Constitutional convention portrait
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Teaching Pelosi some American history

A New York Sun editorial aims to answer a critical question from the historically ignorant speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

As the House readied its vote to make a new state out of the District of Columbia, the Speaker went before the press to dilate on injustice of what has obtained for the past 230 years. Mrs. Pelosi called the District “an affront to our democracy.” She noted that its residents pay taxes, serve in the military, and contribute to the “economic vitality” of America but lack for representation. “How could it be? Whose idea was that?”

It turns out that we know exactly whose idea it was. That’s because it was hatched at the very dinner party that, among other things, is now being immortalized anew in the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton.” The dinner took place in 1790 at New York. It was no cabal of counter-revolutionary cads. The three persons in the room where it happened were Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. …

… The repast took place on June 20. The deal they struck was that Madison would support Hamilton’s plan to federalize the debt, while Hamilton would agree to putting the American capital at a spot along the Potomac. By the end of July, the House and Senate had passed the legislation. They acted under the constitutional grant to Congress of the power to accept such a district as ceded to the federal government by the states.

And to exercise over it “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever.” Madison, in 43 Federalist, addressed the logic of this. He called the Congress’ “complete authority at the seat of government” an “indispensable necessity.” Without it, he reckoned, “public authority might be insulted and its proceedings interrupted with impunity.” Plus members of the government might develop a “dependence” on the local state.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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