The United States of America is one of the largest countries in the world, but it even has a single city that functions as its capital. That city is Washington, not to be confused with the state of the same name, which lies on the northwest coast of the country. To avoid this confusion, the capital is often referred to as “Washington, D.C.”
This is because the capital is located in a special area on the northeast coast of the country, known as “The District of Columbia”. While not an official state, it is often treated in a very similar manner. The district is technically its own territory and has its own jurisdiction as the federal seat of power for the country.
Washington lies specifically along the Potomac River, with the state of Virginia bordering its southwest and the state of Maryland sharing all of the other sides.
Brief History of Washington, D.C.
The District of Columbia came into being in 1801, thanks to territory from both Virginia and Maryland being officially ceded to the federal government. The explicit purpose of this territory was to create a federal district that would include a new national capital for the young country.
The district was officially formed by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, which also granted the territory its own marshals and judges. The original territory was 100 square miles (259 km) in scope. This area had two cities within it: Alexandria, which had previously belonged to Virginia, Georgetown, formerly belonging to Maryland.
The third city, being Washington itself, was deliberately planned to lie in the center of the territory. Despite the city itself only being chartered in 1802, the White House and Capitol building had already been completed by 1800, and were already in use.
Due to heightening tensions over the slave trade, the county of Alexandria was returned to Virginia in 1847, at the state’s request. This left three separate governing bodies (Port of Georgetown, the City of Washington, and Washington County) in the district until 1871, which dissolved the separate entities and made D.C. one governing entity.
Because of this, there is no distinction between “Washington” and “D.C.” now. They are considered synonymous.
Why is Washington, D.C. the Capital of the USA?
There are many reasons why the location of Washington, D.C. was chosen to serve as the nation’s capital. The city was built with intent, since it was purpose-built to serve as the federal capital. Perhaps one of the most important reasons the location was selected was to serve as a compromise between the South and the North.
Despite banding together to secure independence from the British Empire, the various states at the time were far from unified, and were even at odds in many areas of politics. Slavery was still acceptable at the time in many states, which heavily influenced a desire for the federal capital to be geographically close to both the North and South.
In 1790, Congress had determined that they wanted the capital to be along the Potomac, specifically between the Anacostia River and what is Williamsport, Maryland today. But the exact location had yet to be determined at that time.
Virginia requested for the capital to be in their territory, but Pennsylvania and New York, which had previously housed the country’s capital city, voted against it. In order to compromise, territory within Maryland was selected to house Washington instead. Not only was Maryland roughly in the center of the country at the time, but it was a slave state as well.
Ultimately, the exact location of the city was left up to the first president, George Washington. He was intimately familiar with the land in that area, since he owned land at Mt. Vernon, in nearby Virginia. It fell to him to choose the location Washington, D.C. is located in today, though he had to abide by the other criteria mentioned above.
Best Places to Visit in Washington, D.C.
Being a young country, the USA doesn’t have the same impressive age to its name. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of noteworthy places to visit in its capital city. There are several monuments there that serve as excellent tourist locations if you are visiting. There’s something for everyone!
The National Mall
Note, this is not an actual mall, but rather a two-mile stretch between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial. Not only is it an incredibly scenic route to walk, but there are several monuments to visit in this small area, from the aforementioned options to various war memorials honoring those who sacrificed their lives for their country.
You will also find the iconic reflecting pool here, along with the unmistakable visage of the Washington monument. Also available for your enjoyment are a variety of different gardens, including the Butterfly Habitat Gardens. Finally, there are many Smithsonian museums within The National Mall, many of which are free to enter!
The Capitol Building
Not to be confused with the White House, the capitol building is one of the most iconic structures in America. One might think that it would be impossible to access, but you can actually join a free tour of the building, appreciating all of its sublime architecture. If Congress is in session, you may even acquire a pass to sit in and watch!
Rock Creek Park
Washington, D.C. has many architectural attractions, but it has beautiful nature areas as well, such as Rock Creek Park, the third national park to ever be established in the country. Of course, there are many walking trails across this 1,754-acre park bordering Maryland, but it has far more to do than that.
It also offers a golf course, an equestrian center, a museum, sporting facilities, several play areas, a planetarium, and a few monuments. Needless to say, it is one of the most popular national parks in the area, and absolutely worth a visit while you are visiting Washington, D.C.