June 20, 1790 was a Sunday, and government offices were appropriately closed. The United States government was in its first year of existence (the Constitution had just been ratified in June of 1788 and the first elections in 1789), and the First Congress was meeting in New York City. Thomas Jefferson proposed a dinner party inviting James Madison, who was serving in the House of Representatives representing the State of Virginia, and Colonel Alexander Hamilton who was serving as the first Treasury Secretary under President George Washington.
James Madison, as one of the primary authors of the Constitution, was a very powerful member of the Congress and had recently led the charge to scuttle Hamilton’s plans for the Federal Government to assume Revolutionary War debt of some of the States (Virginia had paid off most of its debt). Madison had also stopped a movement to award the site of the Nation’s Capital to Philadelphia (the Residency question) and was advocating for a Potomac siting, which had no momentum with the sectional blocks of the day, Northern (Boston), mid-Atlantic (NY and Philadelphia) and southern agrarian (Virginia and south). Thomas Jefferson as the acting Secretary of State was well aware that the new nation was the laughing stock of international European bankers and was perceived as a poor credit risk. Additionally, as a Virginian, he was intrigued with the idea of a Potomac siting.
Delegates of the various interests had already been having secret meetings on the Residency question as well as the debt issue. Jefferson, being an elder statesman at age 47 sensed an opportunity to broker a deal. On July 9, 1790, the House passed a Residence Bill which moved the Capital to Philadelphia for 10 years and then permanently to the Potomac. On July 26, 1790 the House passed the Assumption Bill. There is little doubt that a deal had been made at the dinner meeting on June 20, although there was only a short note that Jefferson wrote about the meeting later in his life. This deal ended up serving our nation well by separating the powerful business interests of New York from the agrarian and other interests of the day.
The lessons of this compromise are particularly applicable to business today. At a time when the world has never been more connected with email, text and other media, in many ways we have never been more disconnected. Trust is always the major factor in getting anything significant accomplished and people trust people with whom they have a personal relationship. The best way to establish that Trust is via a face to face meeting. When you meet somebody personally, you have the opportunity to appeal not only to the logical side of the brain but the visceral side as well.
This brings up an interesting question. Would the capital be in Washington DC today if they had had email in 1790? We will never know, however it is quite possible that our nation’s capital would be somewhere other than Washington DC, had it not been for dinner meeting.
If you want to read more about this historical story, I encourage you to take a look at “Mr. Jefferson’s Dinner Party,” by Joseph J. Ellis. This is where I got the inspiration for my blog post. Also, if you want to read another of my lessons from history, you should read “Does Your Building have Mass Appeal?” This lesson is rooted in the cost of electricity and is set in 1892.
About Francis Rentz- Francis, who is based in Tallahassee, Florida and is one of the founding members of SouthLand Commercial, has more than 20 years of experience and secured numerous transactions valued at more than $100 million. He specializes in commercial properties and land. Click here to view his full profile and listings, or if you would like to contact him, you can call him at 850-877-6000, or email him at [email protected]
Does Your Building Have Mass Appeal? – CRE Lessons from History