The Congress at Federal Hall

The first Continental Congress
George Washington meets with the First Continental Congress.

Following the Revolutionary War, this site was a meeting place for the Continental Congress of the United States.They gathered in what was a former British colonial city hall in 1785 under the Articles of Confederation.Recognizing the need for a government with more authority, a convention met in Philadelphia and the Federal Constitution was sent for ratification by the states on September 17, 1787.In 1788 architect and engineer Pierre L'Enfant remodeled the colonial city hall to house the new government.The building was then renamed Federal Hall.Former Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, was elected President of the United States and John Adams, a well-known diplomat, became Vice President.President Washington was inaugurated on the second floor balcony on April 30, 1789.Federal Hall thus became the nation's capitol, housing the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Office of the President.

The first session of the First United States Congress began on March 4, 1789.The first act signed into law by President Washington was "An Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths."This act specified that that any senator was to administer the oath of office to the Vice-President, who would then administer the oath to all the senators.In the House, a representative administered the oath to the Speaker of the House, who then would administer the oath to the entire House.The Tariff of 1789 was the second statute enacted by Congress and was signed into law on July 4.Here the Congress enacted the making and collection of taxes, as well as creating an additional ten percent duty on foreign ships.During this first session the Congress also created the Department of War (now Department of Defense), the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (now the Department of State) to carry out the duties of the Executive Branch.The Judiciary Act of 1789 organized the judiciary into a single Supreme Court and several District Courts, Circuit Courts, and District Attorneys.This act set the number of Supreme Court Justices at six with one Chief Justice.On September 25, 1789 the Congress proposed twelve amendments to the Constitution to be submitted to the states for ratification.Of the twelve, ten amendments were ratified by the states and these became commonly known as the Bill of Rights.

The second session of the Firsts United States Congress began on January 4, 1790.Congress called for the first national census.The recorded number of inhabitants of the United States was approximately 3.9 million, a number lower than had been expected.On the 26th of March Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790.This law limited naturalization of immigrants to those who were free whites.The Patent Act of 1790 and the Copyright Act of 1790 were also adopted at this time.The Patent Act granted an applicant holding a patent the sole rights and liberties to that useful art, manufacture, machine or device.The Copyright Act gave citizens sole rights and liberties of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending of maps, charts and books.On July 16, 1790 a statue titled "An Act for Establishing the "Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States" placed the capital at a site to be built along the Potomac River and made Philadelphia the temporary capital for ten years, or until 1800.The Indian Intercourse Act of 1790 prohibited the purchase of land from Indian tribes without the authority of the federal government.The second session of the First Congress ended on August 12, 1790, whereupon the Unites State Congress moved to Philadelphia.


Last updated: August 31, 2016

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