It would be a mistake to assume that the District of Columbia has only
recently become a topic of concern. From its inception as a special zone
for the nation's capital, it has been the center of controversy, turmoil,
and, unfortunately, of racial tensions. Until well after WWII, it was under
the thumb of "unreconstructed" Southern Senators who were insensitive to
the plight of its black residents. It became fertile ground for racial
activists in the 1960's, and that flavor remains today. Some interesting highlights follow:
220 YEARS WITHOUT A VOTE IN THE
The following is a verbatim copy of a short (no attribution) "box" in the Washington Post
of March 25th, 2007, reproduced here solely for the education of NARPAC's readers. NARPAC
has added nothing to the content:
"The debate over DC voting rights dates back more than 200years. Here are some of the key
events in the Distrrict's pursuit of a congressional vote:
1788 Writing in the Federalist Papers, James Madison
states that the citizens in the federal district "will become willing parties" to having their land
annexed to the federal government because they "will have had their voice in the election of the
government which is to exercise authority over them."
1800 District residents cast their last ballots for the
House and Senate as voters of neighboring Maryland and Virginia.
1801 Congress annexes the District, leaving residents
without elected representatives.
1888 US Senator Henry Blair of New Hampshire
introduces the first constitutional amendment that would give DC congressional representation.
1915 Legislation is introduced that would allow
Washingtonians to vote for president and have representation in Congress. Over the next six years
16 more bills would be introduced none of them are passed.
1952 President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks
about the evils of taxing DC residents and making them serve in the armed forces without letting
1960 Congress passes a proposed constitutional
amendment that would give DC three electoral votes in presidential elections, but no
representation in Congress.
1961 States ratify the 23rd Amendment.
1964 DC residents are able to vote for President for
the first time.
1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson urges Congress to
enact a constitutional amendment that would give the District a vote in the House and enable
Congress to enlarge DC representation in the House and Senate, but the move stalls.
1971 Congress gives the District the right to elect a
nonvoting member of the House.
1973 Congress passes the Home Rule Act, giving DC
residents the right to elect their own mayor and council. Congress retains the right to review and
overturn any locally passed laws.
1976 The House calls for a floor vote on a proposed
constitutional amendment to give DC voting representation in Congress. Although the amendment
wins a majority of the vote (229 to 181), it fails to reach the two-thirds super-majority required to
1978 The House and Senate approve a proposed
constitutional amendment giving full voting rights to the District. The amendment requires
ratification by three-fourths of the states within seven years to become law....
1980 Advocates launch an unsuccessful bid for
1985 ....The constitutional amendment backed by the
Congress in 1978 dies because not enough states ratify it. "We are still enslaved", Mayor Marion
1993 The House defeats a bill sponsored by Del.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) that would have granted statehood to the District.
1998 Two groups of residents file lawsuits demanding
voting rights, and the DC government joins one of the lawsuits.
2000 A special three-judge panel rules against both
groups, saying the Constitution only grants voting rights to people living in states. New DC
license plates say: "Taxation Without Representation".
2003 US Rep Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va)
introduces a bill that would add two House seats one for the District and one that probably
would go to Republican-leaning Utah. It never comes to a vote.
2006 Norton joins Davis as a co-sponsor of the bill.
2007 New Democratic majority pledges to pass the
bill. It clears two House committees before stalling on the floor."
(...to be continued, until successful!)
THE CREATION OF DC
For those interested in a thorough discussion of the origins of our nation's capital city
and questions about "exclusive jurisdiction" over it, there is probably no better source
than Kenneth Bowling's
authoritative 300-page book on the arguments and discussions that preoccupied the
Founding Fathers from the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 through
the tortuous compromise finally reached in New York in 1790. It is enlightening to read
the extent to which the choice of a site was influenced by a) centrality between the
differing interests of the northern and southern blocs of states--including the matter of
slavery; b) the great importance given to rivers as the main transportation lines for the
opening of the interior of the county; and c) the potential economic gains to be made by
various large landowners, including George Washington himself.
It is also interesting to note that the final compromise decision (some 40-odd sites had
been suggested at one time or another) involved a major financial bargain over the
assumption of the debts accumulated by the states in fighting the war of Independence.
A slim majority of the Congress went along with a "Permanent Seat of the Government"
along the banks of the Potomac in return for federal assumption of those state debts. It
was not until some 14 months after the Seat of Government Bill was passed and signed
by President Washington in July of 1790 that a name emerged for the federal city and
the defensive district around it--as part of an early real estate deal
While George Washington may not have been quite as successful as the earlier
settlers than bought Manhattan Island for $40 and some beads, the following passage
may be of interest:
"At the end of March, (1990) Washington called the rival proprietors (land owners in the
area involved) together at Suter's Fountain Inn at Georgetown to impress upon them
the past trials and future challenges to the Potomac capital. Their jealousies might
deprive the federal government of the only means available to raise funds for the
buildings. They need not be rivals, for the lands of both groups were necessary to
provide the United States with a capital equal to its importance. The proprietors
reached an agreement with Washington on March 30th: they would deed to the public
all the land which the president wished to include within the federal city and he would
have complete control over its disposition. Once L'Enfant completed a city plan, the
proprietors would receive half of the lots platted on their former holdings as well as
$66.67 an acre for as much land as Washington wamted for public buildings and
reservations. The federal government would retain half the lots and all the land
designated for streets. The United States thus acquired10,136 lots and miles of streets
at no cost to itself and over 500 acres of public reservations for $36,099. With the land
acquired, Washington instructed L'Enfant to prepare a plan, stressing the importance of
including as much of the proprietors' holdings as possible."
In general, the book paints a rather realistic picture of the Father of Our County. For
instance, he notes Washington's problem with owning slaves:
Philadelphia provided a special problem for southerners. Pennsylvania law stated that
any slave who remained in the state six months became free. The Pennsylvania
Society for the Abolition of Slavery had agreed not to insist on enforcement against
members of Congress and federal officials, but nothing prevented individual citizens
from informing slaves about their rights. Thus Washington, for example, made certain
that his slaves left the state once every six months--if only for a few hours--so that he
would not become embroiled with the state's judiciary.
Bowling devotes an entire chapter to the issues surrounding the controversial matter of
"exclusive jurisdiction" by the Congress over the District--an issue that concerned the
framers of the Constitution from an early date:
In May, 1787, the Convention to Revise the Articles of Confederation, which centralists
had sought since 1780, convened in Philadelphia. Americans know little about the 30-
year Revolution which resulted not only in independence, but also in a federal
government with a capital over which it exercised jurisdiction exclusive from the states
which composed it....The most remarkable achievement of the Federal Convention was
finding the means by which the constitution it proposed could evolve over time: the
original intent was that the document be flexible and amendable enough to adapt to
significant changes in American society....
It is also interesting to learn the extent to which President Washington "twisted" his
mandate to select the site for the capital city to suit his own preferences:
The necessity of ratification of its decisions prevented the Convention from including
certain things in the Constitution, Thus the document did not state the manner in which
the Congress should pay the federal debt, or explicitly grant it the power to charter a
bank to assume the revolutionary war debts of the states....Similar political
considerations kept the convention from selecting a location for the American
capital....The issue of the location of the capital briefly came to the Convention floor
twice (but without resolution)...
The Convention devoted even less debate to the idea of the capital. This was because
the issues, other than size, had been resolved during the four preceding years in favor
of one permanent residence over which Congress would exercise exclusive
jurisdiction.... Exclusive jurisdiction--the concept that a federal government should have
power over a territory of its own, independent from the states which composed it--was
born out of the American Revolution, and has been adopted by younger nations
throughout the world....
Prior to 1783, only a few Americans supported exclusive jurisdiction, and always
privately, for the concept was alien to the nature of the decentralist Revolution.... In
1779 when Congress first debated the creation of a federal town, some members talked
privately about purchasing a few square miles of territory at Princeton, New Jersey , on
which to erect buildings. This suggestion is the earliest known mention of a district for
Congress. The amount of jurisdiction Congress would exercise was not specified. Such
discussion continued among congressmen. In September 1782 the French ambassador
reported that frustration with the problems Congress encountered at Philadelphia had
convinced some members of the necessity of removing to an isolated district where
Congress would be sheltered from such influences and independent of the states. He
doubted however that such a plan could ever be accomplished.... .:
The Baltimorean, George Lux, Jr., while privately recommending Annapolis for the seat
of federal government to several prominent friends in November 1782, advocated
exclusive jurisdiction. He stated his conviction that the place chosen should become
"a distinct independent territory totally under the government of ,Congress," but
recognized that "so narrow in that respect are the "prejudices of most of the States" that
he doubted such a measure 'would meet with approval. It was probably also he who
leapt on the !opportunity of the 21 June 1783 military demonstration at Philadelphia to
bring the issue out of the closet for public debate... The concept gained support quickly
during the competition over the location of the federal town in the summer of 1783 as
states escalated their offers of jurisdiction in attempts to outdo each other. In addition,
the peregrination of Congress during the year and a half between its leaving
Philadelphia and its arrival at NewYork City bolstered the concept. Soon after reaching
Princeton in 1783, Congress had appointed a committee to recommend the degree of
jurisdiction it should exercise over its seat...Committee members included three
formidable centralists, whose contributions to American constitutional thought during
the 1780s had few rivals: James Madison, James Wilson and Oliver
The issue facing them involved two questions. What should be the relationship
between the federal government and the residents of its seat? Congress had no
precedents to follow and only its experience at Philadelphia for guidance. Secretary at
War Benjamin Lincoln turned to his lawyer son for advice, reporting in late July that talk
about jurisdiction for Congress over a few miles about its seat had become common
and that many people considered it a necessity. The major question he raised was,
simply, did Congress have power under the Articles of Confederation to exercise such
jurisdiction. Lincoln thought not and neither did his son whose reply delved into the
legal ramifications at some length...
The complexities of the issues proved puzzling even to Madison, who sought advice
from Virginians. His request prompted Jefferson to draft a series of proposed
congressional resolutions, rejecting both ownership of the land by the United States
and the idea of an exclusive jurisdiction for Congress, on the grounds that both would
cause unnecessary and time-consuming problems....
Most public comment often referring to the military demonstration at Philadelphia,
supported the concept of a "supreme local jurisdiction in the spot" where Congress sat.
"As we have made our way to empire solely by our union. ..ought not, then, the
representatives of that union be so securely and commodiously placed, that the
business of the continent may not, by local circumstances, be interrupted," observed a
widely reprinted newspaper editorial...
Emboldened by the increasingly generous offers Congress received from the states
during the summer of 1783 and by the public discussion of the issue in the aftermath of
the demonstration at Philadelphia, congressional centralists openly advocated an
exclusive jurisdiction over an independent territory...
The jurisdiction committee reported in September 1783 that Congress should have
exclusive jurisdiction over a district not more than six miles square (thirty-six square
miles) nor less than three miles square (nine square miles). The report mentioned
nothing of the rights of the inhabitants of the district, but Madison expected them to
share with Congress the powers the federal government would exercise over
The dual residence compromise of October 1783 handled the unresolved question by
declaring that Congress should own the land and exercise an exclusive or such other
jurisdiction as it determined in the future. The very mention of the concept in the
resolutions, however, reflected how rapidly it had gained political credibility. The
Ordinance of December 1784 ignored the issue, implying that the states retained
Several members of the 1783 congressional committee on jurisdiction attended the
Federal Convention and heard James Madison offer the proposition that became
Article I, sec 8, Paragraph17 of the Constitution of the United States. He proposed that
Congress have "exclusive legislation"--a less politically sensitive phrase than
"exclusive jurisdiction," but no different in meaning over a stationary seat of
government and a district surrounding it...The final wording authorized Congress "to
exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding
ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptances of
Congress, become the seat of government of the United States."...
Beginning in the press in November 1787 and climaxing in the New York Ratification
Convention in June 1788, Antifederalist leaders such as Mercy Warren of
Massachusetts, George Clinton of New York and George Mason of Virginia publicly
attacked what they saw as the inexorable result of a one hundred square mile district
under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress and distant from the eyes of the
Antifederalists envisioned a city larger and potentially more corrupt than Philadelphia
or even London. Indeed, they, not the Federalists, gave currency to the new term,
"federal city. " One hundred square miles was an enormous area to an agrarian people
whose largest city, thirty-six square mile Philadelphia, had a settled area of less than
two square miles, and whose second largest city ,New York, lay more than a mile south
of Greenwich Village...
Antifederalists projected a population at the federal city of perhaps two or even four
million people, either directly attendant on the federal government as employees or
lobbyists, or indirectly dependent on it as family members of the attendants..
To the surprise of many, Washington did not announce the location of the federal
district when he addressed Congress in December 1790. Early in January he was still
exploring the best way to run the lines so that the maximum amount of land could be
included about Alexandria, allowing the town to grow westward as well as northward
within the federal district. Finally, on 24 January, he issued a proclamation announcing
the chosen site. Washington not only included Alexandria--four miles south of the lower
limit specified in the seat of government act of 1790--but also named a point within the
town as the starting place for the survey of the district's boundaries. The proclamation
stated that only the area north of the lower limit specified by the act be accepted for the
district at first. In a letter to Congress, Washington suggested that it pass a
supplemental act to enable him to complete the full ten mile square to his liking, by
taking in Alexandria and land south of the Anacostia in Maryland. By his placement of
the district and his .request for a supplemental act, Washington courted not only
renewed sectional tensions and a confrontation between Congress and the president,
but also attacks upon himself...
The author does not describe how Washington, DC got its name. For a separate
account of this see the the following
That the president had chosen the southern limit specified by their act did not surprise
congressmen,despite the clear implication of the Virginia act of cession and the
southern argument during the residence debate of 1789 that an upriver site was
desired. Instead, the stunned congressmen complained of his proposal to include land
in both Maryland and Virginia south of the limit established by Congress. Rep.
Theodore Sedgwick's observation that Mount Vernon bordered Alexandria exaggerated
only slightly. He had no way of knowing that Washington owned almost 1,200 acres
along Four Mile Run within the proposed district or that George Washington Parke
Custis, Martha Washington's grandson and the president's ward, owned the 950 acre
plantation that became Arlington Cemetery. Rep. William Smith of Baltimore did not
believe se1f-interest had the smallest conscious influence on Washington, but he knew
nevertheless "that almost all men form their opinions by their interest without always
knowing the governing principle of their motives or actions." ...But to attribute the
choice only to a desire to raise the value of Mount Vernon, or family lands within the
district lines, belittles Washington's vision. He had more important reasons for his
choice than lining his pockets....
HOW THE PSOG GOT ITS NAME
In a light-hearted article in the Washington Post on Feb 22, 2001, Linda Wheeler
explains how Washington, DC got its name in 1801--and how George Washington
himself tried to make a buck in real estate. Liberally editted excerpts follow:
"If some American patriots had prevailed, tourists in the District might be sending
postcards from Washingtonople or visiting a White House that was located in
Washingtonapolis. These names were suggested more than 200 years ago to honor
not only the Revolutionary hero and the nation's first president but also the man who
picked the site for the new Federal City. Congress decided that the capital would be
located along the Potomac River, but it was left to George Washington to select the
PRESIDENTIAL CHAMPIONS FOR
"The Father of Our Country settled on a 10-square-mile tract that included the ports of
Alexandria and George Town, as it was then known, as well as wooded tracts and
farmland east of the river with such names as Widow's Mite, Jamaica and Hogpen
Enlarged. Washington planned to market the federal city by creating building lots and
then auctioning them to developers and perspective home builders. A plat map showed
the location of the White House and Capitol, and the president was hopeful that buyers
would fill in the empty spaces between the city's two most important buildings. But the
capital didn't have a name. Federal city planner Pierre L'Enfant called it the "Permanent
Seat of the Government" on his first map -- but that didn't have much of a ring to it.
Newspapers encouraged an informal competition by printing suggested names sent in
by readers. One anonymous writer suggested "Washingtonople", while others
suggested "Columbus" and "Washingtonapolis".
"As with most things in the new capital, a group of men got together to settle the matter.
They met on Sept. 8, 1791, in George Town. There were a lot of items on the agenda,
but eventually Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Rep. James Madison and three
commissioners appointed by Washington to sell lots in the federal city got around to
what it should be called. Some in the group supported naming it Washington. Others
argued for naming it Columbia, after Christopher Columbus. Scott said there was great
interest in Columbus because the 300th anniversary of his famous voyage was coming
up the next year. A compromise was struck: the federal enclave would be known as
the city of Washington, and the general area would be called the District of
Columbia. There was no public proclamation of the new name, however. It
appeared in print for the first time in a Sept. 17 George Town Weekly Ledger notice
about the death of an assistant to federal city surveyor Andrew Ellicot. The man had
been killed when a tree fell on him.
"That same day, the city commissioners held their first auction of federal property.
There were few buyers and the lots went for much less than expected. Among those
who got property cheap was Washington, who bought four lots at First and U streets
SW along what is now the Anacostia River.
Bob Arnebeck, in his book
"Through a Fiery Trial," said Washington would later claim he had no plans for how to
use the lots. But he bought the land, Arnebeck said, knowing that James Greenleaf
planned to build a commercial center at that location. The Greenleaf project fizzled,
and there is no indication that Washington built on any of those properties.
"For his city residence, Washington selected a lot at 25th and E streets NW near a
small community known as Hamburg. Washington did, however, build on Capitol Hill.
After he left office, he purchased land in the fall of 1798 along North Capitol Street
between B and C streets NW, according to Arnebeck, with the intention of speculating
on two houses. When members of Congress arrived in two years, he figured, there
would be a huge demand for living space near the Capitol. But even former presidents
can't make workmen hurry or builders stick to the contract. When Washington died on
Dec. 14, 1799, neither house was close to being finished and his contractor was
demanding an extra $1,000 to complete the job!"
On the eve of the presidential State of the Union address for 2002, DC's outstanding young
historian, Mark David Richards, Jr. prepared a summary of what prior presidents have said on the
subject of DC home rule, for publication in 'themail', the twice-weekly e-mail discussion forum
of DC's local watchdog organization,DC
Watch. NARPAC has edited that summary only slightly for ease of reading:
Since President George Washington established Washington City, Presidents have played an
important role in advocating for or against the permanent residents of DC. Washington spent
most of the 1790s preparing for the arrival of federal officials from Philadelphia in 1800.
NARPAC Commentary: No, he didn't.
General Washington died eleven days after President Adams announced DC was ready
for the 131 federal government officials to join the 14,093 residents of the areas of the District of
Columbia. On December 14, 1799, Adams expressed the national sentiment toward the General:
"For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal."
In addressing Congress in 1800, President Adams said, "You will consider it (DC) as the
capital of a great nation advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and
in population, and possessing within itself those energies and resources which ... will secure to it a
long course of prosperity and self-government."
In 1828, President Andrew Jackson urged Congress to allow DC residents to elect a
nonvotingDelegate to that body "with the same privileges that are allowed to other territories of
the United States."
President Martin Van Buren asked Congress to give "liberal and even generous
attention to the interests o the District and a thorough and careful revision of its local
President William Henry Harrison championed DC in his Inaugural address on
March 4, 1841. He said, "The people of the District of Columbia are not the subjects of the
people of the States, but free American citizens. . . . [T]he legislation of Congress should be
adapted to their peculiar position and wants and be conformable with their deliberate opinions of
their own interests."
In his 1843 message to Congress, President Tyler urged a parental relationship: "The
seat of government of our associated republics cannot but be regarded as worthy of your parental
President James Knox Polk told Congress, "I shall be ever disposed to show a
proper regard for their [the people of this District] wishes and within constitutional limits shall at
all times cheerfully cooperate with you for the advancement of their welfare."
In 1921, President Taft expressed a new sentiment in expressing his strong opposition
to giving DC citizens the franchise and local self-government: "The truth is this is a city governed
by a popular body, to wit, the Congress of the United States, selected from the people of the
United States who own Washington."
In 1952, President Harry Truman expressed an opinion more typical of Presidents: "I
strongly believe that the citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to self-government . . .
the right and the responsibility of free men. The denial of self-government does not befit the
National Capital of the world's largest and most powerful democracy. . . . [T]he structure of the
District government has become so complicated, confused, and obsolete that a thorough
reorganization cannot be further delayed."
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy both asked Congress to grant DC Home Rule.
The Senate was favorable, but powerful members of the House of Representatives opposed DC
Home Rule, and
President Johnson was a strong champion for DC. In this third State of the Union
address in 1966, he said, "I urge the House of Representatives to complete action on three
programs already passed by the Senate -- the Teacher Corps, rent assistance, and home rule for
the District of Columbia."
President Nixon in 1969 said, "The District's citizens should not be expected to pay
taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing -- or to bear the full burdens of
citizenship without the full rights of citizens."
In 1981, President Jimmy Carter said that DC had gained a greater degree of Home
Rule than under the previous administration, he said, "Yet, despite the close cooperation between
my Administration and that of Mayor Barry, we have not yet seen the necessary number of states
ratify the Constitutional Amendment granting full voting representation in the Congress to the
citizens of this city. It is my hope that this inequity will be rectified. The country and the people
who inhabit Washington deserve." Time to get approval for the amendment ran out under
President Clinton endorsed DC statehood and worked with Congress on the 1997
revitalization plan, but he wasn't a champion for DC in his State of the Union addresses.
Will President George W. Bush mention DC on Tuesday Jan 29th, 2002?
DC HISTORY BUFFS GO ONLINE
The Humanities & Social Sciences On-line Service of the Michigan State
H-NET, has recently added a List on the History of the District of Columbia. H-Net is an
international network of scholars in the humanities and social sciences that creates and
coordinates electronic networks, using a variety of media, and with a common objective
advancing humanities and social science teaching and research. H-Net was created to
positive, supportive, equalitarian environment for the friendly exchange of ideas and
"H-DC" is, according to their announcement, "a refereed, multi- and inter-disciplinary
list, providing a means of communication and interaction for those who research, write,
teach, collect, curate, and preserve Washington, DC history and culture and for those
in cultural institutions located within DC, regardless of discipline. H-DC serves as a
serious discussion; a bulletin board for news of newly opened collections, upcoming
exhibits, public programs, etc.; and as a cabinet for the storage and retrieval of
reading lists, helpful hints) useful in classroom teaching at every level. It will be a
sharing around serious reference inquiries, relating to location of sources and materials
collaborative for suggesting possible institutions and sources -- to provide an on-line
which authors, researchers, and others interested in these topics can turn to when
guidance on available resources on specific topics.
H-DC will post reviews of books, exhibits, audio-visual materials, and electronic
notices of the publication of new books, and citations to appropriate articles in current
newspapers, magazines, and journals. It invites the participation of everyone--whether
professional, para-professional, or volunteer--who cares deeply about the legacy of
DC's past. This list includes (without being limited to) academics, librarians, curators,
independent scholars, preservationists, archivists, museum docents, public historians,
consultants, and students.
H-DC is a moderated internet discussion forum. The editors are Matthew Gilmore,
Washingtoniana Division,D.C. Public Library (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Gail Redmann,
Historical Society of Washington, D.C. (email@example.com) It is advised
field experts. Logs and more information can also be found on the H-Net Web Site.
A detailed chronology of events since the
Georgetown in 1751 has been reproduced from the informative D.C.
A fascinating analysis of the ups and downs in local DC governance is also
available in a GUPPI
An interesting summary of the decline of the District since the
inception of home rule by one of its strongest proponents Katherine
Graham of the Washington Post. Her remarks were prepared
for an award ceremony of the Greater Washington Board of Trade in May,
This page was last updated on Apr 5, 2007
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