Residence Act

The Residence Act of 1790, officially titled An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States (1 Stat. 130), is a United States federal statute adopted during the second session of the First United States Congress and signed into law by President George Washington on July 16, 1790. The Act provides for a national capital and permanent seat of government to be established at a site along the Potomac River and empowered President Washington to appoint commissioners to oversee the project. It also set a deadline of December 1800 for the capital to be ready, and designated Philadelphia as the nation's temporary capital while the new seat of government was being built. At the time, the federal government was operating out of New York City.

Residence Act of 1790
Long titleAn Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States
Enacted bythe 1st United States Congress
Statutes at Largech. 28, 1 Stat. 130
Legislative history
  • Passed the Senate on July 1, 1790 (14-12)
  • Passed the House of Representatives on July 9, 1790 (32-29)
  • Signed into law by President George Washington on July 16, 1790
Major amendments
Act to allow the capital to encompass areas to the south of the Eastern Branch, including Alexandria, Virginia (1791), ch. 17, 1 Stat. 214–215
Act to retrocede Alexandria County, D.C. to the State of Virginia (1846), ch. 35, 9 Stat. 35
Residence Act of 1790
Sketch of Washington, D.C. by Thomas Jefferson (March 1791)

Congress passed the Residence Act as part of the Compromise of 1790 brokered among James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Madison and Jefferson favored a southerly site for the capital on the Potomac River, but they lacked a majority to pass the measure through Congress. Meanwhile, Hamilton was pushing for Congress to pass the Assumption Bill, to allow the Federal government to assume debts accumulated by the states during the American Revolutionary War. With the compromise, Hamilton was able to muster support from the New York State congressional delegation for the Potomac site, while four delegates (all from districts bordering the Potomac) switched from opposition to support for the Assumption Bill.[1]