Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States of America. Originally, the capital was in Philadelphia, PA, where the First and Second Continental Congress meetings were held to discuss and declare independence from England. After independence was won, the capital was still held in Philadelphia until 1783.
After the Revolutionary War, an angry group of veterans marched on the capital at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, demanding payment for services rendered in the Revolutionary War. The United States Congress requested that the governor of Pennsylvania call in militia to handle the situation. However, John Dickinson, the current governor of Pennsylvania, sympathized with the protestors and refused to send the militia against them. This resulted in Congress having to flee to New Jersey.
In 1787, Congress discussed this situation at a convention and agreed in Article One, Section 8, of the United States Constitution to give the Congress the power to enact legislation to cede land from states to be used as the seat of the federal government of the United States that would be independent from any of the states governments.
This spurred debate among various states in the East as to where the United States capital should be located. Northern and southern states vied for the capital to be held in one of their states. Many of the founding fathers discussed this and wrote papers on this topic. In Federalist No. 43, James Madison wrote that that the national capital needed to be distinct from the states, in order to provide for its own maintenance and safety.
The selection of the current location of Washington D.C. was eventually decided by James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton with an addition made by President George Washington who wanted the town of Alexandria included. Maryland and Virginia each passed legislation to cede land to the federal government for use as the federal capital. Washington D.C. came into being in September 1791, as “The Territory of Columbia,” and the Federal city “The City of Washington.”
George Washington had become the first President of the United States in 1789 and established not only many of the customs and usages of the new government’s executive department but also the social customs of the newly formed capital city.
War of 1812
During the War of 1812, the President, James Madison, and the U.S. Congressional members had to flee Washington D.C. along with their family and supporting staff in the face of British invasion. The evacuation was carried out between August 19 and August 29, 1814.
On August 24, 1814, British invaded the capital city and burned the most important public buildings, including the Presidential Mansion, the U.S. Capitol, the Arsenal, the Navy Yard, the Treasury Building, the War Office, and the bridge across the Potomac. Dolley Madison, the first lady at the time, is reputed to have saved the portrait of George Washington and many other documents before the British burned the White House. The British spared the Smithsonian Institution in the interest of higher learning and world knowledge and they spared the U.S. Marine Barracks in honor of the fighting spirit of the Marines. Very little private property was destroyed. A terrific wind storm occurred during the afternoon of the 25th, and fearing a surprise attack by reinforced troops in the resulting confusion the British withdrew that evening
Rebuilding Washington D.C.
With the Executive Mansion in ruins, President and Mrs. Madison took up temporary quarters in Colonel Taylor’s “Octagon House.” Congress convened in one of the remaining public buildings, the Post and Patent Office. In 1815 a structure which came to be known as the “Brick Capitol” was erected by private subscriptions on part of the site now occupied by the Supreme Court Building. Here Congress held its sessions from December 1815 to December 1819 while the original Capitol was being rebuilt.
James Monroe took the oath of office as President on March 4, 1817. By the end of 1817, Monroe and his family were installed in the newly rebuilt President’s House, and official society in Washington again assumed its stateliness and formality.
The vintage postcards of Washington D.C. on our site show what the capital city and buildings looked like in the early 1900s. It is much the same today and just as beautiful.