Ever Wonder Why Washington, DC is part of a square… resting on a point?

What happened to the rest of the square?DC map.jpg

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Legislation was passed in 1790 to establish the new national capital on the Potomac River at a site to be determined by Washington. Land would be taken from both Maryland and Virginia to form the capital city. (To learn why the capital was to be on the Potomac River, see a previous post  Ever Wonder Why The U.S. National Capital is Located Where It Is). The new national capital was to be a square of 10 miles on a side – 100 square miles. Washington understood that commerce was going to be important to the new capital city and he wanted to include the 3 major seaports of the Potomac River:

  •  Alexandria, VA – in 1790 the largest port between Philadelphia and Charleston and then an independent city founded in 1749.
  •  Georgetown – the farthest upriver that ocean-going vessels could travel. Also an independent city founded in 1751.
  •  Bladensburg, MD – located on the Eastern Branch of the Potomac (now the Anacostia River) and was an important seaport for Maryland shipping and commerce.

In order to include all 3 of those ports in a square 10 miles on a side…the square had to be turned to include Alexandria at the lower tip… Georgetown in the left side and just snag Bladensburg on the upper right side. Land was ceded from Maryland and Virginia to the U.S. Government to form the new capital city.

As you contemplate the map and those 3 points, keep in mind that surveying in 1790 was not a totally precise process and there were no detailed accurate maps to layout that 10×10 mile square.

So what happened to the rest of the square?

By the 1840s there had been very little economic growth in the portion taken from Virginia; almost all of the commercial development was north of the Potomac River.

In 1844, the Commonwealth of Virginia petitioned Congress to return that portion taken in 1790.

Congress did so in 1846. Arlington County was formed along the nice straight linesDC map 1 surveyed in 1790 and Alexandria re-established its original boundary lines (not all of Alexandria became part of the capital city).

Here ends the history lesson!!

Now you indeed have some wise comments to make at the next event you attend!

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Ever Wonder Why The U.S. Capital Is Where It Is?

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.

474px-Alexander_Hamilton_by_John_Trumbull_1832.jpg

Hamilton

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!

DC map.jpgLegislation 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!

Follow me on Twitter for notices of these posts.

For jobs and career opportunities in the Washington, DC metro area –  visit the NRI website. Many jobs are listed there …..and NRI Recruiters can find others for you!

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Copyright © Robert Mulberger All Rights Reserved