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Some of Washington’s Grievances – NO VOTES, YET NO GRIEVANCE? Editorial by Theodore W. Noyes, Washington Evening Star, March 10, 1888
|| 2/9/2011 || 3:21 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

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

scan of the book from the Library of Congress

Some of Washington’s Grievances


NO VOTES, YET NO GRIEVANCE?


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


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


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

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

UNLIMITED ELECTIVE FRANCHISE IN MUNICIPAL CONCERNS.

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

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

THE POWER TO EXPEND, EXTRAVAGANTLY AND CORRUPTLY,

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

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

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

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

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

Thirdly, Congress may propose an amendment to the Constitution

EXTINGUISHING ITS OWN POWER OF EXCLUSIVE LEGISLATION

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

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

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

Fourthly, retaining exclusive jurisdiction, Congress may propose

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT GIVING THE DISTRICT REPRESENTATION

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

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

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

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

PREPARED TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION

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

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

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

ONE INSTEAD OF TWO SENATORS

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

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

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

ADMITTED TO THE UNION

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

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


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



Joseph Story: Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Book 3, Chapter 23 – POWER OVER SEAT OF GOVERNMENT AND OTHER CEDED PLACES
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Joseph Story was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts’s 2nd district (May 23, 1808 – March 3, 1809), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (November 18, 1811 – September 10, 1845), and is the author of the first comprehensive treatise ever written on the U.S. Constitution. Below is the section of Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution that deals with the District of Columbia when it was still a diamond on the map.


half plate daguerreotype of Joseph Story taken between 1844 and 1845 found in the Library of Congress daguerreotype collection

Daguerreotype of Joseph Story from the Library of Congress


BOOK III CHAPTER XXIII.

POWER OVER SEAT OF GOVERNMENT AND OTHER CEDED PLACES.

Originally published in three volumes by Hilliard, Gray & Company, and Brown, Shattuck, & Co in 1833

§ 1211. THE next power of congress is, "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district, not exceeding ten miles square, as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of congress, become the SEAT OF THE GOVERNMENT of the United States; and
to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state, in which the same shall be, for the erection of FORTS, MAGAZINES, ARSENALS, and other needful BUILDINGS."

§ 1212. This clause was not in the original draft of the constitution; but was referred to a committee, who reported in its favour; and it was adopted into the constitution with a slight amendment without any apparent objection. 1

§ 1213. The indispensable necessity of complete and exclusive power, on the part of the congress, at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union, and one might say of the World, by virtue of its general supremacy. Without it not only the public authorities might be insulted, and their proceedings be interrupted with impunity; but the public archives might be in danger of violation, and destruction, and a dependence of the members of the national government on the state authorities for protection in the discharge of their functions be created, which would bring on the national councils the imputation of being subjected to undue awe and influence, and might, in times of high excitement, expose their lives to jeopardy. It never could be safe to leave in possession of any state the exclusive power to decide, whether the functionaries of the national government should have the moral or physical power to perform their duties. 2 It might subject the favoured state to the most unrelenting jealousy of the other states, and introduce earnest controversies from time to time respecting the removal of the seat of government.

§ 1214. Nor can the cession be justly an object of jealousy to any state; or in the slightest degree impair its sovereignty. The ceded district is of a very narrow extent; and it rests in the option of the state, whether it shall be made or not. There can be little doubt, that the inhabitants composing it would receive with thankfulness such a blessing, since their own importance would be thereby increased, their interests be subserved, and their rights be under the immediate protection of the
representatives of the whole Union. 3 It is not improbable, that an occurrence, at the very close of the revolutionary war, had a great effect in introducing this provision into the constitution. At the period alluded to, the congress, then sitting at Philadelphia, was surrounded and insulted by a small, but insolent body of mutineers of the continental army. Congress applied to the executive authority of Pennsylvania for defence; but, under the ill-conceived constitution of the state at that time, the executive power was vested in a council consisting of thirteen members; and they possessed, or exhibited so little energy, and such apparent intimidation, that congress indignantly removed to New-Jersey, whose inhabitants welcomed them with promises of defending them. Congress remained for some time at Princeton without being again insulted, till, for the sake of greater convenience, they adjourned to Annapolis. The general dissatisfaction with the proceedings of Pennsylvania, and the degrading spectacle of a fugitive congress, were sufficiently striking to produce this remedy. 4 Indeed, if such a lesson could have been lost upon the people, it would have been as humiliating to their intelligence, as it would have been offensive to their honour.

§ 1215. And yet this clause did not escape the common fate of most of the powers of the national government. It was represented, as peculiarly dangerous. It may, it was said, become a soft of public sanctuary, with exclusive privileges and immunities of every sort. It may be the very spot for the establishment of tyranny, and of refuge of the oppressors of the people. The inhabitants will be answerable to no laws, except those of congress. A powerful army may be here kept on foot; and the most oppressive and sanguinary laws may be passed to govern the district. 5 Nay, at the distance of fourteen years after the constitution had quietly gone into operation, and this power had been acted upon with a moderation, as commendable, as it ought to be satisfactory, a learned commentator expressed regret at the extent of the power, and intimated in no inexplicit terms his fears for the future. "A system of laws," says he, "incompatible with the nature and principles of a representative democracy, though not likely to be introduced at once, may be matured by degrees, and diffuse its influence through the states, and finally lay the foundation of the most important changes in the nature of the federal government. Let foreigners be enabled to hold lands, and transmit them by inheritance, or devise; let the preference to males, and the rights or primogeniture he revived with the doctrine of entails; and aristocracy will neither want a ladder to climb by, nor a base for its support.6"

§ 1216. What a superstructure to be erected on such a narrow foundation! Several of the states now permit foreigners to hold and transmit lands; and yet their liberties are not overwhelmed. The whole South, before the revolution, allowed and cherished the system of primogeniture; and yet they possessed, and transmitted to their children their colonial rights and privileges, and achieved under this very system the independence of the country. The system of entails is still the law of several of the states; and yet no danger has yet assailed them. They possess, and enjoy the fruits of republican industry and frugality, without any landed or other aristocracy. And yet the petty district of ten miles square is to overrule in its policy and legislation all, that is venerable and admirable in state legislation! The states, and the people of the states are represented in congress. The district has no representatives there; but is subjected to the exclusive legislation of the former. And yet congress, at home republican, will here nourish aristocracy. The states will here lay the foundation for the destruction of their own institutions, rights, and sovereignty. At home, they will follow the legislation of the district, instead of guiding it by their precept and example. They will choose to be the engines of tyranny and oppression in the district, that they may become enslaved within their own territorial sovereignty. What, but a disposition to indulge in all sorts of delusions and alarms, could create such extraordinary flights of imagination? Can such things be, and overcome us, like a summer’s cloud, without our special wonder? At this distance of time, it seems wholly unnecessary to refute the suggestions, which have been so ingeniously urged. If they prove any thing, they prove, that there ought to be no government, because no persons can be found worthy of the trust.

§ 1217. The seat of government has now, for more than thirty years, been permanently fixed on the river Potomac, on a tract of ten miles square, ceded by the states of Virginia and Maryland. It was selected by that great man, the boast of all America, the first in war, the first in peace, and the first in the hearts of his countrymen. It bears his name; it is the monument of his fame and wisdom. May it be for ever consecrated to its present noble purpose, capitoli immobile saxum!

§ 1218. The inhabitants enjoy all their civil, religious, and political rights. They live substantially under the same laws, as at the time of the cession; such changes only having been made, as have been devised, and sought by themselves. They are not indeed citizens of any state, entitled to the privileges of such; but they are citizens of the United States. They have no immediate representatives in congress. But they may justly boast, that they live under a paternal government, attentive to their wants, and zealous for their welfare. They, as yet, possess no local legislature; and have, as yet, not desired to possess one. A learned commentator has doubted, whether congress can create such a legislature, because it is the delegation of a delegated authority.7 A very different opinion was expressed by the Federalist; for it was said, that "a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."8 In point of fact, the corporations of the three cities within its limits possess and exercise a delegated power of legislation under their charters, granted by congress, to the full extent of their municipal wants, without any constitutional scruple, or surmise of doubt.

§ 1219. The other part of the power, giving exclusive legislation over places ceded for the erection of forts, magazines, &c., seems still more necessary for the public convenience and safety. The public money expended on such places, and the public property deposited in them, and the nature of the military duties, which may be required there, all demand, that they should be exempted from state authority. In truth, it would be wholly improper, that places, on which the security of the entire Union may depend, should be subjected to the control of any member of it. The power, indeed, is wholly unexceptionable; since it can only be exercised at the will of the state; and therefore it is placed beyond all reasonable scruple.9 Yet, it did not escape without the scrutinizing jealousy of the opponents of the constitution, and was denounced, as dangerous to state sovereignty.10

§ 1220. A great variety of cessions have been made by the states under this power. And generally there has been a reservation of the right to serve all state process, civil and criminal, upon persons found therein. This reservation has not been thought at all inconsistent with the provision of the constitution; for the state process, quoad hoc, becomes the process of the United States, and the general power of exclusive legislation remains with congress. Thus, these places are not capable of being made a sanctuary for fugitives, to exempt them from acts done within, and cognizable by, the states, to which the territory belonged; and at the same time congress is enabled to accomplish the great objects of the power.11

§ 1221. The power of Congress to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over these ceded places is conferred on that body, as the legislature of the Union; and cannot be exercised in any other character. A law passed in pursuance of it is the supreme law of the land, and binding on all the states, and cannot be defeated by them. The power to pass such a law carries with it all the incidental powers to give it complete and effectual execution; and such a law may be extended in its operation incidentally throughout the United States, if congress think it necessary so to do. But if intended to have efficiency beyond the district, language must be used in the act expressive of such an intention; otherwise it will be deemed purely local. 12

§ 1222. It follows from this review of the clause, that the states cannot take cognizance of any acts done in the ceded places after the cession; and, on the other hand, the inhabitants of those places cease to be inhabitants of the state, and can no longer exercise any civil or political rights under the laws of the state.13 But if there has been no cession by the state of the place, although it has been constantly occupied and used, under purchase, or otherwise, by the United States for a fort, arsenal, or other constitutional purpose, the state jurisdiction still remains complete and perfect. 14

§ 1223. Upon a recent occasion, the nature and effect of the exclusive power of legislation, thus given by the constitution in these ceded places, came under the consideration of the Supreme Court, and was much discussed. It was argued, that all such legislation by congress was purely local, like that exercised by a territorial legislature; and was not to be deemed legislation by congress in the character of the legislature of the Union. The object of the argument was to establish, that a law, made in or for such ceded places, had no extra-territorial force or obligation, it not being a law of the United States. The reasoning of the court affirming, that such an act was a law of the United States, and that congress in passing it acted, as the legislature of the Union, can be best conveyed in their own language, and would be impaired by an abridgment.

§ 1224. "In the enumeration of the powers of congress, which is made in the eighth section of the first article, we find that of exercising exclusive legislation over such district, as shall become the seat of government. This power, like all others, which are specified, is conferred on congress, as the legislature of the Union; for, strip them of that character, and they would not possess it. In no other character can it be exercised. In legislating for the district, they necessarily preserve the character of the legislature of the Union; for it is in that character alone, that the constitution confers on them this power of exclusive legislation. This proposition need not be enforced. The second clause of the sixth article declares, that ‘this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land.’ The clause, which gives exclusive jurisdiction, is unquestionably a part of the constitution, and, as such, binds all the United States. Those, who contend, that acts of congress, made in pursuance of this power, do not, like acts made in pursuance of other powers, bind the nation, ought to show some safe and clear rule, which shall support this construction, and prove, that an act of congress, clothed in all the forms, which attend other legislative acts, and passed in virtue of a power conferred on, and exercised by congress, as the legislature of the Union, is not a law of the United States, and does not bind them.

§ 1225. "One of the gentlemen sought to illustrate his proposition, that congress, when legislating for the district, assumed a distinct character, and was reduced to a mere local legislature, whose laws could possess no obligation out of the ten miles square, by a reference to the complex character of this court. It is, they say, a court of common law, and a court of equity. Its character, when sitting as a court of common law, is as distinct from its character, when sitting as a court of equity, as if the powers belonging to those departments were vested in different tribunals. Though united in the same tribunal, they are never confounded with each other. Without inquiring, how far the union of different characters in one court may be applicable, in principle, to the union in congress of the power of exclusive legislation in some places, and of limited legislation in others, it may be observed, that the forms of proceedings in a court of law are so totally unlike the forms of proceedings in a court of equity, that a mere inspection of the record gives decisive information of the character, in which the court sits, and consequently of the extent of its powers. But if the forms of proceeding were precisely the same, and the court the same, the distinction would disappear.

§ 1226. "Since congress legislates in the same forms, and in the same character, in virtue of powers of equal obligation conferred in the same instrument, when exercising its exclusive powers of legislation, as well as when exercising those, which are limited, we must inquire, whether there be any thing in the nature of this exclusive legislation, which necessarily confines the operation of the laws, made in virtue of this power, to the place, with a view to which they are made. Connected with the power to legislate within this district, is a similar power in forts, arsenals, dock-yards, &c. Congress has a right to punish murder in a fort, or other place within its exclusive jurisdiction; but no general right to punish murder committed within any of the states. In the act for the punishment of crimes against the United States, murder committed within a fort, or any other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, is punished with death. Thus congress legislates in the same act, under its exclusive and its limited powers.

§ 1227. "The act proceeds to direct, that the body of the criminal, after execution, may be delivered to a surgeon for dissection, and, punishes any person, who shall rescue such body during its conveyance from the place of execution to the surgeon, to whom it is to be delivered. Let these actual provisions of the law, or any other provisions, which can be made on the subject, be considered with a view to the character, in which congress acts, when exercising its powers of exclusive legislation. If congress is to be considered merely as a local legislature, invested, as to this object, with powers limited to the fort, or other place, in which the murder may be committed, if its general powers cannot come in aid of these local powers, how can the offence be tried in any other court, than that of the place, in which it has been committed? How can the offender be conveyed to, or tried in, any other place? How can he be executed elsewhere? How can his body be conveyed through a country under the jurisdiction of another sovereign, and the individual punished, who, within that jurisdiction, shall rescue the body? Were any one state of the Union to pass a law for trying a criminal in a court not created by itself, in a place not within its jurisdiction, and direct the sentence to be executed without its territory, we should all perceive, and acknowledge its incompetency to such a course of legislation. If congress be not equally incompetent, it is, because that body unites the powers of local legislation with those, which are to operate through the Union, and may use the last in aid of the first; or, because the power of exercising exclusive legislation draws after it, as an incident, the power of making that legislation effectual; and the incidental power may be exercised throughout the Union, because the principal power is given to that body, as the legislature of the Union.

§ 1228. "So, in the same act, a person, who, having knowledge of the commission of murder, or other felony, on the high seas, or within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or other place, or district of country within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, shall conceal the same, &c. he shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of felony, and shall be adjudged to be imprisoned, &c. It is clear, that congress cannot punish felonies generally; and, of consequence, cannot punish misprision of felony. It is equally clear, that a state legislature, the state of Maryland for example, cannot punish those, who, in another state, conceal a felony committed in Maryland. How, then, is it, that congress, legislating exclusively for a fort, punishes those, who, out of that fort, conceal a felony committed within it?

§ 1229. "The solution, and the only solution of the difficulty, is, that the power vested in congress, as the legislature of the United States, to legislate exclusively within any place ceded by a state, carries with it, as an incident, the right to make that power effectual. If a felon escape out of the state, in which the act has been committed, the government cannot pursue him into another state, and apprehend him there; but must demand him from the executive power of that other state. If congress were to be considered merely, as the local legislature for the fort, or other place, in which the offence might be committed, then this principle would apply to them, as to other local legislatures; and the felon, who should escape out of the fort, or other place, in which the felony may have been committed, could not be apprehended by the marshal, but must be demanded from the executive of the state. But we know, that the principle does not apply; and the reason is, that congress is not a local legislature, but exercises this particular power, like all its other powers, in its high character, as the legislature of the Union. The American people thought it a necessary power, and they conferred it for their own benefit. Being so conferred, it carries with it all those incidental powers, which are necessary to its complete and effectual execution.

§ 1230. "Whether any particular law be designed to operate without the district or not, depends on the words of that law. If it be designed so to operate, then the question, whether the power, so exercised, be incidental to the power of exclusive legislation, and be warranted by the constitution, requires a consideration of that instrument. In such cases the constitution and the law must be compared and construed. This is the exercise of jurisdiction. It is the only exercise of it, which is allowed in such a case." 15


1. Journ. of Convent. 222, 260. 328, 329, 358.

2. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321,322, 326.

3. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321, 322, 326, 327.

4. Rawle on Const. ch. 9, p. 112, 113.

5. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 320, 321, 323, 324, 325, 326; Id. 115. — Amendments limiting the power of congress to such regulations, as respect time police and good government of the district, were proposed by several or the states at the time of the adoption of the constitution. But they have been silently abandoned. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 276, 374.

6. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 277.

7. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 278.

8. The Federalist. No. 43.

9. The Federalist, No. 43. See also United States v. Bevans, 3 Wheat. R. 336, 388.

10. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 145.

11. Commonwealth v. Clary, 8 Mass. R. 72; United States v. Cornell, 2 Mason R. 60; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30;] 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404.

12. Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 264, 424, 425, 426, 427, 428; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30 ;] 1 Kent. Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238, 239; Loughborough v. Blake, 5 Wheat. R. 322, 324.

13. 8 Mass. R. 72; 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 53; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 403, 404.

14. The People v. Godfrey, 17 Johns. R. 225; Commonwealth v. Young, 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 47; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 401, 404; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28. [ch. 30 ;] Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238 to 240.

15. Cohens, v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 424 to 429.


Sources: The Constitution Society & Google Books


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Americanize the Capital as a Wise Measure of War Preparedness by Theodore W. Noyes, Editor of the Evening Star – The Washington Times, June 29, 1917
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Americanize the Capital as a Wise Measure of War Preparedness by Theodore W. Noyes, Editor of the Evening Star -  The Washington Times, June 29, 1917

Washingtonians have been urging a constitutional amendment which shall give them the status of citizens of a State, for the purpose only of representation in Congress and the Electoral College. They now urge only amendment which, as an irreducible minimum of justice, shall empower Congress in its discretion to give them this status.

War is upon us. World issues and vital national questions absorb attention.

Is this a time to redress the Capital’s political grievances?

Yes, says Washington. To Americanize the political aliens of the District of Columbia is to do justice and to relieve the nation of reproach and shame- achievements which, like the motion to adjourn, are always in order. And not only in a general but in a special sense is this Americanizing process peculiarity opportune, in that it reflects the very thought and spirit of the times and is an integral part of the legislation which springs naturally from the patriotic toward true preparedness.

I do not emphasize the unique patriotic service which Washingtonians have rendered, far surpassing in this respect all other Americans, in the creation, maintenance and upbuilding of the National Capital. I compare them with other Americans solely on the basis of the degree in which they and others have respectively met the general patriotic obligation that is common to all.

Washingtonians have paid their proportion of every national tax, direct or indirect, from the birth of the nation. The only national taxes that fall directly and in ascertainable amounts upon Americans are the internal revenue taxes, including the excise and income taxes. In total contribution in 1914 to these taxes Washington exceeds twenty-two of the States, though it exceeds in population only six of them. Its contribution is greater than those of nine of the States combined. The Washingtonians’ per capita contributions to these national taxes are greater than that of the citizens of thirty-six of the States.

Washington’s Blood Sacrifice.

Washingtonians have risked life and shed their blood in every national war. To preserve the Union the volunteers came from the Capital, and Washingtonians supplied a greater percentage of troops in excess of their quota than nearly every State in the Union. In the war with Spain they sent to Cuba a fine regiment exceeding their quota in numbers. The same response was made when the summons to the Mexican border came. At that time the percentage of men of military age enrolled in the organized militia was greater in the District than in any State of the Union. Washington sent more soldiers to the border than twenty-two of the States.

To every demand of devotion and self-sacrifice made upon Americans Washington has rendered, is rendering, and will always render full, hearty, and unstinted response.

National Burdens Impose; Rights Denied.

In a genuine representative government rights and privileges are inseparably wedded to obligations and responsibilities. How do Washingtonians, thus burdened with national obligations, fare in respect to American rights and privileges?

Before the judicial branch of the National Government they are, the United States Supreme Court says, less than aliens in the right to sue and be sued.

In relation to representation in the legislative branch and by the executive branch of the National Government they are on the same footing as aliens.

They are good enough Americans to pay taxes and go to war, but not good enough Americans to be represented in the Congress which taxes them and sends them to war.

In relation to national taxes their sole function is to pay. They have nothing to say, like other national taxpayers, concerning the amount and kind of taxes they shall pay and how the tax money shall be spent.

In relation to national war their sole function is to fight in obedience to command. They have no voice, like other Americans, in the councils which determine war or peace. They have no representation in the Government which requires them to fight, to bleed, and perhaps to die.

In all the expense of the continental and contiguous United States from ocean to ocean, from Canada to Mexico, every Territory has been exalted into Statehood, and the District of Columbia is the only remaining American community whose people are still compulsory occupants of the National Hospital for Politically Defective and Delinquent Americans.

No Excuse of National Necessity.

These gross discriminations against the Americans of the District of Columbia find no excuse in national impotency or national necessity.

These discriminations are not necessary to the constitutional control by Congress of the ten miles square. Correction of them, Americanizing the District of Columbia, does not destroy or diminish that control. Representation by one out of 436 in the House and by one out of ninety-seven or two out of ninety-eight in the Senate would obviously fall short of giving the District control of Congress. So small a tail could never wag so large a dog.

To give this national representation to the Washingtonians works no change in the local government or in the financial relation of nation to capital. Exclusive power is still in the hands of Congress representing the nation, and the change merely makes the District politically a part of the nation and gives the 360,000 Americans in the District representation in that Congress.

The present condition convicts the nation of paradoxical inconsistency. Inequality, un-Americanism, unpatriotic unpreparredness.

It involves injustice to the Capital and shame to the nation.

Saviors Abroad; Crucifiers at Home.

In the impressive and inspiring words of Present Wilson:
“We are glad * * * to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German people included. * * * The right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts- for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.”

Washingtonians are among “those who submit to authority.” Are not all Americans then fighting in this war for the Washingtonians’ right “to have a voice in their own government?” Or is there an implied proviso in our proclamation which causes us to fight in this war to establish representative government everywhere in the world except in the capital of the great representative republic?

Amendment Timely and Vital.

Consistency and justice; national pride and self-respect; the will to efface a shameful blot from the national escutcheon; the spirit of true Americanism and righteous hatred of autocracy in any guise; the patriotic impulse toward full preparedness of the nation as the champion of democracy and representative government everywhere in the world- all combine to make irresistible at this very moment our appeal for the adoption of a constitutional amendment giving suffrage to the citizens of the District.

Should not the nation, irrespective of the just pleas of the Washingtonians and purely as a national concern, abolish the evil and injury working paradox of non-representative un-American government of the National Capital territory under exclusive national control? At a time when all Americans are thrilling in response to the appeal for purer, higher, stronger Americanism and for more devoted and self-sacrificing spirit of American nationality will not the nation insist, in accordance with the spirit of the times and in its own vital interest, that there shall no longer exist at the very heart of the body politic this foul abscess of non-Americanism? Surgical relief to the nation from this threat of blood poisoning is an essential war measure, an urgent patriotic task. Cut it out unflinchingly? Cut it out at once.



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



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


GAMBLERS MAY GET ALEXANDRIA FOR US


Argue That County Belongs to the District


FAMOUS QUESTION REVIVED


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


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

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

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

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

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

Return of County

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

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

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

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

Would Benefit Town.

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

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

New Phase Brought Up.

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

The letter reads as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“R. A. PHILIPS.”


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



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


Screengrab of the headline


Mr. H. Phillips Memorializes the District Committee.


MANY BURDENS IMPOSED


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


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

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


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

Burdensome Problems

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

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

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

Sanitary Protection Needed.

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

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

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

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

The Legal Question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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


92 U.S. 130 (____)

PHILLIPS
v.
PAYNE.

Supreme Court of United States.

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

Mr. R.T. Daniel, contra.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

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

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

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

+ MORE



Justice Stafford Eloquent on Washington: Past, Present, and Future – The Washington Herald, May 9th, 1909
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Over the last few months I have transcribed the New York Times and the Washington Post‘s coverage of this historic dinner, but today I am honored to share the entire text of Justice Stafford’s speech that was published in full in the Washington Herald (and to an extent in the Washington Times).

The speech marks, according to Justice Stafford, the first time the president of the United States had ever met with the business leaders of Washington. He makes one of the best cases for including the people of the District of Columbia in Congress that I have ever read or transcribed. When reading this speech and seeing his ultimate predictions come to pass, I actually teared up at one moment. History had come alive before my eyes and it hurt. It hurt that he had predicted exactly what would come to pass in the next century. But alas, he highlighted what has not happened yet- the voice of the people of Washington in both Houses of Congress.

In his speech, he places before the president of the United States the notion that I presented as an April Fool’s Day joke this year, that the District of Columbia be afforded one Senator, and a proportional number of members of the House of Representatives. This speech was written before the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, which puts the election of each State’s two Senators up to popular vote, but I think his intention was to show that the District of Columbia is a not just a city, but its a special city, home to the Federal government, that deserves its own voice in the elected body that the Constitution gives full control over it’s dominion, Congress.

Please take a moment to read this historic speech by District of Columbia Superior Court Justice Stafford:



Justice Stafford Eloquent on Washington: Past, Present, and Future – The Washington Herald, May 9th, 1909


“Mr. Chairman, the President of the United States, and you, my fellow citizens:

“I pledge you in a sentiment that is almost a prayer”

“‘May this prove a fortunate day for the District of Columbia’

“Without doubt the people of the District look upon the occasion that has drawn us here as a most happy augury.

“The Chief Magistrate of the nation, not more respected than beloved, has signified his willingness to sit at their board, to break their bread and taste their salt. It is proof of interest and kindness that has touched all hearts.

“We who are seated around these tables are only a handful out of many thousands who in thought and sympathy are with us at this feast. Presidents have cone and gone, doing their duty by the District as they saw it, but in the press and through of larger duties too often prevented from giving to local matters the attention they deserved.

Points to Precedent.

“Never before has a President at the beginning of his term thus held out the hand of friendship to our people. Our President has seen much of Washington. But more than that, he has traveled far and wide, he has studied the capitals of other countries, their institutions and their laws. And thus he adds to the true promptings of a generous heart the wisdom of a ripe experience. Those are the qualities that are needed here and now. It is the hour for a statesman. The population of the District has increased so rapidly, it is growing so in wealth and beauty, the greatness of its future is already assured, that the time has come when the true relations between the District and the nation must be clearly conceived and accurately defined, and when an ideal must be formed for the District of Columbia– an ideal to be worth through generations true enough and grand enough to claim the attention and the devotion of all the land.

Need of a Home.

“The men who made the Constitution were absolutely certain of one thing, and that was that this Federal government must have a home of its own. ‘Over such a district,’ the Constitution in so many words declares, the Congress shall ‘exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever.’ So far as general legislation is concerned, there is no power in Congress to delegate this authority. It must legislate itself. When it attempted once to bestow upon a Territorial legislature for the District the authority to make general laws, the court declared the attempt unconstitutional and vain. The utmost it can do in this direction is authorize the enactment of local regulations. No attempt to legislate for Washington will be worth the making unless it is made in the same spirit in which the founders worked.

“It was said of an Eastern temple, ‘It was designed by Titans and finished by jewelers.’The tribute is capable of double meaning. A great work should be grandly conceived and then executed with minutest pains.

“We wish as much for Washington. But the jeweler must not meddle with the architect’s design. If he does, men may say: ‘It was planned by Titans; it was finished by pygmies.’

“Less than half a century had elapsed from the founding of the Capital before a congress was found pusillanimous enough to surrender and cede back thirty square miles of Federal soil, and the noble patrimony the nation had received from the Father of his Country was broken in two, and the Virginia portion cast away.

“Or task to-night is to put the Washington of our day to the test of the great principles that controlled the founders of our government, to view the work they left us in the light of all that has developed since, and to plan for the future as men of their vision have planned in our surroundings.

Sees Three Meanings.

“What do we mean when we say the District of Columbia? There are at least three meanings in which the expression may be accurately used. It may mean the mere territory, the seventy square miles of land and water. It may mean the municipal corporation which has been created by the act of Congress. It mean the political community, which may be called, and by the Supreme Court has repeatedly called, for certain purposes, a State. In this third sense it is not a mere municipal corporation, but is filled with the sovereignty of the United States of America.

“It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between these meanings, especially between the second and the third, if we would keep our thinking clear. Let us take a moment to trace this distinction in the transactions of a century.

“When the United States, in 1800, took possession of this territory it found local self-government here. For two generations it left it undisturbed. ‘Prior to 1871,’ said Mr. Justice Bradley, in a case before the Court of Last Resort, ‘the government of the United States, except so far as the protection of its own public buildings and property was concerned, took no part in the local government.’

A Municipal Government.

“‘The officers of the departments, even the President himself, exercised no local authority in city affairs.’ In 1871 the Congress created here a new government expressly ‘for municipal purposes.’

“It had its governor and its legislature- the latter, of course, elected by the people. It had also a board of public works, whose members, including the governor as its head, were appointed by the President and Senate. This board laid out the money raised in taxes, and assessed the owners benefited by improvement.

“The court held that its acts were binding on the District, and that in spite of its appointment by the President, it was only a branch of municipal government. Thus matters remained until 1874, when Congress tore down all it had previously done, and started new. The governor and the board of public works were abolished, and the power which they had exercised was intrusted to a commission of three to be appointed by the President and Senate.

“Four years later, in 1878, the new arrangement was made permanent. Nevertheless, the contention was made before the Supreme Court of the United States that the effect of the new act was to destroy the District of Columbia as a municipal corporation, except in name, and to make it nothing more than department of the national government. The contention was ruled down.

Source of Authority.

“The fact that its officers were appointed by the President, said the court, did no make the District of Columbia any less a municipal body corporate. Recognizing the general desirableness of local self-government, it held that the principle of representative government was legally satisfied when the appointment of local officers was made by other officers who themselves had been elected by the people, saying: ‘The people are the recognized source of all authority, and to this authority it must come at last, whether immediately or by a circuitous process.’

“Whether a flaw is to be found in this reasoning as applied to the sitution before the court, inasmuch as the people of the District of Columbia, the people to be governed, never did have a share in electing the President and Senate, who were the appointing officers, I will not stop here to inquire; for my present purpose is to point out the separation that has always been recognized between the District of Columbia, as a mere municipal corporation, and the District of Columbia as a quasi state.

“There is only one sovereign in the District of Columbia. Indeed, in respect to sovereignty, the situation is precisely the same as if there were no other domain affected by the central government; as if all its functions were performed here.

“Why, then, it may be asked, should there be such a municipality as the District of Columbia at all? Why should not the general government take direct control and administer all the affairs of the District through its own bureaus? It would not be so easy to answer that question if two facts were other than they are:

“First- If there were no citizens of the United States except those who live in the District.

“Second- If the District elected the national officers. But there are 350,000 people here, and there are some 90,000,000 outside, and all are citizens of the United States; and the 350,000 who live here have some interests which they do not hold in common with the 90,000,000 who live outside.

Draws a Picture.

“It is, in part at least, for the recognition and protection of these separate and peculiar interests that a municipal government exists and is required. All the more is it needed by reason of the fact that there is no suffrage. Let us picture what might be. The streets and public works might all be put under the War Department, the public health under the Surgeon General, the charities made a bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor, or perhaps of the Interior, and the schools turned over to the Commissioner of Education. And so it might go on, until the local government was completely bureaucratic- until the rod of national administration, turned serpent, had swallowed up all the little rods of local administration and was left alone upon the floor.

“In the meantime the city, growing by leaps and bounds, has doubled and trebled its present population, and we have here a million people, without a word to say, in theory or fact, directly or indirectly, about the streets they walk, the water they drink, the light they burn, or the education of their children- everything done for them and done by officers in whose selection they had no voice and who have been selected with no particular reference to their opinions or their needs.

“To some of us that is not a pleasing spectacle.

A Nation’s City.

“Certainly we must not forget that this is a national city. There is little risk of that. But there are institutions, many and important, which are not national in their aim or character. They are exactly such institutions as the same numerical population would require were this no the Nation’s Capital. That is true of the institutions of charity and punishment. We should need to have schools, recording offices, post-offices, and courts; we should need streets and bridges, and thousand things beside, by reason of the fact that we are a city.

“Institutions that answer the needs of the community merely as a community, without reference to the national government, should not these be treated as local institutions? Should they not be administered as a part of the municipal government and officered by men identified with the District?

“Those courts of the District which deal not exclusively with local controversies, but in large measure with disputes to which the nation is a party, may perhaps be fairly made up, one-half of member drawn from the locality and one-half from the nation at large. This seems more appropriate, inasmuch as those who hold these offices hold them during good behavior, and when they come here come hoping to behave well enough to remain through life.

“But many offices relate exclusively to this community, at least as much so as the offices of any community can be said to relate to itself alone, and why should not these be filled by local citizens? Even if there should be no statute thus restricting the selection, ought not such a course be pursued as a permanent policy?

Demand of Consistency.

“Why should the people of the District have their deeds recorded by a man from California? Why should Washington be the only city in the land that cannot have a postmaster appointed from among its citizens?

“If we are to keep up the form of municipal government at all, does not a fair consistency demand that we should treat it as municipal, as existing, among other purposes, to care for all that is peculiar and local in the interests and needs of the community? Will it not be wisdom to treat it so?

“Let us not forget that there are thousands upon thousands here who have no other abiding place. Their roots have struck deep into the soil. They love the city with all the national pride we share with them, and with that tender sentiment which we call ‘the love of home’ besides. Is it wise to treat them as aliens in the house of their fathers?

Others have lived here till all ties with other places are dissolved and they expect their children will live here when they are gone. These people, so completely and irrevocably identified with the place, constitute an element not wisely to be overlooked when one is considering how local affairs may be most prudently and loyally administered.

May Be Parting.

“Who knows? Perhaps we have come already to the parting of the ways. Little by little the local hold is lost. Here a hospital is drawn under the control of a department. There the jail slips out of the hands of the Attorney General. Now it is proposed that the schools be placed under a bureau; and now, that the city shall be officered on the principle of efficiency alone, by one who can be found who is most competent, though he never saw Washington before.

“It would be something to assume that among 350,000 such as we find gathered here, not a single man could be found capable of conducting the business of the city. But if it should be conjectured that in some far off place a commissioner might be found somewhat more efficient, would that difference in efficiency make up for the sacrifice of one more bond- sometimes it seems as it were the last- between the government and the locality?

“The problem of city government is not altogether, I venture to think, a matter of perfecting the machinery. Men are not altogether machines. They have sentiments; they have hearts. And if there had not been sentiment and heart, as well as brain, there would be to-day no Washington.

No Need of Suffrage.

“As far as the municipal government is concerned, the people of the District seem to have settled down to the arrangement that there should be no suffrage.

“The accept it- very much as Lord Dundreary’s brother Sam accepted his embarrassment in being born, and especially being born bald-headed. ‘You see (Sam), he wasn’t consulted; and there he was, and it was too late to do anything about it.’ But suffrage or no suffrage in municipal affairs has nothing to do with the principle of which I speak. I believe it should be the policy of the government, alongside of the national spirit that inspires all hearts, to foster and perpetuate a sturdy local patriotism, a local and peculiar civic pride; and to this end, that all offices of this kind should be filled by those who have become residents of Washington for good and all.

“Sir, I am not included to discuss tonight the various proposed changes in the constitution of the city government. These concern a possible increase of efficiency in the municipal machine. In what I am yet to say I prefer to dwell upon a broader question. But no one ought to refer to the form of government that has given shape to our affairs since 1874 without doing justice to the splendid advances that have been made under its direction. In 1878 the plan was adopted of raising upon the ratable property here a tax of 1.5 per cent and of matching that with an equal amount from the national Treasury.

“Up to that time the District had carried the burden year by year, almost or quite alone, and was sinking under a debt of many millions. Under the new arrangement Washington has sprung to her feet. Parks have been laid out, avenues extended, bridges built, public buildings erected, grade crossings abolished, railway terminals improved, a magnificent new station built, the sewerage and water systems practically made over, millions upon millions spent toward making the city in health and beauty what it ought to be. Meantime absolute fidelity in the discharge of duties, no stain or hint of corruption, scarcely a dishonest transaction ever charged. Surely that is a record for any city to cherish and for those who have had a share in making it to look back upon with pride.

Money for Improvements.

“Some forbidding obstacles have been encountered and are met with still. One is, this being compelled to pay for permanent improvements out of the current income. What other city is expected to pay for its great works, to last for generations, out of its ordinary receipts, meanwhile taking it out od the schools and scrimping its legitimate expenses? Any other city would raise the money on bonds and pay them a little at a time.

“Washington need not be bonded, since the national treasury can supply it with the loan and let it be paid back at a reasonable rate; but the principle is sound. It is enforced by the late Secretary of the Treasury in his able report for 1908, where he sets forth with great lucidity the need of a national budget to bring about an adjustment between disbursements and receipts, with a rigid separation between expenditures for the ordinary service of the government and those for permanent public works, the latter to be met by bond issue.

“But there are obstacles of graver import and they constitute defects radical and without remedy in the present relation between nation and District. They can be removed only by a change in that relation itself. We shall all agree that to legislate wisely requires two things– first, a lively interest in the object of legislation; second, a clear intelligence touching the subject at hand. There being no representative from the District itself in either branch of Congress, it becomes necessary to commit the interests of the District, and the interests of the nation in the District, to hand unfamiliar with the subject and without any lively interest therein.

“The Congress as a whole cannot be expected to supply these requisites. No one pretends it does. It is engaged upon a thousand subjects, many of which appear to its members to be vastly more important than any that concerns the District. We cannot wonder at it; it is in the nature of things that it should be so. The step logically required by this condition is next taken.

“A committee in the House and a committee in the Senate are specially charged with these affairs. Not that their word is accepted as final. If it were, some difficulties would be escaped. But in the end their report must run the gantlet of the whole House or Senate.

Need for Knowledge.

“Here ignorance of District affairs has often shown itself so egregious and glaring that it could excite nothing but laughter, if tears were not often a more fitting recognition of the folly.

“And when that occurs there is no representative of the District to meet the ignorant, unfounded claim. Three hundred and fifty thousand people are voiceless in that hall. The committees cannot meet the emergency. To expect it would be to expect more than mortal men can do. Who are the members of the committee?

“Are they Senators and Representatives set apart for this work and free to devote themselves entirely to such business?

“By no means. They have their own constituencies to serve, and they have, besides, their share of responsibility for the general legislation, like all their fellow-members.

“They are appointed; they do the best they can; and if they give sufficient time to our affairs to understand our problems, they run the risk of losing their seats entirely by being thought at home to neglected their own States or districts.

“I am credibly informed that the risk has turned into a certainty in more instances than one. But, more than that, the membership of the House and Senate changes and the membership of the committees changes, too.

“Hardly has a member become reasonably acquainted with our subject than he is called away, another takes his place, and the whole process of education must be begun again. That is the radical and incurable defect of the present system. Keep your three Commissioners if you will, or substitute for them a single head, improve the machinery of municipal administration all you can, until it runs with the regularity of a Swiss watch- you have not touched the trouble.

“What is needed is two men in the House and one man in the Senate; real live men with blood in their arteries and brains in their heads; men who have lived long in the District of Columbia and belong to her; men who known her needs and her capacity, who know the history and condition of her institutions, her charities, her prisons, the views and aspirations of her people; men who are proud of their connection with her, and proud that to her soil has been committed the ark of civil and religious liberty.

“What we need is members of these bodies with the prestige that belongs to members; not figureheads, not lobbyists, not delegates, but a member of the Senate and two members of the House, able enlightened, informed, fit to represent the will and judgment of 350,000 citizens gathered within these bounds.

An Amendment Needed.

“But that requires an amendment of the Constitution. So it does. An amendment in strict accord with the principles of the Constitution, made necessary by the changed conditions of 120 years, made unavoidable and inevitable by the changes that will take place in the fifty or one hundred years to come. Do you imagine that when 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 shall be swarming in our borders they will be the only people in this broad domain to have no hand in the government of this magnificent republic, no word in the election of its President, no tongue in the national assembly?

“When 1,000,000 men are there, when they ask why they alone can have no part in a republican form of government, do you imagine they will call it a sufficient answer to be told ‘Because you live in Washington?’

“If you lived in Pumpkin Hook or Bloody Gultch, you might, but not while you lived here.

“Bear in mind, I am not speaking of municipal suffrage. I am speaking of the right of a million of simple American citizens to have a share-less than a one hundredth part would be- in the legislation that concerns their country and its Capital.

“Suppose they have no more right than the same number of people who live anywhere else in the United States. Have they not as much? And that is all the right of which I speak.

Believes in Humanity.

“But I hear it said, ‘The people of the District do not care for suffrage.’ Well, all I can say to that is this: If the people of the District of Columbia do not really care to have a part in the government of this splendid country, they do not deserve to have it, and nobody need fear that it will be thrust upon them. But I cannot believe that statement.

“‘Say, seignors, are the old Niles dry?’

“I cannot believe that the human heart has changed.

“I cannot believe that principles have lost their power.

“I cannot believe that the deep instincts that built up this wonderful fabric of free government have died out here in the very seat of its majesty, and that here alone the ‘bright consummate flower’ of liberty has gone to seed.

“There is no doubt that they need quickening. There is no doubt that they are have sunk into the torpor of faculties disused. But hold before their eyes the hope of what I am describing, and you shall see whether self-respect and the desire for self-government are dead.

“Sir, if I had it in my power to-night to dispose of this matter as I would, do you know what I would do?

“I would not change the constitution.

“I would not give the people of the District suffrage.

“What I would do is this:

“I would set to their dry hearts the flame of that old Promethean torch, the love of liberty.

“I would fill them with divine unrest at their condition.

“I would set beside that condition a picture of the dignity and power they might enjoy as real citizens of their country.

“I would move them first to desire and then to demand their portion of our heritage.

“I would nerve them to toil for it and fight for it through years of bitter opposition- and then at last, when the agitation had created a new Washington, when 400,000 or 500,000 people were calling as with one mighty voice for the great prize of representative government- then I would bestow it on them.

“And sir, I believe that is exactly what the god of time will do.

“A city of the dumb! Mr. Chairman, I have heard you speak of a little village on an island off the New England coast inhabited entirely by deaf mutes.

“They live unto themselves.

“They marry and intermarry and rear children who are dumb as they.

“They go about their tasks, but speak no word.

“The busy hum of life goes on around them; the shuttles of the world’s activities fly to and fro, but into the growing web they weave no strand.

“Sir, I will not extend the parallel. It is too obvious and too painful to be drawn. But that is not the Washington that shall be.

“Only let the agitation begin.

“Let it start here to-night.

“Why not make this occasion historic?

“Let every true son of Washington, native or adopted, go out from this feast strengthened and heartened for a long enlistment. Let him know for once in his life the glory of being possessed of a grand idea- the sublime enthusiasm of being lost in absolute devotion to a great cause.

“Let them meet and join hands and stir one another’s hearts, quicken one another’s minds, and sustain on another’s courage. Let it go on.

“It will be met with opposition; it will meet with ridicule; it will meet with censure; it will take years; it may take many- but it will have one possible outcome if the sons of Washington are worthy the name they bear.

Suffrage Question.

Again I say, I am not speaking now of municipal suffrage at all. Let the present arrangement, or some improved substitute for it, be continued if you please. What has that to do with the broad and fundamental fact that the hundreds of thousands here should have their due and proportionate representation in the National Assembly- should have the same right that other citizens enjoy of giving their votes in the election of the Chief Magistrate of the republic?

“‘The republic! It is not alone for the District of Columbia that I bring the proposition forward. The interests of the nation would be served as well.

“They would not be served first of all by the increased efficiency and propriety of the laws that would be enacted; in the next place, by the fact that the members from the District, being familiar with the local situation, and serving on the local committees, would relieve the members from other States of much of their present burden, leaving them freer to perform the duties for which they were specially selected.

Need for Real Men.

“Further, it would serve the nation by adding to Congress men of weight and influence in national concerns.

“We should have here a constituency peculiarly rich in material for Representatives.

“But, more perhaps that all the rest, the change would serve the interests of the whole nation by recognizing the grand principle of representative government here, in the most conspicuous position in the country, where hitherto it has been cast aside.

“Men could no longer point the finger of scorn at us, and say:

“‘Washington gives the lie to your pretensions.’

“‘Look! In the very seat of national greatness you acknowledge by your acts that your form of government is a failure. Until we are honest enough to live up to your principles, we shall deserve all our trouble; and, sir, from the bottom of my heart I do believe that the greatest troubles we have spring from this fact, that we have turned back upon those principles.

“We shall never find peace or safety until we return to them again.

“Shall we say we fear the suffrages of ignorance and vice- the ignorance and vice that we ourselves are to blame for- that could not last a generation if we did our duty by our fellow-men?

“Sham on the race or the community that holds its hands the wealth of the continent and carries in its brains the accumulated culture of the centuries and yet refuses to lift that ignorance and vice to the level of enlightenment and virtue.

“Tear down your shacks and shanties.

“Let in the sun upon your noisome alleys.

“Build decent habitations for the poor to dwell in.

“Make your prisons moral hospitals instead of breeding cells for crime.

“Spread education broadcast in the streets.

“Let us do the work of Christians at our doors before we admit that our fathers were fools and that democratic government is all a dark mistake.

Menace to the State

“Never until the men of wealth and education have spent their last surplus dollar and exhausted the ingenuity of their brains in the effort to make their fellow-men worthy to be sharers in the government, never until then will they have a right to hide behind an excuse like that.

“I admit that an ignorant and degraded class armed with the ballot is a menace to the safety of the state; but I deny that it is a greater menace in the end than that same class, robbed of its rights,thrust down into the dark, and left as no longer necessary to the be regarded or assisted because no having any part in the affairs of state.

“Strip men of the ballot and you take away from society the most powerful inducement that can prompt selfish human nature to educate and elevate its helpless and its poor.

“We must find fault with the Creator if we wish to complain that wealth, virtue, and culture cannot be safe in the neighborhood of poverty, ignorance, and vice. He means that it shall be so. He sees Blagden’s alley as well as Dupont Circle, and He has made it certain by the laws of nature, by every wind that breathes across the city, by every tiny insect that takes its unregarded flight from home to home, that Dupont Circle shall not be safe while Blagden’s alley is rotting with disease and filth.

Laws of Nature.

“The laws of nature are democratic. It is just the same in government. A community that has the power to lift ignorance and vice to its own level and will not stretch out its hand to do it, deserves to be ruled by ignorance and vice; and eternal justice will see to it that it is so. We cannot escape our duties; let us face them, then, like men.

If Franklin or Jefferson were here to-day and saw this mighty population with no voice in its affairs, he would lay his finger, like a wise physician, on the body politic and say:

“Here- here is where you are ailing.

“Here faith in the principles that brought us through. Let us take up the stitch our father dropped. Let us apply to our situation the rules of government they applied to theirs. If you should say to Jefferson, ‘Why should we be disturbed? Will it give us more interest on our money?’ Jefferson would have answered you ‘That I cannot tell, but this I know, that the man who loves freedom for anything but freedom’s self was made to be a slave!’

“Even if we should fail, men would write over our graces the profound saying of Guizot, ‘The struggle itself supplied in some measure the place of liberty.’ But we cannot fail.

“Is this an hour to doubt or question the principles of free government?

“Now, when those principles, encouraged by their success upon this continent, are shaking every throne upon the Bosphorous Young Turkey is making good its claim to constitutional government?

Far East Perspective.

“When Persia is starting from her revelry and old China is turning from the slumber of 4,000 years? Now, when in the islands of the South Pacific we ourselves are reaching out a hand to lead a strange race into the ordered paths of Anglo-Saxon freedom?

“Let the sons of Washington beware lest the little brown men of the Philippines enter the kingdom of representative government before them. If the people of Columbia prefer to take their ease, no rude reformer will disturb their rest. But when we have passed away, men will describe us as the dying patriarch in his prophetic vision pictured the most degenerate of his tribes:

“‘Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens; amd he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.’

“Sir, the danger to this country lies not, as we sometimes think, in the poor immigrant who flees to us from afar, still smarting from the lash of tyranny- ignorant and low-minded though he be. The prize of citizenship will appeal to him. He will clutch it and hold it fast as ‘the immediate jewel of his soul.’

“The danger lies in him who, ‘like base Judean, throws a pearl away richer than all his tribe,’ in the man who will share the blessings of liberty without bearing its burdens; in the man who is willing that impudence and theft shall sit in the seat of power, so long as he is left free to pile up his millions or scatter them like a lord on the playground of Europe.

The Nation’s Capital

“The Capital of the United States- what is it? It is not marble palaces nor lofty domes nor splendid obelisks. If it is anything, it typifies a great idea.

“The deepest word that was ever uttered to interpret that idea was wrung from lips that trembled between hope and despair upon the field of Gettysburg- ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’

“Can Washington typify that idea while it stands as it does to-day? It cannot be. It must be changed.

“It will be changed.

“The time will surely come when he who stands in the shadow of these majestic structures, and of the prouder ones that shall arise, will have no cause to hang his head for shame at any violation of our principles, but will feel that here- here more truly than anywhere else on the face of the whole earth- he is standing in their august and visible presence.

“And now, Mr. President, at the end as the beginning, we turn to you not to express the hope that you may discharge the new duties with clearer sight or firmer fidelity than you discharged the old- for that would be impossible- but that in your more exalted station you may find a wider field for your beneficent endeavors, cheered, as will be, by the personal love of millions of your fellows and supported by the unwavering faith of all America.”



Also see:
+ TAFT STIRS CAPITAL BY SUFFRAGE SPEECH – The New York Times, May 10th, 1909
+ PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO SUFFRAGE IN DISTRICT – The Washington Post, May 9th, 1909
+ JUSTICE STAFFORD’S PLEA FOR SUFFRAGE IN WASHINGTON – The Washington Times, May 9th 1909


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



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

ANXIOUS TO COME BACK


The District Hath Charms for the People of Alexandria


A MOVEMENT OF THE CITIZENS


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


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

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

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

“What started this movement?”

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

“How is it proposed to proceed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post archives and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.



Does Virginia Own Alexandria County? – The Washington Herald, January 18, 1910
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I found this article absolutely fascinating. I’ve blogged about the two acts of Congress that are referenced throughout this article [H.R. 259 – An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia & An Act for establishing the Temporary and Permanent seat of the Government of the United States], but until today I had not thoroughly read a legal opinion on the topic of Virginia’s retrocession of Alexandria County (now present-day Arlington County). My original contention was that the Act of 1846 was illegal because the text of the Act specified that retrocession was possible only with the approval of both the city *and* the county of Alexandria, and only the city voted in favor retrocession. The argument presented in this article below speaks to the larger issue of how the “permanent” seat of government was created out of a legal covenant that involved four parties: the Federal Government, Virginia, Maryland, and the original 19 property owners of the District. A very compelling case is made that through the passage of the Act of 1846 the original covenant was unconstitutionally broken. 99 years later, I thoroughly agree with the logic outlined in the article below and would like to have the District of Columbia return to its original size. While I don’t see it happening any time soon, history shows that change is constant.

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

The Washington Herald, January 18th, 1910

DOES VIRGINIA OWN ALEXANDRIA COUNTY?


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


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

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

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

Complete Answer Found.

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

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

Act of 1846.

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

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

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

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

Maryland’s Right.

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Mandate.

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

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

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

Goes in the Record.

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

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

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


DOES VIRGINIA OWN ALEXANDRIA COUNTY


Continued from Page One.

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

Fever-breeding Marsh.

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

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

Defeat of Intention.

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

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

An Exhaustive Opinion.

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

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

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

Government in Control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acquirement of Site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Mandate.

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

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

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

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

Quotes from Opinions.

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



Related Legislation Entries:



ISO – La Haine
|| 11/8/2005 || 7:59 am || Comments Off on ISO – La Haine || ||

So last night while I was coding my “Geospatial Art” layer for Google Earth, I decided to attempt to find a copy of “La Haine,” online, and of course I couldn’t! The film was recently released on DVD, but only with Region 2 encoding (WTF!). I decided to put a posting on craigslist about it the film, and hopefully someone will respond…. I really want to see the film again!

I was thinking about synergistic events and how the riots in France could easily be replicated here in Washington, DC. Granted I am not one to cause destruction of other people’s belongings, read: I am NOT going to do this, but I was thinking last night how poignant it would be to see the marginalized residents of SE Washington, DC burning cars to show the world that poverty exists here in DC as well. The most far-fetched idea that someone came up with was burning 51 cars from Virginia & Maryland in the confines of DC. The 51 cars would represent DC as the 51st state, and the synergistic aspect to this theoretical vandalism is the Supreme Court ruling last week that struck down the commuter tax the District hoped to impose on Maryland & Virginia drivers. Essentially, DC residents are marginalized both economically (some residents) and democratically (all residents), and the destruction of cars from Maryland & Virginia would show the world that the residents are fed up and beginning to fight back.





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