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Overcoming the Past

The District of Columbia is much better known for government than for commerce.  But from its earliest days, the federal city's focus and location spurred vibrant economic development.

Since coverage of the Inauguration will be wall to wall, it will be interesting to see if a stunning irony will be noticed.  Namely, the Inaugural Parade for our first President of color will travel the same route once taken by droves of slaves being taken to and from the slave auctions that existed within plain sight of the White House and the Capitol.

Until it was abolished in 1850, the slave trade was a major factor in the DC economy.  Frequent shipments of slaves, chained together in droves of ten or twelve or twenty, were taken to and from nearby slave "pens."  When an appalled tourist inquired how many slaves could legally be kept in a small, dark, damp cellar, the overseer casually replied:  "As many as it will hold."

Asa Adgate, a member of the House of Representatives, recalled:  "During the last session of Congress, as several members were standing in the street near the new capitol, a drove of manacled coloured people was passing by.  When just opposite, one of them elevating his manacles as high as he could reach, commenced singing the favorite national song 'Hail Columbia, happy land.'"

"Hail Columbia," also known as "The President's March," was once considered a national anthem, prior to the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 1931.  Of course, the immortalized singer could not have known that the tune of his bitter jest would be played today whenever the Vice-President arrives at a ceremony or enters a formal event.

(And here's another ironic backward glance that the incoming administration provides.)


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