Sunday, February 24, 2008

Eight Things You May Not Know About the Real D.C.

1-- true or false? the first major international terrorist attack on U.S. soil took place on february 26, 1993, when a truck bomb exploded in the underground garage of the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. (False: The first terrorist attack on the country took place nearly 180 years previously, on august 24, 1814, when a commando force under british general robert ross and admiral george Cockburn invaded washington, D.C. and burned every public building to the ground. the operation had no tactical significance, and was undertaken, in the words of the commanders, “to teach americans a lesson in hard war.” There were about 600 casualties on both sides.)

2-- true or false? washington d.c. was defended valiantly in 1814 by u.s. armed forces, many of whom had served with distinction during the revolutionary war. (False—there was in fact no u.s. army to speak of at the time. while authorized by congress, no money had been found to fund it. the poorly trained and equipped state militia men who were thrown into action against the british were outnumbered more than two to one and quickly fled when confronted by the advancing british. the white house was abandoned so hastily that a dinner prepared for president madison was still on the table when british troops burst in. the invaders ate the president’s dinner, plundered his closets for fresh shirts, and drank up his wine cellar…then burned his house down for good measure.)

3-- Who was the first american president to cut a backroom deal in support of a pet political project of his own? a) Ronald “arms for contras” reagan. b) bill “Whitewater” clinton. c) warren “teapot dome” harding. d) George “I cannot tell a lie” washington. (Answer: D). In order to secure support of northern congressmen for his proposed capital site on the potomac, washington agreed to support legislation calling for the federal government’s assumption of debts accrued by states in the fighting of the revolutionary war. washington’s deft horse-trading became known as “the great compromise of 1790.”

4-- true or false? the first secessionist movement in the u.s. had nothing to do with slavery. (True--As early as 1790 southern states threatened to leave the union if the capital of the new government was placed in new york or philadelphia).

5-- true or false? the first u.s. capitol was located on wall street. (true—Federal hall at 26 wall street, the refurbished city office building, housed the first congress assembled under the constitution in 1789. the government moved to philidelphia in 1790, and remained there while Washington D.C. was under construction. of course, some say that the capitol still resides on wall street.)

6-- true or false? pierre l’enfant was offered several manhattan city blocks as payment for his work on the nation’s first capitol. (true—but he declined the offer. in the late 1700’s only the lower tip of manhattan was settled. l’enfant considered the offer of 10 acres of distant pastureland in the middle of what is now the upper east side—E. of 3rd Ave bet. 66th and 70th sts--to be an insult unworthy of consideration.)

7-- what do peach bottom, pa., richmond, va., newark, n.j., newburgh, n.y., Wilmington, De., & georgetown, md. have in common? (answer—they were among the 50 or so towns proposed as alternatives to locating the u.s. capitol in washington on the potomac.)

8-- true or false? l’enfant, who laid out the plan for the city of washington, was well rewarded in cash and property for his work there. (False—l’enfant was fired in the midst of his work on the project, less than 2 years after he began. he had no contract and had been paid no salary. after he was fired, president washington offered him $2500 for his efforts, but l’enfant refused the offer as beneath him. the planner purchased his own city lot, not far from the site proposed at public auction, but later lost it in bankruptcy.)

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