Images of a Capital City

Formally named, it is Washington, in the District of Columbia.  Locally we rarely call it “Washington”, as the rest of the country does; we know that there’s a great big state in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with a claim to that name.  No, we sometimes called it “DC”, but more often, it’s simply “The District” to us.

Regardless of how you refer to it, we know it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  The city was founded on July 16, 1790.  Article I of the US Constitution specified the creation of a district to serve as the new nation’s capital.  It was originally diamond-shaped, it’s borders 10 miles (16 km) on each side.  It straddles the Potomac and Anacostia (then known as the Eastern Branch) Rivers on land crafted out of Maryland and Virginia.  The capital city was founded in 1791, within the boundaries of this district and named in honor of our first president, George Washington.  In 1871 an act of Congress dictated that The City of Washington, along with the previously established cities of Georgetown and Alexandria and unorganized land within its boundaries, were placed under a single, unified government.  This is why our city, which carries the legal name of the District of Columbia, is known formally as Washington, D.C.

Primarily for economic reasons, in the 1830′s a move started toward retrocession–the act of giving back the land of the District to Maryland and Virginia.  This movement came to a head by an act of Congress on July 9, 1846, when they agreed to return all land south of the Potomac River to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Today the District is comprised only of the land ceeded to the Federal Government by Maryland.  Descendants of those original Maryland landowners are sometimes referred to as “cave-dwellers” because they have been living here since before the District came into being. 

This unique status as a Federal District, as opposed to a state, commonwealth, territory, colony or protectorate is the source of disagreement today.  This is because it’s citizens, although having the right to vote in national and district elections, only have limited home-rule and no vote in the US Congress.  (Instead of having US Senators and a US Representative in the House of Representatives, DC has a non-voting Delegate.)  The citizens do elect a mayor and members of a city council, but they are directly overseen by the federal government.

Our federal government consists of three parts: a legislature, an executive and a judiciary. 

The US Capitol Dome

The US Capitol Dome at Sunset

The image to the left is one that I captured several years ago; taken while standing on the north side of the Capitol’s grounds; known to locals as the “Senate side”.  The legislative bracnch, known collectively as the Congress of the United States is populated by Senators–there are two from each state–and Representatives, which represent congressional districts in their home states.  The shape–but not the total number–of these districts can change every ten years, based upon shifts in the population, as counted during the federal census.  The number of representatives grew as the nation did, until public law 62-5 was passed in 1913, fixing the number at 435 voting members.  As the population shifts from one part of the country to another, states lose or gain seats accordingly.  The minumum number of representatives for a state is one, and it is interesting that geographically small states, such as Delaware and geographically large states, such as North Dakota and Alaska, each have one.  As of the 2010 Census, California has the most, with 53.  Outside of the states with very small populations, there is one representative for every 650,000 people.

The Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen who come here are usually temporary inhabitants who–along with their–staff only make their home here until their terms end.  However, there are approximately 600,000 permanent residents, some, like the cave dwellers, going back generations.

There are many beautiful homes in the District, but perhaps the best know is the White House and, although the house is a permanent fixture, its occupants are just passing through.  The corner stone was laid in 1792.  Although our first president, George Washington, oversaw construction, he never lived in it.  In 1800 John Adams was elected as our second chief executive and he became the first occupant after being sworn in the following year.  In turn, each president has left their own mark on it;  after all, it is their private residence and it is the only private residence of a head of state that is open to the public free of charge.

The White House at Sunset

The White House at Sunset

Although the South face, with its curved portico and the Truman balconey is more popular to photograph, I like the north side, pictured here at sunset on a winter’s day.

Technically, this is the front of the Executive Mansion, but since the south side is more frequently depicted, people don’t realize they’re being shown the back door on the news or in other renditions!  this house has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”  in 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt made the “White House” it’s official name, and it has been ever since.

On top of Capitol Hill, just beyond the US Capitol Building, sits the United States Supreme Court.  Therein the nine justices complete the third element of our governments structure: the judiciary.

The US Supreme Court Building

The US Supreme Court on a Spring Day

 The founders laid out this framework in the Constitution:  A bi-cameral legislative branch consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives to create the laws.  An executive branch consisting of the President and his Cabinet to execute and enforce the laws made by that legislature.  Finally, a federal judiciary to interpret the constitutionality of those laws, as they were (or were to be) executed.  The court convenes on the first Monday in October and hears cases throughout the fall, winter and spring.  Unless it is an emergency hearing, the court doesn’t render its verdicts until June; causing a fair amount of anticipation among court watchers.

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