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Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the Residence Act approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country's East Coast. As permitted by the U.S. Constitution, the District is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States Congress and is therefore not a part of any U.S. state.

The states of Maryland and Virginia each donated land to form the federal district, which included the preexisting settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria; however, Congress returned the Virginia portion in 1846. Named in honor of George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital. Congress created a single municipal government for the whole District of Columbia after the American Civil War.

Washington, D.C., had an estimated population of 632,323 in 2012, the 25th most populous place in the United States. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's population to more than one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of 5.7 million, the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the country.

The centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States are in the District, including the Congress, President, and Supreme Court. Washington is home to many national monuments and museums, which are primarily situated on or around the National Mall. The city hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit organizations, lobbying groups, and professional associations.

A locally elected mayor and 13-member council have governed the District since 1973; however, the Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. The District has a non-voting, at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1961, grants the District three electoral votes in presidential elections.
 History
Main article: History of Washington, D.C.

An Algonquian-speaking people known as the Nacotchtank inhabited the area around the Anacostia River when the first Europeans arrived in the 17th century.[3] However, the Nacotchtank people had largely relocated from the area by the early 18th century.[4]

In his "Federalist No. 43", published January 23, 1788, James Madison argued that the new federal government would need authority over a national capital to provide for its own maintenance and safety.[5] Five years earlier, a band of unpaid soldiers besieged Congress while its members were meeting in Philadelphia. Known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the event emphasized the need for the national government not to rely on any state for its own security.[6]

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution therefore permits the establishment of a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States."[7] However, the Constitution does not specify a location for the capital. In what is now known as the Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson came to an agreement that the federal government would pay each state's remaining Revolutionary War debts in exchange for establishing the new national capital in the Southern United States.[8][a]
Foundation
The U.S. Capitol after the burning of Washington during the War of 1812

On July 9, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River. The exact location was to be selected by President George Washington, who signed the bill into law on July 16. Formed from land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, the initial shape of the federal district was a square measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2).[9][b]

Two preexisting settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown, Maryland, founded in 1751,[10] and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749.[11] During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants, including a free African American astronomer named Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the borders of the federal district and placed boundary stones at every mile point.[12] Many of the stones are still standing.[13]

A new "federal city" was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac, to the east of Georgetown. On September 9, 1791, the three commissioners overseeing the capital's construction named the city in honor of President Washington. The federal district was named Columbia, which was a poetic name for the United States commonly in use at that time.[14][15] Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.[16]

Congress passed the Organic Act of 1801, which officially organized the District and placed the entire territory under the exclusive control of the federal government. Further, the unincorporated area within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west.[17] After the passage of this Act, citizens living in the District were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, which therefore ended their representation in Congress.[18]
Ford's Theatre in the 19th century, site of the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln

On August 24–25, 1814, in a raid known as the Burning of Washington, British forces invaded the capital during the War of 1812. The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack.[19] Most government buildings were repaired quickly; however, the Capitol was largely under construction at the time and was not completed in its current form until 1868.[20]
Retrocession and the Civil War
See also: District of Columbia retrocession and Washington, D.C. in the American Civil War

In the 1830s, the District's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress.[21] Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade and residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the District, further depressing the economy. Alexandrians petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the District; a process known as retrocession.[22]

The state legislature voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria and on July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that had been ceded by Virginia. Therefore, the District's current area consists only of land donated by Maryland.[21] Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, although not slavery itself.[23]

The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to notable growth in the District's population due to the expansion of the federal government and a large influx of freed slaves.[24] President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862, which ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.[25] In 1868, Congress granted the District's African American male residents the right to vote in municipal elections.[24]
Growth and redevelopment
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool during the 1963 March on Washington

By 1870, the District's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents.[26] Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation. Some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to consider such a proposal.[27]

Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and a created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia.[28] President Grant appointed Alexander Robey Shepherd to the position of governor in 1873. Shepherd authorized large-scale projects that greatly modernized Washington, but ultimately bankrupted the District government. In 1874, Congress replaced the territorial government with an appointed three-member Board of Commissioners.[29]

The city's first motorized streetcars began service in 1888 and generated growth in areas of the District beyond the City of Washington's original boundaries. Washington's urban plan was expanded throughout the District in the following decades.[30] Georgetown was formally annexed by the City of Washington in 1895.[31] However, the city had poor housing conditions and strained public works. Washington was the first city in the nation to undergo urban renewal projects as part of the "City Beautiful movement" in the early 1900s.[32]

Increased federal spending as a result of the New Deal in the 1930s led to the construction of new government buildings, memorials, and museums in Washington.[33] World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital;[34] by 1950, the District's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents.[26]
Civil rights and home rule

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1961, granting the District three votes in the Electoral College for the election of president and vice president, but still no voting representation in Congress.[35]

After the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in the District, primarily in the U Street, 14th Street, 7th Street, and H Street corridors, centers of black residential and commercial areas. The riots raged for three days until more than 13,600 federal troops stopped the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not completed until the late 1990s.[36]

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and 13-member council for the District.[37] In 1975, Walter Washington became the first elected and first black mayor of the District.[38]

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed the plane into the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia. United Airlines Flight 93, believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers tried to recover control of the plane from hijackers.[39][40]
Geography
Main article: Geography of Washington, D.C.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal passes through the Georgetown neighborhood.

Washington, D.C., is located in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. East Coast. Due to the District of Columbia retrocession, the city has a total area of 68.3 square miles (177 km2), of which 61.4 square miles (159 km2) is land and 6.9 square miles (18 km2) (10.16%) is water.[41] The District is bordered by Montgomery County, Maryland to the northwest; Prince George's County, Maryland to the east; and Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia to the south and west.

The Potomac River forms the District's border with Virginia and has two major tributaries: the Anacostia River and Rock Creek.[42] Tiber Creek, a natural watercourse that once passed through the National Mall, was fully enclosed underground during the 1870s.[43] The creek also formed a portion of the now-filled Washington City Canal, which allowed passage through the city to the Anacostia River from 1815 until the 1850s.[44] The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal starts in Georgetown and was used during the 19th century to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac River, located upstream (northwest) of Washington at the Atlantic Seaboard fall line.[45]

The highest natural elevation in the District is 409 feet (125 m) above sea level at Fort Reno Park in upper northwest Washington.[46] The lowest point is sea level at the Potomac River.[47] The geographic center of Washington is near the intersection of 4th and L Streets NW.[48] Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on a reclaimed swamp, but wetlands did cover areas along the water.[49][50]

The District has 7,464 acres (30.21 km2) of parkland, about 19% of the city's total area and the second-highest percentage among high-density U.S. cities.[51] The National Park Service manages most of the 9,122 acres (36.92 km2) of city land owned by the U.S. government.[52] Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre (7.10 km2) urban forest in Northwest Washington, which extends 9.3 miles (15.0 km) through a stream valley that bisects the city. Established in 1890, it is the country's fourth-oldest national park and is home to a variety of plant and animal species including raccoon, deer, owls, and coyotes.[53] Other National Park Service properties include the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall and Memorial Parks, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Columbia Island, Fort Dupont Park, Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Anacostia Park.[54] The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation maintains the city's 900 acres (3.6 km2) of athletic fields and playgrounds, 40 swimming pools, and 68 recreation centers.[55] The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates the 446-acre (1.80 km2) U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast Washington.[56]
Climate
See also: List of Maryland hurricanes (1980–present) and List of Washington, D.C. tornadoes
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated around the city each spring.

Washington is in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen: Cfa) and exhibits four distinct seasons.[57] Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. The District is in plant hardiness zone 8a near downtown, and zone 7b elsewhere in the city, indicating a temperate climate.[58]

Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 15.5 inches (39 cm). Winter temperatures average around 38 °F (3.3 °C) from mid-December to mid-February.[59] Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 79.8 °F (26.6 °C) and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause moderate personal discomfort.[59][60] The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.[61]

Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast.[62] Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, but are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location.[63] Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.[64]

The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918,[65] while the lowest recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899.[59][62] During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 90 °F (32.2 °C) and 64 nights at or below freezing.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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