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Touring Hidden Washington:
Living in the Shadow of Congress
Mark David Richards
June 2001




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Touring Hidden Washington, D.C.
Living in the Shadow of Congress

by Mark David Richards, Ph.D., Sociologist,

June 2001

Invisible District—The world knows Washington, D.C. as the capital of our nation. But, two hundred years of Congressional rule over American citizens living in the District has largely been hidden in the shadows of the bright lights that focus on the White House and Congress. Even visitors to the nation’s capital rarely learn much about local D.C. But the federal institutions of which the nation is so proud are only a small part of the 61 square miles that make up the District of Columbia. They are located in the National Capital Service Area (NCSA), around the national mall. D.C. is also a regional center and home to 572,059 permanent residents, with nearly 10,000 people per square mile (compare that to the U.S average: 80). D.C. has a unique culture with a unique political status, formed over 200 years of shared identity building. The story of the people of the District is interesting, but rarely told. In many ways, the District is a departure from the general principles of the American system.

District of people and neighborhoods— Like eight states, D.C.’s population is less than one million. It is greater than one state—Wyoming. D.C. is formed of over 120 neighborhoods, snuggled along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers between Virginia and Maryland. The largest group in D.C. is African-American (343,312 people comprising 60% of residents), followed by Caucasian (176,101/31%), Hispanic or Latino (44,953/8%), Asian, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (15,537/3%), American Indian and Alaska natives (1,713/0.3%), and other races (21,950/4%) (Note: There is some overlap; also, 13,446/2.4% reported being multiracial). D.C. is also home to people of many diverse cultures and first generation American immigrants, building their version of the American dream in the United States. In addition to English, children who attend the public school system speak over 100 languages—creating both opportunities and challenges. Twenty percent of those living in D.C. are under 18 years old. Discussions about race or ethnicity are not uncommon in D.C., and although sometimes they get heated, this reflects D.C.’s openness. D.C.’s residents generally respect one another and get along. The median age of D.C. citizens is 35, and the median income is $34,980. Nearly 20 percent live below the poverty level (34 percent of children live in poverty). Only 41 percent of D.C. citizens own their homes—most rent. 83 percent have a high school degree or higher, and 39 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Regional center—D.C.’s population peaked in 1950 at 800,000, and declined as transportation improvements made it easier for families to live in suburban neighborhoods. Many from the region commute to work in D.C. Today, nearly 70 percent of those who work in D.C. live in the suburbs, in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Congress does not allow D.C. to have a wage or commuter tax, which benefits the states of Virginia and Maryland, where most commuters live. Every year, commuters send over a billion dollars in direct tax revenues to Richmond and Annapolis. D.C. residents think they should share part of this (perhaps 3 percent) for street repair. Suburban residents fear this could cause their taxes to go up, and their Congressional leaders who sit on D.C.’s oversight committees in Congress oppose.

Taxation without representation—D.C. has a unique political status, because D.C. is not located in a state. They were segregated from citizens living in the thirteen original states after the Revolution, and placed completely under Congressional control—so D.C. was the 14th area of the United States. Although D.C. citizens pay higher federal taxes than any state but Connecticut, D.C. does not have equal constitutional rights. D.C. citizens do not have voting representatives in the Senate or the House, their President appoints their judges, and they have a limited Presidential vote.

Responsibility without rights and resources—D.C. has responsibilities without rights, and with limited resources. The federal government defines D.C. as a state for legal and comparative purposes in over 500 federal statutes. And, D.C. is responsible for most state, county, and city functions. D.C.’s economy is larger than 14 states. 65% of D.C. residents hold jobs in the private sector, 29% in the federal government, and 6% in the D.C. government. The unemployment rate is 5.8%. There are nearly 20,000 private business establishments with paid employees, and over 30,000 non-employer private establishments; 12,669 of these are minority-owned firms and 14,599 are women-owned firms. D.C. ranks 15th of 114 U.S. cities for high-tech jobs in the private sector. D.C.’s District (equivalent to state) $5 billion budget is collected from local taxpayers. The federal government exempts itself, commuters, embassies, non-profits, and much of the economy from taxation, even though it owns land valued at $20.8 billion, and contributes less than 20 percent for services required for the local government. After D.C.’s mayor and Council approve local budget priorities, a Control Board, four Congressional subcommittees, four Congressional committees, the full Senate and House of Representatives, and the President must approve D.C.’s local budget—adding 7 to 11 months to the budgeting process, and costing D.C. citizens $3 million. In addition, D.C. citizens pay for police and security for the numerous protests by U.S. citizens. The federal government took over D.C.’s courts and prisons in 1997, which costs approximately $300,000.

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Birth child of the Republic Entering Adulthood—D.C. is the birth child of the Republic, created from the Constitution. D.C. has been struggling for 200 years to become an adult with equal Constitutional rights. Today, only D.C. citizens, children, and convicted felons are excluded from the vote in Congress. D.C. has made some progress—they gained a limited vote for President in 1961 by passing a Constitutional amendment, an elected school board in 1968 by Congressional legislation, a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives in 1970 by Congressional legislation, and a limited self-government without budgetary control by Congressional legislation in 1973. Citizens have made mistakes along the way, but they are learning about self-government from experience. Although some members of Congress today call D.C. "whiney," D.C. citizens feel a bit like Benjamin Franklin in 1765 when he wrote of Great Britain, "We have an old Mother that peevish is grown, She snubs us like Children that scarce walk alone: She forgets we’ve grown up and have Sense of our own; Which nobody can deny, deny, Which nobody can deny" (The Mother County).

D.C.’s Political Status

The political status of D.C. citizens has changed over time—from full American citizens with equal constitutional rights to their current status as a ward of the federal government.

Heirs to the Revolution for Independence—D.C. citizens had the same rights as other American citizens after they helped win the War for Independence until their rights were limited by the new (and current) Constitution, approved by Congress in 1787, and ratified by the states and taking effect in 1789. The Constitution included what is called the "Exclusive Jurisdiction Clause," or the "District Clause"—Article I, Section 8, §17. The District Clause gives Congress authority: "…"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 acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States; and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislatures of the States in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings." In 1787 it seemed to have made sense.

Citizens of free states—Between 1787 and 1801, citizens living on land that would become D.C. retained their rights as part of Maryland and Virginia. They still voted in those states and also kept their local governments. After 1801, D.C. citizens lost the right to be represented when Congress assumed exclusive legislative control and made no provisions for them to participate in Congress. However, some D.C. citizens regained their rights—residents living in the former Virginia portion of the District (about one-third of D.C.) retroceded, or merged, back to that state in 1846. The state of Virginia requested, the federal government approved, and the citizens of the portion of the District south of the Potomac River agreed to merge back into that state. The issue was associated with the issue of slavery. As residents of Virginia, they now enjoy all rights and responsibilities of citizenship, while those who remain in the District do not.

Subjects of the federal government—In 1801, Congress passed a law assuming the right to exclusive legislative authority over the District, as they interpreted the Constitution. D.C. citizens have been treated as less than full American citizens since. Though they love their country, they do not think this is right after they’ve seen how it works. Usually, those who like the current arrangement defend it by saying (1) it is in the Constitution, (2) D.C. is a special "neutral" District that belongs to all Americans, and (3) D.C. citizens have virtual representation because Congressional leaders elected in the fifty states represent their interests in Congress.

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Heirs to the Revolution

Revolt against taxation without representation—In the late 1700s, the British King and Parliament imposed taxes on the colonies, provoking outrage among figures today considered American heroes—John Dickenson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Thomas Paine.

"Americans" complained they were not represented in Parliament; therefore, it was unfair for Parliament to tax them. Most did not think they would break from Great Britain—they were proud heirs to the British Constitution. But, they believed they had the same rights as other British citizens. So, they made a list of their rights and circulated it throughout the colonies. They made forceful points: the inhabitants of the English colonies had all the rights that other English citizens had; English liberty and free government was founded on the right to participate in the nation’s legislature; not having representation in Parliament reduced colonists to slaves.

Revolt against exclusive legislative authority—In 1766, the Parliament issued a Declaratory Act stating that Parliament had the right to exclusive legislative authority "in all cases whatsoever." When Parliament abolished the New York Assembly for disobeying the law, which they considered unjust, Americans became more defiant and showed that people could not be stopped from expressing themselves even without their local assemblies. In 1773, they dramatized the issue by throwing the "Boston Tea Party."

In 1774, they formed the First Continental Congress, in which George Washington participated. They adopted a Declaration of Rights, and sent it to Parliament. Parliament rejected it. The Second Continental Congress asked George Washington to establish and command a Continental Revolutionary Army. They also urged the colonies to formally establish local governments. They issued the Olive Branch Petition to King George III asking him to prevent Parliament from enslaving them. The King sided with Parliament and issued a proclamation claiming the colonies in rebellion. Those who later become D.C. residents entered the war with other citizens to fight for their freedom from Great Britain.

Formation of the Confederation of States—In 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, and developed the Articles of Confederation under which the new states associated as a confederacy of independent states. The central government was given very limited powers. Congress moved from place to place (at one time or another, the Congress met in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, and Trenton). Along the way they discussed if there should be a permanent seat for the federal government, and if so, where it should be located. It was a controversial—and competitive—subject.

Americans won the war with the help of the French (the Spanish helped the French help the Americans…). The Peace of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, establishing freedom for Americans.

Origins of the exclusive jurisdiction clause—In 1783 Congress was meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One Saturday, a group of former Continental Army soldiers surrounded the state legislature to demand back pay. Congress met in the same building, but was not in session. Alexander Hamilton called an emergency session of Congress, and when Congressmen arrived, the soldiers allowed them to enter the building. The soldiers got rowdy and fired their muskets as citizens cheered. State legislators agreed to meet with officers of the army, and the demonstration ended. Congress took advantage of the event and passed a secret resolution, stating the incident had been an insult to Congressional authority. They ordered George Washington to bring troops to Philadelphia to suppress "the mutiny." Washington suspected that Robert Morris and Governor Morris had organized the "mutiny" as a way to gain support for giving the central government taxing power to pay off war debt. Governor Morris said Congress needed exclusive jurisdiction over the location of its seat of government. In fact, this event wasn’t unique. The new states were experiencing economic hardship, and rebellions and demands for government assistance were breaking out in many places. But historian Kenneth Bowling shows that the Philadelphia "mutiny" served to create the myth of the need for Congress to have exclusive legislative authority in all cases whatsoever.

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Citizens of Free States

The "Second American Revolution" and the new Constitution—Economic turbulence resulted in protests in many places, with people forcefully demanding government help. George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton advocated giving more power to the central government. They were afraid that the new nation might fragment. Washington worried that Europe would scoff at failure, and thought a stronger central government could save the Union. George Mason, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Henry argued against this idea, viewing it as a return in the direction of a monarchy.

A dispute between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River resulted in a meeting of commissioners from the legislatures of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in Annapolis to discuss interstate commerce issues. The Conference adjourned before all the delegates arrived and after a report was issued calling for another meeting in Philadelphia in May 1787. The purpose of the meeting was to "take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union."

George Washington supported the Philadelphia meeting. He said, "We have errors to correct. …Experience has taught us that without the intervention of a coercive power, men will not adopt and carry into execution measures best calculated for their own good. I don’t conceive we can exist long as a nation without having lodged somewhere a power that will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extend over the several states." At the Philadelphia convention, the current Constitution was drafted. Delegates far exceeded their mandate. It was sent to the Continental Congress. After consideration, they ratified it and sent it to the states for debate and approval. And so began the debate between the Federalists—who supported the new Constitution with a strong central government, and the "Anti-federalists"—who supported keeping more power in the states.

The Federalists proposed forming a Republic, in which people elected representatives. The proposed federal Constitution, proponents said, would refer the "great and aggregate interests" to the national government, and the "local and particular" interests to the state legislatures.

The District Clause—Article I, 8, Paragraph 17 of the Constitution proposed to give Congress authority "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 acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States; and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislatures of the States in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings." There was limited debate about the District Clause. One concern was that the clause would allow the federal government to buy land, thereby increasing its power over the states. Today, of course, the federal government owns vast amounts of land across the nation—over 80 percent of some western states.

Some were uncomfortable with giving Congress exclusive legislative authority, but federalists reassured them that the clause was not intended to remove rights from citizens—it was designed to protect Congress. James Madison (The Federalist, No. 43) argued for the District Clause: "The indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union, I might say of the world, by virtue of its general supremacy. Without it, not only the public authority might be insulted and its proceeding interrupted with impunity; but a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy." He said the inhabitants "will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them; as a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."

Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist, No. 85) argued that it was urgent to establish a central government, perfection was not possible, but that time would identify areas that could be improved and the Constitution could be amended with authority from the states. At the New York ratifying convention, Hamilton proposed that the Constitution be amended to provide "When the Number of Persons in the District or Territory to be laid out for the Seat of Government of the United States… amounts to ___ [an unspecified number] … Provision shall be made by Congress for having District representation in that Body."

After much debate, the new Constitution was approved. Congress sent presidential electors, senators, and representatives to the temporary capital in New York in 1789. (The French had their democratic revolution in 1789, the year the new American Constitution became effective. The Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought with Washington and secured French assistance for the colonies, commanded the National Guard. Lafayette gave Washington the key to the Bastille after they stormed it. Today, it hangs on the wall of Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon, Virginia.)

George Washington was inaugurated the first President of the new federation that year. Shortly after, George Madison of Virginia introduced what would become known as the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), approved by Congress the same year, and approved by the states in 1791.

The location of the seat of government—Congress gave George Washington authority to pick the area that would become the seat of government. Washington picked an area that was to be called the Territory or District of Columbia, in which he identified one area that would become the federal city (called Washington City until the late nineteenth century). Other jurisdictions in D.C.—with separate mayors, councils, and school districts—included the cities of Alexandria and Georgetown. Two additional towns, not well developed, were Hamburg (present day Foggy Bottom) and Carrolsburgh. There were many farms. The people of this area, the "Potomac interests," were willing to enter into a deal with Washington because they thought it would be a good way to develop their economy to compete more effectively with the "Chesapeake interests" and Baltimore.

The largest nineteen landowners put their trust and signed an agreement with George Washington for the area that would become known as Washington City:

"We, the subscribers, in consideration of the good benefits we expect to derive from having the Federal City laid off upon our lands, do hereby agree and bind ourselves, heirs, executors and administrators, to convey in trust to the President of the U.S., or Commissioners, or such person or person as he shall appoint, by good and sufficient deeds in fee simple, the whole of our respective lands which he may think proper to include in the lines of the Federal City, for the purpose, and on the conditions following: The President shall have the sole power of directing the Federal City to be laid off in what manner he pleases. He may retain any number of squares he may think proper for the public improvements or other public uses, and the lots only which shall be laid off shall be joint property between the trustees on behalf of the public, and equally divided between the public and the individuals as soon as may be after the city is laid off. For the streets the proprietors shall receive no compensation, but for the squares or lands in any form which shall be taken for public buildings or any kind of public improvements or uses, the proprietors whose lands shall be taken shall receive at the rate of 25 [pounds] (equivalent to $66.66 in Pennsylvania currency) to be paid for the land on which the same shall remain. Each proprietor shall retain full possession and use of his land until the same shall be sold and occupied by the purchase of the lots laid out thereon, and, in all cases, when the public arrangements, as the streets lots, etc., will permit of it, each proprietor shall possess his buildings and other improvements and graveyards, paying to the public only one-half the present estimated value of the land on which the same shall be, or 12 [pounds] 10 [pence] per acre; but in cases where the arrangements of the streets lots squares etc will not admit of this and it shall become necessary to remove such buildings, etc., the proprietors of the same shall be paid the reasonable value thereof by the public. Nothing herein contained shall affect the lots of the parties to this agreement, which they may hold in the towns of Hamburg and Carrolsburgh. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord, 1791."

Designing Washington City in the District of Columbia—Washington hired Peter L’Enfant to design the new city. Pierre L’Enfant, raised in the King’s Court at Versailles, France, was a student of fine arts at L’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture where his father was professor. L’Enfant became an American citizen, changed his name to Peter, and fought in the Revolutionary War. At the Marquis de Lafayette’s suggestion, L’Enfant painted a portrait of Washington, who called him the artist of the Revolution. (L’Enfant is frequently referred to as "temperamental" in history books, and is thought to have been gay by some historians.) Washington, in giving L’Enfant instruction about designing the federal city, told him to use much land for roads, which landowners had agreed to give to the federal government for free, along with all areas needed for public (federal) buildings. In addition, landowners gave the federal government authority to divide the remaining land, half of which would be divided and returned to the original landowners, and the reminder would paid for and used by the federal government to raise money to build the White House, the Capitol, the Treasury, and other federal buildings. Altogether, the federal government spent $110,000 on the city—money borrowed that local residents repaid.

Washington retired in 1797, when John Adams became President, and spent his last years overseeing the building of the federal city.

On December 3, 1799, Adams announced that the federal city was ready for occupancy. The man to whom local citizens had given their trust, George Washington, took ill and died on December 14, 1799.

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Subjects of the Federal Government

Arrival of the federal government in Washington City—The Offices of the President arrived from the temporary capital in Philadelphia by June 15, 1800. Congress convened on November 17th. President John Adams addressed Congress (his fourth annual address) on November 22: "I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their Government, and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. … It is with you, gentlemen, to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States shall be immediately exercised."

Local governance for Washington City debated—Former cities of the area with established local governments continued to elect local officials and practiced self-government. (Slaves and women were excluded from the local vote.) Congress, however, established no government for Washington City. Citizens met at Rhodes Tavern to protest their political status, and drafted petitions asking Congress for a municipal charter and Congressional voting rights.

Augustus Woodward, a lawyer who had studied the situation and wrote under the pen name "Epaminondas," urged prompt passage of a constitutional amendment to give D.C. citizens the vote for President and Vice-President, senators and, when the population had grown sufficiently, a representative; and the creation of a Territory of Columbia with an elected legislature. He pointed out that "[a] grant of power to do an act, does not impose an obligation to exercise that power." He wrote: "The effect of an assumption then, is to reduce us to that political situation, which Americans deprecate; we are to be governed by laws, in the making of which, we have no participation; we have no share in the state governments, of which we have no reason to complain, for we are separated from them; but we have no share in electing the members of congress, who are exclusively to legislate for us. We are reduced to the mortifying situation, of being subject to laws, made, or to be made, by we know not whom; by agents, not of our choice, in no degree responsible to us, who from their situation, and the circumstance of having other constituents to serve, are not likely to be very tender of our rights, or very much alive to our interests. We resort in vain to the constitution, for the means of relief; from that instrument, we cannot hope to have our situation ameliorated. …

Assumption of exclusive legislative authority—With just two weeks left before the inauguration of President Jefferson, in which the Federalists would lose power, the outgoing Federalist-majority Congress passed the Organic Act of February 27, 1801, assuming exclusive legislative authority over D.C. Some historians argue this was "an insurance policy" to retain Federalist influence after the Federalist Party was out of power.

The Act divided the District into the counties of Washington and Alexandria, established a judicial system for the District, and transferred the appointment of the levy court east of the Anacostia from the governor of Maryland to the President.

Epaminondas urged prompt passage of a constitutional amendment to give D.C. citizens the vote for President and Vice-President, to elect senators and, when the population had grown sufficiently, a representative; and the creation of a Territory of Columbia with an elected legislature. He wrote, "No policy can be worse than to mingle great and small concerns. The latter become absorbed in the former; are neglected and forgotten. …It will impair the dignity of the national legislature, executive, and judicial authorities to be occupied with all the local concerns of the Territory of Columbia."

Epaminondas also though the part of the District’s expenses to be paid by the federal government and by local taxpayers should be spelled out. He said, "we are legislating for posterity as well as for ourselves; and that the interests of millions unborn is confided in our hands."

Municipal government established for Washington City—In 1802, there was discussion of consolidating the governments into one Territory with an appointed governor and an elected legislature, but Alexandria City and Georgetown opposed the idea—they were competitors, from different states. That year, Congress established a municipal government for Washington City. Between this time and 1870, Washington City elected 20 different mayors.

Georgetown and Alexandria City attempt to retrocede—In 1803, a bill was introduced into Congress to retrocede the areas back to the states of Virginia and Maryland. In 1804, a bill was introduced to retrocede all portions except Washington City, but it was defeated 97 to 46. Some residents of Georgetown and Alexandria tried to have their areas returned to their respective original states several times until the Civil War. Alexandria succeeded in 1846.

City leaders rebuild after federal government burned to the ground—The war with Great Britain broke out in 1812, and on August 24th, "the vandals" burned every public building in Washington City except the Patent Office and the Post Office. City leaders built a temporary "Brick Capitol" where Congress could meet while the Capitol was rebuilt.

When President Monroe was inaugurated on the steps of the Brick Capitol in 1818, he said: "The situation of this District, it is thought, requires the attention of Congress. By the Constitution, the power of legislation is exclusively vested in the Congress of the United States. In the exercise of this power, in which the people have no participation, Congress legislates in all cases, directly, on the local concerns of the District. As this is a departure, for a special purpose, from the general principles of our system, it may merit consideration, whether an arrangement better adapted to the principles of our government, and to the particular interest of the people, may not be devised, which will neither infringe the constitution nor affect the object which the provision in question was intended to secure. The growing population, although considerable, and the increasing business of the District, which it is believed already interferes with the deliberations of Congress on great national concerns, furnish additional motives for recommending this subject to your consideration."

Washington City builds first City Hall—Now and then between 1819 and 1826, Congress discussed consolidating all local governments into a single Territorial Government. In 1819, Washington City began its first officially constructed City Hall at a cost of $150,000. George Hadfield designed it in the Greek Revival style, and it became a symbol of local pride. Congress contributed $10,000 to Washington’s City Hall in 1823 in exchange for rent-free use of one wing of the two winged building for the circuit court. [The building was abandoned as City Hall in 1871 when the federal government merged the cities and county into a District with a Territorial government. The D.C. government was paid $75,000 for it in 1873 when the federal government took it over for the courts, D.C. citizens lost home rule, and were placed under 3 federally-appointed commissioners. There is still no plaque on the building. Today, the old City Hall houses the Superior Court of D.C. and the D.C. Court of Appeals (local appellate court.]

Supreme Court upholds taxation without representation—In 1820, the Supreme Court ruled (Loughborough v. Blake) that District residents were liable to taxation even though they were not represented—there are no Constitutional guarantees against taxation, they said.

Transients versus hometown residents—When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated President in 1829, for the first time Washington citizens were not asked to organize the celebrations. The distinction between hometown Washingtonians and temporary residents became pronounced. The fact that District citizens were not represented in Congress seemed even more unfair. President Jackson called upon Congress to allow District resident to elect a Delegate "with the same privileges that are allowed to other territories of the United States," but they did not.

Original landowners feel betrayed by federal government—By the end of their lives, most of the original landowners were convinced they had made a bad deal—they had traded their freedom for the promise of security. And on top of that, the seat of government was nearly entirely financed on the backs of local citizens, even as they were mocked for being unable to live up to the ideal images of a national capital. Daniel Carroll of Duddington wrote to Henry J. Brent on July 24, 1837 of their early delusions: "In answer to yours I fear that the deeds will fully express the relinquishment of right in the streets to the government, I nevertheless perfectly remember that the general opinion was that so great was the gift that the citizens would never be subject to taxation for the improvement of the streets—having relinquished every alternate lot to the government. Indeed some were so wild as to suppose that the donation was so great the government might pave the streets with ingots of gold or silver. After nearly half a century the result is now fully known; the unfortunate proprietors are generally brought to ruin, and some with scarcely enough to buy daily bread for their families. This subject is so truly frightful to me that I hate to think of it, much less to write of it."

President declares Congress has misinterpreted District Clause—In 1841, President William Henry Harrison of Virginia, elected on the Whig Party platform in November, gave a 105-minute Inaugural address (the longest in history) on an extremely cold day, 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. Being in the latter condition when the Constitution was formed, no words used in that instrument could have been intended to deprive them of that character. If there is anything in the great principle of unalienable rights so emphatically insisted upon in our Declaration of Independence, they could neither make nor the United States accept a surrender of their liberties and become the subjects--in other words, the slaves--of their former fellow-citizens. If this be true—and it will scarcely be denied by anyone who has a correct idea of his own rights as an American citizen—the grant to Congress of exclusive jurisdiction in the District of Columbia can be interpreted, so far as respects the aggregate people of the United States, as meaning nothing more than to allow to Congress the controlling power necessary to afford a free and safe exercise of the functions assigned to the General Government by the Constitution. In all other respects the legislation of Congress should be adapted to their peculiar position and wants and be conformable with their deliberate opinions of their own interests." He died of pneumonia a month later.

Opposition to slavery increases in D.C., southern portion merges into Virginia—Opposition to slavery increased in Washington City after the 1820s, and a society for its abolition was founded, urging gradual emancipation. Nevertheless, blacks were barred from the capital and were put under curfew.

Washington was increasingly seen as a proving ground for abolitionists. The state of Virginia passed a resolution in support of taking the former D.C.-area located south of the Potomac River back to Virginia; Congress approved with the condition residents of the area south of the Potomac River (not counting the citizens of Alexandria Country) must vote approval in a referendum. They did. In 1846, the Virginia portion left the District behind, and D.C. became "a broken diamond," foreshadowing the Civil War.

D.C. citizens fought for the Union—D.C. citizens were among the first to fight to defend the Union in the Civil War. The District became the eye of the storm, the major north/south fault line. The population continued to grow and the streets turned to mud under the heavy troop traffic. D.C. citizens actively helped as large numbers of soldiers came through the area, both fit and wounded. Union troops occupied the former areas of the District located in Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln suggested making the District whole again by bringing back into the District the Virginia portion that had merged back.

The Union won the war, but the joy turned to sorrow and anger as President Lincoln was assassinated. District citizens raised money for a sculpture of Lincoln to be placed in front of their City Hall the first sculpture to honor Lincoln after his murder (it is there today).

After the Civil War, the terminology of the nation changed. Instead of saying "The United States are a nation," people said, "The United States is a nation." Instead of calling Washington City the "Seat of Government," people called it "the Capital of the Nation."

D.C. struggles under burdens of federal presence—Charles Dickens, who had visited in 1842, mocked the city, saying, "It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be termed City of Magnificent Intentions." Relations between Congress and the District grew increasingly tense as services deteriorated for lack of funds.

By 1850, conditions were bad: the sewers of the White House and Congress emptied onto the Mall and into the canal, creating an open cesspool, trash was thrown into the streets, and disease spread. The white pupil ration was 70 to 1 with half of white and all blacks had no schooling. Crime was on the rise—arson, assault, juvenile delinquency, prostitution, theft, robbery, and vandalism. Georgetown tried to convince Congress to let them merge back into Maryland, but failed.

After the Civil War, the District became a proving ground for Radical Republican policies. Local conditions continued to deteriorate due to the burdens placed on the city. The school board reported that 34 percent of pupils in white public schools were government employee children, thus taxpayers were bearing the burden of educating temporary residents. The city was a disaster from the heavy traffic of the Civil War. Any improvements required Congressional approval, which slowed repairs. Congress was busy impeaching President Johnson. In 1868, residents elected Postmaster Sayles J. Bowan as mayor, a white man who strongly supported equal rights for blacks. Business leaders backed Bowan’s proposals to solve the city’s social problems and to make the District a leader in emancipation, suffrage, and desegregation because they expected he would get the support of Radical Republicans in Congress. President Grant was elected in 1869. Congress refused to help the District, and called it "the ugliest city in the whole country." Proposals emerged in Congress to move the Capital westward. Local officials became fearful and vowed to make a "capital worthy of the nation."

Tensions between federal and District governments increase—In 1870, when the city’s debt increased to $1.5 million, Mayor Bowan lost the election to Matthew Emery, who raised taxes. Between 1790 and 1870, treasury records show the federal government spent virtually nothing on the District ($9 million) even though the value of the District contribution to the federal government was now at a billion dollars. Local citizens carried the burden of municipal expenses. As the District’s population increased (blacks seeking freedom, non-English speaking immigrants, and later freed slaves), the need for services also increased. The infrastructure deteriorated under the strain. Congress pointed to D.C.’s architecturally attractive City Hall as an example of waste and mismanagement. One Congressman said D.C. citizens "live altogether out of [the federal] Treasury and the Members and person who are necessarily here at the sitting of Congress." D.C. citizens accused Congress of not doing their fair share.

District government consolidated into one "Territorial" government—By 1870, sentiment moved in support of consolidating all jurisdictions into a single Territorial Government with an elected Governor and an Upper and Lower House. Congress passed a law in 1871 establishing a "Territorial Government"—with a Governor and Upper House appointed by the President, and an elected Lower House. They also granted D.C. a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, and called this a "new era" in District history. The city celebrated for three days. But not everyone was happy with the "merger." One poet wrote of Georgetown "Though once the Federal City’s host, Georgetown itself is now a ghost."

Capital improvements puts District in debt—The federal government put Alexander "Boss" Shepherd in charge of the Department of Public Works and authorized him to borrow money for improvements—sewers, grading and paving streets and sidewalks, planting trees, and removing nuisances. Shepherd estimated the cost would be $6.25 million. When Presidentially-appointed Governor, David Henry Cooke resigned, President Grant appointed "Boss" Shepherd to be Governor. Citizens started getting alarmed when the debt reached $9 million, and demanded a "pay-as-you-go" approach. When 1,200 citizens signed a petition, Congress held hearings. They heard that local citizens were losing property to increasing taxes, and some said that due to street grading, their front yard was left fifteen feet lower than their door. Citizen activists published "Our Little Monarchy: Who Runs It and What It Costs." Congress set a debt limit of $10 million. The "new Washington" created a real estate boom, and many citizens from across the nation (nouveau riche) built fashionable mansions, especially in the new neighborhood of Dupont Circle. They were often temporary residents—they spent the winter in D.C.

Congress abolishes Territorial government—D.C. citizens continued to protest rising debt. The city ran out of money and could not longer obtain credit. Congress opened new investigations, and shortly after in 1874, abolished the "Territorial Government." Shepherd moved his family to Mexico.

Congress set up a temporary government under three presidentially-apppointed commissioners. Debt in D.C. increased by another $5 million. Elite citizens formed a Committee of One Hundred and asked Congress to make the commission government permanent and pay for half of municipal expenses. Congress agreed. Three commissioners appointed by the President would govern the District—without formal voting input from local residents. District citizens lost the right to have a local elected government until it was restored a century later, during the Civil Rights era.

Congress rules with help from local elites, blacks and poor cut out—During these one hundred years, D.C. citizens struggled and agitated for political rights. They made due with what they had—their neighbors and friends. They formed voluntary neighborhood associations and citizen (white) and civic (black) associations. The associations were competitive, seeking services for their own areas, and were not organized as a group—their power was limited. A local Board of Trade formed and became a de facto governing body, giving advice and budget recommendations to the commissioners. The commissioners also expressed frustration, because they were required to get approval for everything from a mostly uninformed Congress.

Shifting federal perceptions about D.C.—Back in 1843, President Tyler had articulated the view that District citizens were dependents who required "parental care" by "their legislature" (Congress). Over the next three decades, this view evolved into one in which D.C. was viewed as "the grounds of the National Capital" (President Grant, 1874). By 1877, after all self-government was withdrawn from local citizens, President Hayes announced, "The capital of the United States belongs to the nation, and it is natural that the American people should take pride in the seat of their national government and desire it to be an ornament to the country." Local D.C. was being swept under the carpet—taxation without representation, alley housing, racial segregation, and all. District residents mostly remained silent about the situation—after all, they had a municipal debt to pay off, and it had been the federal government who came to their "rescue." The fact that a federally appointed official had created the debt seemed to have been overlooked.

New Congressmen with little knowledge of history anger D.C. citizens—For many citizens, it became increasingly clear that the governing arrangement was not good for local residents. The fifty-fifty agreement (in which the federal government would pay fifty percent of municipal costs) began to erode as new Congressmen arrived in Washington with little knowledge of local history. They began to question what was federal versus what was local. For example, when Congress established the National (Smithsonian) Zoo and Rock Creek Park, the costs were split 50/50. The titles were immediately transferred to the federal government, prompting D.C. citizens to claim they were federal, not local, properties. Congress, on the other hand, argued that locals benefited more and should pay more. In 1915, Congress abandoned the 50/50 agreement altogether and the percentages quickly eroded to 80 percent by D.C. and 20 percent by the federal government.

D.C. pays off debt, steps up efforts to fight for greater political rights—The next year, D.C. residents paid off the debt that had been created by "Boss" Shepherd. That same year, they established the Citizens’ Joint Committee on National Representation for the District of Columbia (to pass a Constitutional Amendment for D.C. voting rights in Congress), and in 1918 they established the Citizens’ Joint Committee for an Elective School Board.

Many in Congress opposed passing an Amendment, because they said this would be "virtual statehood." While most citizens and labor unions supported both equal voting rights and local self-government, The Board of Trade only supported Congressional representation, not local self-government. The Chamber of Commerce supported Congressional representation, with local self-government to be considered later.

Land-use disputes increase local citizen activism—Citizen activism increased after 1945 when Congress gave the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) authority to rebuild the District’s slum areas and to build a new highway system, including an "inner loop" that would have destroyed many homes and neighborhoods. In 1951, Southwest Washington was chosen for redevelopment. The Redevelopment Land Agency decided to demolish the whole neighborhood to eliminate slums and crime, for reconstruction for wealthier families. Some called the project that displaced 20,000 families "Negro removal." D.C. citizens became an organized force, stopping the project from moving beyond the Southwest. Reverend Walter Fauntroy led Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) in a project for low-income urban renewal. Residents called the federally run government "an adventure in autocracy," and "no government at all," but a "monster with 50 heads, snapping at one another."

Opinion in Congress shifts in favor of restoring self-government in D.C.—In 1946, Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act, recommending "Congress divest itself of the duty of governing the District of Columbia and provide for a referendum on adoption of self-government by city charter."

The next year, a bi-racial Washington Home Rule Committee was established to restore popular elections.

After this time, some members of Congress introduced bills for Home Rule into nearly every session of Congress until it was approved in 1973. But all attempts to restore an elected school board and home rule were blocked by southern segregationists who feared "Negro rule." In addition, the local Board of Trade opposed for fear that a liberal government would be established and the federal financial contribution would be reduced further.

U.S. Citizens support D.C. self-government—In 1949, The Gallup Poll found that 65 percent of Americans said they thought citizens of D.C. should elect their city officials. Only 20 percent said they should continue to be appointed by the President.

Desegregation goes smoothly in D.C.—In 1954, Bolling v. Sharpe invalidated the use of racially separated educational facilities. Two years previously, the school board had instructed the Superintendent to "study the possibility of desegregation." Within months, D.C. desegregated with few problems. That year, the federal contribution for local services dropped to 8.5 percent. Washington, D.C. became the first majority-African-American U.S. city in 1960.

Congress allows other enclaves to vote in states—In June 1957, an Intergovernmental Committee submitted a report examining the fact the citizens living in all federal enclaves except D.C. (post offices, arsenals, dams, roads, and 405,088,566 acres of federal land—21 percent of the U.S.) were denied rights and privileges that states were claming were contingent on their residing in a state—the right to vote, hold public office, jury service. Some agencies argued they needed exclusive jurisdiction to carry out their federal mandates. The Committee said, "the Federal Government should not receive or retain any of the States’ legislative jurisdiction within federally owned areas…" President Eisenhower endorsed the recommendations, and in a series of statutes, Congress retroceded jurisdiction to the states of the enclaves located inside the boundaries of states. D.C., which performed the functions of a state, was excluded.

D.C. granted limited right to vote for President—In 1961, Congress approved the 23rd Amendment to grant D.C. citizens the right to electors equal to the smallest state. State legislatures ratified the Amendment within a year for fear that it would be used as cold war propaganda if not approved. Thus, D.C. was granted a limited "half loaf" right to vote for President. D.C. citizens were hardly consulted about their opinion about having a limited vote put into the Constitution.

U.S. public supports D.C. home rule—That same year, a Louis Harris poll found 66 percent of U.S. adults in favor of D.C. home rule. Americans supported home rule, they said, because "every city should determine its own destiny," and "every community has the right to self-government." Those who opposed said there were "too many Negroes, they would take over."

Civil Rights Movement in D.C.—Many civil rights leaders moved to D.C. to fight for Home Rule. In 1965, Southern National Coordination Committee (SNCC) field secretary, Marion Barry, was transferred to D.C. to help organize citizens. He established the Free D.C. Movement, which encouraged businesses who supported home rule to display a "Free D.C." sign in their window. If they did not, citizens could choose to boycott their business.

President Johnson reorganizes D.C. government, prepares for home rule—President Johnson submitted an Executive Order to Congress, reorganizing the District government to be headed by an appointed executive commissioner, a deputy commissioner and a 9-member council. Congress allowed it to become effective in 1969. President Johnson appointed Walter Washington to head D.C. Washington became D.C.’s appointed "mayor." Johnson also appointed a black majority to the city council, including Walter Fauntroy, Sterling Tucker, and Polly Shackleton.

D.C. granted elected school board—Segregationists and the Board of Trade came out in support of an elected School Board, hoping to sidetrack the Home Rule movement. After D.C. broke out in riots in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Congress granted D.C. an elected School Board. This laid the foundation for home rule by establishing a ward system for holding elections. The riots left D.C. with 1,200 burned buildings and 5,000 fewer jobs. Flight to the suburbs accelerated. Marion Barry’s ability to reason with the rioters elevated his standing among city power brokers.

Statehood movement formed—In 1969, Reverend Doug Moore, Chuck Stone, Jesse Anderson, Sam Smith, and African-American activists formed the D.C. Statehood Committee. Sam Smith outlined how D.C. could become a state in an article in the D.C. Gazette in 1970. That year, the Statehood Committee established the D.C. Statehood Party to run Julius Hobson against Walter Fauntroy for the District’s non-voting Delegate seat, and gained about 12 percent of the vote.

State level court system established for D.C.—President Nixon supported a "state level" court system and a non-voting Delegate to Congress. In 1970, the D.C. Superior Court was established, and the D.C. Election Act gave D.C. a non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives. President Nixon, like Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson before, supported home rule in D.C. He established the Nelson Commission to study local governance for D.C. The Commission found that, despite two major reorganizations in 20 years, the government did not control all the functions it should, its leaders lacked management authority, and its organization diffused accountability.

D.C. granted limited home rule—A limited Home Rule bill passed Congress in late 1973, granting D.C. local voting rights for the first time in a century. President Nixon signed the bill. It established the National Capital Service Area (NCSA), the monumental core (the mall), as the main area of federal interest. It established a mayor, a 13-member council, and continued the 11-member school board. The bill also established Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, with each ANC Single Member District composed of about 2,000 residents. Commissioners serve two-year terms, receive no salary, and have no binding vote. They are to be given "great weight" by the mayor and council. Walter Washington was elected mayor, and Marion Barry was elected to the City Council. Elected leaders took office in 1975.

Congress passes Amendment for D.C. voting rights—In 1978, Congress passed the proposed 27th Amendment to grant D.C. equal voting rights in Congress, but it had a 7-year time limit. D.C. had limited resources to try to establish a national educational campaign. Opponents called the proposed Amendment "nominal statehood," and argued that it violated the principles of federalism. They also rejected statehood on the ground that D.C. did not meet the standards.

D.C. viewed as "welfare child"—In 1979, Barry was elected mayor by a biracial coalition. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President. He opposed both Congressional voting rights and statehood for D.C., and viewed the District as a "welfare child." A new conservatism and anti-government feeling swept the nation, and D.C. was blurred into the federal government.

Majority of D.C. citizens support statehood, pass Constitution—Many D.C. citizens kept working to explain the benefits of D.C. statehood, even as The Washington Post and other local elites opposed the idea. By 1977, a poll by Robert Hitlin found 51 percent of D.C. residents in support of statehood, 28 percent opposed, and 21 percent were not sure. D.C. statehood supporters collected signatures and put an Initiative on the ballot to call a Constitutional Convention, which passed by 60 percent in 1980. The convention was held in 1981, on a slim $150,000 budget (for comparison, Hawaii spent $1,500,000 in 1967). The constitution for the state of New Columbia was controversial with some, but was approved by 53 percent in 1982. The mayor submitted to Congress a petition for admission of the state of New Columbia. D.C. non-voting delegate, Walter Fauntroy, introduced the D.C. Statehood bill in the House, and Senator Edward Kennedy introduced it in the Senate. Each year, the bill was reintroduced.

D.C. citizens lose first City Hall to developer—In 1982, after D.C. citizens had passed an Initiative to save their first City Hall, Rhodes Tavern, federal and local officials approved its demolition by developer Oliver Carr, Jr. Carr refused to place a plaque paid for by money collected by school children on the new building. (It wasn’t until 1999, after the new building was purchased by Mortimer Zuckerman, that the plaque was put on the building.) That year, Mayor Barry was reelected to a second term without the support of most white voters, but Washington’s developers bankrolled his campaign. Congress granted D.C. the right to float municipal bonds in 1984.

D.C. voting rights amendment fails—In 1985, time ran out on the Voting Representation Amendment. D.C. needed thirty-eight states to approve—but only 16 states did so after 7 years. The campaign had little budget, was opposed by the Statehood Party and some conservatives who called it "nominal statehood."

Wall Street helps reelect Marion Barry, Congress brings him down—Wall Street contributed large sums to Barry’s 1986 reelection campaign. Despite rumors of cocaine use, he was reelected mayor. Crime skyrocketed with the crack cocaine epidemic. By 1990, as Barry prepared for a re-election campaign, the FBI set him up by using an old girlfriend, Rasheeda Moore, to lure him to the Vista Hotel, where he used crack cocaine and was filmed on video. The video was released to the world. D.C. citizens were angry and ashamed. Fifty-seven percent of D.C. residents thought he should resign. But, many D.C. citizens felt federal investigators had targeted Barry because he was black. Barry was convicted of one misdemeanor, and was sentenced to a six-month jail sentence.

D.C. elects new mayor, but storm clouds appear on horizon—In 1990, Sharon Pratt Dixon (later Kelly), was elected mayor. That same year, a report by The Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities of the District of Columbia led by Alice Rivlin, senior fellow of The Brookings Institution, reported that D.C. would go into debt if immediate steps were not taken. The "Rivlin Report" warned that the District had two choices—either bring the budget into balance, or face "drastic and arbitrary cuts in public services, massive layoffs of employees, and emergency arrangements for financial bailout."

The report pointed out that while the federal government’s presence offered benefits to D.C. and surrounding areas, the costs were imposed on D.C. taxpayers. The federal government had straddled D.C. with liabilities accumulated during their watch under the commissions, including a large debt and a huge unfounded pension liability. The federal government had also increased demands on the municipal system for services such as increased levels of public safety for visiting heads of state, official federal events, and frequent public demonstrations. In addition, they imposed mandates, such as the number of fire trucks to be in each station.

And, the Rivlin Report noted, the District had never been given fiscal autonomy. After the mayor and council agreed on the District’s budgetary priorities, the federal Office of Management and Budget, eight committees of Congress, the full Congress, and the president, had to approve the budget. This added between seven to 11 months, at a cost to D.C. taxpayers of $3 million. In addition, the federal government imposed restrictions on D.C., exempting nearly 60 percent of local land from taxation, exempting itself from paying taxes on $20.8 billion worth of property on 41 percent of D.C. land. Congress also forbade D.C. from taxing income where it is earned. Since 68 percent of income earned in D.C. left with employees who live in Virginia and Maryland, D.C. citizens were stuck with a budget shortfall and consequently the highest taxes in the region. D.C. was "caught between a rock and a hard place."

Statehood bill fails in House of Representatives—In 1992, William Jefferson Clinton was elected president. He said he would sign a bill for statehood if it passed Congress. The next year, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill for D.C. statehood in the House. The debate lasted two days and failed by 63 votes—153 for, 277 against, four not voting. The vote fell largely along partisan lines, with all but one Republican opposing. However, President Clinton made little if any effort to pass the bill, and it is suspected that many Democrats voted "yea" because they knew it would fail.

D.C. citizens file human rights petition against federal government—After the statehood bill failed, The Statehood Solidarity Committee, led by Timothy Cooper and formed of 23 D.C. citizens, filed a petition against the U.S. with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They argued that D.C. citizens had exhausted all domestic remedies in seeking to political equality. They asserted that the U.S. is in violation of International human rights laws signed by the U.S. in 1992. (The case is still pending.)

Democrats allow D.C. symbolic vote, Republicans take it away—In 1993, majority Democrats in the House allowed the District and the four territories to vote on the floor of the House in the Committee of the Whole—mainly a symbolic gesture, since the vote didn’t count if there was a tie. Previously, delegates could only vote in committee. In 1994, when Mayor Barry was reelected and the District teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, "Radical Republicans" took control of the Congress. In 1995, their first order of business was to abolish the delegate’s right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

Congress installs financial control board, abolishes home rule—The new Congress installed a Financial Authority, or "control board." They came to believe the local governing arrangement was no longer tolerable, that Mayor Barry had to be forced out of office. Many locals agreed, although the issue raised racial tension. In 1997, Congress passed the "D.C. Revitalization Act," abolishing most powers of the mayor and council and transferring them to the Control Board that had been established in 1995. President Clinton signed the agreement. The bill stipulated that D.C. could regain their limited home rule government if they passed four consecutive balanced budgets (D.C. is expected to meet this goal this year). Congresswoman Norton praised the financial package part of the bill, and urged citizens to work together (The Washington Post, Aug. 27, 1998): "Some are said to cheer the extinguishing of their rights. I do not believe that. I believe that the cheers reflect exasperation with Mayor Barry and other city officials about the condition of the city. People don’t cheer about losing their rights. …As a fourth-generation Washingtonian and a committed democrat, I find the loss of home rule deeply humiliating. …My family was here when the District lost home rule under Boss Shepherd. For me, the loss is personal. …Let’s waste no more time. I hope residents on the ‘management side’ and residents on the ‘home rule side’ will help form an ‘action now side.’ Action is the only way to fix the city. Action is the only realistic way to retrieve home rule. So we’re all on the same side."

Fight for the return of home rule—Washington citizens had many feelings. Some were angry; some relieved; and most were ashamed. The majority of D.C. citizens sat silently by and said nothing. Voting participation dropped to under 10 percent in one local election.

The national press virtually ignored the issue, perhaps thinking as George Will did that "D.C. is unfit for democracy." Many local columnists wrote about the demise of democracy in the District. Colbert I. King recalled his childhood in D.C. (Washington Post, Aug. 16, 1997), a time when the unelected commissioners proclaimed an official song for the city, which his all-black racially separated peers sang in a hand-me-down school amidst a disenfranchised city—"WASH-ING-TON, the fair-est ci-ty in the greatest land of all. Named for one, our coun-try’s fa-ther who first an-swered free-dom’s call/God bless our White House, our Ca-pitol, too/ And keep- ev-er fly-ing the Red, White and Blue." King wrote: "District residents shouldn’t have to prove their worthiness to have the same rights enjoyed by other Americans," then added that "We’re here, in part, because we let down. …We committed the cardinal sin of forgetting where we are; of deluding ourselves into thinking that those downtown and Capitol Hill smiles meant acceptance and that a golden age had arrived; of failing to remember the hard, bitter truth that in this world there’s never a time when we as a people are allowed the luxury of sitting back and relaxing and enjoying our meager gains. We failed to pass on what we were taught: that every generation has to press down and re-win the victory. That, as long as we draw breath on this earth, it’s always a struggle."

Local leaders generally praised the financial part of the bill in which the federal government assumed the pension liability it had dumped on the District in 1973, as well as financial responsibility for D.C.’s courts and prisons.

D.C. NBC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood noted that the Revitalization Act was a distinct shift away from statehood because it made the federal government a "state" partner by taking over D.C.’s courts and prisons.

But some citizens actively fought for the return of home rule. A coalition of over 100 groups, the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, organized protests and direct action to draw media attention to the takeover. They held weekly organizing meetings, lobbied Congress, and pressed for full representation and full self-government every way they could think of. Local talk show personality Mark Plotkin aggressively raised questions of elected officials and Congressmen on the weekly D.C. Politics Hour. And citizens stayed involved through voluntary organizations, their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and through themail@dcwatch, an E-mail discussion forum published twice weekly (www.dcwatch.com).

Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment proposed—Timothy Cooper proposed an Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment in Legal Times, making a clear distinction from the more limited Voting Rights Amendment. The Amendment, he said, could read, "The residents of the District of Columbia shall be treated as citizens of a state for all constitutional intents and purposes." If passed, it would give D.C. citizens rights equal to citizens living in states without making the District a state, include full voting representation under Article 2 of the Constitution and the 17th Amendment, the right to a republican form of government under Article 4, the right to 9th and 10th Amendment powers and privileges, and the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Some oppose an amendment because it would be less than equal to the rights enjoyed by citizens living in a state ("not a whole loaf"), and it could be reversed. Attorney George LaRoche has indicated that it may be nearly impossible to become a state once an amendment is passed.

Americans support self government and equal voting rights for D.C.—A national poll of U.S. adults in 1997 by Mark Richards found that most opposed a federal takeover of D.C. for mismanagement in the nation’s capital and large majorities supported D.C. home rule. Majorities agreed that replacing elected officials with unelected ones goes against the principles of the American democracy. Large majorities also supported equal voting rights for D.C. citizens in Congress.

D.C. citizens file lawsuits against federal government—D.C. citizens also prepared and took legal actions to win voting rights and home rule. In one effort, Adams v. Clinton, ("Twenty D.C. citizens"), under the counsel of George S. LaRoche, filed a lawsuit against the office of the President and the Control Board (June 30, 1998), to demand their Constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws and the right to representative government (http://D.C.citizensfordemocracy.org).  In another legal effort developed by American University law professor Jamin Raskin, the municipal government and 58 D.C. citizens, under the guidance of the D.C. Corporation Council and the law firm Covington and Burling, filed Alexander v. Daley, based on the Constitutional principle of "one person, one vote." They asked the Courts to order Congress to use it plenary power over D.C. to create a legislative provision that would allow D.C. to be represented in Congress. Although quite different in what they asked the Court to do, and in some ways competitive, the lawsuits were combined and heard by a three-judge panel from the Federal District Court and the Appellate Court on April 19, 1999. The Court ruled against the Plaintiffs on March 20, 2000 (www.DC.d.uscourts.gov/district-court.html) and the Supreme Court upheld its decision. The Court indicated that the issue must be solved in the political forum.

New mayor elected, citizen confidence grows—The mayoral election of November 1998 pitted a newcomer who had shown management talent as the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Anthony Williams, against four elected officials on the Council. Williams beat all local leaders on a platform emphasizing improved management and services. In a Washington Post poll early in 2000, for the first time since 1984, a majority of D.C. citizens said the quality of life is getting better—not worse or staying the same.

U.S. citizens support equal constitutional rights for D.C.—In April 2000, Democracy First, DC Vote, and the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition—three groups concerned with democracy in D.C., held a press briefing and released national polls by Mark Richards that found that 72 percent of U.S. adults, 69 percent of college graduates who are registered to vote, and 82 percent of progressive state and local elected officials supported equal voting rights for D.C. in the Senate and the House of Representatives. But, many Americans were not aware of the problem: 55 percent of college graduates registered to vote did not know that D.C. citizens do not have Congressional voting rights.

Solutions—Many D.C. citizens remain committed to their birthright and hope is that they can win the same rights as citizens who live in states. They believe that a governing structure that is more suited to the nation’s stated principles can be established—but Congress has blocked every effort they have made.

There are three agreed upon ways that could be taken to grant D.C. equal constitutional rights: (1) pass a Constitutional amendment, (2) reduce the size of the District to the federal area and make the remaining 120 neighborhoods (most of the area) a state, or (3) reduce the size of the District and merge the remaining neighborhoods into Maryland.

A poll by The Washington Post in 2000 found 58 percent of D.C. residents support statehood. A poll by The Wirthlin Group in 1994 had found similar support for statehood in D.C., but showed that a majority of citizens living in the suburbs opposed D.C. statehood.

The Wirthlin poll found that only 19 percent of D.C. citizens and 25 percent of suburban-D.C. residents living in Maryland and Virginia supported merging D.C.’s neighborhoods into Maryland. The Governor of Maryland also expressed his opposition.

Some D.C. citizens are skeptical about a Constitutional amendment, because it could be watered down in Congressional deal making and a "half loaf" bill might be passed—like with the Presidential voting rights amendment. In addition, some are skeptical that D.C. could mount a campaign to pass an Amendment through the states in the limited timeframe Congress is likely to give. Such a campaign would take tremendous time and money, because so few Americans are aware of the issue.

Some also believe Congress has the authority to pass legislation granting D.C. voting rights in Congress.

Failure of exclusive jurisdiction—Congress has ruled D.C. for 200 years, and in the area they have cared about most—the National Capital Service Area (NCSA) with the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court—they have created a beautiful national capital. But, for the most part, they have not helped D.C.’s citizens or their 120 neighborhoods.

Who can speak better for D.C. than D.C. citizens? There is no need for D.C.’s neighborhoods to be governed by Congress. The Pentagon and the CIA are located across the Potomac River, in the state of Virginia—and Congress appears to be safe from citizens of that state. The only way to solve this problem is to change D.C.’s status so that D.C. citizens can speak for themselves—either by becoming a state, merging D.C. into Maryland, or passing an Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment. But D.C. citizens can’t do this alone. Most in Congress seem content to govern the District so that residents have taxation without representation, and responsibilities without rights and resources. D.C. citizens need the active support of the American people—most of whom haven’t heard there is even a problem.

Turning up the volume—For D.C. citizens, sometimes it seems that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Many sit on the sidelines and are apathetic. But many haven’t given up hope and are as determined as ever to achieve political equality. In June 2000, the City Council passed legislation to change the license plate motto from "Celebrate and Discover" to "Taxation without Representation." This is part of an effort to inform the public of D.C.’s dilemma and to appeal for help. The New York Times headlined an article about the license plate change "A Rebellion Is Brewing in U.S. Capital Over Status." Indeed, a rebellion has been brewing for 200 years. In March 2001, D.C.’s non-voting Delegate introduced H.R. 1193 into the House of Representatives, calling for full voting representation in the Congress for the citizens of the District, and an exemption from federal income taxes until such full voting representation takes effect. The bill has not been passed by Congress.

Organizations working on these issues include:

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Suggested Reading

Bagdikian, Ben. “The Five Different Washingtons,” Bill Adler (Ed.), Washington: A Reader. New York, NY: Meredith Press, 1967.

Barber, Benjamin and Watson, Patrick. The Struggle for Democracy, Boston, Mass: Little Brown and Company, 1988.

Borland, Hon. William Patterson. Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 18, 1915, The Relation of the District of Columbia to the General Government. Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1915.

Bowling, Kenneth R. “New Light on the Philadelphia Mutiny of 1783: Federal-State Confrontation at the Close of the War for Independence.” Offprint from The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume CI, Number 4, October 1977.

Bowling, Kenneth R. The Creation of Washington, D.C.: The Idea and Location of the American Capital. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1991.

Bryan, Wilhelmus B. The District Government During the Past Quarter of a Century. Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 33-34, 1932: Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1932.

Bryan, Wilhelmus B. A History of the National Capital, Vol. I (1790-1814) and II (1815-1878), New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1914.

Bryce, James and Taft, William Howard. Washington : “The Nation’s Capital.” Speech to the Committee of One Hundred on the Development of Washington, D.C., reprinted in The National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XXVII, March 1915.

Caemmerer, H. Paul. A Manual on the Origin and Development of Washington. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1939.

Caemmerer, H. Paul. The Life of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, Planner of the City Beautiful, The City of Washington. Washington, D.C.: National Republic Publishing Company, 1950.

Cary, Francine Curro (Ed.). Urban Odyssey: A Multicultural History Of Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D.C., 1996.

Casselman, Amos Burr. “The Virginia Portion of the District.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 12, Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1909.

Clark, Allen C. “Origin of the Federal City.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 35-36, Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1935.

Cox, William V. Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Seat of Government in the District of Columbia. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1901.

Davidson, Bill. “A City in Trouble.” Bill Adler (Ed.), Washington: A Reader. New York, NY: Meredith Press, 1967.

Derthick, Martha. City Politics in Washington, D.C., Joint Center for Urban Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1962.

DiGiacomantonio, William C. "'To Sell Their Birthright for a Mess of Potage': The Origins of the D.C. Governance And the Organic Act of 1801," published in "Coming into the City: Essays on Early Washington, D.C. Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Federal Government’s Arrival in 1800," Washington History, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2000.

Diner, Steven J. Democracy, Federalism And The Governance Of The Nation’s Capital: 1790-1974. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Research and Urban Policy, University of the District of Columbia, 1987.

Diner, Steven J. The Governance of Education in the District of Columbia: An Historical Analysis of Current Issues, Dept. of Urban Studies, University of the District of Columbia, Paper No. 2, 1982.

Dunn, Charles A.R. “The Origins of the District of Columbia Flag.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society. Washington, D.C.: 1957-1959, 1961.

Gale, Dennis E. Washington, D.C.: Inner City Revitalization And Minority Suburbanization. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1987.

Gilbert, Ben W. and the staff of The Washington Post. Ten Blocks From the White House: Anatomy of the Washington Riots of 1968. Frederick A. Praeger, Washington, 1968.

Gillette Jr., Howard. Between Justice And Beauty: Race, Planning, And The Failure Of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1995.

Green, Constance McLaughlin. The Secret City: A History Of Race Relations In The Nation’s Capital. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1967.

Green, Constance, McLaughlin. Washington, Village And Capital, 1800-1878. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Green, Constance, McLaughlin. Washington Capital City, 1879-1950, Vol. II. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Hanson, Royce and Ross, Bernard. Governing the District of Columbia: An Introduction. Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies, 1971.

Harris, Charles Wesley. Congress and the Governance of the Nation’s Capital: The Conflict of Federal and Local Interests. Georgetown University Press: Washington, D.C., 1995.

Harris, Charles Wesley and Thornton, Alvin. Perspectives of Political Power in the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C., National Institute of Public Management, 1981.

Harris, Charles Wesley. “Congress and Home Rule in the Nation’s Capital: District of Columbia Appropriations.” Paper presented at the 1990 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, August 30-September 2, 1990.

Harris, Charles Wesley. “Federal and Local Interests in the Nation’s Capital: Congress and the District of Columbia Appropriations,” Public Budgeting and Finance 9, no. 4, Winter 1989.

Harris, Charles Wesley and Harris, Neeka. “Conflicting Vistas in the Nation’s Capital.” Catholic University Law Review. 38, no 3, Spring 1989.

Harris, C.M. "Washington’s ‘Federal City,’ and Jefferson’s ‘federal town,’" published in "Coming into the City: Essays on Early Washington, D.C. Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Federal Government’s Arrival in 1800," Washington History, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2000.

Johnson, Thomas R. “Reconstruction Politics in Washington: An Experimental Garden for Radical Plants.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 50, 1980: Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1980.

Jones, George J. et al. Washington, Yesterday and Today, written by social studies teachers in D.C. under the direction of George J. Jones, with forward by Frank W. Ballou, Superintendent of Schools, Ginn and Company, 1943.

Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Basic Books, 2000.

Knebel, Fletcher. “Washington—Democracy’s Home Town.” Bill Adler (Ed.), Washington: A Reader. New York, NY: Meredith Press, 1967.

Lear, Tobias. “Observations on the River Potomack, the Country Adjacent, and the City of Washington,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 8, Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1905.

Leech, Margaret. Reveille In Washington: 1860-1865. New York City, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc., 1941.

Lessoff, Alan. The Nation And Its City: Politics, "Corruption," And Progress In Washington, D.C., 1861-1902. Baltimore, M.D.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Lie, Elliot. Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1967.

McMurtry, Virginia A. A Legislative History of the 23rd Amendment. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., 1977.

McGuire, Matthew F. An Anecdotal History of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia 1801-1976. The Judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, May 1966.

Melder, Keith. City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Washington, District of Columbia, Second Edition. Washington, D.C.: Intac, Inc., 1997.

Meyers, Edward M. Public Opinion and the Political Future of the Nation’s Capital. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1996.

Myers, Gibbs. “Pioneers in the Federal Area,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1943.

National Capital Planning Commission. The Proposed Comprehensive Plan For The National Capital, February 1967.

Noel, F. Regis, and Downing, Margaret Brent. The Court-House of the District of Columbia. Judd and Detweiller, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1919.

Noyes, Theodore W. “The Presidents and the National Capital,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 20, 1917, Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1917.

Proctor, John Clagett. Washington Past and Present: A History. New York, NY: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1930.

O’Cleireacain, Carol. The Orphaned Capital : Adopting the Right Revenues for the District of Columbia. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1997.

Quinn, Frederick (Ed.). The Federalist Papers Reader. Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press, 1993.

Quinn, Storing and Herbert J. Editor. The Anti-Federalist: Writings by the Opponents of the Constitution. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Raskin, Jamin B. “Is This America ? The District of Columbia and the Right to Vote,” Harvard Civil Rights—Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, Winter, 1999.

Richards, Mark David. “Opinion Survey Of Residents of the Cairo” (A Washington, D.C. Condominium In Dupont East). Bisconti Research, Inc., 1997.

Richards, Mark David. “Sequence Of Events: A Concise History of the Relationship Between the U.S. Federal Government and the District of Columbia.” Reference guide (timeline) comparing U.S. federal history to D.C. local history. Summer 1997.

Richards, Mark David. “U.S. Public Opinion on Principles of Governance for Washington, District of Columbia.” Report on a telephone survey 1,049 U.S. adults between September 12-14, 1997. Report also includes a history of voting rights in D.C. Spring 1998.

Richards, Mark David. “Survey of Mayoral Candidates on the Status of Democracy in Washington, D.C.” Report and verbatim comments from D.C. mayoral candidates collected July 4-24, 1998 for the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition.

Richards, Mark David. “Evaluation of 26 Guidebooks About Visiting Washington, D.C.: A Content Analysis Of Popular Washington, D.C. Tourist Guidebooks From A D.C. Point-Of-View,” 1999.

Rimensnyder, Nelson. “Rhodes Tavern and the History of the Planning, Development, and Institutions of the Nation’s Capital, 1799-1981.” Committee on the District of Columbia, U.S. House of Representatives, Paper presented at 1982 Annual Washington, D.C. History Conference, Feb. 13, 1982.

Rimensnyder, Nelson. “Josephine Butler Gave D.C. Statehood Hope,” letter to the editor, The Washington Times, Friday, April 25, 1997.

Rivlin, Alice. Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities. “Financing the Nation’s Capital,” (Known as the Rivlin Report), Nov. 1990.

Sherwood, Tom and Jaffe, Harry S. Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Schrag, Philip G. Behind the Scenes: The Politics of a Constitutional Convention. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1985.

Schrag, Philip P. The Future of District of Columbia Home Rule. Catholic University Law Review 39, no. 2, Winter 1990.

Smith, Sam. Captive Capital: Colonial Life in Modern Washington. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Smith, Kathryn Schneider, Editor. Washington at Home. Windsor Publications, Inc., 1988.

Spandorf, Lily. Washington Never More. Grew Publishing Company, Washington, D.C., 1988.

Taft, William Howard and Bryce, James. Washington, The Nation’s Capital. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 1913 and 1915.

Tindall, William. “Naming the Seat of Government of the United States: A Legislative Paradox.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 23, Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1920.).

Washington, George. “The Writings of George Washington Relating to the National Capital,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 17, 1914.

Weaver, Kent R. and Harris, Charles Wesley. “Who’s in Charge Here? Congress and the Nation’s Capital,” The Brookings Review 7, no. 3, Summer 1989.

Woodward, Augustus Brevoort. “Enquiries into the Necessity or Expediency of Assuming Exclusive Legislation over The District of Columbia.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 8, Washington, D.C., 1905.

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