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RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA – The New York Times, August 17, 1873
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Does the New York Times issue corrections after 137 years? Because this article has two errors. First, William Winter Payne, of Fauquier, was then a member of Congress from Alabama, not South Carolina. I decided to look in the Congressional Globe myself and find their error. Second, the article uses both Judge Underhill and Judge Underwood, when it should have been only using Judge John Curtiss Underwood (sadly, he died less than 4 months after this article was published.)

I decided to repost this article here because it provides the setting for the Supreme Court case of Phillips vs. Payne. I was not expecting to find an article that essentially provides a road map for how the unconstitutionality of Alexandria’s retrocession was to be legally challenged.


RETROCESSION OF ALEXANDRIA

The New York Times, August 17, 1873

At a recent meeting of the Common Council of Alexandria, Va., a proposition to establish a new hospital being under consideration, Judge Underhill spoke of the renewed effort by citizens of Washington to procure retrocession of Alexandria to the District of Columbia. He then related an interview he had with Gov. Cooke and Chief Justice Cartter, from which he had learned that they had determined on the move. Judge Cartter had pronounced the act of retrocession of 1846 unconstitutional and void, and they would make a test case by getting some citizen of Alexandria to refuse to pay his taxes, and file a bill for an injunction against their collection by the State of Virginia. They preferred that mode to proceeding criminal case by habeas corpus. The Board of Public Works thought it necessary to have both sides of the river, as the Board of Health had concluded the swamps on the Virginia side were the cause of much of the malarious sickness in Washington. The effort will probably be made in the Fall. Judge Underwood also remarked that the change, if made, would very seriously affect him, and necessitate his resignation of the judgeship or removal, and he said he had looked at the Globe of the date of the act of retrocession, and found that Col. Winter Payne, of Fauquier, then a member of Congress from South Carolina Alabama, had opposed it as unconstitutional, and many Democratic statesmen, but no Whigs.


This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the New York Times 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.



S280 – A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled ”An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia” – United States Senate, April 23, 1866
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Within two years of the end of the Civil War, it was realized that Virginia’s retrocession in 1846 was unconstitutional and Senator Benjamin Wade, a Radical Republican introduced a bill to repeal the act:


Page 1 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 2 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 3 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
Page 4 - S280 - A Bill To Repeal an Act Entitled 'An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia'
[ Source: Library of Congress ]

Bills and Resolutions
Senate
39th Congress, 1st Session:
April 23, 1866

Mr. Wade asked, and by unanimous consent obtained, leave to bring in the following bill; which was read twice, referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia, and ordered to be printed.

A Bill To repeal an act entitled ”An act to retrocede the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia,” and for other purposes.

Whereas the Constitution of the United States provides that Congress ”shall exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States;” and whereas by an act of Congress approved July sixteenth, anno Domini seventeen hundred and ninety, ten miles square of territory was accepted from the States of Maryland and Virginia, as the permanent seat of government, constituting what was subsequently known as the District of Columbia, which when so accepted and defined, all jurisdiction over the same was, by the Constitution, forever vested in Congress, whose duty it was then, and forever after, to preserve unviolated and free from all control whatsoever, save that of Congress; and whereas experience derived from the recent rebellion, has demonstrated the wisdom of preserving such ten miles square under the exclusive control of Congress, both for military and civil purposes, and for the defense of the capital; and whereas, by an act of Congress approved July ninth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six, that portion of said ten miles square lying south of the Potomac was ceded back to the State of Virginia, in violation of the intent and meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and to the great peril of the capital as aforesaid: Therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the act of Congress approved July ninth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six, retroceding to the State of Virginia that portion of the district ten miles square, as provided by the Constitution, known as the District of Columbia, be, and the same is hereby, henceforth and forever repealed and declared null and void, and that the jurisdiction of Congress, and the laws provided for the District of Columbia be, and the same hereby, put in force, as same as if said act of retrocession had never been passed.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That private and personal property shall not be affected by this act, so far as the rights of parties are concerned; and all public property whereof the United States were possessed at the time of the retrocession of said portion of the District of Columbia to the State of Virginia shall, from and after the passage of this act, be vested in the United States government, any law, act, or conveyance to the contrary notwithstanding, and the government, through its proper officials, is hereby authorized to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, any and all further property, real or personal, in said portion of the District of Columbia, as may be deemed necessary for public use.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That all suits and actions at law, civil or criminal, shall from and after the passage of this act be conducted and determined according to the laws, rules, and regulations enacted and provided by Congress for the District of Columbia, excepting causes wherein final judgment, decree, or sentence shall have been pronounced or passed; in such cases the final satisfaction of such judgments or decrees will be in accordance with the laws in force in the State of Virginia. But all causes wherein final judgment or decree shall not have been passed or pronounced, shall be in future conducted and determined as provided by this act.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That all taxes and revenues assessable and collectible on property, real or personal, in said portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac, shall from and after the passage of this act, be rated, collected, and applied according to the existing or future laws of Congress governing the District of Columbia.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That from and after the passage of this act all civil offices in the said portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac, in the city of Alexandria and what is known as the county of Alexandria, shall be declared vacant; and the vacancies so created shall be filled by new appointments or elections, to be made and held under the laws, regulations, and qualifications provided by Congress for elections and electors in the District of Columbia.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That this act shall be in force from and after its passage.



ALEXANDRIA AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – The Alexandria Gazette, June 9, 1909
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This editorial is the third in a series of editorials published by the Alexandria Gazette in first week of June 1909. As the editors hinted to at the end of the previous editorial, they reprint a previous opinion that was rendered by Senator George Frisbie Hoar of the judiciary committee shortly before his death.

Printed in full, for the first then, as it is the first time now, are the committee’s findings that the matter between Congress and Alexandria County, the former portion of the District of Columbia, have been resolved by political, not judicial means, and there is nothing stopping the negotiations for the reacquisition from taking place. The Hoar opinion was written 7 years prior in 1902 and concluded that the Federal government can purchase those lands back with the consent of the State of Virginia.


Click to view the newspaper clipping

ALEXANDRIA AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – The Alexandria Gazette, June 9, 1909

As heretofore stated Mr. Hayes, of California, on May 27 introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to extend the limits of the District of Columbia so as to take in all of Alexandria county, but not Alexandria city or that part of Falls Church which lies within the county. The bill was published in full in the Gazette of June 1. Commenting upon this the Gazette of June 1st suggested that Mr. Hayes should read the report made to the Senate on this subject by the late Senator Hoar. This report reads as follows and has never before been published in full:



Constitutionality of the retrocession of a certain portion of the District of Columbia ceded to the United States by Virginia.
April 11, 1902, — Ordered to be printed.
MR. HOAR, from the committee on the judiciary, submitted the folowing

ADVERSE REPORT.

The committee on the judiciary, to whom was referred the joint resolution (S. R. 50) directing the attorney-general to bring suit to determine the constitutionality of the retrocession of that portion of the original District of Columbia which was ceded to the United States by the state of Virginia, submit the following report:

The territory on the other side of the Potomac river, including the city of Alexandria, which was originally a part of the 10 miles square, was ceded by Virginia for the seat of government. It was retroceded to Virginia by act of Congress in 1846, accepted by Virginia, and thereafter Congress exercised no jurisdiction over it, except so far as it controls the Arlington national cemetery, the experimental farm of the Department of Agriculture, the military school for cavalry, and the signal corps, with the land and building occupied by them.

It seems to the committee that it is not expedient that this act of retrocession should be set aside by Congress, even if Congress have the power so to do, without the consent of Virginia. Virginia accepted the transaction, it being understood that it was at the desire and for the benefit of the national government. She has established in Alexandria the important and intimate relations which every state forms for its own citizens dwelling on her own soil; and the people, on the other hand, we presume, feel the loyal and deep attachment which such a relation excites. Such a tie ought not to be broken at all without the consent of the parties, except in case of some paramount and overwhelming public interest.

As to the suggestion that the retrocession was unconstitutional, it seems to as the answer is that from the nature of the case it is a political question and not a judicial question, and that it has been settled by the political authorities alone competent to decide it. It is like the question, What is the true state government, the true and lawful government of a state?– like the question, What is the true frontier? where any dispute exists as to whether territory belongs to us or so a neighboring foreign country, and many like questions.

These are partly questions of law and partly of fact. The questions of law may be settled by the highest court to whom, in the course of judicial proceedings, they may be taken, unless, and until that court choose to reverse its previous opinions. But the fact must be determined in each case, when it arises, by the jury or other tribunal authorized to find the fact. It would be utterly intolerable that territory should be held in one case to be a part of Virginia, and in another case to be a part of the District of Columbia, according as might be held, in the individual case.

So it seems to the case must be deemed settled by the acquiescence in the act by Virginia and of the United States, as manifested by the conduct of the departments of government for more that half a century. The consequences of holding that this retrocession has been void from the beginning would be very serious.

If it be desirable that Alexandria become a part of the District of Columbia again, the only way to accomplish it will be to open negotiations with Virginia and get her consent (See Luther v. Borden, 7 How., 1.)

The committee, therefore, report adversely, and recommend that the resolution be indefinitely postponed.


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.



STILL AFTER ALEXANDRIA – The Alexandria Gazette, June 5th, 1909
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This editorial is a follow-up to a previous editorial that included the full text of a bill that Representative Hayes, of California, had introduced in Congress the previous week to expand the size of the District of Columbia. Representative Hayes goes on record in this article saying that his bill is imperfect and that in the next session he would like to also include Alexandria City, which was left out. The editor of the Alexandria Gazette concludes with a hint at what the next editorial will be….


STILL AFTER ALEXANDRIA – The Alexandria Gazette, June 5th, 1909

Representative Hayes, of California, says he will push his bill, recently introduced in the House, for the return to the District of Columbia of the land once part of the District and later ceded to the State of Virginia. The action of the Twenty-third Congress in making the return of this land to Virginia has been criticised as unconstitutional, and President Taft at the dinner given him by the business men of Washington expressed a wish for the enlargement of the District.

Mr. Hayes said yesterday: “I am convinced that the land first ceded by Virginia is still legally a part of the District of Columbia. The constitution plainly states that an area not more than 10 miles square shall be the capital of the United States, under the jurisdiction of Congress. This Virginia land was ceded to the government for the District of Columbia, and there was and is no authority for its transfer back to Virginia. Since my bill was introduced I have become convinced that if the land is reclaimed by the government the town of Alexandria must be included in the transfer. I intend to push my measure at the next session, and I believe that the land will come back to the District. Certainly, no lawyer will contend for a moment that it rightfully belongs to the Dominion State, and I do not see how Congress can act otherwise than to restore the land to the jurisdiction of Congress.”

The president said in his speech that the city of Alexandria should be allowed to remain in Virginia, but members of Congress are of the opinion that if it is unconstitutional for the tract to remain in Virginia it is also unconstitutional for part of of the tract to remain in the State.

Mr. Hayes should read the report on this subject made to the Senate by Senator Hoar shortly before his death.


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.



A Bill To Extend The Limits of the District of Columbia – The Alexandria Gazette, June 1, 1909
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It appears that some of my recent work uncovering the history of the District of Columbia has been somewhat popular as of late. I could not be happier. History brings joy only to those willing to learn it.

This entry was transcribed from the June 1st, 1909 edition of the Alexandria Gazette. The newspaper printed the entire text of a bill introduced by Representative Everis A. Hayes of California.

In this bill he outlines the expansion of the District of Columbia back to it’s original boundary, with the exceptions of Alexandria City and Falls Church, and gives the President authority to negotiate with the governor of the State of Virginia a price of no more than $100,000 for the land. [that is between 2 million and 40 million 2009 dollars depending on how you calculate it]

There is a portion of the text that is illegible due to the use of tape when the newspaper was archived. However, I was able to adjust the contrast to be able to make out about 90% of the missing text.

I have a couple more subsequent articles to be transcribed that follow up on what exactly happened to this bill.



A BILL TO EXTEND DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA LIMITS.

The following is the full text of the bill introduced in the House of Representatives on May 27, 1909 by Mr. Hayes, of California, which was referred to the committee on the District of Columbia:

A bill extending the limits of the District of Columbia.

Whereas more territory ought to be held under the exclusive legislation given Congress over the District which is the seat of the general government for purposes of such a seat; and

Whereas that portion of Alexandria county, in the State of Virginia, which was originally ceded to the United States by the State if Virginia and receded to the State of Virginia by the twenty-ninth Congress by an act approved July ninth, eighteen hundred and forty-six, is now necessary for the public uses of the District of Columbia; Therefore,

Be it enacted by the [lost] House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, [lost] that portion of the original District of Columbia ceded to the United States of America by the State of Virginia and which was receded to the State of Virginia by the twenty-ninth Congress by an act approved July ninth, eighteen hundred and forty-six, except that portion lying within the boundary lines or corporate limits of the towns of Alexandria and Falls Church, be held under the exclusive legislation given Congress over the District of Columbia, which is the seat of the general government, for the purposes os such a seat, and all the rights and jurisdiction therewith be, and the same are hereby, forever bound unto the District in full and absolute right and jurisdiction as well as of soil as of persons residing or to reside therein.

Sec. 2. That the right of jurisdiction and sovereignty shall be exercised by the United States government for the purposes of the District of Columbia over that portion of said Alexandria county, State of Virginia, except that portion lying within the corporate limits of the towns of Alexandria and Falls Church on and after the first day of July, nineteen hundred and ten.

Sec. 3. That the President is hereby authorized and empowered to open negotiations with the State of Virginia, through the Secretary of War or such other officer or commissioner as he may deem necessary and proper, to comply with the provisions of this act; and, further, the President is authorized to pay over into the treasury of the State of Virginia such sum of money as may be mutually agreed upon by the President of the United States and the governor of the State of Virginia for relinquishing her sovereignty or jurisdictions over the said portion of Alexandria county to the District of Columbia.

Sec. 4. That if it be not possible to conclude negotiations with the State of Virginia prior to July first, nineteen hundred and ten, the sovereignty of the District of Columbia and the exclusive legislation by Congress, together with all the rights and jurisdiction of the same, as well as of persons as of soil, shall extend over Alexandria county as aforesaid, except that portion included within the corporate limits of the town of Alexandria and the town of Falls Church, on and after the first day of July, nineteen hundred and ten, and the negotiations fixing the amount of the award to be awarded to the State of Virginia may be completed and the money paid over into the treasury of the State of Virginia at some future time as may be agreed upon by the President of the United States and the governor of the State of Virginia.

Sec. 5. That in addition to any sum of money which may be paid into the treasury of the State of Virginia by the President of the United States as provided by this act Congress will assume and pay all the debts or any part thereof now due or outstanding against that portion of Alexandria county no included within the corporate limits of the towns of Alexandria and Falls Church at the time of the passage of this act.

Sec. 6. That so much money as may be needed to pay in full said outstanding debts or obligations against that portion of Alexandria county, Virginia, as aforesaid, is hereby appropriated our the United States treasury, out of any money not otherwise appropriated, to be paid when and as the same may become due and payable.

Sec. 7. That so much money as may be needed is hereby appropriated out of the United States treasury no otherwise appropriated, to carry out the provisions of this act, not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars.


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:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • thank you,
    come again!