« PreviousContinue »
dolph, * Pendleton,t Lee,I Washington,Wythe,|| Innes, 1 Harrison,** Bland,tt Grayson, 11 and a host of others, shed a lustre upon the deliberations of that august body, which has never been surpassed in the annals of the commonwealth. “ The debates as given to the public, though no doubt imperfect, exhibit a display of eloquence and talents, certainly at that time unequalled in the country."$$
Yet it may appear strange to the present generation, that such was the diversity of opinion which prevailed, and so serious were the apprehensions entertained by many, that too much power was conceded to the general government by the instrument proposed for adoption, that it was only ratified by a lean majority of ten, out of 168 members, who voted on the final question. The opposite political opinions which were developed on that occasion, were strongly impressed upon the public mind, and traces of their influence may be easily distinguished in the subsequent history of parties in Virginia. The name of federalist, which was originally applied to those who were in favor of adopting the Constitution, was afterwards used to designate the party which favored that construction of the instrument supposed to give greater efficiency to the powers it eonferred; while those, for the most part, who were hostile to the new form of government, preferred to be distinguished by the title of democrats, or republicans. Il These distinctions, were aggravated and widened by the subsequent action of Congress, and especially by the passage of the Alien and Sedition laws, in Mr. Adams's administration. These measures encountered the most decided opposition in Virginia. Mr. Madison, who was one of the ablest and most distinguished advocates of the federal constitution, conceived that its true meaning had been grossly perverted by the measures referred to—and having been
* Edmund Rapdolph, a distinguished lawyer; governor of Virginia, and a member of Washington's first Cabinet.
+ Edmund Pendleton, an eminent jurist, and president of the Court of Appeals.
1 Henry Lee, an active partisan officer of the revolution, and afterwards governor of the state. He was the historian of the Southern war.
Bushrod Washington, nephew of George Washington, and a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. ll The venerable Judge Wythe, Chancellor of the state.
James Innes, an eloquent and eminent lawyer, and attorney-general of the ** Benjamin Harrison, the father of President Harrison ; a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and governor of the state in 1781.
tt Theodorick Bland, an active officer of the revolution, in the family of Washington. 11 Mr. Grayson, an eminent lawyer and statesman, of surpassing merit.
99 Political and Civil History of the United States; by the Hon. Timothy Pitkin, of Connecticut.
All The great orator, Patrick Henry, was one of the most prominent opponents to the adoption of the federal constitution; but after its adoption, he determined to support the government in the exercise of those powers which he believed to have been legitimately conferred, but against the giving of which he had so earnestly contended. Accordingly he was elected to the Legislature, in the spring of 1799, resolved to sustain in that body the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition laws. His death, which occurred before the meeting of the Legislature, spared him the great and perhaps unequal conflict.—See Wirt's Life of Henry.
elected to the state legislature for the session of 1799, prepared his celebrated report, which received the sanction of that body, by a considerable majority. This report, ever since its adoption, has been regarded by the state-rights, or democratic party, as a political text-book, or authoritative exposition of the federal constitution; yet it is affirmed by their opponents, that its reasons and deductions have been frequently applied to cases which were not within the contemplation of its original framer, or of many others, who sanctioned its application to the Alien and 'Sedition laws.
Passing over the minor events in the annals of the state, it may be sufficient to observe, that she gave a constant and cordial support to the measures of her presidents, Jefferson and Madison, which were preliminary to the war of 1812, declared against Great Britain. During the existence of that war, she contributed liberally her treasure, and the services of her people, to the defence of the country. To say nothing of the distinguished men and numerous recruits with which she supplied the land and naval forces of the Union, instances were not wanting of the display of heroic valor within her own borders, in repelling the predatory and sanguinary depredations of the enemy. Hampton, Craney Island, the White House, and various other points on the Potomac, will long be remembered as scenes of gallant enterprise or patient endurance of the hardships of war. Her sons from the mountains and valleys of her extensive western domain, marched with alacrity to the seaboard, and submitted, without murmuring, to the toils and perils of the camp; and hundreds paid the forfeit of their lives in a climate which, to them, habit and nature had rendered uncongenial and fatal.
Although the state was a cordial and zealous supporter of the war, and perhaps suffered less than some of the more exposed of her sister commonwealths, yet she was by no means disinclined to peace; although, in the opinion of many, the terms upon which that blessing was acquired were not precisely consistent with the objects for which the war was declared. This, however, is one of the usual contingencies upon which the mortal conflicts of nations are waged. They fight for principle, but are obliged to make peace from necessity; and there is no truth which is taught us by experience more salutary, than that peace, even with its attendant disadvantages, is more tolerable than war, which places every thing at hazard, and is always followed by multiplied horrors.
Nothing, perhaps, occurred of sufficient consequence to be noticed by the general annalist or historian, after the peace of 1815, until the period which brought about the General Convention of 1829, assembled for the purpose of revising the state constitution; a frame of government which had been established prior to the Declaration of Independence, and which was, therefore, consecrated in the affections of a large portion of the people by being asso
ciated with revolutionary scenes and recollections. It is not to be denied, however, that some of the complaints of those who were clamorous for reform, were in themselves reasonable, even if no serious inconvenience and mischief had been experienced in practice. The grievance which had been most earnestly dwelt upon in the popular discussions, was the great inequality of representation in the state legislature. Counties of unequal size, wealth, and population, were represented in the state councils by an equal number of delegates; and although perhaps the interests of large sections or divisions were fully protected in the practical operation of government, yet the sense of local wrong was too powerful to be resisted. The call of a convention was sanctioned by a majority of the people, and that body assembled in Richmond in October, 1829. No set of men of more varied talents, or of riper experience and wisdom, had been organized as a public body in Virginia, since the meeting of the state convention which ratified the federal constitution ; and there are many conspicuous names found in the proceedings of both those distinguished assemblies.* How strikingly different were the results of the deliberations of the two conventions! The first in the order of time contributed essentially to cement the union of the states, by the substitution of a solid fabric of government for a feeble confederation, which, in the language of the day, had been aptly compared to a “ rope of sand." The labors of the latter, in the opinion of able minds, have not only resulted in no essential good, but in much practical mischief. Whether the opinion be or be not well-founded, it is not necessary to decide ; but it is certain that the amended constitution has dissatisfied many, and that propositions have already been made to the legislature to adopt preliminary measures for a third convention.
Virginia having the most extensive territory of any of the states of the Union, and being the largest slaveholder, has always been peculiarly sensitive in regard to that species of property. As far back as the first administration of Gov. Monroe, at the commencement of the present century, a well-organized insurrection of the slaves in the immediate vicinity of the seat of government, was only prevented from resulting in the most frightful consequences to the persons and property of the whites, by the timely interposition of Providence. From the best authenticated accounts, fouaded upon evidence taken at the time by the constituted authorities, a large body of slaves, supposed to be a thousand in number, headed by skilful leaders, and provided with the means of offensive
4. , ,
* Ex-presidents Madison and Monroe, and Chief-Justice Marshall, were bers of both conventions. Among the conspicuous leaders in the last, may be mentioned the names of B. W. Leigh, and his brother, Judge Leigh, John Randolph of Roanoke, Gov. Giles, Chapman Johnson, Judge Philip P. Barbour, Judge Stanard, Dodridge, Judge Green, Littleton W. Tazewell, Gen. Robert B. Taylor, Gov. Pleasants, Judge Abel P. Upshur, and many others.
warfare, assembled by preconcert, in the night, about six miles from Richmond, and resolved to attack the town before daybreak. No suspicion having been excited, the police was feeble and inert; the inhabitants were lulled into perfect security, and nothing, it is believed, saved them from massacre and pillage, but a sudden and violent storm, accompanied by heavy rains, which rendered impassable a stream lying between the insurgents and the city. A young negro, attached to his master and family, was seized with compunction for his criminal designs, and swam the stream, at the hazard of life, to give information of the plot. The whole city was roused-troops were ordered out-the insurrection was suppressed, and the ringleaders expiated their offence on the gallows. The severity of the punishment inflicted upon these unhappy sufferers, it was supposed, for a long period of time, would prevent any similar disturbance in the state ; but unhappily, in the year 1831, during the administration of Gov. Floyd, a still more alarming insurrection occurred in the county of Southampton, which was attended by the most tragical results. A fanatical slave by the name of Nat Turner, with his brother, who was still more fanatical, and who styled himself the prophet, rallied a band of desperate followers, and, in open day, carried death and desolation into all the surrounding neighborhoods. Whole families of men, women, and children, were slaughtered without mercy, under circumstances of peculiar barbarity; and the insurrection was only suppressed by the prompt interference of the military authority. After the fullest investigation, the conduct of these sanguinary wretches could not be accounted for upon any of the usual motives which govern men in a servile condition. As slaves, they were not treated with particular unkindness or severity; and the only plausible solution of the problem is to be found in the suggestions of a wild superstition, excited by the unnatural and extraordinary appearance of the sun at that particular period—a phenomenon which was recorded at the time, and is still well recollected
This painful and startling event made a deep impression upon the public mind. Men began to think and reason about the evils and insecurity of slavery; the subject of emancipation was discussed both publicly and privately, and was prominently introduced into the popular branch of the legislature at the ensuing session of 1831–32. The House of Delegates contained, at that time, many young members of shining abilities, besides others of maturer years and more established reputation; and the debate which sprang up, upon the abstract proposition declaring it expedient to abolish slavery, was characterized by all the powers of argument and all the graces of eloquence. It was a topic eminently fitted to arouse the strongest passions of our nature, and to enlist the long-cherished prejudices of a portion of the Virginia people. After an animated contest, the question was settled by a kind of compromise, in which the evils of slavery were distinctly
recognised, but that views of expediency required that further action on the subject should be postponed. That a question so vitally important would have been renewed with more success at an early subsequent period, seems more than probable, if the current opinions of the day can be relied on; but there were obvious causes in operation which paralyzed the friends of abolition, and have had the effect of silencing all agitation on the subject. The abolitionists in the northern and eastern states, gradually increasing their strength as a party, became louder in their denunciations of slavery, and more and more reckless in the means adopted for assailing the constitutional rights of the south. The open and avowed security given to fugitive slaves, not only by the efforts of private societies, but by public official acts in some of the free states, together with the constant circulation of incendiary tracts, calculated to endanger the safety of slave-holding communities, have awakened a spirit of proud and determined resistance; and it is now almost impossible to tell when the passions shall have sufficiently cooled for a calm consideration of the subject.
If Virginia has not successfully rivalled some of the more wealthy and populous states in the cause of general education, and in works of internal improvement, she has at least devoted to those important objects all the resources she could command without impairing her credit by too great a pecuniary responsibility. It is an honorable trait, that she has been careful to fulfil her engagements in the most embarrassing times.
HISTORICAL, STATISTICAL, AND DESCRIPTIVE.
The annexed concise geographical and statistical description of Virginia, is abridged from Sherman & Smith's Gazetteer of the United States, and contains the results of the statistics and census of 1840, published by the general government.
Virginia is 370 miles long, and 200 broad at its greatest width, containing 64,000 square miles, or 40,960,000 acres. The population in 1790, was 747,610 in 1800, 886,149 ; in 1810,974,622; in 1820, 1,065,366; in 1830, 1,211,272; in 1840, 1,239,797, of which 448,987 were slaves. Of the free white population, 371,223 were white males; 369,745 ditto, females; 23,814 were colored males ; 26,020 ditto, females. Employed in agriculture, 318,771; in commerce, 6,361 ; in manufactures and trades, 54,147; navigating the ocean, 582 ; ditto, canals, rivers, and lakes, 2,952 ; learned professions, &c., 3,866.
The state is divided into 123 counties and 2 districts—Eastern and Western. The Eastern district comprises that part of the state east of the Blue Ridge, and has 67 counties. Population in 1840: whites, 369,398; free colored, 42,294 ; slaves, 395,250; total, 806,942. The Western district comprises that part of the state west of the Blue Ridge, and has 56 counties. Population : whites, 371,570; free colored, 7,548; slaves, 53,737 ; total, 432,855.
Richmond is the capital of the state, situated on the north side of James River, at the head of tidewater, and just below its lower falls. This state has a great variety