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Who helped lay out the District of Columbia?

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05/05/2008

History

The location of the national capital was born out of a political compromise between the northern and southern states after the United States had achieved its independence. The South feared that the North would have too much influence if the capital were placed in a northern city. The North demanded federal assistance in paying its Revolutionary War debt, something the South was strongly against. Alexander Hamilton initiated a compromise whereby the federal government would pay off the war debt in return for locating the capital between the states of Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River.

In 1800 Virginia and Maryland ceded portions of land to the federal government. The citizens living in the new capital were required to give up all the political rights they had enjoyed as inhabitants of Maryland and Virginia. In return, Congress, which had exclusive power over the district, would allow them some form of self-government. In 1802 Congress called for an appointed mayor and an elected council in the district. By 1820 the election of the mayor was also permitted.

This form of representative government lasted in the district until 1874, when Congress abolished the citizens' right to vote for their local officials and established a three-person board of commissioners appointed by the president. For over one hundred years, the residents of the District of Columbia were denied the democratic right to elected local representation.

Although residents of the district had always been required to pay federal income tax and serve in the military, their right to vote in presidential elections had been denied until the 1961 passage of the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment granted the district a number of votes in the electoral college, not to exceed the number given to the least populous state.

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