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


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


Related Retrocession Entries:

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


Print from the Library of Congress


Retrocession of Alexandria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, July 2.
Retrocession of Alexandria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. PENNYBACKER expressed the same opinion.

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

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

Mr. ALLEN. Where was that?

Mr. CALHOUN. At the Memphis Convention.

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

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

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

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

Mr. PENNYBACKER replied.

Mr. BREESE regarded the bill as unconstitutional.

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

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

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

So the bill was ordered to a third reading.

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

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

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


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



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


GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US


Argue That County Belongs to the District


FAMOUS QUESTION REVIVED


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


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

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

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

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

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

Return of County

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

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

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

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

Would Benefit Town.

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

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

New Phase Brought Up.

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

The letter reads as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“R. A. PHILIPS.”


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



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


Screengrab of the headline


Mr. H. Phillips Memorializes the District Committee.


MANY BURDENS IMPOSED


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


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

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


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

Burdensome Problems

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

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

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

Sanitary Protection Needed.

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

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

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

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

The Legal Question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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


The Sentiment Had No Bearing on the National Union.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



THE STATE OF COLUMBIA by Frank Sprigg Perry – Georgetown Law Journal, Vol 9, No. 3, April, 1921, p. 13-27
|| 7/15/2010 || 2:45 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

This article was originally published in the Georgetown Law Journal and outlines the case that the District of Columbia can be made into a state without a constitutional amendment. I find it interesting that nearly 60 years later residents of the District of Columbia chose to add “New” to the name of their future state.

Map originally published in the Washington Herald on 1/18/1910

THE STATE OF COLUMBIA

Can A State Be Erected Out Of The District Of Columbia Without A Constitutional Amendment?

Frank Sprigg Perry
Associate Justice of Constitutional Laws
Georgetown Law Journal, Vol 9, No. 3, April, 1921, p. 13-27

In the great tide of Statehood which has flowed westward over continental United States there has been left on the Atlantic seaboard a small area which may be called a “back water” of American political life. From Canada to Mexico and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, all are sovereign States with the single exception of the District of Columbia. The City of Washington bears the proud title of the Capital of the greatest Democracy on earth. And yet how hollow is the sound of political liberty to the disfranchised inhabitants living in the very shadow of the dome of the Capitol!

This article will discuss the power of Congress without a Constitutional Amendment to erect a State out of the District of Colombia—THE STATE OF COLUMBIA.

The permanent seat of the Federal Government was authorized by Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution;

“Congress shall have power:

17. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings.”

The land for this purpose was ceded by the States of Maryland and Virginia and the District of Columbia became vested in the United States for this purpose in December, 1800. The land ceded by the State of Virginia comprised the county of Alexandria and was retroceded to that State by an Act of Congress of July 9, 1846. (9 Stats. 35, 1000) The political organization of the District of Columbia embraces the City of Washington and covers at the present time the land ceded by the State of Maryland.

The people of the District of Columbia are totally disfranchised. The government is in the hands of Congress which acts as a national as well as a local legislature. A Board of Commissioners appointed by the President is the executive head. The people have no representative or delegate in the Senate or House of Representatives, nor can they vote for the President or Vice-President of the United States, nor have they a voice or vote in the selection of their Board of Commissioners.

The District of Columbia has a population of 437,571 by the census of 1920, a number in excess of each of the seven States of Vermont, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Delaware, and Nevada, and it possesses all of the other qualifications of Statehood. It is conceded that a Constitutional Amendment could give Statehood or any modified form of government to the District. On the other hand, it has been questioned whether Congress can by a legislative act and without such amendment create the State of Columbia, even with the consent of the State of Maryland. An amendment to the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and a subsequent ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States. An act of Congress creating a State government would require a majority vote of both Houses of Congress and the signature of the President.

REASON FOR EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY

There were several reasons which induced the framers of the Constitution to provide for the power in Congress to exercise exclusive legislation over the seat of the Federal Government. During the Revolutionary period the Federal authority was feeble and, as there was no standing army, the Continental Congress had been forced to depend for protection upon the militia of certain of the States. On June 21, 1783, some armed and mutinous soldiers appeared before Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and insultingly demanded their overdue pay. The authorities of the state were appealed to but they made no sufficient attempt to afford protection. Congress moved its seat to Princeton, New Jersey, a few days after this incident occurred. In addition to the necessity for protection, the “Federalist,” No. 38, also urged in support of this clause, that the establishment of this federal district would free Congress from any imputation of awe or undue influence on the part of the State authorities. (Fort Leavenworth Railroad v. Lowe, 114 U.S. 529)

Needless to say, neither of these reasons has any force at the present time. The Federal government has grown sufficiently strong to protect its property wherever located. There can be no imputation of awe or undue influence on the part of a State today, as the United States through the concentration of federal powers in Congress and in the Executive branches of the government has reached a position of almost supreme authority. The transfer of jurisdiction to the State of Columbia would not prevent the Federal Government from protecting its property, nor could the State of Columbia of such limited area exercise a predominant influence over the affairs of the Nation by reason of its locality.

In Revolutionary days the danger was that the Federal authority would be too weak to coordinate and control the necessary functions of national life. The danger today is that this Federal authority has become so powerful that it threatens to smother the separate existence of the several States. In Story’s Constitutional Law, Section 1220, reference is made to a criticism urged in 1803 against the exclusive control by Congress over the District of Columbia as tending to foster an oligarchy and diffuse important changes through our democratic government. The growth of the Federal authority may be attributed in no small degree to its separate and independent existence in the District of Columbia. The creation of the State of Columbia would check further Federal growth along these lines and would add another Commonwealth to jealously guard State life.

POWER TO CREATE NEW STATES

The admission of new states into the Union is provided by Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1, of the Constitution:

“l. New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

No limitations are placed upon the powers of Congress to admit new States except as provided in this clause. No other clause of the Constitution limits those powers. Nowhere is it stated that Congress can admit a new State only after it has fulfilled certain requirements. Nowhere is it stated that Congress can admit only States to be carved out of the then existing “Northwest Territory.” New States can be carved out of any territory or other property over which the United States exercises jurisdiction or control. An independent nation can be admitted in the Union as a new State by an Act of Congress alone, as was done in the case of Texas. (Acts of March 1, and December 29, 1845, 5 Stats. 797, 9 Stats. 108.)

There is no clause in the Constitution which expressly authorizes Congress to erect a State out of the land upon which the Federal city is located. There is, however, no clause which prohibits Congress from erecting the State of Columbia out of this area.

It may be considered that the grant of jurisdiction over the District is so absolute and unconditional as to empower Congress to erect out of the District any form of government, even a State government. The insertion of qualifying words in this sweeping clause would destroy the power of exclusive legislation.

It has been held by some that Congress is invested with a peculiar and high authority over the District and that this power is inalienable. This argument was unsuccessfully used before Congress in opposition to the retrocession of Alexandria County to the State of Virginia. If this authority is inalienable, no State can be erected out of the District without an amendment to the Constitution. If, however, Congress exercises political powers over the District similar to those which it exercises over the territory or other property of the United States, then a legislative act can create the State of Columbia.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PARTIES

The construction which the parties place upon a contract by their acts and deeds at the time that they entered into it, is always considered of vital force in determining the meaning of the contract. The territory of the District was ceded to the United States by the States of Maryland and Virginia in accordance with the terms of the Constitution and contemporaneously with its adoption.

The State of Maryland under date of December 23, 1788, offered to cede territory for the seat of the Federal government. In the act of the general assembly of that State of December 19, 1791, ratifying the cession and fixing the boundaries of the ceded area, it was provided in clause 2:

“That all that part of the said territory called Columbia which lies within the limits of this State shall be, and the same is hereby, acknowledged to be forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States, and full and absolute right and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside thereon, pursuant to the tenor and effect of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of Government of the United States.”

The State of Virginia on December 3, 1789, in the act of its general assembly ceding this territory to the United States enacted:

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

The territory so conveyed was accepted by the United States in the spirit in which it was ceded. (Act of Congress, July 16, 1790, I Stats. 130.) No limitations were attached to the cession, certainly so long as it remained the permanent seat of the Federal Government. These States severally yielded all the political jurisdiction they possessed over this territory to the United States and the United States accepted this unconditional grant of sovereignty without qualification. One of the political powers so yielded and accepted was the right to erect a separate State out of this area.

The representatives of both the States of Maryland and Virginia had been most active in framing the Constitution!and these several grants show the interpretation all parties placed Clause 17, Section 8, Article 1. So far, as the original contemporaneous interpretation of this clause by the parties themselves affords a guide, there is no prohibition upon Congress to erect a State out of this area— particularly if the consent of the State of Maryland be secured.

COMPARISON OF CLAUSES

Comparison has sometimes been made between the clause conferring power on Congress of exclusive legislation over the District, and the clause giving Congress the power to govern the territory and other property of the United States. This latter clause is Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2:

“The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”

The power of Congress to erect a new State out of such territory is unquestioned. It has been argued that if these two clauses were intended to convey similar powers, they would have been framed in similar terms. This argument loses sight of the conditions under which each clause was inserted in the Constitution.

At the time of the adoption of the Constitution Congress had received by cession from all but two of the original thirteen States the unsettled lands which lay beyond their territorial limits. This was termed the “Northwest Territory” and Congress exercised the absolute right to and the exclusive legislative authority over the territory. Hence there was no need to insert in the Constitution a clause conferring such exclusive authority over the territory, as Congress was at the time actually exercising this exclusive authority. In fact the Ordinance for the Government of the Northwest Territory was passed by the Continental Congress in 1787 prior to the adoption of the Constitution. This celebrated ordinance is regarded, after the Declaration of Independence, as the most important act of the Continental Congress and furnished for a long period the model after which other territories were organized under the Constitution. The clause in the Constitution dealing with the territory of the United States simply confirmed in Congress the power “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations” respecting this and other territory.

In the case of the territory to be occupied as the seat of the Federal Government, just as in the case of the forts, magazines, arsenals and dock yards, it was necessary for the Constitution to go further than in the case of lands actually under the exclusive authority of Congress. The seat of the Federal Government was to be formed out of land limited to 10 miles square to be ceded in the future by the States and which at the time was actually a part of those States and under their exclusive authority. It was necessary to provide that this exclusive authority should be taken out of the States ceding such lands and that it should become vested in the United States. A like necessity existed with reference to the land upon which should be erected forts, magazines, arsenals, and dock yards. The sweeping provisions of Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 17, were adopted for these purposes.

In each of these two clauses apt and appropriate words were used to carry into effect the intention of the framers of the Constitution. In the one case it was deemed proper to confirm in Congress the right to make needful rules and regulations over territory and other property owned by Congress. In the case of the district for the seat of the Federal Government, it was necessary to provide for exclusive legislative authority over land which would be ceded by certain States and which had, up to that time, been exclusively under State jurisdiction. In each case the effect is the same and Congress exercises exclusive jurisdiction over all such areas.

NO DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY

The case of Stoutenburgh v. Hennick; (1888) 129 U. S. 141, is sometimes cited as an authority which would prevent the delegation of legislative authority over the District by Congress. The erection of the State of Columbia would involve a surrender of jurisdiction and would not be a delegation of legislative authority. Moreover an examination of the opinion shows that the court went no further than to hold that Congress could not delegate the power to regulate interstate commerce of the Legislative Assembly of the District (10 Fed. Stats. Ann. 2d. ed. 469.)

Even if this transfer of jurisdiction to the State of Columbia could be considered a delegation of authority, the United States Supreme Court in 1878, in Welch v. Cook, 97 U. S., 542, decided that Congress could invest the District Legislature with that power. This case was decided only ten years before the case of Stoutenberg v. Hennick and was not overruled in this later case. The court said:

“It is not open to reasonable doubt that Congress had power to invest and did invest, the District (of Columbia) government with legislative authority, or that the act of the legislative assembly of June 26, 1873, was within that authority.”

JURISDICTION OVER FORTS

The clause empowering Congress to exercise exclusive legislative authority over the seat of the Federal Government, also confers a like authority over forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards and other needful buildings. The jurisdiction which the United States must exercise over its military and naval reservations is of necessity an exclusive one. The fact that the same clause confers a like authority in Congress over the District is strong evidence that no limitation upon this power was intended.

Where a State cedes certain land to the United States and reserves a reversionary interest in the property in case it is not used as a fort, the exclusive authority of the United States ceases when the property is leased for other purposes. The cession of such territory has been held to be of necessity temporary and to be exercised only so long as the place continues to be used for public purposes. When it ceases to be used the jurisdiction reverts to the State. The right reserved by a State to tax certain property in the reservation or to serve civil or criminal process has not been considered in violation of the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress.

These illustrations make it clear that this power of “exclusive legislation” is not of such a peculiar character nor of such high authority as to create separate and independent political areas forever under the jurisdiction of the Federal government. Territory or other property acquired by the United States, whether by conquest, purchase, or by cession of the legislature of a State, is subject to the exclusive legislative authority of Congress. This exclusive legislative authority can be surrendered and the property returned to the state which ceded it, or a new State can be erected out of such territory. The creation of a new State is subject to this limitation, that if erected out of land within the jurisdiction of any other State, it must be with the consent of the legislature of that State.

Story Constitution Law, Sec. 1127; Palmer v. Barrett, 162 U. S. 399; Fort Leavenworth Railroad Company, v. Lowe, 114 U. S. 525; 10 Federal Statutes, Ann. (ad. ed.) 841 – 845.

TERRITORIAL AUTHORITY

The power granted Congress to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District, does not confer any greater political authority than Congress can exercise over “the territory or other property belonging to the United States” or over places purchased with the consent of the State legislatures for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals and dock-yards. In each case there exists under the Constitution that jurisdiction, absolute, exclusive, unqualified, which is the sovereign authority to make, decide on and execute laws. (*1) Wedding v. Meyler, (192 U. S. 573).

There is no express provision of the Constitution which authorizes Congress to enlarge the national domain or acquire new territory by annexation, cession, conquest, or in any other manner. This power, has, however, always been considered as one of the attributes of sovereignty and as such has been continuously exercised by Congress. As an inevitable consequence of the right to acquire territory, there follows the power to govern the territory. (*2) Rassmussen v. U.S. (197 U.S. 516). The power to pass laws for the government so acquired has sometimes been asserted on the strength of Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2, (supra.) On whatever ground this authority to govern rests, there can be no doubt of its existence and of the fact that under it Congress has the right of exclusive legislation over such territory and can dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting it. This sovereign right of exclusive legislation is similar to that exercised by Congress over the District.

As has been said, if the title to property be absolute, the mode of its acquisition is unimportant. (*3.) Petition to Congress from Committee from town of Alexandria, Va., accompanying House Report 325, 29th Congress, 1st. Session. Whether it be by gift, purchase, conquest, or cession from a State, Congress possesses but a complete title to the area.

It might have been argued that because the Constitution authorized Congress to make “all needful rules and regulations” respecting the territory of the United States, Congress could never divest itself of that power. In other words, that Congress could never carve States out of such territory because by so doing it would surrender the power to make the “needful rules and regulations.” It is a sufficient answer to say that the Constitution has not been so construed. The admission of thirty-four States in the Union from such territory is ample proof of this fact.

The fact that the Constitution expressly confers upon Congress powers of exclusive legislation over the District does not thereby carry with it the implication that all other powers are denied, if there are any such other powers. A striking example of this rule of construction of the Constitution is found in the Legal Tender Cases, 12 Wall. 457. In this case the constitutionality of an act of Congress making paper money legal tender for the payment of debts was attacked because there was no express authority for such law.

It was contended that the clause of the Constitution which conferred upon Congress power “to coin money, regulates the value thereof and of foreign coin,” contained an implication that nothing but that which is the subject of coinage, namely, precious metals, could ever be declared by law to be money or legal tender. This argument was specious and persuasive. The fallacy of the contention, as the court observed, was that the Constitution has never been construed that way. The court held that the enumeration of certain governmental powers, did not thereby exclude the existence of other governmental powers not enumerated. The Court said:,

“XXXX[544]. It is not claimed that any express prohibition exists, but it is insisted that the spirit of the Constitution was violated by the enactment. Here those who assert the unconstitutionality of the acts mainly rest their argument. They claim that the clause which conferred upon Congress power “to coin money; regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin,” contains an implication that nothing but that which is the subject of coinage, nothing but the precious metals can ever be declared by law to be money, or to have the uses of money. If by this is meant that because certain powers over the currency are expressly given to Congress, all other powers relating to the same subject are impliedly forbidden, we need only remark that such is not the manner in which the Constitution has always been construed.”

“XXXX[546]. In most cases, if not in all, when it was intended that governmental powers, commonly acknowledged as such, should cease to exist, both in the States and in the Federal Government, it was expressly denied to both, as well to the United States as to the individual states. And generally when one of such powers was expressly denied to the States only, it was for the purpose of rendering the Federal power more complete and exclusive.”

In like manner, the enumeration in the Constitution of certain powers conferred on Congress with reference to the District of Columbia, does not by implication take away other governmental powers. One of the governmental powers which Congress exercises over all territory or land of the United States is the right to admit such area in the Union as a State. This power not having been expressly or by implication taken away with reference to the District of Columbia still exists in Congress.

In the case of the First National Bank v. Yankton County, 101 U.S. 129, the Court discussed the power of Congress to legislate for the territories. It was said:

“In other words it (i. e. Congress) has full and complete legislative authority over the people of the territories and all the departments of the territorial governments.

In discussing the relationship which Congress bears to the Territory of Alaska and to the District of Columbia, the Court of Appeals of the District in U. S. ex. rel. Humboldt S. S. Co. v. Interstate Commerce Commission 37 App. D. C. 274, held:

“Congress in the government of the territories, has plenary power, except as limited by the Constitution. The particular form of government it shall establish is not prescribed. It has for example, prescribed one form of government for New Mexico, another for the District of Columbia, and still another for Alaska. * * * While Congress in the government of the District of Columbia is limited by the provisions of the Constitution not applicable to other territory of the United States, the same power exists of establishing local government.”

In the case of the Corporation of Latter Day Saints v. U. S. 136 U. S. 32, 42, it was held:

“The power of Congress over the territories of the United States is general and plenary.”

While there may be some fundamental guarantees of life, liberty and property under the Constitution which are applicable to the District of Columbia and not to the territories nevertheless in political matters Congress exercises “plenary” power over both. (Employers, Liability Cases 207; U. S. 500.)

In the case of Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540, the Court held with reference to a trial by jury:

“We cannot think that the people of this District (of Columbia) have in that regard, less rights than those accorded to the people of the territories of the United States.”

The extent of the authority which Congress exercises of the District and over the Territories was clearly discussed in the case of Binns v. U.S., 194 U. S. 486. The Court held that Congress exercised plenary power, and Mr. Justice Brewer, in writing the opinion of the court, said:

“XXXX[491] It must be remembered that Congress, in the government of the territories as well as of the District of Columbia, has plenary power, save as controlled by the provisions of the Constitution; that the form of government it shall establish is not prescribed and may not necessarily be the same in all the territories. We are accustomed to that generally adopted for the territories, of a quasi state government, with executive, legislative, and judicial officers, and a legislative endowed with the power of local taxation and local expenditures; but Congress is not limited to this form. In the District of Columbia it has adopted a different mode of government, and in Alaska still another. It may legislate directly in respect to the local affairs of a territory, or transfer the power of such legislation to a legislature elected by the citizens of the territory. It has provided in the District of Columbia for a board of three Commissioners, who are the controlling officers of the District. It may entrust to them a large volume of legislative power, or it may, by direct legislation create the whole statutory law applicable thereto. For Alaska, Congress has established a government of a different form. It has provided no legislative body, but only executive and judicial officers.”

In the Insular Tariff Cases after the Spanish War, Mr. Justice Brown, in writing the opinion of the Court in the case of De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 196, said:

“Under this power (to govern and control the Territories) Congress may deal with territory acquired by treaty; may administer its government as it does that of the District of Columbia; it may organize a local territorial government; it may admit it as a State upon an equality with other States; it may sell its public lands to individual citizens or may donate them as homesteads to actual settlers. In short, when once acquired by treaty, it belongs to the United States, and is subject to the disposition of Congress.”

Compare also Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U. S. 244.

In the great case of Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat, 265, there was involved the validity of a lottery law enacted by Congress with reference to the District. Daniel Webster was one of the counsel and argued, page 435, that the clause of the Constitution relative to the District conveyed powers so peculiar and specific that no other city in the Union could be given such a charter by Congress and if every Federal power granted in the Constitution were destroyed, this power over the District of Columbia would remain. But Chief Justice Marshall held that the power of exclusive legislation over the District was conferred on Congress as the legislature of the Union and that such powers could be exercised in no other way:

“In the enumeration of the powers of Congress which is made in the eighth section of the first article, we find that of exercising exclusive legislation over such district as shall become the seat of government. This power, like all others which are specified, is conferred on Congress as the legislature of the Union; for, strip them of that character, and they would not possess it. In no other character can it be exercised in legislating for the district, they necessarily preserve the character of the legislature of the Union; for it is in that character alone that the constitution confers on them this power of exclusive legislation.”

These decisions of our highest Court plainly show that the political power which Congress exercises over the District is plenary, that it is full and absolute, and is similar to that exercised over the territory or other property of the United States. Congress may in each case create a State out of such area.

RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA COUNTY, VIRGINIA

The land secured from the State of Virginia was retroceded to that State by the Act of Congress of July 9, 1846. If Congress had the right to divest itself of the power of exclusive legislation over a portion of the District by this retrocession, Congress can erect the State of Columbia out of the remaining area. It was argued that this act was unconstitutional and that the exclusive jurisdiction over the seat of the Federal government could not be surrendered. The act was passed in spite of this objection and the retrocession has stood without successful challenge for a period of seventy-five years. As this is essentially a political question, it is very doubtful whether this act of retrocession can ever be considered by the courts. In the case of Phillips v. Payne, (1875) 92 S. U. 130, an attempt to raise this question was refused. (Wilson v. Shaw, 204 U.S. 24; Luther v. Borden, 7 How 1, 42).

In like manner the erection by Congress, with the consent of the State of Maryland, of the State of Columbia, would be a purely political question and the courts would have no jurisdiction to consider it.

From a study of the wording of the Constitution and of the original grants of this territory from the States of Maryland and Virginia; from an examination of the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States; and from the action of the political branch of the Government in retroceding a portion of this area to the State of Virginia; it must be conceded that the weight of precedent and authority is in favor of the proposition that Congress has authority, with the consent of the State of Maryland, and without a Constitutional Amendment to erect out of the District of Columbia a Sovereign State—THE STATE OF COLUMBIA.

FRANK SPRIGGS PERRY
Associate Professor of Constitutional Law



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

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

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

ACT OF CESSION FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Related Retrocession of Alexandria Entries:

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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.

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Text of H.R. 259 – An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia
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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?

Continue:

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