A history of DC statehood and taxation without representation

Alex Metzger

On July 2, 1767, the British parliament passed the Townshend Acts, enabling England to freely tax all goods coming to the North American colonies, without the colonies having a stake in the British government. This shift in the colonists’ way of life was introduced with the help of British troops authorized to be a sort of armed IRS.

When America’s founders had the opportunity to design their country after the Revolutionary War, they knew that taxes were necessary to build a strong and healthy society, and that the only way to tax justly was by giving citizens government representation. So how did DC lose the battle for representation in government? Why is Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s delegate to the House of Representatives, more of a notetaker than a true delegate?

When the Founding Fathers created DC with intent for it to be the nation’s capital, they did not foresee that it would become a region with a population of around 700,000 or intend for citizens to establish permanent residence in it. DC didn’t even have a city government until 45 years ago, and Congress still retains the right to abolish the city government and govern the District themselves.

Many people today argue that one of the modern reasons for DC’s lack of statehood is political motive. The District is safely blue, and with such a heavy concentration of Democrats, giving fair representation to its citizens would drastically change the balance of power in Congress, which worries Republicans.

But Republicans don’t have much to worry about, as it would take a constitutional amendment along with a vote to upgrade DC to a state. There are four steps to birth a state in in the U.S. After incredible simplification, it is as follows:

A region becomes a United States territory, then that region becomes an organized territory (a territory with a legislature and territorial governance), then the newly organized territories’ residents have a majority vote on whether they would like to become a state. If they vote yes, then Congress organizes a “constitutional convention” for the aforementioned territorial governance to create legislation. Post legislating, Congress votes on whether or not to admit it to as the 51st state.

The issue with that, however, is that DC is not a territory, since it exists entirely on land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia. This would involve Article IV Section 3 of the constitution which reads, “no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” So in order for the “DC Statehood” movement to have any form of traction or success, Congress would have to rewrite an entire section of the constitution that deals with statehood.

Giving DC representation in Congress would sway the balance a little too far left for the Republican party’s liking, and to get statehood is a task that is dependent on an incredibly messy constitutional change.