WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was on Aug. 27, 1789, while Congress was sitting in New York that a resolution was introduced to provide for a permanent capital.
“Resolved: That a permanent residence ought to be fixed for the General Government of the United States at some convenient place, as near the center of wealth, population and extent of territory as may be consistent with convenience to the navigation of the Atlantic Ocean, and having due regard to the particular situation of the western country,” Congress wrote.
Rep. Benjamin Goodhue, of Massachusetts, favored a “location on the Susquehanna either at Harrisburg, Pa., or opposite Havre de Grace.” Virginia’s “Light Horse” Harry Lee pushed for a location further south so as not to “alarm the people of the Southern States, who have felt their alarms already,” and as a nod to new western territories. His choice was a place along the Potomac River.
The Potomac River over the Susquehanna River was touted as it was the “highway to the west,” while those from northern climes pressed the Susquehanna River, through improvements, would be the true route to the west, presumably by using canals to connect to the west through Lake Erie or the Erie Canal.
The future President James Madison added to the discussion stating, “The present center of population is nearer the Susquehanna than the Potomac, but are we choosing a seat of government for the present moment only? I presume not.”
After several days of debates, studies, reports and appeals, a vote was called in 1789 in which the House of Representatives voted for a permanent location for the nation’s capital. It was a tie — between Washington and Havre de Grace. The deciding vote would be cast by the Speaker of the House Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, of Pennsylvania. His vote was for a location on the Potomac, and Washington, well, became what it is, and Havre de Grace remained a Harbor of Grace.
And so it was with this vote that 224 years ago on Dec. 19, 1791, the state of Maryland ceded land for the federal District of Columbia on the Potomac River.