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Washington, D.C.'s Top 10 : Moments in History - Top 10 Citizen Rights of the Constitution

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  1. Foundation of the Federal City

    The US Constitution, ratified in 1788, provided for “a District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States…, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.”

  2. Layout and Design

    In 1790 George Washington selected Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French engineer, to lay out the city. The plan was influenced by Versailles and the city of Paris.

  3. War of 1812

    The United States declared war on Britain in 1812, seeking freedom of marine trade and the security of US seamen. In 1814 British troops entered the capital and burned government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. If it had not rained, the whole city might have burned.

    The British burn Washington, 1814
  4. Expansion

    Thomas Jefferson began western expansion by organizing the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803. The C&O Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad provided commerce through the mountains and a period of prosperity. New states were added to the Union, and bitter divisions arose connected to the issue of slavery.

  5. Civil War

    Conflict between the Union and the seceding southern states began on April 12, 1861, and plunged Washington and the nation into crisis. Union supporters, joined by thousands of blacks escaping slavery in the South, doubled the city’s population in four years. Although threatened, the city was never taken by Confederate troops, and when the war ended in 1865, Washington was unharmed.

    Civil War victory parade
  6. McMillan Plan

    The McMillan Plan of 1901, named for its congressional supporter, Senator James McMillan, was the first application of city planning in the US. It created much of the layout of the Mall and President’s Park seen today.

  7. New Deal

    The Roosevelt era (1933– 1945) brought tremendous growth to the city. Efforts to bring the nation out of the Great Depression increased the size and number of government agencies, and provided direct funds for construction. Most of the buildings in the Federal Triangle, the completion of the Supreme Court, and the National Gallery of Art were New Deal works.

  8. World War II

    More than 10 percent of the US population of approximately 115 million was in uniform at the peak of the war, and the central management of these troops remained in Washington.

  9. March on Washington

    On August 28, 1963, African-American leaders led 250,000 people to rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial in support of equal rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eloquence in expressing his dream for America, along with the size of the march, gave strong impetus to the struggle for justice for all races.

    March on Washington
  10. Home Rule

    The federal government’s policy of maintaining full control over the city was modified with the Home Rule Charter in 1973. This legislation gave the city the power to elect its own mayor, city council, and school board.

Top 10 Citizen Rights of the Constitution

  1. Inherent Rights

    Freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and seeking redress of citizen grievances.

  2. Legality of Arms

    The right of the people to keep and bear arms.

  3. Quartering of Soldiers

    Freedom from housing soldiers in private homes in peacetime and in war, except as prescribed by law.

  4. Unjustified Searches

    Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure of people, houses, and effects without a warrant.

  5. Limits on Prosecutors

    A grand jury indictment is required before trial; a person cannot be tried more than once for the same crime; a person cannot be forced to testify against himself; a person’s property cannot be confiscated without compensation.

  6. Protection of the Accused

    Accused persons will be given a trial by a jury of peers, be informed of the charges, be able to confront witnesses, and be represented by counsel.

  7. Civil Case Jury Trial

    In common law, parties have a right to a trial by jury.

  8. Unjust Punishment

    The government cannot require excessive bail, impose excessive fines, or use cruel or unusual punishment.

  9. Limited Scope

    The stated rights do not limit other rights.

  10. State Powers

    All powers not granted to the US government belong to the states.

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