To answer the question, we must go back about two-hundred years, to the beginning of the United States. The states approved a Constitution for the country in seventeen-eighty-eight. But they could not decide where to build the permanent capital. Northern states did not want the capital in the south because of slavery. The southern states did not want it in the north. Several places were proposed, but Congress could not agree on one.
Then Thomas Jefferson of Virginia invited Alexander Hamilton of New York to dinner to discuss the dispute. Two congressmen from Virginia were also there. The four men talked politics.
Southern votes had defeated a bill in Congress that Mister Hamilton wanted very much to be approved. It would have required the federal government to pay the money owed by the states for fighting the war to gain independence from Britain.
The two Virginia congressmen agreed to change their votes against the bill. And, Mister Hamilton agreed to find northern votes to support a proposal to build the capital along the Potomac River between the states of Virginia and Maryland. That is how Congress agreed to build the capital in a federal area on land provided by the two states.
A year later, officials announced that the city would be called Washington, in honor of the country’s first president, George Washington. The larger federal area would be named the District of Columbia. Columbia had become another name for the United States, one that was used by poets and other writers. The name came from Christopher Columbus, the explorer who sailed from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere.
Today, Washington, D.C. is known to those who live in the area as the District. But if you want to write to us, our address is Washington, D.C.