WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Establishment of a National Capital

We are heading to Washington D.C., our nation’s capital. Who was the city named after? What does the “D.C.” stand for?


here were many discussions as to where the nation’s capital should be established. The capital was often moved because these cities would prove vulnerable to attack. Then in 1790, the ‘Residence Act’ came to pass.


Madison and Jefferson favored a southern site for the capital on the Potomac River, but they lacked a majority to pass the measure through Congress. Meanwhile, Hamilton was pushing for Congress to pass the Assumption Bill, allowing the Federal government to assume debts accumulated by the states during the American Revolutionary War. With the compromise, Hamilton was able to muster support from the New York state delegates for the Potomac site, while four delegates (all from districts bordering the Potomac) switched from opposition to support for the Assumption Bill.


The Residence Act gave authority to President George Washington to select an exact site for the capital, along the Potomac, and set a deadline of December 1800 for the capital to be ready.


President Washington’s own estate, Mount Vernon, was located on the Potomac River below the bustling river towns of Alexandria, Virginia and Georgetown, Maryland. He was convinced that the land along the Potomac had enormous commercial potential as a shipping center if it were linked by canal to the western frontier.  For the site of the new capital, Washington picked an area at the junction of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, 14 miles upstream from Mount Vernon. 


A survey of the land, a “10-mile square” which had been ceded by Maryland and Virginia, (Virginia later reclaimed their portion in 1846, known as “retrocession”) was undertaken by Andrew Ellicott, with the help of Benjamin Banneker, a free black from Maryland, who was a self-taught mathematician and astronomer. Forty boundary stones, laid at one-mile intervals, established the boundaries based on Banneker’s celestial calculations. Most of the land consisted of floodplain, dense forest, and farmland. In order to speed development of the city, Washington convinced a number of local landholders to donate tracts of land for the new capital.


One of the main reasons for selecting this area was mostly because it was more difficult to reach, making it easier to defend. It was also part of the Residence Act to stake out a 10×10 mile square of land , district, to be appropriated to allow for defenses to be placed in the future. But it was not an easy decision. Politics is about compromise and so compromises were made between Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.

The C in DC, Columbia

When you hear “Columbia”, what do you think about? Is there a name that comes to mind? Indeed you would be right if you thought of Columbus. Before we became the ‘United States of America’, the future country was often referred to as Columbia ( the land discovered by Columbus). It is fitting that the name was repurposed and incorporated into the name of the new capital. Also, one the other city considered was also called ‘Columbia’ Pennsylvania.


Thus our nation’s capital would be located here and become a beacon for future travelers, and also the seat of the oldest democracy in the Western world.

Population: About 693,000 (2017)

Population of 65 and over: 12.3%

Average Age: 34.6

Motto: Justitia omnibus (Justice to all)

Flower: American Beauty rose

Tree: Scarlet oak

Bird: Wood thrush

Flag: Adopted in 1938. Design is based on the shield from George Washington’s family coat of arms

Previous US Capitals:

Philadelphia, New York City, Lancaster PA, York, PA, Trenton, Princeton NJ, Annapolis and Baltimore MD