Soon after the federal government assumed residence here in 1800, Congress authorized a select committee to study and recommend a form of government for the District of Columbia. That committee advised that Congress charter a governor-legislative territorial government. However, local politicians in Alexandria and Georgetown, which had mayor-council charters dating from colonial days, did not want to give up their little fiefdoms. These leaders appealed to their Senators and Representatives in Virginia and Maryland to keep the local charters, and Congress so legislated.
After the Civil War, D. C. Republican leaders, supported by the business community, began to petition Congress for a unified government with a strong executive as governor, supported by an elected legislative assembly. These leaders believed that a centralized government was needed to initiate a comprehensive public works program to make D.C. a capital worthy of the Nation. Streets were unpaved and a comprehensive water and sewage system was needed.
In 1871, Congress established the Territorial Government of the District of Columbia, headed by a governor serving with a legislative assembly. By 1875, the Nation’s Capital was physically transformed. However, Congress did not provide the anticipated appropriations necessary to fund this transformation, and local borrowing exceeded Congressional limits on the Territorial Government’s ability to raise the revenue to cover the costs. The ensuing insolvency was used by Southern and Northern Democrats, by then a majority in Congress, as the justification to abolish the Territorial Government and replace it with three commissioners appointed by the President.