Alexandria Library, Special Collections Document of the Month


When the location for the District of Columbia was chosen, Maryland and Virginia each agreed to donate land to the future nation's capital. Congress had not intended for Alexandria to be included, but in 1791 George Washington, who took a strong interest in the location of the capital, proclaimed that it would be. Ultimately, the land Virginia gave was comprised of the City of Alexandria and the rural Alexandria County (now Arlington County).

Although most Alexandria residents were eager to be part of D.C. at the beginning, by the 1840s times had changed, and Alexandrians increasingly thought that they would fare better as Virginians than as Washingtonians. Although Alexandria was a thriving community when it joined the District, it did not grow as quickly as some other areas of the federal city. Part of the reason for this was that the original act decreed that no federal buildings would be built on the land ceded by Virginia. Alexandrians also felt that they were being outstripped by other commercial centers, especially Baltimore; they tried to remedy this by investing in the C&O Canal and building the Alexandria Canal, but the city's economic problems continued. Residents did not like the fact that they were not allowed to vote in local and national elections. Also, some Alexandrians were concerned that the District's tightening rules about slavery would endanger the city's lucrative slave trade.

All of these factors led to the retrocession of the City of Alexandria and Alexandria County to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1847. There had been several attempts to reunite the area with Virginia before, however, one of which was a referedum that took place in October 1840 in Alexandria. Voters showed their desire to leave the District and return to Virginia, but nothing came of the referendum. In January 1841, a group of Alexandrians who had voted for retrocession reminded the Common Council of Alexandria of the referendum, begging the Council to consider their opinions and bring up the matter with the government. That petition is this month's document.


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Related Resources: For more articles about retrocession, please see our Subject Index to Northern Virginia History Journals under the headings Boundaries and Retrocession, 1846.

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