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District of Columbia Suffrage Bill – The President’s Veto — The New York Times, January 8, 1867
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The argument with which President Johnson supports his veto of the District of Columbia Suffrage Bill will not convert Congress or the country to his views. His denial of the right of Congress to legislate for the District is so flatly opposed to the terms of the Constitution, and the ground upon which aid for District projects has always been invoked, that it amounts to little. The provision of the Constitution empowering Congress to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District, and the fact that its citizens have never claimed the rights which the President now asserts in their behalf, are conclusive against him. The plea that the citizens of the District possess, “as an organized community, the same popular rights as the inhabitants of a State or Territory,” is sustained neither by theory nor usage. Congress has, indeed, conceded certain municipal privileges; but its power to legislate in all matters pertaining to the District has not been disputed by people or President until now.

Certain it is that this message will not induce the surrender by Congress of the authority under which it regulates the suffrage in the Federal District. The right by which it legislates for the District on the other questions embraces the right to legislate on this question, with exclusive reference to the wishes and requirements of the States represented in the Capitol. And nothing is more clear than the fact that the States whose verdict has recently been pronounced are in favor of solving in the District, experimentally, one of the many problems which grow out of the altered relations of the colored people. The pending Constitutional Amendment indirectly encourages the enfranchisement of the freedmen in every State, North and South. It diminishes everywhere the basis of representation to the extent of the number of those who are excluded from the franchise because of race or color; so affirming, indirectly, the principle of impartial suffrage, while recognizing the absolute right of each State to determine the standard of suffrage for itself. What more proper than that the application of the principle should begin in the District whose public concerns are specially subject to the control of Congress?

The president dwells upon the opposition of the majority of the white residents in the District to any scheme of negro enfranchisement. This opposition, however, has never assumed the form of a denial of the Congressional right to legislate in the premises. They are too conscious of the substantial benefits accrue continually from the guardianship of Congress, to impugn its authority in the matter of the franchise. As for the rest, Congress is the judge of what is proper and expedient. And nothing could be more obviously proper than that the Congress which has decreed the civil status of the negro should also affirm his political equality as a citizen, so far as it is subject to the national legislation. In affirming this, Congress simply obeys the will of the majority of the American people, whose utterances the President continues to disregard.

There may be room for doubt as to the expediency of acting on the principle of universal enfranchisement. We should have preferred the application of some test of fitness, whether intelligence or property or taxation, to be enforced alike against black and white. So that the right to vote be shared impartially, irrespective of color, the great point would seem to be gained. Congress has thought differently, however; and as between universal suffrage and the entire exclusion of the freedmen because of color, the Republican Party cannot hesitate in its choice.

The President quotes from MADISON, JEFFERSON, STORY AND KENT in support of his course. But the citations from the writings of these eminent men really have no direct bearing upon the point at issue. They vindicate the value of the veto power and the right of the Executive to exert it; but as neither is disputed the appositeness of the passages reproduced is not very apparent.

The right to veto is as valid as the right of Congress to pass the bill over the veto, and no more so. The debatable part of the question relates to the arguments by which the position of each is upheld. And we apprehend that in this case the popular judgment will be on the side of Congress, and against the President.


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



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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Emancipation Day by Mrs. Mary E. Kail
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Below is a poem I found on Chronicling America last week and I’ll be reciting this poem later today at the 148th annual celebration of Emancipation Day.


Emancipation Day by Mrs. Mary E. Kail

EMANCIPATION DAY BY MRS. MARY E. KAIL

Originally read by Milton Holland at the Emancipation Banquet, Washington, DC April 13th, 1883

Sound aloud the trump of freedom,
Let the answering echo ring,
While with liberty commanding,
We our heartfelt tribute bring;
As we gather round Columbia,
Let us scatter on the way
Flowers of love and flowers of trusting,
For Emancipation Day.
Let us pray for benedictions
While we bow in reverence low
At the shrine of noble heroes
Bravely charging on the foe.
Gladly we hear our welcome,
To this feast of Liberty.

Lo, the car of progress moving,
Over all Columbia’s land;
Gifted men are proudly coming
And we take them by the hand–
Men of different race and color,
Yet our peers in soul and brain,
And their names shall soon be sculptured
On the towering dome of fame.

Float aloft the stars of glory,
For we love to tell the story
That is written on the pages
Of Columbia’s record true:
How amid the cannon’s rattle,
And the shot and shell of battle,
Chains of living death were broken
By our gallant boys in blue!

Ah! our soldiers never faltered;
Never heeded they the gloom;
Quailed not when the shock of battle
Seemed the eternal knell of doom;
But with comrades pale and bleeding
Only heard Columbia pleading–
“Wipe away from my escutcheon
Every trace of human woe.
Let my rightful sons and daughters
Of whatever race they be,
Hear the clarion voice of heroes,
Making way for liberty.

Let no cloud of dark oppression,
Linger in Columbia’s sky,
Let the joyful shout of freedom
Rise aloft to God on high!”

Days were dark and fierce the struggle–
Can it be the day is lost?
Came from many an anguished mother,
As she reckoned up the cost,
Of the blood and of the treasure,
Given freely without measure,
As the price of liberty.

But amid the desolation,
Spreading o’er our glorious land
Came the news– Emancipation,
Has been reached– the proclamation,
Far above the cannon’s roar
Sounded loud, o’er hill and valley.
Bells were ringing, hearts were singing
As they never sung before.

For the shackles had been broken,
And four millions souls were free,
That ’till then had never tasted
Of the joys of liberty!
And to-day we gladly greet them,
As we gather ’round to meet them,
And to take them by the hand–
Men whose throbbing souls ignited
At the watch-fires freedom lighted.
Freedom’s altar fires, still burning
Flash and sparkle at each turning,
As the car of progress moving,
Rolls them on to nobler fame.



The Full Text Of An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia
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Washington, DC celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia. The Act freed about 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation. The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act represents the only example of compensation by the federal government to former owners of emancipated slaves. While the slaves of DC were the first to be freed in America, through the continued denial of congressional representation, their decedents are the last to be fully equal.

Text and Image Courtesy of the National Archives


An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons held to service or labor within the District of Columbia by reason of African descent are hereby discharged and freed of and from all claim to such service or labor; and from and after the passage of this act neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for crime, whereof the party shall be duly convicted, shall hereafter exist in said District.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That all persons loyal to the United States, holding claims to service or labor against persons discharged therefrom by this act, may, within ninety days from the passage thereof, but not thereafter, present to the commissioners hereinafter mentioned their respective statements or petitions in writing, verified by oath or affirmation, setting forth the names, ages, and personal description of such persons, the manner in which said petitioners acquired such claim, and any facts touching the value thereof, and declaring his allegiance to the Government of the United States, and that he has not borne arms against the United States during the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid or comfort thereto: Provided, That the oath of the party to the petition shall not be evidence of the facts therein stated.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint three commissioners, residents of the District of Columbia, any two of whom shall have power to act, who shall receive the petitions above mentioned, and who shall investigate and determine the validity and value of the claims therein presented, as aforesaid, and appraise and apportion, under the proviso hereto annexed, the value in money of the several claims by them found to be valid: Provided, however, That the entire sum so appraised and apportioned shall not exceed in the aggregate an amount equal to three hundred dollars for each person shown to have been so held by lawful claim: And provided, further, That no claim shall be allowed for any slave or slaves brought into said District after the passage of this act, nor for any slave claimed by any person who has borne arms against the Government of the United States in the present rebellion, or in any way given aid or comfort thereto, or which originates in or by virtue of any transfer heretofore made, or which shall hereafter be made by any person who has in any manner aided or sustained the rebellion against the Government of the United States.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That said commissioners shall, within nine months from the passage of this act, make a full and final report of their proceedings, findings, and appraisement, and shall deliver the same to the Secretary of the Treasury, which report shall be deemed and taken to be conclusive in all respects, except as hereinafter provided; and the Secretary of the Treasury shall, with like exception, cause the amounts so apportioned to said claims to be paid from the Treasury of the United States to the parties found by said report to be entitled thereto as aforesaid, and the same shall be received in full and complete compensation: Provided, That in cases where petitions may be filed presenting conflicting claims, or setting up liens, said commissioners shall so specify in said report, and payment shall not be made according to the award of said commissioners until a period of sixty days shall have elapsed, during which time any petitioner claiming an interest in the particular amount may file a bill in equity in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, making all other claimants defendants thereto, setting forth the proceedings in such case before said commissioners and their actions therein, and praying that the party to whom payment has been awarded may be enjoined form receiving the same; and if said court shall grant such provisional order, a copy thereof may, on motion of said complainant, be served upon the Secretary of the Treasury, who shall thereupon cause the said amount of money to be paid into said court, subject to its orders and final decree, which payment shall be in full and complete compensation, as in other cases.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That said commissioners shall hold their sessions in the city of Washington, at such place and times as the President of the United States may direct, of which they shall give due and public notice. They shall have power to subpoena and compel the attendance of witnesses, and to receive testimony and enforce its production, as in civil cases before courts of justice, without the exclusion of any witness on account of color; and they may summon before them the persons making claim to service or labor, and examine them under oath; and they may also, for purposes of identification and appraisement, call before them the persons so claimed. Said commissioners shall appoint a clerk, who shall keep files and [a] complete record of all proceedings before them, who shall have power to administer oaths and affirmations in said proceedings, and who shall issue all lawful process by them ordered. The Marshal of the District of Columbia shall personally, or by deputy, attend upon the sessions of said commissioners, and shall execute the process issued by said clerk.

Sec.6. And be it further enacted, That said commissioners shall receive in compensation for their services the sum of two thousand dollars each, to be paid upon the filing of their report; that said clerk shall receive for his services the sum of two hundred dollars per month; that said marshal shall receive such fees as are allowed by law for similar services performed by him in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia; that the Secretary of the Treasury shall cause all other reasonable expenses of said commission to be audited and allowed, and that said compensation, fees, and expenses shall be paid from the Treasury of the United States.

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That for the purpose of carrying this act into effect there is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, a sum not exceeding one million of dollars.

Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That any person or persons who shall kidnap, or in any manner transport or procure to be taken out of said District, any person or persons discharged and freed by the provisions of this act, or any free person or persons with intent to re-enslave or sell such person or person into slavery, or shall re-enslave any of said freed persons, the person of persons so offending shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and on conviction thereof in any court of competent jurisdiction in said District, shall be imprisoned in the penitentiary not less than five nor more that twenty years.

Sec. 9. And be it further enacted, That within twenty days, or within such further time as the commissioners herein provided for shall limit, after the passage of this act, a statement in writing or schedule shall be filed with the clerk of the Circuit court for the District of Columbia, by the several owners or claimants to the services of the persons made free or manumitted by this act, setting forth the names, ages, sex, and particular description of such persons, severally; and the said clerk shall receive and record, in a book by him to be provided and kept for that purpose, the said statements or schedules on receiving fifty cents each therefor, and no claim shall be allowed to any claimant or owner who shall neglect this requirement.

Sec. 10. And be it further enacted, That the said clerk and his successors in office shall, from time to time, on demand, and on receiving twenty-five cents therefor, prepare, sign, and deliver to each person made free or manumitted by this act, a certificate under the seal of said court, setting out the name, age, and description of such person, and stating that such person was duly manumitted and set free by this act.

Sec. 11. And be it further enacted, That the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, is hereby appropriated, to be expended under the direction of the President of the United States, to aid in the colonization and settlement of such free persons of African descent now residing in said District, including those to be liberated by this act, as may desire to emigrate to the Republics of Hayti or Liberia, or such other country beyond the limits of the United States as the President may determine: Provided, The expenditure for this purpose shall not exceed one hundred dollars for each emigrant.

Sec. 12. And be it further enacted, That all acts of Congress and all laws of the State of Maryland in force in said District, and all ordinances of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, inconsistent with the provisions of this act, are hereby repealed.

Approved, April 16, 1862.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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YouTube Doubler [Scratch Slavery Revisited]
|| 4/13/2008 || 3:32 pm || Comments Off on YouTube Doubler [Scratch Slavery Revisited] || ||

YouTube Doubler

Links to my first YouTube mashup “Scratch Slavery.”

This weekend I found Brian Kane’s YouTube Doubler and smiled. In August of last year I coded a proto-version of YouTube Doubler to create my first YouTube mashup “Scratch Slavery.” The mashup juxtaposed Rory Mayberry, a former subcontractor employee for First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting Company, giving testimony at the Oversight Committee’s hearing on “Allegations of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse at the New U.S. Embassy in Iraq,” with a simple beat track by DJ Loomy showing the Vestax Controller One turntable.

What I would like to see next is YouTube Wall. In November of last year, I was able to place four YouTube videos together to create a YouTube Quadrupler. I think it would be interesting to scale down the size of the YouTube videos and create video tiling where the different video screens make a design. It would also be interesting to use multiple scales to create border of videos with a large video in the center. A random YouTube selector (a la Lost Series) would be a lot of fun because of the vast of amount of videos that could be chosen.



My first YouTube Mash-up : Scratch Slavery
|| 8/5/2007 || 2:11 am || Comments Off on My first YouTube Mash-up : Scratch Slavery || ||

Political Activism + Turntablism

Taking congressional testimony stating that your country is still engaged in slavery and mashing it up with a scratch demo video by DJ Loomy showing off the new Vestax Controller One.

Press the play button on both videos:

The scratch video ends first, but you know it deserves a rewind, because history is repeating.

(sometimes the videos do not show up in Firefox!)


Click here to view the updated version of this mashup created using YouTube Doubler





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