Like a lot of politics…it was the result of a “deal”!!
Flash back to the early days of the republic… the new national government was saddled with immense debt from the revolutionary war as were the states. By the late 1780s, some states – notably the southern states of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina had paid off their debt while others such as Massachusetts and South Carolina had not. At the same time the debate was going on as to where to locate the national capital…. New York, Boston and Philadelphia were the largest cities in the country – centers of banking, law and commerce – and each wanted to be the national capital.
Enter Alexander Hamilton (of $10 bill fame), Secretary of the Treasury. To establish credit for the new nation, Hamilton proposed to restructure the revolutionary war debt and at the same time for the federal government to assume the revolutionary war debt of the states. Assuming the state’s unpaid debts would assure their creditors that they would be paid. Hamilton’s plan was opposed by Jefferson and Madison; Jefferson on the grounds that it was not fair to those states that had paid off their debt (such as his native Virginia!). To ask Virginia, Maryland, etc. taxpayers to pay off the debt of those states that still had revolutionary war debt was not right! Madison and others opposed it on the basis that the new Constitution didn’t contemplate such actions.Hamilton’s plan was achieved by a “deal”; Hamilton would campaign among his northern political allies for the national capital to be located on the Potomac River (the boundary between Maryland and Virginia). Jefferson and Madison lobbied their southern peers to back Hamilton’s plan, including the federal government assuming the unpaid revolutionary war debt of the states. Virginia and Maryland essentially saying “we will help pay off your debt…but we get the capital”! The deal was cut!
Legislation was passed on July 16, 1790 to establish the national capital on the Potomac River somewhere between Hagerstown, MD and Alexandria, Virginia – the decision of exactly where to be left to discretion of the new President (and former surveyor) George Washington.
Now you know why the national capital is where it is!!Stay tuned to see why it is shaped the way it is!
Knowledge – always be seeking it!
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