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5 Big Questions About Washington, D.C.

Many members of Congress—and residents of the nation’s capital—want Washington, D.C., to become the 51st state.

1. If Washington, D.C., isn't a state, what is it?

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The state of Maryland donated the land that is now Washington, D.C.

It’s a city. But unlike other cities, it is also a federal district that was created for the sole reason of being the nation’s capital. 

America’s Founders worried that if the nation’s capital were located in a state, that state might have too much power over the federal (national) government. So they wrote in the Constitution that the nation’s capital should be located in a federal district that isn’t part of any state. The federal government moved to the District of Columbia in 1800.

2. Why do some people want the nation's capital to become a state?

The capital is home to nearly 700,000 people. Its population is larger than those of Wyoming and Vermont. D.C. residents serve in the U.S. military. Like all U.S. citizens, they pay taxes to the federal government. 

But only Americans who live in a state get to elect members of the U.S. Senate. D.C. residents do elect one member to the U.S. House of Representatives, but that person isn’t allowed to vote on laws. So people who live in D.C. have no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent. 

They say this is unfair, calling it “taxation without representation.” It’s the same rallying cry used by the colonists during the American Revolution (1775-1783). 

3. How would the U.S. add a new state? 

Congress would need to approve the idea. Then the president would need to sign the bill into law. That’s how every state other than the original 13 Colonies has joined the United States.

Last April, the House of Representatives voted in favor of statehood for D.C. Carolyn Maloney is a representative from New York. She says the bill honors “the most fundamental principle of this nation, that all people have a right to full and equal representation in their government.” 

4. Does this mean we’ll soon be adding a 51st star to the American flag?

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Not so fast. Before the bill can reach the president, it has to be approved by the Senate. And that isn’t expected to happen. Many members of Congress say making D.C. a state would go against the wishes of America’s Founders.

“They never wanted the seat of our government to be a state,” says Jody Hice. He is a representative from Georgia who voted against the bill last April.

5. If D.C. became a state, would it still be the capital of the U.S.? 

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Yes, it would. The part of the city that includes the White House and the U.S. Capitol would remain a federal district. That would meet the requirements of the Constitution. Areas where residents live would become a new state.

The state would be called Washington, D.C. But the “D.C.” would stand for “Douglass Commonwealth.” It would be named after Frederick Douglass. He was one of the leaders of the movement to end slavery during the 1800s.

  1. Why did America’s Founders believe that the nation’s capital should be in a federal district that wasn’t part of any state?
  2. Why does the author mention the American Revolution?
  3. What would need to happen for Washington, D.C., to become a state?
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