Monday, June 18, 2012

The Dinner Table Bargain

On June 20, 1790 in New York City, US forefather Thomas Jefferson held one of the most significant and pivotal dinner parties of the century. In attendance were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and then president, George Washington.

The discussion at hand involved both Hamilton’s longing to standardize the nation’s accounts including a federal assumption of all state debts, estimated at about $80 million, and James Madison’s concern over the potential final location of the nation’s capital. As a Virginian, Madison feared his state would lose influence if the capital were to be placed in the North.

Madison had openly fought Hamilton’s plan, so Jefferson offered to bring the men together to talk over the situation. Known as the Dinner Table Bargain, this meeting of the minds led to the Compromise of 1790. By the end of the evening, the men reached an agreement: Hamilton would support the Potomac site for the new capital and Madison would no longer block assumption in Congress.

Years later, Jefferson would claim that he had been tricked into the evening’s agreement by Hamilton. A blow that was surely softened when in 1801, he took office as the first president in the new city on the Potomac River known as Washington.