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The city of Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade, and pro-slavery residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the District, further depressing the economy.

Alexandria's citizens petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the District, through a process known as retrocession.

On July 9, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River.

The exact location was to be selected by President George Washington, who signed the bill into law on July 16.

Known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the event emphasized the need for the national government not to rely on any state for its own security.

Article One, Section Eight, of the Constitution permits the establishment of a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States".

Congress passed the Organic Act of 1801, which officially organized the District and placed the entire territory under the exclusive control of the federal government.

Further, the unincorporated area within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west.

The Virginia General Assembly voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria and on July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that had been ceded by Virginia.

Therefore, the District's current area consists only of the portion originally donated by Maryland.

Some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia.

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