Saturday, February 8, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Square the Box!

Photo by Mark Zimmermann via Creative Commons

by Peggy Robin

A few days ago, WJLA local news aired a segment on the boundary stones of DC – well worth two minutes and 51 seconds of your time:

I’m happy to pass along an informative and well-told story of local lore – but in this case it happens to pair well with another piece of local news about DC’s size and shape. DCist had a report on the Republican member of the Virginia state legislature who would like to give away two big chunks of Northern Virginia, now solidly Democratic, to DC, in hopes of making the state less blue and more red, politically speaking. The story is here: (or go to if the long link is broken in this email.)

What’s been proposed by Virginia Delegate Dave LaRock is actually a give-back, rather than a give-away, because the two counties in question, Arlington and Alexandria, were originally part of DC – and there are boundary stones along the southern border to prove it. These two counties form the lower portion of the diamond – or square turned on its point – that was the neatly symmetrical shape of the District of Columbia from 1791, when the 10 square mile plot of land was first surveyed, until 1846, when the land across the Potomac was ceded back to Virginia. It was a move designed to preserve the rights of slave traders, as the federal district moved to ban slave trading within its jurisdiction.

The land was given away in a bid to keep an oppressive system going, but if it could be given back, it would help in the bid to give voting rights to people too long deprived – namely the citizens of the District who lack a vote in the House and Senate.

Of course, the citizens of Arlington and Alexandria would never agree to lose their Congressional representation as part of a land deal. So the idea would work only if paired with statehood and consequently full voting representation for DC in Congress. With the addition of Arlington and Alexandria, DC would gain a total of 395,530 in population (235,000 from Alexandria and 160,530 from Arlington) which, when added to DC’s current population of 711,571, would bring DC's population up to over a million (1,107, 101). That would push our population ranking among the states from third from the bottom, just ahead of Vermont and Wyoming, to 43rd among 50, just behind Maine with 1,338,404 and ahead of Montana with 1,062,305.

It would be so much harder to deny us statehood then.

Could this come about with the consent of the people involved? Not in today’s political climate, that's for sure. But it’s certainly something to think about for the future. Just imagine how much good would be accomplished in this move: from undoing the shameful, pro-slavery scheme put into effect back in 1846 to giving full political rights to District citizens who have been deprived since 1791. And let’s not forget the aesthetically pleasing result of squaring the box, or completing the diamond. Give DC back the symmetry of the perfect square it was always meant to have. And let's put all those south border boundary stones back within the District, where they belong!

To see the boundary stones on an interactive Google map, go to:

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. 


  1. Dear Peggy,
    Delightful Still Life this week. If it weren’t past 2:AM I’d play around with it for hours.As it is I will probably fiddle around with those boundary stone pictures and maps all next week!

  2. Terrific post. Thx!