Is the capital of the United States. It is also one of the country’s most beautiful and historic cities and the site of many of its most popular tourist’s attractions. Washington serves as the headquarters of the federal government. The President of the United States, the member of Congress, the Supreme Court justices, and about 374,000 other federal government employees work in the Washington area. Decisions made by government leaders in the city affect the lives of people throughout the United States and sometimes, in other parts of the world. For example, the President suggests laws to Congress and directs US relations with other countries.
The members of Congress pass laws that every American citizen must obey. The Supreme Court justices decide whether the government’s laws and practices are constitutional.
Washington is important to the American people in another way. The city is a symbol of their country’s unity, history, and democratic tradition. Every year, millions of people from all parts of the United States and from other countries visit Washington.
They would go there and see such important government building such as the US Capitol where Congress meets, and the White House, where the President lives and works. They visit the Washington Monument. Lincoln Memorial and other famous structures which dedicated to American heroes of the past.
They also tour the city’s in many different museums, which together house the world’s largest collection of items from America’s past. Most Washington’s main government buildings, monuments and museums stand in the west-central part of the city. This area ranks among the nation’s most beautiful places. Many of its buildings and monuments are magnificent white marble structures. Scenic parks and gardens, and in springtime, gorgeous blossoms of Japanese cherry trees, add natural beauty to the man-made splendor of the area.
Outside the west-central area, Washington is much like other big cities. It has large residential areas including wealthy, middle-class, and poor sections. Suburbs spread out from the city in all directions.
Washington faces problems common to all cities, including crime, poverty, traffic jams, and a shortage of good moderate cost housing.
Washington lies in the southeastern United States, between Maryland and Virginia. It is the only American city or town that is not part of a state. Washington covers the entire area of the District of Columbia, a section of land that is under jurisdiction of the federal government. Washington is one of the hew cities in the world that was designed before it was built. President George Washington chose the city’s site in 1791. He hired Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer, to draw up plans for the city. Washington replaced Philadelphia as the nation’s capital in 1800. L’Enfant and other members of a commission appointed to plan the city named it in honor of George Washington. The DC in the city’s name stands for District of Columbia.
History of Washington DC
The first people known to have lived in the Washington area were Piscataway Indians. The whites moved into the area during the late 1600’s and established farms and plantations.
In December 1606, Captain John Smith of Virginia Company, under the charge of King James I of England, set sail from England for the New World. Five months later he arrived in the Chesapeake Bay and founded the Jamestown colony.
Smith was soon sailing up the Potomac River. In 1608, he came to the area that would later become Washington. The English settlers who followed supported themselves through the fur trade, and later cultivated tobacco and corn (maize).
A marriage in 1614 between John Rolfe, one of the settlers and Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian Chief Powhatan, kept peace between the English and the Indians for 8 years.
But the struggles over land ownership between the English and the Powhatan Indians, whose ancestors had lived there for centuries, led to massacres in 1622. The English finally defeated the Indians in 1644, and a formal peace agreement was made in 1646.
The first Africans arrived in the region on board a Dutch hip in 1619 and worked as indentured servants on plantations. They were given food and lodging as payment for serving for a fixed number of years. However, within the next 40 years the practice changed so that blacks were purchased for life, and their children became the property of their master. As the number of plantations grew, so did the number of slaves.
In the late-1600s another group of settlers, this time Iris-Scottish, led by Captain Robert Troop, established themselves here. Along the Potomac River two ports, George Town (later known as Georgetown) and Alexandria (are as the first town what was then the colony of Virginia), soon became profitable centers of commerce. Here, the planters had their crops inspected, stored, and shipped. In both towns were laid out in rectangular patterns. With rich soil, plentiful land, abundant labor, and good transportation, the region rapidly grew in prosperity.
Some 100 years after the first settlers arrived, frustration over British rule began to grow, both in the Potomac region and elsewhere in the 13 American colonies.
In 1775, the colonies began their struggle for independence. On April 19, shots were fired at Lexington, Massachusetts by American colonists who wanted no taxation without representation, which began the American Revolutionary War.
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was issued as colonists attempted to sever ties with Britain. Revolt led to revolution, and the newly formed United States won an important victory at Saratoga, New York in 1777. The French came to the aid of the American until finally, on October 19, 1781, the British led by Lord Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. This ended the war and assured the independence of the United States. The peace treaty was signed in Paris on September 3, 1783. Britain agreed to boundaries giving the US all territory to the south of what is now Canada, north of Florida, and west to the Mississippi River. The Continental Congress a legislative body of representatives from the newly created states but provided the central government with little power. This later gave way to a stronger form of government, created by the delegates of the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in May, 1787. On April 30, 1789, George Washington took office as he was chosen to be the first president.
Washington becomes the Capital
There are several different cities served as the national capital during the early years of the United States. In 1783, Congress decided that the country should have a permanent center of government. But the states couldn’t agree on a location for it. People assumed that the new capital would become an important commercial and industrial city. As a result each state wanted it to be located within its borders. Also both Northerners and Southerners believed that capital should be in their part of the country. In 1790, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton worried out a solution. He proposed that the new capital be built on land that belonged to the federal government, rather than to a state.
He and others persuaded Northern political leaders to agree to locate the capital in the South. In return, Southern leaders supported certain government policies favored by the North. Once a disagreement were settled, Congress decided to locate the capital along the Potomac River. It asked George Washington, who had been raised in the Potomac area, to choose the exact site. The President’s choice, made in 1791, in divided not only the land now occupied by Washington, but also about 30 square miles (78 square kilometers) of land west of the Potomac. The city’s present territory had belonged to Maryland, and the land southwest was part of Virginia. The two states turned over the territory to the federal government.
George Washington hired Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer, to create a plan for the physical layout of the city. L’Enfant’s plan dealt only with the area between the Anacostia River and Georgetown. But it established the pattern for the entire city. It made the Capital the Center of Washington.
The American surveyors Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker helped work out the plan for the new city. The federal government moved to Washington from is temporary capital in Philadelphia in 1800. At that time the entire Washington area had only about 8,000 people.
President John Adams and his wife Abigail took up residence in the new President’s House designed by James Hoban, which was later renamed the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. The city was remained empty of residents for many years while the building works took place.
In August 1814, during the War of 1812, British soldiers reached and captured Washington and offices at the Capital fled, taking the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution with them. First Lady Dolley Madison escaped from the House with Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. On August 14, the British defeated the Americans at Bladensburg, a suburb of Washington. They set fire to the War Department, the Treasury, the Capitol, and the White House. Only a night of heavy rain prevented the city’s destruction. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, but the war ended in February 1815, as President James Madison ratified the treaty at the Octagon.
The reconstruction of the buildings was completed in 1819. The Constitution of the United States gave Congress the power to govern Washington. But in 1802, the Congress established a local government, including a mayor and city council, to help run the city. The people of Washington were given the right to elect Council members in 1802, and the mayor in 1820, but they weren’t allowed to vote members of Congress or the President. The predictions that Washington would become an important commercial and industrial center didn’t come true. The city couldn’t complete economically with such long-established cities as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston. Lacking economic growth, Washington remained a small city. By the 1840’s, it had only about 50,000 people, and only a small part of its present area was built up. As a result, in 1846, Congress retuned to Virginia the land that the state had earlier given to the federal government.
After the War of 1812 ended, this came a period of renewed optimism and economic prosperity in Washington. The Washingtonians wanted to make their city a bustling commercial capital. They planned to build the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to connect Washington to the Ohio River Valley and thus open trade with the west. The Construction on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line also got underway. As the production grew, new hotels and boarding houses, home to many of the nation’s Congressmen, opened up.
Newspapers, such as National Intelligencer, flourished.
In 1829 James Smithson, an English man, bequeathed a collection of minerals, books, and $500,000 in gold to the United States, and the Smithsonian Institution was born.
Also construction bean on three important government buildings, each designed by Robert Mills such as the Treasury Building, the Parent Office, and the General Post Office building. Also at the time, the Washington National Monument Society, led by George Watterston, chose a 600-ft (183-m) Obelisk to become the Washington Monument, again designed by Robert Mills.
Growth and Development
Washington’s main periods of growth have been times of crisis, such as wars and depressions. During such times the role of the federal government has been greatly expanded to help meet the crises. Large numbers of people moved to the city to handle the new jobs that resulted.
Slavery Divides the City
Racial tension was beginning to increase around this time, and in 1835 it erupted into what was later known as the Snow Riot. After the attempted murder of the widow of architect William Thornton, a botany teacher from the North was arrested for inciting blacks because plant specimens had been found wrapped in the pages of an abolitionist newspaper. A riot ensued, and in the course of the fighting a school for black civilian was destroyed as well as the interior of a restaurant owned by Beverly Snow, a free black. As a result and to the anger of many people, black and white, laws were passed denying free blacks licenses to run saloons or eating places. Many Washingtonians were slave holders, other became and at abolitionists. The homes of several abolitionists and free blacks, as well as black churches, were used as hiding places for fugitive slaves. In April on the night in 1848, 77 slaves attempted to escape the city, and boarded a small schooner on the Potomac River. But the following night they were captured and brought back to Washington, where they were sold at auction. The incident served only to heighten the tension between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups. Slavery was abolished in Washington in 1862.
The Civil War (1861-1865), was the first crisis that caused Washington to grow. In 1860, following the election of President Abraham Lincoln, several southern states seceded from the Union in objection to Lincoln’s stand against slavery. The shots were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, and the war began. 50,000 volunteers arrived in Washington to join the Army of the Potomac under George B. McClellan. The Union stationed thousands of troops in Washington to protect the city from Confederate attacks. Washington suddenly found itself in the business of housing, feeding, and clothing the troops, as well as caring for the wounded. Buildings and churches became makeshift hospitals. Many people came to nurse the wounded. Thousands of Northerners came to help the war effort. They were joined by hordes of black people heading north to escape slavery, so that by 1864 the population of Washington had doubled that of 1860, reaching 140,000. Large numbers of people flocked to the city to help direct the Union’s war effort and to establish businesses.
In addition, thousands of slaves who had been freed during the war moved the city. The enormous population growth led to a severe housing shortage. In addition, the city’s streets, sewer and water systems, and other public facilities couldn’t handle the increased population. After the skirmishes on July 12, 1864, witnessed by President Lincoln himself at Fort Stevens, the Confederates retreated. By March 1865, the end of the war appeared to be close at hand. Parades, speeches, and bound concerts followed Confederate General Robert E. lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865. Yet the celebratory mood was short-lived. Disturbed by the Union’s victory, when actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at the Ford’s Theatre during the third act of Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865. Lincoln was taken to the house of tailor William Peterson, across the street from the theater, where he died the next morning.
The Congress began a major rebuilding and expansion program in Washington after the war. The program solved the city’s physical problems. But it indirectly led to an end of the people’s right to choose their government leader. Congress believed that a reorganization of Washington’s local government was necessary for a successful rebuilding program.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help provide African Americans with lousing, food, education and employment. In 1867 General Oliver Otis Howard, commissioner of the bureau used $500,000 of the bureau’s funds to purchase land to establish a university for African Americans. He was president of this institution, later named Howard University, (1869-1873).
On February 21, 1871, a new territorial government was forced to unite Georgetown, the city of Washington, and the country of Washington into the District of Columbia.