Matthew B. Gilmore
By Matthew B. Gilmore*
In 1948 President Harry Truman announced the National Capital Sesquicentennial Celebration to be held throughout 1950 — a raft-load of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the federal government relocating to Washington from Philadelphia. He was following tradition; the centennial had been celebrated in 1900 (but there’s no indication that the 50th anniversary had been recognized in 1850).
In 1900 the centennial celebration (officially the “Centennial Celebration of the Establishment of the Seat of Government in the District of Columbia”) had been limited to one day and quite formal — speeches and a presidential reception for all 37 governors at the White House. In contrast, Truman’s plans were much more populist, and ambitious. He drew on his political allies, those who’d helped organize his inaugural festivities to plan the events. Truman’s plan was national in scope, stating his vision in remarks at the planning commission’s initial meeting on March 8, 1948 as follows:
“The Capital of the United States belongs to all the citizens of the United States — as much to the men and women of Maine or California, Minnesota or Georgia, as to any of us here. The sesquicentennial of the city of Washington should be celebrated not just within the confines of the District of Columbia, but all over the Nation.
“In a larger sense, we hope that all friends of democracy everywhere will join with us in marking the birthday of a city which has grown great as the capital of our democratic Nation.” 
Historic Markers; “deterrent against the ruthless destruction”
The District’s historical community had always planned to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Sesquicentennial to present their gloss, their interpretation on the history of Washington by placing a goodly number of commemorative historical markers around the city. A subcommittee of the main NCSC committee was formed to this end. Five thousand dollars was allocated, potentially enough for 100 tablets — an ambitious goal.
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