COLUMBIA, DISTRICT OF. This tract, originally ten miles square, was ceded to the United States in 1790, by the States of Maryland and Virginia, for the purpose of being occupied as the seat of the federal government. The location was selected by President Washington, in conformity with a provision of the United States constitution. It is placed under the immediate jurisdiction of Congress, and, at the date of the cession, comprised the city of Alexandria, in Virginia, the city of Georgetown, Maryland, and the site on which now stands the city of Washington. The latter was established as the permanent capital of the Union, in the year 1.800, and is consequently the principal residence of the president, heads of departments, and other chief officers of the government, foreign ambassadors, &c. In 1846, the geographical dimensions of the District were reduced by an act of Congress, retro-ceding the city and county of Alexandria to the State of Virginia.
Boundaries and Extent. — The District, as at present limited, containing less than two thirds of the original land surface, is bounded on the north-west, north-east, and south-east, by the counties of Montgomery and Prince George's, in Maryland; on the south-west flows the Potomac, dividing it from Alexandria county, in Virginia — that portion of the District which reverted to the latter state by the act of 1846. The two cities, Washington and Georgetown, are situated respectively on the east and north-east banks of the river, and are connected by two short bridges crossing Rock Creek, a small branch of the Potomac. Washington lies in latitude 38° 53' 23" north, and longitude 77° V 24" west from Greenwich, and covers an area of somewhat over eight square miles. The area of the entire District is now estimated at sixty square miles.
Government. — By the withdrawal of the county of Alexandria, the District became confined to the northerly or Maryland side of the Potomac, where the laws of Maryland are in force, excepting when superseded by special acts of Congress; the power of legislating in the premises being vested in that body exclusively. The District has no local representative on the floor of the national legislature; but every member is deemed to be alike interested in its general affairs. The two cities have distinct civil organizations; they establish their own municipal laws, and regulate their own internal economy, in all matters not particularly provided for by Congress.
Judiciary. — The judicial tribunals consist of a Circuit Court of the District, with a chief judge and two associates; a Criminal Court for the District, with one judge ; and an Orphans' Court, with a judge and register. The Criminal Court holds three terms a year, commencing respectively on the first Monday
of March, the third Monday of June, and the first Monday of December.
Education. — Academies and grammar schools are tolerably well sustained, through private sources ; but the number of common and primary schools, supported at the public cost, might, with advantage, be increased. There is a college at Georgetown, maintained by Roman Catholics ; and another at Washington, called Columbian College, which is under the control of the Baptists.
Finances. — The public debt, at the close of the year 1840, amounted to one and a half million of dollars. The disbursements for public purposes, by the cities, often exceed the annual income, for various reasons; and, having few or no sources of revenue besides direct taxation, appropriations to meet deficiencies are not unfrequently made by Congress.
Surface, Soil, &c. — The land is generally hilly, but not mountainous. There are numerous alternating eminences and depressions, the former affording fine views, and the latter sometimes consisting of bogs and marshes. The soil is not naturally very fertile, being commonly sandy and clayey, but is doubtless capable of great improvement, with a due degree of attention to agricultural science by practical husbandmen. It produces much good timber, and most of the indigenous shrubbery and plants peculiar to the bordering states, many of which are very beautiful.
Rivers. — The beautiful Potomac laves the south-western margin of the District for some miles, and receives, at the south-eastern edge of the city of Washington, the waters of a considerable stream, called the Eastern Branch. These are the only rivers or streams of note which flow within or along the District. The Potomac affords navigation for vessels of a large class, from the Atlantic shore to the navy yard, Washington, at the confluence of that river and its branch, and for craft of smaller descriptions up to Georgetown.
Internal Improvements. — The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, one of the most important works of this kind in the country, commences at Georgetown. It was commenced in 1828, and connects the waters of the two great rivers whose names it bears. The United States contributed one million of dollars, the city of Washington a like sum, and the city of Georgetown two hundred and fifty thousand dollars towards its construction. Railroads pass from the city of Washington, both north and south.
Manufactures. — Within the present limits of the District, there are no manufactures of articles exclusively or chiefly for export; most of the operations in this department of industry being confined to the fabrication of articles for family use and home consumption.
Population. — The number of inhabitants in the District varies at different seasons - especially those in the city of Washington. During the sessions of Congress, the population of the capital is of course far more numerous than at other periods ; that of Georgetown is comparatively much less fluctuating.
Climate. — Throughout most of the year, the climate is favorable to human health. The air is generally salubrious, and the water pure. In some locations, at the hottest seasons, diseases peculiar to the neighboring regions are apt to prevail; but extensively fatal epidemics are not common.
Religion. — The numerical proportions of the respective religious denominations stand, relatively, in the following order: 1. Presbyterians; 2. Episcopalians; 3. Methodists; 4. Baptists; 5. Roman Catholics; 6. Quakers; and, 7. Unitarians.