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Laying the cornerstone for the President's House, sort of...



Item # 703561

May 26, 1792

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston,  May 26, 1792  Page 3 has a somewhat inconspicuous report reading: "The following inscription is cut on the corner stone lately laid as the foundation of the house designed for the future residence of the President of the United States, viz 'This Corner Stone of the House to Accommodate the President of the United States, was laid May 10, 1792; when Pennsylvania was out of debt; Thomas Mifflin then Governour of the State'."
This isn't quite what it seems, but is an interesting piece of history nonetheless. Here is the background of the report:
The capital of the United States had moved from New York City to Philadelphia, to be the temporary site of the government until needed buildings in the District of Columbia were completed. The President's House was a mansion built from 1792 to 1797 by the state of Pennsylvania, located on Ninth St. between Market and Chestnut Streets, in Philadelphia, then the temporary national capital. Intended to persuade the federal government to permanently stay in the city, this house intended for the president of the United States never housed any president.
 On July 16, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act which designated Philadelphia the temporary capital for a 10-year period while the permanent capital at Washington, D.C., was constructed. The recently built Congress Hall was used from December 6, 1790, to May 14, 1800. The president of the United States, first George Washington and then John Adams, resided at the house leased from financier Robert Morris, also known as the President's House, on Market Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets.
In September 1791, the state government enacted the "Federal Building Bill" to pay for the renovations needed for the federal government office space and for the construction of a new executive mansion. Twelve lots were purchased on the west side of Ninth Street, between Market Street, then named High Street, and Chestnut Street. This is the building with the cornerstone mentioned above, laid on May 10, 1792. On March 3, 1797, Penna.  Governor Mifflin offered the nearly completed mansion to John Adams on the eve of his inauguration. However, Adams rejected the offer on constitutional grounds stating "as I entertain great doubts whether, by a candid construction of the Constitution of the United States, I am at liberty to accept it without the intention and authority of Congress".
Thus neither Washington, no longer president when the mansion was ready, nor Adams, would reside in the President's House.
In 1800 the property was purchased at public auction by the University of Pennsylvania for use as a new, expanded campus. The university demolished the building in 1829 and replaced it with two new buildings.
So goes the interesting history of the "White House" that never was.
The front page is mostly take up with the printing of four Acts of Congress, each signed in script type by the President: Go. Washington.
Four pages, archival strengthening to a portion of the right margin which had flaked with a few tears, otherwise in very nice condition.

Note: this issue recently sold at a notable auction for $300.

Item from Catalog 343 (released for June, 2024)

(Added to Catalog #343 after the hardcopy was released - only available on-line.)

Category: The 1600's and 1700's