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


GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US


Argue That County Belongs to the District


FAMOUS QUESTION REVIVED


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


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

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

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

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

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

Return of County

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

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

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

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

Would Benefit Town.

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

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

New Phase Brought Up.

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

The letter reads as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“R. A. PHILIPS.”


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



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


Screengrab of the headline


Mr. H. Phillips Memorializes the District Committee.


MANY BURDENS IMPOSED


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


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

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


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

Burdensome Problems

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

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

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

Sanitary Protection Needed.

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

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

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

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

The Legal Question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Phillips v. Payne, 92 US 130 – Supreme Court – October Term, 1875
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As I mentioned previously, the New York Times published an article that highlighted how residents of Washington and Alexandria were planning on challenging the constitutionality of the Retrocession of Alexandria. Less than 4 years later they brought the challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court, but as you can read below, their challenge failed.

The error in the plan was the concept of ‘continued sovereignty’, as in, just because the government changes, it does not mean one can choose to not follow the rules of the new government, including taxation. The Supreme Court did not touch on the legality of the Retrocession of Alexandria, but instead merely said that “[Virginia] She does not complain of the retrocession,” and “No murmur of discontent has been heard from them: on the contrary, Congress, by more than one act, has recognized the transfer as a settled and valid fact.”

By saying such, the Supreme Court did not look deeper at the constitutional considerations of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 in regards to the retrocession, but only at the merits of the suit itself- the payment of taxes to a sovereign government. I believe, if they would have chosen a different path, one that included the State of Maryland as a plaintiff, the constitutional considerations of the retrocession would have been discussed further. Instead of as Justice Swayne concluded, “The plaintiff in error is estopped from raising the point which he seeks to have decided [the Constitutionality of the Retrocession of Alexandria]. He cannot, under the circumstances, vicariously raise a question, nor force upon the parties to the compact an issue which neither of them desires to make.”


92 U.S. 130 (____)

PHILLIPS
v.
PAYNE.

Supreme Court of United States.

Mr. W. Willoughby and Mr. S. Shellabarger for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. R.T. Daniel, contra.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

This suit was brought to determine the validity of the retrocession by Congress to the State of Virginia of that part of the District of Columbia, as originally constituted, which was ceded by Virginia to the United States. The plaintiff in error was the plaintiff in the court below. The case upon which he relies is thus set forth in his declaration:—

In pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, Virginia, by an act of her legislature of Dec. 3, 1789, ceded to the United States that part of her territory subsequently known as the county of Alexandria. Congress passed an act accepting the cession. Maryland ceded to the United States the county of Washington, and Congress accepted that cession also. The two counties constituted a territory ten miles square, which Congress set apart as the seat of the government of the United States, and organized as the District of Columbia, over which the Constitution of the United States required that Congress should exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever. Thereafter, on the 9th of July, 1846, Congress, in violation of the Constitution, passed an act purporting to authorize a vote to be taken by the people of Alexandria County to determine whether the county should be retroceded to the State of Virginia, and declaring, that, in case a majority of the votes should be cast in favor of retrocession, the county should be retroceded and for ever relinquished in full and absolute right and jurisdiction. A majority of the votes were cast for retrocession: whereupon, without any further action by Congress, the State of Virginia passed an act declaring that the county was reannexed, and formed a part of the State. Since that time the State has assumed to exercise full jurisdiction and control over the county, and to authorize the election of officers for the county, among whom is one known as the collector for the township of Washington. The defendant was elected such collector, and assumed to exercise the duties of his office. The State has also assumed to enforce the assessment and collection of taxes upon persons and property in the county. The plaintiff resides in the county, and owns a large amount of real estate and other property there. The defendant alleged that an assessment had been made upon this property; that there was payable to him as such collector, upon the assessment, the sum of $165.18; and he demanded payment. In the event of refusal to pay, he would have sold the property pursuant to the law of the State. To prevent the sacrifice which this would have involved, the plaintiff paid the money under protest; notifying the defendant at the time that he regarded the exaction as illegal and unauthorized, upon the ground that the county of Alexandria was not within the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia, but that it was within the District of Columbia. He avers that the act of Congress of 1846, before mentioned, every thing done under it, and the law of Virginia reannexing the county to the State and extending her jurisdiction over it, are contrary to the Constitution of the United States, and illegal and void.

He therefore claims to recover the amount so paid to the collector.

+ MORE



RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA – The New York Times, August 17, 1873
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Does the New York Times issue corrections after 137 years? Because this article has two errors. First, William Winter Payne, of Fauquier, was then a member of Congress from Alabama, not South Carolina. I decided to look in the Congressional Globe myself and find their error. Second, the article uses both Judge Underhill and Judge Underwood, when it should have been only using Judge John Curtiss Underwood (sadly, he died less than 4 months after this article was published.)

I decided to repost this article here because it provides the setting for the Supreme Court case of Phillips vs. Payne. I was not expecting to find an article that essentially provides a road map for how the unconstitutionality of Alexandria’s retrocession was to be legally challenged.


RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA

The New York Times, August 17, 1873

At a recent meeting of the Common Council of Alexandria, Va., a proposition to establish a new hospital being under consideration, Judge Underhill spoke of the renewed effort by citizens of Washington to procure retrocession of Alexandria to the District of Columbia. He then related an interview he had with Gov. Cooke and Chief Justice Cartter, from which he had learned that they had determined on the move. Judge Cartter had pronounced the act of retrocession of 1846 unconstitutional and void, and they would make a test case by getting some citizen of Alexandria to refuse to pay his taxes, and file a bill for an injunction against their collection by the State of Virginia. They preferred that mode to proceeding criminal case by habeas corpus. The Board of Public Works thought it necessary to have both sides of the river, as the Board of Health had concluded the swamps on the Virginia side were the cause of much of the malarious sickness in Washington. The effort will probably be made in the Fall. Judge Underwood also remarked that the change, if made, would very seriously affect him, and necessitate his resignation of the judgeship or removal, and he said he had looked at the Globe of the date of the act of retrocession, and found that Col. Winter Payne, of Fauquier, then a member of Congress from South Carolina Alabama, had opposed it as unconstitutional, and many Democratic statesmen, but no Whigs.


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.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Anxious To Come Back – The Washington Post, July 24, 1890
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Map of Alexandria County from 1878

ANXIOUS TO COME BACK


The District Hath Charms for the People of Alexandria


A MOVEMENT OF THE CITIZENS


Ninety Per Cent of the Population of Alexandria City and County Ready and Willing to Leave the Old State and Become Part of the National Capital.


The question of the repeal of the law retroceding Alexandria county to Virginia is the uppermost topic in the ancient city now. The advocates and opponents of repeal are having it back and forth good naturedly. “When are you going into the District?” one asks banteringly of the other. The latest step that has been taken toward securing a crystallization into action of all the discussion on the subject for the past twenty-five years was the presentation in the Senate, as stated in The Post yesterday, of a petition by Mr. Edmunds, signed by about 400 citizens of Alexandria county, praying for the repeal of the act of 1846, giving back to Virginia that portion of the ten miles square which Virginia had ceded for the seat of government. A Post reporter circulated among the business men of Alexandria yesterday with a view of learning the public sentiment in the matter. He found an almost unanimous sentiment in favor of it, at least those whom he met favored it and claimed that there was little opposition to the movement.

Mr. Amos Slaymaker, the King-street drygoods merchant, carried the petition among the business men. He said that he found very few who were opposed to it. There were some who thought that it was a slap at old Virginia, and they thought that it was not right to “go back” on the old State. The opposition was based entirely on sentiment. Those who favored repeal were animated by practical movements.

“We do not regard it as a slap at old Virginia,” Mr. Slaymaker said to the Post reporter. “We believe that it would benefit Virginia as well as Alexandria. See how Maryland has benefited by the proximity of the District. This would put a slice of the District right into Virginia, and could not but benefit all the surrounding country. I was a Confederate soldier myself, and I would not do anything that would be a blow to Virginia. Alexandria should be the port of entry for Washington. The navy yard and the ordnance foundery should be located here, where there is plenty of deep water instead of government spending thousands of dollars every year dredging out the Eastern Branch.”

“What started this movement?”

“It was started out in the county, and the paper was sent to me by Mr. Lacey, the patent attorney of Washington, who own considerable property in Alexandria county. The people in the county are all strongly in favor of it.”

“How is it proposed to proceed?”

“We hope to get Congress to repeal the law of retrocession. The Virginia legislature will bring the case before the Supreme Court, where we hope to get a decision. It is said, I believe, that Daniel Webster claimed when the law of retrocession was passed that it was unconstitutional, but a test has never been made of the law. Why, at the present time when you want to run any lines in the District you have to start from our corner of the ten miles square. It would be quite as constitutional for Maryland to take back that portion which she ceded to the Government. Then where would your District be?”

Mr. Joseph Broders, the grocer, on King street, near Union, heads the list of those who signed the petition. “I have thought for years that the act of retrocession was unconstitutional,” he said, “and when the paper was brought to me I said that I would willingly sign it– I would put my name at the top if they wanted. Daniel Webster said when it was proposed to let Virginia take back what it had given the Government, ‘Why, gentlemen, you can’t do that.’ But the South was in a majority in Congress, and it was rushed through. It was put through largely through railroad influence. Alexandria wanted to subscribe for the Orange and Alexandria Railway, and as part of the District it couldn’t do it. So it was decided to have the city go back into the State, and then it could be authorized to subscribe, and it was done. But it was wholly unconstitutional. Why, suppose a bill were to be brought up into Congress retroceding to Maryland that part which that State gave to the Government? The thing wouldn’t be heard of. It would be declared unconstitutional at the start. But if it was constitutional to let go of the part of the District on this side of the river it certainly is to retrocede that part of the District on the other side. That is plain enough.”

Mr. D.W. Whiting, the publisher of the Daily Progress, said that he had long favored repeal and had written for it for years. “Here we are paying out between $80,000 and $100,000 a year to the State,” said he, “and are getting nothing in return for it. All our license fees, the fines in State cases, and 40 cents on the $1 goes into the State, and we get nothing in return for it. Look at our streets; cobblestones overgrown by grass. If we had this $100,000 to spend on home improvements we could pave our streets better. As it is we spend about $10,000 a year on our streets. The benefit to Alexandria by coming into the District would be immense. There is an overwhelming sentiment here in favor of it. I believe that 90 out of 100 favor it. The laboring people favor it almost to a man, and the business men of Alexandria are largely in favor of it.”

Mr. Whiting yesterday published in his paper the following editorial on the subject:

RETROCESSION — A petition was presented to the United States Senate yesterday signed by a number of leading citizens of this city, asking Congress to pass an enabling act so that the constitutionality of the act annexing that portion of the District of Columbia, south of the Potomac, to Virginia. There are many very strong reasons why the people of Alexandria should desire to get back into the District. One of the reasons is that Alexandria is paying annually into the State treasury nearly, if not quite $100,000, which if spent in the city would give us good streets instead of miserable cobblestone wagon-destroyers that we have. The only reason for desiring to remain with the State is a sentimental one. The reasons for going back to the District are practical ones and appeal to common sense and business interest. If a vote was taken on the subject, nine-tenths of the people would vote to go back.

George Fisher, of Fisher Bros., on Royal street, said that he favored repeal because he believed that it would be a great benefit to the city to be in the District. It would rid the city of an undesirable political element. They could get city councils that would improve the streets. The city debt was being rapidly paid off without any increase in taxation, instead of improvements being made to the city. The politicians were, of course, opposed to repeal. It would take away the franchise.

Mr. John Harlow, of Harlow Bros., Royal and Cameron streets, said that he believed 95 persons out of 100 favored it. His brother, George Harlow, is strongly in favor of it.

Mr. M. B. Harlow, the city treasurer, said that one great reason for complaint was that so much money was paid into the State and nothing received in return. The circuit judge, the city sergeant, and other State officials were paid by the city. He, however, was not convinced of the wisdom of taking the step of separation.

Mr. Peter Aitchison, of Aitchison Bros., lumber dealers, on Union street, near Prince, is strongly in favor of repeal. He is a member of the city council, and has given considerable thought to the subject. He was not in his office when the reporter called, but his brother George was. He agreed with the other speakers that Virginia got a good deal more out of Alexandria than Alexandria did out of Virginia. He believed that a large majority of the people favored the repeal.

N. Lindsey, an extensive wholesale grocer at King and Union streets, also member of the city council, strongly favors the movement and signed the petition.

Mr. William F. Creighton, proprietor of the extensive drugstore on King and Royal streets, said that the subject had been considerably discussed in his store by members of the council and others. He had heard it stated that the city had paid in 1889 $88,00 toward the State, for which nothing had been received. His store is quite an assembling place for members of the council before and after meetings, and he had heard a good deal of discussion. He had signed the petition on it being represented to him that in the District the taxes would be lower and the local improvements would be greater.

French Smoot, the lumber dealer, on Union street, near King, a member of the city council, had also signed the petition. Other who believe in repeal are:
Helmuth Bros., butchers, corner King and Columbus streets; Summers & Bros., Pitt, near King; Thomas Leadbeater, North Fairfax, near King; R. C. Acton, the King street jeweler; William H. May, agricultural implements; Thomas Lannon, grocer; B. F. Peake, carpenter and builder; George Wise, insurance; L. E. Corbett, customs collector; C. A. Yohe, Old Dominion cigar factory; R. Bell, L. Bendhelm, C. W. Howell, Isaac M. Bell, R. M. Latham, Issac Eichberg, drygoods; J. H. D. Lunt, Worth Hulfish, V. M. Power, Perry & Son, T. A. Robinson, E. S. Fawcett, D. A. Windsor, whose son assisted in circulating the petition; Frederick Paff, G. E. French, W. N. Berkley, R. T. Lucas, A. W. Armstrong, J. C. Creighton, Thomas Hoy, C. T. Helmuth, H. Kirk, A. A. Warfield, C. B. Marshall, Henry Strauss, J. A. Marshall, R. W. French, G. P. Hill, L. Stabler & Co., R. F. Lee, B. Wheatley, R. J. Thomas, J. R. Edelin, Louis Brill, William Demaine, George Wise, A. H. Smythe.


Anxious To Come Back – The Washington Post, July 24, 1890


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post 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.



Text of H.R. 259 – An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia
|| 2/19/2009 || 7:12 pm || 1 Comment Rendered || ||

From 1840 to 1846, residents of Alexandria petitioned Congress and the Virginia legislature to approve retrocession. On February 3, 1846 the Virginia General Assembly agreed to accept the retrocession of Alexandria if Congress approved. Following additional lobbying by Alexandrians, Congress passed legislation (below) on July 9, 1846 to return all the District’s territory south of the Potomac River back to the Commonwealth of Virginia, pursuant to a referendum that would be held later in the year, and President Polk signed this first piece of legislation the next day.

A referendum on retrocession was then held on September 1–2, 1846 and the residents of the City of Alexandria voted in favor of the retrocession, 734 to 116, however, the residents of Alexandria County voted against retrocession 106 to 29. Despite the objections of those living in Alexandria County, President Polk certified the referendum and issued a proclamation of transfer on September 7, 1846. However, the Virginia legislature did not immediately accept the retrocession offer. Virginia legislators were concerned that the people of Alexandria County had not been properly included in the retrocession proceedings. After months of debate, the Virginia General Assembly voted to formally accept the retrocession legislation on March 13, 1847.

In Abraham Lincoln’s first State of the Union, delivered on December 3, 1861, he suggested restoring the District of Columbia to George Washington’s original boundaries:

The present insurrection [Civil War] shows, I think, that the extension of this District across the Potomac at the time of establishing the capital here was eminently wise, and consequently that the relinquishment of that portion of it which lies within the state of Virginia was unwise and dangerous. I submit for your consideration the expediency of regarding that part of the District and the restoration of the original boundaries thereof through negotiations with the State of Virginia.

I also question the legitimacy of the retrocession because in the bill below you can see that it states that both the county AND the town of Alexandria were to pass the referendum. The county of Alexandria never voted in favor of retrocession, only the town voted for it. Imagine if the land was returned back to the District of Columbia?

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