History of Washington DC

By  Published Sep 29th, 2016

While you may have been taught in history class that Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant planned the city of Washington D.C., the truth is not quite so simple if you dare to step back in time to June 1783. Congress was meeting in Philadelphia when men, who were angry about not receiving their pay for services performed during the Revolutionary War, broke into the meeting happening in the historical Independence Hall. Congress demanded that Governor John Dickerson use his militia to have the men removed. He refused and Congress was ultimately sent packing.

The site of Washington D.C. was chosen because it lay between at the southern tip of the northern states who did not want slavery and the northern tip of southern states that did want slavery. Keep in mind that the Civil War was still many years away. Both Virginia and Maryland ceded land to the nearly broke government for a 10 mile capitol called the District of Columbia as outlined in the Article One, Section 8, of the United States Constitution.

Ben Franklin did significant work behind the scenes to draw up a plan for the District of Columbia based on what he thought the government could afford at the time. Meanwhile, George Washington appointed L'Enfant to draw up plans for the city. L’Enfant presented a grand scheme back to Washington and the committee that was to plan the new city. Andrew Ellicott and his brother Benjamin claimed that L’Enfant had broken the law by failing to have his plan engraved and refusing to show them a copy of it. Somehow, the Ellicott brothers had gotten hold of the historic map and had changed it to suit their own desires removing many of the more elaborate things that L’Enfant had envisioned including a canal to run around the city. About a week later, Washington was forced to fire L’Enfant who was never paid for his famous work.

The seat of government was finally moved to Washington D.C. in 1800. It would take another two years before the city was allowed to have a mayor or any council members. The city originally included Alexandria, Virginia, but residents there became extremely unhappy because it was against the law for federal offices to be located in this area greatly hindering the economy while residents could not vote for government leaders at any level.