Do you ever pause to think why some of the most important parts of the Constitution weren’t IN the Constitution in the first place? Rather critical things like freedom of speech, press, right to a jury trial, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and many more, were left out of the original ratification of the Constitution. They would, of course, be quickly added as amendments; but why weren’t they there in the first place?
It obviously wasn’t because the Founders were against individual rights. Rather, it was because many of them felt it was unnecessary, even dangerous, to list, and therefore limit, them. Bills of Rights were for monarchies, “stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince,” according to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 84, Democracies already existed for the people, and had no need for instructions. Such things were better suited, as he put it, in a “treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.”
What would actually protect individual liberties if not a formal Bill? Simple. The unique construction of our government, with power deliberately separated between branches of government and between the central government and the individual states achieves that goal.
In other words, the Founders intended free citizens to be residents of states.
Statehood wasn’t a reward for good behavior. It was no more a privilege than free speech or a free press. It was intrinsic to their conception of Federalism, that the states themselves have an identity separate from the federal government. States weren’t mere subdivisions of national government, but were instead considered a positive good to preserve liberties. “Power being almost always the rival of power,” our good friend Hamilton again, this time in Federalist No. 28, “the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government.”
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that on a practical level, this hasn't always worked out well for our country. The power of states, and the very concept of “states' rights”, has twisted and turned over the years. As a principle, it has empowered slavery and oppression. Finding the balance between the federal government and states remains a lively discussion to this day. But what is undeniable, by even the strongest proponent of a vigorous central government, is that the Founding Fathers clearly and specifically viewed statehood as integral part of our system of government. To this day, courts, Congress, and Presidents, have generally maintained that view, while increasingly holding states to the individual liberties later added to the Constitution.
The push for DC Statehood isn’t just about getting our delegate voting rights in the House. Nor is it about gaining our two Senators. It’s not about budget autonomy either and it’s not about keeping grasping Congressmen out of our business. It’s about the fulfillment of the promise of American democracy. The Founders were far more verbose and eloquent on the importance of states than they were on the few lines setting up a federal enclave.
As my children grow and learn about history and about the importance of our Federal system of government, how am I supposed to tell them it doesn’t apply to them due to an accident of birth? That argument rang hollow in the colonies before the Revolution, and it rings hollow today. The thousands of words written about the importance of states by Jefferson, by Madison, by Hamilton, mean little to the residents of the District of Columbia, a bitter irony in the shadow of the dome of the Capitol. We have the power to fix this.
Procedurally, Statehood is quite simple: shrink the constitutionally mandated federal district down to the Capitol, White House and Mall area. The remaining land becomes the new State of New Columbia (yeah, I don’t like the name either, but whatever). It would simply require a vote of both houses of Congress, just like admitting any other new state. It would pass Constitutional muster, and would be the simplest and smoothest route. It would be a fraction of the complication of “returning” the District to Maryland.
Let’s get to work.