District of Columbia, the seat of the federal government of the United States. The district is on the east bank of the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Its boundaries are the same as those of the city of Washington. The area of the district is 68 square miles (177 km2). The population in 2000 was 572,059.
The district is administered by a mayor and a 13-member council elected by the people. The U.S. Congress, however, has control of the district budget and also has the power to rescind any council action. In addition, the district's financial affairs are under the control of a review board appointed by the President. District residents have the right to elect the local school board, to vote in Presidential elections, and to choose one nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Permanent residents could not vote until the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1961) gave them the right to vote for President. Temporary residents such as government officials keep their legal residences in their home state and may return there to vote or use absentee ballots.
Following the American Revolution there was great rivalry between the North and South for the national capital. As the result of a compromise between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, Congress voted in 1790 to secure a tract, 10 miles (16 km) long on each side, along the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. The two states agreed to cede jurisdiction over the land to the federal government. President Washington selected the site in 1791, and plans were begun to build the city. Congress met in the district for the first time in 1800. Because all public buildings were built on the Maryland side of the river, Virginia residents asked that the part of the district on the Virginia side be ceded back to their state. This was done in 1846.
At first, the present District of Columbia had three government units—the municipalities of Washington and Georgetown, and the county of Washington. In 1871 these three units were combined and the boundaries of the city of Washington were made the same as those of the district. The district was administered by officials appointed by the President and under the control of Congress from 1874 to 1974, when home rule was approved.