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

Jeremi Suri
Jeremi Suri
University of Texas

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University’s Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. The author and editor of eleven books on politics and foreign policy, his most recent is entitled: Civil War by Other Means: America’s Long and Unfinished Fight for Democracy. His other books include: The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest OfficeLiberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama; Henry Kissinger and the American Century; and Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. A popular public lecturer and frequent news commentator, his writings appear in The New York Times, the Washington PostWall Street Journal, CNN.com, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Time, and other media. Professor Suri’s writing and teaching have received numerous prizes, including the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Texas and the Pro Bene Meritis Award for Contributions to the Liberal Arts. Professor Suri hosts the weekly podcast, “This is Democracy.”

 

Overview

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.

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