From 1840 to 1846, residents of Alexandria petitioned Congress and the Virginia legislature to approve retrocession. On February 3, 1846 the Virginia General Assembly agreed to accept the retrocession of Alexandria if Congress approved. Following additional lobbying by Alexandrians, Congress passed legislation (below) on July 9, 1846 to return all the District’s territory south of the Potomac River back to the Commonwealth of Virginia, pursuant to a referendum that would be held later in the year, and President Polk signed this first piece of legislation the next day.
A referendum on retrocession was then held on September 1–2, 1846 and the residents of the City of Alexandria voted in favor of the retrocession, 734 to 116, however, the residents of Alexandria County voted against retrocession 106 to 29. Despite the objections of those living in Alexandria County, President Polk certified the referendum and issued a proclamation of transfer on September 7, 1846. However, the Virginia legislature did not immediately accept the retrocession offer. Virginia legislators were concerned that the people of Alexandria County had not been properly included in the retrocession proceedings. After months of debate, the Virginia General Assembly voted to formally accept the retrocession legislation on March 13, 1847.
In Abraham Lincoln’s first State of the Union, delivered on December 3, 1861, he suggested restoring the District of Columbia to George Washington’s original boundaries:
The present insurrection [Civil War] shows, I think, that the extension of this District across the Potomac at the time of establishing the capital here was eminently wise, and consequently that the relinquishment of that portion of it which lies within the state of Virginia was unwise and dangerous. I submit for your consideration the expediency of regarding that part of the District and the restoration of the original boundaries thereof through negotiations with the State of Virginia.
I also question the legitimacy of the retrocession because in the bill below you can see that it states that both the county AND the town of Alexandria were to pass the referendum. The county of Alexandria never voted in favor of retrocession, only the town voted for it. Imagine if the land was returned back to the District of Columbia?