Today in 1789: Congress opens for business in New York

April 6, 2010

Federal Hall in New York City, 1789The Empire City, The Greatest City in the World, The Center of the Universe – New York City has more than its share of self-aggrandizing nicknames. But there was a brief period of  time when Caput Mundi actually was the capital of the United States.

It all happened on Wall Street, long before that street became the center of the financial universe, in a building called Federal Hall. It was there that the U.S. Congress opened its first regular sessions on April 6, 1789, and it was there that the Bill of Rights was drafted and debated.

And that’s not all. Congress approved the first rules on immigration and naturalization, the first intellectual property protection laws, and the first U.S. Census during the 16 months it resided on Wall Street. Partisan gridlock was apparently not a problem then, perhaps because there were only 22 senators and 58 representatives at the time.

Federal Hall was also the first home of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, and its balcony is where George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president.

Alas, Federal Hall is long gone; Congress moved to Philadelphia in 1790 to await the completion of the new capitol building in Washington, D.C., which wouldn’t be ready for another 10 years. The building that stands on the Federal Hall site today serves as a museum and memorial to George Washington and the birthplace of our federal government…in the city so nice they named it twice.