The History of Washington, D.C.

What state is Washington, D.C. in? Is it a part of Maryland? What about Virginia? West Virginia, maybe? The capital of the United States is near all of those, but it’s not actually IN any of them. Actually, it’s not in a state at all. Keep reading to find out more about Washington, D.C.

Why isn’t Washington, D.C. in a state?

Some people say the nation’s capital isn’t in a state because people didn’t want one state to have more power than any other state. However, this is not true. Philadelphia, PA (Pennsylvania) used to be the capital, but something happened in 1783 that made Congress want to move.

After the Revolutionary War, hundreds of soldiers went to Philadelphia to ask for payment for their work during the war. Congress ignored (didn’t pay attention to) them, so the soldiers barricaded (blocked/prevented from opening) the doors of Independence Hall and would not permit the members of Congress to leave. A man named Alexander Hamilton talked to the soldiers, and finally, the delegates (members of Congress) were allowed to leave and meet later to discuss the soldiers’ demands (strong requests).

Congress was scared of the soldiers, so they asked the state of Pennsylvania for protection. At that time, the federal government had no real control over the military during times of peace. The country mostly used state militias (military groups) to act as the army and the police. Pennsylvania didn’t think that their militia would fight against other soldiers to protect Congress, so when Congress asked for help, Pennsylvania said, “No.”

Congress had no choice. They had to flee (run away from) Pennsylvania and begin to make plans for a federal city that they could govern (rule/be in charge of) and protect. Six years later, when the Constitution went into effect, Congress was able to create a federal city where they could do their jobs safely.

By 1800, the city of Washington had been established, and Congress had started working there.

What does D.C. mean?

The Constitution says that Congress has the power “to exercise exclusive legislation” over a federal district. That means Congress can be in control of a federal district. Congress set up this district in 1791 along the Potomac River. It included the city of Washington, but the states of Maryland and Virginia also gave land to the federal district. The land that Maryland gave included the city of Georgetown, and the land that Virginia gave included the city of Alexandria. The territory also had two counties – the County of Alexandria to the west of the river, and the County of Washington to the east.

In 1846, the city of Alexandria wanted to return to Virginia, so Congress gave it back, and in 1871, the rest of the territory (Washington and Georgetown) was combined into a single city called the District of Columbia.

So the city we know as Washington, D.C. is actually not Washington at all. The federal city of Washington and the former Maryland city of Georgetown ceased (stopped) to exist in 1871 when they became one city – the District of Columbia. The official name of the nation’s capital is the District of Columbia, but we still call it Washintgon today. Also, the former city of Georgetown still exists, but it is only a historical neighborhood in the District of Columbia.