The Seat of Empire

a history of Washington, D.C. 1790 to 1861

by Bob Arnebeck

By trying to express the meaning of America in a capital city where there is so little of the reality of America, the nation's founders created an engine primed for expansion and ultimately world domination. This is a story about how and who shaped a capital that in time shaped the world. While many men and women did their mite, the first citizen of Washington has always been the President, and the city was often organized to suit his convenience. The short tenure of presidents and most politicians sometimes created the illusion of popular traditions in the city, but the impulses of national institutions like the military, corporate combinations, and the media, that often shook the nation and at times the world, made civic mores as marked as the stone of the city's principal buildings.

The General and the Plan: 1790-1801 (see also Through A Fiery Trial: Building Washington 1790-1801, by Bob Arnebeck, Madison Books, 1991.)

The City Rises, Burns and Rises Again: 1801-1820

Liberty as Modified by Race, Class and Religion: 1820-1840

Insecurity and Grandeur: 1840-1861

I am working on other projects now but hope, with financial support, to continue the history into the 21st century.

Primary Documents: throughout these pages I provide links to primary documents and in depth essays on topics.

I can be contacted at

Check out my blog that applies the lessons of Washington history to current events.

History Press will be publishing my book, Slave Labor in the Capital: Building Washington's Iconic Federal Landmarks, on November 18, 2014. The retail price will be $19.99 and the e-book price should be less. History Press, Barnes and Noble and Amazon all currently have a pre-publication discount. Use the coupon code HP10 for your History Press order. You can get more information about the book at my new blog about it, Capital Slaves . Going over all my notes and the documents I've collected for the fourth time in 25 years has sharpened my thinking on the use of slaves in early Washington. I hope you buy and enjoy the book.