Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

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Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: February 2, 1965

39
Special Message to the Congress on Home Rule for the District of Columbia.
February 2, 1965

To the Congress of the United States:

The restoration of home rule to the citizens of the District of Columbia must no longer be delayed.

Our Federal, State and local governments rest on the principle of democratic representation-the people elect those who govern them. We cherish the credo declared by our forefathers: No taxation without representation. We know full well that men and women give the most of themselves when they are permitted to attack problems which directly affect them.

Yet the citizens of the District of Columbia, at the very seat of the government created by our Constitution, have no vote in the government of their city. They are taxed without representation. They are asked to assume the responsibilities of citizenship while denied one of its basic rights. No major capital in the free world is in a comparable condition of disenfranchisement.

The denial of home rule to the District creates serious practical difficulties. The District is the ninth largest city in the United States—more populous than eleven of the States. Its government must handle the same problems which press with increasing urgency on the legislative, executive, and judicial arms of city governments throughout the nation, and it must perform as well many of the functions of State and county governments. Under the present system these duties fall upon busy members of the Senate and the House who—in addition to their Congressional responsibilities—must serve as state representatives, county supervisors, and city councilmen for Washington.

Self-government for the District would not be an innovation. It is a return to the views of the Founding Fathers and to the practice of the early days of the nation. James Madison wrote in the Federalist that the inhabitants of the Nation’s Capital

"... will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them; as a municipal legislature for local purposes, derivedfrom their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them; . . ."

Such a "municipal legislature" was established in 1802 under President Jefferson. It was strengthened in 1812 under President Madison, and in 1820, under President Monroe, it was enlarged to include an elected mayor.

Had it not been for the tragedy of the Civil War, local government would have continued. In 1871 the people of the District, deep in the problems of the Reconstruction Period and urgently needing a program of public works, acquiesced in a change to a territorial form of government under which they lost the right to elect their chief executive. The program of public works was badly executed and the territorial government was soon in virtual bankruptcy. In 1874 Congress withdrew the voting franchise entirely and substituted a commission form of government. The intent was to make the change temporary—a receivership which would be replaced by self-government as soon as the fiscal affairs of the city were on a sound basis. But this "receivership" has now lingered on for ninety years.

There is a fundamental Federal interest in the National Capital. The Constitution wisely delegates to the Congress supreme legislative power over "the seat of the Government of the United States." The Congress can, however, delegate to a municipal legislature all the powers necessary for local self-government, and at the same time preserve fully its ultimate power and the interests of the Federal Government.

The District of Columbia Charter Act which I am transmitting to the Congress today will relieve the Congress, to the maximum practical extent, of detailed legislative direction of District affairs while retaining essential control in the Congress. The bill—

(1) Creates a representative local government for the District,

(2) Provides a link between the Congress and the local government in the form of an elected delegate to the House of Representatives, and

(3) Preserves intact the powers of the Congress and the President by

(a) an express provision that the Congress is in no way deprived of its power to legislate for the District, and may repeal or modify any act of the local council;

(b) a provision for an absolute veto by the President of any act of the local council; and

(c) provisions for supervision of the fiscal affairs of the District by the General Accounting Office.

Home rule for the District has been unfinished business for far too long a time. Presidents of both Parties—Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy—have urged it. Measures to provide it were passed by the Senate in the 81st, 82nd, 84th, and 86th Congresses.

The people of the District are ready and eager to join fully in the democratic process. In the Presidential election of 1964, more than 90 percent of the registered voters went to the polls.

I urge the Congress to approve at the earliest possible date the legislation which will grant them the fundamental American right of self-government.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON

The White House

February 2, 1965

NOTE: See also Items 402, 481, 486.

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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "39 Special Message to the Congress on Home Rule for the District of Columbia.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168 122. Original Sources, accessed January 20, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=47V43VK811K51NH.

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "39 Special Message to the Congress on Home Rule for the District of Columbia." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, page 122. Original Sources. 20 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=47V43VK811K51NH.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '39 Special Message to the Congress on Home Rule for the District of Columbia.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1168, pp.122. Original Sources, retrieved 20 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=47V43VK811K51NH.