It lasted little more than one year.
But between April 1789—when George Washington was sworn in as the first president (at left)—and July 1790, New York was the nation’s capital.
What was the city, with a population of just 28,000, like back then? Rich and crude.
“Men and women of the upper class dressed in the latest fashion from London or Paris and attended balls,” explains a 1989 New York Times article.
“But the streets were unpaved, narrow and crooked, often unlighted at night and frequently impassable because of wandering pigs.”
Despite these problems, many citizens, as well as brand-new secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted New York to be the permanent capital.
The city’s advantages: it was equidistant between New England and the South and had all the hotels, restaurants, and other amenities a proper capital needed.
Problem was, Thomas Jefferson, the new secretary of state, hated New York. He thought the nation’s capital should be located in “a new rural setting on the Potomac, across from his native Virginia,” write Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.
Jefferson and Hamilton were deadlocked on the issue—until Jefferson agreed to acquiesce to Hamilton’s demand for the Federal government to assume states’ Revolutionary war debts.
In turn, Hamilton abandoned the dream of keeping the city the nation’s capital.
[Illustration at left: View of Broad Street by George Holland, 1797. Federal Hall, where Washington was sworn in, is in the center; above, the George Washington statue at the modern-day Federal Hall, commemorating his inauguration]