Friday, April 23, 2010

Why is Washington there?

On April 23, 1789, President-elect George Washington and his wife Martha moved into Franklin House in New York City, the first capital of the United States. A year-and-a-half later, in late 1790, the Washingtons moved to Philadelphia, which would remain the temporary capital of the nation for a decade.

Shortly before the Washingtons' move to Philadelphia, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal capital of ten square miles in size, the site of the capital to be determined by President Washington. Congress had been given the authority to establish a federal district as the "Seat of Government" under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Washington chose a location on the banks of the Potomac River within the borders of Maryland and Virginia.

The district was termed the "Territory of Columbia," and the city that comprised the capital itself was named "Washington" after the president. The city was built on the Maryland side of the Potomac River (the French architect Charles L'Enfant's 1792 design is pictured above). Eventually, Congress would return the land south of the Potomac to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Have your students research why George Washington chose the site on the Potomac River as the location of the nation's capital. Why did the Framers of the Constitution consider it important to designate federal land as the nation's capital instead of simply housing the capital in an existing city, like New York or Philadelphia?

1 comment:

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