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Who's the boss? Alexander Shepherd, the D.C. territorial government and the boss charge

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posted on 2023-08-03, 15:31 authored by Zachary Klitzman

In 1871, Congress combined the charters of Washington City, Georgetown and Washington County into the District of Columbia, a federal territory with a Governor appointed by President Grant. During the brief three years of the Territorial Government, Alexander Shepherd dominated local politics. Serving as first the Vice President of the Board of Public Works, then as the second and final Governor, Shepherd transformed the city through a public works project that paved roads, installed sewers, planted trees, and overall transformed the city into a beautiful capital city. However, to achieve these goals he vastly overspent the budget, and bankrupted the city. Thus, Northern newspapers issued charges of corruption, labeling Shepherd a "Boss" akin to Boss Tweed. In 1874, Congress changed the charter once again, officially abolishing any home rule in Washington, and kicking Shepherd out of office. He eventually moved to Mexico, where he died. Subsequently, the perception of him as a Boss has remained, altering his legacy for the worse. In my thesis, I argue that Shepherd should not be viewed as a "Boss." Instead, he should be viewed as an important figure in Washington, D.C. history whose efforts at modernizing the city drew strong positive responses from Washingtonians - even if outsiders remained critical. Whether black or white, many Washingtonians praised Shepherd during and immediately after his life. This is how we should remember the man who "plucked Washington from the mire."



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