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On Emancipation Day, No Democracy in D.C.

by Adam Fogel // Published April 16, 2009
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, freeing the enslaved people of Washington, D.C. nine full months before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. As the "first freed" by the federal government, the residents of the District hold a special place in the darkest chapter of American history. According to a D.C. government website, Emancipation Day celebrations were held annually from 1866 to 1901 and then resumed in 2002. In 2007, FairVote ally DC Vote organized a huge march to the Capitol to demand a vote in Congress.

Washington, D.C. is the only capital in the entire world where its residents lack representation in the federal legislature. About 600,000 citizens living in the District pay federal taxes, serve on federal juries and in the armed forces, yet have no vote in Congress. Last year, the D.C. Voting Rights Act was held up in the Senate because Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Trent Lott (R-MS) organized a filibuster--the first of a voting rights bill since the Jim Crow era. This year, the Senate took up the measure again and passed it by a vote of 61 to 37, but not before adding a controversial (and unrelated) amendment to strip D.C. of all its remaining gun laws. As a result, the bill is stuck in the House, with many pro-gun Democrats unwilling to vote for a "closed rule" that would limit amendments, in fear of retribution by the powerful National Rifle Association.

As we celebrate Emancipation Day today, let's not forget that there are still those living in the United States without true freedom. Without a vote in Congress, the people living in Washington, D.C. are still subject to a national legislature with no voice of their own.