May 3, 1802: Congress Incorporates Washington, D.C.

On this day in 1802, Congress approved legislation incorporating Washington, D.C. and its citizens. The bill gave all eligible voters, free white males of age who had lived in the city for a year, the opportunity to elect a two-chamber city council made up of twelve members.

On this day in 1802, Congress approved legislation incorporating Washington, D.C. and its citizens. The bill, “An act to incorporate the inhabitants of the City of Washington, in the District of Columbia,” gave all eligible voters, free white males of age who had lived in the city for a year, the opportunity to elect a two-chamber city council made up of twelve members. The bill also established a mayor to be appointed by the President.

This form of government would last for ten years until Congress amended it, creating an eight-member board of alderman who, along with the council, elected the mayor. It would be the first of many restructuring and reboots of the District government over the next 160 years until 1973, when Congress passed the “Home Rule Act,” which gave the District the right to elect its own mayor and 13-member city council.

However, because it is not a state, Washington, D.C., does not have voting representation in Congress, which leaves me with a feeling of ambivalence. I certainly don’t think the District is a state or that the framers of the U.S. Constitution ever intended for it to be treated as one. However, I also doubt that they ever expected Washington to be home to more than 590,000 Americans either.

The extremism on both sides doesn’t help matters either. One side is comfortable with more than half a million U.S. citizens being denied voting representation in Congress. Another won’t stop until a city that was designed to house the federal government has two voting Senators and the autonomy of a state.

Sadly, that radical idealism will perpetuate this issue for decades to come.

1 thought on “May 3, 1802: Congress Incorporates Washington, D.C.”

  1. My high school history teacher, when teaching about taxation without representation, pointed out that is what happens in DC. Maybe what’s unconstitutional is for those 590,000 Americans to have to pay taxes. Ooooo. But I’m sure someone has already thought of that.

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