June and July are among the slowest months of the year on Princeton’s campus, with no classes in session and only a scattering of students in the libraries and labs. But in the summer of 1783, the University – then the College of New Jersey – was filled with activity. Anti-government protests by Continental Army veterans in Philadelphia forced Congress to leave the city and reconvene at Princeton’s Nassau Hall, beginning on June 30. In the excerpt below, taken from a 1956 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly that celebrated the 200th anniversary of Nassau Hall, history professor Thomas J. Wertenbaker explained the building’s brief role as the nation’s capitol.
From the “Nassau Hall Issue” of Princeton Alumni Weekly
Sept. 12, 1956
By Thomas J. Wertenbaker
… As Nassau Hall had been the first capitol of the state of New Jersey, in the summer of 1783 it became the capitol of the United States. As the Revolutionary War drew to a close rumors spread among the Continental troops that they were to be dismissed without receiving their back pay. Congress had been making desperate efforts to raise the money, but it was handicapped by the fact that it was not empowered to levy taxes. Late in June 1783, things took a serious turn, when a body of troops stationed in Philadelphia sent a threatening letter to Congress.
When Congress failed to meet their demands, they marched on the State House, two or three hundred strong, and stationed themselves around the buildings. Some of them went so far as to point their guns at the windows, and several actually laid hands on President Elias Boudinot. Congress was alarmed and deeply incensed at the insult to the authority of the United States. After it had made urgent appeals to the Pennsylvania Council for protection, and that body refused to call out the militia, it decided to move to Princeton.