A Brief History Of Washington, DC
Ever since its founding on the 16th of July, 1790, Washington, DC as a city has been a dynamic center with plenty of highs and lows that give it a place in American history. It is unique since it was established by the Constitution to serve as America’s capital and has been embroiled in power wrangles, sectional conflicts, issues of race, political maneuvering national identity, and compromise ever since its beginning.
Like most decisions made through the course of American history, the location of the city was a compromise. The Northern States led by Alexander Hamilton wanted the new federal government to shoulder Revolutionary War debts, while the Southern States led by Thomas Jefferson wanted the capital to be placed in a location that was friendlier to slave-holding agricultural interests.
However, it is President George Washington who chose the exact site where the city sits (along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers) - this is after both Virginia and Maryland gave land for the establishment of this new distinct district so that it could be distinguished from all the other states. It was officially incorporated as a city in 1790. President Washington appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design the city. The vision Pierre presented was that of a bold, modern city that featured grand boulevards and ceremonial spaces that are reminiscent with another one of the world’s great capitals – Paris, Pierre’s native home. His plan was that of a grid system, with the Capitol building sitting at the center.
Even before it could come of age, Washington, DC was almost destroyed during the 1812 War against Great Britain when enemy forces invaded the center and burned as much of it as they could to the ground. Some of the notable buildings to be destroyed included the just completed White House, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol. After this devastation, the city didn’t grow for some time, especially about permanent residents. After a while, it grew even smaller in physical size when a portion of the city, which originally belonged to Virginia, would be retroceded in 1847. This is after Alexandria voters elected to leave DC since they felt that they’d been left out when it came to development on their side of the river. The city would later increase in size because of the Civil War.
In 1862, slaves owned by Washington residents were emancipated, and the city became a major hub for freed slaves. A substantial army was then set up to protect the city during the war, and this administration ever changed the nation's federal government.
Post-war DC saw considerable growth and expansion, and eventually absorbed the nearby Georgetown and other surrounding rural centers which were beyond Pierre’s original plans for the city. In 1901, Washington DC proposed and passed the McMillan Plan, whose main purpose was to complete Pierre’s original design. From there on end, the city saw continuous growth, expanding and developing for the rest of the 20th century.
Though Washington, DC is a capital city, it’s ironic that its residents lack full self-governance. For instance, it is not until 1964 that Washingtonians were allowed to vote in any Presidential election, and it’s not until 1973 when the city was allowed to elect a mayor.
Washington, DC remains a culturally diverse and vibrant city to date. It is a city with rich international cultures, African-American heritage and culture, and is also one of the most gay-friendly cities in America. Being the nation’s capital for more than 200 years, Washington, DC has developed into a complex, layered city with a very distinct character – it is not only an important international center of power, but is also a town for locals, and one amazing place to visit.