This editorial is the third in a series of editorials published by the Alexandria Gazette in first week of June 1909. As the editors hinted to at the end of the previous editorial, they reprint a previous opinion that was rendered by Senator George Frisbie Hoar of the judiciary committee shortly before his death.
Printed in full, for the first then, as it is the first time now, are the committee’s findings that the matter between Congress and Alexandria County, the former portion of the District of Columbia, have been resolved by political, not judicial means, and there is nothing stopping the negotiations for the reacquisition from taking place. The Hoar opinion was written 7 years prior in 1902 and concluded that the Federal government can purchase those lands back with the consent of the State of Virginia.
As heretofore stated Mr. Hayes, of California, on May 27 introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to extend the limits of the District of Columbia so as to take in all of Alexandria county, but not Alexandria city or that part of Falls Church which lies within the county. The bill was published in full in the Gazette of June 1. Commenting upon this the Gazette of June 1st suggested that Mr. Hayes should read the report made to the Senate on this subject by the late Senator Hoar. This report reads as follows and has never before been published in full:
Constitutionality of the retrocession of a certain portion of the District of Columbia ceded to the United States by Virginia.
April 11, 1902, — Ordered to be printed.
MR. HOAR, from the committee on the judiciary, submitted the folowing
The committee on the judiciary, to whom was referred the joint resolution (S. R. 50) directing the attorney-general to bring suit to determine the constitutionality of the retrocession of that portion of the original District of Columbia which was ceded to the United States by the state of Virginia, submit the following report:
The territory on the other side of the Potomac river, including the city of Alexandria, which was originally a part of the 10 miles square, was ceded by Virginia for the seat of government. It was retroceded to Virginia by act of Congress in 1846, accepted by Virginia, and thereafter Congress exercised no jurisdiction over it, except so far as it controls the Arlington national cemetery, the experimental farm of the Department of Agriculture, the military school for cavalry, and the signal corps, with the land and building occupied by them.
It seems to the committee that it is not expedient that this act of retrocession should be set aside by Congress, even if Congress have the power so to do, without the consent of Virginia. Virginia accepted the transaction, it being understood that it was at the desire and for the benefit of the national government. She has established in Alexandria the important and intimate relations which every state forms for its own citizens dwelling on her own soil; and the people, on the other hand, we presume, feel the loyal and deep attachment which such a relation excites. Such a tie ought not to be broken at all without the consent of the parties, except in case of some paramount and overwhelming public interest.
As to the suggestion that the retrocession was unconstitutional, it seems to as the answer is that from the nature of the case it is a political question and not a judicial question, and that it has been settled by the political authorities alone competent to decide it. It is like the question, What is the true state government, the true and lawful government of a state?– like the question, What is the true frontier? where any dispute exists as to whether territory belongs to us or so a neighboring foreign country, and many like questions.
These are partly questions of law and partly of fact. The questions of law may be settled by the highest court to whom, in the course of judicial proceedings, they may be taken, unless, and until that court choose to reverse its previous opinions. But the fact must be determined in each case, when it arises, by the jury or other tribunal authorized to find the fact. It would be utterly intolerable that territory should be held in one case to be a part of Virginia, and in another case to be a part of the District of Columbia, according as might be held, in the individual case.
So it seems to the case must be deemed settled by the acquiescence in the act by Virginia and of the United States, as manifested by the conduct of the departments of government for more that half a century. The consequences of holding that this retrocession has been void from the beginning would be very serious.
If it be desirable that Alexandria become a part of the District of Columbia again, the only way to accomplish it will be to open negotiations with Virginia and get her consent (See Luther v. Borden, 7 How., 1.)
The committee, therefore, report adversely, and recommend that the resolution be indefinitely postponed.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Chronicling America newspaper collection and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.