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Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia
Top left: Healy Hall at Georgetown University; top right: U.S. Capitol; middle: Washington Monument; bottom left: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; bottom right: African American Civil War Memorial
Flag of Washington, D.C. Official seal of Washington, D.C.
Seal
Motto(s): 
Justitia Omnibus  (Justice for All)
Location of Washington, D.C., in the United States and in relation to the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Location of Washington, D.C., in the United States and in relation to the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Country United States
Federal district District of Columbia
Approved July 16, 1790
Organized 1801
Consolidated 1871
Granted limited self-government 1973
Named for George Washington
Area
 • Federal district 68.3 sq mi (177.0 km2)
 • Land 61.4 sq mi (159.0 km2)
 • Water 6.9 sq mi (18.0 km2)
Elevation
0–409 ft (0–125 m)
Population
 (2011 estimate)
 • Federal district 617,996 (24th in U.S.)
 • Density 10,065/sq mi (3,886/km2)
 • Metro
5.58 million (7th in U.S.)
 • Demonym
Washingtonian
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code(s)
20001-20098, 20201-20599
Area code(s) 202
Website www.dc.gov

Washington, D.C. is the capital city of the United States. It is not a state or in a state. The President of the United States and many major national government offices are in the city. Thus, it is the political center of the United States.

Washington was named after the first U.S. President, George Washington. The "D.C." stands for "District of Columbia", a special area created that is not a state. At first, it was made up of a piece from Virginia south of the Potomac River and a piece from Maryland north of the Potomac River. In 1847, Virginia's piece was returned to it, and is now Arlington County and part of the city of Alexandria. Since 1847, all of Washington D.C. is on the north side of the Potomac River. Washington, D.C. used to have other small towns that used "D.C.". These include Georgetown, D.C. and Alexandria, D.C.

Since 1800, Washington D.C. is the home of all three branches of the U.S. government: Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. All of the major political parties are based here. It is also the home of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organization of American States (OAS). Because it is the home of the President and is important to American politics, many groups hold large demonstrations and protests. These are often on the National Mall, a large open park that has many monuments and museums. Washington D.C.'s many museums and monuments make it a popular place for tourists to visit.

Washington D.C. is called many things by many different people. It can be called D.C., The District of Columbia, The District, or sometimes just Washington. This can be confusing because there is also a U.S. state called Washington. To help with the confusion, sometimes the state of Washington is called "Washington State". In 2005, the United States Census Bureau said that about 582,049 people live in the District of Columbia.

History

Various tribes of the Algonquian-speaking Piscataway people (also known as the Conoy) inhabited the lands around the Potomac River when Europeans first visited the area in the early 17th century. One group known as the Nacotchtank (also called the Nacostines by Catholic missionaries) maintained settlements around the Anacostia River within the present-day District of Columbia. Conflicts with European colonists and neighboring tribes forced the relocation of the Piscataway people, some of whom established a new settlement in 1699 near Point of Rocks, Maryland.

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. Five years earlier, a band of unpaid soldiers had 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.

Article One, Section Eight, of the Constitution 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". 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 agreed 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.

Foundation

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 (259 km2).

Two pre-existing settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown, Maryland, founded in 1751, and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749. During 1791–92, a team under Andrew Ellicott, including Ellicott's brothers Joseph and Benjamin and African-American astronomer Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the borders of the federal district and placed boundary stones at every mile point. Many of the stones are still standing.

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 same day, the federal district was named Columbia (a feminine form of "Columbus"), which was a poetic name for the United States commonly in use at that time. Congress held its first session there on November 17, 1800.

Congress passed the District of Columbia 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. 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.

Burning during the War of 1812

British Burning Washington
Following their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington, D.C., burning down buildings, including the White House.

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. 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.

Retrocession and the Civil War

LincolnInauguration1861a
President Abraham Lincoln insisted that construction of the United States Capitol dome continue during the American Civil War (1861).

In the 1830s, the district's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress. The city of Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade, and pro-slavery residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the district, further depressing the economy. Alexandria's citizens petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the district, through a process known as retrocession.

The Virginia General Assembly voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria. On July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that Virginia had ceded. Therefore, the district's area consists only of the portion originally donated by Maryland. Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the district, although not slavery itself.

The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to the expansion of the federal government and notable growth in the district's population, including a large influx of freed slaves. 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. In 1868, Congress granted the district's African American male residents the right to vote in municipal elections.

Growth and redevelopment

By 1870, the district's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents. 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.

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

The city's first motorized streetcars began service in 1888. They 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. Georgetown's street grid and other administrative details were formally merged to those of the legal City of Washington in 1895. However, the city had poor housing conditions and strained public works. The district was the first city in the nation to undergo urban renewal projects as part of the "City Beautiful movement" in the early 1900s.

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 the district.

World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital; by 1950, the district's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents.

Civil rights and home rule era

March on Washington edit
Crowds surrounding the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool during the March on Washington, 1963

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.

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 and D.C. Army National Guardsmen stopped the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not completed until the late 1990s.

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

City Design

L'Enfant plan
L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C., as revised by Andrew Ellicott (1792)

Washington, D.C. was planned before it was built. Pierre L'Enfant drew a plan for the city that said where all the streets, parks, and important buildings would be. Unlike most U.S. cities, D.C. has many roundabouts or traffic circles. The city was supposed to have long and wide avenues, and many open spaces for monuments and parks. The National M

Representation

Local Government

Washington, D.C. is not a state, and its citizens have less control over their city than most Americans. While D.C. has an elected mayor and a city council since 1973, the U.S. Congress controls the local government and can overturn or get rid of any local laws. Congress and the people of D.C. often do not agree on what is best.

In Congress

The license plates on the cars in Washington D.C. say "Taxation Without Representation." This is a protest from people who live in Washington, D.C. about having to pay taxes to the United States without having a vote in the United States House of Representatives. It resembles the protest made by colonists before the American Revolution about having to pay taxes to England. Some people are against letting Washington, D.C. have a Congressman or Congresswoman because the Constitution only allows states to have Congressman or Congresswomen. Other people are against it because Washington, D.C. government is almost completely Democratic Party controlled.

Culture

Performing arts and music

Kennedy Center at Sunset
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is along the Potomac River.

Washington, D.C. is the center of the nation for its arts. The National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Washington Ballet are all inside the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center Honors are given every year to the people who have greatly helped the cultural life of the United States. The President and First Lady usually go to the Honors ceremony.

Transportation

WMATA metro center crossvault
Metro Center is the transfer station for the Red, Orange, and Blue Metrorail lines.

According to a 2010 study, Washington-area commuters spent 70 hours a year in traffic delays, which tied with Chicago for having the nation's worst road congestion. However, 37% of Washington-area commuters take public transportation to work, the second-highest rate in the country. An additional 12% of D.C. commuters walked to work, 6% carpooled, and 3% traveled by bicycle in 2010.

Washington has very few freeways. The funds that had been dedicated for freeway construction were instead redirected to the region's public transportation infrastructure. The interstate highways that do continue into Washington, including Interstate 66 and Interstate 395, both terminate shortly upon entering the city.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the Washington Metro, the city's rapid transit system, as well as Metrobus. Both systems serve the District and its suburbs. Metro opened on March 27, 1976 and presently consists of 86 stations and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track. With an average of about one million trips each weekday, Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country, after the New York City Subway. Metrobus serves over 400,000 riders each weekday, making it the nation's sixth-largest bus system. The city also operates its own DC Circulator bus system, which connects commercial areas within central Washington.

Union Station and Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain
Union Station is a transportation hub for passengers on Amtrak, commuter rail lines, and the Washington Metro.

Union Station is the main train station in Washington, D.C., and handles about 70,000 people each day. It is Amtrak's second-busiest station with 4.6 million passengers annually and serves as the southern terminus for the Northeast Corridor and Acela Express routes. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station. Expansion plans announced in 2011 will make Union Station the city's primary intercity bus transit center. A new streetcar system will open in 2016.

Three major airports serve The District. The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is across from downtown Washington in Arlington, Virginia and has its own Metrorail station. Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, 26.3 miles (42.3 km) west of the District in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Dulles will have a Metrorail station in 2016. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is 31.7 miles (51.0 km) northeast of the District in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

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