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The first DC political deal — establishing the District


Saturday marks the anniversary of the establishment of D.C. and its designation as the nation’s capital, and like any big-ticket deal in Washington ever since, the process involved a lot of haggling, and the role of the federal government was a hot topic. And, like anything that happened before the American Civil War, slavery was used as a bargaining chip.

Adam Rothman, a professor at Georgetown University, called the signing of the Residence Act (or, “An Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States,” if you’re fancy) on July 16, 1790, “an important step toward the construction of a permanent capital for the United States in the early republic.”

And in an era where travel was very much not at jet speed and communication was very much not instantaneous, setting the location of the nation’s capital settled “one of the central political questions of the era.”

The federal government had been seated in several places, including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Annapolis. That wasn’t working out very well, Rothman said, most notably in 1783, when Congress was “basically kicked out of Philadelphia” after a band of soldiers protested for back pay — and Pennsylvania didn’t […]

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