Many of us can recite facts about the fifty states in the Union. But how many of us know much about the District of Columbia,? Yes, it is home to our nation’s Capitol, and the center of the Federal government. It was formed on July 16, 1790, and is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, and is not a part of any state. Both Virginia and Maryland donated land to form the District of Columbia, though Congress returned the Virginia portion in 1846.
The city of Washington was formed in 1791 to honor our first President, George Washington. And though the area seems congested, a mere 632,000 people reside here. The real question is how many people work here? The Washington metro area has a population of 5.7 million, the seventh largest metropolitan area in our country.
More importantly, all three branches of the Federal government reside here: Congress, the Executive Branch the President), and the Judicial (the Supreme Court). Washington is also home to many museums and monuments centered mostly around or along the Capitol Mall. The city is also home to 176 foreign embassies. Essentially, there are 176 foreign countries within the District borders.
Citizens get to elect a mayor and 13 council members since 1973. But unknown to many of us, Congress may overturn any local laws. The District also has an non-voting at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. The twenty-third Amendment gave the District three electoral votes.
The origins of a national capital came from James Madison as early as 1788. Article One, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution permits the establishment of a “District” to become the seat of the government of the United States. But it did not specify a location. The Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson agreed that the federal government would pay each state’s remaining war debts in exchange for establishing the new national capital in the southern United States.
The Residence Act of 1790 approved creation of a national capital along the Potomac River. The exact location was selected by President George Washington. The initial shape of the federal district was a 10 mile square, totaling 100 square miles. Boundary stones were placed at every mile point. Some of these stones are still standing.
The federal district was named Columbia, the poetic name for the United States commonly used at that time. The first session of Congress was held in the Washington on Nov. 17, 1800. The Organic Act of 1801 was passed to officially organize the District, and place it under the exclusive control of the federal government. I wonder if the District is allowed to run a deficit? The unincorporated area within the district was organized into two counties, Washington County to the east of the Potomac, and Alexandria County to the west. Unfortunately, residents of those counties lost their Congressional representation.
The darkest hour in Washington, at least before 9/11, was the Burning of Washington in 1814 by the British forces who invaded during the War of 1812. The Capitol, the Treasury and the White House were all burned and gutted. Equally dark were the riots that broke out after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. But it was a significant time in American history, one that we should cherish.
The District is a planned city. President Washington commissioned Pierre L’Enfant to design the new capital. His design envisioned what is now the National Mall, one mile in length and 400 feet wide. The city design featured broad streets and avenues radiating out from rectangles, with room for open space and landscaping. Andrew Endicott completed the city design after L’Enfant was dismissed due to conflicts with the District commissioners. It seems to me that it worked out fairly well in the long run. I wonder what they would have thought when we elected an African-American President. I have always enjoyed my trips here, business or pleasure. This one in particular!