The Compromise of 1790 — August 28, 2016

The Compromise of 1790

I’m completely obsessed with Hamilton. I’ll be seeing it in New York shortly, and have been listening to an unhealthy degree to the soundtrack. Tonight I was listening to “The Room Where It Happens”, which made me want to read what “Thomas [Jefferson] [actually] claim[ed]”. I went back to The Age Of Federalism, a wonderful Bancroft Prize winner by Elkins and McKitrick which I’ve thought about often over the years; the discussion of the Compromise of 1790, and specifically Jefferson’s views on it, are on pages 155 et seq.. The National Archives have the full text of Jefferson’s account. Elkins and McKitrick point to Jefferson’s other account of the Compromise, which appeared in a letter to Washington:

I was duped […] by the Secretary of the Treasury and made a tool for forwarding his schemes, not then sufficiently understood by me; and of all the errors of my political life, this has occasioned me the deepest regret.

I’d recommend that part of Elkins and McKitrick, also, for their masterly walk through what the bargain actually accomplished. There were three factions vying for a Federal district: the Pennsylvanians, who wanted it to be at least temporarily in Philadelphia; the South, which wanted it along the Potomac; and the New Englanders and New Yorkers, who just wanted it to not be on the Potomac. Most the votes were seemingly lined up before the Jefferson/Madison/Hamilton dinner, but Elkins and McKitrick explain the moral force behind those three men’s support, and what it meant for the eventual compromise.

This makes me want to reread The Age of Federalism, and perhaps reread Chernow.