Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972

Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: February 4, 1972

Special Message to the Congress Outlining Plans for the Bicentennial Observance in the District of Columbia.
February 4, 1972

To the Congress of the United States:

"Seafaring is necessary," says the Latin inscription on an old building in one of the great European port cities; "mere living is not." This same spirit of movement, venture, and quest animates the whole sweep of America’s story—from its discovery by men who lived for sailing, to its founding as a nation by men who lived for liberty, to its modern maturity as the world’s preeminent power—and it will do so still, 4 years hence, when we observe the Bicentennial of American independence. The Nation could not if it wanted to, and should not if it could, drop anchor somewhere in 1976 and savor the occasion at leisure. By its very nature it can only speed through the year as through any other, under full sail, on into a new century.

The central challenge of our Bicentennial preparations, therefore, is to plan for an observance "on the move." Many groups—public and private, national and local—have already devoted several years of creative thought and effort to meeting this challenge. The common goal to which all subscribe has nowhere been stated better than in the 1970 report of the celebration’s official planning and coordinating body, the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission (ARBC): "to forge a new national commitment—a new Spirit for ’76—a commitment which will unite the nation in purpose and dedication to the advancement of human welfare as we move into Century III of American National Life."

We can best forge such a spirit, the Commission went on to recommend, by approaching the Bicentennial as an occasion both for understanding our heritage better and for quickening the progress toward our horizons—not just in one chosen location or a few, but in every State, city, and community. The Commission’s goal and the principles deriving from it have my strongest support, and I have followed with interest the ARBC’s further work as well as that of the individual Bicentennial Commissions already set up or now being formed by each State and territory, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.


Since the Federal Government has special responsibility for District of Columbia affairs, my closest contact has been with the planning effort now underway here in the District—and I have found its progress thus far most impressive. And so it should be. For while no one city will dominate this truly national anniversary, Washington—which was built to be the Capital of the Republic born in 1776 and seat of the Government constituted in 1787, and which has been in many ways a center of the hopes of all Americans in all generations since—has a unique role toplay. As its plans are made known, they may well serve as a stimulus and an example for the equally important plans being made in thousands of other communities. Both to ensure that Washington itself is ready for 1976 and to spur Bicentennial activity all across the country, I shall outline to the Congress today an action plan for Federal partnership in the District of Columbia’ s Bicentennial observance.

My proposals follow two basic themes. One is the quest for quality of life—today’s name for the age-old aspiration which Jefferson at the Nation’s birth called "the pursuit of happiness." Here is the very essence of a Bicentennial celebrated "on the move." The past success of this quest, its present vigor, and its future prospects will provide a telling measure for our self-assessment as the great milestone nears. Such a theme’s immediacy will call up exertion as well as congratulation—not only a birthday party but an actual rebirth.

The second theme which I would stress is dual excellence for Washington. In choosing which Bicentennial projects to pursue among myriad worthy possibilities, an old question arises again and again: Washington for Washingtonians, or Washington for all Americans? A kind of civic schizophrenia has troubled this city from the earliest days of its double existence as both a national capital and a community in its own right. Solutions going to both extremes have had their advocates—yet there is a better answer than either making thousands of people reside neglected in a strictly Federal city that is "a nice place to visit," or making millions of other people receive their governance from a narrowly provincial and self-centered capital where officials and visitors are classed as outsiders.

The Bicentennial Era, I am convinced, is the right time for Washington to gain a new and more expansive sense of itself, and to find in its dual identity an opportunity for dual excellence unparalleled among American cities. The seat of government can excel as an exemplary living city, at the same time the home of 750,000 local residents excels as a gracious host to fellow citizens and foreign visitors who may number 40 million during 1976 alone.

The projects proposed in this message, then, treat quality of life in the Nation’s Capital as indivisible. They aim for dual excellence, in the conviction that a more liveable city is a more visitable one, and vice versa. For the most part, they emphasize physical construction—not by any means because public works are the sum total of our Bicentennial intentions for the District, but only because building time is already becoming critically short. Activities of many other types, such as commemorative events, pageantry, and social and cultural programs, which will of course be essential to the human dimension of the Bicentennial but which require somewhat shorter lead-times, are also being planned. Reports on these activities and, in many cases, requests for approval and funding will be submitted to the Congress as we move toward 1976.

One further note on Bicentennial concerns not mentioned here but certainly not forgotten: It is my feeling that nothing we could do for the District of Columbia during the next 4 years would be more meaningful or more appropriate to the Spirit of ’76 than granting this city and its people first-class status: voting representation in the Congress. I am encouraged by the apparently warmer climate for this reform on Capitol Hill in 1972, and it will continue to have my support.


Speaking at the National Archives last summer in a ceremony inaugurating the Bicentennial Era, I described an unusual painting which hangs in the Roosevelt Room across from the Oval Office in the White House. The scene portrayed is the signing of the Declaration of Independence—but for some reason the canvas was never finished, and many of the figures in the crowded hall are just sketched in, or left blank. The symbolism of this, I said, is that "the American Revolution is unfinished business, with important roles still open for each of us to play." A broad cross-section of District of Columbia citizens have now begun playing their roles in the continuing drama by serving on Mayor Washington’s recently formed Bicentennial Assembly and Bicentennial Commission. We in the administration found the work of the old local Commission quite valuable in formulating our own plans for 1976, and we look forward to working closely with the reorganized, two-level planning group in the future.

One of the strongest strains of community opinion identified by local representatives like these is a commitment to revitalizing the urban heart of this Washington area. This, not flight to the suburbs or complacent satisfaction with the status quo, seems to arouse hope and determination at the neighborhood level. At the same time it seems a most appropriate cornerstone for a Bicentennial program designed to lift the quality of Washington life.

Accordingly, I shall initiate immediate Federal action to move ahead on plans for building a new town at Fort Lincoln in Northeast Washington. Fort Lincoln, over 300 acres of open land which received its name as a military post a century ago and which was long the site of the National Training School for Boys, offers an ideal chance to create not just another urban project where homes are razed and the human factor is designed out, but a totally new community planned around people. More than 4,000 dwellings for families of varied incomes are envisioned—three-quarter of them owner-occupied, to provide an anchor of stability in the development.

Innovative public transportation and communications systems and experimental educational programs would help knit the community together. Both the installation of these features and the construction work itself would be used as demonstration settings for some of the social-benefit technology applications which I proposed in my State of the Union message. Also integral to the new town would be a Federal employment center for 5,000 to 10,000 employees, and a possible satellite campus for the Federal City College. The development would be financed through public-private partnership, with the initial Federal investment (supplemented by District contributions which will need approval by the Congress) likely to be matched several times over in related private investment.

"The city lives!"—a rallying cry which meets with considerable skepticism in some quarters today—would be the assurance forcefully offered to Washingtonians and the world by a Fort Lincoln town occupied and operating in 1976. We are determined to make it happen.


The Fort Lincoln idea is not new, but the impetus behind it is—a neighborhood,community-based impetus, with which I am delighted to associate this administration. In order to demonstrate our support for this kind of bootstrap Bicentennial initiative, we shall ask the Congress to make available several million dollars in Federal funds to supplement the local funds set aside to carry out the social development project proposals which will be gathered by the local Bicentennial Commission and Assembly in neighborhoods all over Washington beginning this spring. None of these latter projects will approach the scale of Fort Lincoln, but most will be no less soundly rooted in ordinary people’s knowledge of their own needs. The process of listening and response, as well as the project implementation itself, will make for a healthier and more progressive city.

We are also increasing our efforts to assist in redevelopment of the inner-city areas devastated by the riots of April 1968. Two recent ground-breakings give evidence that the work is moving ahead, but also remind us of how much is left to do. The job, of course, is not the Federal Government’s alone, but we must and shall contribute our full share and see the obligation through at an accelerated pace.


One frequently voiced need is for more parkland—not just in the ceremonial center of the city, but out in the residential sections as well. Planning is now underway for a joint Federal-District park development program focusing on underused, publicly owned land near the Anacostia River, close to some of the District’ s most crowded neighborhoods. New recreational facilities will be constructed, to permit intensive use of the sorely needed new parks by Anacostia residents. Also within the Anacostia Basin, improvements will be carried out at the National Arboretum. Another major green-space project planned for completion by 1976 is the Fort Circle Parks, 17 outposts of the Army’s old defensive system around the periphery of the District of Columbia, some dating back as Jar as the War of 1812. Strips of parkland are to link all the forts into a continuous belt containing bike trails, hiking paths, community recreation facilities, and campsites. Further, the District and the Interior Department will cooperate in rehabilitating and upgrading smaller parks in many areas of the city. I ask the Congress to approve the funds requested in my 1973 budget to move all of these projects forward on schedule.


I also support, as vital to the kind of development momentum Washington must have to hold its head up among American cities in the Bicentennial Era, the District government’ s intention to construct a major convention center-sports arena complex near Mount Vernon Square.

This project would help to counter the centrifugal forces which are pushing both the leisure activities of local people and the major gatherings of out-of-town visitors away from the centers of many major cities. It would mean new business and investments and jobs for blocks around. And it would inject new life into nearby neighborhoods—provided, of course, that the legitimate concerns of merchants, working people, and residents in those neighborhoods receive fair consideration in the planning and locationprocess. The scope of Federal assistance, however, should be appropriately limited, since I believe that a development largely local in function and benefits should have substantial local financing as well.



New communities, new parks, new focal points for downtown business—all will help Washington carry through the ARBC’s "Horizons ’76" theme of honoring our founding principles by forging a better future with them. So too will two other ongoing District efforts, for which congressional assistance requested during the last session is still much needed: our public colleges and our METRO subway system.

Washington Technical Institute is proceeding with plans for buildings at its new permanent location on the north side of the former Bureau of Standards site in Northwest Washington. Federal City College remains in scattered lease space throughout the city despite explosive enrollment growth in the past 4 years; it hopes to occupy a campus of its own in and around the old District Library building north of Mount Vernon Square, as well as satellite locations elsewhere. The Congress can help to expedite these campus development efforts by enacting the D.C. Capital Financing Act, which makes special provision for funding college construction through direct Federal grants rather than through Treasury loans as at present.

In my D.C. message urging this action last April, I noted that WTI and the new International Center which is to share the Bureau of Standards site will in the future symbolize "side by side the Capital City’s dedication to human development and to international understanding." Action by the Congress late in 1971 cleared the way for actual sale to foreign governments of lots at the International Center to begin last week. By 1976 the cluster of new. chanceries there will be a pride to Americans and foreign guests alike. Let us now make sure that the District’s public colleges will also be a showplace in the Bicentennial year. Ample and balanced opportunities in higher education are essential, if we are to convince millions of 1976 student visitors that the District takes care of its own.

METRO, and all of the other elements which with it will comprise a balanced modern transportation system for greater Washington, are central to Bicentennial plans for the District. We need the pride of achievement in area wide cooperation which the system will give all communities taking part. We need its people-moving capacity to cope with visitor traffic which may average up to 100,000 people daily throughout the anniversary year. I am today renewing the commitment of all the agencies and resources of the Federal Concernment toward maximum progress on the entire transportation system—subway, freeways, bridges, parking, and support facilities—before 1976. The action of the Congress in December to support continued METRO funding was enormously heartening to the people of the Capital region; it gave, in fact, a glimmer of hope to beleaguered commuters everywhere. The grim Thanksgiving prospect of a great many excavated streets to fill back in has now become the far brighter prospect of at least 24 miles of operating subway-the most modern anywhere—by 1976. Urgently needed now is prompt approval by the Congress of Federal guarantees forMETRO revenue bonds—the next essential step to getting the trains running.


Both the sheer visitor volume anticipated at the height of the bicentennial observance, and the important goal of eliminating a "them and us" polarity between city residents and their guests from around the world, dictate that past patterns which have made the Mall and its immediate environs a sort of "tourist ghetto" must now go. All of Washington must be made not only hospitable and attractive to the visitor—which the proposals just outlined should go far toward achieving—but easily accessible as well. I have directed the Secretary of Transportation to coordinate interagency action plans for supplementing those subway lines in service by 1976 with a coordinated network of other public transportation on which visitors can move from fringe parking areas (to be developed under these plans) to points o! interest nearer the city center.

At the hub of this network should be a new National Visitors Center in and around Union Station. Such a facility, desirable for all years, becomes indispensable as we look to the Bicentennial. I have therefore charged the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, to take immediate action to move the National Visitors Center out of the talk stage, and to prepare new proposals for bringing it to completion by 1976. When Union Station was built early in this century at the height of the railroad era, one of its express purposes was to permit removal of an unsightly terminal and tracks from the east end of the Mall. Its rehabilitation in the seventies as the Capital’s principal reception and orientation point for travelers on all modes of ground transportation would be most appropriate, and would once again relieve the Mall and downtown areas of much traffic congestion. An "air rights" parking garage for buses and visitors’ cars, convenient public transit connections, and a central information facility tied in with a citywide tourist guidance and information system would be the major features of the project.

Here is an opportunity for public and private resources to combine to fill a Bicentennial need. Notwithstanding the collapse of previous railroad financing plans for the Center at the time of the Penn Central bankruptcy, I have asked Secretaries Morton and Volpe to seek substantial railroad participation as they formulate the new proposals. I shall submit these to the Congress as soon as possible, with hopes of rapid approval.

Another step which should promote smoother tourist flow to major attractions is construction of a METRO station at Arlington National Cemetery. This station, for which planning funds are requested in my new budget, would speed movement from Washington over to the Arlington shrine, which by 1976 will be enhanced with numerous improvements including a new Memorial Chapel and columbarium. At the same time it would offer the arriving visitor one more convenient transfer point from private to public transportation on the way into the Capital itself.


Moving in toward the center of the city, what will the 1976 visitor find along the Mall? Most strikingly new and charming,perhaps, would be a park and recreation center called Bicentennial Gardens, which I propose be developed in the open land along Constitution Avenue between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Since the last of the old World War I "tempos" were removed from the West Mall in 1970, we have explored many alternative plans for developing in their place facilities for people of all ages, incomes, and interests, residents and tourists alike, to enjoy.

The Bicentennial Gardens plan, which will soon be ready to present in detail but which of course remains open to the ideas and desires of those for whom it is intended, might be called an American cousin of Copenhagen’s beloved Tivoli. It follows the present contours of the land on a low profile in keeping with other Mall developments. A restaurant, smaller eating areas, an open-air theater, a band shell, an area for ice skating, a children’s play area, fountains, gardens, a boating lake, and walking paths are examples of the kind of features that might be included. There could be underground parking to accommodate tour buses, a terminal for the tourist trams, and a visitors center in the middle of the Gardens. With such a development, the Mall’s attractions would be better balanced and dispersed, evening activities now concentrated in the Smithsonian Quadrangle would have a second focal point, and mingling of Washingtonians and visitors in a pleasant year-round setting would be encouraged. Quality of life for everyone in the Capital would be enhanced.


The three major monuments and memorials in easy reach of Bicentennial Gardens are to be renovated and improved in a 4-year Park Service program beginning with this year’s budget now before the Congress. Another face-lifting project along the whole length of the Mall, and on the Ellipse as well, will reconstruct roadways, add walks, bikeways, plantings, and fountains, and provide for a new Ceremonial Drive. This work too is budgeted for fiscal year 1973 and beyond, to be completed by 1976.

The Mall east of the Washington Monument should also have a new look for the Bicentennial. Besides the Hirshhorn Museum and National Gallery of Art addition which are now being constructed, there will be a handsome new building for one of the Mall’s oldest tenants, the Smithsonian Institution. This structure, which will house the National Air and Space Museum with exhibits ranging from Kitty Hawk to Hadley Rille and with a former astronaut in charge, can be ready in 1976 if the Congress will move now to approve FY 1973 construction funds for it; the plans are nearly complete. The Smithsonian also plans restoration of the historic Arts and Industries Building to its original 1880s appearance, as a fit setting for the Nation’s Centennial exhibits which it displayed following the Philadelphia Exposition nearly a century ago and will display again for the Bicentennial, and construction of a major new "Nation of Nations" exhibit in the Museum of History and Technology to illustrate America’s multi-cultural tradition. Both projects are the subject of FY 1973 budget requests.

A fourth important undertaking by the Smithsonian—not on the Mall but rather a part of the effort to give the Bicentennial activities metropolitan scope—is the Bicentennial Outdoor Museum plannedfor old Fort Foote, Maryland, on the Potomac in Prince Georges County. The restored fort is to serve as the scene for recreation of Revolutionary events such as encampments, war-time life, and parades for 1976. I ask prompt congressional action on legislation to approve the Bicentennial Outdoor Museum and to authorize appropriations for planning it.



As L’Enfant’s majestic expanse of Mall provides an axis along which Washington visitors can honor and relive the American past, so Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving the Mall by the new reflecting pool in front of the Capitol and angling away from it a long mile up to the White House, forms the main axis of government activity shaping the American present and future. This avenue, then, also demands attention as we move to dress up the heart of the city for our two hundredth birthday. By 1976, let us complete the great Federal Triangle office complex in the spirit of the McMillan Commission’s original vision 70 years ago. Let us build at its center a Grand Plaza worthy of the name, by transforming what is now a parking lot into a people-oriented park for government workers and visitors to enjoy. (Visitors will also benefit from the new information and orientation center to be opened in the Great Hall of the Commerce Building by 1976, intended to introduce citizens to the activities of all the executive departments and agencies.) I have requested funds in my budget for fiscal year 1973 to move forward on the Federal Triangle and Grand Plaza projects; with the cooperation of the Congress the work will begin in the near future.

The north side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and with it many blocks of the downtown area, can also be revitalized or well on the way by the time we celebrate the Bicentennial. The FBI building now rising north of the Avenue symbolizes half of the answer—Federal construction-and can stand completed and in use by 1976 with continued congressional sup. port. A further appropriation for this project is included in my new budget requests.

The other half of the answer for Pennsylvania Avenue is coordinated development planning which will mobilize the private sector and help bring commercial and residential activity back to this part of the city. The heart of Washington must not become so dominated by Federal buildings that it sits abandoned and lifeless on evenings and weekends. The two Presidents before me initiated steps to prevent this, and to make the Avenue instead a corridor of lively and varied activity, public and private—and my Administration has continued to press this effort. In September 1970 I announced my strong support for a legislative proposal to establish a development corporation to accomplish the needed revitalization. Since then the proposal has been substantially modified in a good faith effort to accommodate all interests and segments of opinion. Once again, I urge the Congress to act quickly and favorably on the Pennsylvania Avenue Bicentennial Development Corporation bill.

When I first expressed support for thecorporation plan nearly 17 months ago, I called it "an opportunity to fulfill, in this city, at this time, a magnificent vision of the men who founded our Nation, and at the same time to create a standard for the rest of the Nation by which to measure their own urban achievement, and on which to build visions of their own." It is not an opportunity that waits forever, though; of the time available between that 1970 statement and the beginning of the Bicentennial year, more than a fourth is already gone. Every month that passes without this legislation further dims our chances of giving all Americans one birthday present they ought to have—a Capital "main street" to be proud of.


Both local and Federal plans for the Bicentennial celebration here in the Nation’s Capital are far from complete at present. It is right that they should continue to evolve and expand as we move toward 1976. This message, however, attempts to set the tone and theme for Federal participation over the course of the next 4 years, and also to convey some of the aspirations of Washingtonians themselves without presuming to dictate what those aspirations should be.

The various levels and jurisdictions of government in the Washington area are well organized to follow through on the proposals I make today and to supervise further planning. The American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, with its distinguished bipartisan membership headed by David J. Mahoney, continues to provide excellent national leadership. The District government is well served by the responsive local Assembly and Commission structure to which I referred above; Mayor Washington is also establishing liaison with suburban planning bodies and with State officials of both Virginia and Maryland. The massive and diverse physical construction effort outlined in this message has been coordinated through a full-time District of Columbia bicentennial task force within the General Services Administration, until recently headed with great skill by Administrator Robert Kunzig. Now that Mr. Kunzig has become a Federal judge, I shall ensure that this coordination work is carried forward at the same high standard.

Under such direction and with the support of the Congress, we can achieve our Bicentennial goal of dual excellence in the District of Columbia, and we can realize by 1976 a dramatic improvement in the quality of Washington life for all whose physical or spiritual home this great Capital is. And by so doing we can help to inspire and encourage the preparations of other communities all across the country for a truly magnificent Bicentennial.


The White House,
February 4, 1972.

NOTE: On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on plans for the Bicentennial observance in the District of Columbia. Participants in the news briefing were Walter E. Washington, mayor of the District of Columbia, Robert L. Kunzig, Associate Judge, United States Court of Claims, Egil Krogh, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and Theodore C. Lutz, Budget Examiner, Office of Management and Budget.


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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "40 Special Message to the Congress Outlining Plans for the Bicentennial Observance in the District of Columbia.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161 148–155. Original Sources, accessed March 23, 2019,

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "40 Special Message to the Congress Outlining Plans for the Bicentennial Observance in the District of Columbia." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161, pp. 148–155. Original Sources. 23 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '40 Special Message to the Congress Outlining Plans for the Bicentennial Observance in the District of Columbia.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161, pp.148–155. Original Sources, retrieved 23 March 2019, from