The New International Encyclopædia/District of Columbia

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. A territory embracing 60 square miles, situated on the east bank of the Potomac River, between Maryland and Virginia (Map: Maryland, B 7). The surface is flat and marshy along the Potomac, but elsewhere gently rolling and hilly. The Anacostia River, or Eastern Branch (of the Potomac), crosses the southern portion, and Rock Creek, a stream abounding in picturesque scenery, traverses the northwestern part. The climate (mean temperatire 55°) is subject to sudden and extreme variations of temperature. The rainfall is about 50 inches annually. Snow falls in the winter, but is generally of short duration. The soil is a light sandy loam. Twenty-two per cent. of the area, or 8500 acres, is contained in farms. The nature of the agricultural industries is determined by the proximity to Washington, and the products are chiefly those of the vegetable garden and the dairy. The largest acreage therefore consists of hay and pasture lands and gardens. Floriculture is of considerable importance, the annual returns from this source exceeding half a million dollars.

Population. The population in 1800 (when the area was one-half larger than at present) numbered 14,100; in 1850, 51,687; in 1860, 75,000; in 1870, 131,700; in 1890, 230,400; in 1900, 278,700. There is a very small foreign-born population (19,500), but the negro element is large (86,700). The mass of the population is, of course, centred in the city of Washington. The villages surrounding the city bear the relation of suburbs to the city proper.

Government. The District of Columbia was governed directly by Congress until 1871, when it was placed under a regular Territorial government. Governor and Secretary were appointed, a delegate was chosen to represent the Territory in Congress, while a legislature of 11 councilmen and 22 delegates was elected by the people annually. In 1874 the government was placed under the control of three commissioners appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The citizens have no direct voice in the appointments to office within the District, having no vote in District or National affairs.

History. Originally the District of Columbia comprised land on both sides of the Potomac—land ceded by the States concerned on the condition that Congress or the United States should exercise exclusive control over it forever. Maryland ceded 64 square miles (including water), the whole of Washington County, and Virginia ceded 36 square miles, Alexandria County. In 1846, as no Government buildings had been erected on the Virginia side, Alexandria County was retroceded. Within the present District, probably on the site of Anacostia, stood the famous Indian village of Powhattan, Nacochtank, or Anacostan, which Captain Smith visited in 1608. In 1663 Francis Pope, an Englishman, established a plantation where Washington was afterwards built. To the site of Georgetown settlers came probably as early as 1665, and in 1751 a town was laid out here, which in 1789 was regularly incorporated. Immediately after the close of the Revolution there was much discussion about the location of the permanent seat of government, and, after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, this question gave rise to the first debate which aroused bitter sectional feeling. Finally, on June 28, 1790, after the claims of New York, Philadelphia, Germantown, Baltimore, and several other places had been fully considered, Congress decided that after 1800 the Federal capital should be moved to “a district or territory not exceeding 10 miles square on the River Potomac between the mouth of the Eastern Branch and Conogocheague.” This decision was reached partly as the result of a compromise and partly in deference to the known wishes of Washington. See Washington.