Washington, DC (history)

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Washington, DC was selected as the site of the national capital city after a sit-down dinner deal between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson agreed to support Hamilton's banking and federal bond plans in exchange for the choice of a Southern locale for the capital. It was initially 100 mi² (260 km²).

The signing of the Residence Bill on July 16, 1790 established a site along the Potomac River as the District of Columbia (seat of government) of the United States. Land for the district was given to the federal government by the states of Virginia and Maryland and the city was named after George Washington. On February 27, 1801 the district was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Congress. The towns of Georgetown and Alexandria already existed at the time the district was founded; the remainder of the territory was subdivided into Washington City and Washington County (on the Maryland side of the Potomac) and Alexandria County (on the Virginia side). By an act of Congress, the area south of the Potomac (39 mi² or about 100 km²) was returned to Virginia on July 9, 1846 and now is incorporated into Arlington County and a part of the City of Alexandria. In 1871, Georgetown, Washington City and Washington County were unified into Washington, DC.

On August 24, 1814, British forces burnt the capital during the most notable destructive raid of the War of 1812. British forces burned public buildings including the Capitol, the Arsenal, the Dock-Yard, Treasury, War office, and the bridge across the Potomac. The Presidential Mansion was also gutted, and the white paint subsequently used to disguise the blackened exterior walls, meant it became known as the White House.

President James Madison was forced to flee to Virginia and American morale was reduced to an all-time low. The expedition was carried out between August 19 and August 29, 1814, and was well organized and vigorously executed. On the 24th, the American militia, who had collected at Bladensburg, Maryland, to protect the capital, fled almost before they were attacked.

President Herbert Hoover ordered the United States Army on July 28, 1932 to forcibly evict the "Bonus Army" of World War I veterans that gathered in Washington, DC to secure promised veteran's benefits early. U.S. troops dispersed the last of the "Bonus Army" the next day.

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on March 29, 1961 which allows residents of Washington, DC to vote for president and have their votes count in the Electoral College the same as the least populous state, which currently has three electoral votes.

The first 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) of the Washington Metro subway system opened on March 27, 1976.

Walter Washington became the first elected mayor of the District in 1974, but was defeated in the Democratic primaries in 1978 by Marion Barry. During his third term, Barry was arrested for drug use in an FBI sting on January 18, 1990. He was acquitted of felony charges, but convicted on one misdemeanor count of cocaine possession for which he served a six-month jail term. On January 2, 1991 Sharon Pratt Kelly (elected as Sharon Pratt Dixon but married later that year) was sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC becoming the first black woman to lead a city of that size and importance in the United States. After her term ended in 1994, Marion Barry was once again elected mayor for his fourth term, during which the city nearly became insolvent and was forced to give up some home rule to a congressionally appointed financial control board. The current mayor, Anthony Williams, a Yale educated lawyer, served as Chief Financial Officer on the control board, and was elected mayor in 1998. He was reelected in 2002. See List of mayors of Washington, D.C.

The Washington area was the target of at least one of the four hijacked planes in the September 11, 2001 attacks. One plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington County, killing 125 people in addition to the 64 aboard the plane, while another that was downed in a field in Pennsylvania is believed by many to have been intended to hit either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

Shortly after September 11, Washington was once more subject to fear from an anthrax attack, when what may have been a domestic terrorist sent anthrax-contaminated mail to numerous members of Congress. Thirty-one staff members were infected, and two U.S. Postal Service employees at a contaminated mail sorting facility at Brentwood, Washington, DC, later died of pulmonary anthrax.

During three weeks of October 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo perpetrated what became known as the Beltway Sniper attacks in Washington and across the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. Muhammad and Malvo killed ten people and critically injured three others with a high-powered rifle. The apparently random selection of victims (crossing racial, gender, and socioeconomic categories) caused a general panic in the Washington area and led schools to cancel all outdoor activities. Muhammad and Malvo were arrested on October 24 at a highway rest stop. In March 2004, Muhammad was sentenced to death and Malvo to life imprisonment for the attacks.

In November of 2003, the toxin ricin was found in the mailroom of the White House, and in February of 2004, in the mailroom of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As with the earlier anthrax attacks, no arrests have been made.

Partly in response to these events from the past few years, the Washington area has taken many steps to increase security. Screening devices for biological agents, metal detectors, and vehicle barriers are now much more commonplace at office buildings as well as government buildings. After the 2004 Madrid train bombings, local authorities have decided to test explosives detectors on the vulnerable Washington Metro subway system. False alarms due to suspicious chemical or powder substances or suspected explosives have led to fairly frequent evacuations of buildings, Metro stations, and local post offices. Vehicle inspections at several roadblocks set up around the U.S. Capitol building were introduced in July 2004, but were removed in November 2004.

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Written and Composed by Cheryl Lynn Bartel, 141 Madeira Av., Madeira Beach, Fl., 33708-2015

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