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Why is “Taxation Without Representation” on Washington DC License Plates?

The DMV in Washington, DC has been featuring "Taxation Without Representation" on the city's license plates since the late 1990s. Read this to find out why!

First a Revolution!

Back in July of 1776 the original thirteen American colonies went to war with their mother country over the fact that as Englishmen they deserved to be represented in the British Parliament. What really set them off was when the King & Parliament decided - without consulting them - to add taxes on most things bought & sold in the colonies. We won that war and by 1783 we had a peace deal with Great Britain that guaranteed our Independence. So why do DC’s plates still echo that call?

There was a Mutiny!

After the Revolutionary War it took 5 to 6 years for the colonies to get all their ideas for a government on paper. At first, they met in Philadelphia where they began to work on the US Constitution. There was no Washington, DC yet.

But meanwhile most colonies had NOT paid their Revolutionary War soldiers…the very soldiers who had won their independence! In 1783 these soldiers knew exactly where the government was meeting: Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The soldiers staged a riot there, a mutiny against the leaders forming our government! The founders called the local police for defense against the soldiers, but the Philly police thought the soldiers should be paid – the police would not come to aid of the Founders.

The Government Fled!

Yup, the founders took off for Princeton, NJ and then eventually to Trenton, Annapolis, Md and 6 more temporary locations. They never forgot that the Philly police would not protect them.

But they left behind the youngest member of Congress, Alexander Hamilton to try to settle both the mutiny and public sentiment which was FOR the soldiers.

Hamilton Figured It Out!

Hamilton discovered that the Southern states could afford pay their soldiers, but the Northern states could not. Then Hamilton came up with a compromise: the Southern states would pay the back pay of the Northern state’s soldiers in exchange for the new government locating the Federal City on the border between the north and the south – exactly where DC is today.

Then the Founders put DC in the Constitution

The Founders also decided that the yet-to-be-built Federal City located on the Potomac, would operate above and beyond any regional, state or city politics. They remembered how the local Philly police would not protect them! The Founders believed that citizens of that yet-to-be-built place should be above politics - completely neutral when it came to what laws were being created. Why would people who lived in the Federal City need representation if they were neutral in all matters and living in the shadow of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court? They decided that DC would have NO voting representative in Congress. Then the Founders enshrined that decision in the US Constitution, Article 1.

Fast Forward to Today.

There are over 700,000 people living in Washington DC without a voting member of Congress. True they have an observer in Congress just like any of the American Territories, but no vote in Congress. Many are outraged. Not only would they have to petition Congress to join the Union as a State, needing a majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate but they would also have to amend the US Constitution!!!

Of course, it’s about way more than taxation without representation. States can petition the Federal Government for financial aid in many matters – like cleaning up after a natural disaster, among other things. Not so for the District of Columbia. In fact, the District Budget, itself, must be approved by Congress in an appropriations bill. No other city in the country must do that!

Think about it, if you lived in a place where you paid Federal taxes, surrounded by States with rights to special financial protections, wouldn’t you feel it was Taxation Without Representation?

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