New York City Becomes America’s First Capital 

U.S. #2346 pictures the former national capital at Federal Hall. The building was later demolished in 1812.

On September 13, 1788, New York City was established as America’s first capital under the Constitution of the United States.

New York had already hosted the nation’s legislature and served as the de facto capital since 1785. In late 1784, the Continental Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, voted to make New York City its meeting place until a federal district on the banks of the Delaware River near Philadelphia could be completed. They chose Old City Hall, which was then renamed Federal Hall, to serve as capital building. Federal Hall was then redesigned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who later became famous for designing the layout of Washington, D.C. Congress met for the first time in Federal Hall on January 11, 1785.

U.S. #1027 – Issued in 1953 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York City, which was first known as New Amsterdam.

Three years later, the U.S. Constitution was ratified, outlining the roles of the national government. The new Congress had several decisions to make – including where the seat of government should be. It was an issue of great debate. Some wanted to remain in New York City, while others wanted to meet in Philadelphia, Annapolis, Baltimore, or Lancaster. Finally, on September 13, they passed an ordinance declaring the capital would remain at the “the present Seat of Congress,” specifically leaving out reference to New York City because of the bitterness felt by some.

U.S. #C38 honors the 50th anniversary of the five boroughs being combined into one New York City government.

The following year, Federal Hall was the site of Washington’s inauguration, the first meetings of Congress and the Supreme Court, and the drafting of the Bill of Rights. In 1790, talks continued on where the permanent capital would be. It was a controversial debate. Some wanted to make lower Manhattan into a federal district. Others didn’t want the capital to be in such a commercially-oriented location. In part, there were fears that the city might have aristocratic leanings, as members of high society still enjoyed British fashions and luxuries as well as court-style entertaining. After much debate, it was finally decided that New York wouldn’t make a suitable capital, largely due to financial concerns. Congress met for the last time in Federal Hall on August 12, 1790, before relocating to Philadelphia, and later Washington, D.C.

Click the images to add this history to your collection.

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    1. We are planning to organize This Day in History by months and making them available in PDF format. PDF is a common format and very printer friendly. And there has been some discussion of making a This Day in History album, if there’s enough interest.

  1. Sirs…
    Many thanks for the history lesson. I look forward to what is coming next everyday. In fact, and I suspect, like a lot of other collectors of US stamps, I’m becoming hooked on this daily diet of US stamp/societal history.I hope that whoever thought of this idea, has been given an appropriate raise in salary? Anyhow, keep these little vignettes coming. Andrew.

  2. The choice of a Capital was even in crazy dispute in some of the states. Take Texas for instance when it became a Republic. Read a book entitled “Seat of Empire” in which the Capital of the Texas Republic was proposed in many places. Mirabeau B. Lamar’s Austin eventually won out in spite of the protests of the great Sam Houston.

  3. The selection of stamps is excellent. The article is good, but doesn’t effectively tie the stamps to the date or to each other.

  4. Neat- I mean cool, I,m from New York and I always knew it was speacial. I think these Historical blogs are important. I am going to print this off and give it to my mom who is a teachers aid for a high School in Phoenix.

  5. I’ll bet that Alexander Hamilton wanted the Capital of the USA to be in NYC permanently, but alas, the southern slavocracy would not have gone along with that for long. The southern slavocracy, which included Thomas Jefferson, wanted the capitol in the South.

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