THE role of Washington, D.C., in American politics is an oddity of history dating back to 1783. That year, Congress was meeting in Philadelphia when 280 soldiers from the Continental Army marched on Independence Hall to demand back pay. Pennsylvania state officials refused to protect Congress from the mutineers. The Founding Fathers, alarmed by the military threat, vowed to create a federal district where they could provide security for Congress and other government bodies. The District of Columbia was born in 1790 when the federal government purchased land in Maryland and Virginia, with their consent, at a price of $66 an acre. The Virginia portion, now known as Arlington, was returned to that state in 1846.
District residents participated in national elections until 1801, when the federal government officially moved to the city.
Today, district residents elect a city council and a mayor. But Congress has final legislative authority over the district. The 23rd Amendment, adopted in 1961, allows residents to vote in presidential races. But the distrct has only a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives, and no one in the Senate.