Harry S. Truman photo

Letter to the Speaker on Home Rule for the District of Columbia.

July 25, 1949

My dear Mr. Speaker:

On May 31, 1949, the Senate passed, without a dissenting vote, S. 1527, a bill to give home rule to the people of the District of Columbia. A subcommittee of the House Committee on the District of Columbia is now holding hearings on this legislation. I am writing to you to express my hope that the House will complete legislative action on a home rule bill and that it will be sent to me to sign into law before this session of the 81st Congress adjourns.

As passed by the Senate, the bill has three major purposes: (1) to relieve the Congress as much as possible of the burden of District of Columbia affairs, without surrendering its constitutional powers; (2) to create a representative local government for the District of Columbia chosen by the qualified electors; and (3) to provide an efficient and economical government for the District of Columbia.

I am very much in favor of all of these objectives.

It is little short of fantastic that the Congress of the United States should--as it now does--devote a substantial percentage of its time to acting as a city council for the District of Columbia. During the past two years, during which it was confronted with many major problems of national and international importance, the Congress has had to find time to deal with such District matters as parking lots, the regulation of barbers, the removal of street obstructions, and the establishment of a Metropolitan Police Force Band, to name only a few.

The people of the District of Columbia should not be placed in a different status from that of the people of all other American cities and almost all democratic capitals of the world in so far as local self-government is concerned. In my Message to Congress transmitting the Budget for the fiscal year 1947, I said:

"The District of Columbia, because of its special relation to the Federal Government, has been treated since 1800 as a dependent area. We should move toward a greater measure of local self-government consistent with the constitutional status of the District. We should take adequate steps to assure that citizens of the United States are not denied their franchise merely because they reside at the Nation's Capital."

It was not the intention of the architects of our Constitution to deprive the District of Columbia of home rule. Writing on this subject in The Federalist, James Madison said that the inhabitants of the District "will have . . . their choice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them" and that "a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."

The establishment of a well-organized and efficient governmental system in the District of Columbia is a desirable adjunct to the successful operation of the home rule principle. The present organization of the District government is complicated and administratively cumbersome. I am strongly in favor of better organization and greater efficiency throughout the Executive branch. The District of Columbia government should not be an exception carved out from the general rule.

There is nothing partisan about this proposal. The platforms of both major parties urge home rule for the District. The bill which passed the Senate unanimously, received the support of both Republican and Democratic members of that body. I am sure that the great majority of the people of Washington want home rule. I am equally sure that they ought to have it without further delay. I hope that the House will not adjourn this session without completing action on this important measure.

Very sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker, House of Representatives]

Note: On August 16 the bill S. 1527 was tabled by the Judiciary Subcommittee of the House District Committee.

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Speaker on Home Rule for the District of Columbia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229770

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives