History Lesson: The Nine Capital Cities Of The United States of America


QUICK HEADS UP: National Treasure is on Netflix and it may be the greatest movie of all time. Not even that hot of a take when you think about it.

Anyway, I went down a little US History rabbithole and I found out something I never knew before.

There have been nine different cities that have held the title of the nation’s capital. (technically, some can’t be called the capital of the United States but capital of the colonies). Here’s the list:

Philadelphia, PA – Our first capital

philadelphia, independence hall

The First Continental Congress had to meet in Carpenters’ Hall from September 5 to October 26, 1774, because Independence Hall was being used by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Philly has been home to Congress sessions on six separate occasions, making it the most frequent U.S. capital (although not the longest-used one).

After the Continental Congress met inside Carpenter’s Hall, it reassembled the following spring inside the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall), where it adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Philadelphia had various stints as the home of the Continental Congress and its successor under the Articles of Confederation, which was enacted in 1781. As stipulated by the Residence Act, Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the United States of America between 1790 and 1800 while Washington, D.C., was being built.

Baltimore, MD

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Now I knew about Philly but never knew Baltimore was ever the capital. I’m a little ashamed of it because both are such trash cities.

As British troops closed in on Philadelphia at the end of 1776, the Continental Congress decided to abandon the city and flee south to Baltimore.They thought Baltimore might be a good temporary home, but they were wrong: one delegate accurately called the town “an extravagant hole.” (I agree Baltimore sucks) Bypassing the city’s old courthouse, delegates instead convened on December 20, 1776, inside the spacious house and tavern of Henry Fite. The three-story brick building, redubbed “Congress Hall,” was among the largest in Baltimore and outside the possible artillery range of the British navy. Warmed by the two fireplaces inside the house’s long chamber, delegates learned of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River and his surprise victories at Trenton and Princeton (hints) . With the British threat to Philadelphia blunted, the Continental Congress reconvened inside Independence Hall on March 4, 1777.

Lancaster, PA  (where?)

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Lancaster has the distinction of being capital for merely one day, fucking losers.

In the late summer of 1777, the Redcoats again advanced on Philadelphia, and after Washington’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11(never forget), 1777, the Continental Congress evacuated the city. Delegates fled 65 miles to the west and on September 27, 1777, met inside Lancaster’s county courthouse. Faced with the difficulty of finding suitable lodging and continued concerns about their safety, the delegates’ official business consisted mainly of deciding how quickly they could leave Lancaster (figures). After the legislative equivalent of a cup of coffee, the Continental Congress adjourned its one-day session inside the courthouse, which was destroyed by a fire in the 1780s, and continued to move west.

Lancaster is now the present-day heart of Amish country, which goes to show the beauty of America, you can be the most important city on the planet one day, and then fucking losertown whogivesafuckville the next, dog eat dog. I hate the Amish for no reason at all. please don’t hate-shame me I just think their way of life is dumb and I think they’re stupid.

York, PA

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So I’ve heard of this city before. Pretty sure it created the peppermint patty, but never knew it was the capital. I’ve attached a map pic cuz I was curious also. Right next to Lancaster…

Finding a more secure position 25 miles west of Lancaster behind the Susquehanna River, the Continental Congress convened inside the York County Court House on September 30, 1777. York is actually where the Articles of Confederation were drafted, which is really cool. York sometimes declares itself the First Capital of the United States because the Articles of Confederation are the first known legal documents to actually refer to the colonies as “the United States of America” I don’t hate that move. The Declaration of Independence uses the phrase as well, but some historians say it wasn’t a legal document at the time because the colonies were still under British rule.

After receiving word in June 1778 that the British had evacuated Philadelphia, the Continental Congress returned to the city and found Independence Hall left “in a most filthy and sordid situation” according to New Hampshire delegate Josiah Bartlett. So they went back to Philly, which is documented as trash.

Princeton, NJ

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Princeton hosted the Congress of the Confederation from July through October 1783. Princeton University says that while Congress were there, they “congratulated George Washington on his termination of the war, received news of the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain, and welcomed the first foreign minister—from the Netherlands—accredited to the United States. The reason why Congress adjourned to Princeton is pretty dope actually: they were mobbed at Independence Hall by a bunch of soldiers demanding payment for the Revolutionary War. Instead of paying them, Congress elected to move from town to town for the next few years. Haha I love America dude we’re awesome.

Annapolis, MD

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Something that I’ve learned through this is that we pick shitty cities, and perhaps more importantly shitty states, to be the capital, but whatever.

The Maryland State House in Annapolis served a similar function from November 26, 1783 to August 13, 1784, and a couple of historic events took place there: George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army to return to Mount Vernon as a private citizen (the utmost respect to this man shoutout George Washington), and the Articles of Confederation were ratified (although the latter was actually done a couple of years prior to Congress occupying the State House).

Trenton, NJ

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The Congress of Confederation ensured plenty of high strung debates by making its next home in the French Arms Tavern, the largest building in the future New Jersey state capital. Delegates first convened in the three-story-high structure, leased by the New Jersey legislature, on November 1, 1784. Beyond a farewell address by the Marquis de Lafayette, little business of note took place before the Congress adjourned on Christmas Eve and decided to move on to New York City. The building returned to its use as a tavern before being razed in 1837 to make room for a bank.

New York City, NY

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– finally a decent place to represent the US

Federal Hall on Wall St. in Manhattan was home to Congress for a total of about four years. It’s where Washington had his inauguration as the first President of the United States. In fact, when the First United States Congress met there in 1789, the first thing they did was tally the votes that would declare Washington Commander in Chief. In turn, Washington declared that a permanent housing solution for the frequently-traveling lawmakers was in order. You can still see Federal Hall to this day, it’s on Wall Street and there’s a big statue of G.W. out front. The Bible he was sworn in on is still there.

Washington, D.C.

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Finally, in 1790, the Residence Act was passed. This gave Washington the freedom to pick a spot for the permanent capital and allowed him to give builders 10 years to complete the job. He chose D.C. for its spot on the Potomac and to somewhat appease James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted a more southern location for the capital than New York. We’re still there to this day.

Hope this was informative, thanks for reading along. I’m hungover as balls from drinking whiskey and snorting adderall with my roommate until about 2 or 3, then woke up at six for work and now I’m writing about history of US capitals. Wild Monday, what have you guys been up to?

-Budd Dwyer

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