Washington, D.C., was founded on July 16th, 1790, and was unique in its founding in that the Constitution gave authority for the city to be founded. Washington, D.C., however, was not the first and only choice for the nation’s capitol. The city that was to be chosen had to be located on the Potomac River because of the issue of accessibility, making just a few cities up to the task of being selected to serve as the capitol. Two other cities also fell under consideration, Shephardstown, which is now in West Virginia, and Williamsport, which is now a part of Maryland. Both still show signs of their potential consideration, with their wide streets and strategic proximity to the Potomac River being tell-tale signs of a capitol in consideration. What is important to realize about Washington, D.C., is that it was one of many compromises that can be found in the American Constitution. Just like the Three-Fifths Compromise, it could easily be argued that the greatest divide after the American Revolution was the Southern slave states versus the more urbanized and industrial Northern states. In order to get the Southern states to sign on to the new nation being formed, the capitol was placed in a Southern state. This was also used as a way to get Southern states to come on board with the federal government taking over the administration of most state debt accrued during the American Revolution.
The first capitol was designed by Pierre L’Enfant, a French architect, who put the city on one of the first grid street systems in the United States, adopted up to this point in two other major cities, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Savannah, Georgia. Intersecting the city are its main streets, which are primarily named after states across the United States. This new city did not last more than a quarter century, however. During the War of 1812, where the British Empire attempted to reclaim what they believed to be rightfully theirs among other causes, the city was burnt to the ground, including the White House. The city has remained relatively small throughout much of its existence, and has granted back lands that were initially donated by the state of Virginia due to the lack of development in that sector of the city. Following the American Civil War, the city’s population exploded with an influx of newly freed slaves, and along with it, the city had reason to expand into the lands nearby that had not yet been developed. To this day, many descendants of these freed slaves still live in the region as a result of decreased economic opportunity in the area.
The city was granted existence in the Constitution under Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, which states that Congress has the legislative power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such 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”. This allows the citizens of the capitol to maintain residence, however it does not allow them the ability to self-govern. Up until 1973, Congress governed the capitol as though it were the state of the United States Government. In 1973, however, Congress allowed the citizens of the capitol to elect their own mayor, and also allowed them to have a non-voting member of both the Senate and the House. Only in 1964 did Washingtonians gain the right to vote in any election. While they may not have legislative equality, they have been on the forefront of developing a testing ground for new national policies, seeing as it is extremely diverse and faces similar problems to major cities around the nation. It has ventured paths and taken risks that deal with school voucher and choice programs, something that could see a national rise in the coming years, and in 2010 were the first territory or state of the United States to recognize same sex marriages.
Republicans and Democrats encounter a very clear divide when it comes to the governance of Washington, D.C. The most recent congressional debate over the issue of New Columbia, which is what the city would be named should it be granted statehood, occurred in 2014, where a bill originated in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, proposed by Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware. Republicans both in the House and Senate have expressed numerous concerns in the past, questioning the Constitutionality of the proposal. Arguably, the constitutional article, section and clause which give Congress control over the nation’s capital would have to be amended directly in order to allow New Columbian statehood. This is really the only possible argument against statehood for the District of Columbia, however there are some minor concerns over the amount of dependence the city has on Congress in order to gain funding for its projects and to perform basic city functions. Many have argued that the Capital and the Capitol Building are engaged in a symbiotic relationship, with one benefitting from being housed in the city while the other reaps the benefits of federal subsidization and funding. The other Constitutional argument against statehood would the Twenty Third amendment would have to be repealed in order to allow DC to become a state, as it states in the Amendment that the presidential electors, in reference to the electoral college, are to be designated “as though it were a state”, which directly implies that Washington, DC, is not intended to be a state, and thusly could not be a state without amending such an amendment to allow for the city to hold a referendum to become a state or submit a constitution and go through whatever processes are necessary as directed by Congress in order to become a state.
Arguments for statehood are much stronger. The president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Wade Henderson, was raised in Washington, D.C., and had much to say about the lack of Congressional representation for the city. He argued that the citizens of the city have served in the military, and participate in practically every aspect of the federal government, including paying taxes, which should give them the explicit right to have representation in Congress that would allow them to take part in their own governing. Several members of the D.C. city council and the mayor himself turned out to discuss the issue, arguing that it makes it extremely difficult to manage the city with the federal government looming over them, breathing down their necks, and having the ability to reverse decisions enacted by the city government. There were particular inadequacies that the city council of D.C. was attempting to reform in their criminal justice system, however, all measures proposed by the city would have to be approved by the Attorney General for the nation, making the red tape necessary to cut so outrageously difficult to conduct that it would have borne very little fruit and the negatives outweighed the positives.