Why did the U.S. Capital move from Philadelphia to D.C.?
So, you thought you could do better? Trade me in as part of a political compromise during a dinner party? I’m not bitter, it’s just that every year, July 16 is a difficult date for me. And tomorrow will be a painful reminder of how, I, the City of Philadelphia, lost my title as nation’s capital to that young upstart, Washington, D.C.
Granted, the capital was originally in New York City, but only for a brief time, before I was selected. Just where the federal government would permanently reside was always a touchy subject. To placate southern states for accepting Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan for federal assumption of northern states’ debt, Congress chose as the permanent capital the as-yet-unbuilt District of Columbia, which was geographically closer to them than my northeastern location.
In what I consider a grand gesture of political compromise, the Residence Act was signed on July 16, 1790. It made me the capital for ten years while a permanent spot was selected along the Potomac River. Don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed to be picked, even for a decade. But in all honesty, I never thought the departure would come. I figured that once all three branches of government had settled in, no one would favor a move.
Alas, in 1800 my fate was sealed, and I ceased to be the seat of the federal government. I don’t know why you left me. I assure you that it was a mistake; I have a range of historic, culinary, and cultural attractions. Look at what you lost:
My comely design
Sure, George Washington commissioned architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design the layout of the new capital in DC, but Philadelphia utilized a grid plan long before that—in 1682! Using the natural boundaries between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, William Penn and surveyor Thomas Holme designed the streets of Philadelphia in a user-friendly grid system highlighted by five main public squares.
Besides that, major events happened here long before DC even existed. I was the site for the First and Second Continental Congresses as well as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Not only was I awesome back in the eighteenth century, I’ve managed to maintain my cool-factor status to the present day. I’m proud to say that I have the largest public art program in the country. Mural Arts brings communities together to add vibrant, visual arts to Philadelphia neighborhoods.
My athletic ability
Philly sports fans are passionate and I will try to keep it civil, but there is no comparison between the Phillies and the Nationals. Our baseball pitchers are so impressive they have a group nickname, R2C2.
My culinary talent
On the food front, well, they don’t call it a DC cheesesteak now, do they?
My medical know-how
From the founding of Pennsylvania Hospital, the country’s first, in 1751, to the discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome in 1960, I have been a longtime leader in the medical field.
I could go on, but I don’t want to keep bragging about my obvious superiority. Perhaps next time that you plan a visit to the Mall, think Independence, not National.
Paige Scofield is the Programs & Communications Coordinator at the National Constitution Center. She finds Philadelphia to be an absolutely charming and great place to live.