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On December 3, 1789, the State of Virginia passed an Act ceding land to Congress for a Federal district on the banks of the Potomac, and, as an incentive for Congress to accept its offer, Virginia offered the sum of $120,000 for the construction of public buildings, if Maryland would join with Virginia and contribute a sum for the same purpose. Maryland agreed at once, but the Northern members of Congress opposed locating the seat of the United States Government in the South. A location compromise for the Nation’s Capital was engineered by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton of New York. Hamilton urged Jefferson to convince the Southern members of Congress to consent to the passage of a bill proposing the Federal assumption of state debt, which the South had opposed, in exchange for an agreement by the Northern members of Congress to vote to locate the new Federal district in the South on the Potomac and not banks of the Susquehanna, in the State of Pennsylvania”, as the House of Representatives had passed in a resolution September 5, 1789. This compromise succeeded and led to the passage of the act establishing the “City of Washington” in the “District of Columbia” on the Potomac River, signed into law on July 16, 1790 by President George Washington. It is here where the three equal Branches of the United States Government, Executive, Legislative and Judicial, maintain their headquarters and their unique balance of power.
The “Executive Mansion,” The residence of the President of the United States, is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was designed by James Hoban, who modeled it after the Duke of Leinster’s palace in Ireland. The cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1792 and was first occupied in the Summer of 1800. President Thomas Jefferson, the first full-term occupant of the White House, proposed one-story extensions to the east and west to connect the President’s house with adjacent office buildings, which became the East and West Wings. The building is constructed of white painted freestone, earning the Mansion its commonly used name, the “White House.” The West Wing is the center of Executive Branch activity at the White House. It houses the President’s Oval Office, the offices of his executive staff, the Cabinet Room, the Roosevelt Room and the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. The Oval Office is the president’s own formal workspace, where the President deals with the issues of the day and serves the American people as the head of their Executive Branch of the Government and their Commander in Chief. The East Wing was added to the White House in 1942 and serves as office space for the First Lady and her staff. It also includes the President’s theater, the visitor’s entrance, and the East Colonnade.
The Capitol building houses the the Senate and the House of Representatives, the two houses of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government. The Capitol is located on the western rim of a hill and faces east, overlooking the city. This site was chosen personally by George Washington. The majestic dome of the Capitol is what first inspires anyone who visits Washington, D.C. The Capitol’s design was drawn by Dr. William Thornton and accepted by President Washington. On September 18, 1793, a grand Masonic, civic and military procession, led by President Washington, marched from the White House to the lay the Capitol’s cornerstone at Capitol Hill.
In 1799, Congress passed joint resolutions ordering that a marble monument to George Washington “be erected by the United States,” and in 1800, the House of Representatives apportioned $100,000 for the purpose of “creating a mausoleum.” The State of Virginia opposed the re-internment of President Washington’s remains from his home at Mount Vernon, and it was not until 1833 that the “Washington Monument Society” was established, with Chief Justice John Marshall as its President. On the 4th of July, 1848, the present obelisk structure’s cornerstone, weighing 12 tons and having a a zinc lined cavity containing approximately 100 George Washington artifacts and an inscription plate, was dedicated.
On October 3, 1932, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes declared, “The Republic endures, and this is the symbol of its faith,” as he laid the cornerstone for the Supreme Court Building. The Judicial Branch’s Supreme Court had initially met in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City, and when the National Capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the Supreme Court moved with it, establishing its Chambers first in the State House (Independence Hall) and later in Philadelphia’s City Hall. When the Federal Government moved to the permanent Capital of Washington, D.C. in 1800, no provision had been made for a Supreme Court Building, so Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol Building. The Supreme Court changed its meeting place within the Capitol Building many times over the next half century and even convened for a short time in a private house after the British set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812. The Court returned to the Capitol after the British invaders were repelled and met for 41 years (from 1819 to 1860) in a chamber within the Capitol which is now restored as the “Old Supreme Court Chamber.” Finally, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, former President of the United States from 1909 to 1913, persuaded Congress in 1929 to authorize the construction of a permanent home for the Supreme Court. Architect Cass Gilbert was commissioned by Chief Justice Taft to design “a building of dignity and importance suitable for its use as the permanent home of the Supreme Court of the United States,” though neither man lived to see the Supreme Court Building completed and occupied in 1935.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located on the South side of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac park and was dedicated on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the 3rd President of the United States, who died on July 4, 1826. Jefferson, educated in law following his studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, was a political philosopher, architect, musician, book collector, scientist, horticulturist, diplomat and inventor. Among his many remarkable historical accomplishments, Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of American Independence, the founder of the University of Virginia and, as President of the United States, began its vast westward expansion in 1803 with The Louisiana Purchase from France, which extended the country’s borders beyond the Mississippi River and doubled its size. At the center of the Jefferson Memorial, standing upon a 6-foot high pedestal, is a 19-foot bronze statue of the great man, who was the embodiment of the “American Dream” and who remains today a beacon of America’s commitment to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”