ANXIOUS TO COME BACK
The District Hath Charms for the People of Alexandria
A MOVEMENT OF THE CITIZENS
Ninety Per Cent of the Population of Alexandria City and County Ready and Willing to Leave the Old State and Become Part of the National Capital.
The question of the repeal of the law retroceding Alexandria county to Virginia is the uppermost topic in the ancient city now. The advocates and opponents of repeal are having it back and forth good naturedly. “When are you going into the District?” one asks banteringly of the other. The latest step that has been taken toward securing a crystallization into action of all the discussion on the subject for the past twenty-five years was the presentation in the Senate, as stated in The Post yesterday, of a petition by Mr. Edmunds, signed by about 400 citizens of Alexandria county, praying for the repeal of the act of 1846, giving back to Virginia that portion of the ten miles square which Virginia had ceded for the seat of government. A Post reporter circulated among the business men of Alexandria yesterday with a view of learning the public sentiment in the matter. He found an almost unanimous sentiment in favor of it, at least those whom he met favored it and claimed that there was little opposition to the movement.
Mr. Amos Slaymaker, the King-street drygoods merchant, carried the petition among the business men. He said that he found very few who were opposed to it. There were some who thought that it was a slap at old Virginia, and they thought that it was not right to “go back” on the old State. The opposition was based entirely on sentiment. Those who favored repeal were animated by practical movements.
“We do not regard it as a slap at old Virginia,” Mr. Slaymaker said to the Post reporter. “We believe that it would benefit Virginia as well as Alexandria. See how Maryland has benefited by the proximity of the District. This would put a slice of the District right into Virginia, and could not but benefit all the surrounding country. I was a Confederate soldier myself, and I would not do anything that would be a blow to Virginia. Alexandria should be the port of entry for Washington. The navy yard and the ordnance foundery should be located here, where there is plenty of deep water instead of government spending thousands of dollars every year dredging out the Eastern Branch.”
“What started this movement?”
“It was started out in the county, and the paper was sent to me by Mr. Lacey, the patent attorney of Washington, who own considerable property in Alexandria county. The people in the county are all strongly in favor of it.”
“How is it proposed to proceed?”
“We hope to get Congress to repeal the law of retrocession. The Virginia legislature will bring the case before the Supreme Court, where we hope to get a decision. It is said, I believe, that Daniel Webster claimed when the law of retrocession was passed that it was unconstitutional, but a test has never been made of the law. Why, at the present time when you want to run any lines in the District you have to start from our corner of the ten miles square. It would be quite as constitutional for Maryland to take back that portion which she ceded to the Government. Then where would your District be?”
Mr. Joseph Broders, the grocer, on King street, near Union, heads the list of those who signed the petition. “I have thought for years that the act of retrocession was unconstitutional,” he said, “and when the paper was brought to me I said that I would willingly sign it– I would put my name at the top if they wanted. Daniel Webster said when it was proposed to let Virginia take back what it had given the Government, ‘Why, gentlemen, you can’t do that.’ But the South was in a majority in Congress, and it was rushed through. It was put through largely through railroad influence. Alexandria wanted to subscribe for the Orange and Alexandria Railway, and as part of the District it couldn’t do it. So it was decided to have the city go back into the State, and then it could be authorized to subscribe, and it was done. But it was wholly unconstitutional. Why, suppose a bill were to be brought up into Congress retroceding to Maryland that part which that State gave to the Government? The thing wouldn’t be heard of. It would be declared unconstitutional at the start. But if it was constitutional to let go of the part of the District on this side of the river it certainly is to retrocede that part of the District on the other side. That is plain enough.”
Mr. D.W. Whiting, the publisher of the Daily Progress, said that he had long favored repeal and had written for it for years. “Here we are paying out between $80,000 and $100,000 a year to the State,” said he, “and are getting nothing in return for it. All our license fees, the fines in State cases, and 40 cents on the $1 goes into the State, and we get nothing in return for it. Look at our streets; cobblestones overgrown by grass. If we had this $100,000 to spend on home improvements we could pave our streets better. As it is we spend about $10,000 a year on our streets. The benefit to Alexandria by coming into the District would be immense. There is an overwhelming sentiment here in favor of it. I believe that 90 out of 100 favor it. The laboring people favor it almost to a man, and the business men of Alexandria are largely in favor of it.”
Mr. Whiting yesterday published in his paper the following editorial on the subject:
RETROCESSION — A petition was presented to the United States Senate yesterday signed by a number of leading citizens of this city, asking Congress to pass an enabling act so that the constitutionality of the act annexing that portion of the District of Columbia, south of the Potomac, to Virginia. There are many very strong reasons why the people of Alexandria should desire to get back into the District. One of the reasons is that Alexandria is paying annually into the State treasury nearly, if not quite $100,000, which if spent in the city would give us good streets instead of miserable cobblestone wagon-destroyers that we have. The only reason for desiring to remain with the State is a sentimental one. The reasons for going back to the District are practical ones and appeal to common sense and business interest. If a vote was taken on the subject, nine-tenths of the people would vote to go back.
George Fisher, of Fisher Bros., on Royal street, said that he favored repeal because he believed that it would be a great benefit to the city to be in the District. It would rid the city of an undesirable political element. They could get city councils that would improve the streets. The city debt was being rapidly paid off without any increase in taxation, instead of improvements being made to the city. The politicians were, of course, opposed to repeal. It would take away the franchise.
Mr. John Harlow, of Harlow Bros., Royal and Cameron streets, said that he believed 95 persons out of 100 favored it. His brother, George Harlow, is strongly in favor of it.
Mr. M. B. Harlow, the city treasurer, said that one great reason for complaint was that so much money was paid into the State and nothing received in return. The circuit judge, the city sergeant, and other State officials were paid by the city. He, however, was not convinced of the wisdom of taking the step of separation.
Mr. Peter Aitchison, of Aitchison Bros., lumber dealers, on Union street, near Prince, is strongly in favor of repeal. He is a member of the city council, and has given considerable thought to the subject. He was not in his office when the reporter called, but his brother George was. He agreed with the other speakers that Virginia got a good deal more out of Alexandria than Alexandria did out of Virginia. He believed that a large majority of the people favored the repeal.
N. Lindsey, an extensive wholesale grocer at King and Union streets, also member of the city council, strongly favors the movement and signed the petition.
Mr. William F. Creighton, proprietor of the extensive drugstore on King and Royal streets, said that the subject had been considerably discussed in his store by members of the council and others. He had heard it stated that the city had paid in 1889 $88,00 toward the State, for which nothing had been received. His store is quite an assembling place for members of the council before and after meetings, and he had heard a good deal of discussion. He had signed the petition on it being represented to him that in the District the taxes would be lower and the local improvements would be greater.
French Smoot, the lumber dealer, on Union street, near King, a member of the city council, had also signed the petition. Other who believe in repeal are:
Helmuth Bros., butchers, corner King and Columbus streets; Summers & Bros., Pitt, near King; Thomas Leadbeater, North Fairfax, near King; R. C. Acton, the King street jeweler; William H. May, agricultural implements; Thomas Lannon, grocer; B. F. Peake, carpenter and builder; George Wise, insurance; L. E. Corbett, customs collector; C. A. Yohe, Old Dominion cigar factory; R. Bell, L. Bendhelm, C. W. Howell, Isaac M. Bell, R. M. Latham, Issac Eichberg, drygoods; J. H. D. Lunt, Worth Hulfish, V. M. Power, Perry & Son, T. A. Robinson, E. S. Fawcett, D. A. Windsor, whose son assisted in circulating the petition; Frederick Paff, G. E. French, W. N. Berkley, R. T. Lucas, A. W. Armstrong, J. C. Creighton, Thomas Hoy, C. T. Helmuth, H. Kirk, A. A. Warfield, C. B. Marshall, Henry Strauss, J. A. Marshall, R. W. French, G. P. Hill, L. Stabler & Co., R. F. Lee, B. Wheatley, R. J. Thomas, J. R. Edelin, Louis Brill, William Demaine, George Wise, A. H. Smythe.
Anxious To Come Back – The Washington Post, July 24, 1890
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.