District of Columbia Home Rule Act
Approved December 24, 1973
Amended through November 19, 1997
Originally published on-line in February of 1999
Click here to view a PDF as amended to 2008
Justice Stafford Eloquent on Washington: Past, Present, and Future – The Washington Herald, May 9th, 1909
|| 12/21/2009 || 6:20 pm || + Render A Comment || ||
Over the last few months I have transcribed the New York Times and the Washington Post‘s coverage of this historic dinner, but today I am honored to share the entire text of Justice Stafford’s speech that was published in full in the Washington Herald (and to an extent in the Washington Times).
The speech marks, according to Justice Stafford, the first time the president of the United States had ever met with the business leaders of Washington. He makes one of the best cases for including the people of the District of Columbia in Congress that I have ever read or transcribed. When reading this speech and seeing his ultimate predictions come to pass, I actually teared up at one moment. History had come alive before my eyes and it hurt. It hurt that he had predicted exactly what would come to pass in the next century. But alas, he highlighted what has not happened yet- the voice of the people of Washington in both Houses of Congress.
In his speech, he places before the president of the United States the notion that I presented as an April Fool’s Day joke this year, that the District of Columbia be afforded one Senator, and a proportional number of members of the House of Representatives. This speech was written before the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, which puts the election of each State’s two Senators up to popular vote, but I think his intention was to show that the District of Columbia is a not just a city, but its a special city, home to the Federal government, that deserves its own voice in the elected body that the Constitution gives full control over it’s dominion, Congress.
Please take a moment to read this historic speech by District of Columbia Superior Court Justice Stafford:
“I pledge you in a sentiment that is almost a prayer”
“‘May this prove a fortunate day for the District of Columbia’
“Without doubt the people of the District look upon the occasion that has drawn us here as a most happy augury.
“The Chief Magistrate of the nation, not more respected than beloved, has signified his willingness to sit at their board, to break their bread and taste their salt. It is proof of interest and kindness that has touched all hearts.
“We who are seated around these tables are only a handful out of many thousands who in thought and sympathy are with us at this feast. Presidents have cone and gone, doing their duty by the District as they saw it, but in the press and through of larger duties too often prevented from giving to local matters the attention they deserved.
“Never before has a President at the beginning of his term thus held out the hand of friendship to our people. Our President has seen much of Washington. But more than that, he has traveled far and wide, he has studied the capitals of other countries, their institutions and their laws. And thus he adds to the true promptings of a generous heart the wisdom of a ripe experience. Those are the qualities that are needed here and now. It is the hour for a statesman. The population of the District has increased so rapidly, it is growing so in wealth and beauty, the greatness of its future is already assured, that the time has come when the true relations between the District and the nation must be clearly conceived and accurately defined, and when an ideal must be formed for the District of Columbia– an ideal to be worth through generations true enough and grand enough to claim the attention and the devotion of all the land.
“The men who made the Constitution were absolutely certain of one thing, and that was that this Federal government must have a home of its own. ‘Over such a district,’ the Constitution in so many words declares, the Congress shall ‘exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever.’ So far as general legislation is concerned, there is no power in Congress to delegate this authority. It must legislate itself. When it attempted once to bestow upon a Territorial legislature for the District the authority to make general laws, the court declared the attempt unconstitutional and vain. The utmost it can do in this direction is authorize the enactment of local regulations. No attempt to legislate for Washington will be worth the making unless it is made in the same spirit in which the founders worked.
“It was said of an Eastern temple, ‘It was designed by Titans and finished by jewelers.’The tribute is capable of double meaning. A great work should be grandly conceived and then executed with minutest pains.
“We wish as much for Washington. But the jeweler must not meddle with the architect’s design. If he does, men may say: ‘It was planned by Titans; it was finished by pygmies.’
“Less than half a century had elapsed from the founding of the Capital before a congress was found pusillanimous enough to surrender and cede back thirty square miles of Federal soil, and the noble patrimony the nation had received from the Father of his Country was broken in two, and the Virginia portion cast away.
“Or task to-night is to put the Washington of our day to the test of the great principles that controlled the founders of our government, to view the work they left us in the light of all that has developed since, and to plan for the future as men of their vision have planned in our surroundings.
“What do we mean when we say the District of Columbia? There are at least three meanings in which the expression may be accurately used. It may mean the mere territory, the seventy square miles of land and water. It may mean the municipal corporation which has been created by the act of Congress. It mean the political community, which may be called, and by the Supreme Court has repeatedly called, for certain purposes, a State. In this third sense it is not a mere municipal corporation, but is filled with the sovereignty of the United States of America.
“It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between these meanings, especially between the second and the third, if we would keep our thinking clear. Let us take a moment to trace this distinction in the transactions of a century.
“When the United States, in 1800, took possession of this territory it found local self-government here. For two generations it left it undisturbed. ‘Prior to 1871,’ said Mr. Justice Bradley, in a case before the Court of Last Resort, ‘the government of the United States, except so far as the protection of its own public buildings and property was concerned, took no part in the local government.’
“‘The officers of the departments, even the President himself, exercised no local authority in city affairs.’ In 1871 the Congress created here a new government expressly ‘for municipal purposes.’
“It had its governor and its legislature- the latter, of course, elected by the people. It had also a board of public works, whose members, including the governor as its head, were appointed by the President and Senate. This board laid out the money raised in taxes, and assessed the owners benefited by improvement.
“The court held that its acts were binding on the District, and that in spite of its appointment by the President, it was only a branch of municipal government. Thus matters remained until 1874, when Congress tore down all it had previously done, and started new. The governor and the board of public works were abolished, and the power which they had exercised was intrusted to a commission of three to be appointed by the President and Senate.
“Four years later, in 1878, the new arrangement was made permanent. Nevertheless, the contention was made before the Supreme Court of the United States that the effect of the new act was to destroy the District of Columbia as a municipal corporation, except in name, and to make it nothing more than department of the national government. The contention was ruled down.
“The fact that its officers were appointed by the President, said the court, did no make the District of Columbia any less a municipal body corporate. Recognizing the general desirableness of local self-government, it held that the principle of representative government was legally satisfied when the appointment of local officers was made by other officers who themselves had been elected by the people, saying: ‘The people are the recognized source of all authority, and to this authority it must come at last, whether immediately or by a circuitous process.’
“Whether a flaw is to be found in this reasoning as applied to the sitution before the court, inasmuch as the people of the District of Columbia, the people to be governed, never did have a share in electing the President and Senate, who were the appointing officers, I will not stop here to inquire; for my present purpose is to point out the separation that has always been recognized between the District of Columbia, as a mere municipal corporation, and the District of Columbia as a quasi state.
“There is only one sovereign in the District of Columbia. Indeed, in respect to sovereignty, the situation is precisely the same as if there were no other domain affected by the central government; as if all its functions were performed here.
“Why, then, it may be asked, should there be such a municipality as the District of Columbia at all? Why should not the general government take direct control and administer all the affairs of the District through its own bureaus? It would not be so easy to answer that question if two facts were other than they are:
“First- If there were no citizens of the United States except those who live in the District.
“Second- If the District elected the national officers. But there are 350,000 people here, and there are some 90,000,000 outside, and all are citizens of the United States; and the 350,000 who live here have some interests which they do not hold in common with the 90,000,000 who live outside.
“It is, in part at least, for the recognition and protection of these separate and peculiar interests that a municipal government exists and is required. All the more is it needed by reason of the fact that there is no suffrage. Let us picture what might be. The streets and public works might all be put under the War Department, the public health under the Surgeon General, the charities made a bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor, or perhaps of the Interior, and the schools turned over to the Commissioner of Education. And so it might go on, until the local government was completely bureaucratic- until the rod of national administration, turned serpent, had swallowed up all the little rods of local administration and was left alone upon the floor.
“In the meantime the city, growing by leaps and bounds, has doubled and trebled its present population, and we have here a million people, without a word to say, in theory or fact, directly or indirectly, about the streets they walk, the water they drink, the light they burn, or the education of their children- everything done for them and done by officers in whose selection they had no voice and who have been selected with no particular reference to their opinions or their needs.
“To some of us that is not a pleasing spectacle.
“Certainly we must not forget that this is a national city. There is little risk of that. But there are institutions, many and important, which are not national in their aim or character. They are exactly such institutions as the same numerical population would require were this no the Nation’s Capital. That is true of the institutions of charity and punishment. We should need to have schools, recording offices, post-offices, and courts; we should need streets and bridges, and thousand things beside, by reason of the fact that we are a city.
“Institutions that answer the needs of the community merely as a community, without reference to the national government, should not these be treated as local institutions? Should they not be administered as a part of the municipal government and officered by men identified with the District?
“Those courts of the District which deal not exclusively with local controversies, but in large measure with disputes to which the nation is a party, may perhaps be fairly made up, one-half of member drawn from the locality and one-half from the nation at large. This seems more appropriate, inasmuch as those who hold these offices hold them during good behavior, and when they come here come hoping to behave well enough to remain through life.
“But many offices relate exclusively to this community, at least as much so as the offices of any community can be said to relate to itself alone, and why should not these be filled by local citizens? Even if there should be no statute thus restricting the selection, ought not such a course be pursued as a permanent policy?
“Why should the people of the District have their deeds recorded by a man from California? Why should Washington be the only city in the land that cannot have a postmaster appointed from among its citizens?
“If we are to keep up the form of municipal government at all, does not a fair consistency demand that we should treat it as municipal, as existing, among other purposes, to care for all that is peculiar and local in the interests and needs of the community? Will it not be wisdom to treat it so?
“Let us not forget that there are thousands upon thousands here who have no other abiding place. Their roots have struck deep into the soil. They love the city with all the national pride we share with them, and with that tender sentiment which we call ‘the love of home’ besides. Is it wise to treat them as aliens in the house of their fathers?
Others have lived here till all ties with other places are dissolved and they expect their children will live here when they are gone. These people, so completely and irrevocably identified with the place, constitute an element not wisely to be overlooked when one is considering how local affairs may be most prudently and loyally administered.
“Who knows? Perhaps we have come already to the parting of the ways. Little by little the local hold is lost. Here a hospital is drawn under the control of a department. There the jail slips out of the hands of the Attorney General. Now it is proposed that the schools be placed under a bureau; and now, that the city shall be officered on the principle of efficiency alone, by one who can be found who is most competent, though he never saw Washington before.
“It would be something to assume that among 350,000 such as we find gathered here, not a single man could be found capable of conducting the business of the city. But if it should be conjectured that in some far off place a commissioner might be found somewhat more efficient, would that difference in efficiency make up for the sacrifice of one more bond- sometimes it seems as it were the last- between the government and the locality?
“The problem of city government is not altogether, I venture to think, a matter of perfecting the machinery. Men are not altogether machines. They have sentiments; they have hearts. And if there had not been sentiment and heart, as well as brain, there would be to-day no Washington.
“As far as the municipal government is concerned, the people of the District seem to have settled down to the arrangement that there should be no suffrage.
“The accept it- very much as Lord Dundreary’s brother Sam accepted his embarrassment in being born, and especially being born bald-headed. ‘You see (Sam), he wasn’t consulted; and there he was, and it was too late to do anything about it.’ But suffrage or no suffrage in municipal affairs has nothing to do with the principle of which I speak. I believe it should be the policy of the government, alongside of the national spirit that inspires all hearts, to foster and perpetuate a sturdy local patriotism, a local and peculiar civic pride; and to this end, that all offices of this kind should be filled by those who have become residents of Washington for good and all.
“Sir, I am not included to discuss tonight the various proposed changes in the constitution of the city government. These concern a possible increase of efficiency in the municipal machine. In what I am yet to say I prefer to dwell upon a broader question. But no one ought to refer to the form of government that has given shape to our affairs since 1874 without doing justice to the splendid advances that have been made under its direction. In 1878 the plan was adopted of raising upon the ratable property here a tax of 1.5 per cent and of matching that with an equal amount from the national Treasury.
“Up to that time the District had carried the burden year by year, almost or quite alone, and was sinking under a debt of many millions. Under the new arrangement Washington has sprung to her feet. Parks have been laid out, avenues extended, bridges built, public buildings erected, grade crossings abolished, railway terminals improved, a magnificent new station built, the sewerage and water systems practically made over, millions upon millions spent toward making the city in health and beauty what it ought to be. Meantime absolute fidelity in the discharge of duties, no stain or hint of corruption, scarcely a dishonest transaction ever charged. Surely that is a record for any city to cherish and for those who have had a share in making it to look back upon with pride.
“Some forbidding obstacles have been encountered and are met with still. One is, this being compelled to pay for permanent improvements out of the current income. What other city is expected to pay for its great works, to last for generations, out of its ordinary receipts, meanwhile taking it out od the schools and scrimping its legitimate expenses? Any other city would raise the money on bonds and pay them a little at a time.
“Washington need not be bonded, since the national treasury can supply it with the loan and let it be paid back at a reasonable rate; but the principle is sound. It is enforced by the late Secretary of the Treasury in his able report for 1908, where he sets forth with great lucidity the need of a national budget to bring about an adjustment between disbursements and receipts, with a rigid separation between expenditures for the ordinary service of the government and those for permanent public works, the latter to be met by bond issue.
“But there are obstacles of graver import and they constitute defects radical and without remedy in the present relation between nation and District. They can be removed only by a change in that relation itself. We shall all agree that to legislate wisely requires two things– first, a lively interest in the object of legislation; second, a clear intelligence touching the subject at hand. There being no representative from the District itself in either branch of Congress, it becomes necessary to commit the interests of the District, and the interests of the nation in the District, to hand unfamiliar with the subject and without any lively interest therein.
“The Congress as a whole cannot be expected to supply these requisites. No one pretends it does. It is engaged upon a thousand subjects, many of which appear to its members to be vastly more important than any that concerns the District. We cannot wonder at it; it is in the nature of things that it should be so. The step logically required by this condition is next taken.
“A committee in the House and a committee in the Senate are specially charged with these affairs. Not that their word is accepted as final. If it were, some difficulties would be escaped. But in the end their report must run the gantlet of the whole House or Senate.
“Here ignorance of District affairs has often shown itself so egregious and glaring that it could excite nothing but laughter, if tears were not often a more fitting recognition of the folly.
“And when that occurs there is no representative of the District to meet the ignorant, unfounded claim. Three hundred and fifty thousand people are voiceless in that hall. The committees cannot meet the emergency. To expect it would be to expect more than mortal men can do. Who are the members of the committee?
“Are they Senators and Representatives set apart for this work and free to devote themselves entirely to such business?
“By no means. They have their own constituencies to serve, and they have, besides, their share of responsibility for the general legislation, like all their fellow-members.
“They are appointed; they do the best they can; and if they give sufficient time to our affairs to understand our problems, they run the risk of losing their seats entirely by being thought at home to neglected their own States or districts.
“I am credibly informed that the risk has turned into a certainty in more instances than one. But, more than that, the membership of the House and Senate changes and the membership of the committees changes, too.
“Hardly has a member become reasonably acquainted with our subject than he is called away, another takes his place, and the whole process of education must be begun again. That is the radical and incurable defect of the present system. Keep your three Commissioners if you will, or substitute for them a single head, improve the machinery of municipal administration all you can, until it runs with the regularity of a Swiss watch- you have not touched the trouble.
“What is needed is two men in the House and one man in the Senate; real live men with blood in their arteries and brains in their heads; men who have lived long in the District of Columbia and belong to her; men who known her needs and her capacity, who know the history and condition of her institutions, her charities, her prisons, the views and aspirations of her people; men who are proud of their connection with her, and proud that to her soil has been committed the ark of civil and religious liberty.
“What we need is members of these bodies with the prestige that belongs to members; not figureheads, not lobbyists, not delegates, but a member of the Senate and two members of the House, able enlightened, informed, fit to represent the will and judgment of 350,000 citizens gathered within these bounds.
“But that requires an amendment of the Constitution. So it does. An amendment in strict accord with the principles of the Constitution, made necessary by the changed conditions of 120 years, made unavoidable and inevitable by the changes that will take place in the fifty or one hundred years to come. Do you imagine that when 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 shall be swarming in our borders they will be the only people in this broad domain to have no hand in the government of this magnificent republic, no word in the election of its President, no tongue in the national assembly?
“When 1,000,000 men are there, when they ask why they alone can have no part in a republican form of government, do you imagine they will call it a sufficient answer to be told ‘Because you live in Washington?’
“If you lived in Pumpkin Hook or Bloody Gultch, you might, but not while you lived here.
“Bear in mind, I am not speaking of municipal suffrage. I am speaking of the right of a million of simple American citizens to have a share-less than a one hundredth part would be- in the legislation that concerns their country and its Capital.
“Suppose they have no more right than the same number of people who live anywhere else in the United States. Have they not as much? And that is all the right of which I speak.
“But I hear it said, ‘The people of the District do not care for suffrage.’ Well, all I can say to that is this: If the people of the District of Columbia do not really care to have a part in the government of this splendid country, they do not deserve to have it, and nobody need fear that it will be thrust upon them. But I cannot believe that statement.
“‘Say, seignors, are the old Niles dry?’
“I cannot believe that the human heart has changed.
“I cannot believe that principles have lost their power.
“I cannot believe that the deep instincts that built up this wonderful fabric of free government have died out here in the very seat of its majesty, and that here alone the ‘bright consummate flower’ of liberty has gone to seed.
“There is no doubt that they need quickening. There is no doubt that they are have sunk into the torpor of faculties disused. But hold before their eyes the hope of what I am describing, and you shall see whether self-respect and the desire for self-government are dead.
“Sir, if I had it in my power to-night to dispose of this matter as I would, do you know what I would do?
“I would not change the constitution.
“I would not give the people of the District suffrage.
“What I would do is this:
“I would set to their dry hearts the flame of that old Promethean torch, the love of liberty.
“I would fill them with divine unrest at their condition.
“I would set beside that condition a picture of the dignity and power they might enjoy as real citizens of their country.
“I would move them first to desire and then to demand their portion of our heritage.
“I would nerve them to toil for it and fight for it through years of bitter opposition- and then at last, when the agitation had created a new Washington, when 400,000 or 500,000 people were calling as with one mighty voice for the great prize of representative government- then I would bestow it on them.
“And sir, I believe that is exactly what the god of time will do.
“A city of the dumb! Mr. Chairman, I have heard you speak of a little village on an island off the New England coast inhabited entirely by deaf mutes.
“They live unto themselves.
“They marry and intermarry and rear children who are dumb as they.
“They go about their tasks, but speak no word.
“The busy hum of life goes on around them; the shuttles of the world’s activities fly to and fro, but into the growing web they weave no strand.
“Sir, I will not extend the parallel. It is too obvious and too painful to be drawn. But that is not the Washington that shall be.
“Only let the agitation begin.
“Let it start here to-night.
“Why not make this occasion historic?
“Let every true son of Washington, native or adopted, go out from this feast strengthened and heartened for a long enlistment. Let him know for once in his life the glory of being possessed of a grand idea- the sublime enthusiasm of being lost in absolute devotion to a great cause.
“Let them meet and join hands and stir one another’s hearts, quicken one another’s minds, and sustain on another’s courage. Let it go on.
“It will be met with opposition; it will meet with ridicule; it will meet with censure; it will take years; it may take many- but it will have one possible outcome if the sons of Washington are worthy the name they bear.
Again I say, I am not speaking now of municipal suffrage at all. Let the present arrangement, or some improved substitute for it, be continued if you please. What has that to do with the broad and fundamental fact that the hundreds of thousands here should have their due and proportionate representation in the National Assembly- should have the same right that other citizens enjoy of giving their votes in the election of the Chief Magistrate of the republic?
“‘The republic! It is not alone for the District of Columbia that I bring the proposition forward. The interests of the nation would be served as well.
“They would not be served first of all by the increased efficiency and propriety of the laws that would be enacted; in the next place, by the fact that the members from the District, being familiar with the local situation, and serving on the local committees, would relieve the members from other States of much of their present burden, leaving them freer to perform the duties for which they were specially selected.
“Further, it would serve the nation by adding to Congress men of weight and influence in national concerns.
“We should have here a constituency peculiarly rich in material for Representatives.
“But, more perhaps that all the rest, the change would serve the interests of the whole nation by recognizing the grand principle of representative government here, in the most conspicuous position in the country, where hitherto it has been cast aside.
“Men could no longer point the finger of scorn at us, and say:
“‘Washington gives the lie to your pretensions.’
“‘Look! In the very seat of national greatness you acknowledge by your acts that your form of government is a failure. Until we are honest enough to live up to your principles, we shall deserve all our trouble; and, sir, from the bottom of my heart I do believe that the greatest troubles we have spring from this fact, that we have turned back upon those principles.
“We shall never find peace or safety until we return to them again.
“Shall we say we fear the suffrages of ignorance and vice- the ignorance and vice that we ourselves are to blame for- that could not last a generation if we did our duty by our fellow-men?
“Sham on the race or the community that holds its hands the wealth of the continent and carries in its brains the accumulated culture of the centuries and yet refuses to lift that ignorance and vice to the level of enlightenment and virtue.
“Tear down your shacks and shanties.
“Let in the sun upon your noisome alleys.
“Build decent habitations for the poor to dwell in.
“Make your prisons moral hospitals instead of breeding cells for crime.
“Spread education broadcast in the streets.
“Let us do the work of Christians at our doors before we admit that our fathers were fools and that democratic government is all a dark mistake.
“Never until the men of wealth and education have spent their last surplus dollar and exhausted the ingenuity of their brains in the effort to make their fellow-men worthy to be sharers in the government, never until then will they have a right to hide behind an excuse like that.
“I admit that an ignorant and degraded class armed with the ballot is a menace to the safety of the state; but I deny that it is a greater menace in the end than that same class, robbed of its rights,thrust down into the dark, and left as no longer necessary to the be regarded or assisted because no having any part in the affairs of state.
“Strip men of the ballot and you take away from society the most powerful inducement that can prompt selfish human nature to educate and elevate its helpless and its poor.
“We must find fault with the Creator if we wish to complain that wealth, virtue, and culture cannot be safe in the neighborhood of poverty, ignorance, and vice. He means that it shall be so. He sees Blagden’s alley as well as Dupont Circle, and He has made it certain by the laws of nature, by every wind that breathes across the city, by every tiny insect that takes its unregarded flight from home to home, that Dupont Circle shall not be safe while Blagden’s alley is rotting with disease and filth.
“The laws of nature are democratic. It is just the same in government. A community that has the power to lift ignorance and vice to its own level and will not stretch out its hand to do it, deserves to be ruled by ignorance and vice; and eternal justice will see to it that it is so. We cannot escape our duties; let us face them, then, like men.
If Franklin or Jefferson were here to-day and saw this mighty population with no voice in its affairs, he would lay his finger, like a wise physician, on the body politic and say:
“Here- here is where you are ailing.
“Here faith in the principles that brought us through. Let us take up the stitch our father dropped. Let us apply to our situation the rules of government they applied to theirs. If you should say to Jefferson, ‘Why should we be disturbed? Will it give us more interest on our money?’ Jefferson would have answered you ‘That I cannot tell, but this I know, that the man who loves freedom for anything but freedom’s self was made to be a slave!’
“Even if we should fail, men would write over our graces the profound saying of Guizot, ‘The struggle itself supplied in some measure the place of liberty.’ But we cannot fail.
“Is this an hour to doubt or question the principles of free government?
“Now, when those principles, encouraged by their success upon this continent, are shaking every throne upon the Bosphorous Young Turkey is making good its claim to constitutional government?
“When Persia is starting from her revelry and old China is turning from the slumber of 4,000 years? Now, when in the islands of the South Pacific we ourselves are reaching out a hand to lead a strange race into the ordered paths of Anglo-Saxon freedom?
“Let the sons of Washington beware lest the little brown men of the Philippines enter the kingdom of representative government before them. If the people of Columbia prefer to take their ease, no rude reformer will disturb their rest. But when we have passed away, men will describe us as the dying patriarch in his prophetic vision pictured the most degenerate of his tribes:
“‘Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens; amd he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.’
“Sir, the danger to this country lies not, as we sometimes think, in the poor immigrant who flees to us from afar, still smarting from the lash of tyranny- ignorant and low-minded though he be. The prize of citizenship will appeal to him. He will clutch it and hold it fast as ‘the immediate jewel of his soul.’
“The danger lies in him who, ‘like base Judean, throws a pearl away richer than all his tribe,’ in the man who will share the blessings of liberty without bearing its burdens; in the man who is willing that impudence and theft shall sit in the seat of power, so long as he is left free to pile up his millions or scatter them like a lord on the playground of Europe.
“The Capital of the United States- what is it? It is not marble palaces nor lofty domes nor splendid obelisks. If it is anything, it typifies a great idea.
“The deepest word that was ever uttered to interpret that idea was wrung from lips that trembled between hope and despair upon the field of Gettysburg- ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’
“Can Washington typify that idea while it stands as it does to-day? It cannot be. It must be changed.
“It will be changed.
“The time will surely come when he who stands in the shadow of these majestic structures, and of the prouder ones that shall arise, will have no cause to hang his head for shame at any violation of our principles, but will feel that here- here more truly than anywhere else on the face of the whole earth- he is standing in their august and visible presence.
“And now, Mr. President, at the end as the beginning, we turn to you not to express the hope that you may discharge the new duties with clearer sight or firmer fidelity than you discharged the old- for that would be impossible- but that in your more exalted station you may find a wider field for your beneficent endeavors, cheered, as will be, by the personal love of millions of your fellows and supported by the unwavering faith of all America.”
WANT 20,000 SIGNERS – The Washington Post, November 16th, 1894
|| 10/20/2009 || 4:01 pm || + Render A Comment || ||
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.