An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C

By Kate Masur | Go to book overview

Epilogue

In the weeks before Congress reconvened in the fall of 1874, District of Columbia radical Republicans still held out a modicum of hope that Congress would not make the commission government permanent. At the very least, they wanted to draw attention to their view that the decision was a momentous one. Andrew K. Browne, the white lawyer who had worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau and helped defend Minnie Gaines and who had also served in the territorial House of Delegates, was clear on this point. If Congress wiped out selfgovernment in the District, he told a reporter for the National Republican, it would be a declaration of retreat from the egalitarian goals of the Reconstruction era. “Following on the great progress of the last ten years,” he argued, disfranchisement in the capital “would strike the whole world with astonishment, and would be a denial of the right of self-government that this people cannot afford to make.”1

Such arguments proved to be in vain, however. In the upcoming session, Congress would opt to continue the temporary commission it had established the previous spring, and in 1878 it would make the commission form of government permanent. The end of local self-government was not just symbolic of the federal government’s waning commitment to Reconstruction; it was also highly significant for residents of the capital. Voting rights and wardbased municipal government, however disorderly and sometimes inefficient, had given impoverished Washingtonians a means for shaping the city government’s priorities. Even in the territorial period, voters and their representatives continued to demand a measure of accountability from city officials. Once the commission government was created, only elite Washingtonians, organized in private “Citizens Committees,” had access to the federal appointees who controlled the purse strings in their city. As one turn-of-the-century political scientist reflected, the government was “a benevolent despotism” and “in practice … a representative aristocracy.”2

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An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Maps ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Everywhere Is Freedom and Everybody Free 13
  • 2 - They Feel It Is Their Right 51
  • 3 - Someone Must Lead the Way 87
  • 4 - First among Them Is the Right of Suffrage 127
  • 5 - Make Haste Slowly 174
  • 6 - To Save the Common Property and Respectability of All 214
  • Epilogue 257
  • Notes 267
  • Works Cited 311
  • Acknowledgments 339
  • Index 343
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