How did the federal government come to cede back to Virginia the portion of the District of Columbia that lay south of the Potomac? That was in 1847. So far as I know nothing similar has been done or contemplated in other countries (Mexico, Australia, Brazil) with federal districts. Why was it never taken back, in 1865 or some other manageable moment? On the map the District continues to look like a sandwich with a large corner bitten off. And why in recent years, with D.C. statehood so much in the news, do we hear so little about the old—whatever it was, folly, deal, concession to states’ rights?
The answer I suspect, as with many other apparent historical puzzles, is that for various reasons people have preferred not to dig around in the past. Some may have had bad consciences about what they allowed to slip through in 1845. With the growth of federal government further cessions presumably became unthinkable. Current statehood advocates don’t want to raise the possibility that Maryland might absorb the remaining portion of D.C., following the Virginia precedent. So we are left with the grotesque anomaly of a truncated federal district whose inhabitants have plenty of taxation and precious little representation—an issue I have been told this country was all about.