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  • Establishing Congress: Congress, the Removal to Washington, D.C., and the Election of 1800
  • Stuart Leibiger (bio)
Establishing Congress: Congress, the Removal to Washington, D.C., and the Election of 1800. By Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon, eds. (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005. Pp. x, 225. Cloth, $44.95.)

Establishing Congress is the fourth volume in the History of Congress, 1789-1801 Series, edited by Kenneth R. Bowling of the Documentary History of the First Federal Congress Project, and Donard R. Kennon, chief historian of the United States Capitol Historical Society. The contributors include documentary editors, political scientists, and historians, as well as an archivist and a librarian.

In the least original essay in the volume, Cal Jillson portrays the presidential contest of 1800 as a struggle between two conflicting visions for America. According to Jillson, Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson's positive view of human nature led him to stand for an agricultural republic of yeoman farmers where government remained democratic and close to the people. Federalist Alexander Hamilton, harboring a more pessimistic view of human nature, preferred an urban industrial nation ordered from above by a strong federal government dominated by an energetic chief executive. John H. Aldrich sees the election of 1800 as being truly revolutionary precisely because it marked the first transfer of power from one party to an opposing one. Aldrich analyzes electoral procedures to demonstrate how very partisan the campaign was. For the first time, electors were bound to vote for either Federalists (John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney) or Republicans (Jefferson and Aaron Burr). In each state, moreover, partisan legislatures promoted their preferred candidates by choosing either winner-take-all or district-by-district voting and either popular or state legislative selection of electors. William C. diGiacomantonio addresses the aftermath of the election, when the lame-duck Federalists passed the Organic Act of 1801. Like the much more famous Judiciary Act of 1801, the Organic Act represented a last-ditch Federalist attempt to leave a permanent imprint on the federal government. The act implemented the hitherto unexercised enumerated Congressional power of exclusive jurisdiction over the federal district. Federalists pushed the measure through at the eleventh hour, fearing the Republicans would not so empower the federal government.

In the only entry focused on the federal government's removal from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800, Elaine C. Everly and Howard H. Wehmann, unlike previous historians, look not to Congress's 1802 report [End Page 478] on removal, in which partisan Republicans unfairly blasted the Federalists for corruption. Instead, Everly and Wehmann mine hitherto neglected Executive Department documents from the removal itself.

C.M. Harris contends that as secretary of state and later as president, Jefferson subtly and indirectly imposed his republican ideals on the design of the U.S. Capitol. For example, Jefferson quietly substituted the name Capitol (harkening back to the principal building of the Roman Republic) in place of Congress Hall in Peter Charles L'Enfant's city plan. Jefferson also opposed entombing George Washington under the rotunda, and sought to make the House of Representatives chamber into a "Newtonian Temple" where legislators would be influenced by the Enlightenment's laws of nature.

Rubil Morales-Vazquez examines the long campaign to build a monument to George Washington in the city that bears his name. In 1800, Congress pledged to Martha Washington that her husband's body would be placed beneath the capitol rotunda, creating a shrine to help unify the infant republic. The plan stalled, however, because Jeffersonians felt that Federalist plans to build a mausoleum were too expensive and unrepublican. In 1832, when Congress finally requested permission to move the body, John Augustine Washington, the proprietor of Mount Vernon, refused to allow disinterment, a decision many Americans supported. The rise of sectionalism caused states righters to prefer that the body remain with Virginia, while the rise of middle-class values centered on the family made many feel that Washington ought to remain buried at home. With hopes for a mausoleum dashed, attention shifted to building the Washington Monument, finally completed in 1885. Moralez-Vazquez suggests that the first president remains elusive and remote in the city as a...


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