George Washington and the Building of the Capitol

By Robert P. Watson on History News Network

The idea of a capital had been debated since the start of the war, but with little progress. For instance, the Continental Congress moved from one temporary capital to another. Needless to say, the inability to agree on a location from which to lead a revolution was a major embarrassment and nearly undermined the cause of liberty. In subsequent years, vote after vote failed to reach agreement about a site for the seat of government. Lacking a capital city, the new political experiment was a nation in name only. Therefore, the capital’s location and design would have important consequences not only for the host city’s economy, the future of slavery, and ability to govern, but perhaps most importantly, it would determine the type of nation the United States would become. In short, it would be the physical home of the new nation, but much more—the capital would be a laboratory for democracy.

After the long revolutionary struggle, General Washington was looking forward to domestic tranquility, but his work was not complete. Upset by the growing divisions, Washington would embrace an idea that would help strengthen the nation—a permanent capital city. Building an entirely new capital city, much less from “scratch” and out of the “wilderness,” was an undertaking fraught with difficulties. It was a novel and audacious, if not wholly unpractical plan. Yet, Washington had emerged from the Revolution as the nation’s most revered citizen. It was he—nearly as much as the vague and untested ideals of self-government and liberty—that inspired the people and held the divided country together. He would now need every bit of his considerable esteem for the task.

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Categories: History of the Early Republic, United States History

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