How is that for click-bait? Guess what – this post isn’t about any particular person in our nation’s capital. This post is about our nation’s capital itself. Ever since the District of Columbia was created, its residents have held fewer voting rights and less representation than those in any of the states. Even the 23rd Amendment didn’t completely fix that problem.
But before we delve into that, let’s talk about something far more astonishing: this is the tenth post to emerge from The Parallax Machine. Nine posts ago, I never imagined I would be arriving at this moment. If you had suggested such an outrageous thought, I would have laughed heartily and mussed up your hair. Yet here we are, and there’s a real possibility there will be ten more posts. I’ll give you a moment of silence to let that sink in.
Ok, back to the 23rd Amendment. If you’ve been in the DC area recently, you may have noticed the locals’ license plates, many of which bear the phrase, “Taxation Without Representation”. That phrase dates all the way back to the days leading up to the American Revolution (although it was originally coined by the Irish). The most famous use of the phrase was by a Boston politician named James Otis, who proclaimed, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This was of course aimed across the pond at King George, who kept coming up with new ways to tax the colonists without giving them any say in their government. One thing led to another, Tea Party, Declaration, war, victory, yadda yadda yadda.
A few years later, some soldiers who hadn’t been paid protested at the Continental Congress and effectively held the Government hostage for a brief moment in time. It didn’t get as ugly as it could have, but the early leaders of our Government decided they needed to have full jurisdiction over the region in which they were situated (not just to avoid future such incidents, but also to avoid giving one state more apparent power by hosting the nation’s capital). So they wrote the concept of a District for the nation’s capital into the Constitution itself. One thing led to another, and boom, District of Columbia. Congress moved in at the beginning of 1800 and officially created the District in 1801. As soon as the District exited any particular state, it lost the right to vote, to be represented, and to ratify any changes to the Constitution. Protests were immediate, and a few folks did mention, “Hey, wasn’t this what we didn’t like about King George?”
Different ways of governing DC were tried over the ensuing decades, but none of them really solved the representation problem. It took all the way until 1961 before an attempt was made, and that attempt became the 23rd Amendment:
The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.
Excellent. Residents of DC were now allowed to vote for the President and Vice President. But…
DC can never have more electoral votes than any given state – granted, it’s basically one city, but it does have more people than Wyoming and Vermont. DC has a single delegate to the House of Representatives, but that delegate can only vote on procedural matters and in committees, and not on bills brought to the House floor. DC has no representation in the Senate. And residents of DC are still required to pay federal taxes just like residents of any state. To sum up, DC residents are fully taxed without full representation. Tyranny inside the beltway. Long live the King!
I lived in the DC area for a few years (although not in DC itself), and I often travel there for business. Just walking around town, you’re not going to hear too many conversations about taxation without representation, even though scores of cars will drive by with that phrase on their plates. But I have to imagine whenever there is an important vote in Congress, more than a few DC residents bristle at their inability to have any real impact. Then again, I do the same thing in Colorado. Frankly, these days, it’s not entirely clear how many of us are truly being represented.
Meanwhile, DC does have a bunch of free museums.