October 22, 2022 | Last updated May 16, 2023

New Washington in Nebraska

Moses H. Sydenham (1835-1907) had a long and eventful life as a freighter, newspaperman, postmaster and storekeeper at Fort Kearny, and settler in the Platte valley. In his autobiography, written in 1902 (and published in the Nebraska State Journal on February 4, 1907, after his death) he recalled his unsuccessful campaign to have the U.S. capital relocated to central Nebraska:

Fort Kearny parade grounds, 1864-65, with Moses H. Sydenham sitting on a log. NSHS RG2102-5-6

“In 1870 I advocated and agitated the question of removing the United States capital to the Fort Kearney [sic] military reservation: a government tract of land ten miles square–the same size as the District of Columbia–which I proposed to lay off into lots and sell at auction from time to time to furnish money for a fund to build the public buildings.” The proposed national capital on the Plains was to be named New Washington.

“I claimed that if Congress passed the act providing for the same, that railroads would center there from all points of the compass, and a large city grow as if by magic; would stimulate business in all the eastern cities and be an impetus for developing the then undeveloped central plains of this republic in Kansas and Nebraska; make our nation’s capital safe from foreign attack, and bind all sections of our country together in one harmonious bond of business.”

Fort Kearny, looking east, in 1864. From Frank A. Root and William E. Connelley, The Overland Stage to California (Topeka, 1901)

Sydenham claimed that his plan was “well received by many of our statesmen both in and out of Congress, and by the press of the country.” His enthusiasm for national capital removal was shared by a number of cities in the West, each of which aspired to become the new national seat of government. Their efforts, however, were unsuccessful, and the national capital remained at Washington, D.C.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications

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