A Fifty-first State?

In 1791 the original boundaries for the District of Columbia were set with Maryland and Virginia each ceding a triangle of land with the base of those triangles being the Potomac river. The two triangles formed almost a square of land that would be the Federal District. The geographically most prominent of the land ceded by Virginia included an eleven hundred acre plantation called “Mount Washington,” owned by the Custis family. You know it today as Arlington Cemetery. Do to the prominence of the Custis family there is little doubt L’Enfant did not entertain the idea of building the Capitol on the Virginia side of the river although it was by far the most prominent overlook and highest ground within the newly constituted district. So, all of the city of Washington, D.C. would be built on the Maryland side of the river in what is often referred to as bottom land. Not for no reason is part of the property referred to as Foggy Bottom for it was, and is, a place where a miasma of fog will settle in and stay. As an aside here’s a piece of takeaway trivia for you: until the middle 1980’s British diplomats received “Tropical clothing allowances” for serving in Washington. But, the flatter land made for easier road building and L’Enfant’s grand plan called for boulevards and plazas and he built it in the lowlands of the peninsula formed by the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. That original district would then expand to the North, South and East towards the borders with Maryland but never crossing the Potomac into Virginia.

In 1846 and 1847 that portion of land ceded by Virginia to the Federal Government was returned to state control and the boundaries that now exist as Washington D.C. were established. Within those boundaries the population has now grown to 650,000 and because it is a Federal District the people who live there have no representatives in Congress since the Constitution only provides for representatives from the constituent states of the Union. To achieve equality the city of Washington D.C. wants to be made a state and provided with the same rights and representation as other states. It would be our smallest state land wise but not by population having a third again as many residents as the state of Wyoming. But the Constitution requires that there be a Federal District not under the control of any state wherein the business of government is conducted. So what to do?

If, indeed, representation in Congress is the issue then the answer is easy. Return the residential and commercial business portions of the city to the State of Maryland from whence the land on which they are built originated. This will provide the residents of Washington City the opportunity to vote for and be represented by the congress people and senators of Maryland. There is legal precedence for this since land originally part of the District was returned to Virginia. Prior to 1847 the residents of what is now Arlington county and part of Alexandria had no representation in Congress but with the return of the land they achieved the right to participate in the choosing of Congressional reps. Please note that in 1847 Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by direct vote.

In other words, disenfranchised citizens have been enfranchised before by the return of land to the state which had originally ceded it to the Federal Government. Why then invent something new that will cost taxpayers outside D.C. a lot of money and only upset the balance that already exists? The answer, of course, is politics because Washington, D.C. is staunchly Democratic and the Democratic Party sees an increase in its power within the Congress. In truth, the least costly option is to return portions of the District to Maryland keeping only the National Mall and the Government Buildings near the Mall as the Federal District. It’s the easiest, least costly and most common sense method of providing representation to the residents. However, as we are constantly reminded, common sense seldom carries the day in Washington, D.C.

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