A History of the U.S. Capitals

Everyone is well aware that Washington, D.C is the capital of the United States and the seat of the federal government. However, that has not always been the case. In the formative years, several cities stood as the capital for the fledgling country. The first of these cities was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the civilian leadership of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress, was seated for much of the war.

For a few months in late 1776 and early 1777, threats of a British takeover of the city prompted Congress to move their location south to Baltimore, Maryland before moving back after the threat has passed. Later that summer, the British moved toward Philadelphia once again and Congress evacuated to nearby Lancaster and then York. It is during the nine-month stay in York in 1778 that the Articles of Confederation were drafted. After the Redcoats abandoned Philadelphia, Congress returned to stay for the remainder of the war.

In the aftermath of the conflict, Congress once again fled in 1783 to avoid a possible uprising by revolutionary veterans who were angry at not having received their pay. Their temporary quarters, Princeton in New Jersey, was where the word came in that the Treaty of Paris has been signed, officially ending the war with the U.K. The capital then moved to Annapolis, Maryland where General Washington relinquished his role as Commander-in-Chief for the war. Congress would move yet again to Trenton, New Jersey for a brief period.

Congress finally established a more permanent base of power in 1785 when it moved the federal government into New York City. It was expected that New York City would then become the permanent capital of the new United States. New York remained the capital for the U.S. for five years and was the seat of government during the term of President Washington. However, tensions between the North and South within the country required compromise. The South argued that the new capital of the country was too firmly seated in the North and thus was too detached from them. Therefore, it was decided that a new city strategically placed in the middle of the country was better suited. President Washington himself surveyed the land that would be the new capital, Washington, D.C.

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