THE UNITED STATES SUB-TREASURY. WASHINGTON AND THE REVOLUTION.
Across Nassau Street, directly opposite the Bankers' Trust Company, is the United States Sub-Treasury easily recognized by the massive bronze statue of Washington in the centre of the steps.
This is easily one of the most interesting sites in all New York, and the loss of the original building is now recognized to be one of the most deplorable occurrences in local history, for here stood the first City Hall (1699), built by the English. Eighty-nine years later this same building, but greatly altered, became the first Capitol of the United States of America.
In its Colonial days, the Cage, Pillory, Stocks and Whipping Post stood in front of the entrance. The interior contained a Court Room, the Common Council's Chamber, the jail, a volunteer fire department, a debtors' prison and a small public library. Many of the books in this collection were lost or destroyed during the Revolution, but the remainder were saved and a society formed to preserve and add to the balance. Out of this effort grew our present Society Library on University Place, the oldest institution of its kind in New York.
Many historical and epoch making events occurred in this old building during its lifetime. Here was won Peter Zenger's celebrated victory over the Royal Government insuring ever after the freedom of the press; a trial which was closely followed by Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and other Revolutionary leaders. It marked a tremendously forward step in the struggle for Independence. The Stamp Act Congress also convened within these walls and armed resistance to the Crown was only avoided by the prompt compliance of the government to the demand of this Congress for the surrender of the obnoxious stamps forthwith. Truly a storm was approaching, but the German King on an English throne had eyes that saw not and ears that heard not. In 1785 it was used as the State Capitol and here the Continental Congress met. Every day in the corridors could be seen such men as John Hancock, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and other distinguished citizens.
When it was seen that the Continental Congress would shortly begin the formation of a permanent national government, New York, under the guidance of Alexander Hamilton, began at once a campaign to secure the location of the Federal capitol in this city.
Extensive alterations in the City Hall were made under plans prepared by Major L'Enfant (who afterwards gained fame as the designer of the present capitol at Washington), and a practically new building was the result. It was then offered to the Continental Congress as a permanent home for the capitol. This offer was accepted. Congress and the Senate convened here to elect the first president. Their choice fell upon General Washington, who was accordingly inaugurated here in April, 1789.
In a few minutes Washington stepped upon the balcony fronting on Wall Street. For an instant he stood in full sight of the assembled multitude but the wild outburst of cheering which greeted his appearance drove him a step backward visibly affected. He was dressed in a suit of dark brown cloth with metal buttons ornamented with eagles, his stockings were white silk and his shoebuckles silver. At his side he carried a simple steel hilted dress sword; his powdered hair was worn in a queue, the fashion of the times. Close behind him stood Chancellor Robert Livingston wearing his official robe. Grouped about these two men stood John Adams, George Clinton, Roger Sherman, Baron Steuben, Samuel Otis, Richard Henry Lee, General Arthur St. Clair and General Knox. Behind them but not visible from the street stood members of Congress and distinguished witnesses. Alexander Hamilton witnessed the scene from the window of his house opposite (now part of the Morgan Rank).
There was a moment's pause as the company took their positions and then Samuel Otis, the Secretary of State, carrying a crimson cushion on which rested the Bible, presented it to the Chancellor, who administered the oath, whereupon Washington kissed the book and the official proclamation, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States" ended with a crash of artillery and a renewed burst of cheering. Such was the day of glory which made New York the capitol of the nation."—Trevor Hill.
The statue on the steps of the present Sub-Treasury building represents Washington in the exact position in which he stood when repeating the oath of office. Part of the railing on which his hand rested during the ceremony is to be seen in the rooms of the New York Historical Society and a section of the brown stone slab on which he stood has been fortunately preserved and is enclosed in a bronze glass frame. It is inside the building and can be seen on the south wall.
The Government did not long remain in New York, but before it was removed, Washington enacted several important measures which would have distinguished this building above all others in the country had it been preserved. He signed the bill creating the Supreme Court of the United States.
He issued to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, his commission as Minister to France. Aaron Burr was elected to the Senate in this hall, and all the extremely important creative measures attending the birth of the new Republic here first saw the light of day. Apparently the importance of the building was never understood or appreciated, for after a short period during which it was occupied as the State capitol, the structure was allowed to fall into disrepair. It was shorn of its interesting portico and arcade and turned into a general utility building, containing the Custom House, brokers' offices and other tenants. Its ancient glory had departed.
The new Government House on Bowling Green, completed about this time, served to detract public interest from this fine old Colonial relic and in a few years it was demolished. So disappeared this most romantic and historical building in all New York and the Sub-Treasury you now see, rose in its place.