Skip Content
U.S. Flag

About Congressional Meeting Places | Philadelphia

Congress Hall in Philadelphia

The Residence Act of 1790 designated Philadelphia as the temporary capital of the United States until 1800, when the entire government would move to the soon-to-be established District of Columbia. In December of 1790, Congress moved into Philadelphia's newly named Congress Hall, originally built as a county courthouse and expanded to accommodate the Senate and House of Representatives. Congress remained in the city until May 1800.

As Pennsylvania's state capital and the nation's largest city at the time, Philadelphia in 1790 was rapidly developing as a prosperous commercial center, with well-paved and regularly laid-out streets. Few members minded the change to Philadelphia, a larger but quieter city than New York. Philadelphia provided a vibrant social and cultural environment, with comfortable inns and taverns, theater, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the American Philosophical Society. Despite Philadelphia's attractions, senators encountered significant hardships, including the high cost of living and severe yellow fever epidemics throughout the decade.

While most members attended Senate sessions faithfully in the early months of the Congress, some tended to slip away in the spring and early summer. During the 1790s, in the final weeks of each Congress's first session, fully a quarter of the Senate's members failed to participate in votes. Senators also resigned at a high rate. Of the 86 who served in the Senate during its 10-year Philadelphia residence, one-third departed before their terms expired. It was not uncommon for as many as four senators to successively fill one seat over the course of a six-year term. Only three senators served all 10 years in Philadelphia.

Return to About Congressional Meeting Places