The Quick 9: Nine Capitals of the United States


Washington, D.C., hasn't always been the political center of the United States. In fact, nine different cities across the country have served as the nation's capital at one point or another, even if only for a day (and technically, some of them can't be called capitals of the United States, but the capital of the colonies). Here they are:

carpenter /

3. Lancaster, Pa., has the distinction of being capital for merely a day. On September 27, 1777, the Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia because the British had forced them out during the American Revolution. They met for just a single day before moving even farther away from the redcoats"¦

4. York, Pa. York is actually where the Articles of Confederation were drafted. York sometimes declares itself the First Capital of the United States because the Articles of Confederation are the first known legal documents to actually refer to the colonies as "the United States of America." The Declaration of Independence uses the phrase as well, but some historians say it wasn't a legal document at the time because the colonies were still under British rule.

nassau /

6. The Maryland State House in Annapolis served a similar function from November 26, 1783 to August 13, 1784, and a couple of historic events took place here: George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army, and the Articles of Confederation were ratified (although the latter was actually done a couple of years prior to Congress occupying the State House).

7. Trenton, N.J., would have been my choice of capitals just based on where the Congress of the Confederation held their meetings: the French Arms Tavern. But don't think that our early politicians were just slacking off an enjoying a pint or two "“ the building really was the most suitable based on its size. One historian called it "The handsomest and most commodious house in Trenton in its day." The handsomest and most commodious house in its day now houses a Wachovia Bank.

federal hall
federal hall /

9. Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1790, the Residence Act was passed. This gave Washington the freedom to pick a spot for the permanent capital and allowed him to give builders 10 years to complete the job. He chose D.C. for its spot on the Potomac and to somewhat appease James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted a more southern location for the capital than New York, which is where they had been meeting for several years prior.