George Washington and the Residence Act of 1790

The Residence Act of 1790 was a significant piece of legislation signed into law by President George Washington on July 16, 1790. It established the permanent seat of the United States government and laid the groundwork for creating the District of Columbia.

Portrait of George Washington, Gilbert Stuart, 1803
Portrait of George Washington, Gilbert Stuart, 1803

During the early years of the United States, the location of the national capital was a subject of great debate. The federal government had been operating in New York City since 1785, following a temporary move from Philadelphia. However, there were concerns about having the capital in a major commercial center, which could lead to undue influence and favoritism.

The Residence Act was designed to resolve this issue by providing a plan to establish permanent capital. The act authorized President Washington to select a location along the Potomac River, which would become the new capital. The act also empowered him to appoint commissioners to oversee the planning and development of the capital city.

Residence Act of 1790 Requirements

The act called for a district of land at most ten square miles to be carved out of existing states to serve as the federal district. This new district would be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, ensuring its independence from any particular state. The chosen location, ultimately named the District of Columbia, encompassed parts of Maryland and Virginia.

The Residence Act also provided for the temporary continuation of government operations in Philadelphia until the new capital was ready. It authorized the construction of suitable buildings to accommodate Congress and the President.

The act was significant because it settled the debate over the location of the national capital, ensuring the federal government had a permanent seat. It also laid the foundation for the creation of Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, which eventually became home to the three branches of government.

The Residence Act of 1790 was an important step in the early development of the United States and the establishment of a centralized government. 

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