From monumental mishaps (literally) to unusual voting laws, our nation’s capital has a strange history. And with a bill to make it a state passing the House of Representatives for the first time in 2020, there's more change ahead.
The 51st State?
There’s a lot more to Washington, D.C. than monuments and cherry blossoms, and we mean a lot more. Washington, D.C. has more residents than some states: With 706,000 residents, it’s more populous than both Wyoming and Vermont. This is just one of the reasons its residents and representatives are pushing harder than ever for it to become a state. In June 2020, the House of Representatives passed a bill for the first time to make D.C. a state—and while it likely won’t pass the Senate, it’s still a major milestone. Shop our Washington DC collectibles collection.
DC's statehood was prohibited by the Constitution
When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they didn’t want a single state to have the disproportionate power that they believed the capital would have. So they specifically wrote in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution that the seat of government would be a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress. Both Virginia and Maryland gave up land to form the district, and it’s “southern” location was a compromise—the Compromise of 1790, wherein the federal government assumed the states’ debt remaining from the Revolutionary war. States like Maryland and Virginia had already paid off their debts and were reluctant to be taxed to help reduce the debts of other states, so the location of the capital was a bargaining chip. Shop our Constitution products here.
The government buildings actually won’t be part of the state
If you don’t live in or near D.C., the monuments, National Mall, and government buildings are probably what come to mind when you think of the District. But Should D.C. become a state, those things wouldn’t be part of the deal. Per the recent statehood bill, H.R. 51, the federal buildings that are the most “visible” part of D.C. (like the White House and Capitol building) will be considered their own “capital district,” and not be part of any state. It’s the rest of D.C.’s 68.3 square miles that would actually be the state. Shop our Washington DC monument collectibles.
The district is only partly named for the first president
Originally, in 1791, George Washington chose 100 square miles of land in Maryland and Virginia to be the site of the nation’s capital. However 31 of those miles were returned to Virginia in 1847, which is why D.C. today is about one-third smaller. The district was named Columbia—which had been a nickname for America during the Revolutionary War, in honor of Christopher Columbus—and the new federal city added to the territory was called Washington, for, yes, George. Georgetown and Alexandria were also cities included in the district. Shop our top 3 George Washington products.
D.C. could be getting a long-overdue name change
Reflecting modern-era public consciousness, the current bill proposing statehood for D.C. includes a name change. It will still be called Washington, D.C., but the D.C. will stand for “Douglass Commonwealth,” paying tribute to the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who spent much of his life in the district. The name change would continue the trend of controversial monuments and places being renamed or removed.
George Washington never lived there
Turns out our first president never resided in D.C.—one of the many George Washington facts you never learned in school. Washington died before the White House was finished, though he did lay its cornerstone on October 13, 1792. John Adams was the first president to live in our country’s capital.
On top of the Capitol building…
There’s a bronze statue called the Statue of Freedom topping the Capital building. It may seem small from far away, but it’s more than 19 feet tall and weighs around 15,000 pounds. It depicts a woman wearing a headdress in the shape of an eagle’s head, feathers and all.Shop our Capital Building collectibles.
There’s a crypt under the U.S. Capitol
George Washington was supposed to be buried in a crypt under the U.S. Capital, but he preferred to be laid to rest at his home in Mount Vernon. So the U.S. Capitol is home to an empty crypt.
If you live in D.C., your voting rights are fairly new
Before 1961, residents of Washington, D.C. couldn’t vote in presidential elections because of the Electoral College. The number of electoral votes each state gets depends on how many senators and members of the House of Representatives it has. As D.C. isn’t a state, it has no voting representatives in Congress, so for years D.C. residents couldn’t take part in elections. It was the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution (passed in 1961) that gave D.C. the electoral votes that it would have if it were a state, limited to the number of electors the least-populated state has. Currently that state is Wyoming, with three electors. So D.C. gets a max of three electoral votes.
Jefferson and Jackson have unique statues
The original statue in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was made of plaster, because metal had been rationed during WWII. The plaster statue was later replaced with the 19-foot bronze statue we see there today. There’s a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square directly across from White House—yes, the one protesters have been trying to tear down recently—and it’s partially made of melted-down British cannons that had been used in the War of 1812. Shop all our patriotic statues and busts here.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library
It has more than 170 million objects in the collection, including a top secret FBI interrogation manual—just another secret the FBI doesn’t want you to know. It’s only available because some guy copyrighted the secret document, and according to the law, anything copyrighted must be available to anyone with a library card at the Library of Congress.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of four non-presidents honored on the Mall
You probably already know that Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. But you might not know these unique details about his own memorial. The sculptor behind the statue in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin. He sculpted 80 percent of it in China, had it transported to the U.S., and then finished the rest on site in D.C. The memorial is one of four monuments on the National Mall dedicated to a non-president. The other three private citizens given this honor are lesser-known Founding Father George Mason, engineer and warship designer John Ericsson, and Revolutionary War captain John Paul Jones. Shop our Martin Luther King Jr. book mark and quote plaque here.
Source: Readers Digest