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Not Bored in DCNot Bored in DC Things to do, eat, and know in Washington, DC

Which State is Washington, DC In?

One thing that confuses many people is which state Washington D.C. is in. Many think that Washington DC, the capital of the United States, is in Maryland or in Washington state.

Washington DC is not in any state, and is instead in a federal district (the District of Columbia). It is the only federal district in the United States of America.

Because it is such a unique political structure, people often have many questions, including the history of Washington, DC’s borders. Keep reading so you can answer the next time someone asks “Washington DC is in what state?”

What does the “DC” in “Washington, DC” stand for?

A graphic with large pink and blue text on a white background stating "DC in Washington, DC stands for: District of Columbia," emphasizing the acronym of the nation's capital.

The “DC” in “Washington, DC” stands for District of Columbia. It was named the District of Columbia to honor Christopher Columbus, who is widely credited as the first European to discover America.

Columbia was a common representation of America in the time of the American Revolution, and became a popular place name after the American Revolution.

Which State is Washington, DC In?

Washington, D.C. is not in any state. The District of Columbia is a federal district that does not have statehood. This is one area that confuses many people, but Washington, DC is completely outside of all states and is its own entity.

There is a significant statehood movement within Washington, D.C. Many residents want to become a state. However, like the American territory of Puerto Rico, it has not happened despite local referendums passing in favor of statehood.

Is Washington, DC the same thing as Washington state?

No, Washington, D.C. and Washington state are different. Washington, D.C. is on the east coast of America in the Mid-Atlantic between Maryland and Virginia. Washington state is on the west coast of America in the Pacific Northwest. They are both, however, named in honor of the first president of the United States, George Washington.

Washington, DC and Washington state are about 2,600 miles away from each other. That means that Washington, DC and Washington state are a 40 hour drive from one another.

Is Washington, DC part of the United States of America?

Yes, Washington, D.C. is in the United States of America. As a federal district and the capital city of the United States, the District of Columbia is part of the United States.

Washington DC was not the first capital city of America. A total of 9 cities were used as the capital of the United States before Washington DC, including Philadelphia, New York City, and Baltimore.

Are people from Washington, DC American citizens?

Yes, since Washington, D.C. is a part of the United States, people who are born in its borders are American citizens.

The exception to this is babies of foreign diplomats who are born in Washington DC or anywhere else in the United States. They are not granted US citizenship and instead are treated as if they were born in their home country.

Is Washington, DC in Maryland?

No, Washington DC is not in Maryland as it is a federal district independent of any state. However, all the land within the current borders of Washington DC used to be a part of Maryland.

When the site for the new federal district was being selected by then-President George Washington, he selected a site that included land from both Maryland in Virginia. Both Maryland and Virginia ceded land to form the new District of Columbia. However, today, all of the District of Columbia is on the land ceded by Maryland.

Is Washington, DC in Virginia?

No, Washington DC is not in Virginia, but part of Washington DC used to be on land that was granted by Virginia.

As mentioned above, Washington, DC was originally formed from land granted by both Maryland and Virginia. However, later on, what is now Arlington County and Alexandria Count y in Virginia retroceded and became a part of Virginia again.

Parts of Washington, DC are very close to Virginia, such as Columbia Island and Theodore Roosevelt Island. However, they are technically part of Washington, DC.

When and why did Virginia retrocede from Washington, DC?

When the District of Columbia was formed, everyone who lived within the new borders became residents of Washington, DC instead of Maryland and Virginia and with that, lost their right to have representation in Congress. Essentially, they became disenfranchised voters.

Residents in the former Virginia land became upset with the lack of representation as the years went on, because they felt like they didn’t have the proper government support to grow. Alexandria, Virginia was the largest port city in the area at the time of DC’s founding, but it was overtaken by Baltimore, Maryland during the years it was a part of the District of Columbia.

This was also a time where slavery was legal, but restrictions were being put upon the practice by abolitionists. The residents in the Virginia side were pro-slavery and would have wanted more of a say in the national politics.

However, some historians don’t believe this was a driving factor for the retrocession, and point to the fact that many anti-slavery Congressmen were supporters of retrocession, indicating that at the time it was not seen as being too much of a risk for the abolition of slavery. Support and opposition to the retrocession was not drawn along pro-slavery and anti-slavery lines.

On July 9, 1846, President James Polk signed the bill to the return of the Virginia portion of the District of Columbia to Virginia.

What cities and states surround Washington, DC?

Washington, DC is fully bordered by Maryland and Virginia.

The Potomac River serves as the border between Washington DC and Virginia. However, the border is on the shoreline of Virginia, so the section of the Potomac River between Washington DC and Virginia is part of Washington, DC.

On the Maryland side, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County border Washington, DC. Clockwise, the towns that border Washington, DC in Maryland are:

  • Brookmont, MD
  • Bethesda, MD
  • Chevy Chase, MD
  • Silver Spring, MD
  • Takoma Park, MD
  • Chillum, MD
  • Mount Rainier, MD
  • Colmar Manor, MD
  • Fairmont Heights, MD
  • Seat Pleasant, MD
  • Capitol Heights, MD
  • Coral Hills, MD
  • Suitland, MD
  • Hillcrest Heights, MD
  • Glassmanor, MD
  • Forest Heights, MD

On the Virginia border, Washington DC is bordered by:

  • Alexandria, VA
  • Arlington, VA

Is Washington, DC a city?

Yes, all of Washington, DC is one city. Washington city and District of Columbia completely overlap, and it is all treated the same administratively.

While historically there were some different cities within the District of Columbia borders, today it is all one city. For instance, Georgetown was at one point a separate city from Washington city.

What counties are in Washington, DC?

Today, there aren’t counties within Washington, DC. For data and classification systems that require a county (such as the census), the District of Columbia is considered a county-equivalent.

Historically, though, there were different counties.

Map of Washington, DC from 1835, showing Washington City, Washington County, and Alexandria County, and surrounding towns and major roads and creeks
Thomas Gamaliel’s 1835 map of Washington, DC. Source: Library of Congress

Originally, the District of Columbia was made up of Washington City, Washington County, Georgetown, and Alexandria County (later broken into Arlington and Alexandria Counties), and they all had their own laws and governing mechanisms.

Alexandria was returned to Virginia during the retrocession in 1846. In 1871, all of the remaining parts of the District of Columbia were merged under one government and city: Washington, DC.

Why isn’t Washington, DC a state?

Originally when the United States Constitution was written, the authors were worried about one state having undue influence on the federal government. For that reason, they set up a federal district that Congress would have legislative control over.

The Congress shall have Power…To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 17

While at the last referendum, over 85% of DC voters wanted statehood, there has been little interest on the national political stage to support DC statehood. While Republicans are most vocally against providing DC residents with the right to political representation, Democrats are largely also unwilling to champion the cause.

Can people in Washington, DC vote for president?

dated Wednesday, March 29, 1961. The main headline reads "District Wins Right to Vote; Kansas 38th State to Ratify." Below the headline is a subheading "House Passes Kennedy Plan For Areas Aid" and a photograph of a group of six individuals, four men and two women, celebrating the victory for the vote amendment. They are officials of the Citizens for the Presidential Vote for D.C., seen at their headquarters, holding a sign that reads "VOTELESS D.C." with "LESS" crossed out. Other headlines visible on the page include discussions about an editorial on the day's significance, an amendment being acted upon promptly by three states, and another article titled "Kennedy Seen Victor In Gamble on Laos." The newspaper includes various other text articles and editorial opinions related to the events of the time.
The 23rd Amendment passed in 1961, giving Washington, DC residents the right to vote for president

Yes, residents of Washington, DC have been able to vote in presidential elections since the 1964 election thanks to the 23rd Amendment.

While states get Electoral College votes based on their population, the 23rd Amendment says that the number of Electoral College votes that the District of Columbia gets will never be more than the number of Electoral College votes that the least populous state gets.

Can people in Washington, DC vote for members of Congress?

No, residents of Washington, DC are not able to vote for a member of Congress. Instead, they can elect non-voting delegates and shadow representatives in the House of Representatives and shadow senators in the Senate.

Eleanor Holmes-Norton is the longtime delegate representing Washington, DC. In her role, she can vote in committee, speak on the House floor, and sponsor legislation. However, because DC’s delegate does not have voting rights, she cannot vote on any any legislation that she sponsors.

United States territories also have delegates. American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands each have a delegate in the House of Representatives..

Non-voting shadow representatives and shadow senators have less impact, and are not able to serve on committees, and essentially serve as lobbyists for DC’s interests.

Why does it matter if Washington, DC becomes a state or not?

Besides the fact that nearly 700,000 people live without representation and cannot vote on their own taxes, DC not being a state means that unrelated, distant states have more control over DC’s laws and city budget than the people who live here.

John Oliver lays out some of the impact that the lack of representation has had on Washington DC residents, including unnecessary deaths.

Why does the Washington, DC license plate say “End Taxation Without Representation?”

DC pays more taxes to the federal government than 19 states, but does not have voting representation in Congress. Washington DC has taxation without representation today, even though much of the catalyst for the American Revolution was to do away with taxation without representation. The DC government wanted to highlight this on their license plates.

During Britain’s rule of America, one of the primary grievances of the American colonists was that they were being taxed by the British Crown but did not have proper representation in Parliament. “No taxation without representation” became a popular and powerful political slogan.

This image shows a sample license plate from Washington, DC. The plate has a white background with blue letters reading "SAMPLE" and the phrase "End Taxation Without Representation" in red at the bottom. There are three red stars above two red bars, which is a design element from the District of Columbia flag. The text "NOT FOR OFFICIAL USE" is present in two blue boxes on the top corners.
Sample DC license plate from the DC Department of Motor Vehicles

Do people in Washington, DC need to pay federal taxes?

Yes, Washington DC residents pay federal taxes. In fact, in 2022, they paid more in federal taxes than 19 other entire states.

Are there state taxes in Washington, DC?

Washington DC is not a state, but the District is the state equivalent. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes to the District as well as to the federal government. There is only one set of local taxes at the District level, and there are not separate taxes for both city and District.

Is the Washington, DC driver’s license a valid American driver’s license?

Yes, Washington D.C.’s driver’s license is legal and valid identification within the United States. DC driver’s licenses confirm to the REAL ID standards, and can be accepted as identification for domestic flights, age verification when purchasing alcohol, renting a car, and driving.

In 2023, Washington DC redesigned their driver license. However, the old designs, including the 2018 driver license design, are still valid.

Do US laws still apply in Washington, DC?

Yes, Washington DC is under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government, and all federal laws apply in Washington, DC.

Washington DC also has the highest number of police per capita of any city over 250,000 people, with a myriad of different police forces covering the city, so it is not recommended to test whether laws still apply in DC.

Conclusion

While Washington D.C. is not a state, DC residents hope that one day it may be. Today, the District of Columbia operates like many states, but without full control over their legislation and budget.

If you have any questions about Washington DC and how it fits into the wider country, let me know in the comments and I will respond as soon as possible to help you out.

Valerie Moore

Having lived in Washington, DC for the past 16 years, Valerie has a lot of thoughts about the best things to do, eat, and know around the city. She loves doing deep dives into the interesting things she finds, and sharing with the world. You'll often find her dog, Lil Mikey, along for the ride.

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