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For the Literary Magazine.

on the recession of the dis-
trict of columbia.

THE recession of part of the dis-
trict of Columbia appears, at pre-

sent, to be the chief topic of political
conversation, and engrosses the at-
tention of congress. The motives
of politicians are generally behind
the screen, and public orators are
accustomed to make use of every
argument, in favour of their motions,
except the one which really influ-
ences their own belief, and directs
their own conduct. Thus it may be
reasonably suspected, that those who
recommend a recession desire a
change in the seat of government.
The extreme inconvenience of the
present seat of government could
not be imagined or forseen by those
who formed the constitution, or by
those who chose the banks of the
Potowmack for this seat. If they
had been imagined, they would have
effectually prevented the clause in
the constitution relative to a new
metropolis. These inconveniences
induce some of the members of con-
gress to wish for removal, but a
certain tenderness or veneration for
what is called public faith hinders
them from proposing this removal
in direct terms.

Those, the value of whose pro-
perty is supposed to depend, in some
degree, upon the continuance of the
government at Washington, are, of
course, strenuous opposers of any
motion, which has any tendency,
however indirect, to this removal.
Without any great breach of cha-
rity, may we not consider this as
the true state of the controversy,
carried on with so much warmth
and eloquence? I think we may.

It seems to be generally admitted,
that a removal would be a manifest
breach of public faith, and that no
considerations of public convenience
will justify a breach of public faith.
To call in question either the first or
last of these positions will, no doubt,
be thought a very rash proceeding,
and yet it really seems to me very
difficult to establish the truth of
either of them, in relation to the
present instance.

The plain state of the case ap-
pears to be this. The constitution
permits the future congress to chuse
its own place of residence. The

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congress fixes on a certain spot of
ground, on the banks of the Potow-
mack, which it declares, by law, to
be hereafter the perpetual metro-
polis of the United States. Virginia
and Maryland transfer all their
political jurisdiction over the envi-
rons of the new metropolis to the
general government, this being a
condition prescribed by the consti-

As the residence of government
will naturally, in time, generate a
city, and as a previous plan will
contribute somewhat to the symme-
try and splendour of the future city,
a plan is drawn, and the scite dis-
tinctly distributed into building lots
and avenues. As the population of
America is in a rapidly progressive
state, as the new city is expected to
advance, under such favourable aus-
pices, with even greater rapidity
than the other cities of the country,
and the value of its ground and
houses to advance in the same pro-
portion, an inviting field is imme-
diately opened for the schemes of
those who seek wealth by specula-
Land, within the pomœria of
the new city, is greedily purchased,
and houses hastily erected, the buy-
ers and builders expecting to be
amply remunerated for their pains
and expence, by the rapidly increas-
ing value of their property.

It is quickly discovered, however,
that these hopes were too sanguine.
The progress of the new city proves
to be even less rapid than that of
some settlements, which are sup-
ported by nothing but trade; that
the stimulus, arising from the pre-
sence of the government, is an arti-
ficial and unnatural one, and far
from supplying the place of those
more ordinary agents, trade and
commerce; that the necessary ac-
commodations for the government
must be raised and kept up at an
unlooked for and enormous expence;
and that, with all their efforts, a
residence in the new city is incom-
patible either with comfort or

The golden dreams of the specu-
lator consequently end in disap-

pointment. His houses are unte-
nanted and going to ruin, and his
land either lies a dead burthen in
his hands, or he disposes of it, if
not at a less price than he gave, at
least at a much less price than his
fond imagination had anticipated.
The present proprietor is obliged to
moderate his views of profit, and
to centre all his hopes in the conti-
nuance of the government where it
is, for this, he knows, will operate
to the creation of a town, slowly and
gradually perhaps, but certainly,
whereas the removal will make mat-
ters still worse than at present, and
crush the city in its infancy.

It is by no means wonderful that
those who have property, liable to
be depreciated by a removal, should
clamour very loudly against it; but
it is very strange to me, I confess,
that a removal should be reproached
as a breach of public faith. In these
simple and obvious facts, which ap-
pear to be the whole truth, what
materials can be found for raising
such a charge? what contract has
the nation entered into with its citi-
zens, on this head, by whch the fu-
ture resolutions of its representa-
tives are over-ruled or cramped?

Let it be admitted that some per-
sons purchased land and built houses
in the city or its neighbourhood, in
the belief that the law, fixing the
seat of government there, would
never be repealed, a belief founded
on the terms of this law, which de-
clares this place to be the perpetual
metropolis of the states: but why
was that place originally chosen for
the seat of government? Because
it was thought, at that time, to be
most eligible. Why was it made
the perpetual seat? Because no-
body could then forsee or imagine
the circumstances which might
hereafter render it ineligible. Why
did the citizens rely on the perpe-
tuity of this law, and buy and build
on that persuasion? Precisely for
the same reasons which influenced
their representatives to make the
law: a total ignorance, beforehand,
of any inconveniences which might
attend its execution. Nothing but

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experience could possibly unfold
these inconveniences, and therefore
it was impossible for those who
were obliged to judge and act with-
out experience, to judge and act
otherwise than they did. This law
is precisely like any other law which
declares the obligations it creates to
be perpetual. Such declarations
either imply a manifest absurdity,
that one set of representatives have
really more constitutional powers
than any future set, or they amount
merely to this, that these obligations
shall be annulled and abrogated by
no power less than that by which
they were imposed.

Every body knows that the early
purchasers and improvers presum-
ed not only on the ultmiate progress
of the place to the grandeur of a
large city, but on its rapid progress
to this point. They purchased and
built not properly on the first sup-
position, because few or none lay
out their money for the benefit of
their remote posterity, but on the
latter supposition. In this they have
been wholly disappointed; and they
might, with the same propriety,
consider the public faith as bound to
build a city, and to fill their houses
with tenants, in a certain limited
time, as at a distant and indefinite
period. They are not, however,
guilty of this absurdity. They as-
cribe their losses hitherto to physi-
cal and inevitable evils. To these,
and not, as yet, to any breach of
public faith, their injury already in-
curred is to be traced. A removal
can add but little to the positive
evil. By preventing the growth of
the place into a great metropolis, it
will materially affect the value and
condition of the earth, circumscribed
within certain limits, in a distant
age, but the evil to the present ge-
neration will be found, upon a care-
ful examination, to be very incon-

I am far, however, from intend-
ing to depreciate the losses which a
removal from Washington may oc-
casion to individuals. I mean only
to maintain, that, in repealing or
continuing the present law, the le-

gislature is not fettered by any obli-
gation arising from their predeces-
sors having pledged the public faith
for the fulfilment of their views by
future legislatures. Some of the
occasions in which public faith is
supposed to be engaged for the con-
tinuance of a law, arise when the
nation borrows money of its citizens,
and promises to repay it in a certain
time, or charges itself with the pay-
ment of a certain annual interest
upon the sum; and when certain
individuals are told, that if they con-
tribute money and build a bridge
over a certain river, the state will
not allow any other bridge to be
built in their vicinity, and will permit
them to levy toll for a fixed period
on all that pass their bridge; in
these and similar cases a contract
is made between the state and its
citizens, supposed to be binding on
successive legislatures. But the
law, fixing the seat of government
at Washington, contains no contract,
express or implied, with any of the
citizens. The residence of congress
is supposed to benefit the owners of
real property, wherever that resi-
dence is placed, and their removal,
by occasioning this property to sink
to its former value, is supposed to
be detrimental to the owners. Thus
New York and Philadelphia were
supposed to be successively benefited
and injured by the arrival and de-
parture of the general government.
In the same way, though, perhaps,
to a greater extent, the owners of
real property in Washington have
been benefited by the residence of
congress among them, and may be
injured by their departure. But
these consequences are of the same
nature in all the three cases. They
are merely incidental, and the go-
vernment is no more answerable for
them to the inhabitants of Washing-
ton, than to those of New York and

The residence of congress was
declared to be temporary at New
York and Philadelphia, and to be
perpetual at Washington. The con-
sequences of removal from Wash-
ington may therefore be more inju-

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rious to the people of the latter than
of the two former cities; but this is
a diversity only in degree; the mis-
chief is precisely of the same nature.

But though there be no obligation,
arising from an imaginary contract,
in the government of the United
States to continue at Washington,
there is another obligation incum-
bent on the legislature in this as in
all other cases: that of consulting
the happiness and welfare of the ci-
tizens. In this, as in other cases,
the legislature ought to intend, in
the formation of laws, the good and
not the evil of their country. The
community is composed of individu-
als, and that which affects the hap-
piness of individuals has a propor-
tional influence on the well-being of
the whole. In resolving to remove
from Washington, the congress will
be wise in proportion to the com-
prehensiveness of their view; in
proportion as they extend their re-
gards to all the consequences of the
law. They will be criminal if they
overlook totally the interest of the
inhabitants of Washington, but they
will likewise be criminal if they
suffer the interests of this part to
outweigh, in their breasts, the in-
terests of all the other parts, or if
they inflict an injury upon others by
staying where they are, greater than
that which will befal the people of
the territory by removing elsewhere.

There is, however, an obvious
method of reconciling all claims.
The claims of the proprietors of
ground in Washington to the pre-
sence of congress, let it be ever so
sacred, cannot be more so than the
right which every man enjoys to
the possession and use of his own
property; and yet, when the public
benefit requires a new road to be
carried through a district, or a
street to be widened in a city, it has
never been thought a breach of jus-
tice to extort from every man so
much of his ground as the projected
avenue requires, in spite of his re-
sistance or refusal. This outrage
on the sacred right of property is
thought to be completely justified,

merely by paying a reasonable com-
pensation to the owner. If, there-
fore, the government should resolve
to change its residence, it would ful-
fil every duty, both that arising from
the sanctity of public faith and that
arising from the relations of justice
and beneficence which the state
bears to all its citizens, by making
a reasonable compensation to every
one who shall suffer by the change.
Preposterous as it may appear to
some, to reimburse the expences of
a house built with a view of finding
a tenant in a public officer, and ren-
dered useless by the removal of that
officer elsewhere, yet this might be
done, and the nation, on the whole,
considerably benefited by the change.

This, though more than the strict-
est justice demands, would by no
means still the clamours of those
who wish the government to conti-
nue where it is, not to repair a loss
actually incurred, or prevent one
which the removal would occasion,
but merely to secure to themselves
the profits which they anticipate
from the future progress of the city.
Mankind are as much displeased by
missing an advantage which they
have in view, as by losing one they
have in their possession; and those
who owned their present property
before the foundation of the city,
and whose golden dreams a remov-
al will dissipate, will be quite as
loud in their reproaches and strenu-
ous in their opposition, as those who
have actually purchased ground and
built houses since that event, and in
consequence of their belief that the
city would be permanent. It is evi-
dent that the complaints of the first
deserve no regard. They lose no-
thing. They merely miss an oppor-
tunity of gaining; and if from the
claims of the latter all that loss be
deducted which has been already
incurred, by the progress of the
city being slower than was gene-
rally expected, how small will be
the remaining balance which will
justly be chargeable to the account
of removal!


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