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

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

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

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

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

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


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



President Andrew Johnson’s Veto Message to Congress Concerning A Bill to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – January 5, 1867
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Even five years after President Lincoln signed An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia aka the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, it was quite evident that emancipation did not mean electoral equality. Amendments to the Constitution were to be required, but before they were even ratified, Congress chose to extend suffrage to African Americans over a recent vote of the qualified, male Caucasian population in the District of Columbia.

Below is the veto message to Congress President Andrew Johnson wrote against a bill that would have extended universal suffrage to African Americans in the District of Columbia. In the message he assumes the role of a “check” against the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress over the District and explains that Congress should not experiment on the District residents, but rather let the Constitutional Amendment be ratified first.

I have chosen to highlight this text because while I disagree with Andrew Johnson’s conclusion, I believe his intention was correct. The 15th Amendment to the Constitutional was ratified three years later and Andrew Johnson was impeached. But the notion that the President should be the protector of the people of the District of Columbia against powers of Congress over the people of the District of Columbia is something to seriously consider when studying means to obtain full representation for residents today, especially since the President is the only federally elected official District residents can vote for, and that was only through a subsequent constitutional amendment.

Detail of a print showing a portion of the campaign banner for the Republican ticket in the 1864 presidential election.

To the Senate of the United States:

I have received and considered a bill entitled “An act to regulate the elective franchise in the District of Columbia,” passed by the Senate on the 13th of December and by the House of Representatives on the succeeding day. It was presented for my approval on the 26th ultimo–six days after the adjournment of Congress–and is now returned with my objections to the Senate, in which House it originated.

Measures having been introduced at the commencement of the first session of the present Congress for the extension of the elective franchise to persons of color in the District of Columbia, steps were taken by the corporate authorities of Washington and Georgetown to ascertain and make known the opinion of the people of the two cities upon a subject so immediately affecting their welfare as a community. The question was submitted to the people at special elections held in the month of December, 1865, when the qualified voters of Washington and Georgetown, with great unanimity of sentiment, expressed themselves opposed to the contemplated legislation. In Washington, in a vote of 6,556–the largest, with but two exceptions, ever polled in that city–only thirty-five ballots were cast for Negro suffrage, while in Georgetown, in an aggregate of 813 votes–a number considerably in excess of the average vote at the four preceding annual elections–but one was given in favor of the proposed extension of the elective franchise. As these elections seem to have been conducted with entire fairness, the result must be accepted as a truthful expression of the opinion of the people of the District upon the question which evoked it. Possessing, as an organized community, the same popular right as the inhabitants of a State or Territory to make known their will upon matters which affect their social and political condition, they could have selected no more appropriate mode of memorializing Congress upon the subject of this bill than through the suffrages of their qualified voters.

Entirely disregarding the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia, Congress has deemed it right and expedient to pass the measure now submitted for my signature. It therefore becomes the duty of the Executive, standing between the legislation of the one and the will of the other, fairly expressed, to determine whether he should approve the bill, and thus aid in placing upon the statute books of the nation a law against which the people to whom it is to apply have solemnly and with such unanimity protested, or whether he should return it with his objections in the hope that upon reconsideration Congress, acting as the representatives of the inhabitants of the seat of Government, will permit them to regulate a purely local question as to them may seem best suited to their interests and condition.

The District of Columbia was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia in order that it might become the permanent seat of Government of the United States. Accepted by Congress, it at once became subject to the “exclusive legislation” for which provision is made in the Federal Constitution. It should be borne in mind, however, that in exercising its functions as the lawmaking power of the District of Columbia the authority of the National Legislature is not without limit, but that Congress is bound to observe the letter and spirit of the Constitution as well in the enactment of local laws for the seat of Government as in legislation common to the entire Union. Were it to be admitted that the right “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” conferred upon Congress unlimited power within the District of Columbia, titles of nobility might be granted within its boundaries; laws might be made “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Despotism would thus reign at the seat of government of a free republic, and as a place of permanent residence it would be avoided by all who prefer the blessings of liberty to the mere emoluments of official position.

It should also be remembered that in legislating for the District of Columbia under the Federal Constitution the relation of Congress to its inhabitants is analogous to that of a legislature to the people of a State under their own local constitution. It does not, therefore, seem to be asking too much that in matters pertaining to the District Congress should have a like respect for the will and interest of its inhabitants as is entertained by a State legislature for the wishes and prosperity of those for whom they legislate. The spirit of our Constitution and the genius of our Government require that in regard to any law which is to affect and have a permanent bearing upon a people their will should exert at least a reasonable influence upon those who are acting in the capacity of their legislators. Would, for instance, the legislature of the State of New York, or of Pennsylvania, or of Indiana, or of any State in the Union, in opposition to the expressed will of a large majority of the people whom they were chosen to represent, arbitrarily force upon them as voters all persons of the African or Negro race and make them eligible for office without any other qualification than a certain term of residence within the State? In neither of the States named would the colored population, when acting together, be able to produce any great social or political result. Yet in New York, before he can vote, the man of color must fulfill conditions that are not required of the white citizen; in Pennsylvania the elective franchise is restricted to white freemen, while in Indiana Negroes and mulattoes are expressly excluded from the right of suffrage. It hardly seems consistent with the principles of right and justice that representatives of States where suffrage is either denied the colored man or granted to him on qualifications requiring intelligence or property should compel the people of the District of Columbia to try an experiment which their own constituents have thus far shown an unwillingness to test for themselves. Nor does it accord with our republican ideas that the principle of self-government should lose its force when applied to the residents of the District merely because their legislators are not, like those of the States, responsible through the ballot to the people for whom they are the lawmaking power.

The great object of placing the seat of Government under the exclusive legislation of Congress was to secure the entire independence of the General Government from undue State influence and to enable it to discharge without danger of interruption or infringement of its authority the high functions for which it was created by the people. For this important purpose it was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia, and it certainly never could have been contemplated as one of the objects to be attained by placing it under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress that it would afford to propagandists or political parties a place for an experimental test of their principles and theories. While, indeed, the residents of the seat of Government are not citizens of any State and are not, therefore, allowed a voice in the electoral college or representation in the councils of the nation, they are, nevertheless, American citizens, entitled as such to every guaranty of the Constitution, to every benefit of the laws, and to every right which pertains to citizens of our common country. In all matters, then, affecting their domestic affairs, the spirit of our democratic form of government demands that their wishes should be consulted and respected and they taught to feel that although not permitted practically to participate in national concerns, they are, nevertheless, under a paternal government regardful of their rights, mindful of their wants, and solicitous for their prosperity. It was evidently contemplated that all local questions would be left to their decision, at least to an extent that would not be incompatible with the object for which Congress was granted exclusive legislation over the seat of Government. When the Constitution was yet under consideration, it was assumed by Mr. Madison that its inhabitants would be allowed “a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages.” When for the first time Congress, in the year 1800, assembled at Washington, President Adams, in his speech at its opening, reminded the two Houses that it was for them to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia, vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States, should be immediately exercised, and he asked them to “consider it as the capital of a great nation, advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, would secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government.” Three years had not elapsed when Congress was called upon to determine the propriety of retroceding to Maryland and Virginia the jurisdiction of the territory which they had respectively relinquished to the Government of the United States. It was urged on the one hand that exclusive jurisdiction was not necessary or useful to the Government; that it deprived the inhabitants of the District of their political rights; that much of the time of Congress was consumed in legislation pertaining to it; that its government was expensive; that Congress was not competent to legislate for the District, because the members were strangers to its local concerns; and that it was an example of a government without representation — an experiment dangerous to the liberties of the States. On the other hand it was held, among other reasons, and successfully, that the Constitution, the acts of cession of Virginia and Maryland, and the act of Congress accepting the grant all contemplated the exercise of exclusive legislation by Congress, and that its usefulness, if not its necessity, was inferred from the inconvenience which was felt for want of it by the Congress of the Confederation; that the people themselves, who, it was said, had been deprived of their political rights, had not complained and did not desire a retrocession; that the evil might be remedied by giving them a representation in Congress when the District should become sufficiently populous, and in the meantime a local legislature; that if the inhabitants had not political rights they had great political influence; that the trouble and expense of legislating for the District would not be great, but would diminish, and might in a great measure be avoided by a local legislature; and that Congress could not retrocede the inhabitants without their consent. Continuing to live substantially under the laws that existed at the time of the cession, and such changes only having been made as were suggested by themselves, the people of the District have not sought by a local legislature that which has generally been willingly conceded by the Congress of the nation.

As a general rule sound policy requires that the legislature should yield to the wishes of a people, when not inconsistent with the constitution and the laws. The measures suited to one community might not be well adapted to the condition of another; and the persons best qualified to determine such questions are those whose interests are to be directly affected by any proposed law. In Massachusetts, for instance, male persons are allowed to vote without regard to color, provided they possess a certain degree of intelligence. In a population in that State of 1,231,066 there were, by the census of 1860, only 9,602 persons of color, and of the males over 20 years of age there were 339,086 white to 2,602 colored. By the same official enumeration there were in the District of Columbia 60,764 whites to 14,316 persons of the colored race. Since then, however, the population of the District has largely increased, and it is estimated that at the present time there are nearly 100,000 whites to 30,000 Negroes. The cause of the augmented numbers of the latter class needs no explanation. Contiguous to Maryland and Virginia, the District during the war became a place of refuge for those who escaped from servitude, and it is yet the abiding place of a considerable proportion of those who sought within its limits a shelter from bondage. Until then held in slavery and denied all opportunities for mental culture, their first knowledge of the Government was acquired when, by conferring upon them freedom, it became the benefactor of their race. The test of their capability for improvement began when for the first time the career of free industry and the avenues to intelligence were opened to them. Possessing these advantages but a limited time–the greater number perhaps having entered the District of Columbia during the later years of the war, or since its termination–we may well pause to inquire whether, after so brief a probation, they are as a class capable of an intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage and qualified to discharge the duties of official position. The people who are daily witnesses of their mode of living, and who have become familiar with their habits of thought, have expressed the conviction that they are not yet competent to serve as electors, and thus become eligible for office in the local governments under which they live. Clothed with the elective franchise, their numbers, already largely in excess of the demand for labor, would be soon increased by an influx from the adjoining States. Drawn from fields where employment is abundant, they would in vain seek it here, and so add to the embarrassments already experienced from the large class of idle persons congregated in the District. Hardly yet capable of forming correct judgments upon the important questions that often make the issues of a political contest, they could readily be made subservient to the purposes of designing persons. While in Massachusetts, under the census of 1860, the proportion of white to colored males over 20 years of age was 130 to 1, here the black race constitutes nearly one-third of the entire population, whilst the same class surrounds the District on all sides, ready to change their residence at a moment’s notice, and with all the facility of a nomadic people, in order to enjoy here, after a short residence, a privilege they find nowhere else. It is within their power in one year to come into the District in such numbers as to have the supreme control of the white race, and to govern them by their own officers and by the exercise of all the municipal authority–among the rest, of the power of taxation over property in which they have no interest. In Massachusetts, where they have enjoyed the benefits of a thorough educational system. a qualification of intelligence is required, while here suffrage is extended to all without discrimination as well to the most incapable who can prove a residence in the District of one year as to those persons of color who, comparatively few in number, are permanent inhabitants, and, having given evidence of merit and qualification, are recognized as useful and responsible members of the community. Imposed upon an unwilling people placed by the Constitution under the exclusive legislation of Congress, it would be viewed as an arbitrary exercise of power and as an indication by the country of the purpose of Congress to compel the acceptance of Negro suffrage by the States. It would engender a feeling of opposition and hatred between the two races, which, becoming deep rooted and ineradicable, would prevent them from living together in a state of mutual friendliness. Carefully avoiding every measure that might tend to produce such a result. and following the clear and well-ascertained popular will, we should assiduously endeavor to promote kindly relations between them, and thus, when that popular will leads the way, prepare for the gradual and harmonious introduction of this new element into the political power of the country.

It can not be urged that the proposed extension of suffrage in the District of Columbia is necessary to enable persons of color to protect either their interests or their rights. They stand here precisely as they stand in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Here as elsewhere, in all that pertains to civil rights, there is nothing to distinguish this class of persons from citizens of the United States, for they possess the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens,” and are made “subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” Nor, as has been assumed, are their suffrages necessary to aid a loyal sentiment here, for local governments already exist of undoubted fealty to the Government, and are sustained by communities which were among the first to testify their devotion to the Union, and which during the struggle furnished their full quotas of men to the military service of the country.

The exercise of the elective franchise is the highest attribute of an American citizen, and when guided by virtue, intelligence, patriotism, and a proper appreciation of our institutions constitutes the true basis of a democratic form of government, in which the sovereign power is lodged in the body of the people. Its influence for good necessarily depends upon the elevated character and patriotism of the elector, for if exercised by persons who do not justly estimate its value and who are indifferent as to its results it will only serve as a means of placing power in the hands of the unprincipled and ambitious, and must eventuate in the complete destruction of that liberty of which it should be the most powerful conservator. Great danger is therefore to be apprehended from an untimely extension of the elective franchise to any new class in our country, especially when the large majority of that class, in wielding the power thus placed in their hands, can not be expected correctly to comprehend the duties and responsibilities which pertain to suffrage. Yesterday, as it were, 4,000,000 persons were held in a condition of slavery that had existed for generations; to-day they are freemen and are assumed by law to be citizens. It can not be presumed, from their previous condition of servitude, that as a class they are as well informed as to the nature of our Government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice. In the case of the latter neither a residence of five years and the knowledge of our institutions which it gives nor attachment to the principles of the Constitution are the only conditions upon which he can be admitted to citizenship; he must prove in addition a good moral character, and thus give reasonable ground for the belief that he will be faithful to the obligations which he assumes as a citizen of the Republic. Where a people–the source of all political power–speak by their suffrages through the instrumentality of the ballot box, it must be carefully guarded against the control of those who are corrupt in principle and enemies of free institutions, for it can only become to our political and social system a safe conductor of healthy popular sentiment when kept free from demoralizing influences. Controlled through fraud and usurpation by the designing, anarchy and despotism must inevitably follow. In the hands of the patriotic and worthy our Government will be preserved upon the principles of the Constitution inherited from our fathers. It follows, therefore, that in admitting to the ballot box a new class of voters not qualified for the exercise of the elective franchise we weaken our system of government instead of adding to its strength and durability.

In returning this bill to the Senate I deeply regret that there should be any conflict of opinion between the legislative and executive departments of the Government in regard to measures that vitally affect the prosperity and peace of the country. Sincerely desiring to reconcile the States with one another and the whole people to the Government of the United States, it has been my earnest wish to cooperate with Congress in all measures having for their object a proper and complete adjustment of the questions resulting from our late civil war. Harmony between the coordinate branches of the Government, always necessary for the public welfare, was never more demanded than at the present time, and it will therefore be my constant aim to promote as far as possible concert of action between them. The differences of opinion that have already occurred have rendered me only the more cautious, lest the Executive should encroach upon any of the prerogatives of Congress or by exceeding in any manner the constitutional limit of his duties destroy the equilibrium which should exist between the several coordinate departments, and which is so essential to the harmonious working of the Government. I know it has been urged that the executive department is more likely to enlarge the sphere of its action than either of the other two branches of the Government, and especially in the exercise of the veto power conferred upon it by the Constitution. It should be remembered, however, that this power is wholly negative and conservative in its character, and was intended to operate as a check upon unconstitutional, hasty, and improvident legislation and as a means of protection against invasions of the just powers of the executive and judicial departments. It is remarked by Chancellor Kent that–

To enact laws is a transcendent power, and if the body that possesses it be a full and equal representation of the people there is danger of its pressing with destructive weight upon all the other parts of the machinery of Government. It has therefore been thought necessary by the most skillful and most experienced artists in the science of civil polity that strong barriers should be erected for the protection and security of the other necessary powers of the Government. Nothing has been deemed more fit and expedient for the purpose than the provision that the head of the executive department should be so constituted as to secure a requisite share of independence and that he should have a negative upon the passing of laws; and that the judiciary power, resting on a still more permanent basis, should have the right of determining upon the validity of laws by the standard of the Constitution.

The necessity of some such check in the hands of the Executive is shown by reference to the most eminent writers upon our system of government, who seem to concur in the opinion that encroachments are most to be apprehended from the department in which all legislative powers are vested by the Constitution. Mr. Madison, in referring to the difficulty of providing some practical security for each against the invasion of the others, remarks that “the legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.” “The founders of our Republic * * * seem never to have recollected the danger from legislative usurpations, which by assembling all power in the same hands must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by Executive usurpations.” “In a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited both in the extent and the duration of its power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength, which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes, it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.” “The legislative department derives a superiority in our governments from other circumstances. Its constitutional powers being at once more extensive and less susceptible of precise limits, it can with the greater facility mask, under complicated and indirect measures, the encroachments which it makes on the coordinate departments.” “On the other side, the Executive power being restrained within a narrower compass and being more simple in its nature, and the judiciary being described by landmarks still less uncertain, projects of usurpation by either of these departments would immediately betray and defeat themselves. Nor is this all. As the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people and has in some constitutions full discretion and in all a prevailing influence over the pecuniary rewards of those who fill the other departments, a dependence is thus created in the latter which gives still greater facility to encroachments of the former.”

“We have seen that the tendency of republican governments is to an aggrandizement of the legislative at the expense of the other departments.”

Mr. Jefferson, in referring to the early constitution of Virginia, objected that by its provisions all the powers of government–legislative, executive, and judicial–resulted to the legislative body, holding that “the concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.” “As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be rounded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others. For this reason that convention which passed the ordinance of government laid its foundation on this basis, that the legislative, executive, and judicial departments should be separate and distinct, so that no person should exercise the powers of more than one of them at the same time. But no barrier was provided between these several powers. The judiciary and executive members were left dependent on the legislative for their subsistence in office, and some of them for their continuance in it. If, therefore, the legislature assumes executive and judiciary powers, no opposition is likely to be made, nor, if made, can be effectual, because in that case they may put their proceedings into the form of an act of assembly, which will render them obligatory on the other branches. They have accordingly in many instances decided rights which should have been left to judiciary controversy; and the direction of the executive, during the whole time of their session, is becoming habitual and familiar.”

Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution, reviews the same subject, and says:

The truth is that the legislative power is the great and overruling power in every free government. * * * The representatives of the people will watch with jealousy every encroachment of the executive magistrate, for it trenches upon their own authority. But who shall watch the encroachment of these representatives themselves? Will they be as jealous of the exercise of power by themselves as by others? * * *

There are many reasons which may be assigned for the engrossing influence of the legislative department. In the first place, its constitutional powers are more extensive, and less capable of being brought within precise limits than those of either the other departments. The bounds of the executive authority are easily marked out and defined. It reaches few objects, and those are known. It can not transcend them without being brought in contact with the other departments. Laws may check and restrain and bound its exercise. The same remarks apply with still greater force to the judiciary. The jurisdiction is, or may be, bounded to a few objects or persons; or, however general and unlimited, its operations are necessarily confined to the mere administration of private and public justice. It can not punish without law. It can not create controversies to act upon. It can decide only upon rights and cases as they are brought by others before it. It can do nothing for itself. It must do everything for others. It must obey the laws, and if it corruptly administers them it is subjected to the power of impeachment. On the other hand, the legislative power except in the few cases of constitutional prohibition, is unlimited. It is forever varying its means and its ends. It governs the institutions and laws and public policy of the country. It regulates all its vast interests. It disposes of all its property. Look but at the exercise of two or three branches of its ordinary powers. It levies all taxes; it directs and appropriates all supplies; it gives the rules for the descent, distribution, and devises of all property held by individuals; it controls the sources and the resources of wealth; it changes at its will the whole fabric of the laws; it molds at its pleasure almost all the institutions which give strength and comfort and dignity to society.

In the next place, it is the direct visible representative of the will of the people in all the changes of times and circumstances. It has the pride as well as the power of numbers. It is easily moved and steadily moved by the strong impulses of popular feeling and popular odium. It obeys without reluctance the wishes and the will of the majority for the time being. The path to public favor lies open by such obedience, and it finds not only support but impunity in whatever measures the majority advises, even though they transcend the constitutional limits. It has no motive, therefore, to be jealous or scrupulous in its own use of power; and it finds its ambition stimulated and its arm strengthened by the countenance and the courage of numbers. These views are not alone those of men who look with apprehension upon the fate of republics, but they are also freely admitted by some of the strongest advocates for popular rights and the permanency of republican institutions. * * *

* * * Each department should have a will of its own. * * * Each should have its own independence secured beyond the power of being taken away by either or both of the others. But at the same time the relations of each to the other should be so strong that there should be a mutual interest to sustain and protect each other. There should not only be constitutional means, but personal motives to resist encroachments of one or either of the others. Thus ambition would be made to counteract ambition, the desire of power to check power, and the pressure of interest to balance an opposing interest.

* * * The judiciary is naturally and almost necessarily, as has been already said, the weakest department. It can have no means of influence by patronage. Its powers can never be wielded for itself. It has no command over the purse or the sword of the nation. It can neither lay taxes, nor appropriate money, nor command armies, nor appoint to office. It is never brought into contact with the people by constant appeals and solicitations and private intercourse, which belong to all the other departments of Government. It is seen only in controversies or in trials and punishments. Its rigid justice and impartiality give it no claims to favor, however they may to respect. It stands solitary and unsupported, except by that portion of public opinion which is interested only in the strict administration of justice. It can rarely secure the sympathy or zealous support either of the Executive or the Legislature. If they are not, as is not unfrequently the case, jealous of its prerogatives, the constant necessity of scrutinizing the acts of each, upon the application of any private person, and the painful duty of pronouncing judgment that these acts are a departure from the law or Constitution can have no tendency to conciliate kindness or nourish influence. It would seem, therefore, that some additional guards would, under the circumstances, be necessary to protect this department from the absolute dominion of the others. Yet rarely have any such guards been applied, and every attempt to introduce them has been resisted with a pertinacity which demonstrates how slow popular leaders are to introduce checks upon their own power and how slow the people are to believe that the judiciary is the real bulwark of their liberties. * * *

* * * If any department of the Government has undue influence or absorbing power, it certainly has not been the executive or judiciary.

In addition to what has been said by these distinguished writers, it may also be urged that the dominant party in each House may, by the expulsion of a sufficient number of members or by the exclusion from representation of a requisite number of States, reduce the minority to less than one-third. Congress by these means might be enabled to pass a law, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding, which would render impotent the other two departments of the Government and make inoperative the wholesome and restraining power which it was intended by the framers of the Constitution should be exerted by them. This would be a practical concentration of all power in the Congress of the United States; this, in the language of the author of the Declaration of Independence, would be “precisely the definition of despotic government.”

I have preferred to reproduce these teachings of the great statesmen and constitutional lawyers of the early and later days of the Republic rather than to rely simply upon an expression of my own opinions. We can not too often recur to them, especially at a conjuncture like the present. Their application to our actual condition is so apparent that they now come to us a living voice, to be listened to with more attention than at any previous period of our history. We have been and are yet in the midst of popular commotion. The passions aroused by a great civil war are still dominant. It is not a time favorable to that calm and deliberate judgment which is the only safe guide when radical changes in our institutions are to be made. The measure now before me is one of those changes. It initiates an untried experiment for a people who have said, with one voice, that it is not for their good. This alone should make us pause, but it is not all. The experiment has not been tried, or so much as demanded, by the people of the several States for themselves. In but few of the States has such an innovation been allowed as giving the ballot to the colored population without any other qualification than a residence of one year, and in most of them the denial of the ballot to this race is absolute and by fundamental law placed beyond the domain of ordinary legislation. In most of those States the evil of such suffrage would be partial, but, small as it would be, it is guarded by constitutional barriers. Here the innovation assumes formidable proportions, which may easily grow to such an extent as to make the white population a subordinate element in the body politic.

After full deliberation upon this measure, I can not bring myself to approve it, even upon local considerations, nor yet as the beginning of an experiment on a larger scale. I yield to no one in attachment to that rule of general suffrage which distinguishes our policy as a nation. But there is a limit, wisely observed hitherto, which makes the ballot a privilege and a trust, and which requires of some classes a time suitable for probation and preparation. To give it indiscriminately to a new class, wholly unprepared by previous habits and opportunities to perform the trust which it demands, is to degrade it, and finally to destroy its power, for it may be safely assumed that no political truth is better established than that such indiscriminate and all-embracing extension of popular suffrage must end at last in its destruction.

ANDREW JOHNSON.
Veto Message
January 5, 1867



Citation: John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=72067.



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.



AMENDMENT GIVES DISTRICT A VOICE – The Washington Times, November 18, 1908
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AMENDMENT GIVES DISTRICT A VOICE - The Washington Times, November 18, 1908

A proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, entitling the District of Columbia to be represented in Congress by one Senator and one or more Representatives, has been drafted by Henry W. Blair, formerly United States Senator from New Hampshire, now practicing law in Washington and will be presented to Congress next month.

The amendment is drawn in the form of a resolution which must be passed by two-thirds of the Senate and House, each before being submitted to the Legislature of each State. It would then have to be ratified by three-fourths of all the Legislatures of each State. It would then have to be ratified by three-fourths of all the Legislatures before it could become part of the Constitution.

The amendment proposed is to article 16 of the Constitution. The first section of the article is as follows:

“The District of Columbia shall be entitled to representation in the Congress of the United States by one Senator, and by one or more Representatives according to the rule of apportionment established by the Constitution, and to as many electors for President and Vice President as it has members of the Congress, who shall have the same qualifications and powers as other like officers, and shall be chosen, and all vacancies filled, by election of the people.”

The proposed amendment also provides that when the choice of a President shall devolve upon the House of Representatives, the members of the House chosen from the District of Columbia shall vote and be counted as a State.


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.



GOVERNORS PLEDGE AID IN FIGHT FOR D.C. VOTES – The Washington Times, March 5, 1919
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GOVERNORS PLEDGE AID IN FIGHT FOR D.C. VOTES - The Washington Times, March 5, 1919

The governors of twenty-eight States and the mayors of virtually every large city in the country today are preparing to carry Washington’s fight for votes throughout the nation.

These State and city executives here in reconstruction conference, have heard Washington’s appeal, and have been enlisted in the national campaign to win the right of suffrage for the people of the National Capital.

No poll has been taken yet to ascertain officially the views of each and every governor or mayor, but a meeting last night indicated that Washington can expect unanimous support by these governors and mayors in the suffrage campaign.

Harper Jubilant

“The friendship of the governors and mayors will do much influencing Congress to give suffrage to the District,” said Col. Robert N. Harper, president of the Chamber of Commerce, today. “With the support of these men, Washington may feel confident of a tendency on the part of the next Congress to grant suffrage to the District.”

The justice of the District’s appeal for suffrage was explained at a dinner in the New Washington Hotel last night in honor of the governors and mayors. The Washington Chamber of Commerce was host.

Every argument brought out by the speakers in favor of granting a franchise for the people of the National Capital was eagerly absorbed by the conferees.

Many of the governors and mayors made notes of the points scored by Colonel Harper, Henry B. F. Macfarland, Commissioner Brownlow, and other speakers for suffrage, and it was evident that they were storing up knowledge concerning Washington’s voteless condition for future use.

“We find sentiment in support of the District suffrage plea almost unanimous among the governors and mayors attending the conference,” said Colonel Harper today.

“Many of the men were at first almost unable to believe when they were told that Washington is the only capital in the world without representation in the National Government.

“But they have been told of the existing conditions, and District residents may feel sure that these governors and mayors will go to their States and their cities and spread the cry of Washington for ‘Suffrage.'”

Why British Laugh

Henry B. F. Macfarland struck a responsive note in the minds of his listeners last night when he said:

“No wonder the visiting Britisher laughs up his sleeve when we tell him we fought in the Revolution mainly because King George III tried to tax us without allowing us representation in Parliament– ‘taxation without representation is tyranny’ we cry; and then the Britisher smiles because he knows that Washington, the greatest capital of the greatest democracy in the world, the people are taxed without being represented.

“And the Englishman probably whispers to his countrymen, Is the United States living up to the principles of Americanism when 400,000 citizen– no, not citizens, inhabitants– of the National Capital of the United States, are deprived of the right to vote!”

“What is your answer going to be Mr. Governor and Mr. Mayor? — you Americans. Is it going to be taxation without representation for the people of your National Capital?”

There was silence for a moment: then a storm of applause swept through the room.

“No!” came the response.

Retain Present System

Mr. Macfarland also urged the audience to discourage any movement to remove the present half-and-half fiscal system from the District.

“The present system should be retained unless some plan better than that followed out since 1878 be evolved,” said Mr. Macfarland.

Colonel Harper told the governors and mayors during the meeting that it was not the intention of the people of Washington to appeal now for local self-government.

“Washington now wants only representation in the Electoral College and in Congress,” said Colonel Harper. “There has been some objection to the suffrage movement in Washington on the grounds that self-government in the District would result in misunderstandings between Federal and municipal governments; but we do not wish to urge, at the present time, more than District representation in Congress, the Senate and in the Electoral College.

“Representation in the affairs of the Government is the birthright of all American citizens. Why should the residents of the National Capital be deprived of a right which is given to Alaska, the Philippines, and the Hawaiian Islands? There is no just reason!”

Brownlow Speaks

“We obey the laws passed by Congress; we pay taxes; and we respond with nothing but love of country in our hearts when asked to give of the life of our home on the battlefields,” said Commissioner Louis F. Brownlow. “We do all this because we are proud of being Americans. And since we are Americans why should we not have our constitutional rights?”

“In righting this obvious wrong we need the help of the American people; in the fight for a franchise we cannot help, but have the sympathy of every Congressman, every Senator, every voter in the country- for they are Americans and they do not wish to begrudge to others the rights which they themselves possess.

“There has been some criticism throughout the nation of the congested conditions in Washington during the war 1/8 but the National Capital handled the situation as best it could. In the space of twelve months, 90,000 persons came to Washington from all sections of the country.

“It was difficult to care for all these people, but the District responded to the emergency in a way, which I know, ultimately caused universal satisfaction throughout the nation.

Fed Have Gone Home

“Conditions in Washington are not quite as congested as before the signing of the armistice, but the need of further building in the District is still apparent. Of the 90,000 war workers who came here in the space of twelve months, but 4,100 have gone home since the armistice was signed.

“I have hear that all the war workers want to stay in Washington; so it is evident that living conditions in the National Capital are not as bad as you may have sometimes heard.

“About 17,000 District men have served or are serving in the army, navy, or marine corps during the present emergency. Of these 3,500 have returned and all have them have received back their jobs.”


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.



An Appeal To The Americanism of Visiting Governors & Mayors – The Washington Times, March 4, 1919
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As previously mentioned, this advertisement was published in every newspaper in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, March 4th, 1919.


 An Appeal To The Americanism of Visiting Governors & Mayors - The Washington Times, March 4, 1919

TEXT:

An Appeal To The Americanism
Of the Visiting
Governors & Mayors

400,000 residents of the District of Columbia pay Federal taxes, obey Federal laws, go to war to defend the Federal government! But these 400,000 have no representation in Congress, no Presidential vote.

Will you help us effect the Constitutional Amendment, which will give us this right, to which we, as American citizens, are entitled?

“Taxation Without Representation Is Tyranny!”

This appeal is made by men of the District of Columbia, men deeply interested in its Americanization.


This newspaper advertisement is from a scan of the original newspaper 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.



D.C. VOTE CAMPAIGN BEARS QUICK FRUIT – The Washington Times, March 4, 1919
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The effectiveness of the “letterhead campaign” for votes for Washington was shown today when it was announced that more than 150 replies, asking what the writers could do to help the people of the District of Columbia to become citizens, have been received by Dr. George T. Sharp secretary and treasurer of the Eastern Viavi Company, with offices in the Colorado Building.

Dr. Sharp said he had told most of the volunteers to get after their county papers and to request their customers and friends to bring pressure on representatives in Washington.

The Cosmos Theater is using an entire page of its program for the “Votes for Washington” propaganda.

The Jacksonville, Fla., Times-Union, in a recent edition, declared that after the suffrage amendment is adopted the people of Washington should be given the vote.

Full page advertisements addressing the conference of governors and mayors appeared in all local papers today.


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.



GOVERNORS TO AID D.C. VOTE FIGHT – The Washington Times, March 4, 1919
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Newspaper scan from Chronicling America

Sentiment among the 100 governors and mayors of States and cities throughout the United States, now in conference in Washington was today expressed as being solidly in favor of the District’s appeal for suffrage.

Feeling is running high among the conferees, most of whom were not aware of the voteless condition of District residents until they came to Washington to attend the conference.

Action by the governors and mayors in passing resolutions favoring the District suffrage movement and in pledging themselves to urge their constituents to instruct their Congressmen to give the vote to Washington is expected before the termination of the conference tomorrow.

The attitude of the visitors, who came from nearly every State in the Union, was best expressed today by Lieut. Gov. George Stephan of Denver, Colorado.

“The sense of justice and the democratic principles upon which the American nation is founded all demand that the people of the National Capital be given the right to vote,” he said.

Can’t Believe His Ears.

“There is no argument which can be used against the appeal of Washington for suffrage for its citizens. I could hardly believe my ears when I was told that the people of the National Capital of the greatest republic on earth were forbidden to vote.

“To think that the residents of the city of Washington, endeared in the hearts of American people for the past century and as the very heart of American democracy, should be deprived of the right of casting the ballot. It is beyond my understanding.

“Congress should take steps at the right the undemocratic conditions as regards the right to vote, existing in the National Capital.

West to Back Fight.

“I can safely say that the West, where the love of country and of the principles of true democracy are of first concern, will be solidly behind the National Capital in its campaign to win the right to vote.”

“The North, East, and South, I can also safely say, in behalf of the men from those sections of the country attending the conference, will support Washington’s plea, by instructing their Congressmen to permit the vote in the National Capital.

“I predict that when a bill to give suffrage to the District comes up in Congress, the ‘ayes’ will make it unanimous; for Congress is representative of the democratic ideals of the American nation, and Congress will see to it that American principles prevail throughout the whole country.

Should Introduce Bill.

“Washington should be given the right to vote, just as soon as it is possible to put a District suffrage bill through Congress.” said Daniel L. Keister, mayor of Harrisburg, Pa., and one of the conferees meeting at the White House today.

“‘Taxation without representation is tyranny,’ is as much of an Americanism today as it was in the time of Patrick Henry. It strikes me as rather peculiar that the National Capital, which has been justly idealized as the seat of American ideals, should be deprived of a constitutional right.

“Washington, I know, is glad to send her sons to defend the honor of the nation; Washington is glad to give her wealth to aid in upholding the strength of the nation, and Washington, I Know, rightfully resents having her citizens regarded as people without the ability to vote as American citizens.

“By all means, let the residents of the National Capital vote. When their campaign for suffrage comes up in Congress, they will surely find all of the strength and influence of the rest of the nation behind them in their please for their constitutional rights.”


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.



SIEBOLD FOLLOWER OF PATRICK HENRY – The Washington Times, June 18, 1909
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SIEBOLD FOLLOWER OF PATRICK HENRY


Says “No Taxation Without Representation” – Refuses to Pay Cigar Tax


Benno Seibold, proprietor of a small general store, at 901 Fourteenth street southeast, would like to have the people of the District rally behind him in his appeal for their constitutional rights of representation or no taxation. He has refused to pay his cigar tax, although it has been due since last November, and declares that the law of 1878, which imposes taxation for half of the expenses of the local government upon property owners here, is null and void.

He bases his objection on that portion of the Constitution which provides that all taxes, duties, and imposts shall be uniform throughout the United States. They are not uniform, he says, and so they are not constitutional.

The Government inspectors have called Mr. Siebold’s attention to the fact that he has not paid the cigar tax on two occasions, but he has responded each time that he was not ignorant of the law. They have not offered to arrest him, but he admits that under the statutes he is subject to arrest and he would welcome arrest, as it would give him an opportunity to try out the constitutionality of the law which he refuses to obey.

The annual cigar tax is $12. Mr. Seibold has paid for a liquor license and he has sent in his real estate taxes.

When questioned this morning, he declared he believed with Patrick Henry that “taxation without representation is tyranny,” and the people of the District are being subjected to tyranny every day. He wants several representatives in Congress and also wants all taxation to be the same in the District as outside, which would mean there would be no property taxes at all.

Mr. Seibold is very bitter at the authorities for spending great amount of money in the northwest section while the southeast is neglected.

“Here we are within a mile of the Capitol and you can go out and get stuck in the mud about anywhere along the streets,” he said warmly. “But you can go five or six miles up into the northwest and find that the District is spending all kinds of money. This form of Government we have is rotten, rotten.”

He is preparing several recommendations as to the District government which he will submit to President Taft.


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.



Debate in the U.S. House of Representatives Concerning An Act to Retrocede the County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, to the State of Virginia, Friday, May 8, 1846
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After R. M. T. Hunter’s eloquent speech concerning the Retrocession of Alexandria in the District of Columbia to the State of Virginia, the bill was debated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Below I have transcribed the entire debate of the day from the Congressional Globe, including the final vote tally. As I noted before, William Winter Payne, the representative from Alabama, was solidly against the bill and eventually took his issue to the Supreme Court of the United States, and while losing for employing the wrong legal strategy, there have been other legal opinions that have questioned the constitutionality of the aforesaid act.



Photograph of Congress from the Library of Congress

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress


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

The bill was read as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question being taken, the amendment was rejected.

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

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

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

The question being taken, the amendment was adopted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. McCLERNAND obtained the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. BAYLY. I denied no such thing.

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

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

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

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

Mr. PAYNE (interposing.) So do I.

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

Mr. PAYNE. That is precisely what I stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. McCLERNAND now resumed the floor, and proceeded.

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

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

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

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

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

Locke, in his Treatise on Civil Government, says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. SIMS withdrew the motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the sixth section was stricken out.

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

This was agreed to.

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

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

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

All amendments were concurred in.

And the bill was ordered to a third reading now.

And having been read a third time by its title-

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the bill was passed.

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

Mr. MORRIS asked leave to make a report.

Objections were made.

And the House adjourned.


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


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