:

Resolved, That it is inexpedient for Congress at this time to erect more than one federal town public buildings for their accommodation at more than one place.  Resolved, (by nine states,) That a sum not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars be appropriated for the payment of the expense of erecting such buildings; provided always, that hotels or dwelling-houses for the members of Congress representing the different states, shall not be understood as included in the above appropriation.[10]

John Jay managed to gather enough support to temporarily relocate the capitol to New York if he accepted the position of Foreign Secretary.   With this in hand he introduced a resolution aimed at removing Trenton and Annapolis as the temporary federal capitals:

That it is expedient Congress should determine on a place, at which they will continue to sit until proper accommodations in a federal town shall be erected, and that the subsisting resolutions respecting the alternate temporary residence of Congress at Trenton and Annapolis, be repealed.[11]

Jay then resigned his seat in USCA and the oath of office as Secretary for Foreign Affairs before Justice Isaac Smith of the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The following day Foreign Affairs Under-Secretary, Henry Remsen, Jr. turned over all the department papers to John Jay.  The following official dispatch, Jay’s first, was sent to the French Chargé d'Affaires, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois:

Having accepted the place of Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it becomes my duty to inform you that Congress will adjourn to-morrow to meet at the City of New York on Tuesday, the 11th day of January next.[12]

Remarkably, the capitol of the United States America, for the first and last time, had been moved to persuade a member of its Congress to accept an executive position in the federal government.   According to Elbridge Gerry the adjournment to New York also included a resolution that the permanent capital would be placed on the banks of the Delaware instead of New York and the new Foreign Secretary was not pleased: 

 It is fortunate that we arrived here as we did, (1) for otherwise congress would by this time have been in Philadelphia and the treasury in such hands as you and I could not approve. There was a stronger party formed against us than I remember to have seen, but I think it will subside and matters be in good train again. We have carried two great points to-day by passing an ordinance, 1st. to appoint three commissioners to lay out a district on the branch of either side of the Delaware, within eight miles of this place, to purchase the soil and enter into contracts for erecting suitable buildings.
(2) 2dly. To adjourn to New-York and reside there until suitable buildings are prepared. This I consider a fortunate affair in every respect but one. It is so disagreeable to our worthy secretary that there is reason to apprehend he will resign his appointment. We have been so happy also as to remove some objections on the part of Mr. Jay to the acceptance of his office, and he yesterday took the oaths and entered on the business of his department.[13]

Jay’s biographer, Pellew writes:

He was unwilling, for reasons of private business, to be detained at Trenton, where Congress had been in session and was to reassemble in September, and also because he was reluctant to assume such responsibility without the privilege of selecting his own clerks, a power which Congress had heretofore reserved to itself.  Meantime he was elected a delegate to Congress by the state legislature; but on December 21st, Congress having decided to adjourn to New York, and yielding in the matter of the appointments of his subordinates, Jay accepted the secretaryship, and resigned his seat on the floor. Almost immediately afterwards he was tempted to become a candidate for governor ; but he refused to desert the federal service, saying : ‘A servant should not leave a good old master for the sake of a little more pay or a prettier livery.’[14]

John Jay did not resign his position of Secretary for Foreign Affairs and became the most important and powerful appointment under the Articles of Confederation.  Jay would hold the post until the establishment of the second Constitutional government in 1789.   Although not a member of the USCA, Jay was given the privilege to appear before that body and state his views.  All foreign correspondence that had gone directly to President of the United States, even when Robert Livingston held the post, now went directly to Jay.  The President, therefore, was effectively removed from a position of power in the matter of foreign relations because all diplomatic correspondence stopped and the Foreign Secretary reported directly to USCA.  This was a major change to powers of the Presidency. 

The Journals of the USCA report this chronology of events in Trenton under President Richard Henry Lee:

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November 30 Elects Richard Henry Lee president. 

December 3 Registers commission of Swedish consul Charles Hellstedt; orders redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops to West Point. December 7 Countermands redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops, who are ordered to Fort Rensselaer. December 8 Receives Massachusetts and New York agents assembled to select judges for hearing land claim dispute between the two states. December 11 Rejects motion to adjourn from Trenton; com mends the marquis de Lafayette. December 14 Postpones election of treasury commissioners; directs Benjamin Franklin to delay signing consular convention with France. December 15 Receives Spanish announcement closing Mississippi River. December 17 Elects chaplain to Congress; resolves to appoint minister to Spain. December 20 Overturns decision to create two capitals; appropriates $100,000 for capital buildings. December 23 Adopts ordinance for fixing upon a place for the residence of Congress." December 24 Certifies selection of judges for hearing Massachusetts-New York land claim dispute; adjourns to New York City.

The USCA stay at Trenton was brief and most of its time was spent addressing the establishment of a temporary USCA seat of government and a permanent federal Capitol for the United States of America.   The Fourth USCA, while in session in Princeton, NJ, debated creating a "district" at either Lamberton on the Delaware or Georgetown on the Potomac.  On October 7, 1783, the USCA resolved: 


That the place on the Delaware for erecting buildings for the use of Congress, be near the falls. Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed to repair to the falls of Delaware, to view the situation of the country in its neighbourhood, and report a proper district for carrying into effect the preceding resolution: the members, Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry, Mr. S[amuel] Huntington, Mr. [Richard] Peters, Mr. [James] Duane, Mr. [Abraham] Clark.  


On October 21, 1783, the USCA also resolved: 


That buildings be likewise erected for the use of Congress, at or near the lower falls of Potomac or Georgetown; provided a suitable district on the banks of the river can be procured for a federal 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 and Potomac 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 on the twenty-sixth day of the same month, for the despatch of public business.


 On October 30, 1783, the USCA resolved: 


That the President transmit to the executives of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, copies of the acts of Congress of the 7 instant respecting buildings to be erected for a federal town on the banks of the Delaware; and of the acts of the 1 instant respecting buildings to be erected on the banks of the Potomac, for a second federal town, and the adjournment of Congress to Annapolis.


The idea was for Congress to perform its business in one capital for a portion of the year before moving to another capital for the remaining portion of the year.  On November 1st it was "Resolved, That the several matters now before Congress, be referred over and recommended to the attention of the United States in Congress assembled, to meet at this place on Monday next."  On November 4, authorized the discharge of the Continental Army, "except 500 men, with proper officers. "Adjourns to Annapolis, to reconvene the 26th.

The Fourth USCA, was unable to form a quorum until December 13th took up the matter of two federal districts but made little headway on the capitals' development during their Annapolis, MD session.  On May 7, 1784, however, the USCA elected Paris Peace Commissioner and former Continental Congress President John Jay, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, while he was overseas without his knowledge or consent.    John Jay did not learn of Congress' action until he arrived in New York on July 24th and indicated that with the current flux of the U.S. Seat of Government’s bilocation, he was not interested in accepting the position.  


As late as October 20, 1784, John Jay wrote USCA Secretary Charles Thomson: 


"I must decline accepting the Place offered me, at least until the Sense of Congress may be known on two or three I have a Family it is necessary in my opinion, that my Residence should be stationary---; and I think it both reasonable & important that the Persons to serve under me in the office, should be of my appointment." 


John Jay was elected a delegate to the Fifth United States in Congress Assembled on October 26th.  It would not be until November 29, that the Fifth USCA formed a quorum at the French Arms Tavern and the following day the delegates elected Richard Henry Lee USCA President.  The session progressed as follows with John Jay first attending on December 6th:

December 3 Registers commission of Swedish consul Charles Hellstedt; orders redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops to West Point. December 7 Countermands redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops, who are ordered to Fort Rensselaer. December 8 Receives Massachusetts and New York agents assembled to select judges for hearing land claim dispute between the two states. December 11 Rejects motion to adjourn from Trenton; com mends the marquis de Lafayette. December 14 Postpones election of treasury commissioners; directs Benjamin Franklin to delay signing consular convention with France. December 15 Receives Spanish announcement closing Mississippi River. December 17 Elects chaplain to Congress; resolves to appoint minister to Spain.

During the session, on December 6, Virginia Delegate James Monroe wrote to James Madison stating: 


Mr. Jay is here & will I understand accept the office of foreign affrs. upon condition Congress will establish themselves at any one place.

On December 20, 1784, the important matter of erecting one capital district as opposed to two was addressed by Congress. On a motion made by Rhode Island Delegate David Howell and seconded by John Jay, the USCA considered overturning the Third USCA's decision to create two capitals: 


Resolved: That it is expedient the Congress proceed to take measures for procuring suitable buildings to be erected for their accommodation. [Printed Journals add: "And that a sum not exceeding dollars be and they are hereby appropriated for the payment of the expence of erecting such buildings."]


Resolved: (by nine states) That a sum not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars be appropriated for the payment of the expence of erecting such buildings; provided always, that hotels or dwelling-houses for the members of Congress representing the different States, shall not be understood as included in the above appropriation. [Note 2: 2 This paragraph, in the writing of Richard Henry Lee, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 36, II, folio 477.] 



Proposed National Capitol Site in Trenton original Manuscript Map 1784

It would not be until the following day, that Congress agreed that one of the capital towns would be eliminated.  The USCA December 21st, 1784, Journals report:


A motion was made by Mr. [Charles] Pinckney, seconded by Mr. [John] Jay,


That it is expedient Congress should determine on a place, at which they will continue to sit until proper accommodations in a federal town shall be erected, and that the subsisting resolutions respecting the alternate temporary residence of Congress at Trenton and Annapolis, be repealed.


Resolved, That it is expedient Congress should determine on a place at which they will continue to sit, until public buildings for their proper accommodations in a foederal town shall be erected. 


Resolved, That Congress will not adjourn from this place until they shall have named the place near the falls of Trenton at which the federal buildings mentioned in the resolution of yesterday shall be fixed and ascertained and Commissioners for erecting the same be appointed.  [Note 1: 1 This motion, in the writing of John Jay, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 36, II, folio 487.]


With this resolution and with the knowledge that the there would only be one capital district and the majority of the delegates would most likely choose New York as the temporary Seat of Government, John Jay accepted the position as Secretary for Foreign Affairs.  Jay took the oath of office before Justice Isaac Smith of the New Jersey Supreme Court (Red Book, 9:86, MdAA).  


Certification of John Jay’s Oath as Secretary for Foreign Affairs --- [Trenton, 21 December 1784]:


Be it remembered that on twenty first day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four at Trenton in the State of New Jersey personally appeared before me Isaac Smith one of the Justices of the supreme Court of said State John Jay Esquire and took an Oath which I administered to him in the words following Viz.


“I John Jay do acknowledge the Thirteen United States of America namely, New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia, to be free, independent and sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the third King of Great Britain, and I renounce, refuse, and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do Swear that I will, to the utmost of my power support, maintain, and defend the said United States against the said King George the third, and his heirs & successors, and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents; and will Serve the said United States in the Office of [653page icon] Secretary for Foreign Affairs, which I now hold, and in any other Office which I may hereafter hold by their appointment, or under their authority, with fidelity and honor, and according to the best of my Skill and understanding. So help me God.


John Jay


Sworn the Day and Year within written before me Isaac Smith. (Papers of John Jay; Certification of John Jay’s Oath as Secretary for Foreign Affairs)


On December 23rd, 1784, a motion was made to change the single permanent federal capitol's location  by Samuel Hardy, seconded by James Monroe, to strike out the words, "on the banks of either side of the Delaware, not lower than Lamberton, nor more than six miles above it;" and in lieu thereof to insert, "at Georgetown, on the Potomac." The motion failed eight states to one. 

USCA Journals Manuscript, December 23, 1784 from the US National Archives

John Jay and others defeated motions to name Trenton, Philadelphia and Newport in place of New York City as the temporary seat of government while the new “federal town” was being constructed on the Banks of the Delaware near Trenton.  A motion was finally made by David Howell, seconded by Mr.[Richard Dobbs Spaight, "to fill the blank with 'the city of New York.' And on the question to agree to this, the yeas and nays being required by Mr. [David] Howell, So it was resolved in the affirmative." 

USCA Journals Manuscript, December 23, 1784
New York Seat of Government vote - United States National Archives 

The complete ordinance was then read for a third time:

Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, that the resolutions of the 20th instant respecting the erecting buildings for the use of Congress, be carried into effect without delay; that for this purpose, three commissioners be appointed, with full powers to lay out a district, of not less than two nor exceeding three miles square, on the banks of either side of the Delaware, not more than eight miles above or below the lower fails thereof, for a foederal town; that they be authorised to purchase the soil, or such part of it as they may judge necessary, to be paid at proper instalments; to enter into contracts for erecting and completing, in an elegant manner, a foederal house for the accommodation of Congress, and for the executive officers thereof; a house for the use of the President of Congress, and suitable buildings for the residence of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Secretary at War, Secretary of Congress, Secretary of the Marine, and officers of the Treasury; that the said commissioners be empowered to draw on the treasury of the United States for a sum not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars, for the purpose aforesaid; that in choosing a situation for the buildings, due regard be had to the accommodation of the states, with lots for houses for the use of their delegates respectively; that on the 24th day of December instant Congress stand adjourned to meet at the city of New York, on the eleventh Day of January following, for the dispatch of public business, and that the sessions of Congress be held at the place last mentioned, until the buildings aforesaid shall be ready for their reception.

The vote was 7 yes and 1 no (Pennsylvania) with the Georgia delegation divided and New Hampshire, with only one delegate, also voting yes.   

On December 23, 1784, Elbridge Gerry wrote to James Warren about this unprecedented Congressional action.
There was a stronger party formed against us than I remember to have seen, but I think it will subside and matters be in good train again. We have carried two great points to-day by passing an ordinance, 1st. to appoint three commissioners to lay out a district on the branch of either side of the Delaware, within eight miles of this place, to purchase the soil and enter into contracts for erecting suitable buildings. 2dly. To adjourn to New-York and reside there until suitable buildings are prepared. This I consider a fortunate affair in every respect but one. It is so disagreeable to our worthy secretary [Charles Thomson] that there is reason to apprehend he will resign his appointment.
We have been so happy also as to remove some objections on the part of Mr. Jay to the acceptance of his office, and he yesterday took the oaths and entered on the business of his department.
On December 24 the USCA certified selection of judges for hearing Massachusetts-New York land claim dispute under Article IX and adjourned " to meet at the City of New York, on the 11 day of January next."

On January 11, 1785 the USCA reconvened in the old City Hall in New York.   The office of Foreign Affairs, along with the Board of War was relocated to Fraunces Tavern about four blocks from the new capitol building.  The Historian of the U.S. Department of State writes:

Although some have stated that the first location of the Department of Foreign Affairs in New York was also in the City Hall in a room above the Council chamber, an item in a Department account book under date of January 19, 1785, seems to contradict this. It indicates "cash paid a cartman for hauling two cases belonging to the Office, from the City Hall, where they had been carried thro' mistake with the Boxes of the Secretary's [Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress] Office."[15]

The location of the Department from January 11, 1785, to April 30, 1788, was in a building known as "Fraunces Tavern," which was owned by Samuel Fraunces, a noted innkeeper.  Fraunces Tavern was situated on the southeast corner of Great Dock (now Pearl) and Broad Streets. [16]

National Collegiate Honor’s Council Partners in the Park Class of 2017 students at Federal Hall National Historic Park with Ranger holding the 1789 Acts of Congress opened to the 12 Amendment Joint Resolution of Congress issued September 25th, 1789.  The only amendment in the "Bill of Rights" that was not ratified is Article the Firstwhich is still pending before Congress. Cintly is holding an Arthur St. Clair signed Northwest Territory document, Imani is holding the First Bicameral Congressional Act establishing the U.S. Department of State and Rachael is holding a 1788 John Jay letter sent to the Governor of Connecticut, Samuel Huntington,  transmitting a treaty with France. – For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website
The capitol building that housed the USCA was eighty-five years old. In January, 1698, a committee was appointed to report on the necessity of a new building for New York’s governmental offices.  A new structure was recommended at a site “opposite the upper end of Broad St.”    The committee contracted James Evetts and his subsequent design were presented and approved by the colonial government.  To fund the construction, the old city hall, “excluding the bell, the King's arms, and the iron-work belonging to the prison,”[17] were sold at public auction to a merchant, John Hodman, for the sum of £920. The cage, pillory, and stocks, however, remained in front of the old building for a year afterwards while the new structure was being built.  The foundation stone of the building was laid, with some ceremony, in August 1699 as evidenced of a warrant being drawn for paying the expense incurred on that occasion.  March 1700 records indicate the Colonial Common Council contracted with William Mumford to carve the King's, Colonial Governor Lord Bellamont’s and Lieutenant-Governor, Captain Nanfan’s arms of the size of the three blank squares left in the front of the City Hall for that purpose.[18] Moldings of stone were required to be made around each coat-of-arms, each to be cut on one stone, unless a stone sufficiently large for the King's arms could not be procured, in which case two stones might be used. The contract called from them to be completed within six months and Mumford was to receive forty-one pounds four shillings.  The building, thus, was completed in late 1700 or early 1701, but the exact date is unknown.

      In 1703, the cage, pillory, whipping-post, and stocks were removed from Coenties slip[19] and erected in the upper end of Broad Street, a little below the new City Hall. 

In 1715, Mr. Stephen Delancy, a “liberal and wealthy merchant”, presented the city with fifty pounds, which he had received as his salary as representative of the city in the General Assembly. He suggested, after being asked, that the funds be used to purchase of a clock, to be placed in the cupola of the City Hall. In 1716 an agreement was accordingly made with clockmaker Joseph Phillips for its construction. It was provided, that the largest wheel of the clock should be nine inches in diameter, and that there should be two dial-plates of red cedar, painted and gilt', each to be six feet square. The price paid was sixty-five pounds.  

First Floor of New York City Hall before it was converted into Federal Hall in 1785. Federal Hall would serve as the capitol of the United States of America from January 11, 1785 to October 6, 1788 and again after renovations for the new tripartite government from March 4, 1789 to August 12, 1790.

     It was not until the year 1718 that the balcony called for in the original plans was constructed.  In 1738 it was found that the cupola of this building was ''very rotten and in danger of falling." The old cupola was dismantled and a new one of the same specification was erected in its place.  

Second Floor of New York City Hall before it was converted into Federal Hall in 1785.  Federal Hall would serve as the capitol of the United States of America from January 11, 1785 to October 6, 1788 and again after renovations for the new tripartite government from March 4, 1789 to August 12, 1790.

Third  Floor of New York City Hall before it was converted into Federal Hall in 1785.  Federal Hall would serve as the capitol of the United States of America from January 11, 1785 to October 6, 1788 and again after renovations for the new tripartite government from March 4, 1789 to August 12, 1790.  
In 1763, which was a period when improvements, both private and public, were greatly encouraged in the city.  The City Hall, now 63 three years old, was altered and improved, at very considerable expense. The colonial committee of the Common Council approved a plan of "alterations and ornaments '' to the building and to defray the computed cost of three thousand pounds, a lottery was established. Among other improvements, the building was made higher, and roofed with copper procured from England. The balcony in the front of the building was extended out to range with the two wings. A cupola of more imposing dimensions was raised upon the building, and a bell of larger dimensions than the old one.

In January of 1785, the USCA conducted their meetings on the second floor which was once the room of the NY Supreme Court.  A room adjoining the meeting room was still occupied “and the noise of the scholars in their recitations was so annoying as to disturb the debates. Complaint being made of this, the school was discontinued.” [20]

New York City, at the time of the USCA, was just beginning to recover from the seven years of British occupation during the Revolutionary War.  During the British’s stewardship, the city was devastated by two fires and lost half its population. Only thirteen months earlier, the British still languished in the City conducting hearings at Fraunces Tavern.  British representatives, in the Treaty of Paris negotiations, were successful insuring that over three thousand Loyalist Blacks would retain their freedom rather than being returned to slavery.    Wealthy slave owners prevailed upon the USCA that a hearing be held for each one of the black loyalists to determine if their claim of freedom met the terms agreement under the treaty.  A joint British-American Board of Inquiry was formed and convened from April to November 1783 to ensure U.S. slave holders that only slaves who were emancipated by the British, for their military service, would be given their permanent freedom. Each Wednesday, for seven months, the board members heard the testimonies and reviewed the evidence that were given by freed slaves and their witnesses. To the dismay of numerous wealthy and influential U.S. slave holders, the British representatives were successful in ensuring that almost all the loyalist blacks maintained their liberty.  Once these hearings were complete, the British speedily evacuated New York.

On January 27th, a comfortably located Congress passed their first import measure in the New York Capitol.  This resolution re-adopted the vacant office of Secretary of War and expanded the duties with two important measures:

… to take order for the transportation, safe keeping and distributing the necessary supplies for such troops and garrisons as may be kept up by the United States.

… He shall, at least once a year, visit all the magazines and deposits of public stores, and report the state of them with proper arrangements to Congress; and shall twice a year, or oftener if thereto required, settle the accounts of his department.[21]

The Secretary, thereby, was able to cut costs and manpower by dismantling the Army Staff organization through the absorption of their distribution and supply responsibilities.   

On February 2, 178 the US Comptroller of the treasury reported that a number of the Certificates issued by John Pierce, commissioner for adjusting the claims of the Army, have been counterfeited.  The United States in Congress Assembled Resolved, That the Comptroller be required to trace the said Certificates as far back as possible, through their several possessors, on their progress to the treasury.  And That the above Richard Henry Lee Presidential Proclamation "be issued, offering a reward to any person who will discover the person or persons concerned in the said forgery, or his or their accomplices; and enjoining all officers, civil and military, to be aiding and assisting in making such discovery." - image courtesy of the Library of Congress
On February 11th, Foreign Secretary John Jay was successful in advancing legislation to provide his office with a full time interpreter, receive an addition $1,000 for contingent spending by his office and a full time door keeper was added to the office’s payroll:

Resolved, That the Secretary for the department of foreign affairs be, and he is hereby authorized to appoint an interpreter, whose duty it shall be to translate all such papers as may be referred to him … Resolved, That the wages of the door-keeper to the office for foreign Affairs, be considered as part of the contingent expenses of said Office … Resolved, That the treasurer of the United States advance to the Secretary for the department of foreign Affairs, the sum of one thousand dollars, for the contingencies of his Office, he to be accountable … Resolved, That the Secretary for foreign Affairs, give orders for a careful removal of the portraits of his Most Christian Majesty and of the queen of France, from Philadelphia to the Hall in this City, in which Congress hold their sessions.[22]

Shortly thereafter, upon the recommendations of Foreign Secretary, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were appointed, respectively, ministers to Great Britain and France. 

On March 8th, the USCA elected Henry Knox as their new Secretary of War.  The War Department Knox assumed command over had two civilian employees and a single small regiment.  The budget, out of which the Knox was to provide for the pay the clerk, his assistant and himself was fixed at $2,450 a year.  Knox accepted the position, writing to Secretary Charles Thomson that he hoped to have leave of absence to allow him to settle some of his private affairs.  While still residing in Boston, Knox wrote to Washington, on the 24th of March, in these terms:

"You may probably have heard that Congress have been pleased to appoint me Secretary at War. I have accepted the appointment, and shall expect to be in New York [then the seat of the National Government] about the i5th of next month. From the habits imbibed during the war, and from the opinion of my friends that I should make but an indifferent trader, I thought, upon mature consideration, that it was well to accept it, although the salary would be but a slender support. I have dependence upon an unwieldy estate of Mrs. Knox's family, and upon the public certificates given for my services; but neither of these is productive, and require a course of years to render them so. In the meantime, my expenses are considerable, and require some funds for their supply. Congress have rendered the powers and duties of the office respectable; and the circumstances of my appointment, without solicitation on my part, were flattering, nine States out of eleven voting for me. I do not expect to move my family to New York until June next."

George Washington, still a private citizen, was sincerely gratified by Knox's appointment replying: "Without a compliment, I think a better choice could not have been made."

Secretary Knox came to power during a period of political chaos and confusion with the small powers of the national government taxed to their utmost to maintain for itself even a semblance of respect from the individual States. Congress was frequently obliged to suspend its sessions on account of there being no quorum present. The States, jealous of each other, were united only in their dread of the centralized government. The western counties of Pennsylvania were in a chronic condition of unrest and defiance of the both their State and Federal Governments.  The western counties of North Carolina set up an independent government which was styled the State of Frankland.  Similar claims for independent statehood were set forth by western Virginia which afterwards became the State of Kentucky. The people of the District of Maine also clamored for a separation from Massachusetts and a State government of their own.  Most importantly, the Ordinance of 1784 Territory whose lands were to be sold, to fill the coffers of the federal government, was lawless and required the USCA to establish treaties with numerous Native American nations for even minor territorial settlement.

Secretary Knox, to support the western expansion, proposed an army mainly composed of state militia, specifically seeking to change attitudes in Congress about a democratically managed military. His plan was not adopted but Congress did authorize the establishment of a 700 man army on April 7th. Knox was only able to recruit six of the authorized ten companies, which were stationed on the western frontier due to poor pay and the limited resources of the federal government.

On March 24th, 1785, Richard Henry Lee welcomed his nephew,   Thomas Lee Shippen, and invited him to stay with him at the house provided for the President in New York.  The following day Lee's nephew wrote his father William Shippen and provided this account of the Presidential residence:

Presidents House, New York, Thursday March 25th, 1785
My very Dear Papa
I arrived here yesterday at noon; left Mr. and Mrs. Miluard at Elizabethtown under the care of Mr. Bernard, who introduced them yesterday, I believe, to Governor Livingston and family.  I did not chuse, as I had little time to stay in New York, to suffer any thing to delay my arrival there.  I find already I shall have a difficult struggle with my feelings and inclinations on the fourth of April.  However, I shall resolve to be with you about that time unless some unforeseen event should render it impractical.  
I find my uncle in a palace and think indeed that he does the honor of it with as much ease and dignity as if he had been always crowned with a regal diadem.  The chamber is a spacious and elegant one and prettily furnished.  I now write in it and which way so ever I turn my eyes I find a triumphant Bar, a liberty leaf, a temple of flame on the Hero of Heroes, all these and many more objects of a piece with them being finally represented on the hangings.  Never were more honors, I believe, paid to any man and very seldom with more cordiality than are daily heaped upon the head of the master of this castle.  I rejoice at it because I believe no man ever better deserved them.  Billeted of invitation without number, visiting cards and letters of friendly congratulations fill every mantel piece and corners of every chamber.  Sentinels guard his door, crowds of obedient domestics run to his call and fly at his command, and a profusion of the delicacies of good living crowns his hospitable board.  This you will say is not among the most unpleasant circumstances of the business in your son's estimation.  I acknowledge it, my good father, I acknowledge that from a spirit observance and your and a constant endeavor no end from my youth to do as my father did I have imbibed an epicurean cask and really I think with Mont De St Evremond whose expression I have just used, that even Cato's virtues without it would not make us completely estimable or happy.  But he speaks as I mean to do of all the pleasures we are susceptible of when he uses the word Epicurean.  
1785 Broadside of the "Estimate of the Annual Expenditure of the Civil Departments of the United States, on the present Establishment" indicating the expenditure for President Richard Henry Lee's household was $12,203.12  The President was paid no salary for that office but did received a salary from his home State at the same rate of his fellow Virginia Delegates.   

1785 Broadside of the "Estimate of the Annual Expenditure of the Civil Departments of the United States, on the present Establishment" - It is important to note that no paper Continental dollars were issued after 1779, and they had stopped circulating as money by 1781. In 1785, the United States in Congress Assembled made the dollar the official unit of account of the U.S. government, but did not issue physical dollar currency, thus by "dollars" they meant the Spanish milled dollar. No one denominated any transactions in Continental paper dollars after 1781. Now, banknotes denominated in dollar units (again meaning Spanish milled dollars) were being used from 1781 on (Bank of North America, several state banks, and then the First Bank of the US), but these notes were not official legal tender currency before Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, simply declared paper banknote dollars of several banks as good as Spanish milled dollars for paying Federal taxes.It would not be until 1792 that the US Mint struck its own silver dollar at a slightly different value (weight) then Spanish milled dollar. Spanish milled dollars, along with many other foreign specie coins, remained a legal tender in the United States until 1854. - Email Excerpt paraphrased from Dr. Farley Grubb, Economics Professor, University of Delaware.

In a January 11th, 1785  letter to Eldridge Gerry, future MA Governor James Sullivan maintains that USCA Presidential entertainment frugality, if adopted, could become a national trait will elevate America's position on the world stage:

"My dear Gerry, You will permit me to trouble you with one thought on public measures, which though unimportant in your eye, yet your candour & friendship will pardon the intrusion. I cannot but wish, however unfashionable I may be in it, that our national character (for one we must have) may be marked by industry and oeconomy [sic]. I wish it might be said to the traveller who shall be on his way to America, 'You will find them an hospitable people, but men who uniformly attend to the various calls of industry, & while their tables are crowned with plenty, they are governed in their expenses by the rules of frugality. Their state of life is such as affords the most happy presage of their young republic being lasting as the constitution of it is pure.' A character like this would raise us in the estimation of foreigners, would fix our private and establish our public credit among the nations of the world; it would yield us an infinite advantage over what we can possibly obtain in our present carreer [sic] of mimicking fops, and men of fortune in old countries. "I am persuaded that it is in the power of Congress immediately to lay such a foundation for table frugality throughout the union as will not be shaken for a long time yet to come. You have a gentleman at the head of the federal table whom I conceive to be not only a theoretic but a practical whig and in all instances a firm patriot. Should Congress now advise or direct that his table should be spread in a mode suitable to the state and situation of a young republic, that it should bare [sic] enough for the surrounding guests without groaning under an immense weight or the wasting surplusage, which we generally see at what are called polite tables, it would be an example aided by the strength of superior opinion while all the federal officers and all the governors of the separate states would hand it down with obligations to the people. It would very soon be rendered disreputable to gentlemen of private life to exceed the measure sanctified by so great an authority. I know it may be objected that foreign ministers keep tables which ought not to be more than equal to that supported by the union.The idea of making the entertainment as splendid as the guest is an unfortunate mistake; the table ought to appear as splendid as the owner. "For a young republic struggling under an oppression of public and private demands, with scarcely one man in it who can retire from business upon his fortune, to ape the nobility of old countries must I think end in a most disagreeable manner. I know it would by some be thought a piece of indulgence to move Congress for an ordinance to regulate the President's table, but should the President himself move Congress, and lay the foundation of such a measure, it would itemize his memory and render him as respectable as if he had conquered armies in defence of his country for it is in vain to wash the soil of our country in blood to regain her freedom unless we endeavor as zealously against every unhappy habit which threatens to subvert it." 

There is no record of the USCA enacting legislation to regulate their President's table.

Throughout his term, President Lee remained steadfast that the release of states’ territorial claims on the Northwest Territory would enable the federal government to fund itself with land sales. Lee believed that the urgency of this measure was paramount because borrowing more foreign money was no longer prudent and he abhorred the movement to establish new federal taxes. It was the sale of these vast federal lands, he deduced, that was the nation's only hope to pay off the war debt and adequately fund federal government. 

Debate began on the expanding the Ordinance of 1784 on April 14 and discussion of Thomas Jefferson’s survey method “hundreds of ten geographical miles square, each mile containing 6086 and 4-10ths of a foot” and “sub-divided into lots of one mile square each, or 850 and 4-10ths of an acre.”  On May 3, 1785, William Grayson of Virginia made a motion seconded by James Monroe to change “seven miles square” to “six miles square” and the current US Survey system was born. President Lee wrote to his friend and colleague Samuel Adams:

I hope we shall shortly finish our plan for disposing of the western Lands to discharge the oppressive public debt created by the war & I think that if this source of revenue be rightly managed, that these republics may soon be discharged from that state of oppression and distress that an indebted people must invariably feel. [23]

The States relinquish their right to this "test tract" of land and the Western Land Ordinance of 1785 was passed on May 20, 1785.

Western Land Ordinance Broadside dated May 20, 1785 and signed in type by Richard Henry Lee as President of the United States in Congress Assembled and Charles Thomson as Secretary of the United States in Congress Assembled

Plat of Township 2, Range 7 in the Ohio Seven Ranges ca. 1796  -  The United States and Great Britain granted land to those who had been loyal to their cause during the Revolutionary War, forcing those who had not to leave. Loyalist refugees resettled in the remaining British colonies, including the West Indies, or moved back to Great Britain. Patriot refugees from Canada and Nova Scotia arrived, while other Americans moved to new homesteads or rebuilt old ones. A systematic grid was imposed on the North American landscape to aid in settling the interior. Congress set aside four sections for government use and one section for education use—the first federal aid to education. - from the Records of the Bureau of Land Management

The Western Land Ordinance of 1785 put the 1784 Land Ordinance into operation by providing a mechanism for selling and settling the land.  The federal surveyors divided the land into carefully planned individual square townships. Each side of the township square was to be six miles in length containing thirty-six square miles of territory. The township was then divided into one-square mile sections, with each section receiving its own number and encompassing 640 acres. Section sixteen was to be set aside for a public school and sections eight, eleven, twenty-six, and twenty-nine were to provide veterans of the American Revolution with land as payment for their service during the war thus greatly reducing the war debt. The government would then sell the remaining sections at public auction at the minimum bid of 640 dollars per section or one dollar for an acre of land in each section.

The Federal Government, however, lacked the resources to manage the newly surveyed lands because Native Americans refused to relinquish a large percentage of the platted land and most of the territory remained too dangerous for settlement. This either required troops to eject the Native Americans or capital to purchase their land "fairly" insuring the peaceful sale and settlement.   Additionally the small amount of federal land that was not in dispute by the Native Americans was enthusiastically being occupied by western settlers that had no faith in or respect for the USCA operation as a federal authority. The settlers just claimed the land as squatters and the USCA was unable to muster the capital to magistrates let alone troops to enforce the $1.00 per acre fee required for a clear federal land title. With the States no longer in control of the lands and no federal magistrates or troops to enforce the laws, a tide of western squatters flowed into the Northwest Territory. Richard Henry Lees’ plan to fill the federal treasury with the proceeds of land sales failed.

In June a despondent Congress turned their attentions to other matters and appointed a new federal court to decide on a South Carolina-Georgia boundary dispute. Most of the month dealt with the appointment of Indian commissioners in an effort to negotiate Native American Treaties to settle the territory and discharging the small garrison at Fort Pitt to rein in the squatter tide populating the Ohio territory. Congress also ordered inquiries into the offices of the former Superintendent of Finance and the treasury administration. Such inquiries did not deter the growth of Governmental departments that expanded as the undefined office of President of the United States steadily lost power. On June 13th President Lee wrote his nephew a letter demonstrating that he was well aware of strengthening the Office of Foreign Secretary at the expense of the U.S. Presidency:

And most certainly I should not have first commenced such practice with so respectable a character as Doctor Franklin. When Congress determined to indulge the Doctor, upon his request, with leave to retire, the business of communicating that determination was expressly assigned to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs among the other duties of his Office; And did not enter at all into my business. In me it would have been a work of Supererogation and I think myself warranted in doing justice to the honorable Secretary for Foreign Affairs by assuring you that his information was sent by the earliest good opportunity that offered after the Act of Congress passed. I thank you for your obliging attention to my affairs … God bless you. Farewell, Richard Henry Lee.[25]

Early July brought the celebration of Independence and the establishment of the Dollar as the money unit of the United States on the 6th with these resolutions:

Resolved, That the money unit of the United States of America be one dollar. Resolved, That the smallest coin be of copper, of which 200 shall pass for one dollar. Resolved, That the several pieces shall increase in a decimal ratio.[26]

July also began debates on granting the federal government intrastate and foreign commerce power to raise revenue. Lee’s USCA abolished the commissary of military stores and the entire quartermaster department while they debated a direly needed federal requisition bill from the states. Cutting costs was another part of Lee’s plan to place the new nation on a secure financial footing. 

In more budget cuts Lee’s financially insolvent USCA notified the appeals court judges that they could no longer be able to pay their salaries. Despite this the USCA resolved that the judges continue with their commissions did without any pay, like President Lee, by not revoking their commissions.  Future President Cyrus Griffin would serve in that payless position for six months.

The Capitol’s post-war growth in 1784-1785 was unprecedented in America during the 18th Century. The relocation of the Federal Government to Manhattan, in what is now known as the Wall Street district, attracted what must have seemed like a tidal wave of diplomats, politicians and enterprising businessmen seeking housing, office and retail space near the USCA’s offices. In late July, Congress, at the request of Richard Henry Lee, passed an unusual resolution that was directed to N. Y. C. Mayor James Duane and signed by the President:

New York July 20th, 1785: I have the honor to enclose an Act of Congress that has been prompted by the daily interruption given to their discussions by the almost unceasing noise of passing Carriages. Your long acquaintance with public business and your wish to see it discharged with propriety and dispatch, will secure your approbation of the proposed remedy if it shall be found to consist with the police of the City.[27]

As the July summer percolated into a steamy New York City August meaningful work in Congress slowed to a trickle despite the chained-off area as the city teemed with the new country's business. Richard Henry Lee decided to leave the Capitol due to an undisclosed illness and in his absence Congress granted Secretary John Jay greater latitude in negotiating with Don Diego de Gardoqui,[28] the Spanish Minister to end the tide of Mississippi tariffs that beleaguered the U.S. southern territories and States.[29]  On July 21, 1785, under a resolution from the USCA, Foreign Secretary John Jay was empowered to negotiate a treaty with Spain to win navigation rights on the Mississippi and special nation trading status:

… appoint him the said John Jay our plenipotentiary; giving and granting to him full powers on behalf of the United States of America to treat, adjust, conclude and sign with the said Don Diego de Gardoqui, Encargado de Negocios of his Catholic Majesty, vested with similar powers, whatever Articles, Compacts and Conventions may be necessary for establishing and fixing the boundaries between the Territories of the said United States and those of his Catholic Majesty, and for promoting the general harmony and mutual interest of the two Nations; and we do hereby promise in good faith to approve, ratify and fulfill, and cause to be observed and fulfilled, exactly and entirely, whatsoever shall be by him our said plenipotentiary stipulated and signed as aforesaid.[30]

John Jay was the logical choice having served as a Minister to Spain during the war.  Additionally, Minister Gardoqui knew Jay from his 1780 negotiations on the Mississippi. In New York, Secretary Jay enjoyed the lavish entertainment of Gardoqui who sought the USCA to recognize Spain’s claim to exclusive control of the Mississippi below the southern border of the United States.  

The western and southern borders of the United States had been a source of tension between Spain and the United States. The U.S. border extended to the Mississippi River, but its southern stretch remained in Spanish territory, and Spanish officials, reluctant to encourage U.S. trade and settlement in a strategic frontier area, kept the Mississippi River closed to American shipping. Moreover, both Spain and the United States claimed portions of the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi, and earlier negotiations to resolve the territorial disputes had broken off inconclusively. The Spanish government maintained several forts in the disputed territories, and could also count on indigenous resistance to U.S. attempts to survey or encroach upon Native American lands. U.S. citizens from the southern states and frontier areas found Spanish policies restrictive, and wanted the U.S. Government to renegotiate its positions.[31]

Foreign Secretary John Jay had a herculean task before him, treaty negotiations would drag on for over a year.

Meanwhile, Richard Henry Lee, who was in Philadelphia recuperating under the care of his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, continued to attend to his Presidential duties. In this letter to Secretary Charles Thomson, President Lee also comments on his health.

Philadelphia August 21st. 1785: The letter that you favored me with on the 18th instant reached me yesterday after the post had left the City, so that the papers enclosed for my signature must be detained until next post day, unless Doctor Gardener should afford me an opportunity of more quickly conveying them. With the returned papers you will receive also enclosed a letter from the honorable Mr. Rutledge, and one from Lt. Colo. Harmer, both which I received yesterday. I pray you Sir to accept my thanks for your obliging wishes for the recovery of my health, which is certainly better than when I left New York. [32]

In early September quorum problems once again plagued the USCA with the President in Philadelphia. Lee still managed some Presidential business. President Lee, who was still struggling with the USCA’s resolution on all foreign correspondence be redirected to the Foreign Secretary wrote Jay a letter regarding the treaty’s ratification with Spain:

I had the honor of receiving this morning your favor of the fourth instant concerning the letter from Count de Florida Blanca to the President of Congress, which was delivered to me by Mr. Gardoque. Having considered that letter as a public one, I delivered it to Congress, and it now remains with their Secretary, if he has not sent it to your Office. I do not precisely remember the contents of the letter, and viewing it in the light of a public one; I have two difficulties, which I pray your assistance to remove. As a public letter, it would seem that the sentiments in answer should be dictated by Congress; As a private one, I should know exactly its contents which I do not. I shall be very happy to have your sentiments on this occasion after you have seen the letter; and I will readily pursue that course which your better knowledge of such business shall point out to me. Be pleased Sir to accept my thanks for your obliging wishes for the restoration of my health which is much mended since I have drank the waters in the vicinity of this place. My compliments, if you please, to Mr. Gardoque. [33]

From September 13th to the 17th Congress focused on and passed the 1785 Requisition.   October saw the return of the President to New York from Philadelphia and it was a very busy month with the dispatch of troops to attend western Native American negotiations, exhorting states to meet financial quotas and coping with the shipping threats of the Barbary States. The USCA failed to achieve quorum on three occasions in late October so Richard Henry Lee's term ended with the postponement of convening a court to settle the Massachusetts-New York western border disputes and the recruitment resolution for 700-troops to be sent west and either collect the $1.00 per acre federal land fees or evict squatters from the newly surveyed territories. With this Richard Henry Lee’s term ended.    The   USCA Journals Chronology of Lee’s in New York:

1785 -January 11 Reconvenes, five states represented. January 13 Achieves quorum, seven states represented. January 18 Accepts offer of New York City Hall for the use of Congress. January 20 Communicates to states intelligence on the precariousness of United States credit abroad. January 24 Orders preparation of a requisition on the states for 1785. January 25 Elects treasury commissioners; tables L'Enfant plan for establishing a corps of engineers. January 27 Adopts ordinance "for ascertaining the powers and duties of the Secretary at War." January 31 Resolves to appoint minister to Great Britain. February 1 Ratifies terms of a two-million-guilder Dutch loan.

February 2 Adopts proclamation urging states to penalize counterfeiting. February 7 Approves lease of public buildings at Carlisle, Pennsylvania., to Dickinson College; orders removal of War Office, Post Office and Treasury offices to New York. February 10 Elects Philip Schuyler commissioner for planning federal capital. February 11 Adopts regulations for the office for for­eign affairs, conceding to Secretary Jay's demands. February 18 Limits terms of ministers abroad. February 21 Resolves to send commissioners to the Illinois Settlements. February 24 Appoints John Adams minister to Great Britain. March 4 Opens debate on western land ordinance.

March 7 Authorizes Benjamin Franklin's return to America; resolves to appoint minister to the Netherlands. March 8 Elects Henry Knox secretary at war. March 10 Elects Thomas Jefferson minister to France. March 11 Adopts instructions for negotiating with the Barbary States. March 15 Adopts instruc­tions for the southern Native American commissioners. March 16 Rejects motion to limit slavery in the territories. March 17 Imposes 12-month limit for submission of claims against the United States. March 18 Adopts instructions for the western Native American commissioners. March 21 Elects southern Native American commissioners; thanks king of Denmark for offer to ordain American candidates for holy orders. March 28 Receives report on granting Congress commerce powers. March 31 Adopts ordinance for regulating the office of secretary of Congress; receives report on 1785 requisition.

April 1 Debates Continental military needs. April 7 Authorizes military estab­lishment of 700 troops. April 14 Reads revised western land ordinance. April 18 Accepts Massachusetts western land cession. April 22-28 Debates western land ordinance. April 29 Appeals to states to maintain representation.

May 2-6 Debates western land ordinance. May 9-10 Fails to achieve quorum (five states). May 12 Fails to achieve quorum (six states). May 13 Receives coinage report. May 18-19 Debates western land ordinance. May 20 Adopts western land ordinance; appeals to North Carolina to repeat western land ces­sion. May 24 Fails to achieve quorum (four states). May 27 Renews appoint­ment of geographer of the United States; appoints 13 continental surveyors.

June 1 Authorizes appointment of federal court to decide South Carolina-Georgia boundary dispute. June 3 Publishes treaties with the Native Americans negotiated at Fort Stanwix and Fort McIntosh. June 6 Authorizes negotiation of a Native American treaty at Vincennes. June 7 Discharges Fort Pitt garrison. June 14 Responds to French announcement of the birth of a sec­ond heir to the throne. June 17 Orders John Jay to plan audience for the Spanish plenipotentiary Diego de Gardoqui. June 20 Orders inquiry into the administration of the late superintendent of finance. June 21 Orders annual inquiry into treasury administration. June 23 Appoints William Livingston minister to the Netherlands (declines). June 29 Asks Virginia to provide mili­tary support for Native American commissioners. June 30 Orders a study of mail transportation.

July 1 Rejects motion to abolish court of appeals, but terminates salaries of the judges. July 2 Receives Diego de Cardoqui. July 4 Celebrates Independence Day. July 5 Appoints John Rutledge minister to the Netherlands (declines). July 6 Adopts the dollar as the money unit of the United States. July 11 Continues rations for Canadian refugees. July 12 Receives Post Office report. July 13-14 Debates granting Congress commerce power. July 18 Debates 1785 requisition. July 20 Abolishes commissary of military stores. July 22 Debates 1785 requisition. July 25 Abolishes quartermaster department. July 28-29 Debates 1785 requisition.

August 1-3 Debates 1785 requisition. August 5 Orders removal of the treasurer's office to New York (by October 1). August 10-13 Recesses. August 15 Thanks king of Spain for sending Gardoqui mission. August 17 Appoints Samuel Holten chairman in the absence of President Lee (through September 29 for the recovery of his health); Secretary Thomson to report delegate atten­dance monthly. August 18 Endorses conduct of Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin in controversy with British naval captain Henry Stanhope. August 25 Grants John Jay greater latitude in negotiating with Gardoqui. August 29 Abolishes committee of the week (duties transferred to secretary of Congress.

September 2-3 Fails to achieve quorum (five states and two states, respective­ly). September 5 Receives John Jay report on British occupation of northwest posts. September 7 Authorizes John Jay to inspect the mails when ever required by United States "safety or interest"; approves the conveyance of mails by stage carriages. September 13-17 Debates 1785 requisition. September 19­21 Debates appeal of Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming valley. September 22-26 Debates 1785 requisition. September 27 Adopts 1785 requisition. September 29 Authorizes commission to settle Massachusetts-New York eastern boundary.

October 5 Orders postmaster general to extend system of posts. October 7 Debates threat of western separatism. October 12 Authorizes troops to attend western Native American negotiations; exhorts states to meet fiscal quotas. October 17-18 Mourns death of Virginia delegate Samuel Hardy (age 27). October 20 Receives John Jay’s report on naval threat of Barbary States. October 21-22 Fails to achieve quorum (six states and one state, respectively). October 25 Fails to achieve quorum (four states). October 27 Rejects proposal to create consular establishment. October 28 Confers consular powers on ministers abroad.

November 2 Postpones convening of court to determine Massachusetts-New York western land claims dispute; suspends recruitment for 700-troop establish­ment. November 4 Congressional session expires.

At the end of his presidential term Lee returned to Virginia and remained active in state politics until he was re-elected to the USCA as a 1787 delegate. Lee voted to revise the Articles of Confederation resulting in the convening of the Second Constitutional Convention. He was a strong opponent against the adoption of the current U.S. Constitution leading the opposition against sending it to the States unchanged in September 1787.

Though at first an Anti-Federalist under the second U.S. Constitution, United States Senator Lee (March 4, 1789 to October 8, 1792) became an ardent supporter of Washington's administration in 1789.  He was especially supportive of the President’s course in the affair of "citizen" Genet. In 1792 Lee, who was the second US Senate Pro-Tempore, was obliged, by failing health, to resign his seat. He retired to his estate at Chantilly, where he spent the last two years of his life.  

Richard Henry Lee’s grave can be found in a quaint farm field just off a sandy lane in Westmoreland County on the grounds of his former estate with the epitaph "We Can Not Do Without You." A definitive work in two volumes, "Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee," Philadelphia, 1825, was written by grandson, Richard Henry Lee, of Leesburg, Virginia.


Photo Courtesy of the Author

[1] Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress , Richard Henry Lee to James Madison, November 26, 1784

[2] Ripley, George, Charles Anderson Dana,   The New American Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, Published 1860, D. Appleton and Company, page 414
[3] Hamm,  Margherita Arlina, Builders of the Republic: Some Great Americans who Have Aided in the Making of the Nation, James Pot & Company, 1902  page 356
[4] Jefferson, Autobiography, Works 1:57
[5] The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the British colonial leaders of the North American Colonies just before the Revolutionary War.  Their members coordinated unified colonial responses to Great Britain's taxation and unpopular laws. Through a coordination of their correspondence, the committees emerged by 1773 as quasi governments with many superseding the colonial legislature and royal officials.
[6] Lee, Richard Henry, Memoir of the life of Richard H. Lee, and his Correspondence with the most distinguished Men in America and Europe, H.C. Carey & I. Lea, Philadelphia, 1825 page 186
[7] Ibid, p. 192
[8] Godfrey, The Mechanics Bank, pp. 25-6.
[9] Ballagh James Curtis, Editor, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee  National Society of the Colonial Dames of America The Macmillan Company: 1914, page 295
[10] Journals of the USCA, Monday, December 20, 1784
[11] Ibid, Tuesday, December 21, 1784
[12] The diplomatic correspondence of the United States of America, US Department of State, Printed by Blair & Rives, 1837, page 401
[13] Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress, Elbridge Gerry to James Warren, Dec. 23, 1784
[14] Pellew, George, John Jay, page 230
[15] MS. Department of State, Accounts Records, Cash Book, 1785-1795, under the date mentioned.
[16] The Department opened for business on January 28, 1785; MS. Department of State, Continental Congress Papers, No. 120, I, 5-6.
[17] Willis, Samuel et al, The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, Common Council, NYC, 1862, page 538
[18] Ibid
[19] Coenties Slip was an artificial inlet in the East River for the loading and unloading of ships that was land-filled in 1835. New York's first City Hall once stood at Coenties Alley and Pearl Street, just to the north of Coenties Slip.  In is now a historic pedestrian walkway.
[20] Willis, Samuel et al, NYC Manual,  page 541
[21] Journals of the USCA, January 27, 1785
[22] Journals of the USCA, February 11, 1785
[23] Ibid, page 359
[24] Peters, William E. (1918). Ohio Lands and Their Subdivisions. W.E. Peters. pp. 308.
[25] Ibid, page 371
[26] Journals of the United States in Congress assembled, Wednesday JULY 6, 1785
[27] Ibid, July 20, 1785
[28] Don Diego María de Gardoqui y Arriquibar (1735-1798) was a Spanish-born politician and diplomat.  He was the financial intermediary between the Spanish Court and the Colonies. He was the first Ambassador of Spain to the United States.  In 1785 he laid the cornerstone of St. Peter's, the first Catholic Church in NYC.
[29] Ibid
[30] Journals of the USCA, July 21, 1785.
[31] Office of the Historian, US Secretary of State, Treaty of San Lorenzo,
[32] Burnett, Edmund Cody,  Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Published 1931, The Carnegie Institution of Washington, Page 193
[33] Ballagh James Curtis, Editor, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee  National Society of the Colonial Dames of America The Macmillan Company: 1914, page 386

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