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Letter from Hannis Taylor to Honorable Thomas H. Carter, United States Senator, Rendering An Opinion As To The Constitutionality of the Act of Retrocession of 1846 – January 17, 1910
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Scan from the Internet Archive


Someday, when I have more free time, I will post the full text of Hannis Taylor’s letter to Senator Thomas Carter. In the meantime, you can download the PDF of this document and read that he believes the retrocession of Alexandria in 1846/1847 was not constitutional. I originally discovered this letter in December of 2009 when I posted a newspaper article titled “Does Virginia Own Alexandria County?” which was published in The Washington Herald the following day, January 18, 1910.


Related Retrocession Entries:

+ MORE



Bullets on sale at Wal-Mart
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Photograph of bullets on sale at Walmart

We were heading out to Snow Shoe Mountain Ski Resort and decided to stop at a Wally-World. It had been years since I had been in Wal-Mart and I hope it is years before I go back. I found it rather funny that they had bullets for sale but we couldn’t find any guns.



Debate in the U.S. Senate Concerning An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia – Thursday, July 2, 1846
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Thus far I have republished R. M. T. Hunter’s speech and the House of Representatives subsequent debate on the proposed retrocession of Alexandria County. Almost two months later, on July 2nd, 1846, the United States Senate took up the debate. Unlike the previous two entries which came from the Congressional Globe, this transcription comes from the Abridgment of the Debates of Congress. I’m curious as to how much debate was shorted for the abridgment.


Print from the Library of Congress


Retrocession of Alexandria.

On motion of Mr. ARCHER, the Senate proceeded to the consideration of the bill for the retrocession of the city and county of Alexandria to the State of Virginia.

Mr. ARCHER observed that he was willing that the vote should be taken upon the bill without discussion, provided the opponents of the bill offered no remarks upon it which would force them into a discussion.

Mr. BENTON said this was a case in which he desired to vote with a majority of the inhabitants of that portion of the District which it was proposed to surrender to the State of Virginia; but he did not at present know what the wishes of that majority were.

Mr. ARCHER observed, that one of the clauses of the bill now before the Senate provided that the bill should not take effect until the wishes of the inhabitants were ascertained by a vote, to be taken in the manner provided for in another clause of the bill, to wit: the vote of the white inhabitants of six months’ residence.

Mr. HAYWOOD said the bill had been referred to the committee of which he had the honor to be chairman, and it was perhaps proper, therefore, though he had no intention of making a speech upon the subject, that he should draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the bill provides for taking the sense of the people of the county and city of Alexandria before the bill should go into effect. The committee, however, thought it worthy of consideration, whether it was not the desire of change which prompted the introduction of this innovation, rather than the necessity for the innovation. If there was any particular evil to be remedied by diminishing the extent of the ten miles square, the committee had not been apprised of it; if any particular good to be obtained, they were not apprised. When the retrocession was first suggested to the consideration of the Senate, doubts were entertained by many how far it was competent for Congress to recede what the constitution had for a particular purpose authorized them to accept. The States of Maryland and Virginia had ceded this territory to Congress, to be taken under its exclusive jurisdiction for the seat of Government; and Congress, in the execution of that intention, solemnly declared by enactment its acceptance of the grant, and that this District should be perpetually the seat of Government. Individual citizens of the District, a minority, if they chose to assume that they were so, had purchased property and become residents of the county under this pledge; and unless there was some evil to be remedied, or decided advantage to be gained by the change, which would compensate those citizens, where was the propriety of violating that pledge? He had been unable to see any necessity for it. It was equally the duty of the Government to protect minorities and majorities; and a majority could have no absolute right or authority to compel retrocession if additional burdens were to be imposed as a consequence upon the minority. He spoke not in reference to any constitutional objection, but merely in reference to the act of Congress constituting this District the perpetual seat of the Federal Government.

There was another difficulty which the committee found somewhat embarrassing, and, it was, whether the State of Virginia or of Maryland owned the Potomac River at the time of the cession. If the county of Alexandria were ceded to Virginia, it might possibly be the means of reviving the contest, and making it a contest between Virginia and the District. This would be a matter of very considerable importance to the city of Georgetown. If the bill was to be passed, he thought it ought at least to be amended so as to make it more definite, and that the river should be kept within the United States jurisdiction. It might be of importance that the jurisdiction of the United States should not be limited at all. He believed the Senator from Massachusetts had expressed a desire to offer some remarks upon this question. He did not perceive that Senator now in his seat; for his own part, he would be perfectly willing that the vote should be taken without discussion.

Mr. MILLER said he was inclined to think that the subject was of more importance than he had at first view supposed. His first impressions were in favor of the bill, for he supposed that the whole matter depended very much, upon the wishes of the people of Alexandria and Virginia. But, upon an examination of the subject, he found himself in great doubt as to whether Congress had the power to pass such an act; and, even if they had the power, he was perfectly convinced that it would not be good policy to do it.

Mr. M. then went into an argument upon the subject of the power of Congress in this matter, contending that if Congress had the power to cede away any part of the District, they had the power to cede the whole, and thereby entirely defeat the intention of the constitutional provision in regard to the seat of Government. Instead of doing this, he hoped that Congress would, by a wise and liberal policy, make it the interest of the residents of all parts of the District to continue within the same jurisdiction.

Mr. PENNYBACKER replied to the arguments of the Senator from New Jersey, and maintained that Congress possessed the power to cede a portion of the District to the State of Virginia. He contended further that the portion proposed to be ceded did not, in contemplation of the first law that was passed on the subject, constitute a portion of the ten miles square at all.

Mr. JOHNSON, of Maryland, moved that the Senate adjourn; which was disagreed to—ayes 16, noes 18.

On motion of Mr. BENTON, the Senate, not having come to any vote upon the bill, at about half-past three o’clock proceeded to the consideration of Executive business, and, after some time spent therein, the doors were reopened, and the Senate adjourned.


Thursday, July 2.
Retrocession of Alexandria.

Mr. ARCHER moved that the prior orders of the day be postponed, and that the Senate resume the consideration of the bill for the retrocession of the town and county of Alexandria to the State of Virginia; which motion was agreed to.

The bill was then considered as in Committee of the Whole, when

Mr. R. JOHNSON rose and stated that, as a member of the Committee of tho District of Columbia, and as having voted in committee in favor of this bill, he desired to state the grounds on which he had formed his opinion. He went into a review of the constitutional provision relative to the establishment of a seat of Government, and to the proceedings of Congress with regard to its location within this District, and insisted that there was nothing in either to prohibit a retrocession of tho ten miles square to the States from which it was taken, or any portion thereof. He supposed that an absolute necessity might arise for the removal of the seat of Government, from the possession of this District by an enemy. Could not Congress fix on another seat for its deliberations? and, in that case, could it not cede this District back to the States to which it originally belonged? He stated that Alexandria complained of having been neglected by Congress, and he presumed she had good reason for this complaint; for it was only reasonable that Congress should be more favorable to the portion of the District which was more immediately the seat and scene of its labors.

Mr. MILLER briefly replied, maintaining that Congress had no power to receive a cession of the soil and sovereignty, except for a specified object; and that the object of this cession being the establishment of the seat of Government, it could not be retroceded without the abandonment of that object. He thought a great number of the citizens of the county, being out of the city of Alexandria, were opposed to retrocession.

Mr. HANNEGAN made a few remarks in favor of the bill. The citizens desired to be restored to their original rights, and we have no right to refuse them.

Mr. CALHOUN then rose, and said that he had not been able to discover any valid reason why the retrocession should not be made. The first and great point for consideration was, whether, by this retrocession, the object of the cession would be impaired? He could not see how any evil result could possibly follow. It was a detached portion of the District, lying on the other side of the river, and in no way calculated to facilitate the legislation of the General Government. Nor did he see how any acquired rights could be injured. He did not see how the retrocession could injuriously affect the county of Washington, as he believed it was called, or Georgetown. The next question then was, Was there any serious constitutional objection? According to his judgment there could not be any such, unless there was somewhere in the constitution a prohibitory clause. It was in the power of the Government to remove its seat if it thought proper, unless there was some express provision to the contrary. Now, he saw no such provision in the constitution. It belonged to gentlemen to prove that the retrocession would be unconstitutional. If they had a right— which he held to be incontestable— to remove the seat of Government, the right of parting with any portion of it was apparent. Nor was there, in his opinion, any violation of a pledge on the part of Congress as argued by the Senator from North Carolina, (Mr. HAYWOOD.) The act of Congress, it was true, established this as the permanent seat of Government; but they all knew that an act of Congress possessed no perpetuity of obligation. It was a simple resolution of the body, and could be at any time repealed. Although be thought that Congress had the power to remove the seat of Government, yet he was not to be understood as supposing that it would ever be expedient or wise to remove it. He could not concur in the views presented by Mr. Madison on the subject of the location of the seat of Government, and read yesterday by the Senator from Virginia, (Mr. PENNYBACKER) Mr. Madison made an elaborate argument in favor of the position that the seat of Government ought to be in the centre. As far as the seats of government of the States were concerned, that might be a just argument; but the history of the world would show that the seats of national government never were, or scarcely ever were, situated in the centre, and there was reason for that general arrangement. They were always situated on the frontier the most exposed. Where was London, the seat of the British Government? On the south-east frontier of the kingdom, looking towards the continent of Europe. That of France, Paris, was in the most exposed position. So with regard to the seat of Government in Russia, and so, indeed, with regard to the capitals of all the chief nations of the world. In the nature of things it must be so. Now, if that was true in the general, it was pre-eminently true of this Confederacy; for the Federal Government looked almost exclusively to their foreign relations. And here it had been wisely located; and here, in his opinion, it would continue, so long as the institutions of the Republic endured. If the seat of Government was ever changed, it would be in consequence of some other cause than the retrocession of Alexandria, which could not possibly in any way affect that matter. There might be a change from disruption, or in consequence of some strong local interest prevailing, though under their equal system of Government, that was hardly to be feared. If great inconvenience would arise to members at distances extremely remote, murmurs might originate, and produce such a change. Yet, even on that score, there was not much ground for apprehension, as the equitable arrangement of mileage had placed members on a perfect equality, those farthest removed, and whose home and family associations and affections were most interfered with, receiving appropriate compensation. As it was evident from the temper of the Senate that the bill would pass, he would not longer detain them by any remarks.

Mr. ASHLEY inquired what effect would be produced by the retrocession with regard to the debt of Alexandria?

Mr. CALHOUN said there were abler lawyers than himself in the body; but he supposed that not the slightest effect on the debt would be produced.

Mr. PENNYBACKER expressed the same opinion.

Mr. ALLEN expressed his regret that the discussion had passed beyond the bill, and added, that he rose only for the purpose of dissenting from the views expressed by the Senator from South Carolina (Mr. CALHOUN) in regard to the location of the seat of Government. He (Mr. A.) had no intention to agitate the question of changing the seat of Government. It might not be proper to do so at the present time; but the general reasons urged by the Senator from South Carolina would give it an eternity of location at this point, and it was to that idea that he (Mr. A.) objected. The Senator had alluded to the example of other nations of the world— to those ancient monarchies where the location of the capital was a matter dependent upon the caprice of the court, and not the convenience of the people. Was it to be supposed for a moment that such examples were proper for the imitation of this Confederacy? No. He thought that the United States should on that very ground adopt a different policy. The location of the seat of Government near the seaboard in the vicinity of the commercial cities, gave to those cities a preponderating influence in the counsels of the Congress of the United States, five hundred fold to one over the influence exerted by a corresponding number of people situated in the vast interior. They had no committees from the banks of the Missouri, the Mississippi, or even of the Ohio, “lobbying” in these halls to regulate tariff duties. No. They had no companies of individuals in those western regions, and delegated to the Capitol with the view of obtaining laws to meet tho wishes of individual and sectional interests, instead of tho wants and wishes of the great mass of the nation. The whole tendency of the Government since its foundation had been to place itself exclusively under the control of the commercial interest: and this pernicious tendency had been produced by the location of the seat of Government near the great influential commercial cities on the seaboard. He might present many illustrations of this fact. Before the telegraphic communication was established, when a bill was introduced into Congress, Wall-street had notice of it, if necessary, in fifteen hours, and in fifteen hours more the cars brought a delegation from Wall-street to regulate the details of the bill. Thus had their tariffs been formed— thus had the commercial interests overruled all others from their proximity to the Capitol. The great mass of the people— four-fifths of them— lived on the soil, and obtained from it subsistence. It was in their centre that the seat of Government should be located. These were his opinions, and he stated them not as having any immediate bearing on the bill before the House, but in opposition to the views expressed by the Senator from South Carolina, whose remarks were always entitled to high consideration, and carried with them great weight.

Mr. CALHOUN again rose, and stated that it happened, that at the Memphis Convention— a body composed of six hundred members, possessed of great intelligence, and representing almost exclusively the interests of those who lived upon the soil— a resolution was offered recommending a change of the seat of the General Government. A most extraordinary sensation was produced, and when the resolution was submitted, there was one loud-toned, overwhelming “no” opposed to the solitary voice of the mover.

Mr. ALLEN. Where was that?

Mr. CALHOUN. At the Memphis Convention.

Mr. ALLEN. Ah! that proves nothing. The only difficulty has been the choice of another site, and the contesting claims have been so numerous, that the change has not been, ere this, seriously mooted.

Mr. WESTCOTT was in favor of the bill, because it relieved the people of Alexandria from a galling disfranchisement, of which he knew something by experience.

Mr. ARCHER advocated the bill in a long and able speech.

Mr. HAYWOOD opposed the bill, and in an eloquent manner contended for the sacred immunity of the constitution, and the wise arrangement of the sages of the Revolution. He also argued the constitutional question at considerable length, and with characteristic ability.

Mr. PENNYBACKER replied.

Mr. BREESE regarded the bill as unconstitutional.

The bill was then reported to the Senate; and the yeas and nays being called for on the question of ordering it to be engrossed for a third reading, they were ordered, and, being taken, resulted as follows:

YEAS.— Messrs. Allen, Archer, Ashley, Atchison, Atherton, Barrow, Benton, Calhoun, Cameron, Chalmers, Cilley, Thomas Clayton, John M. Clayton, Corwin, Crittenden, Davis, Dayton, Fairfield, Greene, Hannegan, Jarnagin, Johnson of Maryland, Johnson of Louisiana, Lewis, Morehead, Pennybacker, Rusk, Sevier, Simmons, Turney, Westcott, and Yulee— 32.

NAYS.—Messrs. Brecse, Bright, Dickinson, Dix, Evans, Haywood, Houston, Huntington, Mangum, Miller, Niles, Phelps, Semple, and Sturgeon—14.

So the bill was ordered to a third reading.

Mr. ARCHER asked that the bill be put upon its third reading now.

No objection being offered, the bill was read a third time, and passed.

The title of the hill as passed is as follows, viz.: “An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia.”


This Congressional Debate was transcribed from a scan from Google Books. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US – The Washington Times, October 16, 1905
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The only Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the retrocession of Alexandria was in Phillips v. Payne. This the first I’ve transcribed that includes R. A. Phillips.


GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US


Argue That County Belongs to the District


FAMOUS QUESTION REVIVED


Federal Court Will Decide Whether Congress Legally Returned the County to Virginia


Interest in whether Alexandria county is part of the State of Virginia or of the District of Columbia has been revived through the prosecution of poolrooms in Virginia.

The cases are now before Judge Waddill, judge of the United States court of the eastern district of Virginia. His decision tomorrow may mean the opening of this celebrated question.

Ten years ago the jurisdiction of Alexandria county was questioned. The case was taken before the United States Supreme Court by R. A. Phillips, a well-known capitalist and real estate owner of Alexandria county, with offices in Washington.

The court decided that the issue was one wholly between the United States and the State of Virginia and that a private citizen was not qualified to bring it up for disposition.

Since that decision, which failed to settle the status of the county, the case has been at a standstill and is so now. There are residents of Alexandria county who now are inclined to believe that with the agitation attending the poolroom cases the retrocession of the county will again come up for serious discussion.

Return of County

In the proclamation of President Washington, Alexandria county was part of the “ten mile square” allotted as the seat of the Federal Government. In 1846, Congress voted to retrocede to Virginia “that portion of the ten mile square south of the Potomac.”

It has been contented by eminent lawyers that if Congress has that power in 1846, it has that power today to retrocede to Maryland that portion which is known as the District of Columbia. They argue further that it then has the power to change the seat of Government to Bladensburg, Jackson City, of even to Hawaii.

It is not understood that Congress ever had the power to cede away any part of the “ten mile square” defined as the limits of the District of Columbia in President Washington’s proclamation.

The activity of Mr. Phillips and other is ascribed to the lax methods which now obtain in the government of the county and the benefits to be derived from its restoration to the District.

Would Benefit Town.

The county would have the benefit of the good-roads law, the revenues from Government property, such as Arlington, the three Government bridges, and other property would revert to the District and citizens of what is now Alexandria county would have the protection of a police system and the benefits of sanitary laws which are not now in force in the county.

L. E. Phillips, the Washington attorney, a son of R. A. Phillips, said yesterday that there is practically no sanitation in the county, the police facilities are poor, and that the methods of governing the county are much in line for improvement. Should the court decide that Alexandria county is legally within the District line it would mean practically a general revision of affairs there, and one which would not only mean benefits to the people of the county, but to the county itself, and to the District of Columbia.

New Phase Brought Up.

A letter from Mr. Phillips father to Attorney John A. Lamb, counsel for the two poolroom men who now under arrest, is interesting in that it presents a phase of the matter which has not been brought prominently before the public.

The letter reads as follows:


“It is a pleasure to me to observe that you assert in a case before Judge Waddill, of the United States district court, that Alexandria county is a part of the District of Columbia, and that the act of retrocession was wholly ultra vires.

“In my opinion Congress has less right to relinquish or transfer its exclusive jurisdiction over part of the seat of Federal Government than it would have to cede away or relinquish its legislative power over postoffices and postroads.

“Of course, we all know the Constitution has become a mere political football in these modern days. We find our Federal Government in canal-digging business in foreign territory, and in the missionary business in Asiatic islands, and it is refreshing to observe occasionally a recurrence to safe principles of jurisdiction and Federal authority.

“Section 8, paragraph 17, provides for the establishment and jurisdiction of the District, and a few lines later, Section 9, paragraph 2, puts a guarantee about one good old writ- ‘The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus’ shall not be suspended. It is a striking coincidence that the provision of the Constitution violated dismembering the seat of government and the appropriate procedure for the determination of such infractions of the fundamental law are in close proximity. When, in the course of events, it may appear necessary to dismember the seat of government or remove it permanently to a new location, such a proposal must first be submitted to all the States; and with the approval of three-fourths it will become lawful.

“As for the individual citizens respecting whose rights or liberty the writ of habeas corpus is brought in this particular case. I have no interest. It is an ill wind that blows no one good, and so even the rights and liberties of an unfortunate gambler may correct the grevious error of dismembering our seat of government. It was established by our Revolutionary ancestors. I trust Judge Waddill will do his part as a judge and a patriot to restore it.

“If appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, that august body may meet the question fully and say that under the high privilege of this particular writ, the court is bound to decide whether the District was dismembered lawfully.

“As for inconvenience that will arise respecting titles and acts of de facto government since 1847, changes of governmental control are frequent respecting territories, counties and cities and nobody has has ever been seriously hurt by them.

“R. A. PHILIPS.”


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article on Chronicling America. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



PLEA FOR RESTORATION OF ALEXANDRIA COUNTY – The Washington Times, April 13, 1902
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Of note, is that this very same article was published verbatim the following week on the same page in the same newspaper with a new title REUNION OF DISTRICT AND ALEXANDRIA.


Screengrab of the headline


Mr. H. Phillips Memorializes the District Committee.


MANY BURDENS IMPOSED


Caused by Proximity to District- Problems of Police Protection and Improvement of Public Highways Cited as Reasons for Re-annexation.


Mr. H. Phillips, a resident of Alexandria county, Va., who believes that the retrocession of that county is unconstitutional and that it still forms a part of the District of Columbia, has communicated to Congress his views on the question of restoration.

Mr. Phillips statement is addressed to the House Committee on the District of Columbia, and is as follows:


“In the year 1784, pursuant to paragraph 17, section 8, article 1, of the Federal Constitution, Virginia ceded to the United States a small area on the Potomac River to form part of the permanent seat of the General Government. In 1846 Congress passed an act ceding this land back to Virginia, thus dismembering the established seat of government of ten miles square. The portion returned to Virginia was organized as a separate county, only one-fourteenth of the average size of the counties of the State.

Burdensome Problems

“The problem of local police protection and improvement of public highways in the little county has become difficult and burdensome on account of the disorder and heavy travel incident to proximity to a large city.

“In 1861, the War Department and military forces again took practical possession of the county, building fortifications on every conspicuous eminence within its borders, and at the close of the war retained the Custis estate of eleven hundred acres, later paying for it and establishing a great national cemetery, a large military post, and a station of the Department of Agriculture, within its borders. The United States makes no contribution to the expenses of the local government, notwithstanding its ownership of one-sixteenth of the area and one-seventh of the property valuation of the county.

“The suburbs of cities are peculiarly subject to the presence of unlawful persons who resort to such points for illicit liquor selling, gambling, and other disorderly conduct near public highways. Especially is this observed on the Sabbath day. The residents of Alexandria county as a class are honorable, intelligent, and public spirited. The attorney for the county is active and successful in prosecuting offenders brought to his attention, and the judiciary resolute in sentencing law breakers. The police force of this small county, limited to a few men, receiving inadequate pay, cannot, however, prevent disorderly person entering the county from the city of Washington, or preserve order along the extensive river front. The history of municipal government shows that public order is thus difficult to preserve near boundary lines of a city. Malefactors constantly seek such border for the commission of unlawful acts, or to escape the strong arm of the law; hence cities are usually extended far beyond the limits of closely-built houses.

Sanitary Protection Needed.

“Sanitary protection, equally important to public welfare, requires that Alexandria county should be restored to the District of Columbia. Disease is carried to the limits of cities in deposits of water material, not only contaminating springs and water courses used by unsuspecting persons, but adding by exhalation to the other impurities of city air. Fire protection in suburbs also makes an extension of municipal limits desirable.

“It is also reasonable that cities control the maintenance of suburban parks and driveways, contributing to the health and pleasure of its residents. The circumscribed limits of walls and fortresses observed in the history of feudal towns should be thus brushed aside by the advance of science and civilization. The principles applicable to the extension of cities generally become more important when the seat of government and capital of a nation are concerned.

“So, disregarding the legal status of Alexandria county, there are important and practical reasons why it should be restored to the District of Columbia. It was urged in behalf of ceding part of the District of Columbia back to Virginia in 1846, that the United States had no property or buildings in Alexandria county. Now, we find the United States owns three bridges across the river, and in addition, a large share of the lands, buildings, and other improvements in the county, is the property of the National Government.

“An instance of the necessity of police protection occurred a few years ago. Coxey’s army came to Washington. They were ordered from the city and came over to Alexandria County and camped, and only moved when, upon application to the Governor, a company of troops bundled the army, bag and baggage, across the river. The executive officers of the Government, the judiciary, and members of Congress pass over this unpoliced area to and from Arlington National Cemetery. If injury comes to any official of the Government on the county highways from some criminal or insane person the Government is responsible for neglecting to maintain a jurisdiction imposed by the Constitution.

The Legal Question.

“It would seem, however, to be a proper subject for judicial inquiry, whether under the Federal Constitution, one or two of the three principal branches of Government have power to alienate a part of the established seat of government. The War Department has built on the county highways water mains, telegraph and telephone lines, and pumping station on land obtained for a bridge approaches in Alexandria county, without authority of Virginia, and without permission of the owners of the fee of the public highways, so if Alexandria county is lawfully part of Virginia, the United States is a trespasser without process of law or just compensation; but if the Supreme Court declares Alexandria county part of the District of Columbia, the Commissioners of the District of Columbia may at once provide for its police protection, and the Government improvements are within the legislative control of Congress.

“Congress has prohibited fishing at certain times, and in various methods in the waters of the Potomac, along the District. If Alexandria county is part of Virginia, such legislation is wholly unwarranted, and notwithstanding such legislation, Virginians have full riparian rights in the waters of the Potomac opposite Washington, subject only to Virginia laws.

“Jackson City has long been a menace to the moral of Washington, but if the establishment of the boundary of Maryland and Virginia has any reasonable interpretation, Jackson City is wholly in the District, and the Commissioners neglect their duties if they do not police Alexandria Island, and abate a stain on Washington city.

“Considering the restoration of Alexandria county to the District, in respect to the wishes of President Washington, it is most worthy of the attention of Congress. To the efforts of the first and most distinguished President, the location, plan, and success of the Capital may be justly ascribed. It will be a deserved tribute and honor to his memory to restore the original and proper limits surveyed and established under his person direction.

“Regarding the fitness of the proposed resolution, the Supreme Court has decided that the question is cognizable only in a case between the United States and the State of Virginia, and cannot be adjudicated between other parties. If the court decides Congress did not exceed its constitutional powers in ceding part of the seat of government to Virginia the controversy ends. If the court decides, however, Congress exceeded its powers, the jurisdiction of Congress, the courts, and Commissioners of the District will thenceforth extend over the entire ten miles square.

“The people of Alexandria county generally favor a restoration of the original District. Virginia does not wish to lose more territory. The United States paid $20,000,000 to Spain for a lot of foreign islands and proposes to $5,000,000 to Denmark for three little tropical islets, so it may not be unjust to contribute $1,000,000 toward the debt of the mother of States if Alexandria county is restored to the National Government.

“The Capital, the seat of general government, is important, however, not only to the in Washington, and in Virginia, but its preservation, its size, and location and its welfare are rights of and affect the people of the entire nation. The interests of the people, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Canada to the Gulf and the detached territory, should be fully and justly considered in the action on the proposed resolution.

“It may urged, Why disturb a condition of dismemberment of the seat of government established for over fifty years? In reply, it may be justly stated there is no progress of civilization, or improvement of any description, that does not disturb existing conditions within lawful limits. If the object of the resolution is desirable for the Government and for the citizens directly and indirectly interested, if it is entirely within the powers and limitations of the Federal Constitution, and if the resolution is appropriate to the subject matter, it should be adopted.”


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article on Chronicling America. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



EARLY SECESSION DAYS – The Washington Times, August 12, 1900
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EARLY SECESSION DAYS - The Washington Times, August 12, 1900


The Sentiment Had No Bearing on the National Union.


Efforts of Alexandria and Georgetown to Be Release From Their Association With the City of Washington- Appeals to the Maryland and Virginia Legislatures.


The exclusive jurisdiction of the United States was extended over the District of Columbia on the 27th of February, 1801, and almost immediately plans were proposed for a change in the District bounds, or for its entire abolition. The act of March 3, 1791, which provided that nothing therein should authorize the erection of public buildings on the Virginia side of the river had created dissatisfaction there before the United States took control, and at the third session which Congress held in Washington Mr. Bacon, of New York [actually Massachusetts], introduced a bill to cede back to Maryland and Virginia the land and jurisdiction which made the District of Columbia. On the 9th of February, 1803, the vote was taken on this proposal, and it was found to have only twenty-two supporters in the House of Representatives. In 1804 the attempt to disestablish the District of Columbia was again made by Mr. Bacon [actually it was made by John Dawson, of Virginia]. This time his proposal to re-cede to Maryland and Virginia all the territory except the city of Washington. These attempts seem, from the records, to have been abandoned after 1806 for many years. On both these occasions Mr. G. W. P. Custis of Arlington was an active opponent of retrocession.

However, talk on the subject did not cease. It was claimed on the one hand that the constitution of Maryland had been violated by the cession without a vote upon the act having been taken at two successive sessions of the Maryland Legislature. In Virginia some talkers alleged that the prohibition on the Virginia side of the river was a violation of the terms of cession, and made it void. Mr. Bacon and those of his opinion asserted that Congress was authorized to be “the seat of government,” and that, inasmuch as Georgetown, Alexandria, and the other territory outside the city of Washington were not the seat of government, the retention of that territory was unconstitutional.

In 1818 another proposal for the disintegration of the District of Columbia came to the front, and a town meeting in Alexandria was called by the mayor. Dr. E. C. Dick presided and Jacob Hoffman was secretary. At this meeting a protest against retrocession was adopted. It was not, however, until 1834 that a general movement outside of Washington was made for retrocession. It had been proposed in Congress to establish a Legislature for the District of Columbia. The two little cities, Georgetown and Alexandria, feared the overwhelming influence of the continually growing city of Washington, which might deprive them of the home rule which existed in their municipalities. Georgetown this time took the lead, and made a strong appeal to the State of Maryland for help, while Alexandria made an appeal to the Congressional delegation from Virginia.

In the House of Representatives, on the 19th of February [1838], Mr. Wise of Virginia introduced a resolution that the committee on the District of Columbia be instructed to inquire into the expediency of receding, under proper restrictions and reservations, and with the consent of the people this District and the States of Maryland and Virginia, the said District to the said States.

In Georgetown a series of popular movements in favor of a return to Maryland were initiated, and, after some preliminary proceedings, a mass meeting of the voters of Georgetown was called. The meeting was held on the 12th of February at the North Lancasterian school room, and the “Potomac Advocate” states that it was “one of the largest and most respectable ever held within our town.” Mr. John Kuntz occupied the chair and Thomas Turner was the secretary. Mr. S. McKenney introduced a resolution that “without reference to the political advantages to accrue to that portion of the county of Washington which lies west of Rock Creek, including Georgetown, from a retrocession thereof to Maryland, provided that it can be effected on such terms as shall secure from Congress the reimbursement from Congress of the debt created in the improvement of the harbor and the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, will, in the opinion of the his meeting, promote the pecuniary interests and general prosperity of the citizens.” The meeting requested the mayor to order a vote of the citizens of the territory affected on the 14th of February, and if such vote was favorable to retrocession to unite with the common council of Georgetown in bringing the subject before the Maryland Legislature.

The Georgetown committee went to Annapolis to seek help from the Legislature of Maryland, and action on the subject was begun in April, just before the time fixed for adjournment. A committee reported a series of resolutions on the subject, the most important being this one:

“Resolved, That the General Assembly of Maryland do assent to the recession of Georgetown and that portion of the county of Washington, in the District of Columbia, lying west of Rock Creek formerly included within the limits of Montgomery County; provided the Congress of the United States do agree to yield its exclusive jurisdiction over the same; and in such event the said territory shall thereupon be held and deemed a portion of the domain of Maryland, and that the citizens thereof be entitled to all the immunities and privileges of citizens of the State, and the corporate powers which may have been granted by the Congress of the United States.”

On that occasion Mr. Cottman, of Somerset, submitted an additional resolution, as follows:

“And whereas the Constitution of the United States has provided that Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases over such district as may by the cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of the United States; and

“Whereas the territory north of the Potomac, a portion of the domain of Maryland, has been apparently and ostensibly ceded to the United States by an act of the Legislature of Maryland which was not ratified and confirmed by a succeeding Legislature, and this ostensible cession of the domain being such a modification of the Constitution as requires the action of two successive Legislatures in the mode provided by the constitution of Maryland; therefore

“Resolved, That the territory aforesaid was not ceded in conformity with the constitution of this State, and now is, and of right ought to be, part of the territory of Maryland.”

The Legislature of Maryland, however, adjourned too soon for final action on the subject, and the recession of Georgetown never again assumed formidable proportions.

The assistance given by Congress in securing the release of the Holland loan when it was said that the District cities “were sold to the Dutch” quieted for a while the popular unrest at the “want of a vote” that long galled the young men of the District; but the entente cordiale between the District cities was at an end forever when the corporation of Georgetown passed resolutions protesting against Congress giving aid in the construction of the Aqueduct and the Alexandria Canal, which continued to Alexandria the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. And although Congress gave Alexandria $300,000 for that work, yet the desire to be with Virginia was not allayed, and when a Democratic Congress refused to re-charter the Alexandria banks the moneyed interests fell in with and even led the people, and then began an agitation which finally severed the District which Washington had made. Then, too, the Van Buren Administration was Democratic, or “loco-foco,” as was the Alexandrian term, and the town of Alexandria was intensely Whig. The Harrison banner of 1840 bore on its reverse the picture of the “Sic semper” woman bending over a shackled maiden in tears, and the legend read: “Our Revolutionary fathers intended us to be free. Sons of Virginia, will you see us slaves?”

At first as the retrocession was so vehemently championed by the Whigs, the “loco-focos” opposed it. The partisans of Van Buren were few in town, but very numerous in the county, and during Tyler’s Administration the Democratic leaders began to see that if Alexandria was turned over to Democratic Virginia it would give the Democrats a more extensive influence; and so, when Polk came in, the Congress which completed the annexation of Texas divided the District of Columbia, and Congress passed a law, which President Polk approved, declaring that “all that portion of the District of Columbia ceded to the United States by Virginia, and all right and jurisdiction, be hereby ceded and forever relinquished to the State of Virginia, in full and absolute right and jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside therein.” So by this act of July 9, 1846, the District of Columbia, which came into being February 27, 1801, ceased to exist south of the river Potomac.


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article on Chronicling America. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



Act of Cession from the State of Virginia – December 3, 1789
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In this act, passed December 3rd, 1789, the State of Virginia “forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States,” a tract of land no larger than 10 miles square to be used for the seat of government of the United States. However, 57 years after the passage of this act, the Legislature of State of Virginia would pass a subsequent act requesting the land back with the assent of Congress and the people of Alexandria.

One constitutional question I have, and the reason why I am posting the legislation below, is, if in the spring of 1846, did the State of Virginia violate Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution? This section says it is illegal for States to pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts. Therefore, if the State of Virginia entered into a Contract with the Federal Government with the passage of the act below (and others), was the passage of the 1846 act requesting the land back a form contractual impairment?

Act of Cession from the State of Virginia - December 3, 1789

ACT OF CESSION FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA.

AN ACT for the cession of ten miles square, or any lesser quantity of territory within this State, to the United States, in Congress assembled, for the permanent seat of the General Government. [Passed the 3d December. 1789.]

I. Whereas the equal and common benefits resulting from the administration of the General Government will be best diffused, and its operations become more prompt and certain, by establishing such a situation for the seat of the said Government as will be most central and convenient to the citizens of the United States at large ; having regard as well to population, extent of territory, and a free navigation to the Atlantic Ocean, through the Chesapeake Bay, as to the most direct and ready communication with our fellow-citizens on the western frontier; and whereas it appears to this assembly that a situation combining all the considerations and advantages before recited may be had on the banks of the river Potomac, above tidewater, in a country rich and fertile in soil, healthy and salubrious in climate, and abounding in all the necessaries and conveniences of life, where, in a location of ten miles square, if the wisdom of Congress shall so direet, the States of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, may participate in such location :

II. Be it therefore enacted by the general assembly, That a tract of country, not exceeding ten miles square, or any lesser quantity, to be located within the limits of the State, and in any part thereof, as Congress may by law direct, shall be, and the same is hereby forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States, in full and absolute right, and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside thereon, pursuant to the tenor and effect of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of the Government of the United States.

III. Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, or to affect the rights of individuals therein, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States.

IV. And provided also, That the jurisdiction of the laws of this commonwealth over the persons and property of individuals residing within the limits of the cession aforesaid, shall not cease or determine until Congress, having accepted the said cession, shall, by law, provide for the government thereof, under their jurisdiction, in manner provided by the article of the Constitution before recited.


SOURCE: Page 651. The Compiled Statutes in Force in the District of Columbia, Including the Acts of the Second Session of the Fiftieth Congress, 1887-’89


Related Retrocession of Alexandria Entries:

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YouTube Video Showing Where George Washington Grew Hemp at Mount Vernon
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[ Watch On YouTube ]

In May I had the opportunity to participate in first annual Hemp History Week. From printing up an old newspaper article showing how hemp was used in the Civil War to taking a field trip to George Washington’s farms in Mount Vernon, Virginia, I had a great time learning about America’s historical use of hemp.

In the video above, I make a cameo at the beginning and later in the video the editor included a map of Mount Vernon from the Library of Congress that I submitted for inclusion in the video. The map nicely corresponds to the map shown during the interview at Mount Vernon.

When we arrived at Mount Vernon, the staff had prepared copies of a statement concerning George Washington’s cultivation of hemp at Mount Vernon. Below is a transcription of the document:



Hemp Production and Use at Mount Vernon

Throughout his lifetime, George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial uses. The fibers from hemp held excellent properties for the making of rope and sail canvas, which was a major industry in the age of sailing ships. In addition, hemp fibers could be spun into thread for clothing or, as indicated in Mount Vernon records, for use in repairing the large seine fishing nets that Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac.

At one point in the 1760’s Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined that wheat would be a better alternative. During the period when he was considering hemp, he wrote to his agents in England in the hope of determining the costs involved in production and shipping.

In September 1765 he wrote:

“In order thereto you woud do me a singular favour in advising of the general price one might expect for good Hemp in your Port watered and prepared according to Act of Parliament, with an estimate of the freight, and all other incident charges pr. Tonn that I may form some idea of the profits resulting from the growth.” (Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington v. 2, September 20, 1765, George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, p. 430-431)

The Act of Parliament that Washington mentions in his letter to Robery Cary & Company, was enacted to promote hemp production in the American Colonies. In 1767, he did sell some of his Mount Vernon-grown hemp, gaining an income from the bounty that Parliament had laid on the crop.

Hemp Background and History:
“Hemp, Cannabis sativa, a plant originally from central Asia, was cultivated with, and sometimes in place of flax, because its stem fibers are similar to those of flax. Hemp seeds, like those of flax, can be used to extract an oil used in paints, varnishes, and soaps. By the seventeenth century, Russia, Latvia, and other countries around the Baltic Sea were major producers of hemp, and it was from this area that Britain obtained its supply, a situation which left the English vulnerable during periods of military hostilities. Hemp made into rope was vital to navies worldwide. Hemp was also used to make a coarse linen cloth as well as sacking, and other rough materials.” (Colonial American Fiber Crops, Charles Leach, from The National Colonial Farm research Report No. 20. the Accokeek Foundation, Inc. p. 3-4)

Although George Washington’s initial interest in hemp was to determine if it could be a viable cash crop, he proceeded to cultivate it just to meet the needs of his own plantation. Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas, and for repairing the seine nets used at the fisheries.

Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp was cultivated at all his 5 farms, (Mansion House, River Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm, & Union Farm.) In February 1794, Washington wrote to his farm manager, William Pearce, “…I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. Foin seed, and that of the India Hemp… Let the ground be well prepared and the See (St. Foin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown anywhere. (Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, v. 33, George Washington to William Pearce, February 24, 1794, p. 279.)

It must be noted that industrial hemp, Cannabis sativa, — the kind that Washington grew– is not the same strain of the plant as Cannabis sativa indica which is used as a drug (marijuana). Cannabis sativa (industrial use hemp) contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and therefore has no physical or psychological effects. Cannabis sativa indica grown for marijuana can contain 6% to 20% THC.

Therefore, there is no truth to the statement that George Washington was growing marijuana. His hemp crop was strictly the industrial strain needed for the production of rope, thread, canvas, and other industrial applications.



Debate in the U.S. House of Representatives Concerning An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia, Friday, May 8, 1846
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After R. M. T. Hunter’s eloquent speech concerning the Retrocession of Alexandria in the District of Columbia to the State of Virginia, the bill was debated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Below I have transcribed the entire debate of the day from the Congressional Globe, including the final vote tally. As I noted before, William Winter Payne, the representative from Alabama, was solidly against the bill and eventually took his issue to the Supreme Court of the United States, and while losing for employing the wrong legal strategy, there have been other legal opinions that have questioned the constitutionality of the aforesaid act.



Photograph of Congress from the Library of Congress

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress


So the House resolved itself into Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union, (Mr. DOUGLASS, of Illinois, in the char;) and, on motion of Mr. HUNTER, proceeded to the consideration of the bill to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia.

The bill was read as follows:

Whereas no more territory ought to be held under the exclusive legislation given to Congress over the district which is the seat of the General Government, than may be necessary and proper for the purposes of such a seat; and whereas experience hath shown that the portion of the District of Columbia ceded to the United States by the State of Virginia has not been, nor is ever likely to be, necessary for that purpose; and whereas the State of Virginia, by an act passed on the third day of February, eighteen hundred and forty-six entitled “An act accepting, by the State of Virginia, the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, when the same shall be receded by the Congress of the United States,” hath signified her willingness to take back the said territory ceded as aforesaid: therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, with the assent of the people of the county and town of Alexandria, to be ascertained as hereinafter prescribed, all of that portion of the District of Columbia ceded to the United States by the State of Virginia, and all the rights and jurisdiction therewith ceded over the same, be, and the same are hereby, ceded and forever relinquished to the State of Virginia, in full and absolute right and jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside thereon.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to vest in the State of Virginia, any right of property in the custom-house and post office of the United States within the town of Alexandria, or in the soil of the territory hereby receded so as to affect the rights of individuals or corporations therein, otherwise than as the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals or corporations to the State of Virginia.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the jurisdiction and laws now existing in the said territory, ceded to the United States by the State of Virginia, as aforesaid, over the persons and property of individuals therein residing, shall not cease or determine until the State of Virginia shall hereafter provide, by law, for the extension of her jurisdiction and judicial system over the said territory hereby receded.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall not be in force until after the assent of the people of the county and town of Alexandria shall be given to it in the mode hereafter provided. Immediately after the close of the present session of Congress, the President of the United States shall appoint five commissioners, (any three of whom may act,) citizens of the said town or county of Alexandria, and freeholders within the same, who shall be sworn before some justice of the peace in and for the said town or county, to discharge the duties hereby imposed upon them faithfully, impartially, and to the best of their ability. These commissioners, or any three of them, shall proceed within ten days after they are notified of their appointment, to fix upon the time, place, and manner of taking the vote within the town or county of Alexandria, and shall give notice of the same by advertisement in the newspapers of the said town. And on the day and at the place so appointed, every white male citizen of the county and town of Alexandria, of twenty-one years of age, or more, and who shall have been a resident therein for two years or more next preceding the time when he offers to vote, and who shall not be insane or a pauper, shall vote viva voce upon the question of accepting or rejecting the provisions of this act. The said commissioners shall preside when this vote is taken, and decide all questions arising in relation to the right of voting under this act. Within three days after this vote is taken as aforesaid, the said commissioners shall make out three statements of the result of this poll upon oath, and under their seals. Of these, one shall be transmitted to the President of the United States, one to the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and one shall be deposited in the clerk’s office of the county court of Alexandria. If a majority of the votes so given shall be cast against accepting the provisions of this act, then it shall be void and of no effect; but if a majority of the said votes should be in favor of accepting the provisions of this act, then this act shall be in full force, and it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to inform the Governor of Virginia that this act is in full force and effect, and to make proclamation of the fact.

SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That, in such case, the right of property in the half square in Alexandria, on which stands the court-house, bounded by Columbus, Queen, and Princess streets, and the half square on which stands the jail, bounded by Princess, St. Asaph, and Pitt streets, shall be conveyed to the Governor of Virginia and his successors, for the use of the county and corporation of Alexandria forever; and the Solicitor of the Treasury of the United States is hereby authorized and required, in the name and on behalf of the United States, to make all the proper and necessary conveyances for that purpose.

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That the United States retain the right of property and jurisdiction over the Long Bridge across the Potomac river, and over so much land on the southern side of the river as may be necessary for the abutment of the said bridge.



Mr. Hunter addressed the committee, (in a speech, of which a full report will be given hereafter in the Appendix.) He explained generally the object of the bill, and urgently advocated its passage. He adverted to the many high considerations of public policy which justified and sanctioned the measure. He examined the constitutional objections which had been urged against it, answering them and refuting them. He spoke of the importance of the retrocession to the people of Alexandria; and depicted, in glowing colors, the blight that had fallen on that city by reason of her dependence on the General Government; her declining commerce; her premature decay; the desolation which had come upon her, not by the scourge of God , but by the hand of man. He believed that if the boon contemplated by this bill were granted, the blessings of the people of Alexandria, and of their posterity, would fall upon Congress. If this opportunity was neglected, Congress would be responsible for whatever evils might result.

The three first section of the bill having been read, and no amendment having been offered–

Mr. CULVER moved to amend the 4th section in the 17th line, by striking out the word “white.”

Mr. C. said he wanted every male citizen should enjoy the right of the elective franchise. He spoke of a great variety of shades of complexion, with so slight distinctions, that it would be difficult, under the bill which conferred this privilege only on white male citizens, to tell who were voters.

He wished the honorable gentleman who reported this bill would state in its preamble the whole truth concerning the causes which had tended to bring it forward, or that the preamble might be stricken out entirely. One reason which operated upon that gentleman might be that under the Constitution and laws, fugitive slaves– fugitive slaves from this District– could not be captured and retained. If so, this would be no very strong reason for voting for this bill.

He argued that Mr. Hunter, by taking the position that in case of the retrocession, Virginia could manumit the slaves in Alexandria, had virtually admitted the power of Congress to manumit them there, and in the whole District. For Congress now exercised exclusive jurisdiction over the District; and if the surrender of her power to the State authorized that State to abolish slavery, certainly Congress itself possessed that power while she retained this exclusive jurisdiction.

If the bill and preamble were so modified as to strike out the word “white” as much as he was opposed to putting back 1,000 or 1,500 slaves under the jurisdiction of Virginia, he should be very much opposed to the bill.

The question being taken, the amendment was rejected.

Mr. MORRIS rose to move an amendment; but, after some conversation, he yielded to

Mr G.W. JONES, who moved an amendment, to strike out from the word “every,” in the 16th line, to “paupers,” in the 20th line, and insert in lieu thereof “every while male citizen of the United States who shall have resided in the said county of Alexandria six months preceding the time when he offers his vote, insane persons and paupers excepted.”

After some conversation, in which Messrs. TIBBATTS, HUNTER, WENTWORTH, and other participated,

The question being taken, the amendment was adopted.

Mr. PAYNE moved to strike out in the 2d line, 4th section, the words “in the county and town of Alexandria,” and insert in lieu thereof the words “the District of Columbia” -(so to require the assent of the citizens of the whole District, instead of Alexandria merely, to the retrocession.)

Mr. P. said he had not anticipated the consideration and action upon this subject at this time, and he was not so well prepared to debate the subject now as he wished to be. But he would not disguise his true feelings in regard to the measure. He was opposed to the passage of this bill, and for reasons which were satisfactory to his own mind, whatever weight they might have with other gentlemen.

With regard to the argument which the gentleman from Virginia [Mr. HUNTER] had made, and most eloquently made too, he had but a word to say– and that was, that he attached some more importance than the gentleman seemed to do to the execution of the trust with which this Government was invested when the seat of Government was located in the District of Columbia. The power was given to Congress to receive by cession from particular States a tract of land not exceeding ten miles square, and there to locate the seat of Government. The Congress fully executed that power, and in his humble opinion, with its execution the whole matter stopped, and the power was exhausted; and more importance he conceived attached to this subject than the gentleman from Virginia thought proper to give it.

Mr. BOYD here addressed an inquiry to Mr. PAYNE, which, form his turning away, was entirely lost to the reporter.

Mr. PAYNE replied, if Providence interposed, and brought around a state of things wholly beyond the control of this Government, he assured the honorable gentleman from Kentucky “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” But if the gentleman himself and his friends voluntarily involved themselves in a difficulty of that sort, Mr. P. hoped they would not call on him to point out the means by which to extricate themselves. He thought the whole error in regard to this case resulted from the fact that the gentleman seemed to consider Congress omnipotent within the District of Columbia; that the clause giving it “exclusive legislation” made it an absolute despotism; that Congress could perform any act within this District it deems proper, independently of the limitations of the Constitution. That was an error. The Constitution gives to Congress “exclusive” power of legislation, but not unlimited power. It cannot within this District take private property except for public use, and on paying just compensation therefor; it cannot abolish the right of habeas corpus, of trial by jury, or do any of those acts prohibited by the Constitution. No; Congress must legislate exclusively within the District of Columbia- no other legislation can be admitted within it- but it must legislate under the provisions of the Constitution. Otherwise all the difficulties which the gentleman from Virginia seemed to anticipate would occur; but confining himself to the limitations of the Constitution, they would be obviated, and the bill under consideration will be excluded. Congress had the right to receive a district and exercise exclusive legislation. There its power stopped. It had no right to transfer.

With reference to the amendment which Mr. P. had offered. The District of Columbia, so far as the Government was concerned, was one. No sections, no divisions were known to the Government of the United States. They were politically one people; united in one political association; bound to submit to one authority; and their destinies, in fact, linked together in one common bond. It seemed to him, therefore, that whenever an attempt was made to alienate a part of that community, assent of the whole, at least, was necessary. If he was disposed to go into the question generally, he would deny the power of a Government to transfer its territory, and of this Government particularly; and the books would bear him out in the fact that no territory could be transferred, unless such transfer was necessary in order to preserve the whole. But no such necessity existed. This proposition of transfer was not founded on necessity, but on the will of a few individuals living in one part of the District. Now, before this retrocession was made, the question should be submitted to the whole people of the District of Columbia; and in case it was sanctioned by them, the case would at least be presented in a more favorable light than it is at present.

Another objection he had to the bill was, that we had paid a very large amount for that portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac river. Was it contemplated to refund this money? Did the Virginia Legislature, in its zeal to get back a portion of this District, think proper to provide for refunding that money- not less, he thought, than a million dollars? No; they ask you to give back Alexandria; the soil, too- a thing which this Government never had, but the jurisdiction only. But if they adopted a proviso to this bill declaring that we will not pay the debt of the corporation of Alexandria, amounting to somewhere in the neighborhood of one million dollars, it would very much change the state of vote when taken; and then the people of Alexandria will reject this proposition in this bill.

The true object of the bill was to saddle on the Government this debt; not only to give up every dollar that has been paid, but to bring forward an additional claim against the Government, amounting to a million dollars; for gentlemen had told him that unless this debt was paid by the Government, they preferred to remain as they are. He insisted, if this bill was to pass, it should be with the declaration that this Government was not going to pay that debt, so as to exclude the millions of petitions which, session after session would be presented to refund this debt.

There was another objection to this bill which did not come so immediately before this House; but, as it was not a party objection, he deemed proper to state it. They were aware that in Virginia there had been a conflict going on, he might say, almost from the beginning of that Government down to the present day, on the subject of the right of suffrage. This was not a party question, but an eastern and western question in Virginia; and that State was now on the very point of calling a convention, the object of which was to extend the right of suffrage and equalize the right of representation in the counties. As things now stand, eastern Virginia controls the political power of that State, with a population vastly inferior to western Virginia. This bill proposes to add 2,500 or 3,000 voters to the eastern side of Virginia, the influence of all whom would be thrown against western Virginia, whose object is to extend the right of suffrage, and have a convention, as she ought to have. Having been born and reared in that State, Mr. P. might be permitted to say he felt an interest in her institutions and her interests, and he hoped the day would yet come when Virginia, noble as she is in many respects, may yet take stand side by side with the enlightened States of the Union which have discarded all those old distinctions, and who now permit the right of suffrage to rest upon the freedom of the citizen, and not on the property he holds in his possession.

Mr. SEDDON interposed, and (Mr. P. yielding) was understood to call attention to the fact that the Virginia Legislature, by a unanimous vote, representing of course the eastern as well as the western portion of the State, had agreed to this retrocession of Alexandria. There was no objection, therefore, on the part of western Virginia to this measure.

Mr. JOHNSON, of Virginia, rose and appealed to the gentleman to allow a further explanation.

Mr. PAYNE. Certainly, sir. I wish to hear from western Virginia.

Mr. JOHNSON said his colleague [Mr. SEDDON] referred to the question of convention; he was in error. There was division of sentiment in Virginia; and western Virginia required a convention assembled on a basis of different from that which the eastern part was willing to accord to them, and they never would consent to meet their eastern brethren on that subject until they could meet them on the broad principles of equal rights.

Mr. PAYNE (resuming) said he was aware of the interest felt on this great question of a convention in the western part of Virginia. It was not a party question as between Whigs and Democrats, but was advocated by the friends of freedom, whether found marching under the Whig or the Democratic banners. On the great question of the right of suffrage, where party divisions had been laid aside to promote the great principles of liberty and the right of suffrage– in such conflict, what he desired was, that the Congress of the United States shall not throw its weight and influence against those who were battling for the right of suffrage.

Mr. J. McDOWELL (Mr. P. yielding the floor) said he should like to be informed by the gentleman- [the remainder of the sentence was lost to the reporter.] He should like to know, above all, whether the gentleman from Alabama does not admit, as a fundamental article of his own creed, that we are entitled to self-government. And furthermore, whether, as a special and particular article of his party creed, he does not go for the largest liberty of–

Mr. PAYNE. I must ask the gentleman to reduce his question to writing.

I should like to know, (continued Mr. McDOWELL,) on what general or particular doctrine it is that the gentleman desires the power of Congress to interfere with the local questions of Virginia. Furthermore–

Mr. PAYNE. (interposing) insisted on his right to the floor.

Mr. McDOWELL, (yielding.) Well, they are hard questions, and difficult for the gentleman to answer.

Mr. PAYNE. If the honorable gentleman over the way will submit his questions in writing, it will afford me much pleasure to answer them.

Mr. McDOWELL. I regret that the gentleman’s memory is so treacherous.

Mr. PAYNE continued. But inasmuch as they are numerous, I will not undertake to answer them all. Mr. P. had never sought to interfere, in the slightest degree, with the internal policy of Virginia. What he proposed was, to leave Virginia to fight her own battles; but he protested against this Government adding three or four thousand votes to eastern Virginia, which would go to aid in frustrating western Virginia in her efforts to extend the right of suffrage and the basis of political freedom. He presumed, as far as this Government was concerned, he had the right to remonstrate against this Government taking a side in this contest, and that against the extension of rights. He would say to the Government, in reference to this subject, “Hand off, and let not the Congress of the United States lend its power against a majority, now struggling for a great principle of liberty against the dominant power of the minority.” And he asked the gentleman if this could be called an interference with the internal concerns of Virginia? It was a refusal to interfere on either side.

He considered this the only important question the gentleman form Virginia had put to him; and he had but little more to add. He had discharged his duty on this floor- a duty which led him against his own inclinations; and he confessed, when he heard the honorable gentleman from Virginia [Mr. HUNTER] make his address on this floor, every feeling of his heart induced him to go with him; but in a great question of this kind, where fundamental right is concerned, and where the attempt is made by the action of this Government to retard the progress of freedom, he could occupy no other position than that of opposition to it. The accomplishment of this great measure- the extension of the right of suffrage- which was raised at the present time in Virginia, would be defeated or retarded for more than ten years by the passage of this bill. He trusted that the Congress of the United States would not give its sanction, at least until it had received a more complete investigation.

Mr. BAYLY said he had not designed to take any part in this discussion, nor should he now have risen to do so, were it not for the very extraordinary speech which they had just heard from the member from Alabama. This was now the third session in which he had been a member of this House. During that time, he had heard many speeches at which he was amazed; but among them all he had never heard one at which he was so profoundly astonished as that which they had just heard delivered from the gentleman from Alabama. If there was a member on this floor who had uniformly shown a greater degree of indignation- who had uniformly more constantly lashed himself into excitement, when members from other States had undertaken to interfere with the domestic concerns of the State which he has the honor in part to represent- if there was one who had signalized himself on such occasions, it was the gentleman from Alabama. And yet he undertook to come before the House of Representatives, to drag before it the domestic policy, the politics of our State, and Mr. B. took leave to say, utterly to misrepresent the feelings and opinions of that section in which he resided.

Mr. PAYNE, (in his seat.) I do not doubt that, sir. I do not doubt that.

Mr. BAYLY (continuing.) Who gave the gentleman from Alabama a commission to come here and invoke the Congress of the United States to take part in he local politics of Virginia? Where did the gentleman find his commission to come and invoke Congress to take part with the western portion of Virginia (as he is pleased to say) against the eastern? I deny that he has any such authority. Without meaning any personal offence to the gentleman, for whom I have no other than kind feelings, I say it is a most impertinent interference- an interference for which we do not thank him- an interference which my distinguished friend [Mr. JOHNSON] from the western portion of Virginia, with his statesmanlike devotion to that section, with an ability which I undertake to say that gentleman can never equal, does not thank him. That gentleman, here speaking for the western portion of Virginia, has repudiated the kindness of the gentleman from Alabama as emphatically as I repudiate his description of the feelings that actuate the eastern portion.

That gentleman says a contest is going on in Virginia between those in favor of the extension of the right of suffrage and those opposed to it, and has undertaken to say that these sets of opinions are geographically divided. I deny that fact. In eastern Virginia there are as zealous, and I beg leave to say, as able advocates of the extension of the right of suffrage as are to be found in the Commonwealth. Whence does the gentleman get his information? I do not come here to speak of my own opinions. This House has nothing to do with them. It is not the proper occasion for me to undertake to express these opinions, and still less to sustain them. I undertake to say, however, that there may be no mistake about it, that there is no more zealous advocate of the right of suffrage than I am.

But not one of the least astonishing portions of the gentleman’s speech was, that, whereas he was so anxious to extend the right of suffrage to all the people of Virginia, he is taking the course, and the only course, that can prevent the extension of that right to the two thousand and more voters of the city and county of Alexandria. If the gentleman would display his zeal for the right of suffrage, let him go to extend it to the citizens of Alexandria, to whom, under this bill, as wide an extension of the right of suffrage was made as anybody can ask for. That bill refers the question to all the male white inhabitants, without any exception, but paupers, lunatics, and felons. And I undertake to say, without fear of contradiction, that if this retrocession take place, every voter in the portion ceded of this District will be the ally of those who go for the extension of the right of suffrage.

But the gentleman undertook further to say, that, on the call of a convention, there was a geographical division. Mr. B. denied that fact. There was no such division. The county (Accomac) in which he lived voted at the last session of the Legislature of Virginia for a call for a convention. From time immemorial almost- for he supposed twenty or thirty years- had that old and venerated county uniformly voted in the same way. And yet the gentleman from Alabama, with these facts staring him in the face, undertook to tell this House that eastern Virginia is against a call for a convention to correct the errors in her constitution. The gentleman was mistaken; before he came here to talk about our local politics he had better learn something of them; and if well informed on the subject, he utterly denied the right of the gentleman to enter into it at all.

He had not risen to enter into the merits of the discussion. He had heard no answer yet to the argument of his colleague, the chairman of the Committee for the District of Columbia, [Mr. HUNTER.] Till that argument was answered, it seemed to him that they were not called upon to argue the question further.

But Mr. B. begged leave to state a fact about which, in the heat of the debate, there seemed to have been some misunderstanding. My friend [Mr. JOHNSON] denied the assertion of my friend from Richmond, [Mr. SEDDON,] that the Legislature of Virginia was unanimous on the subject of retrocession. My colleague did not mean to deny that fact, as I am informed.

Mr. JOHNSON (Mr. B. yielding) said it was proper to state that, owing to the difficulty of hearing in the Hall, he understood his colleague, [Mr. SEDDON,] when he said Virginia was unanimous on the subject, to allude to the subject of a convention. He learned, however, that in his remarks, he [Mr. S.] had reference to the vote on the retrocession of Alexandria. On that I was not informed, and when I said the vote had not been unanimous, my remark alluded to the question of convention.

Mr. BAYLY (resuming) said he would not go into the discussion with his colleague in reference to Virginia politics; but for the information of the gentleman from Alabama, who seems to take so much interest in the affairs of Virginia, it was a very singular fact, that in the late convention of Virginia, which formed our present constitution, there was but one solitary delegation which presented throughout an undivided front in favor of the West, and that delegation was from this very district- this very Loudoun and Fairfax district.

Mr. B argued that this small accession of population- the population of Alexandria town and county, all told, being but ten thousand, and of them only six hundred voters, (which was a large proportion for a southern population)- would be of no account in a contest of eastern and western Virginia, even if they all cast their votes in that way, which was not probable. The addition of these votes to those of a State numbering one and a half millions of inhabitants, would be a mere bagatelle, the merest trifle in the world in a political point of view.

In concluding, Mr. B. begged the House, (and he thought in asking this he was not asking what was not reasonable) in deciding this question to decide it on its own merits, with reference solely to national considerations, and without any sort of reference to the local influences or interests of Virginia.

Mr. McCLERNAND obtained the floor.

Mr. PAYNE appealed to him to yield, to allow an explanation.

Mr SIMS also wished the floor, in order to submit a motion, inasmuch as this bill was made the special order for one day, that the committee rise with the view of adopting a resolution fixing an hour to-day for terminating the debate.

Mr. McCLERNAND, stating that he would submit that motion if such seemed to be the sense of the committee, yielded to-

Mr. PAYNE, who said he had risen and submitted, when upon the floor before, a few observations, without having investigated the subject, and had spoken from his general information respecting it. The gentleman from Virginia, [Mr. BAYLY,] had thought proper to characterize his remarks as impudent.

Mr. BAYLY, (in his seat.) I said no such thing.

Mr. PAYNE, (continuing.) As impertinent, then! “Impertinent” to interfere in the legislation of this Congress! “Impertinent” to interfere with anything appertaining to Virginia! And are remarks which I make upon a subject thus coming directly before this Congress, to be characterized by the gentleman from Virginia as “impertinent?” I scorn that remark; and I hurl it back in the teeth of the source from which it originated. “Impertinent” to interfere in the follies of Virginia! Are they to sacred to be touched, because her citizens have grown old in them? Why, if twice as old, or if they had existed from the beginning of time, I would attack them, fearless of the imputations thrown upon me, or of the consequences which may flow from it.

I am asked where I got my commission to interfere in Virginia politics. My “commission!” That is a quotation from the other wing of the Capitol. I hold it by the will of seventy thousand freemen; and by the God who made me I will sustain it. There is where I got my commission, sir.

But, sir, (said Mr. P.,) I have not interfered in Virginia politics; I have not sought to interfere in Virginia politics; I have said nothing in regard to Virginia politics, or of the right of Virginia to govern herself. I said that a struggle was going on in Virginia between the eastern and western part to call a convention, on object of which was to extend the right of suffrage. The gentleman denies it. Now I appeal to the gentleman from the western part of Virginia whether that contest is not going on, and has been for years.

Mr. BAYLY. I denied no such thing.

Mr. PAYNE. I appeal to the House whether the gentleman did not say there was a contest going on about a call for a convention. This is what he did say; but the gentleman now has the right to take other ground if he chooses.

Mr. BAYLY. I denied that it was purely a sectional contest; and I now deny it.

Mr. PAYNE. The gentleman now puts it on the ground of sectionality; and I ask the gentleman from the western part of Virginia whether, whenever a convention has been defeated, it has not been defeated by eastern Virginia, and desired by western Virginia?

Mr. JOSEPH JOHNSON said it was with great reluctance that he interfered again in this contest between the gentleman. I can repeat what I said before, that we of the West are exceedingly anxious to assemble a convention to alter the fundamental laws of the State of Virginia; that there is but one opinion in that section of the State; that the whole western part of the State are looking anxiously to the time when we should be able to assemble a convention to reform the constitution of the State. The east, we understand there, are opposed to a convention.

Mr. PAYNE (interposing.) So do I.

At least so far as regards the basis of representation, (continued Mr. J.,) the eastern portion of the State have proposed to assemble a convention, but upon terms which we of the west do not think proper to accept. That is what I understand to be the true state of feeling.

Mr. PAYNE. That is precisely what I stated.

Mr. HOPKINS (Mr. P. yielding the floor) said the extension of the right of suffrage is one of the matters which has entered into the consideration of this question of a convention. But instead of being the question, as characterized by the gentleman from Alabama, [Mr. PAYNE,] which more than any other engaged the public mind, there has perhaps been a louder clamor for restricting, rather than extending the right of suffrage- so as to prevent the railroad or floating vote, which gives to the cities an undue influence over the surrounding counties.

Mr. PAYNE, (resuming) I said it was one of the questions, and an important question, as the right of suffrage is and always must be. I think I am sustained most signally in the position I took by the gentlemen from Virginia [Mr. JOHNSON and Mr. HOPKINS,] the gentleman from Accomac to the contrary notwithstanding.

The gentleman from Virginia (from the Accomac district) had told him he seemed to feel a peculiar interest in Virginia- and in western Virginia. And why should he not? Was it not natural? There his eyes had first opened upon the light of day; there it was that he had grown to manhood; there he had quenched his thirst from the rivulet bursting from the face of her hills; there he had laid the foundation of whatever knowledge of politics, or otherwise, that he might possess. It was true, he had spent a considerable portion of his life west of the Alleghanies; but he still had a deep and sincere interest in seeing his old State take her stand upon correct principles, in a great question of civil liberty.

But his object was not to interfere with the domestic affairs of Virginia, but to warn Congress against taking a part in that contest, and more especially on the wrong side, seeking to trample down the will of a minority by what is deemed a majority. He apprehended, hereafter, it would be wholly out of order to allude to Virginia under any circumstances; that the Virginia delegation would rise up and say, Do not interfere with us. There was a firmness of attachment to Virginia errors, on the part of her Representatives, which sickened him, (Mr. P.,) and must sicken others. It is high time that they should be exposed and corrected; and gentleman should not complain of interference, if, in this matter, he held the mirror up, that they might “see themselves as others see them.”

But, said the gentleman, western Virginia would repudiate his (Mr. P.’s) friendship. He did not feat that it would be repudiated by Democrats in any quarter. A life of twenty years’ consistent devotion to the Democratic principles insured for him favor, or at least a fair consideration, from Democrats. Had he been changing with the changes of power- a Whig to-day and a Democrat to-morrow- a mere weathercock, to indicate the variations of the popular will- he might not be able to flatter himself with this indulgence from the Democratic party.

Mr. McCLERNAND resumed the floor; but yielded, at request, to

Mr. BAYLY, who wished to make one remark, and but one, with reference to himself personally. The gentleman from Alabama, (he said,) with some violence of gesture, not unusual to him, had seemed to take offence when he (Mr. B.) had said that his (Mr. P.’s) interference on this floor with the domestic concerns of Virginia was impertinent, and he said he threw back the imputation in my teeth. I will inform the gentleman (said Mr. B.)- it is not necessary for me to inform this House- that I shall not notice the throwing back an imputation which I have before applied.

Mr. PAYNE, (in his seat.) I am very well satisfied. It is nothing I have to complain of.

Mr. McCLERNAND now resumed the floor, and proceeded.

He said he had risen to speak to the question of power involved, and not to take a part in the controversy- somewhat personal- which had occured. He had been anxious to vote for the bill, not only from a desire to gratify the wishes of the people immediately concerned, but also because his inclinations had been wrought upon by the eloquent and persuasive remarks which had fallen from the gentleman from Virginia, [Mr. HUNTER.] But upon investigation, an insuperable objection presented itself. The gentleman from Kentucky [Mr. BOYD] had asked the gentleman from Alabama [Mr. PAYNE] whether, if the District of Columbia had been sunk by an earthquake, it would not be competent for Congress to relocate the seat of Government. Mr. McC. answered, Unquestionably; first, from the necessity of the case, necessity rising above law; secondly, because the question of relocation was an entirely different question from that of the power of Congress to alienate an integral portion of the territory and the people of the District. Congress had full power to change the location of the seat of Government; and in that case, by operation of law, the District, including territory and people, would revert to the States ceding it.

The Constitution was quite clear upon the main point at issue. It declares that Congress shall have power “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 Government,” &c..

The words are, “in all cases.” What cases? Cases in which the States themselves could not “exercise legislation?” No; certainly not. In all those cases in which it would have been competent for the States to have legislated? No; perhaps not even in these. But in all cases necessary and proper to the ends of a seat of Government, and to the enforcement of a civil police, or civil government; and in this lies the construction which secures the property of the people of the District.

Again: conceding, for the sake of argument, that the jurisdiction of the Government, under the clause quoted, is equal to what was the jurisdiction of the States of Virginia and Maryland before the cession, yet the Government cannot rightfully alienate any portion of her territory, or people the District, without their consent, or at least the consent of a majority. On this point Vattel says:

“Government has no right to traffic with their (its members) rank and liberty. * * * * They are united to the society to be its members. They acknowledge the authority of the States to promote in concert their common welfare and safety; and not to be at its disposal like a farm or a heard of cattle.”

Locke, in his Treatise on Civil Government, says:

“If the consent of the majority shall not in reason be received as the act of the whole, and include every individual, nothing but the consent of every individual can make anything to be the act of the whole.”

Judge Story, in his Commentaries upon the Constitution, says:

“No right exists, or is supposed to exist, on the part of any town or county, or any organized body within the State, short of the whole people of the State, to alter, suspend, resist, or disown the operations of the Constitution, or to withdraw themselves from its jurisdiction.”

Now, if the people of the District form one body politic, if they are a unit for civil purposes, it is not competent for a minority to withdraw themselves from the common jurisdiction of all; nor can anything less than the consent of a majority confer the power upon Congress, if it can take it all, to alienate any portion of them.

The bill under consideration proceeds upon the petition of the people of the county of Alexandria, to transfer their county and their jurisdiction to the State of Virginia; and yet the people of that county constitute but a small minority of the people of the whole District.

A case might be put, which would show the practical injustice of the principle declared in the bill. If the District, acting as a corporation under the law of Congress, had contracted a debt of several million of dollars, would it not be grossly unjust to the majority to allow the minority, upon their application, to escape a just share of the burden, by transferring themselves to another jurisdiction?

Mr. A. D. SIMS moved that the committee rise, remarking that his object was not to close the debate.

Mr. JAS. McDOWELL said the object would be better accomplished by a discussion at large. Our hands were now in the work, and our hearts were for it. It would be as well to carry it through to-day. He hoped the gentleman from South Carolina would withdraw his motion. He did not ask it as any personal favor, for he had not in view any intention of addressing the committee.

Mr. SIMS withdrew the motion.

Mr. JAMES McDOWELL then said, that without going into the question, he felt himself constrained, by a sense of duty, to make some remarks in regard to what had fallen from the gentleman from Alabama, [Mr. PAYNE.] He spoke of the devotion of his people to their own institutions and recollections, and deprecated the discussion which had arisen upon the internal concerns of Virginia, as unnecessary and out of place, and having no bearing on the question. He did not wonder that her institutions were open to the animadversion of Congress. While she gloried in the success and renown of those of her sons, who, like the gentleman from Alabama, [Mr. PAYNE,] had left her, she did not court their assistance or need their counsels. No one here felt a higher obligation resting upon him to support the principles of unrestricted suffrage than himself. He represented a constituency that was more undividedly attached to it than any other in his State- a district which had been gloriously distinguished as the Tenth LEgion of Democracy. His own convictions on this subject corresponded with those of the seventy thousand people whom he represented; but the subject had nothing to do with the discussion of this question, though it had been invoked as a reason against a retrocession of Alexandria. Those who advanced such an argument were alien to the habits and feelings of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She wanted justice to all; and her motto was, “Fiat justitia, ruat caelum.”

Mr. McD. then adverted, in an eloquent strain, to the situation of Alexandria, and appealed in a forcible manner to the House to disenthral her from her bonds.

[A report of Mr. McDOWELL’s remarks is necessarily deferred.]

The question was then taken on the amendment offered by Mr. PAYNE, and it was rejected.

Mr. PAYNE said he was certain that the House did not understand the question. The object of the amendment was to subject the question of retrocession to the whole people of the District of Columbia, and not a portion of the people.

The question was again put on the amendment, and it was again rejected.

Mr. RATHBUN moved to strike out the 4th section. There was no difference of opinion among the people of Alexandria, as he understood, as to the policy of recession, and there was, therefore, no necessity for the expense and mockery of this section.

Mr. HUNTER remarked that the people of Alexandria were not unanimous on the subject, though there was a large majority in favor of the measure.

The question was taken on Mr. RATHBUN’s amendment, and it was negatived.

Mr. MORRIS moved to amend the 6th section, so as to strike out the word “return” and insert the word “cede” and to strike out “southern,” and insert “northern.”

Some conversation on this point arose between Mr. THURMAN, Mr. MORRIS, and Mr. GRAHAM, when the amendment was rejected.

Mr. HUNGERFORD moved to strike out the 6th section.

Mr. E. B. HOLMES said that if we ceded the territory, it was improper to reserve any part of the property.

Mr. BRINKERHOFF was in favor of equalizing the expense of keeping the bridge in repair between the two Governments.

The question was taken on the amendment, and it was agreed to- 76 to 50.

So the sixth section was stricken out.

Mr. PAYNE moved to add a new section to the bill, providing that in no event shall Congress hereafter assume to pay the debts of the corporation of Alexandria.

This was agreed to.

On motion of Mr. HOGE, the committee rose and reported the bill and amendments to the House.

Mr. G.W. Jones demanded the previous question; which was seconded.

And the main question (being first on concurring with the committee in its amendments, and then on ordering the bill to a third reading) was ordered to be now taken.

All amendments were concurred in.

And the bill was ordered to a third reading now.

And having been read a third time by its title-

And the question being, “Shall this bill pass?”-

Mr. G.W. Jones demanded the previous question.

There was a second; and the main question was ordered to be now taken.

Mr. DROMGOOLE asked the yeas and nays on the main question; which were ordered, and, being taken, resulted as follows:

YEAS- Messrs. Stephen Adams, Atkinson, Baker, Barringer, Bayly, Bedinger, James A. Black, Bowlin, Boyd, William G. Brown, Burt, John H. Campbell, Augustus A. Chapman, R. Chapman, Chase, Cobb, Cocke, Collin, Crozier, Cullom, Darragh, Dobbin, Douglass, Dunlap, Edsall, Edwin H. Ewing, Ficklin, Foot, Gentry, Gordon, Graham, Grover, Haralson, Herrick, Hilliard, Hoge, Elias B. Holmes, Hopkins, John W. Houston, Edmund W. Hubard, Hungerford, Hunter, Joseph R. Ingersoll, Andrew Johnson, George W. Jones, Seaborn Jones, Daniel P. King, La Sere, Lewis, Levin, Ligon, McClelland, McConnell, James McDowell, McGaughey, McHenry, Marsh, Miller, Morse, Moseley, Norris, Owen, Pendleton, Pollock, Ramsey, Rathbun, Reid, Rhett, Ritter, John A. Rockwell, Root, Sawtelle, Truman Smith, Caleb B. Smith, Stanton, Stephens, Stewart, St. John, Strong, Sykes, Thibodeaux, Jacob Thompson, Toombs, Towns, Trumbo, Vinton, Winthrop, Woodruff, Woodward, Yancey, and Yell — 96

NAYS- Messrs. Abbott, John Quincy Adams, Anderson, Arnold, Bell, Benton, Biggs, James Black, Blanchard, Brinkerhoff, Brodhead, Wm. W. Campbell, Carroll, Catheart, John G. Chapman, Clarke, Cranston, Culver, Daniel, Garrett Davis, Jefferson Davis, Delano, De Mott, Dillingham, Dromgoole, Erdman, John H. Ewing, Fries, Garvin, Goodyear, Hamlin, Harper, Henley, Hough, Samuel D. Hubbard, Hudson, James B. Hunt, Charles J. Ingersoll, Joseph Johnson, Kennedy, Preston King, Leib, Long, Lumpkin, McClean, McClernand, Mellvaine, McKay, John P. Martin, Barkley Martin, Morris, Moulton, Niven, Payne, Perrill, Phelps, Price, Roberts, Alexander D. Sims, Starkweather, Thurman, Tibbatts, Tilden, Vance, and Young – 65

So the bill was passed.

And the House (under the operation of the previous question) rejected a motion to reconsider the vote.

Mr. MORRIS asked leave to make a report.

Objections were made.

And the House adjourned.


SOURCE: Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 1st Session, May 8th, 1846, p.778-781


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RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA – A Speech by R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, before the U.S. House of Representatives, May 8th, 1846
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The 8,000+ word speech below is, without a doubt, one of the most important speeches in the history of the District of Columbia. It was given before the House of Representatives on May 8th, 1846 as Representative Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, of Virginia, introduced H.R. 259 – An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia. Following this speech there was a heated discussion on the floor of the House (which I will also republish) concerning the political factions of Virginia and the constitutionality of this act, but the ultimate result of this speech and subsequent votes was the truncation of George Washington’s ten miles square to the boundaries we know today, and, of course, the continued disenfranchisement of District residents.

In preparing this transcription, I did a fair amount of research regarding Mr. R. M. T. Hunter and discovered some very interesting facts about his political life. First and foremost, at the ripe age of 30, he was, and still is, the youngest person ever elected to be the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Secondly, the following year in 1847, he was elected to the Senate (note: before the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Senators were elected from state legislatures) and served until 1861 when he was one of the 14 senators expelled from Congress for supporting the Confederacy. Third, he became the second Confederate Secretary of State, and ironically, as the man who truncated the 10 miles square, his portrait was added to the Confederate $10.00 bill. Indeed, he shaped the history of the United States in ways he never could have predicted, but the results are still felt today.

I have more comments concerning the speech, but I plan on publishing them at a later date.


Photograph of R. M. T. Hunter from the Library of Congress

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA


SPEECH OF MR. R. M. T. HUNTER,
OF VIRGINIA,
In the House of Representatives,
May 8, 1846,
On the subject of the Retrocession of Alexandria to Virginia.


Mr. CHAIRMAN: The bill before us proposes to recede and relinquish to Virginia the county of Alexandria, with the assent of that State, the assent of this Government, and the assent of the people of Alexandria, to be taken in the mode prescribed by the bill itself. Thus, we shall comprehend more than all the parties to the original compact, for the people of Alexandria were not then consulted. The assent of Virginia has been already given in advance, by the unanimous act of her Legislature at its last session; the assent of the people of Alexandria will be given, I doubt not, most eagerly and gratefully, should this Government afford them an opportunity, as I trust it will, by expressing its assent and enacting this bill. The object of the clause in the Constitution which allows Congress to obtain by cession a district not exceeding ten miles square, over which they might exercise exclusive jurisdiction, was to give them a seat of government, which they might hold in their own right, and to put them in a position in which they might be independent of State hospitality and State legislation for a place of meeting, and the means of securing the departments of the government from lawless violence and intrusion. The limit upon this power was, that they should not take more than ten miles square, but the quantity within this limit was left entirely to their discretion. As Mr. Madison said, they might have taken only one square mile, if they had seen proper to do so. This is the only constitutional limitation upon the power; but there are high considerations of public prudence and policy which should regulate the exercise of this discretion. It is obvious that they ought to have taken or keep no more territory or people under their exclusive jurisdiction than may be necessary and sufficient for all the purposes of a seat of government. Considerations of economy, in relation to the public time and money, obviously suggest the expediency of retaining no more territory than may be enough for such purposes. When you exceed this limit, and increase unnecessarily the territory, people, and interests, to be provided for by our legislation, to that extent you increase and waste the time and money which must be bestowed upon them.

There is yet a higher consideration, which should restrict the exercise of this discretion within the limits which I have mentioned- a consideration which must weigh deeply with every American statesman, which appeals to all that is most cherished in American sentiment: I mean the obvious propriety of depriving no more of our people political rights and privileges than may be indispensable for the purposes of safety and security in the seat of government. To this extent the evil is unavoidable, but there can be no higher obligation than that which rests upon American statesmen, to deprive no more of our people of political rights and privileges than may be actually necessary. We owe this to all that is most cherished in the political sentiment of our country; we owe it to true political sentiment of our country; we owe it to true American feeling, to the estimate which we ourselves place upon these privileges; and we owe it as an example of mankind. We have been proud to believe that it was a great object in our mission to enjoy these rights ourselves, and by our example to increase the value placed upon them by the residue of mankind. It is the great lesson we were sent to teach, that political rights and privileges are amongst the highest and noblest objects of human aspiration. It is our glory, that to a great extent our example has taught it; but how shall we answer for our mission, if without necessity we deprive a portion of our own people of these very rights, which in the face of the world we have declared to be inestimable?

But, Mr. Chairman, there is another consideration which should induce us to contract the sphere of our exclusive jurisdiction, to so much only as may be necessary for the purposes I have mentioned. This grant of exclusive jurisdiction here, and some omissions in the Constitution, place this Government in an anomalous and, in some degree, dangerous position towards the States. It was organized as an agent of the people of the States. This is its grand characteristic; and yet as the local legislature of this District, it stands in an entirely different relation towards the States- a relation not only different, but possibly hostile to the great end of its institution, if the district under its control should comprehend large and various interests. There are certain provisions in the Constitution designed to secure equal benefits and international comity, if I may call it so, amongst the States, which apply to all the State governments and yet do not in terms apply to us as the Legislature, the government of a separate people in this District. “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.” This provision does not apply in terms to the citizens of the District going to the States, or the citizens of the States removing to the District. The provision in relation to fugitives from justice, which applies to the States, does not embrace this District. The provision forbidding preferences to be given to the ports of one State over those of another, does not embrace this District in terms, although I incline to think that by construction the same prohibition exists in relation to the District. But still it is a matter of doubt. When we reflect, Mr. Chairman, that, as the government of this District, we stand in some respects, though not in all, towards the States as a State government, we can readily see how great might be the difficulties arising from these omissions, if controversies should ever arise between this Government and that of any of the States. But there is yet another and greater danger to the reserved rights of the States in this power of exclusive jurisdiction in the District. Under the pretense of exercising an undoubted power, as the District government, how great is the temptation and the facility for exercising powers within the States which the Constitution has denied to the General Government. We are all familiar with instances of the kind. There have been those who believed that we have no power to charter a United States Bank, and yet were of opinion that we might exercise this power within the District as a local legislature, and extend its operation within the States. So, too, the subject of education in the States has never been confided to this Government, and yet it has been maintained that an institution might be established here, and its operations so extended as to bring the subject of education within the States, in some degree, under the control of Congress. In relation to internal improvement, difficulties may arise out of the double character in which we act, which might embarrass the straitest sect of the strict construction school. We have three cities in this District, each aspiring to be great, and all desiring to open up communications to the sources of their trade. In discharging the duties of a local legislature towards their interests, how seriously might we embarrass our relations with the States, and easily slide into connexion with their system of internal improvements. It is easy to perceive that in this way we might be led into the exercise of powers within the States, which many of us believe to be forbidden by the Constitution. To some extent these dangers must exist so long as we have a seat of government at all; but they are manifestly diminished as we diminish the population, and the variety, and magnitude of the interests for which we legislate by separate laws, and over which we have exclusive jurisdiction. As these people and interests are diminished, the opportunity for these conflicts will decrease, the temptation to abuses will diminish, and any attempt at usurpation of power within the States, through District legislation, will become more palpable and manifest to the vigilant amongst our people. These evils were foreseen and feared by some of the wisest men of their day at the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution. In the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Grayson, expressed their apprehension in relation to the District which was to be the seat of government. These men had been admonished by experience to watch and guard against every opportunity for usurpation. They were more familiar with the evils of such things, and they looked more cautiously to the future. But does it not become all wise to look carefully ahead, to guard against every possible innovation upon their rights and liberties. Have we not some duties to perform in this respect, unless our value for these blessings has diminished with the length of time for which we have enjoyed them. All parties in this country have expressed fears in relation to the dangers of usurpation. Some have feared that the General Government would usurp the rights of States; others have thought that the Executive Department would usurp the powers of the others, and finally swallow up the rights of the people themselves. All who have studied such subjects must be aware that the most dangerous and successful usurpations have been those which were accomplished by easy and insensible stages. Where, I ask, are these easy and successive gradations for usurpation, whether we look to the General Government or to the Executive alone, so readily to be found as in the abuses of this very power over this District? If there be these dangers in the right of the exclusive jurisdiction here, do we not owe it to high public considerations to diminish them, by exercising it over as few people and interests as may be indispensable to the ends for which the power was granted?

Mr. Chairman, there is yet another consideration which should induce us to restrict this District within the smallest limits compatible with the ends for which it was given to us. One of the great objects in giving us our power over the District in which the Government is located, was to secure Congress against violence, and any attempts to overawe its deliberations. But there may be a question whether we have not been subjected to a far more dangerous bias from the nature of the influence likely to be exercised over us here, when this District shall have been increased as much in wealth and population as may reasonably be expected. When regrets have been expressed at the denial of political rights to this District, the answer has been, that if they had no political rights, they would have much political influence. But what, Mr. Chairman, is likely to be the nature of that influence? Will it be salutary to us, or may it not, when it extends, prove to be most corrupting and dangerous to the purity of our legislation? The influence of the people of a metropolis upon the Government, has been felt and recognized. In despotic governments, the public opinion of the metropolis is almost all of the public opinion which is felt or known by the rulers. In all old countries, where the seat of Government has been long established, the influence of its metropolitan population, refined, wealthy, intelligent, and voluptuous, has always been deeply and dangerously felt in the conduct of the Government. Organized from position, and skilled from long training in all the arts of persuasion, seduction, and blandishment, the influence of such a population has always proved to be exceedingly dangerous to the purity of Government, and often it is almost irresistible. It has been frequently said that Paris was France; and for a long time, so far as the Government was concerned, Paris was France: for its public opinion was all that was known or felt by the ruling powers. We all know the influence which is exercised here at home by the people at the seat of Government in the States. It is true that this influence is much less in the States than that of which I have been speaking, but it has always been a subject of jealousy, even in the smaller degree in which it has been exercised there. And yet how much purer must that influence be in a population trained to the exercise of political power, accompanied by responsibility, than with such a people as must be gathered here in this District when it shall number one, two, or three hundred thousand souls, (as may not be impossible) without political power or privilege, and dependent upon secret influence alone for the means of being felt in the government by which they are ruled. I know of nothing more purifying or elevating to human character than the exercise of political power and a due sense of responsibility. I mean that sort of responsibility which is enforced by the necessity of sharing himself in a just proportion, in all the consequences, good or ill, of his own political action. It begets a feeling of independence and self-respect, which is the more cherished the longer it is enjoyed, and it tends to elevate public sentiment above the use of low arts or secret influences. On the other hand, Mr. Chairman, I know of nothing better calculated to debase public character than to train a people to believe that they must depend upon secret arts and indirect influences for all the political weight they do enjoy, unless, indeed, it might be the still more degrading idea that a greater share of the incidental benefits flowing from public disbursements could compensate them for the loss of political rights and privileges. And yet these are the circumstances under which the public sentiment of this District is to be formed; these are the views to which its people are to be trained! If this District should be kept together, and should become as populous as there is reason to believe, who can measure the extent of these debasing causes upon their character, or who can estimate the probable ills of the sort of influence which they will exercise over the Government? Every one must perceive that the influence will be great, of a people, numerous, wealthy, and intelligent, refined and skilled, too, as they will be, in all the arts of persuasion and blandishment. Numerous and wealthy and refined they must become, too, not only from their natural advantages, but from the Government disbursements, and that disposition so natural to every people, to adorn, embellish, and aggrandize their metropolis. This disposition is as common to all nations as is the desire to improve and adorn the homestead to individuals. There would be yet another temptation to increase the public expenditures upon them. The power to do so is ample, and there is a belief that they ought to have, in appropriations for their benefit, some compensation, inadequate as it may be, for the loss of political privileges. As we grow more wealthy and powerful, and they become more numerous, and perhaps corrupt, there is every reason to fear that they may habitually consider themselves as dependent upon the public bounty as pensioners upon the treasury. What must be the public opinion thus reared under influences so debasing that they must be more than men if they long resist their depressing tendencies? What, too, will be the nature of the influence of public opinion so formed upon the Government itself? Will it not be exerted in favor of large appropriations and against economy? They have a direct interest in large public expenditures, for the proportion which they contribute towards them, must always fall short, far short, of the greater share of the benefits which they will derive from them.

In contests between the General and State Governments, will not this influence be exerted in favor of the General Government, and against the States? It is the Government here which they know, and none other. They have no other Government to claim their affections. This Government will engross their respect and affections, and to increase its powers, its functions, its revenues and expenditures, would be the best mode of aggrandizing and enriching themselves, if they were to view the matter in a selfish sense, and look to their own separate interest alone.

In what direction is it probable that this influence will be exercised when questions arise in relation to popular rights and privileges? Is it not altogether probable that it would be hostile to the people in all such contests? Enjoying none of these rights and privileges themselves, they will either envy their possession by others, or else place no value upon them. Education, habit, and interest, would all induce them to take sides with this Government, as against the States and the people. As you concentrate power in this Government, you increase their control over public affairs; and as you remove it from the subjection to popular will in the States, you place it more and more under their influence. If I am right as to the direction which this influence may hereafter take, is it not manifest that it will be hostile to the great ends of our institutions? Must it not become large enough to be formidable when this District is crowded with a population great in wealth and numbers? And if so, do we not owe it to ourselves and to them to diminish it as far it can safely be done? I can conceive of nothing worse than to increase unnecessarily the influence of a public opinion which is alien to the spirit of our institutions, to enlarge beyond necessity the boundaries of its abiding place, to increase without reason the numbers who entertain it; and to strengthen, whilst you isolate it, would, as it seems to me, be folly in the extreme. If ever the career of usurpation should be commenced, whether by one or all of the departments of this Government, it is here, if any where, they must look for the public opinion and the separate interest which are fully to sustain them. And is there nothing formidable in the prospect of such an influence, if wielded by all the wealth, intelligence, and people that can be concentrated within these ten miles square? May it not be far more dangerous to the purity of our legislation than the open outbreaks of lawless force? A Lord George Gordon riot, a Parisian mob, or a mutiny as at Philadelphia, are insults which are keenly felt and bitterly resented by the people themselves. But the influence of which I have been speaking is far more dangerous. It operates constantly and invisibly; it steals into the citadel whenever it is unguarded, and saps the very foundation of public virtue.

But it may be said, Mr. Chairman, that these dangers are inevitable, and result necessarily from the establishment of a seat of Government. This is true to some extent: the evil is inevitable, but we may diminish it very much by contracting the limits of our exclusive jurisdiction, so that this District may comprehend no more interests and people than are indispensable for the seat of Government. By thus contracting it, its people would be more the influence of the sound public opinion of the States. The infusion by those who come from the States to fill offices, and upon public business, would be proportionally larger, and the separate interests being smaller, would be less exclusive, and its influence not only smaller but purer. In making these remarks, Mr. Chairman, I trust that I shall not be misunderstood. I hope no one will consider me as intending, in the smallest degree, to disparage the character of the people of this District. On the contrary, I believe that they will compare not disadvantageously with the same number of people in any of the States. I trust that they may continue to do so, but this can only be done, if at all, by confining the District within proper limits, and limiting the tendencies towards an exclusive, a separate and dangerous state of public opinion here. Should the whole of this District be kept together, and should it grow in wealth and population, as there is reason to expect, time must eventually develop these effects of which I have spoken, upon the public character of its people, and the nature of their influence upon the Government.

If I am right, Mr. Chairman, in the views which I have taken in relation to the propriety of contracting the area of this District, there can be no doubt, I think, as to the expediency, so far as this Government is concerned, of returning Alexandria to Virginia. The county of Alexandria contains but thirty square miles, and we should still retain seventy square miles on this side of the Potomac. We should thus have enough, and perhaps more than enough, for the public grounds and buildings, and for all that can be desired in a seat of Government.

But I have said that the transfer of Alexandria to Virginia would be advantageous to the portion of the District which we should still retain. Whoever will look into the causes of the inefficient legislation for this District, and become acquainted with the divided state of public opinion here, must, I think, arrive at the same conclusion. It is not to be concealed that there is, and always has been, a feeling of section opposition between the people of the two portions of the District, divided as the Potomac divides them. They live under different codes of laws, one founded on the Virginia, and the other on the Maryland system of laws, as they existed at the time of cession, and in addition to this cause of difference, they have shared unequally in the appropriations. All attempts to harmonize these systems with each other, have hitherto failed, and Congress have not the time or means of establishing a new code which might be uniform and satisfactory to both. Local jealousies and divisions would have defeated the attempt, if we could have the time and disposition for the work. The consequence is, that the state of the laws in this District, is disreputable to our Government. Whoever feels an interest in this subject, may find in the report of Mr. Powers to the House of Representatives in 1830, a description of the then existing state of the laws (and I am informed that they have been but little amended since) which would be ludicrous for its strange contrast with the public sentiment of the day, if it were not that they affected things so sacred as the lives and property of our fellow-beings. The same report also exhibits the difficulty of establishing laws which would be satisfactory to those for whom they were intended. A difficulty arising in part from the two different codes, which have each their advocates, within the District, in comparison between the two. Letters are published in this report from many of the most intelligent citizens of the District, and none of them agreed. Some thought that great changes ought to be made in the laws; some thought that there should be one uniform code for the whole District; others were of opinion that there should be two codes, and that each required revision. No, Mr. Chairman, if Alexandria were returned to Virginia, we should have but one code to attend to, and fewer people and interests to provide for. All would be better cared for, and I believe, that for the remaining portion of the District, we might do all, or nearly all, that is necessary to be done.

But, Mr. Chairman, it is to the people of Alexandria that this measure is especially important. They have everything at stake upon it- they have moral, political, and pecuniary interests, all involved in it. From their connexion with us, they have lost political rights and privileges, and all the social progress which the exercise of these rights can give. They have thus lost, too, as they and I believe, great results from the natural advantages of their position. It is commonly supposed, I know, that they are compensated by local appropriations for the loss of their political franchises. Does any man really believe that public disbursements could compensate a people for such a loss as that of disenfranchisement? The exercise of political power, when accompanied with responsibilities, is, as I have said before, the highest task, and the most elevating occupation, in which a human being can be engaged. Deprive a society of these high and noble springs of human action, and it is difficult to measure the extent of the depressing and demoralizing influences of such a loss. But in point of fact, the appropriations for Alexandria have been less than is generally supposed. It may indeed be doubted, whether anything more has been appropriated than she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to this Government. I hold in my hand a statement of the appropriations to Alexandria by this Government, made by an intelligent officer in the Senate, who is familiar with such subjects, by which it appears, that the entire amount from the time of cession, up to this date, has been$920,554. He informs me that these are all the appropriations of which he knows, although it is possible that there may be more. Now, I find in this report of Mr. Powers, a letter signed by Ed. I. Lee, R. I. Taylor, and Thompson F. Mason- men distinguished for character and intelligence- in which it is asserted, that up to that date, Alexandria had contributed to the General Government, from the post office, from direct taxes, and duties, and by advances made by the banks during the war, $669,540. This does not include what they have paid directly as consumers of dutiable goods, nor what has accrued since that time from the post office. But as these advances were of more ancient date than the heaviest of the Government appropriations, which were for their canal, I doubt whether a master commissioner would bring that city much in debt to this Government, if interest were allowed upon the items, on both sides of the account.

I have said, sir, that in my opinion, she had lost by her connexion great results from the natural advantages of her position. Can any man doubt this, who will compare what she is, with what she might have been? I hold in my hand a statement of her exports, imports, and tonnage, from which it appears that all have been declining since 1815. Her imports, which during the three years from ’17 to ’19 inclusive, averaged $568,869, have been steadily and rapidly declining until now; and in the five years, from 1840, they have averaged but $68,447.

Her population has been nearly stationary since 1820. These results must have been produced by her separation from Virginia, and her connexion with us. She was not considered by the former in her system of improvements, and she was either neglected, or injured by our legislation. One of these early acts of this Government, after the cession of Alexandria, was to throw a mole across from Mason’s Island to the south bank of the Potomac, and thus cut off the channel for boat communication between Alexandria and the water of the upper Potomac. An intelligent merchant of Alexandria told me that from the time this was done, up to the completion of the canal, scarcely a boat was ever seen in Alexandria from the upper Potomac. Her system of laws has been utterly neglected by us. A well-informed lawyer of that place assures me that they are now living under English and Virginia statutes, which have been long repealed in the countries of their origin. Is it not reasonable to suppose that her condition would have been far different if she had never been separated from Virginia? She is placed at perhaps the nearest point to the Alleghanies, to which sea-going ships of the largest class can approach from the Atlantic. If she had remained in Virginia she must have been considered in the system of internal improvements in that State, and by this time, it is probably that she would have commanded the trade of a part of the valley of northwestern Virginia, and western Maryland. A large region, rich in agricultural and mineral resources, which is now locked up, would probably long since have been opened to this place as its commercial depot. Inexhaustible supplies of coal and iron destined to be, perhaps, the cheapest in the world, and the products of an extensive and fertile agricultural region, would probably have found an outlet from this place to the coast and the ocean. It is not an unreasonable supposition, that by this time, she would have commanded enough of this trade, if she had not engrossed it, to have been a large and flourishing place. With the command of coal and iron, which she will have on the completion of the Cheaspeake and Ohio canal, together with her fine water-power, her manufacturing facilities would of themselves justify the most cheering expectations. Her aspirations for a more distant trade that of which I have been speaking, were not considered extravagent by our Virginia statesmen at the time of the cession. There is no doubt that General Washington, and Mr. Madison, and other distinguished statesmen of that day, regarded the Potomac and Ohio as the great natural line of trade and intercourse, which was to connect the eastern and western portions of our Confederacy. Mr. Madison expressly asserted the probability, that this was to be the line of intercourse, in the debate as to the place of the seat of Government, and adverted to some information which he had received as to the close proximity of the headwaters of the Potomac and Ohio.

Had she remained an integral portion of Virginia, it is not extravagant to believe that, by this time, she would have been the flourishing depot of commerce of the western portion of that State- the keystone in a great arch of commercial interests which would bind eastern and western Virginia together- a common bond, perhaps the golden link, which, to a great extent, would have united the interests and healed the divisions of the two sections of that State.

If she has fallen behind in the race, is it surprising in her to believe that it is owing, in part at least, to her separation from Virginia, and her connexion with this District? Has she had the facilities and assistance which were necessary to develop her energies and resources?

Mr. Chairman, she has been treated like a child separated from the natural, and neglected by the foster mother. After a long and bitter experience of the fruits of a connexion with us, she asks to return to her ancient allegiance. She asks to be restored to right and privileges, the very names of which are sacred to American feeling, and dear to every American heart. She asks to leave you in one capacity, to return to you in another and a better. She asks to leave you as a dependent, and return to you as an equal; to leave you as a subject, and come back to you as free; to leave you as a burden, and return to you as a support. She begs to be permitted to return to her natural mother, from whom, in an evil hour, she was separated; and she is willing to share in the cares, the burdens, and responsibilities of the political family to which she will belong, if she can partake also of their privileges and their blessings. She begs you, in the name of all that is dear to American feeling, to put an end to the days when her sons tread their native soil, not like Antaeus, to gather new energies from the touch, but to lose the best strength of man, in losing the rights and privileges which add so much to his moral power and his elevation in the scale of intellectual being. Are not these right feelings and noble desires? Are not these the aspirations which of all others especially demand American respect and enlist American sympathy? If we have enough for a seat of Government, without them, how can we justify it to our consciences to refuse their request?

But I am told that this petition cannot be granted without a violation of the Constitution. I trust, Mr. Chairman, that I should be amongst the last, knowingly to violate the provisions or overstep the limitations of this instrument. I am bound, too, to respect the opinion thus pronounced, on account of the sources from which it has emanated- men who characters and abilities challenge all my respect. The authority of names, too, has been given, I know not how justly, to which I bow with all the respect due to superior intellect, but not with submission. For truth and candor compel me to declare, that I have never met with a constitutional objection which I was so little able to comprehend, to realize, to enter into. The positions taken, if I understand them, are, that the power in relation to selecting the seat of Government having been once exercised, is executed and exhausted; and that even if it were not exhausted, it could not again be exercised, because we have no power to transfer this District, or any portion of it, to the States, and having already ten miles square at this place, we could not get another territory for another seat of government, without violating the limitation which confines us to the ten miles square. The provision of the Constitution in relation to this matter is, that Congress shall have power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District, (not exceeding 10 miles square,) as may by cession of particular States and acceptance of Congress, become the seat of 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, dockyards, and other needful buildings.” Now, I am told that this power in relation to the seat of government, having been once exercised, is executed and exhausted. But why? It is contained in the long list of enumerated power, in the 8th section of the 1st article of the Constitution. That instrument does not declare in terms that this power when once exercised, is executed and exhausted. Nor is there more reason to suppose that when once exercised it is exhausted, than in the case of any of the other powers specified in this section of the Constitution. I might be told that the power of declaring war, when once exercised was exhausted. I could not show that the Constitution declared in terms that when once exercised it should be considered as exhausted. I could only show that if there was any reason for exercising it once, there were reasons for exercising it more than once. So in relation to the power of selecting a seat of government, it may be shown, that the same reasons which exist for once exercising right, exist for using it more than once. Suppose that through mistake the seat first selected should have proved to be so sickly as to be unsafe to the officers and members of the Government: will any man venture to say that there ought not to be in Congress a power to change the location to some more salubrious spot? Or, suppose that it had turned out to be exposed to foreign invasion, and from that cause an unsafe location for the agents of Government: will it not be admitted that in such an event there ought to be a power to change it? Or, it might be, that a change in the centre of population, and the right of the whole Confederacy to a due share in the facilities of intercourse with the metropolis, would require a removal of the seat of government: ought there not reason for believing that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that very case? Mr. Madison, in the debated upon the proper place for a seat of government, advocated the present location, upon the ground that the centre of population was taking a southwestern direction. The preamble to the Virginia act of cession declares the convenience of access, from its proximity to the centre of population, to be the great reason for locating the seat of government where it now is. Our forefathers could not and did not foresee the wonderful improvements in the facilities of intercourse which have placed the most distant parts of our Confederacy in near proximity, compared with what they then were. The history of the day shows that they regarded the proximity of the centre of population as a consideration which ought to affect the location of the seat of government, and if so, they must have regarded the right to change this seat of government as essential to justice and harmony of our people. But there are other considerations which demonstrate this position still more clearly. The powers in relation to the seat of government and forts, arsenals, and dock-yards, are contained in the same terms. No one has ever pretended that the power in relation to forts and arsenals, when once exercised, was exhausted, or that there was no right to recede the site of a fort to a State, when it had been taken and found to be useless. Such an idea is repudiated, not only by its manifest absurdity, but by the constant practice of Government. Now it is obvious that the same reasons and the same construction apply to both cases.

If, then, Congress has the right to remove the seat of government and of exclusive jurisdiction, may it not for considerations connected with the purposes of a seat of government, change the limits of the District thus set apart, as well as remove it? If it can remove the seat of government from this place to the Mississippi, may it not remove the limits of its exclusive jurisdiction from the southern boundary of Alexandria county to the banks of the Potomac? If they have the major, the minor must be included.

But, Mr. Chairman, I will admit, for argument’s sake, that the Constitution had expressly required the seat of government to be permanent when once located- I say for argument’s sake, because I believe, as Mr. Madison must have believed, when he moved to strike out the word permanent the act establishing the seat of government, because it was nowhere to be found in the Constitution- suppose, then, that the word permanent had been thus applied to the seat of government in the Constitution: I should still maintain that we had the right to diminish the limits of our exclusive jurisdiction, within less than ten miles square, if less should prove to be sufficient for the purposes of a seat of government. The Constitution provides that the territory ceded for this purpose shall not exceed ten miles square. Mr. Madison, in the debates upon the Federal Constitution in the Virginia Convention, said that Congress might take one square mile or ten miles square, as they saw best. The quantity was within their discretion, provided they did not take more than ten miles square. I need hardly have quoted his authority for so plain a position. Now, suppose, Mr. Chairman, that they had taken at first only one square mile, and that had proved insufficient: will any man doubt but that they might have taken more by a subsequent cession, provided they did not exceed the quantity limited by the Constitution? If this be true, would not the converse inevitably follow, that if they had taken more than was necessary for the purposes of a seat of government, they might relinquish to the ceding State or States the surplus, in accordance with the high consideration of private right and public policy, to which I have before adverted? If they had taken less than enough for a seat of government, they might acquire more; and if they had taken too much, they might relinquish the surplus, so as to contract the District within the limits proper for the end contemplated in the Constitution.

But it is said that this cannot be done, because there is no power in Congress to transfer territory thus acquired. Any assertion may be made, but it must be supported by reason before it can command assent. Should a legitimate reason exist for changing or diminishing the site of our exclusive jurisdiction, the power to transfer it, in whole or in part, has been derived from various clauses in the Constitution. Different minds as they have been trained in different schools of construction, have derived the power of transfer from different clauses in the Constitution. Some have derived this right from the power to dispose of territory of the United States, (2d clause, 3d section, 4th article, Constitution of the United States) others from the power of exclusive jurisdiction over this District; and others again have believed that it would revert to the ceding State from the very nature of the compact as provided for in the Constitution. My own opinion is, that when the jurisdiction of the United States is removed from the whole or any part, that it reverts to the ceding State or States. The United States have the power to take the territory be cession, for the purpose of a seat of government. It is for this purpose that the United States have power to hold it, and it is for this consideration that the States have ceded it. When it ceases to be the seat of government, the right of the United States to hold it has terminated, and the consideration of the cession has failed. Upon any fair construction of the Constitution, or of the compact, it must then revert to the ceding State or States. The right of the United States is determined when it ceases to be the seat of government. This construction is strengthened by another consideration. If has the right to remove the seat of government as I have maintained and believe, it was manifestly proper that they should be enabled to exercise this right without the consent of any State, and especially of those which surrounded the seat of government. I specify those surrounding the seat of government, because it is improbable that they would ever consent to any act necessary for the removal of the seat of government, if their assent were indispensable. Their interests would tempt them to refuse their assent. If the Constitution contemplated a recession of the District to the ceding States, in the event of a removal of the seat of government, then it could remove this seat without a dependence upon any will but their own right- a high consideration of convenience, which must have been contemplated, if the power of removal was designed to be given. But if the territory could only be transferred by cession, under the power of “disposition,” then the assent of some other government would be necessary; and, upon every principle of fair construction of the compact, the assent of the ceding State would be requisite. The ceding States would scarcely assent, and the attempt to coerce them, by transferring the territory to other States, not contiguous, would be attended with the most serious difficulties. We cannot hold more than ten miles square for a seat of government, under the Constitution. We now hold that quantity, and we could not acquire another inch for that purpose, unless we could transfer the whole or portion of that which we now have.

If we suppose that upon the withdrawal of our exclusive jurisdiction from any portion of this District, it reverts to the ceding State, then we may exercise the power of removing the seat of government, if it exists at all, independently of any will but our own, but otherwise we must be dependent upon that of State Governments, which would probably refuse. Now, if the power exists, as I think is demonstrable, it must have been intended that its exercise should be dependent upon the will of Congress alone. This intention can only be attained by the supposition, that in the event of a removal of the seat of government, the District would revert to the ceding State. Still, Mr. Chairman, I am aware that there is a different of opinion as to the clause in the Constitution, from which the power of transfer is derived. To meet this difference of opinion, more than one term of conveyance is used in the bill. As in deeds at common law, more than one word of conveyance is used, so as to be certain of using that which is precise, technical, and proper, so this bill proposes to “cede, and relinquish,” so as to meet all the different views as to the power under which we convey.

But, Mr. Chairman, it has been said that the retrocession of Alexandria to Virginia, would be a violation of compact. How can this be, if we have the assent of all the parties to that compact? The act of cession was a compact between the United States and Virginia. These were the only parties. Now we do not propose to recede except with the assent of Virginia, the United States, and the people of Alexandria themselves. If then, there be no objection to this bill, arising from the Constitution, or the compact of cession, can any man oppose it upon considerations of expediency? If Congress holds an exclusive jurisdiction over any portion of the country which is not needed, for the purpose of a seat of government, do they not owe it to justice, to policy, to patriotism, to every American feeling, to restore the political rights of those, who, without necessity, are now deprived of them. Virginia is ready to receive those people back into her bosom, and they are ready and anxious to return. They desire to enjoy the right rights of men, the privileges of freemen. Can an American Congress fail to respect such a feeling? Will they not use every proper opportunity to encourage and gratify it? Do not our sympathies follow such aspirations, even to those most distant lands? And who, sir, are these, who now ask for this sacred boon at our hands? Are they aliens to our blood, or strangers to our tongue? Or are they not our brethren to whom we are bound by all the ties of kindred, of a common language and descent, of common and kindly associations, and of common interests, hopes and aspirations? Nay, more, sir, are they not bound to us by a still nearer tie? Have they not, like political orphans, been committed to our peculiar care and guardianship? And how, sir, have we discharged the trust? Go look to her declining commerce, her deserted buildings, and her almost forsaken harbor! Look to the waste of natural advantages and opportunities in that town, suffering not from the blight of God, but the neglect of man. Look to her statute book, cumbered as it is with the remains of an antiquated legislation, nowhere else to be found in the world: a legislation which seems to have been curiously contrived to keep these people stationary as a fixed point, from which we could estimate the progress of the residue of mankind. Look, sir, to her emigrating sons, shaking the dust from their feet, on the paternal threshold, not because the mansion is inhospitable, but because they cannot enjoy within it, the rights of men or privileges of freemen. Year by year, and day by day, they are leaving the home of their youth, because it is a scene of death to the noblest of human aspirations, to seek in other lands, a free competition for those prizes which are awarded to the mastery in the struggles of life. Mr. Chairman, I do not pretend to hold this Government responsible for this state of things. It resulted in part from circumstances, beyond our control; from her separation from Virginia, from the nature of our exclusive jurisdiction with its attendant disabilities; and from our inability to bestow the necessary attention, not only to the affairs of the Confederacy, but to the various interests of this District. Still I fear that we have not done all that might have been been done for those, who depend upon us for the necessary care which this Government alone can bestow. Heretofore we have not been entirely to blame; but if we refuse to restore these people to political rights and the paternal laws of a State Government, we shall be responsible for all that they have suffered or are yet destined to endure. In speaking this freely, Mr. Chairman, I speak for myself, and not for the people of Alexandria. I have never heard them speak in terms of complaint or reproach against this body. They appreciate the difficulties under which we are placed, and they are grateful for every kindly disposition which has been manifested towards them. I speak for myself, because I am a member of this body, and I take a full share of the blame and responsibility. But the occasion has now offered, and I wish to rid myself of the sin of holding them in their present condition, by voting for this bill. I say from sin, for it is a sin, to retain them unnecessarily in this state of quasi bondage. Let us, then, restore them to Virginia, to their political rights and privileges, and awaken in them the energies of freemen. Let us pass this bill, and neither you nor they will ever repent of it; but, on the contrary, you will receive for it the blessings, not only of themselves, but of their most distant posterity.



Speech obtained from the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 1st session, p. 894-898.


Click here to read the Congressional debate that followed this speech.


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