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Did Legislation Passed in 1871 Make Washington, D.C., a Foreign Entity?
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Did Legislation Passed in 1871 Make Washington, D.C., a Foreign Entity?

The conspiracy theory is being spread to suggest that Donald Trump is still president.

Joe Biden’s inauguration has not stopped people from falsely claiming that Donald Trump is actually still in power. One theory spreading on social media suggests that in 1871, Congress passed legislation that formed the “Corporation of the United States of America” and made Washington, D.C., a foreign entity under the control of the City of London. According to a version of this theory published by a blog called The Marshall Report, Trump’s 2018 executive order aimed at foreign election interference was aimed at undoing this legislation and “the military is now in the process of seizing the assets of this foreign country” and “We are literally watching the reclaiming of the United States of America.”

The article also says that this 1871 Act made U.S. citizens “property of the corporation centered in Washington D.C,” which supposedly made D.C. a “foreign entity.” Adherents of this theory claim that the Organic Act of 1871 did away with the Constitution and ended Americans’ sovereignty.

Following President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, there have been manyclaims circulating in the form of tweets and articles, that the “Act of 1871,” established America as a “corporation.” 

This theory isn’t new. See, for example, this  article shared in 2015, which outlines the same claim: “When congress passed the act of 1871 it created a separate corporation known as THE UNITED STATES and corporate government for the District of Columbia. This treasonous act has unlawfully allowed the District of Columbia to operate as a corporation outside the original constitution of the United States and in total disregard of the best interests of the American citizens.” 

Though the theory is not new, it is being used to suggest that even though Trump has left D.C., he is still the rightful president: “President Donald J. Trump has moved out permanently for he cannot be president over a Sovereign Nation in a Foreign land, which is what the White House and Capitol are. President Trump was voted in by We The People. Not the Corporation.”

The Organic Act of 1871 did not turn America into a corporation, nor does it change the outcome of the election. 

Richard Bensel, professor of government at Cornell University, explained via email why the Organic Act of 1871 came into existence in the first place. According to Bensel, during the Civil War, Washington D.C. and the Federal government grew rapidly. As a result, as Bensel explained it “Congress was increasingly forced to choose the policy areas for which it would retain direct supervision, delegating responsibility to others (such as the new municipal administration) in those areas which were relatively inconsequential.” In other words, Bensel explains,  “Congress (meaning, at the time, the Republican party in Congress) no longer wanted to run the city. More generally, Congress in the last third of the nineteenth century set up many new policy areas in which, in one way or another, new administrative forms, agencies, and bureaus took over direct responsibility for running the government. This was just one of them.”

Michael Morley, law professor at Florida State University, also told The Dispatch Fact Check via email: “The cited law organizes and recognizes the District of Columbia government at the time as a municipal corporation. It does not purport to turn the United States as a whole into a corporation. The statute has no bearing on any candidate’s entitlement to the presidency.  

Morley also pointed out that Article 1, Section 8, clause 17 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to pass these types of statues: “It empowers Congress to ‘exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States . . .’” said Morley. “Congress chose to exercise this power at the time by organizing the federal district containing the seat of government (i.e., Washington, D.C.) as a municipal corporation, consistent with how multiple states organized many of their municipal governments.”

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Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.