In July 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act that asked President George Washington to designate a site for a new Federal District. New York and Philadelphia were two suggested states; however, this caused a rivalry between the "Northern" and "Southern" states. A compromise was reached and the North eventually accepted this "Southern" location in exchange for relieving them of the debt they incurred during the Revolution.
This site became known as the "Territory of Columbia." This location would allow access to sea trade, but was far enough inland to offer a strategic defense against attack. An added convenience was that Washington's own plantation, Mount Vernon, was only 16 miles down the Potomac.
Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a Frenchman who fought in the American Revolution under General Washington, had in 1789 expressed an eagerness to draw up plans for the new capital, even before Congress had decided to create a Federal District. Washington, impressed by his ideas, eventually appointed him to design the city and its public buildings. The name "District of Columbia" came into use during the 19th century. Today, over 20 million people visit Washington, D.C., in a single year.
Washington, D.C., is divided into four sections: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. The U.S. Capitol, at the east end of the Mall, is the hub of Washington's streets. The Capitol is situated at the intersection of East Capitol Street, South Capitol Street, North Capitol Street, and the Mall. The three streets and the Mall split the city into these quadrants. The White House is the geographic center of Washington's original 10-mile square.
All numbered streets run north and south, and lettered streets run east and west. Streets with state names, such as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, are diagonals.