“Local News, Common Council” (October 25, 1871)


This October 25, 1871, report in the Alexandria Gazette on the meeting of Alexandria’s Common Council includes the council members’ discussion of how to increase factories in the city through new taxation legislation.


The Common Council had a meeting of considerable interest. A large number of members were in attendance, but the crowd outside the bar was much smaller than usual.

Mr. Wheat, from the committee appointed to procure suitable rooms for the meetings of the City Council, reported that he had seen Mr. Broders, the owner of the theatre building, and had engaged American Hall in that building at the rate of $100 a year. That a partition would have to be erected in that hall, and some other necessary repairs made, but that he thought the Council could occupy it in about two weeks.

Mr. Evans, from the committee appointed to obtain a registration place in the 4th Ward, reported that the committee had carried out its instructions.

The committee to whom had been referred the petition of oyster dealers and others for the compulsory use by boatmen of the State measure in the sale of oysters, reported, through Mr. Hopkins, that purchasers of oysters have already a sufficient remedy by State law, and recommending no further action in the premises.

Mr. Wheat explained that there was no need of any legislation by the council on the subject as the law of the State was sufficient. Any one who desired could have that law enforced.

The chair said he did not think that Council could have two measures, one for potatoes, grain, &c., and another for oysters.

Mr. Smith urged that potatoes and the like were sold by the pound. He never heard of weighing oysters.

Mr. Hopkins did not know who would pay the Inspector, some might be willing to do so, others were not, and he had not understood how this difficulty could be adjusted.

Mr. Smith contended that in Washington no oyster could be sold at all except by the hands of commission dealers. He said when the oysters were high dealers seldom got more than three peeks to a bushel, when they were low decent measure was given.

Mr. Wheat did not doubt that oysters were often sold by scant measure, but the Corporation was not in fault for that.

Mr. Neale expressed his views, saying that as now sold, boatmen saved 25 bushels in 100.

The President read the law in relation to weights and measures, to show that the city could have but one measure.

The report of the committee was not adopted—five voting in the affirmative, and six in the negative.

Mr. Pinn moved to recommit.

Mr. Wheat would be glad if the subject was recommitted, to have some definite instructions.

Mr. Pinn moved that the committee report a bill making the clerk of the market Inspectors of oysters.

Mr. Smith moved to amend the amendment by authorizing and committee to appoint an Inspector.

Mr. Hopkins said such a law would be use less, because unconstitutional. No one could be made to pay the inspector.

The amendment was lost, and the report was recommitted with instructions to the committee to report a bill providing for the appointment of an oyster inspector, with authority to collect his fees from purchasers.

A communication from the Mayor, on providing fuel for the poor, was referred to the committee on poor, without debate.

A number of bills against the Alms house having been read.

Mr. Shinn urged that if these supplies were purchased in gross by a committee, much money would be saved. He moved a reference of the bills to the committee on the poor and that in future all supplies be purchased by the committee on the poor.

Mr. Wheat urged an amendment requiring the Superintendent to report his bills once a month. The amendment was agreed to.

Mr. Hughes introduced the following bill:

An Act to promote and encourage manufactures in the city of Alexandria, possessing manufacturing facilities in an eminent degree, but which are rendered nugatory by an unwise and illiberal policy of taxation; therefore,

Sec. 1, Be it enacted by the Board of Aldermen and Common Council of Alexandria, That on and after the passage of this at any person, firm or corporation that shall establish any manufacturing business within the limits of this city shall be exempt from all taxation on the part of the city for the period of ten years from the passage of this act.

Sec. 2, All acts or parts of acts in conflict or which are repugnant to this act are hereby repealed.

Sec. 3, This act shall be in force from its passage.

Mr. Wheat said that ten years was too long. He would vote for three years.

Mr. Moore moved to refer to the committee on finance.

Mr. Hughes did not think three years was long enough to establish a manufactory. In Wilmington inducements were offered of fifteen years exemption, and whereas grass had grown in the streets as it did here, now Wilmington was an immense manufacturing city.

Mr. Neale wanted to know how about the manufactories already here.

Mr. Wheat said the resident dealers had many advantages over a new comer, and it was fair to give the new comer an even chance by relieving him from taxes, but then years was too long. He doubted whether such exemption would be constitutional. The State constitution provided that taxation should be equal and uniform.

Mr. Hughes desired to know if the cotton factory was not now exempt from taxation.

Mr. Hopkins has had the idea of reporting such a bill, but an examination of the State constitution had convinced him that such an act would be unconstitutional.

Mr. Clagett favored the bill. Our mechanics had now to go to foreign cities to get work; if manufactories were here they could find work at home.

Mr. Pinn wanted to know if the Cotton Factory was taxed. The constitution required that all species of property should be taxed equally but it did not say that every species of property should be taxed. He continued expatiating upon the advantages of Alexandria, but we were at ebb tide now and unless care was taken we would soon be in the marsh. He favored the bill. The constitution did not prevent the bill from being passed; let it be passed and then try if it be constitutional.

Mr. Wheat—You are of the party that made that law. Can you tell us how to get around it?

Mr. Pinn said that if the Mount Vernon Cotton Factory could be exempted, other factories might be exempted.

Mr. Wheat explained that the Cotton Factory was exempted before the adoption of the present constitution of the State.

Mr. Pinn thought that in that case the adoption of the constitution would require that a tax be imposed on that factory.

Mr. Wheat:–That would be an ex post facto law.

Mr. Hopkins quoted the constitution of the State as showing that no such exemption could be made.

Mr. Smith did not see that the constitution interfered with the bill of Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Clagett thought that the framers of that constitution did not intend to prevent the Council from doing its best to help the town.

Mr. Rishell said as it was evident there were differences of opinion he would move to refer the subject to a special committee.

Mr. Hopkins thought the bill ought to be referred to the Attorney of the Corporation.

The bill after further debate was referred.

Mr. Wheat introduced a resolution for a special committee to obtain the colored schoolhouses from Gen. O. O. Howard upon paying the debts due on them, and said that he understood that these school-houses belonged to the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Mr. Pinn—They belong to the colored people of Alexandria.

Mr. Wheat replied that Mr. Seaton had said that it was the intention of the Freedmen’s Bureau to give the houses for colored schools as soon as the debt was paid. He proposed to pay the debt.

Mr. Pinn understood that these schoolhouses belonged to the colored people of Alexandria. The colored people had bought the ground they stand on with the understanding that when the ground was paid for they would be conveyed to the trustees of the colored people of which Mr. Seaton was chairman.

Mr. Wheat asked Mr. Pinn whether he woud object to the city paying the debt and taking the school-houses on a trust to be forever devoted to colored schools. He thought that as the colored people of Alexandria had schools provided for them by the white people they ought to be willing to make the cost as light as possible.

Mr. Pinn was not willing to surrender the houses.

Mr. Wheat said that if the city had still to pay 600 dollars rent for these houses, he would move to change the schools to cheaper locations.

Mr. Pinn did not propose to vote for turning over school houses in which he was himself interested it. If these houses were turned over would make the colored people provide school houses beside paying their proportion of the school tax.

Mr. Wheat was surprised that the gentleman had alluded to the subject of taxation. 99 out of every hundred dollars of school tax was collected from the white people. The colored schools were not filled because the fathers of the children were not willing to pay the $1 school tax that was required as a requisite to admission.

Mr. Pinn said that the colored people paid taxes equal to the white men in proportion to their ability. The colored people did not all understand the matter about the school tax. The Constitution intended the schools to be free and the Legislature required a tax to be paid before a child was allowed to attend. As to colored schools always using these school houses, he did not know that “word” would always be used. He did not propose to have that word “colored” kept always in the law. He expected to see the day that the law would consider all as men, and have “no white” and “no colored” on the statute book.

The resolution of Mr. Wheat was agreed to.

The report of the special committee to whom had been referred the petition of the Alexandria Passenger Railway Company for a right of way through the city, adopted by the Board of Aldermen, was received from that Board and read as follows”

The special committee to which was referred the petition of M. D. Corse and others, for the privilege of building and running a street railroad through King street and several other streets of this city, have considered said petition and recommend granting the prayer thereof. Your committee believe it good policy to give a hospitable entertainment to all such improvements, and would permit anybody to build railroads anywhere on payment of all costs and damages without aid or taxation of the State, or its counties, cities, or towns. Individual interests and enterprises may be safely trusted in these matters and will hest judge what improvements will prove profitable. We would rejoice to see the State checkered with railroads and studded with manufactories until we become as rich and prosperous as New England. It may be well to look for a moment at the increase on wealth and material progress of localities where the greatest freedom and encouragement has been given to such enterprises. The city of Boston, by the recent census containing 250,000 inhabitants, or about one-fifth the population of Virginia, is one of the greatest centres of both railroad and manufacturing industry in the U. S. And we see by the same census that the assessed valuation of Boston for purposes of taxation amounted to nearly 600 millons, while that of our entire State, read and personal, was only about 360 millions. Add to this that Boston is a creditor city as to other localities while Virginia is a debtor State to a large amount, and we shall have some idea of the advantages of a generous and hospitable policy.

This wonderful growth, common to all localities adopting the same policy of inviting capital and skilled labor, teaches a useful lesson, especially to us who are blessed by nature with very superior advantages. Coal, the great source and generator of steam power, can be furnished here by way of the canal at two dollars per ton less than in the interior manufacturing towns of New England, and this fact together with others only a little less favorable, would soon make ours one of the greatest manufacturing and business centres, if by generous conciliation we could remove prejudices, unhapily existing, which repel the capital and skilled and educated labor necessary to any great advancement. Let us then show our respect and regard for business, energy and enterprise, not to be mistaken by a pledge in this case that no city tax shall be imposed on our fellow-citizens for the capital invested in building and running this railroad for ten years from this date.

The only conditions we would impose are that the company shall make the grade of their road correspond with the street grade, and keep the grade and pavement between the rails, and for the distance of 18 inches each side thereof in good order, and in no case charge for one passenger more than five cents for a ride one way over the entire length of the road, and observe all the laws and customs imposed upon similar roads in other cities.

In behalf of the committee.

John C. Underwood, Chairman.

Mr. Hopkins doubted whether the city had power under the Constitution to exempt the railroad from taxation.

Mr. Smith said that the gentleman who wrote that the report wsa one of the framers of the Constitution of the State. He knew that he was one of the “smartest” judges in the State, and he knew what that Constitution meant. He (Mr. S.) was in favor of adopting the recommendation of the report.

Mr. Shinn called for the re-reading of the report. It was done.

Mr. Shinn would not vote for some portions of the report. He agreed with the idea that all railroads should be treated alike, but could not agree that this railroad should be free and ther others be taxed. As to the amendment about “race and color,” the laws of the United States were ample on this subject, and it was no use for the Council to go into politics on a railroad law.

Mr. S. then considered the references of the report to other cities. Baltimore not only taxed the proprietors of the railroad, but laid a special tax of one cent on each passenger, to establish parks.

Mr. Pinn thought that the provision relative to race and color, was needed. It as true that the civil rights bill provided for equal rights, but a colored man had not the same privileges as a white man on the O. & A. R. R., nor W. & A. R. R. Under the civil rights bill he could take the case to court, but that involved much trouble and expense. He himself had not been allowed to travel as white men did on the O. & A. R. R., and he added “I believe I am as white as any man in this house.” He took his action, but what did he recover? Nothing.

Mr. Wheat said this provision would give colored people no more rights or remedies than they now had.

Mr. Claggett said that if a gentleman did not want to ride with him, he did not desire to thrust himself upon him. He never went where he was not wanted, but, when the car was full, he wanted the right to take a seat in another.

Mr. Hopkins thought this bill had better be referred to the Corporation attorney.

It was moved that the amendment be stricken out and the bill then referred.

Mr. Pinn urged the retention of the amendment. He was not like Mr. Claggett. If he paid his fare, he wanted to ride in such car as he chose, and expected to go into the ladies’ car if his wife was with him.

The report was referred.

A communication from the city school Superintendent having been read.

Mr. Hopkins explained that the school Board would soon receive $2,500 from the Peabody fund and would build a school house with it, if the city would furnish them a portion of the Court House lot.

The Board then adjourned.

APA Citation:
Gazette, Alexandria. “Local News, Common Council” (October 25, 1871). (2023, August 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Gazette, Alexandria. "“Local News, Common Council” (October 25, 1871)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (10 Aug. 2023). Web. 20 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2023, August 10
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