Flag of the District of Columbia
Flag of the District of Columbia (Courtesy of dpw.dc.gov)

This is a timeline on the centuries’ struggle District residents have waged for full citizenship, whether it be for a constitutional amendment allowing congressional representation, legislation for a vote in one chamber of the U.S. Congress or statehood.
The Constitution received ratification by the then Articles of Confederation Congress in 1788 and became effective in 1789. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 stipulated the Congress essentially exercise exclusive power over the District, the seat of the federal government.
The following years indicate what happened as District residents sought to become full citizens of the United States.
1790-The U.S. Congress accepts the territory ceded by Maryland and Virginia for the establishment of the seat of the federal government and declares the first Monday in December 1800 as the first date the District will operate. Congress said the president shall appoint three commissioners to survey, purchase the land and establish the new government to take up residence on the first Monday in December 1800.

President George Washington set the boundaries of the new federal district in 1790.

1791-President George Washington issues several presidential proclamations defining and fixing the boundaries of the new district.
1790-1800-Qualified residents (property-owning white males) of the new District of Columbia vote in election of federal officers conducted in Maryland and Virginia, including members of the House of Representatives, even though Maryland and Virginia ceded the land to the federal government and the District’s boundaries had been drawn.
1800-On the first Monday in December, the seat of the U.S. government is transferred to the District of Columbia.
1801-The Congress passes the Organic Act of 1801 divides the District into two counties—Washington County from Maryland and Alexandria County from Virginia—and creates the circuit court of D.C., authorizes the appointment of a U.S. Attorney, marshals, justice of the peace and a register of wills. D.C. residents lose the right to vote for Maryland and Virginia federal lawmakers.
1802-Congress abolishes the board of commissioners and incorporates the City of Washington (formerly in Washington County) with a presidentially appointed mayor and a popularly elected council of 12 members with two chambers, one with seven members and the other with five members. All acts of the council must be sent to the mayor for his approval. Voting is limited to “free, white male inhabitants of full age, who have resided in the District 12 months and paid taxes therein the year preceding the election’s being held.”
1820-Congress repeals the 1802 and 1804 legislation and reorganizes the City of Washington by providing a popularly elected mayor and continuing the existing elected council. The U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Loughborough vs. Blake declared it is legal for District residents to pay taxes without representation.
1846-Congress, the Virginia legislature and the City of Alexandria approve retrocession of the county and town of Alexandria back to Virginia.
1848-Congress abolishes the property requirement for voting and extends voting rights to all white males who pay a yearly $1 school tax.
1850-Congress ends the slave trade in the District.

In 1862, the District — with President Abraham Lincoln’s support — abolished slavery and compensated slaveholders becoming the only U.S. jurisdiction to do so.

1862-On April 16, Congress passes the “District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act” supported by President AbrahamLincoln abolishing slavery in the city and compensating the owners of the 3,100 freed slaves, and establishes a school system for Black residents.
1867-Congress grants voting rights to males without regard to color if they reside in the District for one year and in their ward three months. The census reveals Blacks constitute 33 percent of the city’s population.
1871-Congress creates the territory of the District of Columbia. A popularly-elected House of Delegates with 22 members is set up along with a non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress. D.C. residents lose their right to elect their governor and the upper house of their legislature which becomes presidentially appointed.
1874-Congress nixes the District’s territorial government and sets up a presidentially appointed three-person commission to govern the city.
1902-Sen. Jacob Gallinger (R-N.H.) introduces a resolution to amend the Constitution and make the District a state, a first.
1938-The District Suffrage League sets up an informal poll of residents at 38 public schools on whether they wanted a vote for president and members of Congress and locally-elected government. Participants in the poll supported both measures overwhelmingly.
1940-The Democratic National Convention includes in its platform a plank favoring District residents voting in national elections.
1960-Congress passes a resolution supporting the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution granting District residents the right to vote in presidential elections and giving the city three Electoral votes.
1961-The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution granting District residents the right to vote in presidential elections and the city three Electoral votes gets ratified by the states.
1964-District residents voted for president for the first time, giving its three Electoral votes to Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Walter E. Washington was selected by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the mayor of the District in 1967 after decades of the city being ruled by three commissioners. (Courtesy photo)

1967-President Johnson nixes the three commissioners and makes Walter E. Washington the presidentially appointed District mayor, Thomas Fletcher, deputy mayor and nine council members with John Hechinger as the chairman.
1968-Congress authorizes the District electing a school board, the first elected body since the territorial government dissolved in 1874.
1970-Congress allows the District to elect a non-voting delegate, the first since 1874.
1971-The Rev. Walter Fauntroy is elected the District’s nonvoting delegate. Reps. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.) and Fred Schwengel (R-Iowa) introduce a District statehood bill.

In 1971, the Rev. Walter Fauntroy was elected as the District’s first delegate to the U.S. Congress in the 19th century. (Courtesy photo)
In 1971, the Rev. Walter Fauntroy was elected as the District’s first delegate to the U.S. Congress in the 19th century. (Courtesy photo)

1972-Rep. John McMillan (D-S.C.), longtime chairman of the House District Committee, loses re-election in the primary, giving the chance for African American Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.) to chair the committee.
1973-Congress passes the Home Rule Act allowing District voters to elect a mayor, chairman of the D.C. Council, D.C. Councilmembers and advisory neighborhood commissioners. However, the act stipulates District laws and the city budget must be approved by Congress and the president selects the local judges with Senate approval.
1974-District voters elect Walter A. Washington as the first elected mayor since 1870 and Sterling Tucker as the first elected chairman since 1874. Councilmembers and advisory neighborhood commissioners are elected also.
1978-Congress passes a constitutional amendment granting the District two senators and one representative and full representation in the Electoral College. The states have seven years to ratify it.
1980-District voters decisively approve Initiative Measure No. 3, the District of Columbia Statehood Constitutional Convention Initiative of 1979 by a vote of 60  percent.
1982-District voters ratify the Constitution for the State of New Columbia and authorize the election of two statehood senators and one representative to promote statehood.
1985-The D.C. Voting Rights Amendment dies after getting only 16 states to ratify. D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduce statehood bills in their chambers.
1988-The Democratic Party’s platform endorses D.C. statehood for the first time.

**FILE** D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has authored three D.C. statehood bills that the House has voted on, with two successfully passing. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

1990-Eleanor Holmes Norton is elected the District’s new non-voting delegate and the statehood senators are the Rev. Jesse Jackson and activist Florence Pendleton and the statehood representative is Charles Moreland.
1993-Norton’s statehood bill, the first-time legislation of that type reaches the House floor, fails by a 277-153 vote.
2000-The U.S. Supreme Court dismisses the case of Adams vs. Clinton saying the Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over the District according to the Constitution and no judicial remedy for the political rights of District residents exists.
2004-At the suggestion of Norton, the Democratic National Committee drops its D.C. statehood plank.
2006-The UN Human Rights Committee finds that the District’s lack of voting representation violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by more than 160 countries, including the U.S.
2009-The Senate passes a bill granting the District a voting representative in the House but the bill died in the House due to a pro-gun rights amendment that Norton rejects.
2013- Norton and Carper introduce D.C. statehood bills. The two have introduced statehood bills in each session of Congress, including the present day.
2014-Carper, as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, holds a hearing on his legislation for D.C. statehood. This is the first time a hearing is held on this subject in the Senate.
2016-D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan to rewrite the constitution of New Columbia and have it approved for statehood in November. The voters approved the revised constitution and the city’s effort toward statehood by over 80%.
2019-Over 20 state attorneys general endorse D.C. statehood.
2020-For the first time, the House passes Norton’s D.C. statehood bill. However, the Senate refuses to consider it.
2021-The House approves Norton’s D.C. statehood bill for the second consecutive year. The Senate will hold its second hearing ever on Carper’s statehood bill.

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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