The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article I.8.17: "The Congress shall have Power … 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 Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings." In other words, this provision gave Congress the authority and the responsibility to set up a headquarters for the national government, ten miles square, which would be under the exclusive control of Congress. This clause is called the enclave clause.
"This clause may have originated from Congress's unhappy experience of being virtually evicted from
Philadelphia in 1783 when [several hundred] members of the Continental Army [who were angry about being unpaid] mobbed them, forcing the Congress to flee to Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, and finally , because local authorities did not adequately protect them. Furthermore, it was felt that the capital should not be in the same city as the capital of a state, or in a large commercial center likely to be heavily populated." (See W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p 455.) New York
Skousen continued with his explanation of why the
District of Columbia, or , was selected to be the national capital. During the administration of George Washington, two bills were introduced in Congress. One of the bills was to have the national government pay all the "debts of the various states incurred during the Revolutionary War." This was not a good idea to states such as Washington, D.C. that had paid their own war debts and didn't see any reason why they should pay the debts of other states. Virginia
The second bill that was introduced about the same time concerned the national capital. Many of the states that had debts "wanted the national capital to be in the north (
Philadelphia or ). New York Virginia agreed to accept the war debts of other states "if the new national capital were placed on the Potomac River." Thomas Jefferson as the Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton as the Secretary of Treasury worked together to bring about the compromise. Jefferson persuaded enough southern states to support the debt bill while Hamilton "rallied votes to put the national capital on the Potomac."
This arrangement put the capital or power of government in the South and the economic power in the north. This division of power continues today with the federal government located in
Washington, D.C., and Wall Street located in . New York City
In 1788-89 neighboring states ceded land to the nation:
Maryland gave up "sixty square acres east of the Potomac," and gave up "thirty square miles on the west." More than fifty years later, in 1846, Congress decided to return Virginia Virginia's land located west of the Potomac.
It took a few years for
, to be built. Even though the project started during Washington, D.C. Washington's administration, the government operated out of Philadelphia from 1790 until 1800 at which time the government moved to its permanent place in John Adams was the first President to live in the White House. Washington, D.C.
The Founders obviously felt strongly about the need for a "federal district" that would be under the exclusive control of the federal government. James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 43: "The indispensable necessity of compleat 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 proceedings be interrupted, with impunity; but a dependence of the members of the general Government, on the State comprehending the seat of the 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." (See Lee Casey in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, pp 143-144.)
Neither the Founders nor the Constitution gave the right to residents of
, to elect members to the House of Representatives nor the Senate. They apparently believed that said residents were well represented in government. An attempt was made in 1977 to amend the Constitution to grant the Washington, D.C. the same voting representation as states, but the bill was not ratified. There were other attempts to bring the District of Columbia District of Columbia into the Union as the fifty-first state.
Voting-rights advocates in
, still have the "clear preference" for statehood, but Congress does not seem anxious to pass such an amendment. The Founders wanted the national seat to be under the "ultimate authority of Congress," and today's Congress apparently feels the same way about it being an "independent territory." Washington, D.C.
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