WANT 20,000 SIGNERS
Congress to Be Asked to Authorize a Special Election to Allow People to Say Whether They Wish the Present System of Municipal Government Continued– A Constitution Adopted and Speeches Made– Labor Unions Taking a Hand.
The Washington Post, November 16th, 1894.
Another organization of those in the District of Columbia who want to be full-fledged citizens with the right to vote and to have a voice in the management of local affairs was formed this evening. The plan of campaign differs in some particulars from that of the labor organizations instituted some weeks ago, but in other respects it is the same. Steps were taken for the circulation of a monster petition and an effort will be made to secure for it 20,000 signatures. This will ask Congress to allow a special election in the District to determine whether the citizens desire to maintain the present form of government.
The of the organization is “The District Suffrage Petition Association.” It grew out of the meeting of citizens which was held a week ago last evening at the John Wesley Church on Connecticut Avenue, between L and M streets. The meeting last evening was at the same place and the temporary organization of a week ago was made permanent. Robert Reyburn, M.D. presided, and was made the president. He is strongly in favor of the movement and spoke earnestly for it.
Here is the constitution which was adopted:
The object for which this association is founded is the securing of a representative form of government for the citizens of the District of Columbia. All citizens of the District of Columbia who believe in the principles of free government are invited to join, and aid in the movement, by forming branches or auxiliary associations.
The officers of the association shall be a president, two vice presidents, a secretary, and a treasurer. The president shall be a member, by virtue of his office, of all committees. The president and all other officers of the association shall perform all the duties usually appertaining to such offices in other organizations. An executive committee shall be elected by the members of the association (or appointed by the president), to devise such means as in their judgment will further the objects for which the association was founded. They will be called upon for a report upon the progress they have made, at every meeting of the association.
The order of business at the meetings shall be reading of minutes, report of the treasurer, report of the executive committee, and other committees, unfinished business, new business, adjournment.
Regular meetings of the association will be held on the third Tuesday of each month and can be called at any time on the written request of three members to the president, or, in his absence, to the vice president.
The meeting was called to order at 7:30 o’clock. A good number of the persons who had assembled were colored people, many of whom are well known in the District. There were in the neighborhood of a hundred present, of whom three or four were women. Lawyer James H. Smith, who was subsequently elected permanent secretary, took down the minutes of the proceedings. There were brief addresses by Dr. Reyburn, who said he had always felt humiliated that he should have lived so many years in the District without the rights of a citizen which those in the States enjoy. He did not feel contented that his son should be reared without the education in public affairs which an enjoyment of the franchise imposes. Dr. Reyburn also stated briefly the transactions of the previous meeting. Mr. Smith spoke after him urging the necessity of suffrage for the District. Then the constitution was adopted and the election of officers proceeded with. Besides the president and secretary already named W. Calvin Chase, the editor of the Bee, was chosen first vice president; Gustav Augustine, second vice president; E.M. Hewlett corresponding secretary; Mr. Smith having been designated as recording secretary, and Walter Callahan, treasurer.
Dr. Reyburn advanced the idea of circulating petitions, a number of copies of which he had caused to be printed. It was agreed that these should be carried about the friends of the cause and those present added their names. Dr. Reyburn said he proposed to have copies of these petitions in public places throughout the city, where signers could be secured. He believed this would be an effective method of expressing local opinion about suffrage to Congress. The petition reads as follows:
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the United States: We, the undersigned citizens and permanent residents of the District of Columbia, believe the present form of government existing in the District (by Commissioners) to be in direct violation of all the principles on which this republic was founded.
Moreover, we also believe that a large majority of the citizens and permanent residents of the District of Columbia are in favor of a change in this District from the present form to one in harmony with the principles of free government.
We respectfully urge and request, therefore, that a law be passed directing that a special election be held (as soon as practicable) by the citizens of the District of Columbia, to decide the question whether the citizens of this District desire to maintain the present form of government by Commissioners or to return to a representative form of government.
The next meeting will be held at this church next Thursday evening. A vote was taken also that the state monthly meetings should be held the third Thursday evening of each month, and the hour was fixed at 8 o’clock. Mr. Augustine said he had visited the hall of Typographical Temple, where a meeting of the labor organization interested in the suffrage movement was advertised to be held. He said that no one was in attendance. Milford Spohn, the president of that organization, was in the audience, and Dr. Reyburn called upon him to speak.
Mr. Spohn replied with moderation and outlined the work which the labor men had undertaken to do. A delegate of the Knights of Labor from Washington to the convention in session this week at New Orleans had been instructed to bring the matter to the attention of the body with the request that labor organizations all over the country should ask their representatives in Congress to grant the citizens of the District the right to vote. This was done because of the opinion that Congressmen would respect a petition much more when there a vote behind it. A similar request was to be made before the international convention of the unions of the Federation of Labor. He added that able editorials had been written by the newspapers of the District against local government. The chief objection which these contained was that the government now paid half of the taxes, and that this would involve an undesirable complication. He thought it was not manly to sell one’s birthright for fifty cents on the dollar, and declared that only those in the jails, insane asylums, and the District of Columbia were denied the full right of citizenship in the United States.
At the close of his speech Mr. Augustine spoke dramatically of local affairs, expressing his opinion that an investigation would reveal corruption in police circles far beyond that lately exposed in New York. an enthusiast then said that a reporter for a morning newspaper was unable to attend the meeting and he was making a motion that the secretary be authorized to make out a full report and sent it to the office, but was compelled to sit down by a chorus of laughter, in midst of which the meeting voted to adjourn.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post archives and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.