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Scan & Text of the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Scan of the 23rd Amendment from the National Archives

Scan of the 23rd Amendment from the National Archives


S.J. Res. 39

Eighty-sixth Congress of the United States of America

AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington, the sixth day of January, on thousand nine hundred and sixty

Joint Resolution

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States granting representation in the electoral college to the District of Columbia

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is hereby proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution only if ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress:

“ARTICLE —

“Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such a manner as the Congress may direct:

“A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

“Sec. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”


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


GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US


Argue That County Belongs to the District


FAMOUS QUESTION REVIVED


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


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

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

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

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

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

Return of County

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

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

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

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

Would Benefit Town.

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

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

New Phase Brought Up.

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

The letter reads as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“R. A. PHILIPS.”


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



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.



President John Adams 4th Message to Congress – November 11th, 1800
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Below is the first part of President John Adams 4th State of the Union message to Congress. In the message he welcomes Congress to the new, permanent seat of government in the District of Columbia and warns them of their duty to provide for the citizens.

Lithograph of president John Adams derived from a Gilbert Stuart painting

Lithograph of president John Adams from the Library of Congress


Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

Immediately after the adjournment of Congress at their last session in Philadelphia I gave directions, in compliance with the laws, for the removal of the public offices, records, and property. These directions have been executed, and the public officers have since resided and conducted the ordinary business of the Government in this place.

I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their Government, and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. Although there is cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session.

It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and imploring His blessing.

May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears be forever held in veneration! Here and throughout our country may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever!

It is with you, gentlemen, to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States shall be immediately exercised. If in your opinion this important trust ought now to be executed, you can not fail while performing it to take into view the future probable situation of the territory for the happiness of which you are about to provide. You will consider it as the capital of a great nation advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those energies and resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, will secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government.


Source: John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29442



THE STATE OF COLUMBIA by Frank Sprigg Perry – Georgetown Law Journal, Vol 9, No. 3, April, 1921, p. 13-27
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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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Debate in the U.S. House of Representatives Concerning An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia, Friday, May 8, 1846
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After R. M. T. Hunter’s eloquent speech concerning the Retrocession of Alexandria in the District of Columbia to the State of Virginia, the bill was debated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Below I have transcribed the entire debate of the day from the Congressional Globe, including the final vote tally. As I noted before, William Winter Payne, the representative from Alabama, was solidly against the bill and eventually took his issue to the Supreme Court of the United States, and while losing for employing the wrong legal strategy, there have been other legal opinions that have questioned the constitutionality of the aforesaid act.



Photograph of Congress from the Library of Congress

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress


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

The bill was read as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question being taken, the amendment was rejected.

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

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

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

The question being taken, the amendment was adopted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. McCLERNAND obtained the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. BAYLY. I denied no such thing.

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

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

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

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

Mr. PAYNE (interposing.) So do I.

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

Mr. PAYNE. That is precisely what I stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. McCLERNAND now resumed the floor, and proceeded.

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

The Constitution was quite clear upon the main point at issue. It declares that Congress shall have power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of Government,” &c..

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

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

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

Locke, in his Treatise on Civil Government, says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. SIMS withdrew the motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the sixth section was stricken out.

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

This was agreed to.

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

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

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

All amendments were concurred in.

And the bill was ordered to a third reading now.

And having been read a third time by its title-

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the bill was passed.

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

Mr. MORRIS asked leave to make a report.

Objections were made.

And the House adjourned.


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


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

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

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


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

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


Related Retrocession of Alexandria Entries:

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Does Virginia Own Alexandria County? – The Washington Herald, January 18, 1910
|| 12/11/2009 || 11:56 am || 2 Comments Rendered || ||

I found this article absolutely fascinating. I’ve blogged about the two acts of Congress that are referenced throughout this article [H.R. 259 – An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia & An Act for establishing the Temporary and Permanent seat of the Government of the United States], but until today I had not thoroughly read a legal opinion on the topic of Virginia’s retrocession of Alexandria County (now present-day Arlington County). My original contention was that the Act of 1846 was illegal because the text of the Act specified that retrocession was possible only with the approval of both the city *and* the county of Alexandria, and only the city voted in favor retrocession. The argument presented in this article below speaks to the larger issue of how the “permanent” seat of government was created out of a legal covenant that involved four parties: the Federal Government, Virginia, Maryland, and the original 19 property owners of the District. A very compelling case is made that through the passage of the Act of 1846 the original covenant was unconstitutionally broken. 99 years later, I thoroughly agree with the logic outlined in the article below and would like to have the District of Columbia return to its original size. While I don’t see it happening any time soon, history shows that change is constant.

Map of the portion of the District of Columbia ceded back to Virginia

The Washington Herald, January 18th, 1910

DOES VIRGINIA OWN ALEXANDRIA COUNTY?


Hon. Harris Taylor, in Elaborate Opinion, Holds the Retrocession Was Clearly Illegal and Unconstitutional.


Was the act of July 9, 1846, under which the County of Alexandria, then in the District of Columbia, was re-ceded to the State of Virginia unconstitutional?

Hon. Hannis Taylor, former Minister to Spain, and a constitutional lawyer of distinction, has prepared an elaborae opinon on this subject, which was presented to the Senate yesterday, in which he holds that the retrocession was clearly illegal and unconstitutional.

“If retrocession to Virginia is to stand,” he says, “then the land underlying the Capitol, the White House, and the Treasury belongs either to Maryland or the local proprietors whom it was granted. The nation can only be protected against that result by a judgement of the Supreme Court of the United States declaring the act of retrocession of 1846 to be null and void.”

Complete Answer Found.

What is the remedy?
“The complete answer,” he says, “is to be found in the opinion of the Supreme Court in the case of The United States vs. Texas (143 U.S.,621-649), in which it was held that the Supreme Court can, under the Constitution, take cognizance of an original suit brought by the United States against a State to determine the boundary between one of the Territories and such State; that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to determine a disputed question of boundary between the United States and a State; that a suit in equity begun in the Supreme Court is appropriate for determining a boundary between the United States and one of the States.”

He quotes the opinion rendered in this case, and says it solves every problem that can possibly arise in an original suit between the United States and Virginia as to the boundaries of the District of Columbia.

Act of 1846.

His opinion as to the unconstitutionality of the retrocession is based upon the contention that the act of 1846 broke a quadrilateral contract entered into on the one hand by the United States and on the other by Virginia, Maryland, and the nineteen local property-owners in Washington.

The United States, through the act of Congress of July 10, 1790, passed under the constitutional mandate, agreed that “the District so defined, limited, and located, shall be deemed the District accepted by this act, for the permanent seat of the government of the United States.”

Each of the three grantors, in consideration of that stipulation, made for the benefit of each, through which alone title to the whole could be made perfect, entered into the quadrilateral contract in question.

“It is elementary in the law of contracts,” he says, “that when two or more instruments are recorded at the same time or at different times which relate to the same subject matter, and one refers to the other, either tacitly or expressly, they will be taken together and construed as one instrument.

Maryland’s Right.

“Maryland,” he says, “has a perfect right to claim of the United States, by reason of the recision of the original quadrilateral agreement, the return of every foot of land ceded by her and now embraced within the present limits of the District.

“That right Maryland can enforce in an original suit against the United States in the Supreme Court under the authority laid down in the case of the United States vs. Texas.

“That great case,” he says, “refuted most emphatically the contention made by Senator Hoar in the Senate on April 11, 1902, that retrocession was a political and not a judicial question, and was settled by the political authorities, alone competent to decide it.

“The Supreme Court in the case in question decided that ‘it cannot with propriety be said that a question of boundary between a Territory of the United States and one of the States of the Union is of a political nature and non susceptible of judicial determination by a court having jurisdiction of such a controversy.

Constitutional Mandate.

“The constitutional mandate that requires the President to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ compels him to ascertain and determine the limits of territory over which they are to be enforced.”

And in conclusion he says:
In determining all question all questions of boundary, whether foreign or domestic, the initiative in this country is vested in the Executive acting alone. While he may advise with Congress as to the steps he may take in ascertaining boundaries, while executing the laws within the same, the President cannot surrender his exclusive power to ascertain what they are.

As a practical illustration, if in this matter the President believes that Virginia is in lawful possession of that portion of the District described in the act of 1846, it is his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” in that area, regardless of any contrary opinion the legislative department of the government might entertain on the subject. He could hold no other view without abdicating the independence of the executive power in the execution of the laws. It is, however, in my humble judgment, a case in which there should be friendly consultation between the executive and legislative departments, because in the event of a recovery in the Supreme Court Congress would no doubt be called upon to pass such a bill of indemnity as would relieve Virginia of any accountability for revenues derived from the area in question during her de facto occupation.

Goes in the Record.

Senator Carter, in presenting the elaborate brief written at his request by Mr. Taylor, asked and was granted unanimous consent to have it printed in the Record, and also as a Senate document. He said:

The subject is of absorbing interest to the people of the District and will surely challenge the attention of the country with constantly increasing force as the growth of the Federal city and the expanding needs of the government demonstrate more fully the wisdom of President Washington and his co-laborers in fixing the District lines as originally marked.

To the United States government the subject is of
Continued on Page 3, Column 4


DOES VIRGINIA OWN ALEXANDRIA COUNTY


Continued from Page One.

grave concern, for it involves in a technical sense title to the ground upon which this Capitol, the White House, and many other important public buildings stand. If the recession to Virginia stands in law it would seem possible that the Federal government retains jurisdiction over the portion north of the Potomac in derogation of the rights and at the sufferance of the State of Maryland.

Fever-breeding Marsh.

When artistic taste and solicitude for sanitary conditions combined to inspire the movement to reclaim the Potomac Flats, the progress of the work soon revealed the fact that proper treatment of the narrow river and adjacent marshes would always be limited and unsatisfactory while confined to the northern bank alone. A fever-breeding marsh within 7,000 or 8,000 feet of the White House cannot be regarded with indifference, nor can any one fail to observe that the improvement on the north sets forth the unsightliness of the south bank of the river in bold relief. In short, each year more amply justifies the wisdom of Washington and his commission in embracing both sides of the river within the limits of the Federal District.

The Capitol, the White House, and all the public buildings were located near the center in the beginning, but the act of retrocession moved the southern line of the District to within a short distance of the White House grounds. This was not intended by Washington, under whose masterful direction the constitutional design regarding a seat for the Federal government was executed.

Defeat of Intention.

“The act receding two-fifths of the District to Virginia so obviously defeats the intention of the framers of the Constitution in this behalf and so ruthlessly disregards the rights of other parties that I have for years regarded it as null and void on general principles; not withstanding the interesting and important nature of the question, I have not found time to investigate the law and the historical facts bearing upon it. Last year, however, I had the good fortune to mention the matter to Mr. Harris Taylor, known to the bar of the country as one of our leading constitutional lawyers, and the gentleman volunteered to examine the question and to write me his view upon it.

Mr. Taylor’s letter sets forth the constitutional provision in question and all legislation, State and national, in relation to the subject, together with a review of all executive action and contract obligations in pursuance thereof. In fact, the letter is a brief of such rare clearness and ability that I believe it should be made permanently available for reference, and so believing, I renew my request and ask that when printed the commincation be referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia for consideration.

An Exhaustive Opinion.

Mr. Taylor’s opinion, buttressed by historical references and legal citations, is exhaustive and comprehensive. He says, in beginning:

The contemporaneous evidence puts the fact beyond all question that the final definition of a district ten miles square as the seat of our Federal government was in a special sense the personal work of President Washington, whose task involved the acquisition of the title to the tract from three sources- the State of Virginia, the State of Maryland, and the nineteen local proprietors who owned that part at the heart of the present city which underlies the Capitol, the White House, and the Treasury. Washington’s task was to induce the three parties who held the title to cede to the Federal government, without any direct pecuniary consideration, the entire area under a quadrilateral contract in which that government was the grantee and beneficiary, and Virginia, Maryland, and nineteen local proprietors the grantors. The real consideration moving to such grantors was the incidental benefits to accrue to them from their joint cession, which, in the language of the act of July 16, 1790, “is hereby accepted for the permanent seat of the government of The United States.” That covenant represented the only consideration moving directly from the Federal government, while the three grantors were bound to each other by the mutual considerations moving from the one to the other under interdependent grants.

Maryland, the last to grant, expressed the idea of mutual benefits to be derived from a common enterprise when her legislature declared that “it appears to this general assembly highly just and expedient that all the lands within the said city should contribute, in due proportion, in the mean which have already greatly enhanced the value of the whole.” Under that quadrilateral contract, supported by the foregoing considerations, the Federal government entered into possession with a perfect title, after the final cession made by Maryland December 19, 1791.

Government in Control.

No one, perhaps, will deny that after the title to the entire area had thus passed from the three grantors into the corporate person of the nation neither the State of Virginia nor the State of Maryland could have, either in law or in equity, any claim to the common heritage superior to that of any other State. Under such considerations the Federal government remained in peaceful possession of the entire area ten miles square, and governed the same under the Constitution for a period of fifty-five years. During that time the original boundaries as designed by Washington were marked by massive stone monuments, while still abide unimpaired.

By the act of retrocession of July 9, 1846, the District was dismembered by a conveyance to Virginia of nearly one-half of the entire area for no pecuniary or property consideration whatever. What was the real motive of the retrocession it is at this time difficult to ascertain.

From a legal standpoint, the fact that the portion reconveyed to Virginia had originally been contributed by her is of no significance whatever. Therefore, before argument begins, the mind wonders upon what constitutional principle such retrocession could have been made. Two distinct parts of the Constitution are involved. First, that part of section 8, Article 1, which provides that Congress shall have power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States;” second, that part of section 10, article 1, which provides that “no State shall pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law or law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

During the memorable Senate debate led by Senator Haywood, of North Carolina, who, as chairmen of the District Committee, bitterly assailed the constitutionality of the act of retrocession, the meaning and effect of section 8, Article 1, was fully explored.

I cannot doubt the soundness of the conclusion then reached by many leading statesmen of that day to the effect that, considered in reference to that part of the Constitution alone, the act of retrocession is null and void. What I cannot understand is the fact that any debate, however hastily conducted, the deeper and more obvious argument based on the contract clause of the Constitution (Article 1, section 10), should have been entirely overlooked. And yet the record shows that such was the fact.

It never occurred to any one in 1846, or since that time, to look to the sources of the title in the quadrilateral contract upon which the ownership of the area ten miles square really depends. What is said herein as to that branch of the subject is my personal contribution to the controversy.

Acquirement of Site.

He goes into history to show how the site of the National Capital was discussed and finally acquired, and says:

After prolonged discussion the act of July 16, 1790, was passed, and the site of the District finally located, partly in Prince George and Montgomery counties, in the State of Maryland, and partly in Fairfax County, in the State of Virginia, by proclamation of President George Washington, March 30, 1971, within the following bounds:

“Beginning at Jones Point, being the upper cape of Hunting Creek, in Virginia, and at an angle in the outset of 45 degrees west of the north, and running in a direct line ten miles for the first line; then beginning again at the same Jones Point and running another direct line at a right angle with the ffirst across the Potomac ten miles.”

From the diagram it appears that the “Portion derived from and receded to Virginia” constitutes nearly one-half of the territory of the District as originally defined in the proclamation of March 30, 1791. If the act of July 9, 1846 (9 Stats. 35), entitled “An act to retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia,” is unconstitutional and void, the laws of the United States should now be executed by the President thourghout the “Portion derived from and receded to Virginia.”

Continuing, he says:
After the power to elect the seat of government had been once exercised by Congress, after the cession had been made for that purpose by “particular States,” after the area so ceded had been accepted by Congress under the act of July 16, 1790, declaring “the same is hereby accepted for the permanent seat of government of the United States,” the power of Congress over the subject matter was exhausted. Or, if it was not exhausted, could not again be exercised, because no power remained to transfer the District, as originally created and accepted, of any portion of it to any State. In other words, after a district of ten miles square had once been established and accepted as a permanent seat of government, Congress possessed no power to acquire another territory for another seat of government, without violating the constitutional limitation which confined it to the ten miles square. The Congress, an agent of limited authority, was expressly authorized to receive cessions from States of a limited amount of territory to be held as a permanent seat of government; but it was not authorized, expressly or implicitly, to give any part of such cessions away to any one. Such was the constitutional difficulty which the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter attempted to overcome when the bill in question was up for debate in the House of Representatives May 8, 1846.

Section 8 of Article 1 of the Constitution when taken as a whole, provides that “the Congress shall have power * * * to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of 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, dockyards, and other needful things.” The delegation of power thus made Congress to acquire a seat of government for the United States, through formal acceptance of cessions to the be made by particular States is a distinct subject matter, entirely separate and apart from the succeeding delegation of power to govern “all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be.” Did the grant of an express power formally to accept cessions from particular States, which were to constitute and “become the seat of government of the United States,” carry with it, as a necessary implication, the right to use the means necessary for the execution of the power? In other words, did the implied power to use such necessary means flow from the express to accomplish the end? In construing that clause which provides that Congress shall have power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof,” it was held at an early day that the clause in question “confers on Congress the choice of means and does not confine it to what is indispensably necessary.”

Constitutional Mandate.

The express mandate was given by the Constitution to Congress to acquire a seat of government by cessions from particular States, and in no other manner. Congress was powerless to force any State to make a cession; it could not go beyond the limits of the States. It could only persuade; it could not command. Congress did not offer to the ceding States any money consideration whatever for their cessions. The means, and the only means, Congress saw fit to employ to accomplish a vitally important end was the promise, made in the of July 16th, 1790, that the seat of government to be located on the cessions should be “permanent.”

The act expressly declared that “the district so defined, limited, and located shall be deemed the district accepted by this act for the permanent seat of government of the United States.” When Mr. Madison moved in the House of Representatives to strike out the word “permanent” from the act he was voted down, and thus we have a legislative interpretation, practically contemporaneous, to the effect that the Constitution intended to confer upon Congress the power make the seat of government permanent. Contemporary interpretation of the Constitution, practiced and acquiesced in for years, conclusively fixes its construction.

Some years go, when a movement was on foot to remove the Capital to the Valley of the Mississippi, the effect of the action of Congress under section 8, Article 1, was fully discussed. I am informed that it was then universally admitted that by the selection of the present seat of government the power of Congress, under the section in question, had been exhausted.

Virginia made her grant, which was the first grant, December 3 1789. The nineteen local proprietors perfected their grants on or about the 29th of June, 1791. Maryland did not make grant until December 19, 1791. In that grant, embodied in a very elaborate act of thirteen sections, Maryland put the fact beyond all question that the prior grants made by Virginia and the nineteen proprietors were conditions precedent to her grant.

Quotes from Opinions.

He quotes from many opinions rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States to show that a grant is a contract, and this quadrilateral contract entered into by the United States on the one hand and Virginia, Maryland, and the nineteen local proprietors on the other, was binding in its operation and effect, and could not be modified without abrogating the contract as a whole.



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My Response To Today’s Washington Post Letter To The Editor By Ann Wass
|| 11/24/2009 || 4:09 pm || 1 Comment Rendered || ||

Last night I found that there was a Letter To The Editor about the D.C. Colonist that was going to be published in today’s Washington Post. Below is the text of her letter in italics and my response in bold:


Nikolas Schiller seems to lack a clear understanding of the history of the District of Columbia [“Hats off to D.C. statehood,” the Reliable Source, Nov. 19].

Actually, I think I have a pretty decent understanding of the history of disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia.

He wears “Colonial” garb to make the point that, in his words, “the status of D.C. residents has not changed since Colonial times.” But there was, of course, no District of Columbia in colonial times.

You are correct. There was no District of Columbia in colonial times. However, the Seat of Government, now known as the District of Columbia, was the only territory explicitly defined in the United States Constitution. This important document happens to have been written in “Colonial times,” and needs to be updated, again.

Through the passage of “An Act for establishing the Temporary and Permanent seat of the Government of the United States” on July 16th, 1790, the “district of territory” became the permanent Seat of Government on December 1st, 1800, and Congressional representation was lost shortly thereafter.

Unlike the Maryland license plate, the license plate of the District of Columbia has a phrase that dates back to Colonial times, “Taxation Without Representation.” I don’t know if you’ve sat through a Congressional hearing, but signs are not allowed in hearing rooms. Fortunately, an elaborate costume is allowed. (Except hats, I guess?)

If you were to read my quote differently, “the [present day] status of D.C. residents has not changed since [the Americans in] Colonial times,” you might understand that the residents of the District of Columbia are present-day colonists who have the displeasure of “Taxation Without Representation” through the denial of federal representation, and I’m only dressing up as one to make the point you obviously missed.

There was a city of Georgetown, in Maryland.

In 1800, the year the Seat of government moved to the District of Columbia, this city was called George Town, Maryland. Two Words. You can look it up. The concatenation took place soon after and today those residents lack representation in Congress.

There was another city & county located in the Seat of Government that you left out: Alexandria, Virginia. In 1846 the residents voted to cede back into the Commonwealth of Virginia, but unlike the Georgetown residents of today, the citizens of Alexandria & present-day Alexandria County (Arlington County) have Congressional representation.

Mr. Schiller also needs a new costume consultant. His coat is cut incorrectly, and I hope he doesn’t really wear German lederhosen, as he said, but rather correctly cut knee breeches when he isn’t wearing blue jeans.

This ad hominem argument misses the entire point of my ongoing protest. While you might have “Taxation With Representation” in Riverdale, Maryland, I, a colonist of the District of Columbia, do not. No costume consultant is going to give me Congressional representation, are they? I don’t think so. I’d rather have Congressional representation so I can retire this colonial outfit for good.

But in the meantime, you could always attend the next hearing on the status of this federally administered city-state known as the District of Columbia. Maybe you could come dressed in period clothing as well? There have been suffragists since 1800 working to change this faux-pas of the Founding Fathers. Do you think a Senator or U.S. Representative would ask you to take off a bonnet or headscarf? You won’t know unless you try.

Colonially Yours,
Nikolas Schiller

ps.
The colonial attire was purchased from Backstage in the Barracks Row neighborhood on Capitol Hill. Feel free to contact their costume consultants for further inquiry.







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Nikolas Schiller is a second-class American citizen living in America's last colony, Washington, DC. This blog is my on-line repository of what I have created or found on-line since May of 2004. If you have any questions or comments, please contact:

If you would like to use content found here, please consult my Fair Use page.

::THE QUILT PROJECTION::

Square
Square

Diamond
diamond

Hexagon
hexagon

Octagon
octagon

Dodecagon
Dodecagon

Beyond
beyond

::OTHER PROJECTIONS::

The Lenz Project
Lenz

Mandala Project
Mandala

The Star Series


Abstract Series
abstract

Memory Series
Memory

Mother Earth Series
Mother Earth

Misc Renderings
Misc

::POPULAR MAPS::

- The Los Angeles Interchanges Series
- The Lost Series
- Terra Fermi
- Antique Map Mashups
- Google StreetView I.E.D.
- LOLmaps
- The Inaugural Map
- The Shanghai Map
- Ball of Destruction
- The Lenz Project - Maps at the Library of Congress
- Winner of the Everywhere Man Award

::MONTHLY ARCHIVES::

:: LAST VISITORS ::



::LOCATIONS & CATEGORIES::

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  • thank you,
    come again!