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Americanize the Capital as a Wise Measure of War Preparedness by Theodore W. Noyes, Editor of the Evening Star – The Washington Times, June 29, 1917
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Americanize the Capital as a Wise Measure of War Preparedness by Theodore W. Noyes, Editor of the Evening Star -  The Washington Times, June 29, 1917

Washingtonians have been urging a constitutional amendment which shall give them the status of citizens of a State, for the purpose only of representation in Congress and the Electoral College. They now urge only amendment which, as an irreducible minimum of justice, shall empower Congress in its discretion to give them this status.

War is upon us. World issues and vital national questions absorb attention.

Is this a time to redress the Capital’s political grievances?

Yes, says Washington. To Americanize the political aliens of the District of Columbia is to do justice and to relieve the nation of reproach and shame- achievements which, like the motion to adjourn, are always in order. And not only in a general but in a special sense is this Americanizing process peculiarity opportune, in that it reflects the very thought and spirit of the times and is an integral part of the legislation which springs naturally from the patriotic toward true preparedness.

I do not emphasize the unique patriotic service which Washingtonians have rendered, far surpassing in this respect all other Americans, in the creation, maintenance and upbuilding of the National Capital. I compare them with other Americans solely on the basis of the degree in which they and others have respectively met the general patriotic obligation that is common to all.

Washingtonians have paid their proportion of every national tax, direct or indirect, from the birth of the nation. The only national taxes that fall directly and in ascertainable amounts upon Americans are the internal revenue taxes, including the excise and income taxes. In total contribution in 1914 to these taxes Washington exceeds twenty-two of the States, though it exceeds in population only six of them. Its contribution is greater than those of nine of the States combined. The Washingtonians’ per capita contributions to these national taxes are greater than that of the citizens of thirty-six of the States.

Washington’s Blood Sacrifice.

Washingtonians have risked life and shed their blood in every national war. To preserve the Union the volunteers came from the Capital, and Washingtonians supplied a greater percentage of troops in excess of their quota than nearly every State in the Union. In the war with Spain they sent to Cuba a fine regiment exceeding their quota in numbers. The same response was made when the summons to the Mexican border came. At that time the percentage of men of military age enrolled in the organized militia was greater in the District than in any State of the Union. Washington sent more soldiers to the border than twenty-two of the States.

To every demand of devotion and self-sacrifice made upon Americans Washington has rendered, is rendering, and will always render full, hearty, and unstinted response.

National Burdens Impose; Rights Denied.

In a genuine representative government rights and privileges are inseparably wedded to obligations and responsibilities. How do Washingtonians, thus burdened with national obligations, fare in respect to American rights and privileges?

Before the judicial branch of the National Government they are, the United States Supreme Court says, less than aliens in the right to sue and be sued.

In relation to representation in the legislative branch and by the executive branch of the National Government they are on the same footing as aliens.

They are good enough Americans to pay taxes and go to war, but not good enough Americans to be represented in the Congress which taxes them and sends them to war.

In relation to national taxes their sole function is to pay. They have nothing to say, like other national taxpayers, concerning the amount and kind of taxes they shall pay and how the tax money shall be spent.

In relation to national war their sole function is to fight in obedience to command. They have no voice, like other Americans, in the councils which determine war or peace. They have no representation in the Government which requires them to fight, to bleed, and perhaps to die.

In all the expense of the continental and contiguous United States from ocean to ocean, from Canada to Mexico, every Territory has been exalted into Statehood, and the District of Columbia is the only remaining American community whose people are still compulsory occupants of the National Hospital for Politically Defective and Delinquent Americans.

No Excuse of National Necessity.

These gross discriminations against the Americans of the District of Columbia find no excuse in national impotency or national necessity.

These discriminations are not necessary to the constitutional control by Congress of the ten miles square. Correction of them, Americanizing the District of Columbia, does not destroy or diminish that control. Representation by one out of 436 in the House and by one out of ninety-seven or two out of ninety-eight in the Senate would obviously fall short of giving the District control of Congress. So small a tail could never wag so large a dog.

To give this national representation to the Washingtonians works no change in the local government or in the financial relation of nation to capital. Exclusive power is still in the hands of Congress representing the nation, and the change merely makes the District politically a part of the nation and gives the 360,000 Americans in the District representation in that Congress.

The present condition convicts the nation of paradoxical inconsistency. Inequality, un-Americanism, unpatriotic unpreparredness.

It involves injustice to the Capital and shame to the nation.

Saviors Abroad; Crucifiers at Home.

In the impressive and inspiring words of Present Wilson:
“We are glad * * * to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German people included. * * * The right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts- for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.”

Washingtonians are among “those who submit to authority.” Are not all Americans then fighting in this war for the Washingtonians’ right “to have a voice in their own government?” Or is there an implied proviso in our proclamation which causes us to fight in this war to establish representative government everywhere in the world except in the capital of the great representative republic?

Amendment Timely and Vital.

Consistency and justice; national pride and self-respect; the will to efface a shameful blot from the national escutcheon; the spirit of true Americanism and righteous hatred of autocracy in any guise; the patriotic impulse toward full preparedness of the nation as the champion of democracy and representative government everywhere in the world- all combine to make irresistible at this very moment our appeal for the adoption of a constitutional amendment giving suffrage to the citizens of the District.

Should not the nation, irrespective of the just pleas of the Washingtonians and purely as a national concern, abolish the evil and injury working paradox of non-representative un-American government of the National Capital territory under exclusive national control? At a time when all Americans are thrilling in response to the appeal for purer, higher, stronger Americanism and for more devoted and self-sacrificing spirit of American nationality will not the nation insist, in accordance with the spirit of the times and in its own vital interest, that there shall no longer exist at the very heart of the body politic this foul abscess of non-Americanism? Surgical relief to the nation from this threat of blood poisoning is an essential war measure, an urgent patriotic task. Cut it out unflinchingly? Cut it out at once.



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.



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.


Related Retrocession of Alexandria Entries:

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Justice Stafford Eloquent on Washington: Past, Present, and Future – The Washington Herald, May 9th, 1909
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Over the last few months I have transcribed the New York Times and the Washington Post‘s coverage of this historic dinner, but today I am honored to share the entire text of Justice Stafford’s speech that was published in full in the Washington Herald (and to an extent in the Washington Times).

The speech marks, according to Justice Stafford, the first time the president of the United States had ever met with the business leaders of Washington. He makes one of the best cases for including the people of the District of Columbia in Congress that I have ever read or transcribed. When reading this speech and seeing his ultimate predictions come to pass, I actually teared up at one moment. History had come alive before my eyes and it hurt. It hurt that he had predicted exactly what would come to pass in the next century. But alas, he highlighted what has not happened yet- the voice of the people of Washington in both Houses of Congress.

In his speech, he places before the president of the United States the notion that I presented as an April Fool’s Day joke this year, that the District of Columbia be afforded one Senator, and a proportional number of members of the House of Representatives. This speech was written before the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, which puts the election of each State’s two Senators up to popular vote, but I think his intention was to show that the District of Columbia is a not just a city, but its a special city, home to the Federal government, that deserves its own voice in the elected body that the Constitution gives full control over it’s dominion, Congress.

Please take a moment to read this historic speech by District of Columbia Superior Court Justice Stafford:



Justice Stafford Eloquent on Washington: Past, Present, and Future – The Washington Herald, May 9th, 1909


“Mr. Chairman, the President of the United States, and you, my fellow citizens:

“I pledge you in a sentiment that is almost a prayer”

“‘May this prove a fortunate day for the District of Columbia’

“Without doubt the people of the District look upon the occasion that has drawn us here as a most happy augury.

“The Chief Magistrate of the nation, not more respected than beloved, has signified his willingness to sit at their board, to break their bread and taste their salt. It is proof of interest and kindness that has touched all hearts.

“We who are seated around these tables are only a handful out of many thousands who in thought and sympathy are with us at this feast. Presidents have cone and gone, doing their duty by the District as they saw it, but in the press and through of larger duties too often prevented from giving to local matters the attention they deserved.

Points to Precedent.

“Never before has a President at the beginning of his term thus held out the hand of friendship to our people. Our President has seen much of Washington. But more than that, he has traveled far and wide, he has studied the capitals of other countries, their institutions and their laws. And thus he adds to the true promptings of a generous heart the wisdom of a ripe experience. Those are the qualities that are needed here and now. It is the hour for a statesman. The population of the District has increased so rapidly, it is growing so in wealth and beauty, the greatness of its future is already assured, that the time has come when the true relations between the District and the nation must be clearly conceived and accurately defined, and when an ideal must be formed for the District of Columbia– an ideal to be worth through generations true enough and grand enough to claim the attention and the devotion of all the land.

Need of a Home.

“The men who made the Constitution were absolutely certain of one thing, and that was that this Federal government must have a home of its own. ‘Over such a district,’ the Constitution in so many words declares, the Congress shall ‘exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever.’ So far as general legislation is concerned, there is no power in Congress to delegate this authority. It must legislate itself. When it attempted once to bestow upon a Territorial legislature for the District the authority to make general laws, the court declared the attempt unconstitutional and vain. The utmost it can do in this direction is authorize the enactment of local regulations. No attempt to legislate for Washington will be worth the making unless it is made in the same spirit in which the founders worked.

“It was said of an Eastern temple, ‘It was designed by Titans and finished by jewelers.’The tribute is capable of double meaning. A great work should be grandly conceived and then executed with minutest pains.

“We wish as much for Washington. But the jeweler must not meddle with the architect’s design. If he does, men may say: ‘It was planned by Titans; it was finished by pygmies.’

“Less than half a century had elapsed from the founding of the Capital before a congress was found pusillanimous enough to surrender and cede back thirty square miles of Federal soil, and the noble patrimony the nation had received from the Father of his Country was broken in two, and the Virginia portion cast away.

“Or task to-night is to put the Washington of our day to the test of the great principles that controlled the founders of our government, to view the work they left us in the light of all that has developed since, and to plan for the future as men of their vision have planned in our surroundings.

Sees Three Meanings.

“What do we mean when we say the District of Columbia? There are at least three meanings in which the expression may be accurately used. It may mean the mere territory, the seventy square miles of land and water. It may mean the municipal corporation which has been created by the act of Congress. It mean the political community, which may be called, and by the Supreme Court has repeatedly called, for certain purposes, a State. In this third sense it is not a mere municipal corporation, but is filled with the sovereignty of the United States of America.

“It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between these meanings, especially between the second and the third, if we would keep our thinking clear. Let us take a moment to trace this distinction in the transactions of a century.

“When the United States, in 1800, took possession of this territory it found local self-government here. For two generations it left it undisturbed. ‘Prior to 1871,’ said Mr. Justice Bradley, in a case before the Court of Last Resort, ‘the government of the United States, except so far as the protection of its own public buildings and property was concerned, took no part in the local government.’

A Municipal Government.

“‘The officers of the departments, even the President himself, exercised no local authority in city affairs.’ In 1871 the Congress created here a new government expressly ‘for municipal purposes.’

“It had its governor and its legislature- the latter, of course, elected by the people. It had also a board of public works, whose members, including the governor as its head, were appointed by the President and Senate. This board laid out the money raised in taxes, and assessed the owners benefited by improvement.

“The court held that its acts were binding on the District, and that in spite of its appointment by the President, it was only a branch of municipal government. Thus matters remained until 1874, when Congress tore down all it had previously done, and started new. The governor and the board of public works were abolished, and the power which they had exercised was intrusted to a commission of three to be appointed by the President and Senate.

“Four years later, in 1878, the new arrangement was made permanent. Nevertheless, the contention was made before the Supreme Court of the United States that the effect of the new act was to destroy the District of Columbia as a municipal corporation, except in name, and to make it nothing more than department of the national government. The contention was ruled down.

Source of Authority.

“The fact that its officers were appointed by the President, said the court, did no make the District of Columbia any less a municipal body corporate. Recognizing the general desirableness of local self-government, it held that the principle of representative government was legally satisfied when the appointment of local officers was made by other officers who themselves had been elected by the people, saying: ‘The people are the recognized source of all authority, and to this authority it must come at last, whether immediately or by a circuitous process.’

“Whether a flaw is to be found in this reasoning as applied to the sitution before the court, inasmuch as the people of the District of Columbia, the people to be governed, never did have a share in electing the President and Senate, who were the appointing officers, I will not stop here to inquire; for my present purpose is to point out the separation that has always been recognized between the District of Columbia, as a mere municipal corporation, and the District of Columbia as a quasi state.

“There is only one sovereign in the District of Columbia. Indeed, in respect to sovereignty, the situation is precisely the same as if there were no other domain affected by the central government; as if all its functions were performed here.

“Why, then, it may be asked, should there be such a municipality as the District of Columbia at all? Why should not the general government take direct control and administer all the affairs of the District through its own bureaus? It would not be so easy to answer that question if two facts were other than they are:

“First- If there were no citizens of the United States except those who live in the District.

“Second- If the District elected the national officers. But there are 350,000 people here, and there are some 90,000,000 outside, and all are citizens of the United States; and the 350,000 who live here have some interests which they do not hold in common with the 90,000,000 who live outside.

Draws a Picture.

“It is, in part at least, for the recognition and protection of these separate and peculiar interests that a municipal government exists and is required. All the more is it needed by reason of the fact that there is no suffrage. Let us picture what might be. The streets and public works might all be put under the War Department, the public health under the Surgeon General, the charities made a bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor, or perhaps of the Interior, and the schools turned over to the Commissioner of Education. And so it might go on, until the local government was completely bureaucratic- until the rod of national administration, turned serpent, had swallowed up all the little rods of local administration and was left alone upon the floor.

“In the meantime the city, growing by leaps and bounds, has doubled and trebled its present population, and we have here a million people, without a word to say, in theory or fact, directly or indirectly, about the streets they walk, the water they drink, the light they burn, or the education of their children- everything done for them and done by officers in whose selection they had no voice and who have been selected with no particular reference to their opinions or their needs.

“To some of us that is not a pleasing spectacle.

A Nation’s City.

“Certainly we must not forget that this is a national city. There is little risk of that. But there are institutions, many and important, which are not national in their aim or character. They are exactly such institutions as the same numerical population would require were this no the Nation’s Capital. That is true of the institutions of charity and punishment. We should need to have schools, recording offices, post-offices, and courts; we should need streets and bridges, and thousand things beside, by reason of the fact that we are a city.

“Institutions that answer the needs of the community merely as a community, without reference to the national government, should not these be treated as local institutions? Should they not be administered as a part of the municipal government and officered by men identified with the District?

“Those courts of the District which deal not exclusively with local controversies, but in large measure with disputes to which the nation is a party, may perhaps be fairly made up, one-half of member drawn from the locality and one-half from the nation at large. This seems more appropriate, inasmuch as those who hold these offices hold them during good behavior, and when they come here come hoping to behave well enough to remain through life.

“But many offices relate exclusively to this community, at least as much so as the offices of any community can be said to relate to itself alone, and why should not these be filled by local citizens? Even if there should be no statute thus restricting the selection, ought not such a course be pursued as a permanent policy?

Demand of Consistency.

“Why should the people of the District have their deeds recorded by a man from California? Why should Washington be the only city in the land that cannot have a postmaster appointed from among its citizens?

“If we are to keep up the form of municipal government at all, does not a fair consistency demand that we should treat it as municipal, as existing, among other purposes, to care for all that is peculiar and local in the interests and needs of the community? Will it not be wisdom to treat it so?

“Let us not forget that there are thousands upon thousands here who have no other abiding place. Their roots have struck deep into the soil. They love the city with all the national pride we share with them, and with that tender sentiment which we call ‘the love of home’ besides. Is it wise to treat them as aliens in the house of their fathers?

Others have lived here till all ties with other places are dissolved and they expect their children will live here when they are gone. These people, so completely and irrevocably identified with the place, constitute an element not wisely to be overlooked when one is considering how local affairs may be most prudently and loyally administered.

May Be Parting.

“Who knows? Perhaps we have come already to the parting of the ways. Little by little the local hold is lost. Here a hospital is drawn under the control of a department. There the jail slips out of the hands of the Attorney General. Now it is proposed that the schools be placed under a bureau; and now, that the city shall be officered on the principle of efficiency alone, by one who can be found who is most competent, though he never saw Washington before.

“It would be something to assume that among 350,000 such as we find gathered here, not a single man could be found capable of conducting the business of the city. But if it should be conjectured that in some far off place a commissioner might be found somewhat more efficient, would that difference in efficiency make up for the sacrifice of one more bond- sometimes it seems as it were the last- between the government and the locality?

“The problem of city government is not altogether, I venture to think, a matter of perfecting the machinery. Men are not altogether machines. They have sentiments; they have hearts. And if there had not been sentiment and heart, as well as brain, there would be to-day no Washington.

No Need of Suffrage.

“As far as the municipal government is concerned, the people of the District seem to have settled down to the arrangement that there should be no suffrage.

“The accept it- very much as Lord Dundreary’s brother Sam accepted his embarrassment in being born, and especially being born bald-headed. ‘You see (Sam), he wasn’t consulted; and there he was, and it was too late to do anything about it.’ But suffrage or no suffrage in municipal affairs has nothing to do with the principle of which I speak. I believe it should be the policy of the government, alongside of the national spirit that inspires all hearts, to foster and perpetuate a sturdy local patriotism, a local and peculiar civic pride; and to this end, that all offices of this kind should be filled by those who have become residents of Washington for good and all.

“Sir, I am not included to discuss tonight the various proposed changes in the constitution of the city government. These concern a possible increase of efficiency in the municipal machine. In what I am yet to say I prefer to dwell upon a broader question. But no one ought to refer to the form of government that has given shape to our affairs since 1874 without doing justice to the splendid advances that have been made under its direction. In 1878 the plan was adopted of raising upon the ratable property here a tax of 1.5 per cent and of matching that with an equal amount from the national Treasury.

“Up to that time the District had carried the burden year by year, almost or quite alone, and was sinking under a debt of many millions. Under the new arrangement Washington has sprung to her feet. Parks have been laid out, avenues extended, bridges built, public buildings erected, grade crossings abolished, railway terminals improved, a magnificent new station built, the sewerage and water systems practically made over, millions upon millions spent toward making the city in health and beauty what it ought to be. Meantime absolute fidelity in the discharge of duties, no stain or hint of corruption, scarcely a dishonest transaction ever charged. Surely that is a record for any city to cherish and for those who have had a share in making it to look back upon with pride.

Money for Improvements.

“Some forbidding obstacles have been encountered and are met with still. One is, this being compelled to pay for permanent improvements out of the current income. What other city is expected to pay for its great works, to last for generations, out of its ordinary receipts, meanwhile taking it out od the schools and scrimping its legitimate expenses? Any other city would raise the money on bonds and pay them a little at a time.

“Washington need not be bonded, since the national treasury can supply it with the loan and let it be paid back at a reasonable rate; but the principle is sound. It is enforced by the late Secretary of the Treasury in his able report for 1908, where he sets forth with great lucidity the need of a national budget to bring about an adjustment between disbursements and receipts, with a rigid separation between expenditures for the ordinary service of the government and those for permanent public works, the latter to be met by bond issue.

“But there are obstacles of graver import and they constitute defects radical and without remedy in the present relation between nation and District. They can be removed only by a change in that relation itself. We shall all agree that to legislate wisely requires two things– first, a lively interest in the object of legislation; second, a clear intelligence touching the subject at hand. There being no representative from the District itself in either branch of Congress, it becomes necessary to commit the interests of the District, and the interests of the nation in the District, to hand unfamiliar with the subject and without any lively interest therein.

“The Congress as a whole cannot be expected to supply these requisites. No one pretends it does. It is engaged upon a thousand subjects, many of which appear to its members to be vastly more important than any that concerns the District. We cannot wonder at it; it is in the nature of things that it should be so. The step logically required by this condition is next taken.

“A committee in the House and a committee in the Senate are specially charged with these affairs. Not that their word is accepted as final. If it were, some difficulties would be escaped. But in the end their report must run the gantlet of the whole House or Senate.

Need for Knowledge.

“Here ignorance of District affairs has often shown itself so egregious and glaring that it could excite nothing but laughter, if tears were not often a more fitting recognition of the folly.

“And when that occurs there is no representative of the District to meet the ignorant, unfounded claim. Three hundred and fifty thousand people are voiceless in that hall. The committees cannot meet the emergency. To expect it would be to expect more than mortal men can do. Who are the members of the committee?

“Are they Senators and Representatives set apart for this work and free to devote themselves entirely to such business?

“By no means. They have their own constituencies to serve, and they have, besides, their share of responsibility for the general legislation, like all their fellow-members.

“They are appointed; they do the best they can; and if they give sufficient time to our affairs to understand our problems, they run the risk of losing their seats entirely by being thought at home to neglected their own States or districts.

“I am credibly informed that the risk has turned into a certainty in more instances than one. But, more than that, the membership of the House and Senate changes and the membership of the committees changes, too.

“Hardly has a member become reasonably acquainted with our subject than he is called away, another takes his place, and the whole process of education must be begun again. That is the radical and incurable defect of the present system. Keep your three Commissioners if you will, or substitute for them a single head, improve the machinery of municipal administration all you can, until it runs with the regularity of a Swiss watch- you have not touched the trouble.

“What is needed is two men in the House and one man in the Senate; real live men with blood in their arteries and brains in their heads; men who have lived long in the District of Columbia and belong to her; men who known her needs and her capacity, who know the history and condition of her institutions, her charities, her prisons, the views and aspirations of her people; men who are proud of their connection with her, and proud that to her soil has been committed the ark of civil and religious liberty.

“What we need is members of these bodies with the prestige that belongs to members; not figureheads, not lobbyists, not delegates, but a member of the Senate and two members of the House, able enlightened, informed, fit to represent the will and judgment of 350,000 citizens gathered within these bounds.

An Amendment Needed.

“But that requires an amendment of the Constitution. So it does. An amendment in strict accord with the principles of the Constitution, made necessary by the changed conditions of 120 years, made unavoidable and inevitable by the changes that will take place in the fifty or one hundred years to come. Do you imagine that when 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 shall be swarming in our borders they will be the only people in this broad domain to have no hand in the government of this magnificent republic, no word in the election of its President, no tongue in the national assembly?

“When 1,000,000 men are there, when they ask why they alone can have no part in a republican form of government, do you imagine they will call it a sufficient answer to be told ‘Because you live in Washington?’

“If you lived in Pumpkin Hook or Bloody Gultch, you might, but not while you lived here.

“Bear in mind, I am not speaking of municipal suffrage. I am speaking of the right of a million of simple American citizens to have a share-less than a one hundredth part would be- in the legislation that concerns their country and its Capital.

“Suppose they have no more right than the same number of people who live anywhere else in the United States. Have they not as much? And that is all the right of which I speak.

Believes in Humanity.

“But I hear it said, ‘The people of the District do not care for suffrage.’ Well, all I can say to that is this: If the people of the District of Columbia do not really care to have a part in the government of this splendid country, they do not deserve to have it, and nobody need fear that it will be thrust upon them. But I cannot believe that statement.

“‘Say, seignors, are the old Niles dry?’

“I cannot believe that the human heart has changed.

“I cannot believe that principles have lost their power.

“I cannot believe that the deep instincts that built up this wonderful fabric of free government have died out here in the very seat of its majesty, and that here alone the ‘bright consummate flower’ of liberty has gone to seed.

“There is no doubt that they need quickening. There is no doubt that they are have sunk into the torpor of faculties disused. But hold before their eyes the hope of what I am describing, and you shall see whether self-respect and the desire for self-government are dead.

“Sir, if I had it in my power to-night to dispose of this matter as I would, do you know what I would do?

“I would not change the constitution.

“I would not give the people of the District suffrage.

“What I would do is this:

“I would set to their dry hearts the flame of that old Promethean torch, the love of liberty.

“I would fill them with divine unrest at their condition.

“I would set beside that condition a picture of the dignity and power they might enjoy as real citizens of their country.

“I would move them first to desire and then to demand their portion of our heritage.

“I would nerve them to toil for it and fight for it through years of bitter opposition- and then at last, when the agitation had created a new Washington, when 400,000 or 500,000 people were calling as with one mighty voice for the great prize of representative government- then I would bestow it on them.

“And sir, I believe that is exactly what the god of time will do.

“A city of the dumb! Mr. Chairman, I have heard you speak of a little village on an island off the New England coast inhabited entirely by deaf mutes.

“They live unto themselves.

“They marry and intermarry and rear children who are dumb as they.

“They go about their tasks, but speak no word.

“The busy hum of life goes on around them; the shuttles of the world’s activities fly to and fro, but into the growing web they weave no strand.

“Sir, I will not extend the parallel. It is too obvious and too painful to be drawn. But that is not the Washington that shall be.

“Only let the agitation begin.

“Let it start here to-night.

“Why not make this occasion historic?

“Let every true son of Washington, native or adopted, go out from this feast strengthened and heartened for a long enlistment. Let him know for once in his life the glory of being possessed of a grand idea- the sublime enthusiasm of being lost in absolute devotion to a great cause.

“Let them meet and join hands and stir one another’s hearts, quicken one another’s minds, and sustain on another’s courage. Let it go on.

“It will be met with opposition; it will meet with ridicule; it will meet with censure; it will take years; it may take many- but it will have one possible outcome if the sons of Washington are worthy the name they bear.

Suffrage Question.

Again I say, I am not speaking now of municipal suffrage at all. Let the present arrangement, or some improved substitute for it, be continued if you please. What has that to do with the broad and fundamental fact that the hundreds of thousands here should have their due and proportionate representation in the National Assembly- should have the same right that other citizens enjoy of giving their votes in the election of the Chief Magistrate of the republic?

“‘The republic! It is not alone for the District of Columbia that I bring the proposition forward. The interests of the nation would be served as well.

“They would not be served first of all by the increased efficiency and propriety of the laws that would be enacted; in the next place, by the fact that the members from the District, being familiar with the local situation, and serving on the local committees, would relieve the members from other States of much of their present burden, leaving them freer to perform the duties for which they were specially selected.

Need for Real Men.

“Further, it would serve the nation by adding to Congress men of weight and influence in national concerns.

“We should have here a constituency peculiarly rich in material for Representatives.

“But, more perhaps that all the rest, the change would serve the interests of the whole nation by recognizing the grand principle of representative government here, in the most conspicuous position in the country, where hitherto it has been cast aside.

“Men could no longer point the finger of scorn at us, and say:

“‘Washington gives the lie to your pretensions.’

“‘Look! In the very seat of national greatness you acknowledge by your acts that your form of government is a failure. Until we are honest enough to live up to your principles, we shall deserve all our trouble; and, sir, from the bottom of my heart I do believe that the greatest troubles we have spring from this fact, that we have turned back upon those principles.

“We shall never find peace or safety until we return to them again.

“Shall we say we fear the suffrages of ignorance and vice- the ignorance and vice that we ourselves are to blame for- that could not last a generation if we did our duty by our fellow-men?

“Sham on the race or the community that holds its hands the wealth of the continent and carries in its brains the accumulated culture of the centuries and yet refuses to lift that ignorance and vice to the level of enlightenment and virtue.

“Tear down your shacks and shanties.

“Let in the sun upon your noisome alleys.

“Build decent habitations for the poor to dwell in.

“Make your prisons moral hospitals instead of breeding cells for crime.

“Spread education broadcast in the streets.

“Let us do the work of Christians at our doors before we admit that our fathers were fools and that democratic government is all a dark mistake.

Menace to the State

“Never until the men of wealth and education have spent their last surplus dollar and exhausted the ingenuity of their brains in the effort to make their fellow-men worthy to be sharers in the government, never until then will they have a right to hide behind an excuse like that.

“I admit that an ignorant and degraded class armed with the ballot is a menace to the safety of the state; but I deny that it is a greater menace in the end than that same class, robbed of its rights,thrust down into the dark, and left as no longer necessary to the be regarded or assisted because no having any part in the affairs of state.

“Strip men of the ballot and you take away from society the most powerful inducement that can prompt selfish human nature to educate and elevate its helpless and its poor.

“We must find fault with the Creator if we wish to complain that wealth, virtue, and culture cannot be safe in the neighborhood of poverty, ignorance, and vice. He means that it shall be so. He sees Blagden’s alley as well as Dupont Circle, and He has made it certain by the laws of nature, by every wind that breathes across the city, by every tiny insect that takes its unregarded flight from home to home, that Dupont Circle shall not be safe while Blagden’s alley is rotting with disease and filth.

Laws of Nature.

“The laws of nature are democratic. It is just the same in government. A community that has the power to lift ignorance and vice to its own level and will not stretch out its hand to do it, deserves to be ruled by ignorance and vice; and eternal justice will see to it that it is so. We cannot escape our duties; let us face them, then, like men.

If Franklin or Jefferson were here to-day and saw this mighty population with no voice in its affairs, he would lay his finger, like a wise physician, on the body politic and say:

“Here- here is where you are ailing.

“Here faith in the principles that brought us through. Let us take up the stitch our father dropped. Let us apply to our situation the rules of government they applied to theirs. If you should say to Jefferson, ‘Why should we be disturbed? Will it give us more interest on our money?’ Jefferson would have answered you ‘That I cannot tell, but this I know, that the man who loves freedom for anything but freedom’s self was made to be a slave!’

“Even if we should fail, men would write over our graces the profound saying of Guizot, ‘The struggle itself supplied in some measure the place of liberty.’ But we cannot fail.

“Is this an hour to doubt or question the principles of free government?

“Now, when those principles, encouraged by their success upon this continent, are shaking every throne upon the Bosphorous Young Turkey is making good its claim to constitutional government?

Far East Perspective.

“When Persia is starting from her revelry and old China is turning from the slumber of 4,000 years? Now, when in the islands of the South Pacific we ourselves are reaching out a hand to lead a strange race into the ordered paths of Anglo-Saxon freedom?

“Let the sons of Washington beware lest the little brown men of the Philippines enter the kingdom of representative government before them. If the people of Columbia prefer to take their ease, no rude reformer will disturb their rest. But when we have passed away, men will describe us as the dying patriarch in his prophetic vision pictured the most degenerate of his tribes:

“‘Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens; amd he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.’

“Sir, the danger to this country lies not, as we sometimes think, in the poor immigrant who flees to us from afar, still smarting from the lash of tyranny- ignorant and low-minded though he be. The prize of citizenship will appeal to him. He will clutch it and hold it fast as ‘the immediate jewel of his soul.’

“The danger lies in him who, ‘like base Judean, throws a pearl away richer than all his tribe,’ in the man who will share the blessings of liberty without bearing its burdens; in the man who is willing that impudence and theft shall sit in the seat of power, so long as he is left free to pile up his millions or scatter them like a lord on the playground of Europe.

The Nation’s Capital

“The Capital of the United States- what is it? It is not marble palaces nor lofty domes nor splendid obelisks. If it is anything, it typifies a great idea.

“The deepest word that was ever uttered to interpret that idea was wrung from lips that trembled between hope and despair upon the field of Gettysburg- ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’

“Can Washington typify that idea while it stands as it does to-day? It cannot be. It must be changed.

“It will be changed.

“The time will surely come when he who stands in the shadow of these majestic structures, and of the prouder ones that shall arise, will have no cause to hang his head for shame at any violation of our principles, but will feel that here- here more truly than anywhere else on the face of the whole earth- he is standing in their august and visible presence.

“And now, Mr. President, at the end as the beginning, we turn to you not to express the hope that you may discharge the new duties with clearer sight or firmer fidelity than you discharged the old- for that would be impossible- but that in your more exalted station you may find a wider field for your beneficent endeavors, cheered, as will be, by the personal love of millions of your fellows and supported by the unwavering faith of all America.”



Also see:
+ TAFT STIRS CAPITAL BY SUFFRAGE SPEECH – The New York Times, May 10th, 1909
+ PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO SUFFRAGE IN DISTRICT – The Washington Post, May 9th, 1909
+ JUSTICE STAFFORD’S PLEA FOR SUFFRAGE IN WASHINGTON – The Washington Times, May 9th 1909


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



TAFT STIRS CAPITAL BY SUFFRAGE SPEECH – The New York Times, May 10th, 1909
|| 11/4/2009 || 1:22 pm || 1 Comment Rendered || ||

TAFT STIRS CAPITAL BY SUFFRAGE SPEECH


Opposes Plan to Permit Residents of District of Columbia to Elect Officials.


CITY BELONGS TO COUNTRY


Fears Narrow Spirit in Government–
Not Ready to Approve Roosevelt Plan of Administration

Special to The New York Times
Monday, May 10, 1909

WASHINGTON, May 9.– Nothing has stirred the District of Columbia so much since the days of the civil war as the declaration made by President Taft at the dinner tendered him by the business men of Washington last night that suffrage for the District was impossible. His sweeping answer to the eloquent plea of Justice Stafford of the Supreme Court of the District for the privilege of the ballot has been discussed to-day wherever citizens of the District gathered. There is general disappointment at his attitude, but he finds champions even among those citizens who crave suffrage, but who acknowledge the logic of his arguments.

The President’s speech followed the appeal of Justice Stafford. He said:

“As I look about here into these smiling faces, these somewhat rotund forms that give evidence of prosperity, it is a little difficult for me to realize that it was about these caitiffs and these slaves that Mr. Stafford spoke.

“In spite of my experience with respect to Washington, I am a nationalist. This city is the home of the Government of a Nation, and when men who are just as much imbued with the principles of civil liberty as any who have come after, Washington at the head, put into the Constitution the provisions with respect to the government of the District of Columbia, they knew what they were doing.

“Now, I want to say, with reference to this discussion, that if this meeting or subsequent meetings are to be devoted to securing an amendment to the Constitution but which you are going to disturb the principle of two Senators from every State and you are going to abolish the provision that was put in there ex industria by George Washington, you will not get ahead in the matter of better government in Washington by such meetings. I do not want to seem to be abrupt, but I believe it is possible by such meetings as this to arouse the interest of Congress and the Executive to the necessity of consulting the people of Washington, to let them act as Americans act when they don’t have the right of suffrage, let them act by the right of petition.

“Now, I am opposed to the franchise in the District. I am opposed, not because I yield to any one in my support and belief in the principles of self-government, but the principles are applicable generally, and then, unless you make exceptions to the application of those principles you will find that they will carry you to very illogical and absurd results. This District was taken out of the application of the principle of self-government in the very Constitution that was intended to put that in force in every other part of the country, and it was done because it was intended to have the representatives of all the people in the country control this one city, and to prevent its being controlled by the parochial spirit that would necessarily govern men who did not look beyond the city to the grandeur of the Nation, and this city as the representative of that Nation.

“Now the question arises, What shall we do with the Government of Washington? Shall we have the present board of three? Shall we have one, or shall we have some other form? I confess I do not know. My predecessor has recommended a change of the present form as to give the responsibility to one, with the view of visiting that one with the responsibility. On the other hand, it is said that three have worked well; that it gives more opportunity, possibly, for counsel, and that it takes away the bureaucratic character of the Government.

“As I have said, I have reached no conclusion as to what recommendation I shall make to Congress on the subject. I fully concur with Justice Stafford in thinking that it would be most unwise to introduce into the District what I understand to be a bureaucratic form of government. That is right.”


Click here to read the Washington Post coverage of the same speech.


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the New York Times archives and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



“Let Us Now End American Colonialism” – A speech by Ernest Gruening delivered to the Delegates of the Alaska Constitutional Convention on November 9, 1955
|| 2/16/2009 || 11:10 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

As someone who has advocated for statehood for the District of Columbia since I first learned about this civil rights issue, I cannot help but look to past examples of how others struggled for the same equality. The other day I began reading about how Alaska became the 49th state in America and realized how many of their struggles are similar to the ones faced today by the people of the District of Columbia.

Below is a speech by Ernest Gruening, the former Territorial Governor of Alaska (who eventually became the first Alaskan senator 1958-1968), which was delivered to the Delegates of the Alaska Constitutional Convention on November 9, 1955. I find the speech quite interesting because there are so many parallels to the plight of the District residents. It should be noted, somewhat sadly, that the 1960 census showed there were less than 300,000 people in both Alaska and Nevada, compared to 762,000 residents living in the District of Columbia at the time.




Photo from the University of Alaska

We meet to validate the most basic of American principles, the principle of “government by consent of the governed.”

We take this historic step because the people of Alaska who elected you, have come to see that their long standing and unceasing protests against the restrictions, discriminations and exclusions to which we are subject have been unheeded by the colonialism that has ruled Alaska for 88 years. The people of Alaska have never ceased to object to these impositions even though they may not have realized that such were part and parcel of their colonial status. Indeed the full realization that Alaska is a colony may not yet have come to many Alaskans, nor may it be even faintly appreciated by those in power who perpetuate our colonial servitude.

Half a century ago, a governor of Alaska, John Green-Brady, contemplating the vain efforts of Alaskans for nearly forty years to secure even a modicum of workable self-government, declared:

“We are graduates of the school of patience.”
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