In this act, passed December 3rd, 1789, the State of Virginia “forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States,” a tract of land no larger than 10 miles square to be used for the seat of government of the United States. However, 57 years after the passage of this act, the Legislature of State of Virginia would pass a subsequent act requesting the land back with the assent of Congress and the people of Alexandria.
One constitutional question I have, and the reason why I am posting the legislation below, is, if in the spring of 1846, did the State of Virginia violate Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution? This section says it is illegal for States to pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts. Therefore, if the State of Virginia entered into a Contract with the Federal Government with the passage of the act below (and others), was the passage of the 1846 act requesting the land back a form contractual impairment?
ACT OF CESSION FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA.
AN ACT for the cession of ten miles square, or any lesser quantity of territory within this State, to the United States, in Congress assembled, for the permanent seat of the General Government. [Passed the 3d December. 1789.]
I. Whereas the equal and common benefits resulting from the administration of the General Government will be best diffused, and its operations become more prompt and certain, by establishing such a situation for the seat of the said Government as will be most central and convenient to the citizens of the United States at large ; having regard as well to population, extent of territory, and a free navigation to the Atlantic Ocean, through the Chesapeake Bay, as to the most direct and ready communication with our fellow-citizens on the western frontier; and whereas it appears to this assembly that a situation combining all the considerations and advantages before recited may be had on the banks of the river Potomac, above tidewater, in a country rich and fertile in soil, healthy and salubrious in climate, and abounding in all the necessaries and conveniences of life, where, in a location of ten miles square, if the wisdom of Congress shall so direet, the States of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, may participate in such location :
II. Be it therefore enacted by the general assembly, That a tract of country, not exceeding ten miles square, or any lesser quantity, to be located within the limits of the State, and in any part thereof, as Congress may by law direct, shall be, and the same is hereby forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States, in full and absolute right, and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside thereon, pursuant to the tenor and effect of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of the Government of the United States.
III. Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, or to affect the rights of individuals therein, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States.
IV. And provided also, That the jurisdiction of the laws of this commonwealth over the persons and property of individuals residing within the limits of the cession aforesaid, shall not cease or determine until Congress, having accepted the said cession, shall, by law, provide for the government thereof, under their jurisdiction, in manner provided by the article of the Constitution before recited.
SOURCE: Page 651. The Compiled Statutes in Force in the District of Columbia, Including the Acts of the Second Session of the Fiftieth Congress, 1887-’89
Related Retrocession of Alexandria Entries: