How Washington DC was Chosen as Capital of the United States
The War of Independence had left the fledgling America free, but in turmoil. There was as yet no President and the country was a loose conglomeration of more or less independent states. Many soldiers who had fought in the war had yet to be paid for it and there was no official center of government to pay them. Philadelphia’s Old City Hall was the only place the where the leaders of the revolution routinely met and in 1783 they decided it was time to designate a new national capital.
While most people agreed on the need for a national capital nobody could agree on just where it should be. People who lived in the northern states favored either New York City, Philadelphia or Germantown which is now part of Philadelphia. People who lived in the southern states were unsure about a central government, especially one with a capital city located in the north. For a time Germantown was actually designated as the new national capital but when no action was taken the debate lingered on for years. When George Washington was elected President of the United States in 1789 he was president of a country that had yet to agree on the location of its capitol city
The entire issue was further complicated when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed that all the state debts incurred while fighting the War for Independence should be assumed by the federal government. To the people of the northern states this sounded like a great idea since their sates owed quite a bit more than the southern states. But the people of the southern states felt this might give the federal government too much power and there was even talk among some southern states about secession from the union. A vote was taken in the Continental Congress and the proposal lost by a margin of just two votes and it was a bitter defeat that left everybody unsatisfied and searching for answers.
Determined to see things through Hamilton sought out James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and asked to talk to them about the problems their country was facing. Jefferson graciously invited Hamilton and Madison to dinner at his home and the men sat down to see if they could solve their differences on the issues of their day. At this meeting Hamilton suggested that the nations capital stay in Philadelphia for the next ten years and then be moved to a site on the Potomac River near Georgetown as this would be more acceptable to the southern states. In exchange for this he asked Jefferson and Madison to convince two friends to reverse their votes on his proposal. Jefferson and Madison agreed to this and even President Washington was pleased with the plan to place the nations capital on the Potomac River.
And so it was that on July 16, 1790 an act of Congress was passed that established the location of Americas capital city at a place first known to the Native Americans as Conococheague or Conongocheague which is the name of a stream at the sites northern boundary. The capital city was, of course, named after President Washington and the act also gave President Washington the power to define the exact boundaries of the site with an area not to exceed ten square miles. President Washington wisely enlisted the services of French born architect and engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant to survey and plan the city. The D C stands for District of Colombia and is in recognition of Christopher Columbus. Washington D C is now one of the worlds great national capitals and will always stand for freedom and democracy.