Finished in 1842, today’s Federal Hall served as the first U.S. Customs House for the Port of New York. Later, from 1862 to 1920, it handled 70% of the federal government’s money as the New York Office of the U.S. Sub-Treasury. But that’s nothing compared to its predecessor.
From 1704 to 1812, the building that sat here lived numerous lives. It was New York’s second City Hall, the site of the colonial Stamp Act Congress, the base of operations for the Confederation Congress after the Revolutionary War, home to the first Capital of the Unites States, a place for the Bill of Rights to be signed, the Federal Judiciary to be bred and, on April 30, 1789, the stage from which George Washington would take his first oath of office.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, Washington walked onto the second floor balcony of that Federal Hall and laid his hand on a Masonic bible. Robert Livingston, the first Chancellor of New York, had him repeat the words. The crowd cheered. After placing his lips on the book, Washington turned back inside — only now he was President. Moving toward the chamber of the Senate, he saw that all the members of Congress were present. He could begin to speak. Among the lines scrawled on his hand-written address, he read:
When I was first honoured with a call into the Service of my Country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. __
From this resolution I have in no instance departed. __
And being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department; and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the Station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require. __
So how would Washington react to today’s politicians, the ones mining their positions for personal gain? Are they even aware of his template? Better yet, how would he grapple with one of his 44 successors being all about that “pecuniary compensation”?
Photo by Rick Stachura. 26 Wall Street. December 4, 2018.
Here on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall, lights from the holiday decorations on nearby Broad Street ricochet off the Doric columns and burst into purples and reds.