Caption reads: On its balcony Washington was inaugurated Prest. April 30th, 1789. Image via New York Public Library Image Gallery
The US Congress wasn’t always atop Capitol Hill. Contrary to popular belief, the first US Congress met in the old City Hall, which is now “Federal Hall” at 26 Wall Street. Congress met in New York from 1789 to 1790, when it moved to Philadelphia because the members wanted a smaller city they could have control over. The first US Congress also wanted a city to be developed around the federal government, so for some obvious reasons Congress had to move.
Congress had met in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, so it was generally assumed that would be the new nation’s capitol. However, in 1783 there was a skirmish involving the Pennsylvania governor and Revolutionary War Vets, which prompted congress to move to (of all the cities) Princeton, New Jersey. Another reason Congress couldn’t stay in Philadelphia was because the city was the center of the abolition movement, and southern representatives wanted a city less hostile to slavery. Congress moved around for the next six years, and in New York the new government under the U.S. Constitution was established.
A back room deal between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton determined that the capitol would be in the District of Columbia on the Potomac River. In 1790, Washington commissioned Pierre Charles L’Enfant to plan what we know today as Washington D.C. In the meanwhile, Congress was set to move from New York and meet in Philadelphia.