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Some of Washington’s Grievances – NO VOTES, YET NO GRIEVANCE? Editorial by Theodore W. Noyes, Washington Evening Star, March 10, 1888
|| 2/9/2011 || 3:21 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

“When Theodore Noyes began the expression of such aspirations, he almost stood alone. His series of articles published in The Washington Star in February and March 1888, entitled “Some of Washington’s Grievances,” and particularly the fourth of the series [below], aroused considerable interest on the subject in the local civic groups. The fourth of the series, published March 10, 1888, bore the headline: “No Votes, Yet No Grievance? Washington Needs no Elective Franchise in Municipal Affairs, But Right to Vote for Representative, Senator and President.” Apparently the immediate effect was a letter by a civic leader, Appleton P. Clark, Sr. dated March 19, 1888, requesting Senator Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire to introduce in the Senate an enclosed draft of an amendment to the Constitution conferring representation in Congress and the electoral college upon the people of the District of Columbia. This appears to have been the first time that a proposed amendment for such purpose was presented in Congress.” — James Waldo Fawcett, pages 20-21, from the biographical sketch of Theodore W. Noyes in his posthumously published book “Our National Capital and its un-Americanized Americans” (1951).

scan of the book from the Library of Congress

Some of Washington’s Grievances


NO VOTES, YET NO GRIEVANCE?


Washington Needs no Elective Franchise in Municipal Affairs–No Repeal of "Exclusive Legislation" Clause–But Right to Vote for Representative, Senator, and President.


From the Washington Evening Star, March 10, 1888.
[via The National Capital – Newspaper Articles and Speeches Concerning the City of Washington by Theodore W. Noyes, 1893]


The idea of withdrawing from state power and the control of its residents a portion of territory to serve as the seat of government under the exclusive jurisdiction of the people of the whole Union, as represented by Congress, seems to have obtained a strong hold upon the minds of the founders of the Republic. Many desired to strengthen the notion of a Union by giving the general government an exclusive territory, a center of federal action, controlled by it alone. State jealousies had some influence in the matter. The jurisdiction of any one state over the seat of government would, it was thought, give that state, to some extent, control over the general government itself. Exclusive jurisdiction and the power to call out the militia would also, it was considered, enable Congress to protect itself in case of riot or other disturbance. The fact, now worn threadbare by constant allusion, was remembered, that Congress, while meeting at Philadelphia, October 21, 1783 [actually June 21st, 1783], had been insulted and forced to adjourn to Princeton. The opposition to the plan of giving Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the seat of government seems to have been feeble. No debate upon the clause is reported to have taken place in the Constitutional convention. Objection was made in the Virginia ratifying convention that the District might become an asylum for political criminals or violators of states’ rights. But the clause was adopted without much opposition. By its terms Congress was given the power of exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over this national territory. The legislature of the Union has an authority over the District incompatible with the exercise of the full elective franchise by its citizens. Without an amendment to the Constitution Washington can never vote for President or Senator or Representative. If there is a political grievance, the Constitution is responsible. The city’s complaint against Congress is not that it has deprived residents of the right to vote, but that it has failed to take this disability sufficiently into consideration in its treatment of the city. If the United States had attempted to assume no particular control over the capital, and the seat of government as a city of Maryland had legislated for itself, and had improved and developed itself only in proportion to the means of its citizens, then the indifference of Congress, and the frantic efforts of legislators to avoid a few hours’ consideration of its affairs might have some ground of justification. But Washington protests against the application of a theory and practice which, in combination, have denied it the privileges while burdening it largely with the responsibilities of independence.

In the performance of its duties as guardian of the capital’s welfare, four courses are open to Congress. First, it may leave the relations between the District and the general government unchanged, but give more time and consideration to the capital and its affairs, remodeling its laws in accordance with the wishes of its citizens and providing liberally for the improvement of its appearance, for its general development and for its relief from the heavy debt inequitably imposed upon it. Congressmen should look upon themselves as the representatives of a national district as well as of their own local districts. It should be remembered that the so-called congressional appropriations for the capital’s ordinary expenses are not gifts or beggar’s alms, but merely a disbursement of the District revenues, one-half coming from individual tax-paying citizens, the remainder from the United States as the untaxed holder of one-half of all Washington property, and much should be done by the government beyond the contribution of this quota. If the capital is to be deprived of privileges which would belong to it as the city of its citizens, it should be made worthy of admiration as the city of the United States, representing in miniature its growth in population, wealth and power.

UNLIMITED ELECTIVE FRANCHISE IN MUNICIPAL CONCERNS.

Secondly, Congress may give to the District local sovereignty and the elective franchise to the limited extent which the Constitution will permit. It has been urged by many that Congress has the ability to delegate its power of general legislation; that the exercise of exclusive authority does not forbid a choice of agencies; that the government provided for the District should be assimilated to the theory of republican institutions; and that the natural right of men to govern themselves should be recognized as far as that is possible. And to show that it was never intended by the framers of the Constitution to deprive any portion of the people of the United States of local representative government, the words of Madison in the 43d number of the Federalist are quoted. The other side of the question has been argued with equal ability, and the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia have adopted it. In Roach et al. vs. Van Riswick (Washington Law Reporter, November 10, 1879), it was decided that Congress has no capacity under the Constitution to delegate its delegated powers by bestowing general legislative authority upon the local government of the District, and an act of the so-called legislative assembly of the District, upon which the suit was brought, was declared inoperative and void. For the present, then, in the absence of an overruling decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, such a delegation of power is unconstitutional, and only the unsatisfactory privileges of a municipal corporation can be conferred. But experience has taught that if the decision in Roach against Van Riswick were reversed, and if the most extensive powers of voting were bestowed, which any reasonable construction of the Constitution can grant, the gift would be not merely valueless, but objectionable. The judiciary committee of the House of Representatives, in a report made June 1, 1874, stated the following truths: "In a strict legal sense there can be said to be no such thing as a local government of the District of Columbia, for there can be no government within the District independent of that of the federal government, and whatever local authority there may be now existing, or which may hereafter be set up within the District, it can only be regarded legally as an agency of the federal government, and whatever authority this local government may exercise, it must be regarded as the act of the United States through their delegated representative." The District legislature would in any event act under the restrictions suggested by these words. Its general laws would be mere petitions, void without the assent, express or implied, of Congress. A delegate without a vote has little weight in a "log-rolling" body like the House of Representatives. The other officers would be petty town officials, and a voice would still be denied the city in the choice of the executive and legislative officers of the nation. In short, the exercise of suffrage thus limited would be an expensive farce. Without representation suffrage is of no value; and, shut out from the bodies which make its laws and impose taxes upon it, representation of the District under the Constitution in its present shape can be only a sham.

It is extremely doubtful whether popular suffrage is desirable in the choice of those who are intrusted with purely municipal functions, even in cities where its adoption is not opposed by the peculiar objections which confront it in its application to the affairs of Washington. Experience and observation do not teach that a municipality which is reasonably well-governed will display wisdom by demanding a change of system in order to assimilate itself to ordinary American cities. The latter are notoriously misgoverned. Incompetent and dishonest officials have been too often chosen in partisan contests, immense municipal debts have been contracted, and excessive taxation has been imposed. Statistics show that while state indebtedness has decreased between the last two censuses, municipal indebtedness has vastly increased, far more rapidly than population and valuation, and its amount in American municipalities is now estimated at a billion dollars. The deplorable financial condition of so many of our large cities is due, in the main, to unlimited popular suffrage, which has given to non-taxpaying, irresponsible voters

THE POWER TO EXPEND, EXTRAVAGANTLY AND CORRUPTLY,

the money supplied by tax-payers. It has placed the contributors and non-contributors to a fund upon an equal footing in the matter of deciding how and by whom the fund shall be disbursed. It has enabled the latter, under the guise of taxation, to make a division of the contributions of the former. It has legalized the virtual confiscation of accumulated wealth by aggregated paupers. Under its workings, robbers at the head of organized bands of destitute and desperate followers, have been permitted to seize, through mere force of numbers, the purse of more than one city, and to spend its contents at pleasure. The intolerable misgoverment of many American cities has not only caused the suggestion of such schemes of reform as the limitation of suffrage to tax-payers, and minority representation, but it has led even to the bold proposition that all power of self-government be withdrawn from these municipalities, and that the management of their affairs be intrusted to the state legislature–a plan which, if adopted, would place them in respect to their internal administration in a condition similar to that of Washington. In theory the powers exercised by the officers of cities are by delegation from the people of the whole state, in whom the ultimate sovereignty, as modified by the Constitution of the United States, resides. In New York, from 1777 to 1821, the officers of municipal corporations were appointed by the governor and four senators chosen every year by four subdivisions of the assembly. Instances of the intervention of the state government into the affairs of cities, amounting in some cases to indirect disfranchisement, have not been lacking in later years. There are serious objections, however, to the plan of granting exclusive control over cities to the state government, and it is not likely that the proposition can muster many advocates. But the mere fact that the suggestion has been made indicates that the evils which our municipalities endure are so great that the condition of Washington is viewed by some as preferable. The capital may well hesitate before it demands a privilege which its possessors are eager to resign, before it seeks to bind upon its own shoulders the burden of which other cities are making desperate efforts to relieve themselves, before it asks, as a boon, the main source of municipal woes. If the doctrine were generally accepted that universal suffrage is demanded by republican principles only in the choice of those officers who exercise purely governmental functions, and not in the selection of agents by municipal corporations to perform duties affecting private property interests, and if Congress might be depended upon to grant to the tax-payers of the District the financial administration of the capital, some of the objections against an elective system would be removed. But there is no probability of such action by Congress. The same spirit which would force republican forms of government to be observed in the District, though republican rights are not granted therewith, would deny a property qualification for voters. The municipal affairs of the city are now managed by a Commission appointed by the President, and compared with the manner and cost of the performance of similar duties in other cities the work is well and cheaply done. If this method of government should be abandoned, and the universal-suffrage system adopted, there is no reason to believe that Washington would escape the maladministration which prevails in other large cities. The conditions which cause popular suffrage to be baneful in the latter exist to a considerable degree at the capital, and in one or two respects
WASHINGTON HAS ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES

with which to contend. The character of the voting population of the city, though it would not be a proper ground of objection if it were proposed to invest the residents of the District with the full rights of American citizenship, may be noted when the evils of suffrage are offered without its substantial benefits. About one-third of the inhabitants of Washington are colored, and this number includes thousands of the worst as well as the best specimens of the race. In addition to the permanent colored element an army of recruits would be attracted by elections to the city from the farms of Maryland and Virginia, to be used as voting material by political "bosses," and to be supported as loafers, partly by the wages of politics, partly by charity and partly by jail nourishment. The floating population of non-tax-payers will always be large at the capital, where office-seekers most do congregate, but with the accessions that elections bring the solid citizens would almost certainly be overwhelmed.

An objectionable result of the choice by general vote of minor officers only, with insignificant powers, is the small-bore politician developed by small-bore elections. In the states the politician may hope to rise, step by step, to the governorship of a wealthy, populous and powerful community, to a seat in the national legislature, or to the presidency. In Washington he must confine himself to petty affairs and limit himself by petty ambitions; and, naturally, few able and upright men would be tempted by the prospect.

The commission government, which a sham representative system would displace, has the advantage of bringing the United States and the national capital into those close relations which were anticipated in the plans of our forefathers. The members of the commission are appointed by the President, to whom they report, and the nominations of two of them are approved by the Senate. The Treasurer of the United States is treasurer of the District. Congress alone is responsible for all general legislation. The true relations of Washington to the general government are thus suggested at every turn. If the city were permitted to elect local officers and pass local laws it would remove itself to that extent from national consideration, members of Congress would be permitted fewer opportunities of learning their full responsibilities in respect to the nation’s ward, while the privilege gained would have no compensating advantage.

It is true that commission governments are not unobjectionable, but it is believed that the most serious of their evils may be avoided more readily than those of the alternative system. Among the possible dangers of such a government for Washington are two that are prominent: First, that the executive may appoint as commissioners, not bona fide citizens of the District, interested in its welfare alone, but his own favorites, on the score of personal friendship, or as a reward for political services. Secondly, that such commissioners, when appointed, will use the minor positions under their control as similar political rewards to aid the party or the political "boss" in whose interests they have been given office. If the city’s government is ever debased into a mere political machine, a death blow will be given to the interests of the District. The capital is the ward, not of a party, but of a nation; it requires the friendly legislation of both parties; and to obtain such legislation its government must be non-partisan. The affairs of Washington are in certain respects confided to the President and commissioners appointed by him as trustees. If President or commissioner takes advantage of this position to benefit himself, or a clique, or a political party, and is not influenced solely by a consideration of the interests confided to his protection a sacred trust is betrayed.

Thirdly, Congress may propose an amendment to the Constitution

EXTINGUISHING ITS OWN POWER OF EXCLUSIVE LEGISLATION

and placing the residents of the District upon the same footing in regard to all elections as the citizens of the several states. The prosperity of Washington as the national capital would be endangered by the grant of local sovereignty to its citizens. Even if the nation might be induced to surrender the control of its property interests in the District entirely to the residents, which is hardly conceivable, it would not be willing to pay one-half of the expenses of the capital with no power of management in respect to its affairs, and with not even a voice in its government. But it is absolutely essential to the welfare of the city that its present financial relations to the United States shall be preserved. The manner of Washington’s development renders it utterly unable to meet, unassisted, the expense of sustaining itself as a magnificent national capital. What was said in 1878, when the question was whether the government should pay a fixed proportion of District expenses, might be repeated if under any circumstances the attempt were made to withdraw the support then provided: "As in the beginning the federal city was without population or resources to which its founders could look for its development and improvement, so also at the present time it is wholly without the means either in property, commerce or manufactures, to meet the enormous outlays which the magnificence of the plan requires. One-half of its property, and the best half, is owned by the United States, and pays no taxes, and the other half is mortgaged for one-fourth of its value by a debt contracted in exhausting and paralyzing efforts to make it what its patriotic founders designed it to be–a national capital, worthy of the name it bears." If deprivation of suffrage is the only condition upon which citizens of the District are partially relieved from their heavy burdens, they evidently prefer to remain "political slaves" rather than become bankrupt freemen.

The arguments, already recited, which led to the establishment of an exclusively national district must also be weighed when it is attempted to reverse the decision then made.

The sentiment which identifies the fate of the Union with that of the capital should not be disregarded. Washington has planted the roots of its existence and prosperity in the spirit of American nationality. It has flourished in proportion as this spirit has been strong. The grand designs respecting it were neglected by those, not its enemies, who resented the substantial embodiment of a power superior to that of the state. It again revived when civil war developed the patriotic national sentiment, and Americans learned that the Union is a substantial something to love, to live for, and to die for. The bloodshed of the Revolution gave birth to the spirit of nationality and created the city; the bloodshed of the civil war revived the spirit and regenerated the city. The imagination may conceive that the soul of the Union is enshrined in this exclusive territory, and that if ever its peculiar existence shall be extinguished the event will be a forerunner of the dissolution of the Union.

Fourthly, retaining exclusive jurisdiction, Congress may propose

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT GIVING THE DISTRICT REPRESENTATION

in the bodies which legislate for it and tax it, a voice as to the President, who is to appoint the commissioners to manage its local affairs, and, in general, except as to the privilege of choosing town or county officers, to place the residents of the District upon the same footing as the citizens of the several states.

A minor discrimination against inhabitants of the capital which needs to be thus remedied is that which denies them the right of bringing suits in the federal courts in those cases where the privilege is given to the citizens of a state, and which puts them before the national judiciary in a less favorable attitude than that of aliens. (Hepburn vs. Ellzey, 2 Cranch., 445.)

While the District is not a state, and while its citizens, in addition to the denial of the benefits of the federal courts, are forbidden representation, it is subject to direct federal taxation, although the Constitution says that "representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states of the Union according to their respective numbers." These words are held to furnish merely a rule of apportionment, and not to limit the power of taxation. (Loughborough vs. Blake, 5 Wheaton, 317.) The District paid its proportion, some $50,000, of the twenty-million direct tax of August 6, 1861, the last of the four direct taxes. It has also paid into the national treasury from the commencement of the excise-tax law in 1862 $6,454,907.03, a larger amount than that derived from Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina or Vermont. "Taxation without representation" thus prevails at the capital. It is alleged, in justification, that the District (when nearly uninhabited) voluntarily resigned its right of distinct representation, and irrevocably adopted the whole body of Congress (including its bitter enemies and its lukewarm friends) as the representatives of its interests. Washington was in existence only a few months when its residents began to bemoan their prospective disfranchisement, their exclusion from participation in national elections. In a pamphlet concerning the "government of the territory of Columbia," published in 1801 by A. B. Woodward, it is said: "This body of people is as much entitled to the enjoyment of the rights of citizenship as any other part of the people of the United States. There can exist no necessity for their disfranchisement, no necessity for them to repose on the mere generosity of their countrymen to be protected from tyranny; to mere spontaneous attention for the regulation of their interests. They are entitled to a participation in the general councils on the principles of equity and reciprocity." From the beginning of the century, too, members of Congress who have viewed the condition of the capital with other emotions than that of indifference have either "felt their hearts bleed" over the enslaved condition of the people, or have denounced the disfranchised as selling their republican birthright for a mess of pottage. In a debate in the House, December, 1800, Representative Smilie said: "Not a man in the District would be represented in the government, whereas every man who contributed to the support of a government ought to be represented in it; otherwise his natural rights were subverted and he was left not a citizen but a slave. It was a right which this country, when under subjection to Great Britain, thought worth making a resolute struggle for, and evinced a determination to perish rather than not enjoy." In 1803 the "unrepublican" condition of the District was again a matter of comment, and it was proposed to recede to Maryland and Virginia jurisdiction over the parts of the District originally ceded by them. John Randolph, Jr., in February of that year, said in the House: "I could wish, indeed, to see the people within this District restored to their rights. This species of government is an experiment how far freeman can be reconciled to live without rights; an experiment dangerous to the liberties of these states. But inasmuch as it had been already made, inasmuch as I was not accessory to it, and as at some future time its deleterious effects may be arrested, I am disposed to vote against the resolution." A proposition to recede the territory of Columbia outside of the limits of Washington, caused Representative Clark to say, in 1805, that he spoke of the inhabitants whenever he had occasion to allude to them with pity and compassion, and he most devoutly wished to see them placed in a condition more congenial to his own feelings, and the feelings of every true lover of civil and political freedom. Alexandria was retroceded in 1846, her "galling disfranchisement" being referred to in debate. Georgetown had sought retrocession in 1838, but unsuccessfully.

Many of those who favored the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress over the District on the same grounds that caused such a District to be established were yet

PREPARED TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION

when the proper time should come, in order to give the people of the capital a representation in Congress, the body which, in theory, constitutes their legislature. As early as December, 1800, Representative Dennis said: "If it should be necessary the constitution might be so altered as to give them a delegate to the general legislature when their numbers should become sufficient." A territorial delegate, which did not then exist, could not have been intended. The time suggested by Mr. Dennis seems to have now arrived. The difficulty of providing Congressional representation for an isolated collection of people, insufficiently numerous in themselves to be entitled to a representative, is no longer to be met. The population of the District is increasing with extraordinary rapidity. In 1880 it numbered 177,638, and in 1885, 203,459. The census of 1880 was the first enumeration which showed it to have acquired a population that would entitle it to ask admission as a state if it were upon the footing of an ordinary territory. The number of persons to be represented by each member of the House of Representatives is, according to the last apportionment, about 152,000. The House committee on territories reports in favor of granting representation to Montana, which, it thinks, will have 170,000 population next November; to Washington territory, which is expected to contain 160,000 people at that time, and to New Mexico, which had 134,131 persons in 1885. One representative in the House and one, at least, in the Senate, should be granted the District. This arrangement is found to be equitable when the population and growth of the several states are considered. The District, by the showing of the census of 1880, already surpassed in point of numbers Nevada (62,265), Delaware (146,654), and Oregon (174,767); and the advantage over Delaware and Nevada is likely to be retained. In addition to these three states, Colorado (194,649), Florida (267,351), Rhode Island (276,351), Vermont (332,286) and New Hampshire (346,984), had less than double the District’s population, making the assignment of one Senator to the latter equitable.

In view of the comparative rate of increase and other considerations, the District is likely to be found in the future ahead of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, and, perhaps, Connecticut, of the original states, and Vermont and Nevada of the new states.

The adoption of the fourth plan by Congress would be a compromise between granting only local, qualified suffrage, which is highly objectionable to the District, and consenting to absolute self-government, which involves a surrender of national control over the capital, and to which the United States, as the owner of one-half the city, and the virtual payer of one-half its taxes, would never consent. The wisdom of this course is sustained by all the arguments which go to show that the constitutional power of "exclusive legislation" by Congress should not be hastily yielded, and also by those which maintain that taxation without representation and inequality of citizens before the law should not be allowed to exist. The District would be placed in certain respects on a level with the states. Taxed like them, it would have like them a voice in the disposition of the general taxes. It would not, however, stand upon precisely the same footing with them, for the states are subordinated to the general government only in certain defined particulars, whereas the District would be subordinate in all respects. This inferiority would be indicated, it has been suggested, by giving the District

ONE INSTEAD OF TWO SENATORS

and by a corresponding reduction in its electoral vote. Enjoying representation in Congress and participation in the choice of the President, who appoints its local officers, Washington would resemble in its municipal government a city which, after voting for the governor and legislature of a state, is managed by a commission appointed by the former and approved by the latter. Under this fourth plan the suggestions made in respect to the duty of members of Congress as the exclusive legislators for the capital would still be applicable; the present financial arrangements between the District and the general government would be maintained; the expensive transportation of office-holding voters to the states from Maine to Florida and from New York to California would, after the abolition of the office-apportionment system, be avoided; the rights of residents of the District as American citizens would be recognized in a manner which would inflict the smallest possible injury upon the interests of the city as capital of the United States, and this spot of national territority with all its patriotic associations would be preserved to the Union.

If at the time of giving the District the substantial representation suggested it should also be decided that Congress can manage the minor concerns of the District more satisfactorily by modifying in details the present form of municipal government, such changes may then be conveniently made. But every alteration should be based upon a full recognition, first of the absolute necessity of a retention by the general government of such representation in and control of the management of city affairs as will enable it to protect its vast interests here; second, of the frightful warning from the experience of other large cities against recourse to unlimited popular suffrage as a factor in the decision of purely municipal and financial matters; and, third, of the vital importance to the District that its local government shall be non-partisan.

It is conceded that the best method by which Congress can regulate the capital as a city may vary somewhat in details, with altering circumstances, but there is no urgent, present necessity for a change in this respect. The more important question is, Shall not the people of the District, who now largely exceed the number of persons represented by each member of the House, be

ADMITTED TO THE UNION

as citizens of a quasi-state, and be granted representation in the national legislature, and the privilege of voting for President? Without disputing for the present the proposition, proved absurd by experience, that they do not need, as citizens of the District, distinct representation in Congress as a local legislature because they are represented in that capacity by all Senators and Representatives, do they not, as citizens of the United States, assembled in sufficient numbers in a limited space and paying national taxes, require representation in the body which imposes and disburses these taxes?

The people of Washington do not wish an unlimited elective franchise in municipal concerns or a repeal of the "exclusive-legislation" clause, with a change of the financial relations between the city and the United States, and many of them, in view of the dangers to be faced in the discussion by Congress of changes of any description in the present government, will continue to favor the first or do-nothing policy on the part of Congress, which was unquestionably wisest as long as the fixed population of the District, not in government employ, was insufficient to entitle it to a representative in Congress, and which is still wisest so far as the municipal government is concerned. These citizens will doubtless for the reason suggested hesitate to ask the additional fights to be secured by this constitutional amendment. But while the asking and granting of these fights may be in various ways reasonably delayed, they can not be indefinitely postponed. Though representation in their national and local legislature, which alone makes laws for them and taxes them, and may send every man of them to war to be wounded or killed, be denied to the 225,000 District residents of the present, will the same denial be given to the half million of the near future, or to the prospective million toward which figure as a goal the District’s population is pressing?


This newspaper article was obtained from the The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



An Act to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – 39th Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 6, Stat. 375, Enacted by a Veto Override on 01/08/1867
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After being introduced nearly a year earlier and surviving a veto by President Johnson, the text & scans below show the final version of the law, including the veto override.

Scan of the original legislation from the Library of Congress
Scan of the original legislation from the Library of Congress

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S.1 – A Bill to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – 12/04/1865
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A little over a year later President Andrew Johnson would veto the final version of this legislation. What I find most interesting about this legislation is that the Senate made this bill their first piece of legislation for the 39th Congress. I would like to see how many other Congresses placed District of Columbia-specific legislation before all other national matters.


Scan of the original legislation from the Library of Congress
Scan of the original legislation from the Library of Congress

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

December 4, 1865.

Mr. Wade asked, and by unanimous consent obtained, leave to bring in the following bill; which was read, passed to a second reading, and ordered to be printed.

A BILL

To regulate the elective franchise in the District of Columbia.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act, each and every male person, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who has not been convicted of any infamous crime or offense, and who is a citizen of the United States, and who shall have resided in the said District for the period of six months previous to any election therein, shall be entitled to the elective franchise and shall be deemed an elector and entitled to vote at any election in said District without any distinction or discrimination on account of color, race, or nationality.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person or persons shall wilfully interrupt or disturb any such elector in the exercise of such franchise, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined any sum not to exceed one thousand dollars, or be imprisoned in the cell or dungeon of the jail in said District, and fed on bread and water, only, for a period not to exceed thirty days, or both, at the discretion of the court.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the several courts having criminal jurisdiction in said District to give this act in special charge to the grand jury at the commencement of each term of the court.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That all acts and parts of acts inconsistent with this act be, and the same are hereby, repealed.


Related Suffrage Entries:

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Joseph Story: Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Book 3, Chapter 23 – POWER OVER SEAT OF GOVERNMENT AND OTHER CEDED PLACES
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Joseph Story was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts’s 2nd district (May 23, 1808 – March 3, 1809), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (November 18, 1811 – September 10, 1845), and is the author of the first comprehensive treatise ever written on the U.S. Constitution. Below is the section of Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution that deals with the District of Columbia when it was still a diamond on the map.


half plate daguerreotype of Joseph Story taken between 1844 and 1845 found in the Library of Congress daguerreotype collection

Daguerreotype of Joseph Story from the Library of Congress


BOOK III CHAPTER XXIII.

POWER OVER SEAT OF GOVERNMENT AND OTHER CEDED PLACES.

Originally published in three volumes by Hilliard, Gray & Company, and Brown, Shattuck, & Co in 1833

§ 1211. THE next power of congress is, "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district, not exceeding ten miles square, as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of congress, become the SEAT OF THE GOVERNMENT of the United States; and
to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state, in which the same shall be, for the erection of FORTS, MAGAZINES, ARSENALS, and other needful BUILDINGS."

§ 1212. This clause was not in the original draft of the constitution; but was referred to a committee, who reported in its favour; and it was adopted into the constitution with a slight amendment without any apparent objection. 1

§ 1213. The indispensable necessity of complete and exclusive power, on the part of the congress, at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union, and one might say of the World, by virtue of its general supremacy. Without it not only the public authorities might be insulted, and their proceedings be interrupted with impunity; but the public archives might be in danger of violation, and destruction, and a dependence of the members of the national government on the state authorities for protection in the discharge of their functions be created, which would bring on the national councils the imputation of being subjected to undue awe and influence, and might, in times of high excitement, expose their lives to jeopardy. It never could be safe to leave in possession of any state the exclusive power to decide, whether the functionaries of the national government should have the moral or physical power to perform their duties. 2 It might subject the favoured state to the most unrelenting jealousy of the other states, and introduce earnest controversies from time to time respecting the removal of the seat of government.

§ 1214. Nor can the cession be justly an object of jealousy to any state; or in the slightest degree impair its sovereignty. The ceded district is of a very narrow extent; and it rests in the option of the state, whether it shall be made or not. There can be little doubt, that the inhabitants composing it would receive with thankfulness such a blessing, since their own importance would be thereby increased, their interests be subserved, and their rights be under the immediate protection of the
representatives of the whole Union. 3 It is not improbable, that an occurrence, at the very close of the revolutionary war, had a great effect in introducing this provision into the constitution. At the period alluded to, the congress, then sitting at Philadelphia, was surrounded and insulted by a small, but insolent body of mutineers of the continental army. Congress applied to the executive authority of Pennsylvania for defence; but, under the ill-conceived constitution of the state at that time, the executive power was vested in a council consisting of thirteen members; and they possessed, or exhibited so little energy, and such apparent intimidation, that congress indignantly removed to New-Jersey, whose inhabitants welcomed them with promises of defending them. Congress remained for some time at Princeton without being again insulted, till, for the sake of greater convenience, they adjourned to Annapolis. The general dissatisfaction with the proceedings of Pennsylvania, and the degrading spectacle of a fugitive congress, were sufficiently striking to produce this remedy. 4 Indeed, if such a lesson could have been lost upon the people, it would have been as humiliating to their intelligence, as it would have been offensive to their honour.

§ 1215. And yet this clause did not escape the common fate of most of the powers of the national government. It was represented, as peculiarly dangerous. It may, it was said, become a soft of public sanctuary, with exclusive privileges and immunities of every sort. It may be the very spot for the establishment of tyranny, and of refuge of the oppressors of the people. The inhabitants will be answerable to no laws, except those of congress. A powerful army may be here kept on foot; and the most oppressive and sanguinary laws may be passed to govern the district. 5 Nay, at the distance of fourteen years after the constitution had quietly gone into operation, and this power had been acted upon with a moderation, as commendable, as it ought to be satisfactory, a learned commentator expressed regret at the extent of the power, and intimated in no inexplicit terms his fears for the future. "A system of laws," says he, "incompatible with the nature and principles of a representative democracy, though not likely to be introduced at once, may be matured by degrees, and diffuse its influence through the states, and finally lay the foundation of the most important changes in the nature of the federal government. Let foreigners be enabled to hold lands, and transmit them by inheritance, or devise; let the preference to males, and the rights or primogeniture he revived with the doctrine of entails; and aristocracy will neither want a ladder to climb by, nor a base for its support.6"

§ 1216. What a superstructure to be erected on such a narrow foundation! Several of the states now permit foreigners to hold and transmit lands; and yet their liberties are not overwhelmed. The whole South, before the revolution, allowed and cherished the system of primogeniture; and yet they possessed, and transmitted to their children their colonial rights and privileges, and achieved under this very system the independence of the country. The system of entails is still the law of several of the states; and yet no danger has yet assailed them. They possess, and enjoy the fruits of republican industry and frugality, without any landed or other aristocracy. And yet the petty district of ten miles square is to overrule in its policy and legislation all, that is venerable and admirable in state legislation! The states, and the people of the states are represented in congress. The district has no representatives there; but is subjected to the exclusive legislation of the former. And yet congress, at home republican, will here nourish aristocracy. The states will here lay the foundation for the destruction of their own institutions, rights, and sovereignty. At home, they will follow the legislation of the district, instead of guiding it by their precept and example. They will choose to be the engines of tyranny and oppression in the district, that they may become enslaved within their own territorial sovereignty. What, but a disposition to indulge in all sorts of delusions and alarms, could create such extraordinary flights of imagination? Can such things be, and overcome us, like a summer’s cloud, without our special wonder? At this distance of time, it seems wholly unnecessary to refute the suggestions, which have been so ingeniously urged. If they prove any thing, they prove, that there ought to be no government, because no persons can be found worthy of the trust.

§ 1217. The seat of government has now, for more than thirty years, been permanently fixed on the river Potomac, on a tract of ten miles square, ceded by the states of Virginia and Maryland. It was selected by that great man, the boast of all America, the first in war, the first in peace, and the first in the hearts of his countrymen. It bears his name; it is the monument of his fame and wisdom. May it be for ever consecrated to its present noble purpose, capitoli immobile saxum!

§ 1218. The inhabitants enjoy all their civil, religious, and political rights. They live substantially under the same laws, as at the time of the cession; such changes only having been made, as have been devised, and sought by themselves. They are not indeed citizens of any state, entitled to the privileges of such; but they are citizens of the United States. They have no immediate representatives in congress. But they may justly boast, that they live under a paternal government, attentive to their wants, and zealous for their welfare. They, as yet, possess no local legislature; and have, as yet, not desired to possess one. A learned commentator has doubted, whether congress can create such a legislature, because it is the delegation of a delegated authority.7 A very different opinion was expressed by the Federalist; for it was said, that "a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."8 In point of fact, the corporations of the three cities within its limits possess and exercise a delegated power of legislation under their charters, granted by congress, to the full extent of their municipal wants, without any constitutional scruple, or surmise of doubt.

§ 1219. The other part of the power, giving exclusive legislation over places ceded for the erection of forts, magazines, &c., seems still more necessary for the public convenience and safety. The public money expended on such places, and the public property deposited in them, and the nature of the military duties, which may be required there, all demand, that they should be exempted from state authority. In truth, it would be wholly improper, that places, on which the security of the entire Union may depend, should be subjected to the control of any member of it. The power, indeed, is wholly unexceptionable; since it can only be exercised at the will of the state; and therefore it is placed beyond all reasonable scruple.9 Yet, it did not escape without the scrutinizing jealousy of the opponents of the constitution, and was denounced, as dangerous to state sovereignty.10

§ 1220. A great variety of cessions have been made by the states under this power. And generally there has been a reservation of the right to serve all state process, civil and criminal, upon persons found therein. This reservation has not been thought at all inconsistent with the provision of the constitution; for the state process, quoad hoc, becomes the process of the United States, and the general power of exclusive legislation remains with congress. Thus, these places are not capable of being made a sanctuary for fugitives, to exempt them from acts done within, and cognizable by, the states, to which the territory belonged; and at the same time congress is enabled to accomplish the great objects of the power.11

§ 1221. The power of Congress to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over these ceded places is conferred on that body, as the legislature of the Union; and cannot be exercised in any other character. A law passed in pursuance of it is the supreme law of the land, and binding on all the states, and cannot be defeated by them. The power to pass such a law carries with it all the incidental powers to give it complete and effectual execution; and such a law may be extended in its operation incidentally throughout the United States, if congress think it necessary so to do. But if intended to have efficiency beyond the district, language must be used in the act expressive of such an intention; otherwise it will be deemed purely local. 12

§ 1222. It follows from this review of the clause, that the states cannot take cognizance of any acts done in the ceded places after the cession; and, on the other hand, the inhabitants of those places cease to be inhabitants of the state, and can no longer exercise any civil or political rights under the laws of the state.13 But if there has been no cession by the state of the place, although it has been constantly occupied and used, under purchase, or otherwise, by the United States for a fort, arsenal, or other constitutional purpose, the state jurisdiction still remains complete and perfect. 14

§ 1223. Upon a recent occasion, the nature and effect of the exclusive power of legislation, thus given by the constitution in these ceded places, came under the consideration of the Supreme Court, and was much discussed. It was argued, that all such legislation by congress was purely local, like that exercised by a territorial legislature; and was not to be deemed legislation by congress in the character of the legislature of the Union. The object of the argument was to establish, that a law, made in or for such ceded places, had no extra-territorial force or obligation, it not being a law of the United States. The reasoning of the court affirming, that such an act was a law of the United States, and that congress in passing it acted, as the legislature of the Union, can be best conveyed in their own language, and would be impaired by an abridgment.

§ 1224. "In the enumeration of the powers of congress, which is made in the eighth section of the first article, we find that of exercising exclusive legislation over such district, as shall become the seat of government. This power, like all others, which are specified, is conferred on congress, as the legislature of the Union; for, strip them of that character, and they would not possess it. In no other character can it be exercised. In legislating for the district, they necessarily preserve the character of the legislature of the Union; for it is in that character alone, that the constitution confers on them this power of exclusive legislation. This proposition need not be enforced. The second clause of the sixth article declares, that ‘this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land.’ The clause, which gives exclusive jurisdiction, is unquestionably a part of the constitution, and, as such, binds all the United States. Those, who contend, that acts of congress, made in pursuance of this power, do not, like acts made in pursuance of other powers, bind the nation, ought to show some safe and clear rule, which shall support this construction, and prove, that an act of congress, clothed in all the forms, which attend other legislative acts, and passed in virtue of a power conferred on, and exercised by congress, as the legislature of the Union, is not a law of the United States, and does not bind them.

§ 1225. "One of the gentlemen sought to illustrate his proposition, that congress, when legislating for the district, assumed a distinct character, and was reduced to a mere local legislature, whose laws could possess no obligation out of the ten miles square, by a reference to the complex character of this court. It is, they say, a court of common law, and a court of equity. Its character, when sitting as a court of common law, is as distinct from its character, when sitting as a court of equity, as if the powers belonging to those departments were vested in different tribunals. Though united in the same tribunal, they are never confounded with each other. Without inquiring, how far the union of different characters in one court may be applicable, in principle, to the union in congress of the power of exclusive legislation in some places, and of limited legislation in others, it may be observed, that the forms of proceedings in a court of law are so totally unlike the forms of proceedings in a court of equity, that a mere inspection of the record gives decisive information of the character, in which the court sits, and consequently of the extent of its powers. But if the forms of proceeding were precisely the same, and the court the same, the distinction would disappear.

§ 1226. "Since congress legislates in the same forms, and in the same character, in virtue of powers of equal obligation conferred in the same instrument, when exercising its exclusive powers of legislation, as well as when exercising those, which are limited, we must inquire, whether there be any thing in the nature of this exclusive legislation, which necessarily confines the operation of the laws, made in virtue of this power, to the place, with a view to which they are made. Connected with the power to legislate within this district, is a similar power in forts, arsenals, dock-yards, &c. Congress has a right to punish murder in a fort, or other place within its exclusive jurisdiction; but no general right to punish murder committed within any of the states. In the act for the punishment of crimes against the United States, murder committed within a fort, or any other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, is punished with death. Thus congress legislates in the same act, under its exclusive and its limited powers.

§ 1227. "The act proceeds to direct, that the body of the criminal, after execution, may be delivered to a surgeon for dissection, and, punishes any person, who shall rescue such body during its conveyance from the place of execution to the surgeon, to whom it is to be delivered. Let these actual provisions of the law, or any other provisions, which can be made on the subject, be considered with a view to the character, in which congress acts, when exercising its powers of exclusive legislation. If congress is to be considered merely as a local legislature, invested, as to this object, with powers limited to the fort, or other place, in which the murder may be committed, if its general powers cannot come in aid of these local powers, how can the offence be tried in any other court, than that of the place, in which it has been committed? How can the offender be conveyed to, or tried in, any other place? How can he be executed elsewhere? How can his body be conveyed through a country under the jurisdiction of another sovereign, and the individual punished, who, within that jurisdiction, shall rescue the body? Were any one state of the Union to pass a law for trying a criminal in a court not created by itself, in a place not within its jurisdiction, and direct the sentence to be executed without its territory, we should all perceive, and acknowledge its incompetency to such a course of legislation. If congress be not equally incompetent, it is, because that body unites the powers of local legislation with those, which are to operate through the Union, and may use the last in aid of the first; or, because the power of exercising exclusive legislation draws after it, as an incident, the power of making that legislation effectual; and the incidental power may be exercised throughout the Union, because the principal power is given to that body, as the legislature of the Union.

§ 1228. "So, in the same act, a person, who, having knowledge of the commission of murder, or other felony, on the high seas, or within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or other place, or district of country within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, shall conceal the same, &c. he shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of felony, and shall be adjudged to be imprisoned, &c. It is clear, that congress cannot punish felonies generally; and, of consequence, cannot punish misprision of felony. It is equally clear, that a state legislature, the state of Maryland for example, cannot punish those, who, in another state, conceal a felony committed in Maryland. How, then, is it, that congress, legislating exclusively for a fort, punishes those, who, out of that fort, conceal a felony committed within it?

§ 1229. "The solution, and the only solution of the difficulty, is, that the power vested in congress, as the legislature of the United States, to legislate exclusively within any place ceded by a state, carries with it, as an incident, the right to make that power effectual. If a felon escape out of the state, in which the act has been committed, the government cannot pursue him into another state, and apprehend him there; but must demand him from the executive power of that other state. If congress were to be considered merely, as the local legislature for the fort, or other place, in which the offence might be committed, then this principle would apply to them, as to other local legislatures; and the felon, who should escape out of the fort, or other place, in which the felony may have been committed, could not be apprehended by the marshal, but must be demanded from the executive of the state. But we know, that the principle does not apply; and the reason is, that congress is not a local legislature, but exercises this particular power, like all its other powers, in its high character, as the legislature of the Union. The American people thought it a necessary power, and they conferred it for their own benefit. Being so conferred, it carries with it all those incidental powers, which are necessary to its complete and effectual execution.

§ 1230. "Whether any particular law be designed to operate without the district or not, depends on the words of that law. If it be designed so to operate, then the question, whether the power, so exercised, be incidental to the power of exclusive legislation, and be warranted by the constitution, requires a consideration of that instrument. In such cases the constitution and the law must be compared and construed. This is the exercise of jurisdiction. It is the only exercise of it, which is allowed in such a case." 15


1. Journ. of Convent. 222, 260. 328, 329, 358.

2. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321,322, 326.

3. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321, 322, 326, 327.

4. Rawle on Const. ch. 9, p. 112, 113.

5. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 320, 321, 323, 324, 325, 326; Id. 115. — Amendments limiting the power of congress to such regulations, as respect time police and good government of the district, were proposed by several or the states at the time of the adoption of the constitution. But they have been silently abandoned. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 276, 374.

6. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 277.

7. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 278.

8. The Federalist. No. 43.

9. The Federalist, No. 43. See also United States v. Bevans, 3 Wheat. R. 336, 388.

10. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 145.

11. Commonwealth v. Clary, 8 Mass. R. 72; United States v. Cornell, 2 Mason R. 60; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30;] 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404.

12. Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 264, 424, 425, 426, 427, 428; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30 ;] 1 Kent. Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238, 239; Loughborough v. Blake, 5 Wheat. R. 322, 324.

13. 8 Mass. R. 72; 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 53; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 403, 404.

14. The People v. Godfrey, 17 Johns. R. 225; Commonwealth v. Young, 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 47; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 401, 404; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28. [ch. 30 ;] Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238 to 240.

15. Cohens, v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 424 to 429.


Sources: The Constitution Society & Google Books


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President Andrew Johnson’s Veto Message to Congress Concerning A Bill to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – January 5, 1867
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Even five years after President Lincoln signed An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia aka the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, it was quite evident that emancipation did not mean electoral equality. Amendments to the Constitution were to be required, but before they were even ratified, Congress chose to extend suffrage to African Americans over a recent vote of the qualified, male Caucasian population in the District of Columbia.

Below is the veto message to Congress President Andrew Johnson wrote against a bill that would have extended universal suffrage to African Americans in the District of Columbia. In the message he assumes the role of a “check” against the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress over the District and explains that Congress should not experiment on the District residents, but rather let the Constitutional Amendment be ratified first.

I have chosen to highlight this text because while I disagree with Andrew Johnson’s conclusion, I believe his intention was correct. The 15th Amendment to the Constitutional was ratified three years later and Andrew Johnson was impeached. But the notion that the President should be the protector of the people of the District of Columbia against powers of Congress over the people of the District of Columbia is something to seriously consider when studying means to obtain full representation for residents today, especially since the President is the only federally elected official District residents can vote for, and that was only through a subsequent constitutional amendment.

Detail of a print showing a portion of the campaign banner for the Republican ticket in the 1864 presidential election.

To the Senate of the United States:

I have received and considered a bill entitled “An act to regulate the elective franchise in the District of Columbia,” passed by the Senate on the 13th of December and by the House of Representatives on the succeeding day. It was presented for my approval on the 26th ultimo–six days after the adjournment of Congress–and is now returned with my objections to the Senate, in which House it originated.

Measures having been introduced at the commencement of the first session of the present Congress for the extension of the elective franchise to persons of color in the District of Columbia, steps were taken by the corporate authorities of Washington and Georgetown to ascertain and make known the opinion of the people of the two cities upon a subject so immediately affecting their welfare as a community. The question was submitted to the people at special elections held in the month of December, 1865, when the qualified voters of Washington and Georgetown, with great unanimity of sentiment, expressed themselves opposed to the contemplated legislation. In Washington, in a vote of 6,556–the largest, with but two exceptions, ever polled in that city–only thirty-five ballots were cast for Negro suffrage, while in Georgetown, in an aggregate of 813 votes–a number considerably in excess of the average vote at the four preceding annual elections–but one was given in favor of the proposed extension of the elective franchise. As these elections seem to have been conducted with entire fairness, the result must be accepted as a truthful expression of the opinion of the people of the District upon the question which evoked it. Possessing, as an organized community, the same popular right as the inhabitants of a State or Territory to make known their will upon matters which affect their social and political condition, they could have selected no more appropriate mode of memorializing Congress upon the subject of this bill than through the suffrages of their qualified voters.

Entirely disregarding the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia, Congress has deemed it right and expedient to pass the measure now submitted for my signature. It therefore becomes the duty of the Executive, standing between the legislation of the one and the will of the other, fairly expressed, to determine whether he should approve the bill, and thus aid in placing upon the statute books of the nation a law against which the people to whom it is to apply have solemnly and with such unanimity protested, or whether he should return it with his objections in the hope that upon reconsideration Congress, acting as the representatives of the inhabitants of the seat of Government, will permit them to regulate a purely local question as to them may seem best suited to their interests and condition.

The District of Columbia was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia in order that it might become the permanent seat of Government of the United States. Accepted by Congress, it at once became subject to the “exclusive legislation” for which provision is made in the Federal Constitution. It should be borne in mind, however, that in exercising its functions as the lawmaking power of the District of Columbia the authority of the National Legislature is not without limit, but that Congress is bound to observe the letter and spirit of the Constitution as well in the enactment of local laws for the seat of Government as in legislation common to the entire Union. Were it to be admitted that the right “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” conferred upon Congress unlimited power within the District of Columbia, titles of nobility might be granted within its boundaries; laws might be made “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Despotism would thus reign at the seat of government of a free republic, and as a place of permanent residence it would be avoided by all who prefer the blessings of liberty to the mere emoluments of official position.

It should also be remembered that in legislating for the District of Columbia under the Federal Constitution the relation of Congress to its inhabitants is analogous to that of a legislature to the people of a State under their own local constitution. It does not, therefore, seem to be asking too much that in matters pertaining to the District Congress should have a like respect for the will and interest of its inhabitants as is entertained by a State legislature for the wishes and prosperity of those for whom they legislate. The spirit of our Constitution and the genius of our Government require that in regard to any law which is to affect and have a permanent bearing upon a people their will should exert at least a reasonable influence upon those who are acting in the capacity of their legislators. Would, for instance, the legislature of the State of New York, or of Pennsylvania, or of Indiana, or of any State in the Union, in opposition to the expressed will of a large majority of the people whom they were chosen to represent, arbitrarily force upon them as voters all persons of the African or Negro race and make them eligible for office without any other qualification than a certain term of residence within the State? In neither of the States named would the colored population, when acting together, be able to produce any great social or political result. Yet in New York, before he can vote, the man of color must fulfill conditions that are not required of the white citizen; in Pennsylvania the elective franchise is restricted to white freemen, while in Indiana Negroes and mulattoes are expressly excluded from the right of suffrage. It hardly seems consistent with the principles of right and justice that representatives of States where suffrage is either denied the colored man or granted to him on qualifications requiring intelligence or property should compel the people of the District of Columbia to try an experiment which their own constituents have thus far shown an unwillingness to test for themselves. Nor does it accord with our republican ideas that the principle of self-government should lose its force when applied to the residents of the District merely because their legislators are not, like those of the States, responsible through the ballot to the people for whom they are the lawmaking power.

The great object of placing the seat of Government under the exclusive legislation of Congress was to secure the entire independence of the General Government from undue State influence and to enable it to discharge without danger of interruption or infringement of its authority the high functions for which it was created by the people. For this important purpose it was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia, and it certainly never could have been contemplated as one of the objects to be attained by placing it under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress that it would afford to propagandists or political parties a place for an experimental test of their principles and theories. While, indeed, the residents of the seat of Government are not citizens of any State and are not, therefore, allowed a voice in the electoral college or representation in the councils of the nation, they are, nevertheless, American citizens, entitled as such to every guaranty of the Constitution, to every benefit of the laws, and to every right which pertains to citizens of our common country. In all matters, then, affecting their domestic affairs, the spirit of our democratic form of government demands that their wishes should be consulted and respected and they taught to feel that although not permitted practically to participate in national concerns, they are, nevertheless, under a paternal government regardful of their rights, mindful of their wants, and solicitous for their prosperity. It was evidently contemplated that all local questions would be left to their decision, at least to an extent that would not be incompatible with the object for which Congress was granted exclusive legislation over the seat of Government. When the Constitution was yet under consideration, it was assumed by Mr. Madison that its inhabitants would be allowed “a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages.” When for the first time Congress, in the year 1800, assembled at Washington, President Adams, in his speech at its opening, reminded the two Houses that it was for them to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia, vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States, should be immediately exercised, and he asked them to “consider it as the capital of a great nation, advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, would secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government.” Three years had not elapsed when Congress was called upon to determine the propriety of retroceding to Maryland and Virginia the jurisdiction of the territory which they had respectively relinquished to the Government of the United States. It was urged on the one hand that exclusive jurisdiction was not necessary or useful to the Government; that it deprived the inhabitants of the District of their political rights; that much of the time of Congress was consumed in legislation pertaining to it; that its government was expensive; that Congress was not competent to legislate for the District, because the members were strangers to its local concerns; and that it was an example of a government without representation — an experiment dangerous to the liberties of the States. On the other hand it was held, among other reasons, and successfully, that the Constitution, the acts of cession of Virginia and Maryland, and the act of Congress accepting the grant all contemplated the exercise of exclusive legislation by Congress, and that its usefulness, if not its necessity, was inferred from the inconvenience which was felt for want of it by the Congress of the Confederation; that the people themselves, who, it was said, had been deprived of their political rights, had not complained and did not desire a retrocession; that the evil might be remedied by giving them a representation in Congress when the District should become sufficiently populous, and in the meantime a local legislature; that if the inhabitants had not political rights they had great political influence; that the trouble and expense of legislating for the District would not be great, but would diminish, and might in a great measure be avoided by a local legislature; and that Congress could not retrocede the inhabitants without their consent. Continuing to live substantially under the laws that existed at the time of the cession, and such changes only having been made as were suggested by themselves, the people of the District have not sought by a local legislature that which has generally been willingly conceded by the Congress of the nation.

As a general rule sound policy requires that the legislature should yield to the wishes of a people, when not inconsistent with the constitution and the laws. The measures suited to one community might not be well adapted to the condition of another; and the persons best qualified to determine such questions are those whose interests are to be directly affected by any proposed law. In Massachusetts, for instance, male persons are allowed to vote without regard to color, provided they possess a certain degree of intelligence. In a population in that State of 1,231,066 there were, by the census of 1860, only 9,602 persons of color, and of the males over 20 years of age there were 339,086 white to 2,602 colored. By the same official enumeration there were in the District of Columbia 60,764 whites to 14,316 persons of the colored race. Since then, however, the population of the District has largely increased, and it is estimated that at the present time there are nearly 100,000 whites to 30,000 Negroes. The cause of the augmented numbers of the latter class needs no explanation. Contiguous to Maryland and Virginia, the District during the war became a place of refuge for those who escaped from servitude, and it is yet the abiding place of a considerable proportion of those who sought within its limits a shelter from bondage. Until then held in slavery and denied all opportunities for mental culture, their first knowledge of the Government was acquired when, by conferring upon them freedom, it became the benefactor of their race. The test of their capability for improvement began when for the first time the career of free industry and the avenues to intelligence were opened to them. Possessing these advantages but a limited time–the greater number perhaps having entered the District of Columbia during the later years of the war, or since its termination–we may well pause to inquire whether, after so brief a probation, they are as a class capable of an intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage and qualified to discharge the duties of official position. The people who are daily witnesses of their mode of living, and who have become familiar with their habits of thought, have expressed the conviction that they are not yet competent to serve as electors, and thus become eligible for office in the local governments under which they live. Clothed with the elective franchise, their numbers, already largely in excess of the demand for labor, would be soon increased by an influx from the adjoining States. Drawn from fields where employment is abundant, they would in vain seek it here, and so add to the embarrassments already experienced from the large class of idle persons congregated in the District. Hardly yet capable of forming correct judgments upon the important questions that often make the issues of a political contest, they could readily be made subservient to the purposes of designing persons. While in Massachusetts, under the census of 1860, the proportion of white to colored males over 20 years of age was 130 to 1, here the black race constitutes nearly one-third of the entire population, whilst the same class surrounds the District on all sides, ready to change their residence at a moment’s notice, and with all the facility of a nomadic people, in order to enjoy here, after a short residence, a privilege they find nowhere else. It is within their power in one year to come into the District in such numbers as to have the supreme control of the white race, and to govern them by their own officers and by the exercise of all the municipal authority–among the rest, of the power of taxation over property in which they have no interest. In Massachusetts, where they have enjoyed the benefits of a thorough educational system. a qualification of intelligence is required, while here suffrage is extended to all without discrimination as well to the most incapable who can prove a residence in the District of one year as to those persons of color who, comparatively few in number, are permanent inhabitants, and, having given evidence of merit and qualification, are recognized as useful and responsible members of the community. Imposed upon an unwilling people placed by the Constitution under the exclusive legislation of Congress, it would be viewed as an arbitrary exercise of power and as an indication by the country of the purpose of Congress to compel the acceptance of Negro suffrage by the States. It would engender a feeling of opposition and hatred between the two races, which, becoming deep rooted and ineradicable, would prevent them from living together in a state of mutual friendliness. Carefully avoiding every measure that might tend to produce such a result. and following the clear and well-ascertained popular will, we should assiduously endeavor to promote kindly relations between them, and thus, when that popular will leads the way, prepare for the gradual and harmonious introduction of this new element into the political power of the country.

It can not be urged that the proposed extension of suffrage in the District of Columbia is necessary to enable persons of color to protect either their interests or their rights. They stand here precisely as they stand in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Here as elsewhere, in all that pertains to civil rights, there is nothing to distinguish this class of persons from citizens of the United States, for they possess the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens,” and are made “subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” Nor, as has been assumed, are their suffrages necessary to aid a loyal sentiment here, for local governments already exist of undoubted fealty to the Government, and are sustained by communities which were among the first to testify their devotion to the Union, and which during the struggle furnished their full quotas of men to the military service of the country.

The exercise of the elective franchise is the highest attribute of an American citizen, and when guided by virtue, intelligence, patriotism, and a proper appreciation of our institutions constitutes the true basis of a democratic form of government, in which the sovereign power is lodged in the body of the people. Its influence for good necessarily depends upon the elevated character and patriotism of the elector, for if exercised by persons who do not justly estimate its value and who are indifferent as to its results it will only serve as a means of placing power in the hands of the unprincipled and ambitious, and must eventuate in the complete destruction of that liberty of which it should be the most powerful conservator. Great danger is therefore to be apprehended from an untimely extension of the elective franchise to any new class in our country, especially when the large majority of that class, in wielding the power thus placed in their hands, can not be expected correctly to comprehend the duties and responsibilities which pertain to suffrage. Yesterday, as it were, 4,000,000 persons were held in a condition of slavery that had existed for generations; to-day they are freemen and are assumed by law to be citizens. It can not be presumed, from their previous condition of servitude, that as a class they are as well informed as to the nature of our Government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice. In the case of the latter neither a residence of five years and the knowledge of our institutions which it gives nor attachment to the principles of the Constitution are the only conditions upon which he can be admitted to citizenship; he must prove in addition a good moral character, and thus give reasonable ground for the belief that he will be faithful to the obligations which he assumes as a citizen of the Republic. Where a people–the source of all political power–speak by their suffrages through the instrumentality of the ballot box, it must be carefully guarded against the control of those who are corrupt in principle and enemies of free institutions, for it can only become to our political and social system a safe conductor of healthy popular sentiment when kept free from demoralizing influences. Controlled through fraud and usurpation by the designing, anarchy and despotism must inevitably follow. In the hands of the patriotic and worthy our Government will be preserved upon the principles of the Constitution inherited from our fathers. It follows, therefore, that in admitting to the ballot box a new class of voters not qualified for the exercise of the elective franchise we weaken our system of government instead of adding to its strength and durability.

In returning this bill to the Senate I deeply regret that there should be any conflict of opinion between the legislative and executive departments of the Government in regard to measures that vitally affect the prosperity and peace of the country. Sincerely desiring to reconcile the States with one another and the whole people to the Government of the United States, it has been my earnest wish to cooperate with Congress in all measures having for their object a proper and complete adjustment of the questions resulting from our late civil war. Harmony between the coordinate branches of the Government, always necessary for the public welfare, was never more demanded than at the present time, and it will therefore be my constant aim to promote as far as possible concert of action between them. The differences of opinion that have already occurred have rendered me only the more cautious, lest the Executive should encroach upon any of the prerogatives of Congress or by exceeding in any manner the constitutional limit of his duties destroy the equilibrium which should exist between the several coordinate departments, and which is so essential to the harmonious working of the Government. I know it has been urged that the executive department is more likely to enlarge the sphere of its action than either of the other two branches of the Government, and especially in the exercise of the veto power conferred upon it by the Constitution. It should be remembered, however, that this power is wholly negative and conservative in its character, and was intended to operate as a check upon unconstitutional, hasty, and improvident legislation and as a means of protection against invasions of the just powers of the executive and judicial departments. It is remarked by Chancellor Kent that–

To enact laws is a transcendent power, and if the body that possesses it be a full and equal representation of the people there is danger of its pressing with destructive weight upon all the other parts of the machinery of Government. It has therefore been thought necessary by the most skillful and most experienced artists in the science of civil polity that strong barriers should be erected for the protection and security of the other necessary powers of the Government. Nothing has been deemed more fit and expedient for the purpose than the provision that the head of the executive department should be so constituted as to secure a requisite share of independence and that he should have a negative upon the passing of laws; and that the judiciary power, resting on a still more permanent basis, should have the right of determining upon the validity of laws by the standard of the Constitution.

The necessity of some such check in the hands of the Executive is shown by reference to the most eminent writers upon our system of government, who seem to concur in the opinion that encroachments are most to be apprehended from the department in which all legislative powers are vested by the Constitution. Mr. Madison, in referring to the difficulty of providing some practical security for each against the invasion of the others, remarks that “the legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.” “The founders of our Republic * * * seem never to have recollected the danger from legislative usurpations, which by assembling all power in the same hands must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by Executive usurpations.” “In a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited both in the extent and the duration of its power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength, which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes, it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.” “The legislative department derives a superiority in our governments from other circumstances. Its constitutional powers being at once more extensive and less susceptible of precise limits, it can with the greater facility mask, under complicated and indirect measures, the encroachments which it makes on the coordinate departments.” “On the other side, the Executive power being restrained within a narrower compass and being more simple in its nature, and the judiciary being described by landmarks still less uncertain, projects of usurpation by either of these departments would immediately betray and defeat themselves. Nor is this all. As the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people and has in some constitutions full discretion and in all a prevailing influence over the pecuniary rewards of those who fill the other departments, a dependence is thus created in the latter which gives still greater facility to encroachments of the former.”

“We have seen that the tendency of republican governments is to an aggrandizement of the legislative at the expense of the other departments.”

Mr. Jefferson, in referring to the early constitution of Virginia, objected that by its provisions all the powers of government–legislative, executive, and judicial–resulted to the legislative body, holding that “the concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.” “As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be rounded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others. For this reason that convention which passed the ordinance of government laid its foundation on this basis, that the legislative, executive, and judicial departments should be separate and distinct, so that no person should exercise the powers of more than one of them at the same time. But no barrier was provided between these several powers. The judiciary and executive members were left dependent on the legislative for their subsistence in office, and some of them for their continuance in it. If, therefore, the legislature assumes executive and judiciary powers, no opposition is likely to be made, nor, if made, can be effectual, because in that case they may put their proceedings into the form of an act of assembly, which will render them obligatory on the other branches. They have accordingly in many instances decided rights which should have been left to judiciary controversy; and the direction of the executive, during the whole time of their session, is becoming habitual and familiar.”

Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution, reviews the same subject, and says:

The truth is that the legislative power is the great and overruling power in every free government. * * * The representatives of the people will watch with jealousy every encroachment of the executive magistrate, for it trenches upon their own authority. But who shall watch the encroachment of these representatives themselves? Will they be as jealous of the exercise of power by themselves as by others? * * *

There are many reasons which may be assigned for the engrossing influence of the legislative department. In the first place, its constitutional powers are more extensive, and less capable of being brought within precise limits than those of either the other departments. The bounds of the executive authority are easily marked out and defined. It reaches few objects, and those are known. It can not transcend them without being brought in contact with the other departments. Laws may check and restrain and bound its exercise. The same remarks apply with still greater force to the judiciary. The jurisdiction is, or may be, bounded to a few objects or persons; or, however general and unlimited, its operations are necessarily confined to the mere administration of private and public justice. It can not punish without law. It can not create controversies to act upon. It can decide only upon rights and cases as they are brought by others before it. It can do nothing for itself. It must do everything for others. It must obey the laws, and if it corruptly administers them it is subjected to the power of impeachment. On the other hand, the legislative power except in the few cases of constitutional prohibition, is unlimited. It is forever varying its means and its ends. It governs the institutions and laws and public policy of the country. It regulates all its vast interests. It disposes of all its property. Look but at the exercise of two or three branches of its ordinary powers. It levies all taxes; it directs and appropriates all supplies; it gives the rules for the descent, distribution, and devises of all property held by individuals; it controls the sources and the resources of wealth; it changes at its will the whole fabric of the laws; it molds at its pleasure almost all the institutions which give strength and comfort and dignity to society.

In the next place, it is the direct visible representative of the will of the people in all the changes of times and circumstances. It has the pride as well as the power of numbers. It is easily moved and steadily moved by the strong impulses of popular feeling and popular odium. It obeys without reluctance the wishes and the will of the majority for the time being. The path to public favor lies open by such obedience, and it finds not only support but impunity in whatever measures the majority advises, even though they transcend the constitutional limits. It has no motive, therefore, to be jealous or scrupulous in its own use of power; and it finds its ambition stimulated and its arm strengthened by the countenance and the courage of numbers. These views are not alone those of men who look with apprehension upon the fate of republics, but they are also freely admitted by some of the strongest advocates for popular rights and the permanency of republican institutions. * * *

* * * Each department should have a will of its own. * * * Each should have its own independence secured beyond the power of being taken away by either or both of the others. But at the same time the relations of each to the other should be so strong that there should be a mutual interest to sustain and protect each other. There should not only be constitutional means, but personal motives to resist encroachments of one or either of the others. Thus ambition would be made to counteract ambition, the desire of power to check power, and the pressure of interest to balance an opposing interest.

* * * The judiciary is naturally and almost necessarily, as has been already said, the weakest department. It can have no means of influence by patronage. Its powers can never be wielded for itself. It has no command over the purse or the sword of the nation. It can neither lay taxes, nor appropriate money, nor command armies, nor appoint to office. It is never brought into contact with the people by constant appeals and solicitations and private intercourse, which belong to all the other departments of Government. It is seen only in controversies or in trials and punishments. Its rigid justice and impartiality give it no claims to favor, however they may to respect. It stands solitary and unsupported, except by that portion of public opinion which is interested only in the strict administration of justice. It can rarely secure the sympathy or zealous support either of the Executive or the Legislature. If they are not, as is not unfrequently the case, jealous of its prerogatives, the constant necessity of scrutinizing the acts of each, upon the application of any private person, and the painful duty of pronouncing judgment that these acts are a departure from the law or Constitution can have no tendency to conciliate kindness or nourish influence. It would seem, therefore, that some additional guards would, under the circumstances, be necessary to protect this department from the absolute dominion of the others. Yet rarely have any such guards been applied, and every attempt to introduce them has been resisted with a pertinacity which demonstrates how slow popular leaders are to introduce checks upon their own power and how slow the people are to believe that the judiciary is the real bulwark of their liberties. * * *

* * * If any department of the Government has undue influence or absorbing power, it certainly has not been the executive or judiciary.

In addition to what has been said by these distinguished writers, it may also be urged that the dominant party in each House may, by the expulsion of a sufficient number of members or by the exclusion from representation of a requisite number of States, reduce the minority to less than one-third. Congress by these means might be enabled to pass a law, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding, which would render impotent the other two departments of the Government and make inoperative the wholesome and restraining power which it was intended by the framers of the Constitution should be exerted by them. This would be a practical concentration of all power in the Congress of the United States; this, in the language of the author of the Declaration of Independence, would be “precisely the definition of despotic government.”

I have preferred to reproduce these teachings of the great statesmen and constitutional lawyers of the early and later days of the Republic rather than to rely simply upon an expression of my own opinions. We can not too often recur to them, especially at a conjuncture like the present. Their application to our actual condition is so apparent that they now come to us a living voice, to be listened to with more attention than at any previous period of our history. We have been and are yet in the midst of popular commotion. The passions aroused by a great civil war are still dominant. It is not a time favorable to that calm and deliberate judgment which is the only safe guide when radical changes in our institutions are to be made. The measure now before me is one of those changes. It initiates an untried experiment for a people who have said, with one voice, that it is not for their good. This alone should make us pause, but it is not all. The experiment has not been tried, or so much as demanded, by the people of the several States for themselves. In but few of the States has such an innovation been allowed as giving the ballot to the colored population without any other qualification than a residence of one year, and in most of them the denial of the ballot to this race is absolute and by fundamental law placed beyond the domain of ordinary legislation. In most of those States the evil of such suffrage would be partial, but, small as it would be, it is guarded by constitutional barriers. Here the innovation assumes formidable proportions, which may easily grow to such an extent as to make the white population a subordinate element in the body politic.

After full deliberation upon this measure, I can not bring myself to approve it, even upon local considerations, nor yet as the beginning of an experiment on a larger scale. I yield to no one in attachment to that rule of general suffrage which distinguishes our policy as a nation. But there is a limit, wisely observed hitherto, which makes the ballot a privilege and a trust, and which requires of some classes a time suitable for probation and preparation. To give it indiscriminately to a new class, wholly unprepared by previous habits and opportunities to perform the trust which it demands, is to degrade it, and finally to destroy its power, for it may be safely assumed that no political truth is better established than that such indiscriminate and all-embracing extension of popular suffrage must end at last in its destruction.

ANDREW JOHNSON.
Veto Message
January 5, 1867



Citation: John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=72067.



S280 – A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled ”An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia” – United States Senate, April 23, 1866
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Within two years of the end of the Civil War, it was realized that Virginia’s retrocession in 1846 was unconstitutional and Senator Benjamin Wade, a Radical Republican introduced a bill to repeal the act:


Page 1 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 2 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 3 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 4 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
[ Source: Library of Congress ]

Bills and Resolutions
Senate
39th Congress, 1st Session:
April 23, 1866

Mr. Wade asked, and by unanimous consent obtained, leave to bring in the following bill; which was read twice, referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia, and ordered to be printed.

A Bill To repeal an act entitled ”An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia,” and for other purposes.

Whereas the Constitution of the United States provides that Congress ”shall exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States;” and whereas by an act of Congress approved July sixteenth, anno Domini seventeen hundred and ninety, ten miles square of territory was accepted from the States of Maryland and Virginia, as the permanent seat of government, constituting what was subsequently known as the District of Columbia, which when so accepted and defined, all jurisdiction over the same was, by the Constitution, forever vested in Congress, whose duty it was then, and forever after, to preserve unviolated and free from all control whatsoever, save that of Congress; and whereas experience derived from the recent rebellion, has demonstrated the wisdom of preserving such ten miles square under the exclusive control of Congress, both for military and civil purposes, and for the defense of the capital; and whereas, by an act of Congress approved July ninth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six, that portion of said ten miles square lying south of the Potomac was ceded back to the State of Virginia, in violation of the intent and meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and to the great peril of the capital as aforesaid: Therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the act of Congress approved July ninth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six, retroceding to the State of Virginia that portion of the district ten miles square, as provided by the Constitution, known as the District of Columbia, be, and the same is hereby, henceforth and forever repealed and declared null and void, and that the jurisdiction of Congress, and the laws provided for the District of Columbia be, and the same hereby, put in force, as same as if said act of retrocession had never been passed.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That private and personal property shall not be affected by this act, so far as the rights of parties are concerned; and all public property whereof the United States were possessed at the time of the retrocession of said portion of the District of Columbia to the State of Virginia shall, from and after the passage of this act, be vested in the United States government, any law, act, or conveyance to the contrary notwithstanding, and the government, through its proper officials, is hereby authorized to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, any and all further property, real or personal, in said portion of the District of Columbia, as may be deemed necessary for public use.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That all suits and actions at law, civil or criminal, shall from and after the passage of this act be conducted and determined according to the laws, rules, and regulations enacted and provided by Congress for the District of Columbia, excepting causes wherein final judgment, decree, or sentence shall have been pronounced or passed; in such cases the final satisfaction of such judgments or decrees will be in accordance with the laws in force in the State of Virginia. But all causes wherein final judgment or decree shall not have been passed or pronounced, shall be in future conducted and determined as provided by this act.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That all taxes and revenues assessable and collectible on property, real or personal, in said portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac, shall from and after the passage of this act, be rated, collected, and applied according to the existing or future laws of Congress governing the District of Columbia.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That from and after the passage of this act all civil offices in the said portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac, in the city of Alexandria and what is known as the county of Alexandria, shall be declared vacant; and the vacancies so created shall be filled by new appointments or elections, to be made and held under the laws, regulations, and qualifications provided by Congress for elections and electors in the District of Columbia.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That this act shall be in force from and after its passage.



Today In History: St. Valentine’s Day – The Washington Herald, February 14th, 1910
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Scan of the newspaper article Today In History from the Washington Herald, 100 years ago

St. Valentine’s Day has degenerated somewhat in recent years, and is now generally observed by the sending of jocular pictures with suitable verses attached, or an equally ridiculous sentimental picture card. Formerly the proper ceremony of the day was the drawing of a kind of lottery, followed by ceremonies not much unlike what is generally called the game of forfeits.

In Pepy’s Diary we find some notable illustrations of this old custom. It appears that married and single were then alike liable to be chosen as a valentine, and that a present was invariably necessarily given to the choosing party. “Noticing the jewels of the celebrated Miss Stuart, who became Duchess of Richmond,” he records, “the Duke of York, being once her valentine, did give her a jewel of about £800; and my Lord Mandeville, her valentine this year, a ring of about £300. These presents were undoubtedly given in roder to relieve the obligations under which the being drawn as valentines places the donors.”

Notwithstanding the practice of “relieving,” there seems to have been a disposition to believe that the person drawn as a valentine had some considerable likelihood of becoming the associate of the party in wedlock.

It was supposed, for instance, that the first unmarried person of the other sex whom you met on St. Valentine’s morning in walking abroad was a destined wife or a destined husband. Thus Gay makes a rural dame remark:

“Last Valentine, the when birds of kind,
Their paramours with mutual chirpings find,
I early rose just at the break of day,
Before the sun had chased the stars away;
A-field I went, amid the morning dew,
To milk my kine (for so should housewives do).
Thet first I spied- and the first swain we see.
In spite of fortune shall our true love be.”

St. Valentine’s Day is alluded to by Shakespeare and by Chaucer, and also by the poet Lydgate, who died in 1440. One of the earliest known writers of valentines, or poetical amative address for this day, was Charles, Duke of Orleans, who was taken at the battle of Agencourt.

The origin of these peculiar observances of St. Valentine’s Day is a subject of some obscurity. The saint himself, who was a priest of Rome, martyred in the third century, seems to have had nothing to do with the matter beyond the accident of this day being used for the purpose.

Just why St. Valentine was chosen the patron of love seems a little obscure. Wheatly says: “He was a man of admirable parts and so famous for his love and charity that the custom of choosing valentines upon his festival, which is still practiced, too rise from thence.” While Dr. Butler, in his “Lives of the Saints,” says: “To abolish the heathens’ lewd custom of boys drawing the names of girls in honor of their goddess, Februata Juno, on the fourteenth of this month, several zealous pastors substituted the names of saints on the billets that were drawn.” and thus in the mutation of time the custom has grown which now takes the form of “valentines.”


February 14 is the date which Gray and Bell each received a patent for the first telephone in 1876; it is the birthday of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock (1824); Charles L. Sholes, father of the typewriter (1819); Samuel Osgood, the first Postmaster General (1748); the day on which the United States flag was first seen in foreign lands and saluted in 1778, and upon which the battle of St. Vincent, in 1797.


This newspaper article was transcribed from the scan of the February 14th, 1910 edition of the Washington Herald from the Chronicling America newspaper collection and is in the public domain.



The Noyes Armillary Sphere Described In The Historic American Buildngs Survey #532
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National Park Service Photograph of the Noyes Armillary Sphere in Meridian Hill Park in the District of Columbia taken in the 1965

National Park Service Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

According to page 39 of the Historic American Buildngs Survey #532 published in 1987 [PDF via the Library of Congress]:

The sculpture which contributed most sucessfully to the architectural design [of Meridian Hill Park] was the 6′ high armillary sphere. Money for the construction of the sphere was donated by Bertha Noyes, a well-known Washington artist and founder of the Washington Arts Club, in memory of her father and her sister. Paul Manship had constructed a model for an earlier proposal for an armillary sphere. For lack of funds, that sphere was not realized, later when the Noyes Armillary Sphere was constructed by Carl Paul Jennewein, he based his design on the earlier Manship model. The sphere was located in the exedra on axis with the cascade, south of the reflecting pool. This location was proposed by Ferruccio Vitale, and the foundation was designed by Horace W. Peaslee. Congress approved the location within Meridian Hill Park on June 10, 1932, subject to the final approval of its location within the park by the Commission. The sphere, which was of great interest conceptually as well as visually, was described by historian James Goode as follows:

In spite of its seemingly contemporary design, the armillary sphere is, in face, an ancient astrological instrument. The armillary sphere was frequently used in Europe in the seventeenth century to illustrate the Ptolemaic theory of a central earth; it used metal rings which illustrated the nine spheres of the universe. The usual device, a skeleton of the celestial globe with circles arranged into degrees for angle measurement, represents the great circles of the heavens. The latter includes the horizon, meridian, equator, tropics, and polar circle. The Noyes Armillary Sphere includes a series of bronze rings on which are also found the symbols of the zodiac and the hours, given in Roman numerals. A bronze arrow forms the axis, and, in the center, a small winged genie greets the sun. (James M. Goode, The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C., The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1974)

The armillary sphere suffered serious damage during the late 1960s and was removed for repair. Its whereabouts is presently unknown. The armillary sphere was worked in bronze, and placed on a green granite pedestal. Other significant park embellishments were wrought in iron. For example, at the north end of the park, a wrought-iron fence is decorated with small armillary spheres, reflecting the significance of the Noyes Armillary Sphere.


This article and photograph was obtained from the Library of Congress and is in the public domain. They are being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to advocate for a replacement armillary sphere in Meridian Hill Park.



Armillary Sphere Donated to ‘Federal City’ by Author; Ancient Astronomical Device Links Early Chinese to Modern Americans – The Washington Post, November 10, 1936
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No one knows where the Noyes Armillary Sphere is today. Over the last few years I have personally called the Smithsonian & the National Park Service inquiring about the sculpture’s existence, but all have said it is lost. I genuinely find that difficult to believe because its not a small sculpture, but a rather large one. Some day in the future I would like to see this sculpture replaced and over time I hope to post more photographs and articles about this lost sculpture of Washington, DC.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System:

The sculpture originally consisted of two equal rings representing the Meridian and Equator, intersecting to form a sphere. Each intersecting ring was divided into areas representing the equinoxes and the Arctic and Antarctic regions. A wide bronze ring was adorned with the signs of the zodiac…. The base of sphere designed by Horace Peaslee, the architect of Meridian Park. The sphere was accepted by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 1929, and was purchased with funds donated by Bertha Noyes, founder of the Washington Arts Club, in memory of her sister Edith. The sphere was vandalized during the 1960s and was removed from the park for repair. During this time, the sphere disappeared, with only the small winged figure of a child remaining.


National Park Service Photograph of the Noyes Armillary Sphere in Meridian Hill Park in the District of Columbia taken in the 1930's

National Park Service Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Armillary Sphere Donated to ‘Federal City’ by Author; Ancient Astronomical Device Links Early Chinese to Modern Americans.


The bronze sphere, 16 feet in circumference, bears the words: “Given to the Federal City, MCMXXXVI, for Edith Noyes.” It is the gift of Bertha Noyes, noted Washington artist, in memory of her sister.

Although the origin of the armillary sphere as an astronomical instrument is shrouded in mystery, its invention is usually credited to China, where it was first in use in approximately 200 B. C.

The Noyes memorial was designed by C. Paul Jennewein, New York sculptor, whose other works in Washington include the statue of a nude with fawn in Judiciary Square which was erected in memory of Joseph James Darlington, a District Supreme Court justice. Its placement in 1922 stirred a heated controversy.

Mounted on a granite pedestal three feet in height, the sphere has the signs of the Zodiac in relief on the outside of the great circle, within which are cleverly contrived the hours of the day marked in Roman numerals. In the center is a winged figure of a child greeting the sun.

At the base is a tablet, also of bronze, which corrects minor variations of the dial at different times of the year. Adjustments were made by a Columbia University astronomer in order that the instrument might be scientifically exact.


This newspaper article was obtained from the Washington Post historical newspaper archives. This article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to advocate for a replacement armillary sphere in Meridian Hill Park.


Related Armillary Sphere Entries:



Chronicling One Century Ago – A Listing Of All The Daily American Newspapers Published In 1910 In The Chronicling America Collection
|| 1/13/2010 || 4:32 pm || 1 Comment Rendered || ||

For the year 2010, the Chronicling America historic newspaper collection has a nearly complete collection of 11 American daily newspapers that were published exactly 100 years ago. Click on the masthead to view the newspaper’s 1910 publication calendar:


1910 Publication Calendar of the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia)
Scan of the masthead of the Alexandria Gazette


1910 Publication Calendar of the Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Scan of the masthead of the Deseret Evening News


1910 Publication Calendar of the Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California)
Scan of the masthead of the Los Angeles Herald


1910 Publication Calendar of the New York Sun (New York City, New York)
Scan of the masthead of the New York Sun


1910 Publication Calendar of the New York Tribune (New York City, New York)
Scan of the masthead of the New York Tribune


1910 Publication Calendar of the Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah)
Scan of the masthead of the Ogden Standard


1910 Publication Calendar of the Paducah Evening Sun (Paducah, Kentucky)
Scan of the masthead of the Paducah Evening Sun


1910 Publication Calendar of the Palestine Daily Herald (Palestine, Texas)
Scan of the masthead of the Palestine Daily Herald


1910 Publication Calendar of the San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California)
Scan of the masthead of the San Francisco Call


1910 Publication Calendar of the Washington Herald (Washington, DC)
Scan of the masthead of the Washington Herald


1910 Publication Calendar of the Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Scan of the masthead of the Washington Times


Curious about what happened on your birthday 100 years ago? Try clicking on the day after your birthday :-)





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Nikolas Schiller is a second-class American citizen living in America's last colony, Washington, DC. This blog is my on-line repository of what I have created or found on-line since May of 2004. If you have any questions or comments, please contact:

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