In Founding Fathers, the capital (Washington, D.C.) symbolizes the intensity of the competing needs and interests that dominated American life in the period following the American Revolution. The question of where America’s capital city should be was one of great debate, causing so much indecision that some congressmen joked about the capital having to be placed on wheels and rolled around from place to place. The newly formed republic consisted of different states (with different cultures, climates, histories, and interests) that now faced the challenge of acting as one nation. As the book details, the decision about where the capital should be ended up being part of the Compromise of 1790, during which the debate about assumption was solved through a bargain that also settled the residency question. The chosen location on the Potomac was a concession to the South (and particularly Virginia), and was also a way of keeping the country’s financial institutions, which were mostly located in Philadelphia and New York, separate from its seat of government. In addition, it was significant that the nation’s leaders picked a location that was, at the time, not an existing urban center; this reflected the values of decentralized power that many leaders of the era (and particularly Republicans) wanted to preserve as the country moved forward into the future. The fact that Washington, D.C. was named after George Washington was, according to Ellis, a foregone conclusion. Even during his lifetime, Washington was an integral part of American identity. It has stayed that way ever since in part due to the capital named after him.
The Capital Quotes in Founding Brothers
The Compromise of 1790 is most famous for averting a political crisis that many statesmen of the time considered a threat to the survival of the infant republic. But it also exposed the incompatible expectations concerning America’s future that animated these same statesmen.
The permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction. It was also symbolic in a personal sense for Jefferson and Madison. For the Compromise of 1790 signaled the resumption of their political partnership after five years of separation. Now, “the great collaboration" was truly an alliance worthy of its name.
For that city and the name it was destined to carry, symbolized the conspiracy that threatened, so Jefferson and his followers thought, all that Virginia stood for.