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

scan of the book from the Library of Congress

Some of Washington’s Grievances


NO VOTES, YET NO GRIEVANCE?


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


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


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

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

UNLIMITED ELECTIVE FRANCHISE IN MUNICIPAL CONCERNS.

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

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

THE POWER TO EXPEND, EXTRAVAGANTLY AND CORRUPTLY,

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

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

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

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

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

Thirdly, Congress may propose an amendment to the Constitution

EXTINGUISHING ITS OWN POWER OF EXCLUSIVE LEGISLATION

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

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

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

Fourthly, retaining exclusive jurisdiction, Congress may propose

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT GIVING THE DISTRICT REPRESENTATION

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

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

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

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

PREPARED TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION

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

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

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

ONE INSTEAD OF TWO SENATORS

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

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

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

ADMITTED TO THE UNION

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

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


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



Text of The District of Columbia Home Rule Act – As Amended Through 1997
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The District of Columbia Home Rule Act - As amended through 1997

District of Columbia Home Rule Act

Approved December 24, 1973

Amended through November 19, 1997
Originally published on-line in February of 1999

Click here to view a PDF as amended to 2008

Public Law 93-198; 87 Stat. 777; D.C. Code § 1-201 passim

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The D.C. Statehood Vote – The Washington Post, November 20th, 1993
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The D.C. Statehood Vote

The Washington Post, November 20th, 1993

Today the House of Representatives begins debate on whether the District of Columbia should become a state. The deliberation is historic, as will be the vote expected to follow this weekend. The issue is not the fate of statehood legislation this year: Supporters concede they have little chance of winning. It is whether a lopsided defeat will ultimately cost or break political ground for statehood. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton contends that even in defeat, a vote `would give the undemocratic treatment of the District the serious national attention it would never attract in any other way.’ If that is the outcome, the statehood debate will be a milestone.

There is, after all, a historic wrong to be set right. The tax-paying, war-fighting citizens of the District, unlike citizens in the 50 states, have no control over their own governmental affairs. As residents of the nation’s capital, they are denied voting representation in the Congress, final word on the budgets and laws they enact, the ability to appoint their own prosecutors and judges and the ability to work out reciprocal taxing arrangements with neighboring jurisdictions. They are at all times subject to the whims of Congress.

We had hoped a way could be found for citizens here to enjoy the full political participation that is their due and still have their city remain the seat of the national government. But the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given the District full congressional representation, and congressional inaction on other political reforms, made that outcome impossible. It became apparent that these goals could only be achieved in the context of statehood–but statehood that fulfilled certain clearly understood conditions.

As we said earlier this year, there are critical issues to be faced to make statehood feasible and desirable. We refer to a prenegotiated agreement or understanding with suburban representatives for a limited commuter tax, resolution of the congressionally created unfunded pension liability problem that threatens the District’s financial solvency and a predictable, stable and guaranteed payment to the new state.

Of the three issues, today’s statehood proposal addresses only the payment question. It eliminates the federal payment and replaces it with a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement that mirrors the funding scheme for other states with federal property within their borders. The merits of that alternative, as well as Congress’s role in addressing the other issues that could threaten the new state’s fragile viability, ought to receive a thorough airing this weekend. If a consensus can be reached on how best to approach those outstanding issues, this unprecedented debate, whatever the vote, will take statehood to a new and better place.


This newspaper article was obtained from the Congressional Record in the Library of Congress related to H.R. 51, The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993. The article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



Tax Fairness for D.C. – The New York Times, October 30th, 1993
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Tax Fairness for D.C.

The New York Times, October 30th, 1993

With a population of nearly 600,000, the District of Columbia has more people than Vermont, Wyoming or Alaska. Yet its Mayor and City Council have limited power. And the District is denied a voting representative in the same Congress that rules on its affairs.

The colonial character of this arrangement was underscored this week when Congress voted on the Washington D.C. budget, and grandstanding politicians from other places tried to deny its citizens the right to spend their own money as they see fit.

The District’s budget totaled $3.7 billion. The $3 billion came from District citizens in taxes; all but a tiny fraction of the rest is what the Federal Government pays for occupying 41 percent of the District’s land, on which it pays no taxes. The Federal payment is a miserly sum, given that the Government presence costs the District $2 billion a year in lost tax revenues.

Still, many in government see the District as a pawn in a political game. George Bush once vetoed the city budget, forcing the District to ban the use of even locally raised tax revenues to furnish abortions for impoverished women. C-Span’s broadcast of the District’s budget vote showed the latest act in this political amateur hour.

Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, seemed not to have read the budget bill but that didn’t deter him. He questioned the salaries of the District’s City Council members, and condemned District voters who chose to return the former Mayor to office as a Councilman. He picked out random lines in the budget and asked the sponsors to explain them. This nitpicking came at the end of a tortuous 18-month process that the District suffers to get its budget.

Congress as usual? Perhaps. But imagine yourself a citizen of the District, with no voting representative in Congress, watching as Congressmen questioned not just the vote you had cast in your city, but your entitlement to tax dollars that you had paid to local government for local use. How angry would you be?

Mr. Burton rationalized his antics by contending that Federal tax dollars were at stake. But the bulk of the budget is D.C. tax money. The Federal payment that makes up the rest is rent, and skimpy rent at that. Congress oversteps in trying to control how its bargain-basement rent is spent. Mr. Burton was performing for the people back home. But what people in Indiana need to see is that their Congressman is trampling on the rights of citizens just like them, all for a little time on camera. No wonder Congress was besieged by District demonstrators agitating for statehood.

It’s hypocrisy that America champions democracy abroad while refusing fair political treatment to the citizens of its own capital.


This newspaper article was obtained from the Congressional Record in the Library of Congress related to H.R. 51, The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993. The article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



D.C. Statehood – The Washington Post, January 13th, 1993
|| 10/12/2009 || 10:13 am || + Render A Comment || ||

D.C. Statehood

The Washington Post, January 13th, 1993

It is time to right a great historic wrong. Since 1800, the residents of Washington, D.C., have been the only tax paying U.S. citizens denied representation in Congress. With the election of Bill Clinton, it has become politically possible to give them the status that is their due. We believe now is the time to begin defining and then putting in place an arrangement that puts District residents on an equal footing with all Americans.

It has long been our preference to have this city remain the seat of the national government with increased municipal powers, which, taken as whole, would give residents the same democratic rights enjoyed by other citizens. The goals have included full voting representation in the House and the Senate, complete independence from Congress on budget and legislative matters, control over the local court system including the appointment of judges, an automatic and predictable federal payment formula and the ability to negotiate reciprocal income tax arrangements with neighboring jurisdictions. Achieving each, as a strategy was far more important than what the final package ended up being called. As a step toward that end, Congress passed a proposed constitutional amendment 15 years ago that would have given the city full congressional representation. Only 16 of the required 38 states ratified the proposal, mostly for partisan reasons. Republican lawmakers wanted no more democrats in Congress (and, as some suspect, many legislators wanted no more blacks there as well). The only achievable alternative, if citizens here are to enjoy the full political participation that is there due, is statehood.

Denying District residents the right to send people to Congress who can vote on taxes or decide questions of war and peace while at the same time expecting them to shoulder the burdens of citizenship–including the obligation to pay taxes and to fight and die for their country–is wrong. Forcing local officials to perform their duties under today’s restrictive conditions is no better.

Congress at its whim passes laws regulating purely local matters, including the spending of local tax money. Even the city’s own elected delegate to the House of Representatives can’t vote on final passage of any legislation, including District-only matters.

Statehood opponents argue that the voteless status of the District descends directly form the intent of the Framers of the Constitution-from Washington, Madison and their peers. True, the constitution calls for a federal district (and the statehood proposal allows for one, leaving the `federal seat of government’ to consist of the mall, monuments and principal U.S. government buildings). At the same time the government of the United States moved here in 1800, the largest city, New York, had a population of little more than 60,000. What would Washington and Madison say about a voteless city 10 times larger than that? We know what they said in 1776 in behalf of a colonist population only four times larger that today’s Washington, D.C. They wanted to be among those who governed themselves. So do the citizens of Washington today.


This newspaper article was obtained from the Congressional Record in the Library of Congress related to H.R. 51, The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993. The article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



Prof. Gregory Favors It – The Washington Post, July 10th, 1883
|| 10/3/2009 || 12:37 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

Prof. Gregory Favors It.

The Washington Post, July 10th, 1883

“Yes, I thoroughly believe in suffrage in the District,” said Professor James G. Gregory, of Howard university, to a Post reporter, in answer to the question if he favored the present agitation for giving the citizens votes. “Yes, I am in favor of it,” he repeated. “I think the people would be much more contented if they had suffrage. You can see how the people are anxious to have some part in their own government by the interest they take in the choice of the school trustees. Why, there are sometimes more than a half dozen candidates in a single district and any number of delegations going to the commissioners in favor of this or that man. This one matter serves as a sort of outlet for their political feelings.”

“What do you think is the reason for opposition to suffrage?”

“I think that one reason why many oppose giving the citizens suffrage is that they are afraid of the colored vote. They think the colored man is top ignorant to have anything to do with the District affairs. Now, this is a great mistake. Within the past seven or eight years a great change has taken place. The colored people have been greatly influenced by those of their race who have received an education. In some families, perhaps, where the parents have no had the opportunities of books, their children have, and the influence of those children on the home is very marked. Many have been admitted to the public schools and the night schools. Then many of the colored people have become educated by business. In many cases they have prospered and have become property owners. Oh, no, it is a mistake to say that there is any danger from their ignorance in giving them the franchise.”

“Do you believe in universal suffrage?”

“No, I do not say that suffrage should be without limit. Perhaps it would be well to have some property and educational qualification. That is a very broad question. I believe suffrage should be granted , because of the value it would prove the citizens as a political school. We send out children to school to be educated to become citizens, but there is another education– a political education– that the citizens should receive. As it is now very few of the citizens have much of an idea about the Government. They do not discuss the actions of the commissioners as they discuss in other cities municipal affairs. We pay our taxes and that is the end of it. We do not think. Everything is done by the commissioners merely making suggestions and asking for appropriations. This is not the way to become citizens. How do they do in other cities? Why, they meet, discuss affairs, and vote upon their intelligent and deliberate opinions. Suffrage would educate the people in government, in the finance ad in the duties of citizenship.”

“Do you think the District affairs would be managed as economically under popular government?” inquired the reporter. “Was not the opposite found to be the case when there was suffrage?”

“I think that the state of affairs was more the result of circumstances than the system. Before the war nothing had been done for the city. When I came to Washington it was a mudhole. After the war improvements were projected on a large scale, and what it required many years to do in other cities was done here in a short time. Perhaps Governor Shepherd went rather too fast, but you can see what has been accomplished. There are many who object to giving the poor man the ballot because they are afraid property-holders will suffer. Now, the poor man is interested in having property protected. If he has no property, he hope to acquire some, and this will keep him from making any laws injurious to property rights. I lived in Cleveland for some years, where some of the richest men in the country live, and I never saw anything to cause any alarm.”

“Do you think the citizens would take any more interest in the government, or feel any responsibility in its right management if they could vote?”

“Certainly, they would feel that they had something at stake. Then look at the injustice of the thing– to deprive a man of his highest right as a citizen. If we lived in a State of Territory we would have a vote. Why should we be refused it here?”

“Is not Congress given full control over the District?” the reporter asked.

“Certainly; but I do not believe that power implies a right to take away the citizen’s vote. There is not another city in the Union where the same thing is done.”

“What would be your plan for the government of the District?”

“Well, I believe in having three commissioners as now, and if Congress insisted on the right of representation in return for paying half the District expenses, would give to the President the appointment of the engineer commissioner. The other two should be chosen by the people. I believe something of the kind will soon come, too, for the people generally are favoring it.”


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.



Suffrage in the District – The Washington Post, January 24, 1880
|| 10/2/2009 || 8:52 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

Suffrage in the District

The Washington Post, January 24, 1880

We cannot understand how any man who believes in the fundamental principles of republican government can seriously contend for the continued denial of suffrage to the inhabitants of the District of Columbia.

If it be true that governments derive their just power only from the consent of the governed, what justice is there in ruling this great community– a population equal to that of the State of Nevada– by a system that does not ask consent, and which assumes the right to defy the wishes of the people?

If our fathers of the Revolution were justified in protesting, rebelling, and fighting against taxation without representation, if they were not criminals, rather than heroes, for going to war on such a question, if their memories should be revered and their example held up as worthy of imitation by their descendants, how can taxes be gathered, year after year, from the property-holders of this District, who have no more votes than the negro babies Central Africa, no representation than the mummies in the Smithsonian institution?

We can conceive of no circumstances under which a Democratic Congress can deny the right of suffrage and local self-government to a peaceful, law-abiding community without direct violation of the very essence of the Democratic creed. While it is true that the Constitution devolves on Congress the duty of providing a government for this District, while it is true that the people have no recourse but to accept such provision as Congress makes, it will not be contended by any sane man that Congress has a right to violate the spirit of the Constitution and set up the most detested features of despotic systems of government in the Capital of this Republic.

Here, if anywhere on the continent, we ought to be able to present to all the world a fair illustration of the practicability and advantages of Republican institutions. But we can’t do this in cities that are denied the ballot. And when we say that this great and intelligent community is incapable of self-government and not fit to be trusted with the ballot, we present a strong condemnation of the basis of our whole system; we direct encouragement to the opponents of free institutions.

It is said that suffrage has been abused here. Granted. There isn’t a doubt that it was shamefully abused. There is no question that great wrongs were perpetrated and that numerous evils prevailed under the system that was abolished in 1874. But where is the city, where is the State, in which suffrage has not been abused? Where is the community in which righteousness has always been voted up and iniquity always voted down? Where are the people who have made no mistakes in the selection of officers? Where, on this continent, shall we look for a town, city, county or State in which the ballot has always worked for the greatest good of the greatest number? If suffrage is to be denied to all who fail to use it always with wisdom and justice, let us call in a king and down with the ballot-box.

There is reason to believe that many of the evils of the past will not be repeated here when self-government is re-established. When corruption had its carnival here it was having an equally jolly time in many other places. That era is past. All over the country there has been great improvement in municipal management. Public plunderers have been brought to grief and better men have been put in authority. With the experience of the past as a warning and guide, the people of this District would avoid the reproaches and scandals which caused the last radical change in their government.

But because it is a right; because it is a republican, because it is democratic, because it is in accordance with the great principles on which this Republic stands because no Democrat can consistently deny it, we are compelled to favor the demand that the ballot be restored to this community.


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.



District Representation – The Washington Post, January 22, 1879
|| 10/1/2009 || 8:16 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

District Representation

The Washington Post, January 22, 1879

With the exception of the Indian tribes, the only community within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States unrepresented in Congress is the District of Columbia.

Territories whose few inhabitants are scattered over a broad expanse like the masts of ships on the ocean, and which neither commerce nor manufactures, send their delegates to Congress to represent their interests, and procure for them such legislation as shall tend to develop their resources and afford encouragement and protection to their people the embryo state advances toward maturity.

States with half the population of this District have their representatives in the House, and have an equal voice in the Senate with the oldest, largest, richest, and most populous members of the family states.

It is only here, at the capital of a country whose government is based on suffrage, that suffrage is unknown.

Holding to the theory that governments derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed, and that the ballot is the proper mode of expressing that consent, our Government denies the ballot to the inhabitants of its capital city.

Believing and teaching that is should be no taxation without representation, and that such taxation is tyranny, our Government levies taxes on the property of this people, and if those taxes are not paid it sells the property under the red flag and the hammer of a Government auctioneer. Thousands of homes have thus been sold here during the last few years.

We cannot see how any man, whatever may have been the result of his observation here in times past, can hold to the Democratic creed, to the great underlying principles of free government, and oppose the representation of this District in the law-making department of our governmental mechanism.

And because out faith in true Democracy is a vital reality, and not a sham, we approve the proposition to have the District of Columbia represented in the House. We see no reason why this community should be an exception to the general rule- why all should have a voice in the Capitol and we be mute.

It may be urged that the horde of negroes who swarm here will be used to elect a delegate who will misrepresent our people. We do not believe it. Intelligence and social influence, if rightly employed, will so direct public opinion that the election will be a fair expression of the wishes of our people.

As the delegate will not vote, and as his influence will depend on his being in accord with the dominant party in Congress, there will be no temptation to resort to any of those schemes and tricks that brought reproach upon popular suffrage here some years ago.

But whatever may be the fears of the timid and doubtful, we see no way in which an honest believer in Democracy can deny representation to this community. The taxpayer has a right to be heard. A delegate can speak for him. Consistency demands that this proposition should not fail for want of the support of Democrats in Congress.


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.



Hey Google & YouTube, that is not my Representative or Delegate!
|| 2/8/2009 || 6:21 pm || Comments Off on Hey Google & YouTube, that is not my Representative or Delegate! || ||

Recently Congress changed their rules to allow Senators and Representatives to utilize YouTube to share information with their constituents. Today I noticed a tragic flaw in their layout. Since the residents of Washington, DC are denied representation in Congress, the coders at YouTube are using the state of the District of Columbia to show videos from different congressional committees, not from my elected “Shadow” Representative Mike Panetta or Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Moreover, as you can see below, the Google maps remove the words District of Columbia at different scales. This further shows how little YouTube/Google cares about the people of the District of Columbia:

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The Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe Continues To Press The US Goverment on Full Congressional Representation for D.C. Residents
|| 8/6/2008 || 2:11 pm || 3 Comments Rendered || ||

Last night the graphic above was forward to me by my friend and fellow activist, Timothy Cooper of World Rights, an NGO that works to promote and protect human rights under principles of international law.

I have worked with Timothy on many different human rights demonstrations in the past involving the OSCE. He was quoted in David Montgomery’s article about me as saying “Nikolas looks better in a Colonial outfit and a tricorner hat than practically anyone I know.” Timothy Cooper is also one heck of a piano player, but what I respect him for most is his ongoing work on behalf of the disenfranchised residents of America’s capital city.

As one of the few activists who have succeeded in placing the international spotlight on Washington, DC’s lack of voting representation, this press release below shows that he’s been continuing the fight. In the Needs Assessment Mission Report[pdf] published by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights there is a specific paragraph that I don’t think would have been included without his diligence. It references the 2006 OSCE Declaration that we helped lobby for; both on land and water.

W O R L D R I G H T S
Human Rights Advocacy Worldwide

For Immediate Release

Date: August 4, 2008
Contact: Timothy Cooper
Tel: 202.361.0989

ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE (OSCE) PRESSES UNITED STATES ON GRANTING D.C. RESIDENTS FULL CONGRESSIONAL VOTING RIGHTS

Washington, DC—In a “Needs Assessment Mission Report [pdf]” issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on July 28, 2008, the OSCE concluded that “[w]hile the United States of America has a long-standing tradition of democratic elections, several issues raised in previous OSCE/ODIHR reports, and those highlighted by OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors, merit further attention.” Among those issues raised in previous OSCE reports is the continuing denial of full congressional representation to the nearly 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C. In its last election observation report issued in 2006, the OSCE called on the U.S. government to grant D.C. residents full congressional voting rights. The United States is obligated to guarantee full representation in Congress to the residents of the District of Columbia under the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, to which it is party.

The new report’s Executive Summary notes that “only citizens of states are entitled to vote for congressional representation with full voting rights, leaving approximately 600,000 US citizens in Washington DC alone without full representation in Congress….”

The latest report’s findings also state that “[a]ccording to the Constitution, United States citizens who are not citizens of one of the 50 states are not able to vote for members of Congress who have full voting rights in Congress. It is estimated that up to 600,000 citizens in Washington DC alone, without including citizens in US territories, are subject to US laws including taxation and permitted to vote in the presidential election, but cannot fully exercise their voting rights for Congressional representation.”

Worldrights lobbied the OSCE/ODIHR for many years to draw its attention to the willful disenfranchisement of D.C. residents by Congress and the Executive Branch.

The report may be found at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/ or by clicking here[pdf]



The current Democratic Party leadership mentioned in the graphic above have been advocating 1/3 representation for the residents of Washington, DC for far too long. What is funny about the graphic to me is it uses the 1/3 meme that I’ve been pressing for the last few years:

First with the license plate:

Which received mention in the Washington Times

Then the D.C. Flag

….and now the graphic above employs the concept of being begging to the 1/3 meme. I wonder what meme will be next? I can only hope the Democratic Party leadership changes their direction in favor of what Washington, DC residents voted for: statehood or at least full representation in Congress (not one token vote in the House of Representatives and no Senators).



Related OSCE Entries:

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  • thank you,
    come again!