Inspired by this thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=321864 No cite, but I read once – I think it was in Arrogant Capital, by Kevin Phillips (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0316706027/qid=1119479738/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-3058825-8308907?v=glance&s=books&n=507846) – that in 1865, there was legislation proposed in Congress to move the national capital from Washington, DC, to St. Louis, MO. Suppose that bill had passed?
There’s a certain logic to it. Washington was at the center, more or less, of the country in 1789 – but then there was this big westward expansion, and St. Louis was closer to the center in 1865. Even today it’s closer – not to the geographic center (that would be somewhere between Kansas City and Denver) but to the population center. St. Louis is a city neither Northern nor Southern, neither Eastern nor Western. In other words, it’s more or less equally easy/difficult for everybody to get to. It is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, major transportation routes in the Nineteenth Century and far from negligible today. Locating the capital in St. Louis would give the Central Midwest – Something. It would not be denigrated as “the Great Flyover” by bi-coastal residents. And of course, there are military advantages – locating the capital almost as far inland as you can get makes it safer from invading troops and bomber planes. And, since Washington in 1865 was hardly even a town, the federal government wouldn’t have been giving up much in the way of capital (no pun intended) investment. They could have ceded the DC territory back to Maryland, and let the Washingtonians use the Capitol (a much less imposing structure in those days) as their city hall. Washington, MD, would have developed into a modest, pleasant riverfront city known for the “magnificent distances” of the baroque street plan laid out by Pierre L’Enfant.
Actually, I imagine a scenario where the new capital would be built across the river in East St. Louis, IL, which would be made a federal district separated from the state of Illinois. It is a much smaller city (pop. 31, 542 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_St._Louis) than St. Louis, MO (2.6 million –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Louis%2C_Missouri), and, I’m sure, was a much smaller city in 1865, so it would have been more of a blank slate for the construction of a grandiose government city. They might have named the new capital “Cahokia,” after the local Indian mound-city ruins. (That’s what the French called it, after a local Indian clan – the city’s original name, and the name of the people who lived there, are lost forever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia) Being built in the late 19th Century, the capital’s prevailing architectural style might have been something very different than Federalist or Neoclassical.
Would this have altered the course of American history after 1865 in any way?