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Washington D.C. has a unique place in American history. Now home to the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and a number of museums, it's not a stretch to say that Washington is where the nation's history goes to rest.
In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act which set the capital of the new nation in what then was considered to be the South, in exchange for the Federal government's assumption of the Northern states' war debt. The legislation was not widely supported, however. It squeeked through the Senate by only two votes, and narrowly squeezed through the House of Representatives by only two votes. Had only one Senator or Congressman switched sides, you might be visiting the US Capitol building in Philadelphia or New York City instead of in Washington DC!
Now, we have a blend of what JFK fondly described as "a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm."
Pennsylvania was opposed to the D.C. site, rather wanting Philadelphia or Trenton, N.J. Their vote was gathered, however, when they were promised that the main street in D. C. would be named Pennsylvania Ave.
he ten mile square was located near the Potomac River, and for a long time the city was little more than a glorified swamp. Pierre L'Enfant was given the task of designing the new city, and his plans continue to shape the city today- his letter and number grid plan with state-named diagonal streets are a lasting legacy that makes figuring out DC easier than almost any other city in the world.
In 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was founded by a man who had never even been to America! Fires burned the entire patent collection and 2/3 of the Library of Congress in the 1800's, and the C&O canal is completed just in time to be made obsolete by railroads. The Washington Monument was started, then stopped again due to lack of funds- it took almost 40 years to complete, before opening in 1885. The Lincoln Memorial, by contrast, took about 8 years, and opened in 1922.
Washington was the first major city to integrate its schools. It was home to many of the most famous speeches ever delivered (including Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream"), and one of the most infamous scandals (Watergate). From the Senate to the Capitol to the Exorcist steps of Georgetown and the IMF and World Bank riots- D.C. continues to be a center of world news and history.