1789: The Electoral College Meets for the First Time
With all but two relatively obscure states—Rhode Island and North Carolina—having ratified the Constitution, the Confederation Congress was now ready to put the new federal government in place. As soon as New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, Congress dutifully created a committee to get the new Constitution up and running. Only the doughty Abraham Yates dissented—in a sense, the last attempt to block the Constitution as a whole. To the determined Antifederalists throughout the county, their next tack was forcefully imposed upon them by the very course of the ratification struggle: they must mobilize and put their plans into Congress in order to fulfill their pledge for restrictive amendments, preferably by calling another constitutional convention that would redress the imbalance of the first.
It was relatively easy for the old Confederation Congress to decide to hold elections and choose electors for the president the following January 7, to assemble the Electoral College to vote for a president on February 4, and to assemble the new U.S. Congress on March 4, 1789.
Attendance at, and interest in, the old Confederation Congress drifted away, and its last day with a quorum was October 10, 1788. There was a flurry of hope in January of the new year, when everyone awaited the new government, and members began to drift into the old Congress, where the faithful Charles Thomson, secretary ever since the opening of the glorious first Continental Congress, sat waiting for the old Congress to meet yet another time, and also to preserve its tenuous existence so that he could hand over the reins to the new government. When March 4 arrived, the old executive departments of Congress were passed into the new Congress for a traumatic period—the nation could not be permitted to live for a few days without the continuity of an executive bureaucracy. Poor old Thomson lounged around for several months and hopefully expected to find a place in the swollen bureaucracy of the New Order. But he found it not, and resigned his office at the end of July to sink into a life of obscurity. In a sense, the passing of Charles Thomson from the political scene paralleled the passing of the Confederation Congress: both met the end of their days humbly, passively, resignedly, and making not a peep.
The old Congress’ most important problem was to decide where the site of the national capital would be. Every large city wanted the honor, and of the two leading Federalists, Hamilton wanted the site to be in New York, and Madison wanted to see it located on the Potomac. Wherever it was, the Federalists would undoubtedly be strong at that location, and the Federalists of that location would correspondingly control the levers of power in the national government. Baltimore, pushed by the southern states, was accepted in early August 1788. However, within a month Hamilton had succeeded in changing the vote to have the capital be New York City. Shrewdly, he was able to argue that since the capital site was agreed by all to be strictly temporary, there was no point in moving the Confederation Congress to another location. As a result, Madison repeated his bitter accusation that Hamilton and the New York Federalists’ shrewd acceptance of the convention’s circular letter was made to have the state ratify in time to retain the capital in New York City.1
The capital would be temporary because the nationalists had made a proviso that the Constitution empowered the Congress to receive a district no larger than one hundred square miles of land, which its governing state or states may cede to it; Congress might then treat the District as its fief—its seat of n
Article from Mises Wire