Why Isn’t Washington, D.C. A State? (And Should It Be?)

Jeremi Suri – University of Texas

Washington, D.C. did not exist in the first years of the Republic. In 1790, Congress imagined it as a new capital city, on the Potomac River, to remove federal power from New York City and create an alternative source of power nearer to the South. Like the federal government in the nineteenth century, the city of Washington, D.C. remained small and modest. Its residents were mainly seasonal government officials, local merchants, and slaves. The New Deal and the Second World War turned the provincial capital city into a year-round metropolis of businesspeople, civil servants, foreign representatives, lobbyists, students, and tourists. Washington, D.C. also became the symbolic center of “the free world” in the Cold War, and after.

In this recent context, including current protests, the status of Washington, D.C. as a “federal district” without statehood — and without representation in Congress — has become increasingly untenable. In this lecture, Professor Suri will examine how and why the historical evolution of America’s unique capital city has raised pressures for statehood today.