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Virginia in the Critical Period, 1783-1789

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VIRGINIA IN THE CRITICAL PERIOD, 1765-1789
by
Augustus Low
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,
in the Department of History, in the Graduate
College of the State University of Iowa
February, 1941
ProQuest N um ber: 10984047
All rights reserved
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ii
CONTENTS
PREFACE
Qi>
CHAPTER I
The Heritage of the Revolution
. . . • .
1
CHAPTER II
The S6cial Scene and Structure
. . . * *
34
CHAPTER III
The Virginia Farmer . . . ..........
CHAPTER IV
Planter and M e r c h a n t ......... .
CHAPTER V
State Finances
CHAPTER VI
Virginia and the Congress............126
CHAPTER VII
Tidewater Commerce
CHAPTER VIII
Federalism and the People............ 160
CHAPTER IX
Afterword: Revolution and Tradition . .
66
it
V
110
.................. 146
186
193
A P P E N D I X ........................................
205
Graphs
i
......................
BIBLIOGRAPHY....................................
Tables
Nli
86
Maps
Trtyf
L^/
CONTENTS
PREFACE
CHAPTER I
The Heritage of the Revolution • . . • •
1
CHAPTER II
The Social Scene and Structure.......... 54
CHAPTER III
The Virginia Farmer • • ..............
66
CHAPTER IV
Planter and Merchant
• • • • • • • • •
86
CHAPTER V
State Finances
.................. 110
CHAPTER VI
Virginia and the Congress.............. 126
CHAPTER VII
Tidewater Commerce
CHAPTER VIII
Federalism and the People.............. 160
CHAPTER IX
Afterword: Revolution and Tradition • •
'A
<2
3
*3
<o
........
.....
146
186
BIBLIOGRAPHY....................................
195
A P P E N D I X ........................................
205
Tables
^
Graphs
5?
Maps
iii
PREFACE
The fact Is generally accepted among historians
that there are several critical periods in the history of
Virginia.
Perhaps the first period Is best characterized by
the "starving times1' of the early years of settlement; the
second by Bacon's Rebellion of 1676; the third by the trans­
ition from Confederation to Constitution; and the fourth by
the reconstruction after the Civil War.
The third period
was first defined as being critical, and popularized as
such, a half century ago by John Fiske in his book The Criti­
cal Period of American History.
Since then several studies
have been made of the period, or certain aspects of the
period; in recent years, New York has been given special
analysis by Ernest W. Spaulding, New York in the Critical
Period, and Thomas C. Cochran, New York in the Confederation.
It is the purpose of this study to determine the
"critical" aspects of the period In Virginia; to evaluate
these aspects in the light ofpre-revolutionary years.
Essentially, the study may beregarded as an answer to two
questions: To what extent was the period a critical one? and,
What relation did the critical elements have to the ratifi­
cation of the Constitution of 1787?
The search for an
exhaustive answer to these questions would have
volume much larger than the present one.
requireda
Therefore, careful
selection from competent authors and a vast amount of source
material, of which the revolutionary period is favorably
iv
supplied have reduced the conception of the work to a
presentation of facts only significant and essential to the
thesis under consideration*
In adequate answer has been
sought in a general review and classification of the social
and economic forces operating within the state, a descrip­
tion of the structure within which they functioned, and the
effect of their interplay upon the ratification of the
Constitution*
Thus far, the revolutionary period has had
many historians, yet the critical period in Virginia has
remained obscure.
I am deeply indebted to Professor »V. T. Root,
Head of the Department of History of the University of Iowa,
for having first suggested the subject several years ago.
Since then he has been kind and helpful in giving valuable
advice, suggestions, and encouragement.
and guidance the study was begun and
Under his direction
completed.
him that I owe my first and greatest thanks.
It is to
I also
acknowledge the help given by other members of the Depart­
ment who, however, unlnowlingly at times, have made worth­
while contributions; in this connection I am particularly
grateful to Professor H. J. Thornton.
However, in justice
to all who
have helped me, I accept the responsibility for
all errors
appearing in this volume.
Moreover, I wish I could enumerate here the names
of librarians who have helped toward the completion of this
work.
I am indebted to the entire staff of the Archives
V
Division of the Virginia State Library, and to the archivist,
Dr. William J. Van Schreeven, without whose courteous
cooperation it would have been impossible to examine essen­
tial source material found in Richmond.
Also I appreciate
the services extended by the librarians in the Manuscript
Division of the Library of Congress, at the libraries in
New York, St. Louis, and Iowa City.
Iowa City, Iowa
December 18, 1940
Augustus Low
1
CHAPTER I
THE HERITAGE OF THE REVOLUTION
Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington
only a few miles from the site where English settlement on
the continent first became permanent.
Yet, within the
chronological compass of these nearby points, between James­
town and Yorktown, there lies a rich chapter of Virginia and
American history seldom lost sight of by the descendants of
the Old Dominion.
Apparently, the most illustrative part of
this chapter deals with the period of the Revolution, at the
close of which, Virginians may have looked upon a rich but
peculiar heritage with bewilderment as well as pride.
The heritage of the Revolution was rich in as much
as Virginians were in the forefront of the constitutional
and military conflict with England.
They entered vigorously
into the struggle against the mother country and thereby
enriched American history with a brilliant galaxy of names
hardly equaled in any following period.
The Stamp Act
Resolutions of 1765, which openly denied the right of Parlia­
ment to tax the colonies, passed the Virginia House of Bur­
gesses largely because of the patronage of Patrick Henry,
the brilliant author and orator.
Resolutions to boycott
England in 1766 and 1774 were made by Richard Henry Lee, a
Virginian and an ally of Henry.
This same Virginian
introduced in Congress the resolution inviting a declaration
of independence from Britain, to be written as a document
2
"by another Virginian, the young Thomas Jefferson of Albemarle
Gounty.
Virginians took the lead in movements bringing on
the calling of the first continental congresses. They allied
1
with the more radical elements of the Congress, and supplied
leadership in the body throughout the life of the Confedera­
tion.
Four of the sixteen presidents of the Congress,
including the first and last, as well as the commander in
chief of its armies, were Virginians.
Moreover, Virginia was the largest, the most
populous, and the richest state.
Her boundaries extended
from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, her claims from the
Great Lakes to the Chesapeake; her slaves alone numbered
more than the combined populations of Rhode Island, Dela­
ware, and Georgia; the taxable value of her real and per­
sonal property was greater than that of any other state.
Yet, within a small compass of her vast boundaries, roughly
2
from the seashore to the fall line of her rivers,
there had
1
Burton J. Hendricks, The Lees of Virginia, Boston,
1935, 179-213
2
Throughout this study frequent reference will be made
to the major geographical regions of Virginia which
are Tidewater, Piedmont, Valley, and Trans-Alleghany.
For this reason, it is convenient to point out here
the location of each region. Tidewater comprises the
area of the coastal plain, extending from the Atlantic
Ocean to the falls of rivers emptying into the sea.
Piedmont is the region which lies roughly between the
fall line of the rivers and the crest of the Blue
Ridge Mountains. The Valley lies to the west of
Piedmont, and is commonly referred to as the Shenan­
doah Valley; it extends from the crest of the Blue
3
come into being, coexistent with the plantation system of
the tobacco kingdom, a way of life whose patterns were
clearly visible in the South of the nineteenth century.
BUt the heritage of the Revolution was also
peculiar in as much as many of the problems facing the new
state were as old as the century; others were direct out­
growths of the Revolution.
The first set of problems—
those as old as the century— were of the first magnitude;
other problems were secondary,for the strongest character­
istics in the social and economic fabric of the state prior
to the revolutionary period also appeared after the Revolu­
tion.
Thus, the problems of the age may give the illusion
of being evils of the period, and cast the critical period
unjustly into relief darker than it deserves.
John Fiske
was guilty of this error in his classic interpretation,
The Critical Period of American History.
The peculiarity of the period becomes a set of
complex anomalies when it is realized that Virginia reaped
but few fruits of the Revolution into which she had so
vigorously plunged.
The sores of the old British mercantile
Ridge Mountains to the crest of the Shenandoah
Mountains, both of which are part of the vast
Alleghany system. For the purpose of this study,
the Trans-Alleghany region may be regarded as the
section west of a line running along the Shenandoah
Mountains; this section extends to the Mississippi
River and comprises the present states of West
Virginia and Kentucky. See Map I and Map II In
the Appendix.
4
system, which Virginians had expected to he healed by the
Revolution, continued under new names*
Virginia had long
chafed under the heavy duties levied under the old colonial
system; yet her record for levying duties upon commerce
after the Revolution shows that she was easily the peer of
the mother country.
Moreover, before the Revolution,
Virginia paid the price, as well as reaped the benefits, of
British monopoly of the carrying trade.
The end of the
Revolution came, but the British monopoly continued to the
extent that James Madison, a well informed Virginian,
thought the monopoly more complete after the Revolution
than before.
Virginia evaded payment of the huge hereditary
debt owed to British creditors and resorted to various
devices to protect the debtor-planter from the creditormerchant.
Yet, in looking for a more reliable and just
assurance against debt collection, Virginia turned to the
new federal system over the opposition of Patrick Henry
4
and George Mason, a system whose courts in a few years
upheld the case of British creditors to the detriment of
the Virginia planter.
Persons who had been loyal or
sympathetic toward the enemy during the war were soon
3
Gaillard Hunt, editor, The Writings of James Madison,
New York, 1900-1910, II, 147
4
Johnathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the
Constitution, Philadelphia, 1&96, III, 526, 5^3
5
permitted to return without great discrimination.
A great
number belonged to the merchant class and returned in order
to regain control over the carrying trade, to collect old
debts, and to exploit again the indebted planters.
Furthermore, Virginians had long regarded their
claim to the western lands with pride and jealousy, a fact
which gave them reason to go to war when Britain closed the
e
west to speculation and settlement.
Yet, after the war
Virginia ceded the lands to Congress for considerably less
than the price or sacrifice she had paid.
Virginia opposed
the secession of Kentucky from her jurisdiction; yet, she
agreed to the federal system whereby Kentucky soon became
a state.
Meanwhile, among her own citizens there were rumors
of forming a Southern confederacy, when sectional jealousies
became intense.
However, when viewed from a broad vantage point
in relation to its historical setting, the critical period
of Virginia was not so critical, though many of the old
sores of the century had become strikingly chronic.
Business enterprise soon entered a state of prosperous
activity.
There was an expansion of credit, the reopen­
ing of old business establishments and the beginning of
6
new ones.
Great tracts of western lands were open for
5
Clarence W. Alvord, The Mississippi Valley in British
Politics. Cleveland, 1919, II, 109-10 et. seq.
6
Hunt, Writings of Madison,
II, 162
6
settlement at low prices, a fact which provided an escape
valve for eastern adventurers, insolvents, bankrupts, and
7
tax delinquents.
One year after the Treaty had been signed,
Virginians received higher prices for their produce than
in any year of the two decades preceeding the outbreak of
the war.
The best James River tobacco—
the choicest of
continental brands— was selling at Shockoe warehouse near
Richmond at 40s. per hundred weight in July and November
8
of 1784.
York River tobacco at the warehouses of Page and
9
Merriwether sold from 33 s. to 36s. in 1784 and 1785*
Prices of James River tobacco in Philadelphia, an entrepot
for Virginia commerce, reached the highest peak for the
last half of the century in July, 1784, and were not sur­
passed until 1797, 1798.^
These prices for 1784 and 1?85,
whether at James or York River warehouses, or at Philadelphia/
were higher than the prices of 1774 or 1775 by fifteen to
eighteen shillings.
Yet, in spite of this high trend in
1784 and 1785, the average of tobacco prices for the entire
critical period was only a few shillings higher than the
average for pre-war years.
For example, 20s. per hundred
7
Auditors Papers, Insolvent and Delinquent Tax Returns,
Virginia State Library
8
Hanover Town Account Book, Virginia State Library
9
Ibid.
10
Anne Bezanson, Wholesale Prices in Philadelphia,
1784-1861, Philadelphia, 1935, 2^2, table 215
7
weight was an average price in 1774, 1775, and 1776; about
23s. for the critical period.
This small difference in the
average price for pre-war years as compared with the average
price for the critical period may be explained by the sharp
decline in prices after 1785, as shown on a graph in the
Appendix, which fell rapidly to the level of pre-war years.
11
Indeed, the price of the tobacco crop of 1784 brought more
specie into Virginia than the state contained at any time
previously.
12
Commodities from Virginia found their way to
home and other continental ports where British and Northern
bottoms vied for the lucrative and flourishing commerce of
the Old Dominion--a commerce enriched further by the
"unprecedented" commerce of North Carolina. 13
Yet, despite the immediate post-war boom, there
were no sharp contrasts or breaks in the social and economic
structure between 1774 and 1789.
The planter aristocracy
was in power before the Revolution as well as after, whereas
in the state of New York the great landlords lost control
to the small farmers of the upcountry. ^
Although the
Revolution cracked the solidarity of the planter aristocracy
11
Allason Ledger Book, Virginia State Library.
years cited.
See
12
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 66
13
C. C. Crittenden, Commerce of North Carolina, 17651789, New Haven,, 1936, 158
14
E. W. Spaulding, New York in the Critical Period,
1783-1789, New York, 1932,“53
the decline of* the power of the tobacco lords of Virginia
was to reach its low point during another period; it came
about through the slow processes of economics, visible
before and after the Revolution, rather than by swift poli­
tical alignments.
It is true that the small farmer gained
in political and economic strength, but the gain was far
too short in order to place him safely into the saddle.
The typical planter before and after the Revolution
was part lawyer, part scholar, generally a heavy debtor
and a negligent farmer.
He took politics seriously; more
often as a career, rarely as a duelist.
He loved to make
social visits, to dine and to converse with associates of
his own class, to drink tea, cider, or brandy in preference
to wine, rum, or whiskey.
Most travellers who visited
Virginia were delighted with the hospitable and elegant
society of the planter whose sons, in expectation of continu­
ing the tradition, were given private tutorship, or
schooled in Britain or at William and Mary College.
The
leisure which the planter enjoyed under the plantation
system enabled him to study law, history, and the classics,
by preference, a fact which explains in part the liberal
tendencies of slaveholding aristocrats of the eighteenth
century.
Tobacco still molded the entire economic life
of the state even as it had been the pivot of colonial
life.
It served as a medium of exchange when specie was
scarce, and remained legal tender until 1794.
It was a
chief source of revenue despite commercial restrictions by
England and Virginia*
commodity.
It also remained the staple export
Its average export was only slightly greater
during the critical period than during the fifteen years
IS
preceeding the Revolution.
But large quantities remained
as surpluses at the warehouses, a fact which serves to
illustrate that production was also greater during the post­
war years.
On the other hand, its export and production
were undergoing a state of relative decline as will be
pointed out in subsequent chapters.
Profits from tobacco were still low.
Whereas the
Revolution brought about the removal of some colonial
restrictions and duties on tobacco, Virginia merely substi­
tuted new ones.
Before the Revolution duties and freight
charges upon tobacco shipments left the planter only about
eight per cent profit to discharge plantation expenses.
The percentage was hardly higher for the critical period;
for there were many heavy Virginia customs and duties,
charges for warehouse rent and inspection, insurance rates
15
The average for 1760-1775 was 55,000 hogsheads, while
the average for 1783-1790 was 58,000 hogsheads.
16
Avery 0. Graven, Soil Exhaustion as a Factor in the
Agricultural History of Virginia and Maryland,
Urbanna, 1925", 54-55
10
and commissions.
Furthermore, during the critical period
charges on river freight in Virginia doubled, and
17
commission rates also increased.
Before and after the Revolution, the finest tobaocos, as well as the greatest yield, came from the
eastern Piedmont region and were inspected and shipped from
warehouses on the James River or its tributaries.
However,
tobaccos from the western regions, including Kentucky, began
to enter the markets of the east where warehouses were
inconveniently located, and inadequate to handle the volume
of western production.
Tobacco grown in the westernmost
part of the state, chiefly in the northern mountains and
T8
foothills, was of good quality
but brought smaller
profits on account of heavy freight charges to eastern
warehouses. 19 Marketing facilities can scarcely be said
to have improved during the period following the close of
the Revolution, for the best roads and most navigable rivers
were in Tidewater.
In this situation there was room for
conflict between the sections.
Toward the end of the period
however, tobaccos from the southern uplands could compete
successfully on the Richmond market.
20
17
Allason Papers, Virginia State Library, Aug. 10, 1785
18
The Diary of Samuel Vaughan, Library of Congress, 48-53
19
Johann David Schoepf, quoted in Alfred J. Morrison,
editor, Travels in Virginia in Revolutionary Times,
Lynchburg, 1922, 51
20
Wortington C. Ford, editor, The Letters of Joseph
Jones of Virginia, Washington, lB89, 156
11
The old methods of tobacco cultivation, which
exhausted the fertility of the soil, made for the deterior­
ation of the tobacco kingdom.
The cultivation of tobacco
had long been on the decline in the older Tidewater Gounties,
where, despite the increase of slave labor, production
remained on a steady level until the middle of the eighteenth
century.
Piedmont picked up the challenge, but also soon
began to experience similar reverses despite its higher
degree of soil fertility.
Lower Tidewater turned chiefly
to the production of corn as a substitute, while in Piedmont
there was a general increase in the cultivation of wheat.
One traveller observed in 1737 that seven-eighths of the
land from Yorktown to Fredericksburg was planted in corn. 21
But Tidewater was unable to recapture the vitality it once
enjoyed during the heyday of tobacco culture.
Its popula­
tion in some counties remained constant or decreased during
and following the period of the Revolution.
Some of its
lands and buildings fell into a state of decay22 as Its
people migrated westward to exchange new for old exhausted
lands, to evade tax collectors and debtors.
There was still the problem of the scarcity
of specie and the attempts to solve the problem by legisla­
tion.
This problem was invariably accompanied by
21
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 54
22
Ibid., 49-53
12
delinquency in tax collection; for this reason commodities
were accepted in payment of taxes*
A study of the degree
of the scarcity of specie or tax delinquency supplies an
angle of approach in order to determine the relative measure
Jr
of distress for two or more given periods. The general
percentage of tax delinquents for the period 1780-1790 was
higher, although not greatly higher, than percentages for
the decade immediately preceeding the outbreak of the war.
Likewise, the scarcity of specie was short of normal.
On the other hand, though there were numerous
complaints about the absence of specie, it must be borne in
mind that most of the complaints came from the western
regions where circulation of currency was poorest and
immigration was heaviest.
This phenomenon tended to create
the illusion of a greater tax delinquency and scarcity of
specie than actually existed.
A great number of people who
migrated westward, whether or not they were able to pay
their taxes, were regarded as delinquent.
For example,
nineteen out of the thirty-three tax delinquents listed for
Westmoreland Gounty in 1788 were reported as having gone to
Kentucky or other counties.
Yet, it is certain that of
these nineteen persons all were not insolvent.2^ Furthermore,
it appears that a great number of the complaints of specie
scarcity followed in the wake of the business slump of 17851787 .
Other factors that tended to give the illusion of a
23
Auditor1s Papers: Insolvent and Delinquent Tax Returns
13
great specie scarcity were hoarding, and the rapid resump­
tion of trade which encouraged over production of tohacco
which, in turn, tended to lower tobacco prices.
The rapid
resumption of trade drew specie into the coffers of British
merchants and mercantile firms while high taxes, increasing
upon slaves and other property, drew complaints from the
planters.
Nevertheless, though the period fell heir to a
colonial heritage, there were movements within the social
and economic structure, between 1774 and 1789, which caused
the old forms to tremble, if not fall.
There were the
religious awakening, liberal currents in thought, the
abundance of western lands, the growth of the west, and the
advent of the state and federal constitutions.
In the light of events that came in the years
following the Treaty of 1783, it appears that the Revolution
in Virginia had not been so revolutionary.
Many of the old
pre-war problems at home remained on record to be solved.
It may be pointed out that the years of the Revolution
witnessed events far more critical
revolutionary, while
the years of the critical period experienced events equally
as revolutionary as critical.
Whereas the crisis of actual
armed revolt against England, in which the colonists had
been liable to hang 11separately" or f*together" for
rebellion, had passed away with the winning of independence,
there remained other critical problems, political and social
in nature, whose solution would indeed bring on revolution­
ary changes.
Much of the spirit of the Revolution had been
lost in conservative successes.
The Virginia Constitution
of 1776 was largely a triumph of a conservative group; the
same was generally true of the group that ratified the
federal Constitution of 1787 . Yet social and economic
problems, a great part of which were evolutionary in nature,
were too dynamic to be solved along lines laid out by the
conservative clique.
Many such problems coalesced, and
brought into play forces that tended to undermine the
political conservatism; they add a further mark of
peculiarity to the critical period in Virginia.
The state constitution was adopted at the
beginning of the armed conflict, but neither at the time
of its inception, nor later, did it solve to the satisfac­
tion of liberals like Jefferson and Madison the age-worn
problems confronting Virginia.
Problems of suffrage,
representation, primogeniture, entail, manumission, and
religious liberty did not become sharp political issues
until the critical period.
The stage of 1776 was set
primarily for the act with Britain, but the stage of 1783
was reserved primarily for Virginia.
On the former the
political revolution had been won while the social
revolution remained still-born.
It was reserved for the
latter to display, in part, the social phase of the
Revolution, the extent of which, however, fell far short
of the peak attained in Massachusetts, New York, or
Pennsylvania.
15
To a large extent, the Gonstltution of 1776 was
a product of sectionalism, party politics, and conservative
forces.
Tidewater and parts of Piedmont, where the planta-
tion system had become the basis of society, were In control
of the government.
The western sections were almost
completely out of the ruling clique.
The conservative men
of the older sections held out against a revolutionary or
liberal constitution; in fact, they had opposed liberal
measures of an earlier day.
Delegates from Tidewater voted
against the radical non-importation agreements of 1769 and
24
the Associations of 1770 and 1774.
Furthermore, for two decades prior to the forma­
tion of the state constitution, there was a party in opposi­
tion to Patrick Henry who, at the time, belonged in the
liberal camp.
The line was not drawn heavily or always
consistently, but it was distinct.
A majority of the men
who opposed Henryfs Stamp Act Resolution of 1765 also opposed
his resolutions for mobilization ten years later*
They
opposed instructing delegates to Congress to vote for
independence in 1776.
Those who opposed independence voted
against the Articles of Confederation, but were mainly
advocates of the federal Constitution of 1787*
Patrick
Henry, Richard Lee, and George Mason were in favor of the
measures referred to above.
On the other hand, they were
24
Charles H. Ambler, Sectionalism in Virginia, 17761861, Chicago, 1910, 23
16
opposed to the federal Constitution; yet, Henry and Mason
were mainly responsible for the only liberal features of
the Constitution of 1776— religious liberty, trial by Jury,
freedom of press and speech.
The alliance against Henry
and his party consisted primarily of the old guard of
Judges, lawyers, men of long-standing public careers and
well-established families.
It was such an alliance that put
through the main feature of the Virginia Constitution,
while its remnants opposed the "Henryites" in the contest
over ratification in 1788.
Although the framers of the Constitution of
1776 were well acquainted with Locke and Montesquieu, the
theory of the separation of the three governmental powers
was observed neither in theory nor practice.
Great
powers were concentrated in the hands of the legislature
at the expense of the executive and Judicial branches, a
fact which, under the existing system of representation,
gave Tidewater control over the government when eastern
planters stood as a solid unit.
Yet, the state Constitution made no important
change in the system of representation.
The colonial
system of county representation was adopted for the House
of Delegates, while in the case of towns the matter was left
25
in the hands of the legislature.
This system, however,
25
From earliest times in Virginia representation In the
House was based upon districts rather than upon
population. By 1669 all traces of plantation and
parish representatives had disappeared. From 1669
17
gave Tidewater an overwhelming advantage in the House, since
the combined total of Piedmont, Valley, and Trans-Alleghany
Counties in 1776 was only slightly more than the number of
Tidewater Sounties.
of
The Constitution failed to provide
for future apportionment in the Senate, or for future
amendments.
Apportionment in the Senate was purely an arbi­
trary selection.
Under such a system of representation, population
was hardly a great determining factor.
In his famous Notes
on the State of Virginia. Jefferson pointed out, in 1782,
the disparities existing under the system as Illustrated in
27
the table below:
SECTION
NO. OF
FIGHTING- MEN
HOUSE
DELEGATES
SENATORS
Tidewater
19,012
71
12
Piedmont
18,826
46
8
Valley
7,673
16
2
TransAlleghany
4,458
16
2
to 1776, excepting Wlllianmand Mary College, only
county and borough representation existed. Julian
A. C. Chandler, Representa11on in Virginia, Baltimore,
1896, 18
26
Morgan P. Robinson, Virginia Counties: Those Resulting
from Virginia Legislation, Richmond, 19l6, passim.
27
Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Boston, 1832, 122
18
AS the vrest grew in population, inequalities in representa­
tion were magnified into a sharp sectional conflict, as
clearly shown in the debates of the Virginia constitutional
convention of 1829.
In 1815 the section west of the Blue
Ridge had a white population of about 233,4-69 and only four
senators, while the section east of the Blue Ridge had
34-2,761 white persons and twenty senators.
28
Furthermore, the Constitution made no change in
suffrage qualifications, which were based upon ownership of
fifty acres of land, or twenty-five acres and a house or
lot in some town.
Thus, the voting population was
necessarily limited/particularly in the eastern part of the
state where land was less available than in western counties.
Whereas about six per cent of the white population voted
in the last decades of the colonial period, only about
eight to ten per cent voted during the revolutionary period. 29
One historian of Virginia estimates that an average of about
30
six and one-fourth per cent voted in 1787-1786.
This
estimate appears to be reliable; in the election in Orange
County for delegates to the ratifying convention of 1788,
about nine per cent of the white population voted, whereas
in Northampton County the following year about 3.2 per cent
voted for a presidential elector.
28
Chandler, Representation in Virginia, 23
29
Lyon G> Tyler, "Virginians Voting in the Colonial
Period," William and Mary College Quarterly, VI(1897)
11-12
30
Ibid., 12. This percentage was slightly higher than
that for Massachusetts for the same period.
19
The difference In the percentage of persons voting
in Orange, a Piedmont County, and Northampton, a Tidewater
County, is no mere coincident.
The difference may be
regarded as a difference in social pyramids.
It is
generally true that the percentage of persons owning the
greatest amount of taxable property was smaller in the
older counties than in the newer ones since the older
counties had larger plantations and few free persons.
A
glance at Map IV (Appendix) revedls that the greatest
percentage of slaves to the total population was highest
in Tidewater Counties.
The percentage of slaves owned by
one person was higher, as well as the amount of land and
other taxables.
Thus, the percentage of freeholders was
smaller in the older counties, and consequently, the
percentage of persons voting would also be smaller.
Thus, the average voter in a Tidewater and
federal County like Westmoreland or Lancaster carried to the
polls an astonishingly disproportionate amount of political
and economic power as compared to the average voter in the
Piedmont and anti-federal counties of Mecklenburg or
Prince Edward.
Of the 57,000 freeholders, or fifteen to
sixteen per cent of the white population in 1788, five to
fifteen per cent more were found in Piedmont and Valley
than in Tidewater.
The conservative features of the state government
passed on as a problem for the critical period.
With the
conclusion of the war, reform in government became a
20
political issue.
for reform.
Jefferson and Madison worked diligently
Jefferson objected to the Constitution of 1776
as giving too much power to the legislature, and providing
for inequalities in representation and suffrage.
Madison
gave similar objections in a speech before the House in
31
June 1784 on behalf of a proposal to amend the Constitution.
Jefferson sent a draft constitution to the
convention at Williamsburg in 1776.
He set forth that
representation in the House should be proportional to the
property
population; thatAqualifications for voting should be
abolished; that the House should elect the senators and
32
governor.
With this constitution Jefferson would have
broken the power of the planter aristocracy.
He would have
provided for the small farmer and rentier classes to become
political protagonists, as they soon became in New York and
Pennsylvania.
But Jefferson was severely assailed for such
democratic views.
There was muc& talk in Virginia of
recalling him from his seat in Congress--the same Congress
that accepted his Declaration of Independence.
In fact,
the vote of confidence he received was so slim that he
voluntarily resigned.
31
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 54n
32
Paul L. Ford, editor, The Writings of Thomas
Jefferson, New York, 1892-99,I-S 7-30
33
Ibid., II, 41, 61
21
Nevertheless, he and Madison looked forward to
another state constitutional convention for the purpose of
amending the Constitution of 1776. When the proposal was
championed by Madison before the House, while Jefferson
was in France, the measure was defeated because of
opposition from Patrick Henry, the most influential individ­
ual active in Virginia politics during the critical period.
Ironically, the day of the next Virginia constitutional
convention came when, though Jefferson himself was admired,
his ideas commanded less respect than they had in 1776 or
1784,
Madison lived to attend the convention of 1829, but
Jefferson died timely, three years earlier, on the fiftieth
anniversary of his Declaration of Independence.
If attempts to reform the state constitution
failed, efforts at legislative reform were more successful.
At least some of the hopes of the liberals were to be
realized.
The Assembly of 1776 appointed a committee to
revise the laws of the state.
On this committee were
three prominent lawyers, two of whom were to assist the
young Jefferson in a program fur reform.
The revised code of laws as presented by the
committee was designed to strike .at many, pdf
.q Tl& sores
of the century— religious freedom, slavery.,:;land proprietor­
ship in the Northern Neck, and primogeniture,.'
Consideration
of the code, however, was postponed until the end of the
Revolution.
More urgent measures of loyalism, taxation,
and trade confronted the war-time Assembly.
But in the
October session df 1785, a heated session that lasted ninetyseven days and passed more than one hundred laws, there was
a lengthy consideration of the code*
-34
By a small majority
the opponents of revision were able to postpone consideration
of the code, with the exception of the bill for establishing
religious freedom.
However, the most important bills of the code
were later passed, giving the critical period the distinction
of carrying out, In part, the spirit of 1778.
Penalties on
Quakers for their non-juring beliefs were removed in June
1785; religious freedom was granted by the Assembly in
accord with the trend of public opinion, a fact which adds
a political color to a movement heretofore largely religious.
In emphasis of the principle of equality, the dissenting
religious sects, chiefly the Baptists, severely persecuted
before the Revolution, became conscious of their political
strength, and thus contributed to the rise of democracy.
-3c
Until the Great Awakening, which had its greatest influence
during the critical period, the Established Church and the
government were closely allied, and controlled by the
planter aristocracy.
However, unlike the case in
34
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 190 et ante.
35
Wesley M. Gewehr, The Great Awakening in Virginia,
1740-1790, Durham, 1930, 188-200
23
Pennsylvania, no single dissenting sect— Baptist, Methodist,
Quaker, or Presbyterian— was able to gain control from the
36
weakened Episcopalians.
Moreover, liberalism and reform went further than
religion.
Twenty-three times the colonial legislature of
Virginia had petitioned the Crown or the colonial proprleihz
tors to abolish^slave trade, but this achievement was
deferred until 1778, two years after Virginia had become
a commonwealth. 371 After the war ended manumission by the
38
legislature was accepted in both theory and practice.
The legislature became a court of equity for masters
confronting legal difficulties in granting freedon to their
slaves.
It served as a court of appeal for slaves who
rendered services during the Revolution. 39 Limitations upon
36
Before the Revolution the Quakers and members of the
Church of England were in control in Pennslyvania;
but in 1785 fifty of the seventy-four seats in the
Assembly were held by Presbyterians. W. R. Smith,
"Sectionalism in Pennslyvania during the Revolution,"
Political Science Quarterly, XXIV(1909), 218. In
North Carolina the Anglicans were easily overthrown
during the Revolution.
37
For a brief economic slant on the movement see W.E.B.
Dubois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade,
1638-1870, New York, 190^7 13n, 14n, 56-57
38
John Henderson Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia,
1619-1865. Baltimore, 1913, 55
39
William W. Hening, compiler, Statutes at Large of
Virginia, Richmond, 1809-1823, XI, 308; XII, 380;
XIII, 102-03
24
private manumission were removed "by an act of 1782 which
provided that a person disposed to emancipate his slaves
could do so if his will was attested and proved in the
county court by two witnesses.21'0
Quakers and Methodists
were behind the movement for emancipation in deference to
their convictions; Baptists and Presbyterians, themselves
hard pressed and fighting for freedom of conscience, were
generally advocates of emancipation.
Indeed the spirit of emancipation in other
states threatened the existence of the institution of
slavery in Virginia. 41 The logical inference of the
philosophy of the Revolution was freedom for slaves.
As
a member of the committee of 1776 for revision of state
laws, Jefferson framed an amendment for the abolition of
slavery.
Here Jefferson failed miserably to get the
consent of the planter.
The bulk of the free persons of
Virginia was undaunted, for any advocacy of abolition,
whether sudden or gradual, could hardly be more than
sporadic in a society where slave interests were
predominant.
Yet the force of the idea commanded respect
in Virginia well into the next century, at least until
the coming of the cotton kingdom and such staunch proslavery advocates as Thomas R. Dew and Chancellor Harper,
42
both of whom were professors at the alma mater of Thomas
Jefferson.
40
Ibid., XI, 39
41
Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, 56 et ante
42
William E. Dodd, The Cotton Kingdom,New Haven, 1920
48-51
'
If there were old problems that came upon record
for the critical period to solve, there were other problems
that rose directly from the war.
There were the immediate
effects of the enemy occupation, problems relating to the
state of currency, and the question of the ratification of
the Treaty.
The commercial port of Norfolk, the largest
colonial city, was burned in 1775 by both Lord Dunmore, the
last colonial governor, and Virginia troops employed to
curtail loyalist activities there.
One historian of
Virginia says that no community in America suffered more
in the Revolution than Norfolk.^
An official Virginia
report in 1777 disclosed that of the 1331 houses destroyed,
only fifty-one had been burned by Dunmore while the
remainder were destroyed by Virginia troops. 44 However,
45
the city was rebuilt by 1785, mostly with wood, and had
already begun to recapture its pre-war prosperity.
of its
Most
inhabitants were still Scotch, and were largely
merchants, factors, sailors, clerks, having business
connections with firms in Glasgow or London.
43
44
45
Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern
Port, Durham, 1931, 79
Ibid., 70
"Virginia in 1785," Virginia Magazine of History
and Biography. XXIII, (1915), 407
26
Unlike the North, however, Virginia saw no major
military campaign until the final stage of the war.
At
this stage Virginia appeared less capable to resist than
during any previous year of the war.
One explanation seems
to be that Virginia had exhausted a great deal of its
resources in the previous Southern campaigns.
Almost the
whole burden of supporting the Southern continental armies
46
fell to Virginia.
One third of the garrison at Charleston
was furnished by Virginia; one third at Kings Mountain; one
half at Guilford Court House; one third at Cowpens; one
47
third at the battle of Eutaw.
On the eve of invasion by Arnold and Phillips
mention was frequently made of the pitiable condition of
Virginia; its need of defenses, its lack of arms and
ammunition, its depleted treasury.
In 1779 Virginia
detained 5,000 continental arms for its own defense over
the opposition of Congress. 48 A year later Madison enter­
tained the idea of using Negro regiments and giving freedom
to those who served. 49 Joseph Jones, a prominent judge,
wrote to Washington in 1781 asking him to give particular
46
Ford, Letters of Joseph Jones, 63
47
Lyon Gr. Tyler, The History of Virginia, 1763*1861,
Chicago and New York^ 1924, 234— 35
48
Worthington C. Ford, editor, Journals of the
Continental Congress, Washington, 1908-1937,
XV, 1190-91
49
Ford, Letters of Joseph J one s, 63
attention to the Southern Department of the army because
Virginia was receiving little aid from the N orth.G-eneral
von Steuben cautioned Jefferson, then governor, that defenses
51
were inadequate;
but the suggestion was not heeded in time
to be of great benefit as a measure of defense.
Consequently, the British met little resistance
in their brief but unprofitable campaign in Virginia.
The
Assembly itself, after having fled from Richmond, narrowly
escaped being captured at Charlottesville.
Even then three
of its delegates fell into enemy hands, while the others
escaped further to Staunton in June 1781.
However, the scare and resentment of the invasion
were greater than the damages, for when the evacuation of
the enemy came, the resources of the state were by no means
exhausted.
Jones wrote to Madison from Richmond, November
25, 1780:52
The enemy (Arnold and Phillips) have left us without
leaving behind them those marks of ravage and devas­
tation that have but too generally attended their
progress. All the unrigged vessels remain unhurt, no
buildings and but little plundering, and this when
done, was by the Tories in general.
Nevertheless, the invaders destroyed tobacco at Page's
50
fiord, Letters of Joseph Jones, 69, 76-77
51
J. M. Palmer, Ceneral Von Steuben, New Haven,
1937, 240-43
52
Ford, Letters of Joseph Jones, 38
28
warehouse in Hanover Town;
Gounty.
at South Quay in Southj/ampton
Both were small warehouses compared with Shockoe,
Rocky Ridge, Petersburg, or Blanford's.
And the amount of
tobacco destroyed was trifling compared with the amount lost
by ordinary peace-time fires and thefts.
For example, the
legislature paid 7,217 pounds sterling in 1735 for damages
of Tobaeto
by fire at Rocky Ridge warehouse; nearly 6,000 poundsAwere
reported stolen from Indian and Dymers1 in the same year,
and 2,875 pounds were reported stolen from Roy’s in 1734.
Thefts also occurred at Deacon’s Neck and at Hobb’s Hole in
54
1781, and a large fire caused damages at Byrd's in 1736.
Some damages were caused in the carrying away of
slaves.
Jefferson estimated that during the six months of
lf8l Lord Cornwallis carried away some 30,000 slaves from
Virginia plantations; about 27,000 of whim died of fever
and small pox and the remainder went to the West Indies
or e l s e w h e r e . T h i s estimate is far too high: this
number would approximate one-fifth of the total number of
slaves in 1790 in the counties of New Kent, Charles City,
James City, Elizabeth City, York and Warwick, which lay
in the path of the invader.
53
Journal of the House of Delegates, Richmond, 1828,
May 17, 1783, 9. The reimbursement amounted only to,
& 149
54
Ibid., passim.
55
Ford, Writings of Jefferson, V, 36-40
29
Yet regardless of the number of slaves carried
away, Virginia made use of the opportunity, presented in
the capture of slaves by the British, as a pretext, to
evade ratification of the Treaty,
Though the legislature
instructed its delegates in Congress to oppose ratifica­
tion of the Treaty until the claims of Virginia, regarding
slaves, were met by the British government, the more
important reason for Virginia's opposition to the ratification
of the Treaty involved the question of British debts,
Virginians disliked the clause of the Treaty requiring
the payment of British debts, for they, more than any other
group of Americans, owed heavy debts to British merchants
amounting to a sum many times greater than the value of
slaves carried away by British troops.
Both before and
after the Revolution, Virginia planters, time and time again,
refused to pay debts owed to the British, and in the post­
war period, the excuse they offered, regarding the return
of captive slaves, is not convincing in the light of a
basic understanding of the relations between the British
56
merchant and the Virginia planter.
The disorganization of the financial system also
appeared as another direct outgrowth of the war.
The
severing of trade connections with Britain, and the
uJQ. rc.
subsequent invasion, wana recorded in the state of currency.
The reserve of the treasury in British pounds was still
56
Planter-merchant relationships are treated in
Chapter IV
30
depleted at the end of the war as It had "been In 1774.^
The Treasury was so nearly empty at the end of hostilities
that it could not pay the delegates to Congress their
58
salaries.
Paper money that had "been issued in order to
finance the war remained in circulation; yet, more was
printed as the war drew to a close.
In May of 1780,
L 2,000,000 worth of paper money was issued; h 6,000,000
In October of the same year.
The Issues were to be
redeemed by taxes at the exchange ratio of 40 to 1. 59
In
the following year, however, with the issuance of the
•u nprecedented sum of L 36,125,000 the ratio diminished
6<
rapidly from 75 to 1 in January to 1,000 to 1 in December.
When these ratios were translated into prices, the effects
stood out in heavy pictures.
A man in G-loucester County
in 1781 sold a gill of rum for $300.
The value of a horse
ranged from L 3,000 to L 4,000; a cow at L 500; a pig at
h 100; a slave at L 10,000.
57
Isaac Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, Philadelphia,
1926, 25
58
Ford, Letters of Joseph Jones, 122, Jones to Madison
June 21, 1783, The total salaries would amount to
about £, 3,000 a year.
59
Hening, Statutes, X, 347-50
60
Ibid., X, 462-70
61
Harrell, op. clt. 115
The depreciation brought on hazards.
Bookkeeping
became exceedingly difficult in the recording of both
private and public accounts, already complicated by the
state of old debts and credits.
The conditionyfof many
private accounts was never accurately determined, and many
others were settled by approximation.
So disorganized were
the state accounts that the House tried in vain to ascertain
the state debt in June 1784, while in the following year a
committee of the House reported that
bookkeeping in the
Auditor*s office was not an adequate check on the Treasurer's
62
office.
Indeed, it was not likely that the auditor's office
was in a condition to be a good check on its own accounts,
due to the fact that the volume of business it handled
ordinarily was increased tremendously by the war.
Claims
against the state for services rendered during the war were
brought for settlement at the auditor's office.
There were
recruiting claims, pension claims, military land claims of
disabled officers and soldiers, claims of wounded veterans,
claims for paper warrants, claims from dispossessed property
owners and merchants who supplied the armies with materials.
Paper was greatly hazardous to the creditor class.
While it remained in cireflation, debtors took the advantage
to discharge their obligations with cheap paper money over
the angry complaints of merchants.
It has been estimated
that h 273,557 of paper currency valued only at fe 15,044
62
Journal of the House of Delegates, Dec. 24, 1785, 108
32
sterling was pdid into the state treasury in order to dis63
charge British debts.
More than five hundred payments,
made "by nearly the same number of persons, were paid to
more than thirty-five mercantile firms.^
William Allason,
a prominent merchant of Falmouth, Virginia, wrote to Henry
Ritchie, a merchant of Glasgow and an "old acquaintance,"
65
that:
One advantage you Gentlemen in Britain had over us
here, which was your being out of the way of the
Paper Money which was passed on us in discharge of
former business, when in a very depreciated state,
nor durst we often refuse it, for fear of a greater
Evil befalling us, which many very narrowly escaped.
In the same year this merchant could write that he had paper
money on hand with a value of 1,000 to 1 . ^
And in 1785,
Landon Carter of Cleves, King George County, son of "King"
Carter, tried to default payment of a bond to Allason,
dated as early as March 27, 1773, amounting to the sum of
L 120. Carter offered depreciated paper even though he
T
roQ able
-L-i to
, pay otherwise. 67 Allason objected,
and sought
was
d
^
jt 68
counsel from one of his lawyers, John Taylor of Caroling.
63
Harrell, op. cit. 83
64
Ibid#, 84
65
Allason Letter Books, Virginia State Library,
December 22, 1784, 576
66
. Ibid#, 485
67
Landon Carter's aggregate crop production for this
year consisted of 188 bushels of wheat, 829 bushels
of corn, and nearly 25,000 pounds of tobacco. Ulrich
B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South, Boston,
1930, 223. This yield would place him among the leading
planters.
68
Allason Letter Books, April 18, 1784
33
However, at the close of the war efforts were
made to remedy the currency situation.
Paper was declared
to lose its value as legal tender after July 1781 , at which
time the process of funding began.
In the next year, an
act provided that holders of state money were to present
it to the Treasury and receive in return loan office certifi­
cates with the exchange ratio:.of 1,000 to 1.
The certificates
were to carry six per cent interest and were to be either
funded by October 1, 1782, or forfeited.
Later, on May 17,
69
1783, the final date for funding was set up to June 1, 1783,
then to December 1, 1783,^° then to 1786 .^
On the latter date paper money was no longer a
serious issue in Virginia politics.
There were feeble
attempts to revive it as an issue in the movement for
ratification of the federal Constitution, but the attempts
failed miserably.
Paper was not an issue in the ratification
campaign as it was in Massachusetts and New York, even though
the amount of debt Virginians owed to merchants was by far
the greater.
On a petition from Washington County, the
House resolved unanimously on November 3, 1787, a full month
before it finally voted against the recovery of British debts,
72
that it would not issue paper money.
69
Hening, Statutes, X, 133
70
Ibid.» 192
71
Ibid., 397
72
Journal of the House of Delegates, Nov. 3, 1787, 29
34
CHAPTER II
THE SOCIAL SCENE AND STRUCTURE
Travellers in Virginia either before or after the
war would not have been greatly impressed with existing
differences in society, for the general nature of Virginia
life was essentially the same throughout the latter quarter
of the eighteenth century.
The nature of society was
reflected admirably by the planter aristocracy which, more
than any other class, set the standards in dress, recreation,
manners, and speech in the fashionable tradition of the
English landed gentry.
Fox hunting remained a favorite
sport of the planter who also loved to dine, to keep up
his dancing lessons, and to go to the races at Fredericks­
burg or Williamsburg,
With the common folk going to the
races, which were held twice annually and lasted a week,
was like going to a:fair: there would be betting, dancing,
cock-fighting, pole-climbing, and wrestling.
Besides,
there would be the added pleasure of seeing the races, for
generally Virginians of all classes were particularly fond
of horses.
In the main, there was little change in the way
Virginians between 1775 and 1790 amused themselves; there
was little change in their attitude toward health, dieting
and dress.
misdemeanors
Crime and vagrancy were not prevalent.
Slave
and theft of tobacco and cattle appear to
have been the most outstanding, while peace disturbances
in the western counties were common occurrences.'*' Jefferson
1
Lewis P. Summers, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 17691800, Abingdon, 1929, passim.
said he seldom saw a beggar;
p
the few vagrants found an
insecure haven in Virginia’s small cities; they were either
absorbed by society or migrated westward.
The plantation system remained the basis of
society.
Although there were several minor modifications,
the bases remained essentially unchanged for both colonial
and revolutionary eras.
Slave labor was still supervised
by master and overseer and went into the production of a
one-crop commodity.
However, the overproduction of tobacco
during the critical period caused a surplus to appear at
the warehouses.
This phenomenon was accompanied by a
surplus of slave labor unknown to the plantation thirty
years earlier.
For the first time in the history of
Virginia there was a heavy decline in slave prices that
continued from the close of the Revolution to the beginning
of the next century.
Planters complained of having idle
slaves upon their hands as the tobacco kingdom experienced
its relative decline.
The level of slave prices in 1783
was lower than the level of 1774-, and that of 1795 was but
half the peak of 1783 .^
The larger plantations were still the organized
centers of economic and social life.
They were little
communities within themselves and carried on only the
necessary commerce with the outside world.
2
Jefferson, Notes on Virginia. 139
3
Phillips, American Negro Slavery. 368
Here master
and slave lived together without the social conflict which
belied the difference in their status.
Clothes worn by
master and mistress, domestic utensils, and a large amount
of manufactured articles were still imported from England
In exchange for tobacco, hemp, or tar.
Oznaburgs, linens,
and slave cottons still constituted the largest amount of
imported articles.
It is impossible to disassociate the planter from
the plantation system around which life of Virginia revolved
It Is likewise impossible to describe the institutional
life of the state without assigning the chief place to the
planter who typified a fairly standard pattern of conduct.
Wherever the plantation system had become firmly established
in Tidewater and older sections of the Piedmont, the planter
appeared as a symbol of aristocracy.
His home was spacious
and elegant, and a classic touch to its architecture
appeared after the Revolution.
Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian
porticoes and collonades were painted white, and spread
in popularity until few homes were thought to be in full
style without them.
Planter and gentleman were Inter­
changeable terms, and as contrasted with a small farmer,
every planter was regarded as being a large tobacco or
corn grower.
A gentleman was a country squire who,
besides attending to the management of his farms, carried
on a lively social intercourse.
A gentleman dined a great
deal, went fox hunting in the fall or winter, attended
37
vestry meetings when necessary, and attended court
frequently.
He owned from twenty to two hundred slaves,
and generally held lands in the west.
Diaries of the period illustrate the many-sided
life of the planter.
Colonel Francis Taylor, a typical
gentleman farmer of the Piedmont, has left a helpful diary
for the student of the period.
One may observe with
astonishment the great number of times he ,fhad breakfast”
here or "dined” there.
One may also observe that on
February 20, 1786 he "set up late at whist," on March 11 of
the same year, "John Pendleton and the boys went hunting";
on Jhly 5 he went to vestry meeting at the courthouse; on
September 5 he went to a dancing school, and on May 5 and
October 1 a party of his friends and relatives set out for
the races at Fredericksburg.
A
The planter class maintained its aristocratic
position P’f power and privilege tlrough a system of inter­
marriage, a monopoly of political patronage, the alliance
of Church and state, and control of the legal profession.
A large part of the wealth of the planter aristocracy was
hereditary, and until the revolutionary period such wealth
had been partly protected by the law of primogeniture and
entail.
Lord Fairfax had gained much property by birth
and had maintained it by intermarriages with the Washingtons
4
Diary of Col. Francis Taylor, Virginia State Library,
passim.
38
Sarys, and Lewises.
Genealogies show that most of the
leading families were related immediately or remotely hy
marriage.
The Byrds, Harrisons, Pages, Nelsons, Taylors,
Burwells, Randolphs, and Garys were related hy marriage.
Some family names were so numerous that members were
distinguished by their places of residence.
This fact seems
particularly of the Randolph and Garter families.
There was
a Carter of "Sudley," "Farley," "Woodlands," "Cleveland,"
"Mount Atlas," "Sabine," "Nomini," "Blenheim," "Corotoman,"
and "Redland."
The old family compact was not so easily broken.
Until the reconstruction days of the Civil War the offices
of high sheriff and county clerk were filled by persons of
6
long established families.
Generally, the sons served as
deputies under their fathers and took the office of clerkship upon the father's death.
r7
Four members of the Lee
family serged in Essex County as clerks from the 174-01s to
1814 successively; the Woodsons served in Cumberland from
1781 to 1881.
Yet, there were social and economic forces
tending to undermine the old order.
There were the rise of
the west and the relative decline of tobacco culture.
5
Kate Rowland, The Carters of Virginia, quoted in
Thomas Glenn, editor, Some Colonial Mansions and
Those Who Lived in Them, Philadelphia! 1899, passim.
6
Horace E. Hayden, Virginia Genealogies, Wilkes Barre,
Penn,, 1891, xviii
7
John H. Gwathmey, Twelve Virginia Counties, Richmond,
1937, 82
39
No great differences existed in the system of
education.
University training continued as the outstanding
feature of the system of education, and remained largely a
privilege of the upper classes.
On the other hand, however,
the churches made feeble attempts, but with little success,
to disseminate knowledge among all classes; with more success
they carried on the work of social administration.
With
the separation of church and state means were provided to
carry on these functions of the church by passing education
and social welfare work into the hands of the counties.
However, most Virginians seeking a higher education
still went abroad, attended William and Mary College, or
employed private tutors.
Even some students from William
and Mary completed their education at English and Scotch
universities.
On the whole, English universities were
g
patronized to an extent never dreamed of in the North.
From 174-9 to 1812, one hundred and thirty-nine Americans
graduated from the University of Edinburgh.
Of this number
eighty-six came from the South, sixty-five of whom were
Virginians.
Virginians did not graduate from King's
College, Harvard, Yale, or Dartmouth in the eighteenth
century.
However, a few attended schools in Pennsylvania
or went to Princeton, chiefly after 174-7-
Presbyterian
influence from Pennsylvania had helped to develop the
8
W. B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth
Century. Richmond, 1931,""56. Five Virginians
graduated from Edinburgh between 1784— 1790
Valley of Virginia; Samuel Davies, the founder of the
Presbyterian Church in Virginia was educated at the classi­
cal school of Samuel Blair at Fogg's Manor,
James Madison
and Henry Lee came from Princeton while William Grayson
graduated from the College of Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, the influence of William and Mary
College remained the strongest of any institution.
Its
graduates prolonged its tradition of public service in law
and politics long after the college had entered its period
of decline.
George Wythe held the chair of law until 1795
when St. George Tucker, another outstanding legal thinker,
filled the vacancy.
Wythe's influence was greatly felt
throughout the period.
Among; the students who came under
his spell were Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, James
Monroe, Edmund Randolph, and John Taylor of Caroline.
o
A list of the alumni of the college is impressive
Of the forty-one men who served on the pre-revolutionary
and revolutionary committees, twenty-seven were educated in
America, most of whom were students of William and Mary.
10
Although the enrollment of the college for two hundred
years never exceeded one hundred and forty students, three
of its alumni became presidents— Jefferson, Monroe, and
Tyler; four were signers of the Declaration of Independence
9
The young Henry Clay served as an apprentice In his
law office during the 1790's.
10
Charles R. Lingley, Transition in Virginia from
Colony to Commonwealth. New York, 1910, 114
fifteen were governors of Virginia; fifteen were representatives to the Continental Congress. 11
The colonial lustre of William and Mary, however,
was somewhat dulled during the period following the
Revolution.
Although the tradition it established was
perpetuated by its alumni, the institution itself was to
fall from the high position it once held.
The college was
well endowed before the Revolution under the patronage of
the legislature which gave it the returns from a small duty
imposed on every hoghhead of tobacco.
After the war favors
to the college, both colonial and royal, were discontinued;
its right of representation in the Assembly also ceased in
1776.
It was used as a hospital for troops during the
Yorktown campaign, while Cornwallis himself occupied the
home of the president.
On a visit to Williamsburg on
Jui.y 28, 1787, Samuel Vaughan observed that only twentyseven students were enrolled under a faculty that had
dwindled to four.
12
With the falling of William and Mary's star the
heyday of the legal aristocracy also began to pass.
On
the eve of the Revolution good lawyers could command an
income well in the highest brackets.
Patrick Henry
received t 3*000 a year in Hanover; Thomas Jefferson,
11
William 0. Stevens, Old Williamsburg and her Neighbors,
New York, 1938, 133
12
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 47
42
t 3,000 in Albemarle, whereas George Wythe and Pendleton
received twice as much.^
Robert Carter Nicholas, Peyton
Randolph, and John Taylor also received good incomes.
However, despite the fact that there still remained the
proverbial need of ’’going to court” over debt collection
and land litigation, the demand for lawyers began to
decrease.
When Edmund Randolph, lawyer and former governor,
was asked for advice concerning Warner Lewis, Jr., a
prospective law student, he replied that law was an over­
stocked profession and provided little opportunity for an
ambitious young mane.14 About this time many men of wide
legal training and experience were sent northward as
representatives to the new federal Congress, or members of
the administration and thus were unable to engage actively
in law practice at home.
Some retired to private life, and
others died, leaving vacancies in the profession for younger
men, who, however, found it difficult to work in the foot­
steps of such eminent men as Pendleton, Bland, Henry, Wythe,
and Jefferson.
Although a great part of colonial society passed
on as a heritage of the critical period, there were note­
worthy differences in the social scene and structure distinct­
ly characteristic of the period.
13
Perhpps the most
W. E. Dodd, Statesmen of the Old South, New York,
1921, 10.
14
John Norton and Sons, 495
remarkable feature of Virginia life after the Revolution,
and second only to the colonial heritage, was the changes
in the movement and distribution of population.
It is true
that the colonial structure retained its essentials; but
the fact is not to be overlooked that the structure was
modified by the war.
Population moved westward slowly
until the beginning of the Revolution, at which time the
valley of Virginia had been settled after one hundred and
fifty years.
Blit the movement of population within the next
fifteen years was unprecedented.
Migrations swelled
Kentucky into the size of a state and greatly increased the
population of the Northwest and Southwest.
No other state
could point to a similar movement within Its borders.
In
1780 the population of Kentucky, then a section of Virginia,
was only a few hundred persons; six years later it had
reached the astonishing figure of 25 ,000 , and in 1790 it
approximated the figure of 75,000 including 12,000 slaves.
In no other period of Virginia history were so many counties
formed; this fact serves to illustrate further the rapid
growth of the west.
Between 1780-1790, inclusive, twenty
counties were formed: seventy per cent of this number, or
one-half the total number of Tidewater counties in 1790,
were located in the Trans-Alleghany region. ^
The effects
of this movement run like finely knitted threads throughout
15
Morgan P. Robinson, Virginia Counties: Those Resulting
from Virginia Legislation. Richmond, 19l6, 90 e t . seq.
44
the social and economic structure, and must necessarily
be considered for an understanding or interpretation of
the critical period.
The great host of Virginians who crossed the
mountains into Kentucky, who settled in the far western
Piedmont, or who went into North Carolina or Tennessee,
were of curious assortments.
They were the descendants
of the aristocracy, ex-soldiers, frontiersmen, ministers,
traders, lawyers, slaves, and a long file of common, obscure
folk most of whom were small farmers.
Robert Baylor Semple
wrote in 1810 that between 1790 and 1809 fifty per cent
of the Virginia Baptists moved into Kentucky.
The pastor
of Craig*s Church, the oldest Baptist Church in the upper
part of Spotsylvania C&unty, took his entire congregation,
numbering about four hundred men, women and children, to
Kentucky.
A writer of more recent times has selected
twelve counties where the western migration began.^
An
examination of the census of 1930 reveals that six of the
twelve counties— New Kent, King William, King and Queen,
Essex, Caroline, and Goochland—
along with seven other
16
A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists
in Virginia, quoted in W. T. Thom, The Struggle
for Religious Freedom in Virginia, Baltimore, 1900,
5In
17
GwathmeJI * op • cit.
45
18
counties, had a smaller population than in 1790,
No
doubt the causes underlying the westward migration, such
as soil exhaustion and the relative decline of tobacco
culture, supply a partial explanation of this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, according to a report of commissioners of
the Department of Agriculture in 1863, it was stated that
99,297 persons, free and slave, emigrated from Virginia
into Kentucky and Missouri prior to i860; 163,644 to Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.^9
The migrations impressed
one observer so vividly that he advised immigration Into
lower Virginia to provide a substitute for the depopulation
occasioned by the westward migrations. 20
18
See Map II in Appendix and table below:
COUNTY
Caroline
Charles City
Essex
James City
King and/Queen
King William
King George
New Kent
Richmond
Cumberland
Goochland
Powhatan
Stafford
19
LOCATION
POP. IN
1790
POP. IN
1930
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Tidewater
Piedmont
Piedmont
Piedmont
Piedmont
17,849
5,588
9,123
4,070
9,377
8,128
7,366
6,239
6, 985
8, 153
9,053
6,822
9,588
15,263
4,881
6,976
3,879
7,618
7,929
5,297
4,300
6,878
7,535
7,955
6,143
8,050
Hermann Schuricht, History of the German Element in
Virginia, Baltimore"] 1898, l2>0
20
Journal of the House of Delegates, Nov. 7, 1785, 26
46
By the time of the Revolution social classes in
Virginia had already undergone several far reaching changes.
Whereas the upper class was composed of planters, the
middle class, which had its greatest period of growth from
the time of Bacon*s Rebellion to 1700, had divided into
small farmer, small landholder, and poor white during the
eighteenth century.
21
This division holds generally true
for the period following the Revolution.
The social pyramid consisted primarily of planters
and merchants who formed its apex; of small farmers, small
land and property holders and poor whites who belonged to
the lower claws.
The free Negro and slave may be regarded
as forming the lowest strata of the pyramid.
The number of
planters and merchants remained fairly stable; they composed
from three to six per cent of the populations
The small
farmer class increased in numbers as well as in social
consciousness; it constituted an overwhelming majority of
the free population.
The poor whites did not form a serious
problem; their numbers did not reach noticeable proportions
until the next century.
enormously.
The slave population increased
In 1780 there were approximately 210,000
slaves in Virginia; in 1790 there were 292,000 out of a
21
Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebian in
Colonial Virginia, Charlottesville, 1910, 158
The small farmer was not always a landowner; of
times, chiefly in the eastern part of the state,
he was a member of the rentier class.
total population of 748,000.
22
As a result of the manu­
mission movement, which found a favorable atmosphere in the
existing surplus,, slave labor, the free Negro definitely
emerged as a class during the period.
Free Negroes numbered
about 2,500 in 1780 while in 1790 their numbers had increased
23
to 12,800.
Wealth was strongly concentrated in the hands of a
few planters, chiefly in Tidewater and older sections of the
Piedmont.
In every county of these sections about two dozen
planters owned about one-third of the slaves, whereas they
constituted only about six per cent of the total number of
22
Virginia held first rank in population of the union
until 1810, but had dropped to sixth place by i860.
However, Virginia had the largest slave or white
population in 1850 of any Southern state while its
slaves numbered fifty per cent of its total population
as compared with 140^, 105^, and 96^ respectively
for South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Census of 1§50. The table below shows the growth
of population to 1850.
% WHITE
YEAR
1780
1790
1800
1810
1820
1830
1840
1850
TOTAL POP.
550,000
748,308
880,200
974,622
1,065,379
1,211,405
1,239,797
1,421,661
% FREE COL.
INCREASE
INCREASE
24.
16.32
7.24
9.34
15.12
6.7
20.77
81.3
57.63
51.9
20.67
28.35
5.28
8.98
% SLAVE
INCREASE
zs.
17.84
13.51
8.31
10.49
-4.4
5.21
23
Although the institution of indentured servitude had
long entered its period, there were still indentured
servants in Virginia. Virginia Herald, June 19, 1788
48
slaveholders.
Likewise the total number of persons holding
slaves was less that ten per cent of the free population.
Such contrasts are illustrated on the table below; and
strangely enough, these contrasts were sharper than those
existing in the social structure of Virginia during the
24
flush times of the cotton kingdom.
11
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Dinwiddie
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7063
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W e s tmoreland
4425
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410
1771
40
6.5
11.
12.
It followed that migrations to the west brought
on new distributions in population.
The upper and middle
classes were effected to a greater extent than the lower
classes.
The proportion of persons who migrated westward
appears to have been slightly greatest among the middle
classes.
However, the
economic factors underlying the
movement caused many planters to sell much of their property
and to search for new lands and homes in the west.
On the
24
An average of 35^ of the free population held slaves
in Virginia in 1850; 29% for Kentucky. Thus, the
average increase of slaveholders since 1790 would be
25^, excluding Kentucky, whereas there was only an
average increase of 11^ in the number of slaves.
Computed on this basis, one person owned 3.9 slaves
in 1790 but only 1.4 slaves in 1850.
49
other han4,persons owning less property, who belonged
primarily to the class of small property holders, also sought
better opportunities in the west.
Debtors fled westward in
order to escape obligations to creditors, whether to merchant,
planter, or tax collector.
Nevertheless, in spite of the
westward migrations, the greater percentage of large land­
holders remained in Tidewater and older sections of Piedmont
whereas the greater percentage of small landholders and
small farmers were generally located to the west of these
regions.
AS shown on Map III, the largest numbers of
persons slave and free, were found principally In the northern,
central and south-central sections of the state.
The seven
counties having the largest populations were Culpeper,
PrxdencKj
Berkeley,. Loudoun, Amelia, Fauquier, and Caroline, each
n
having a population over 16,000.
Eleven counties had a
population from 13,000 to 16,000; thirteen from 10,000 to
13,000; twenty-eight from 6,500 to 10,000; fifteen from
2,500 to 6 ,500 ; and three counties had a population below
2,500.
These six groupings, however, have little correlation
with the percentage of slave distribution, as will be shown
later on in this chapter.
People lived almost wholly in rural areas, since
Virgin!fa had few urban areas.
Compared with the major
continental cities, Virginia's largest cities were mere
hamlets.
The combined population of the eight largest cities
in Virginia in 1790--Richmond, Norfolk, Alexandria, Petersburg,
50
Fredericksburg, Portsmouth, Winchester, and Williamsburg—
was barely more than the population of Boston for the same
year, and not half the population iBf Philadelphia.
In fact,
the population of the four largest cities in Virginia in 1790
was less than the population of Boston in 1730.
Before the
war Norfolk was the largest city, with a total population
of approximately 6,000.
But after the war Richmond rapidly
took the lead as the population of Norfolk decreased fifty
per cent.
Yet, according to the estimates of travellers,
contemporary authors, and the census of 1790, the population
of Richmond consisted of about 4,000 persons who lived in
approximately 400 houses.
Petersburg and Winchester had
notable Increases in their populations, but the gains were
as great as the increase in Richmond. 25
not
However, of all classes, mobility of slaves from
section to section was less.
It is true that people who
migrated to the west took slaves with them; this fact is
evidenced by the percentage increase of the slave population
in Kentucky and the western counties.
But the greatest
movement of population was delayed until the coming of a
demand for slave labor in the Lower South during the
following century.
On the other hand, it may be shown
that slavery never gained the foothold In the western
part of the state that it did in the east, although the
25
The changes in •urban populations were partly a result
of changes In trade movements. See Chapter VII.
institution followed the course of empire westward.
Some
of the principal counties comprising the "black belt" of
1790 also lay in the same areas in 1850 or 1930.
Let us look more closely at the slave population
as recorded by the census of 1790.
Excluding the counties
In Kentucky, slave populations for 1790 may be arbitrarily
arranged into five groups for the purpose of a convenient
classification of the county distribution of slave popula­
tion as to number and percentage.
On the basis of number
classification, Group I would contain counties having
more than 7,000 slaves; Group II from 5,000 to 7,000;
Group III from 3,000 to 5,000; Group IV from 1,000 to
3,000; and Group V below 1,000.
According to this
classification there would be seven counties in Group I,
three of which were in Tidewater and four in Piedmont: if
arranged in descending order, the counties would be Amelia,
Caroline, Culpeper, Hanover, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, and
Gloucester. (See table in Appendix.)
In Group II there
would be fourteen counties evenly divided between Tidewater
and Piedmont; in Group III, twenty-nine counties, fifteen
In Tidewater, thirteen in Piedmont, and one in Valley; in
Group IV, thirteen counties, four in Tidewater, six in
Piedmont, and three in Valley; in Group V, only one in
Tidewater, five in Valley, and eight in the Trans-Alleghany
region.
The greatest number of slaves would fall in Group
III and Group II, or respectively in counties having from
3,000 to 5,000 and 5,000 to 7,000 slaves.
52
However, on the "basis of a classification according
to the percentage distribution some interesting results
were obtained.
Tidewater counties in the lower groups of
the number classification doubled or tripled the percentages
of counties in other groups.
For example: Elizabeth City,
James City, Middlesex, and York counties in Group IV of
the number classification had respective percentages of
fifty-four, sixty-one, and fifty-two, which would place
them in the first group in a classification on the basis
of percentage distribution.
On the other hand, the next
highest percentages for counties in other regions were
thirty-eight, thirty-two, and twenty-five, respectively,
for the Piedmont counties of Fluvanna, Campbell* and
Pittsylvania.
Also Warwick dounty would fall in Group V
on the basis of number distribution, but in the first
group on the basis of a percentage distribution.
A careful comparison of Map III and Map IV
reveals that there was little correlation between counties
having the largest number of persons with counties having
the highest percentage of slaves.
In the first group of
counties having a total population over 16,000, only two
counties, Amelia and Caroline, belonged to the first group
of counties having the highest percentage of slaves; two
counties belonged to the second; two to the fourth, and
one to the fifth.
Of the counties having from 13,000 to
16,000 persons, five belonged to the third group of percent­
age distribution of slaves, and four belonged to the first.
Of the twenty-eight counties having from 6,500 to 10,000,
ten belonged to the first group and eleven to the second.
In other words, on the whole, the highest percentage of
slaves were found not in counties with the smallest or
largest number of persons, but rather in counties with a
relatively moderate population.
Thus, when the classification of the slave
population is made on the basis of percentage, the results
obtained show striking differences.
The overwhelming per­
centages would shift farther eastward into the Tidewater
counties.
Of the twenty^nine counties having over fifty
per cent slaves, or counties in the first group of the
percentage classification, twenty were in Tidewater and nine
in Piedmont; and the twelve highest, except Powhatan and
Amelia, were all in Tidewater.
Of the counties having
from forty to fifty per cent slaves, eight were in Tidewater
and nine in Piedmont; from thirty to forty per cent, three
were in Tidewater and six in Piedmont; from fifteen to
thirty per cent, there were none in Tidewater, five in
Piedmont and one in Valley; below fifteen per cent, there
were also no Tidewater counties, only one in Piedmont, and
the other counties were in the Valley and chiefly in the
Trans-Alleghany region.
Another significant change in the institutional
life of Virginians, perhaps second only to the movement
54
of population, came in religion.
Episcopalians, Methodists,
Baptists, and Presbyterians were the principal religious
sects.
Quakers, Lutherans, and Menonnites were in a
decided minority, whereas Episcopalians and Baptists composed
three-fourths of the population.
Baptists and Methodists
rapidly gained in number while there was a decline in the
number of Episcopalians.
Baptists and Methodists were the principal
dissenting sects.
They participated vigorously in the great
religious revivals that began in different parts of Virginia
p/T
in 1785 and reached their crest in 1787-88 .
Numerous
meetings were held, some of which attracted thousands of
27
persons at a single gathering.
T$e Methodists were
replacing the Baptists south of the James; the Baptists
were replacing the Presbyterians in the eastern counties
about Hanover and Episcopalians in the Northern Neck, in the
counties of King and Queen, Caroline, Culpeper, Orange,
Spotsylvania, Fairfax, and Stafford.
Presbyterianism was
strongest in the northern part of the Valley and in
Northern Piedmont where the Scotch-Irish were found in
large numbers; there were also small centers In Norfolk,
Alexandria, and Winchester due to the influence of
26
G-ewehr, The G-reat Awakening, 167
27
Ibid., 171
55
Scottish merchants.
The strongholds of the Baptists were
in counties north of the James, while Methodists were
strongest on the south side of the James where they greatly
displaced the Baptists in the revival of 1785, chiefly in
the counties of Brunswick, Sussex, and Amelia.
Episcopal­
ians were strongest in Tidewater.
The rise of the revival movements is closely
identified with the struggle for religious freedom, the
idea of which was made popular by the Baptists more than by
any other sect.2^
The Baptists had been severely persecuted
before the Revolution; the "Separates” had suffered more
persecution than any other sect in Virginia. 29
There had
been cases of arrest and imprisonment of Baptist ministers
of the Revolution was reputed to have been an arch persecut
In Middlesex, Essex, and King and Queen counties—
TO
in Chesterfield County, where Archibald Cary, the "wheelhorse”
all of
which later voted against the bill for religious freedom—
there were persecutions.
Yet, despite the persecutions, the number of
Baptists and Methodists increased.
2.000 Baptists in Virginia.
In 1770 there were about
The number increased to
5.000 in 1774 and 20,000 in 1790.
The number for the latter
28
Ibid., 200
29
W. T. Thom, The Struggle for Religious Freedom in
Virginia: The Baptists, Baltimore, 1900, 11-17
30
Ibid., 23
31
Thom, op. cit., 30
date were one-half of the total number In the United States.^2
The Methodist revivals of the period were almost completely
south of Pennsylvania; the total number of Methodists in
America increased from 15,000 in 1784 to 57,000 in 1790,
There were several reasons for this phenomenon.
In the
firkt place, as pointed out later on in this chapter, the
Revolution tended to destroy both organization and influence
of the Episcopal Church.
In the second place, migrations
into the west brought on new conditions and new spiritual
demands.
And thirdly;the Baptists themselves showed strong
enthusiasm and zeal in their attempts to fight persecution
which they identified with Episcopacy.
They sought to
gain converts and sympathizers in their own behalf, and
elicited disapproval of the old established order of power
and privilege as exemplified by the Established Church.
Episcopacy was commonly thought to be allied with the
English monarchy, a fact which gave rise to its unpopularity
during the Revolution.^
Many persons deserted the Episco­
pal Church and became members of dissenting congregations.
32
Ibid. , 40n. The estimates are taken from John
Asplund, Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination
in North America, Norfolk, 1791, and from Semple,
Baptists in Virginia.
33
Samuel Lord, History of the Protestant Episcopal
Church In America, London, 1846, 26l, 275
57
Thus, the Revolution played into the hands of
the Baptists who appeared in the role of militant supporters
of the principles of freedom and equality.
To them "every
person ought to he entirely free, in respect to matters
34
of religion," . . . and slavery should he abolished
because it was a "violent deprivation of the rights of
nature, and inconsistent with a republican government." 35
The rise of the Baptists and the relation of the
rise to the creation of a new social scene are brought into
clearer view in the decline of the Episcopal Church.
As
the popularity of Episcopacy began to wane, its church
membership decreased and some of its churches fell ihto a
state of decay.
This fact was particularly impressive
in the older Tidewater counties, chiefly in the Northern
Neck and Peninsular that had once been the mainccenters■ of
tobacco production.
A traveller in Gloucester County in
1787 observed that there were "four parishes and five
churches in bad repair and not often preached in." 36
In Caroline County the same observer spoke of a fine brick
church, "as they generally are in Virginia, but in wretched
order, the windows broken out." 37 The woods were beginning
34
Quoted in Semple, op. clt., 71 from a resolution of
the Baptist G-eneral Committee on the Assessment Bill,
Aug, 13, 1785
35
Ibid., 79. Resolution of G-eneral Committee, Aug.8,1789
36
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 50
37
Ibid., 52
58
to close In on some old church sites even as they grew up
in fields that once flourished with tobacco plants.
The
old Potomac Church in Stafford County and the old Aquia
Church were drifting into a state of decay of which Bishop
Meade later deplored.^
One writer claims that there was
no growth of churches in the Northern Neck since 1722,
when the number was twelve; rather, every church and chapel
had been forsaken, 11The road to the Chesapeake was studded
with mouldering ruins of what had once been houses of
the Lord."
Deistlc and agnostic influences crept into the
Episcopal Church.
At Williamsburg in 1811 Biship Meade was
discouraged at the Hcomfortless aspect"h of the Church: 40
I was informed . . . two questions were discussed in
a literary society of the College: — First, whether
there was a Cod? Secondly, whether the Christian
religion had been injurious or beneficial to mankind?
. . . William and Mary was regarded as a hotbed of
French politics and religion. I can truly say that
then, and for some years after, in every educated
young man in Virginia whom I met, I expected to find
a skeptic, if not an avowed disbeliever.
Evidently eighteenth century rationalism was the parent of
the sort of thing observed by Meade.
English and French
rationalism in religion, represented chiefly by Locke and
38
In 1838 Meade observed that the old Potomac Church
was used "as a nursery of caterpillars, a manufactory
of silk having been set up almo&t at its doors," and
that the"worshippers in it had disappeared from the
country long before it ceased to be a fit place for
prayer." William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and
Families of Virginia, Philadelphia, 1857 > II* 203
39
Quoted in Lord, op.cit., 279
40
Meade, pp. cit., I, 29
59
Voltaire respectively, passed on to the thinkers of the
revolutionary period.
As th& disestablishment of the
Anglican Church in Virginia proceeded, deistlc speculation
41
became more prevalent than in any previous period.
Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Wythe, and Randolph were sympa­
thetic toward the Baptists in their struggle for liberalism
in religion.
They were inclined toward deistic speculation
although they held membership in the Episcopal Church even
42
after its break with the mother Church in England.
General Henry Lee of Stratford was inclined so strongly in
the same direction that he refused to be buried in a cemetery with "bad (Christian) company." 43
The Established Church failed to meet the conditions
imposed upon it by the Revolution, and was so severely shaken
by the impact that it struggled for the next half century
44
to regain the prestige it once held.
DIsendowment of
the Church came with the Revolution in January 1777 when
salaries of the clergy ceased.
By action of the legislature
ministers were cut adrift from an assured income, and had
to shift for themselves.
The stigma of being loyalists,
41
H. M. Morals, Deism in Eighteenth Century America,
New York, 1934, 112
42
Ibid., 112-119
43
Ibid., 194
44
Fiske, Gewehr, and Semple have stressed the moral
angle in the decline of episcopacy, but Rev. George
MacLaren Brydon, The Established Church in Virginia
in the Revolution, says this point has been greatly
overemphasized.
60
however exaggerated, did little to help their situation.
Many Virginia ministers gave up the ministry in despair,
and were deprived of their parishes.
Of the ninety-two
ministers listed at work in parishes and the ministry in
1776, fifty-four were still in Virginia in 1787 but only
45
fifteen held parishes.
Moreover, there was no ordina­
tion of new ministers; and for a short time there was no
bishop in Virginia or America.
^et the legislature was still inclined to regard
the Episcopal Church as the legal heir of the old
Established Church.
The House passed an act of incorpora­
tion by a vote of 62-23, November 1784.
The act provided
that ministers and vestries were to be chosen once in every
three years in each parish; to hold property not exceeding
the value L 800; that a convention composed of clergy and
lay deputies from each parish was to regulate the affairs
of the Church.
46
Episcopalians generally favored the measure;
earlier they had asked for incorporation in order to
alleviate their predicament. 47 Petitions from the
Episcopal strongholds of Warwick, York, Northampton, and
Southampton favored incorporation.^8
45 George M. Brydon, The Established Church in Virginia
and the Revolution, Richmond, 1930, 17
46
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 131
47
Journal of the House of Delegates, June 4, 1784, 36
48
Ibid., Nov. 4, 1784, 11; Nov. 24, 1786, 59
61
the other hand, the other sects were generally
opposed to the incorporation plan which they believed would
enable the Episcopal Church to regain its former position
of power and prestige.
The Episcopal Church owned a larger
amount of property in churches, glebes, and endowments than
49
all other denominations combined.
The dissenting sects,
chiefly the Baptists, insisted that such property should
be taken from the Episcopalians: while petitions from
Buckingham, Hanover, Halifax, Amelia, and Lunenburg spoke
against incorporation, at th^ame time they asked that
property of the pre-war Episcopal Church should be sold
50
for public benefit.
When political ties with England were broken,
it followed that dissenting sects would attempt more than
ever before to break completely the former position the
Episcopal Church held in the realm of state politics.
While there was strong opposition to the act of incorpora­
tion, there was even stronger opposition to measures
designed to maintain the principle and practice of legisla­
tive control over religious authority.
It was well
understood among the dissenting sects that sympathy of the
legislature toward the Episcopal Church was a threat to
the principle of religious freedom.
And their efforts to
break the alliance were not unsuccessful: the act of
49
Brydon, op. cit., 13
50
Journal of the House of Delegates, Nov. 24, 1786,59
G-lebe lands and endowments were finally taken from
the Church in 1802.
62
incorporation was repealed in 1787 ; a tax for the support
of religious education was defeated, and religious freedom
was recognized by the legislature.
Shortly after the passage of the incorporation
act, a bill was drawn up from a resolution, presented by
Henry, which proposed to assess a tax on all taxable
property for the support of "teachers of the Christian
Religion."
Upon payment of the tax, which amounted to 3d.,
each person was to designate his church denomination, and
if he refused to do so the tax was to be used for the
maintenance of a county school.
However, upon the final
y
reading, the $ill was postponed from December 1784 to
November of the following year.
b
In the meantime, opposition to the $111 created
a great deal of interest and cut deeply into public opinion.
There was violent opposition from the middle and back
counties where the dissenting sects were in
great®**
majorities. 51 Petitions flowed into the House expressing
disapproval of the measure.^2
51
One historian estimates that
The G-eneral Committee of the Baptist Churches was
unanimously opposed to the assessment. Semple, op.
Qit., 71
52
The Jour&al of the House records petitions from the
following counties for October and November of 1785;
Caroline, Henry, Pittsylvania, Nansemond, Bedford,
Richmond, Campbell, and Charlotte©, October 27, 1785;
Accomac, Isle of Wight, Albemarle, Amherst, October,
28, 1785; Louisa, Oct. 291 Goochland, Essex, Westmore­
land, Culpeper, Prince Edward, disapproved Nov. 2;
about 10,000 persons signed petitions against the X 111;55
the Baptists were hostile and composed the greatest number
of any single sect signing the petitions.
New candidates
Id
to the legislature, who opposed the $111, were elected in
some counties but a few old members, who favored the
54
measure, were defeated, .
Some petitions show a continuation of revolution­
ary principles.
One from the Presbyterian Church in
October 1784 stated
We are anxious to retain a full share of all the
privileges which our happy revolution affords, and
cannot but feel alarmed at the continued existence
of any infringement upon them, or even any indirect
attempt tending to this . . . We hope that the
assessment will not be proposed.
Another petition from the Presbytery of Hanover, meeting
in Augusta the following year, agreed unanimously that
the assessment was:^
. . . unnecessary, and inadequate to its proposed
end--impolitic, in many respects— and a direct
violation of the Declaration of Rights . . .
Religion is altogether personal, and the right of
exercising it unalienable; and it is not, cannot,
and ought not to be, resigned to the will of society
at large; and much less to the legislature.
52(cont.)
Fairfax, Nov. 3; Orange, Kin£ William, Nov. 5;
Mecklenburg, Amelia, Brunswick, Pittsylvania,
Halifax, Nov. 10; Montgomery, Nov. 15; Orange,Nov.17
53
H. J. Eckenrode, Separation of Church and State in
Virginia, Richmond, 1910, 111
54
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 145
55
Quoted in William H. Foote, Sketches of Virginia,
Philadelphia, 1850 , 336-37
56
Ibid., 341
64
There can he little doubt what the petitioners had in mind
when they asked that religion he free from control hy the
legislature.
They were virtually asking for the separation
of Episcopal Influence from legislative power.
There were
ahout ninety-eight parishes in Virginia before the
Revolution; sigty-nine of these were represented in the
S7
first Episcopal Convention of 1785.
Of the one hundred
and two members attending this convention, twenty held seats
in the legislature, including speakers of both the House
58
and Senate.
The principles set forth in the petitions from
the dissenting sects wer& acknowledged by the legislature
in the act establishing religious freedom.
This act passed
the House on December 17, 1785 by a clear majority of 67
to 20.
It was one of the triumphs of Jeffersonian
liberalism and a milestone in the struggle for religious
tolerance.
Yet, in the opposition to the measure there
was found a strong conservative tendency which was to
appear again, but triumphant, in the struggle over the
ratification of the Constitution of 1787-
When the vote
of the opposition is examined, it is found that the
opponents of religious freedom were advocates of the
Constitution.
And though it does not necessarily follow
57
E. L. Goodwin, The Colonial Church in Virginia,
Milwauke e, 192 7~ 114-15
58
Ibid., 117
65
that conservatism in religion presupposes conservatism in
politics and government, it is interesting to analyze the
vote against the act establishing religious freedom.
All
of the sixteen counties represented in the opposition,
except three, were in Tidewater where support of the
Constitution was strongest.
in Piedmont. (See Map VI)
The other three counties were
Five of the twenty men in
opposition to the act voted for the Constitution of 1787,
and only one of the twenty voted against the Cohstitution.
The other fourteen men in opposition were not members of
the ratifying convention.
But of the sixteen counties
represented in the opposition, ten voted for the Constitution; ^ive against; one divided.
Thus, these facts help
to illustrate one of the views expressed in the first
chapter— that those persons favoring the adoption of the
Constitution also favored the maintenance of the old,
conservative order.
CHAPTER III
THE VIRGINIA FARMER
Despite the social gulf that existed between
them, the fate of the small farmer and planter was
intimately bound up with the condition of the soil.
The
land from which society drew its life blood became a
powerful factor for spanning this gulf, for if one thing
is clear, it is that the Revolution opened the way for the
change in property ownership.
There was an increase in
the strength of the small farmer who became increasingly
a factor in post-revolutionary Virginia; but, as one
historian suggests,1
the small farmer class did not
develop a "strong consciousness of identical interests"
until the passing of the critical period.
Indeed, many
of the economic interests of the smal^ yeoman farmer
coincided with those of the planter.
The small farmer was
increasing as a slaveholder and real property owner, and
like the planter was a heavy debtor who had ample reason
to distrust the merchant class.
Like the planter, also,
the small farmer had his grievances against the institu­
tion of slavery.
Slave labor was becoming less indispensa­
ble as tobacco production became relatively more disengaged
1
Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the
Constitution, New York, 1935, 28
67
from the high position it once held in the economy of the
state.
aged
Moreover, the increase of taxes upon slaves discour­
many slaveholders, large and small, from increasing
their slaveholdings.
Some of the large planters were
willing to rent their land in subdivisions and sell their
slaves.
A planter in a typical Tidewater county, owning
from one hundred and fifty to two hundred slaves, paid
about L 350 annually in taxes*— a sum greater than the
amount of pre-revolutionary years.
The Revolution was favorable to the rise of the
small farmer while, on the other hand, it hastened the
already imminent ruin of many indebted planters who, on
the whole, had become powerful, if not rich, through the
p
cultivation of tobacco. William Allason observed.
The War has occasioned great changes in peoples
circumstances, as many before it had no credit
or property, are now most oppulent, and others
who were in good credit, have lost that as well
as their Subject; such changes and alterations
I say are numerous here . . .
Confiscations of property during the Revolution paved the
way for the rise of numerous small farmers.^
Moreover,
many small farmers or rentiers gained lands in the west
as bounties for services rendered during the Revolution.
* "Virginia in 1735,” op. cit., 410
2
Allason Letter Books, William to David Allason, May 18,
1785, 483
3
H. J. Eckenrode, The Revolution In Virginia, Boston
and New York, 191^7”187-190
It is noteworthy that a great number of the persons who
went westward during the period held military certificates,
thousands of which circulated freely in Virginia.
The value of military certificates granted to
officers and soldiers on both continental and Virginia
lines and to the state navy for back pay and depreciation
prior to October 1, 1784 amounted to L 745,567-
h
In 1786
these certificates were exchanging in British pounds at
the ratio of three and one-third to one; in 1788 at the
ratio of four to one.
By 1778 Virginia had granted
2.500.000 acres for continental soldiers and 5 ,500,000
for the state militia.
There were 5,934 land patents
recorded by the land office between July 15, 1780 and Oct.
7
18, 1784,
the greatest part of which were registered
for military claims despite the fact that a great number
of military claims still remained in circulation.
In 1783
49.000 acres near Louisville, Kentucky were set aside for
o
veterans of the Illinois Regiment alone,
and officers
of the revolutionary armies opposed Kentucky's separation
4
Journal of the House of Delegates, Jan. 1, 1785
5
Alexander Balmain Account Book, 5
6
Calendar of State Papers, IV, 477
7
Journal of the House of Delegates, Nov. 24, 1784, 35
8
Thomas P* Abernethy, Western Lands and the American
Revolution, New York, 1937, 296
69
from Virginia because they feared their bounty lands
9
there would be subsequently jeopardized.
The system of large land holdings in the east
tended to exclude the Jlmall farmer from ownership of real
property.
The scarcity of capital made it impossible for
him to purchase large estates, heretofore kept fairly
intact under the system of primogeniture.
He was forced
either to migrate into the interior where productive lands
were comparatively cheaper and more abundant, or suffer
a lower standard of living In the east.
However, the
Revolution accelerated the process of destroying great
landed interests, and gave £
small farmer the opportunity
to purchase property, particularly In the west, either by
the resourcefulness of his own labor or with the exchange
of military certificates.
Thus,with the acquisition of new lands, the
increase of the small farmer class followed the rise of the
west, though the rise of the former was by no means as
spectacular or rapid as that of the latter.
The greatest
percentages of small farmers were found in the west though
large numbers remained in the east.
Their interests were
conditioned by problems common to the west, such as
transportation, frontier defense, and representation in the
Assembly.
They held comparatively few slaves, oftimes only
a half dozen or none at all, while large planters commonly
9
Ibid., 319
70
held more than a hundred.
They were generally more
attentive to their crops than the planters, and most of
them were either Baptists or Methodists.
One traveller
10
described the farmers in Hampshire as "rigid and pious."
Furthermore, the richer lands of the west gave the small
farmer an advantage over the planter or the small farmer
in Tidewater or older sections of the Piedmont.
The
tobacco grown by the small farmer of the west, though
painfully shipped to eastern warehouses, competed
successfully with the best tobaccos of the largest planter;
some imported goods he received from Baltimore or
Philadelphia cost less than similar goods sold on Tidewater.
The increase of wheat culture in the Valley and far Piedmont,
rapidly displacing tobacco as a source of income, likewise
tended to insure the economic position of the small farmer
against any potential over-lordship by the tobacco planter
of the east as existed in pre-revolutionary days.
Nevertheless, the main cause tending to destroy
the basis of the tobacco kingdon, and consequently the
domination of the planter who held its sceptre and central
place in Virginia life, was the decline of the tobacco
economy.
A direct reason for this decline can be traced
to the planter's methods of tobacco cultivation which
exhausted the fertility of the soil.
The same graphic
account Bishop Meade gave of the decline of the Episcopal
10
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 38
71
Church may be told of the depleted, exhausted tobacco
lands, as a factor underlying the passing of Tidewater
institutions.
For a century,Virginia planters, the principal
farmers, were content to exhaust the fertility of their
lands.
From earliest colonial times, tobacco culture
engrossed the attention of Virginians.
It became the
staple commodity of production, and supplied a material
avenue for the advent of the Virginia aristocracy.
The
abundance of land and slave labor were factors favorable
to its growth; for as soon as old lands were exhausted
and old slaves died, new lands and more slaves could be
readily replaced*
Therefore, the abundance of new lands encouraged
the neglect of old ones.
Tobacco culture absorbed nitrogen
and potash from th^/soils of^the Tidewater, already natura-lly
low in these materials.
Erosion took its annual toll as
rains washed the best top soils down the Potomac, Rappa­
hannock, York, and James.H
Instead of curtailing this
depletion, the planters' methods of farming rather hastened
it.
Medieval methods of farming were employed in the
cultivation of tobacco, while in the culture of substitutes,
ckiefJu
e o m 7and wheat, Virginia farmers were not much advanced
11
Graven, Soil Exhaustion, 27-28
72
12
beyond the practice of the Ancient Egyptians.
Resources of the soil were not replenished with
manure, and crop rotation did not fit into the scheme of
things in the presence of a one-crop system.
It was much
cheaper for the planter to cultivate an acre of a new
13
field of tobacco than to manure an old one.
A traveller
14
observed:
Instead of making manure, the general practice is to
plant tobacco as long as the land will yield then
Indian corn in the like manner when the land is left
fallow . . . without keeping it in heart by a
succession of different grain.
Another traveller, Luigi Gastiglioni, a member of the
Philadelphia Philosophical Society, observed in 1786 that
"tobacco exhausts a cleared field in three years, and no
attempt is made to manure, the cattle being kept at large
15
in the woods."
As new fields were cleared for the
cultivation of tobacco, the old ones stood in neglect.
However, it was the practice of planters to grow
tobacco for several years on a tract of land; then to
raise Indian corn; then to return to tobacco if the yield
from th^soil were still profitable.
If the yield were
12
Paul L. Haworth, George Washington: Farmer
Indianapolis, 1915> 51« Wheat was reaped with
sickles or cradles and flailed out or trampled
out by cattle or horses, usually on a dirt floor
or in open air.
13
Jefferson, Notes on Virginia
14
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 51
15
Morrison, Travels in Virginia, 63
73
to
unprofitable, then corn was raised until *fee- yield was
likewise negligible.
The old medieval plan of allowing
fields to lay in fallow, wherein weeds instead of a cover
crop, such as clover, were allowed to grow, continued to
be followed.
Washington described the method in 1787--
a description that may have well applied three-quarters
16
of a century earlier:
The general custom has been, first to raise a crop
of Indian corn which, according to the mode of
cultivation, is a good preparation for wheat; then
a crop of wheat; after which the ground is respited
(except for weeds, and every trash that can contri­
bute to its foulness) for about eighteen months;
and so on, alternately, without any dressing, till
the land is exhausted; when it isturned out, without
being sown with grass-seeds, or reeds, or any method
taken to restore it; and another piece is ruined in
the same manner.
Under existing conditions of cultivation, it
was inevitable that tobacco culture had its limitations.
When no more lands suitable to its profitable production
were available, the Shadows of the old exhausted acres
fell over the plantation.
As western Piedmont and the
Valley became settled and older sections of the Piedmont
took the shape of Tidewater of an earlier day, the extent
of the tobacco kingdom, like the cotton kingdom a hundred
years later, was certain to reach its final stages when
productive western lands were no longer available.
16
Quoted in Haworth, G-eorge Washington; Farmer, 52
The fields of the east that once flourished with
tobacco plants were covered with pines, deserted, or were
tilled in hope of yielding grains or vegetables as a
profitable substitute for tobacco.
Lands lying north of the
James River, where tobacco lords of an earlier day had
built large estates on the York, Rappahannock, or Potomac,
were astonishingly neglected and yielded only a small part
of the annual tobacco crop.
Of all the travellers who
visited this region, or parts of It, and who verified the
decline of tobacco farming, none has left such a complete
account as Samuel Vaughan, an English land prospector and
merchant whose diary was unknown to Professor Craven in his
work on soil exhaustion.
careful observer.
This English traveller was a
His trip took him from the Valley of
Virginia to the eastern part of the state; thus the student
is supplied with material for a comparative study of both
sections.
According to the diary of Vaughan, which from
available evidence appears to be a reliable source, the
proportion of farm land devoted to the culture of tobacco
was higher in the west than in Tidewater or older sections
of Piedmont.
Upon approaching the Blue Ridge mountains on
a trip from Winchester, the diarist records on July 19, 1787
that more than one-half of the farm lands were reserved for
17
tobacco;
and on the mountain ridge itself, he observed
17
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 39
“that on© out of every nine farms
planted in tobacco.
From Fauquier Gourt House to Asbury*s Tavern in the same
section of the state, more than one-half of the farms were
m
tobacco.
18
From Asbury s Tavern for the next nine miles
the land was hilly and "poor", yet one-fourth of it was
reserved for tobacco and the other portion was planted in
Indian corn, oats, rye, potatoes, and flax.1^
As Tidewater was approached, the number of tobacco
farms diminished while fields of Indian corn greeted the eye
of the traveller.
The roads and the society became more
pleasant while the farms became more deplorable.
On the
road from Bowling Green to Richmond, the diarist observed
20
"patches of pines" and only three farms in eight miles,
and in another instance, from Hanover Gourt House to Nevils,
he observed that "of several farms, only one raised
tobacco
On the New Kent road to Williamsburg, traversed
by armies of the Revolution and Civil War, Vaughan noted
that little tobacco was raised.
A great part of the land
was worn out and covered with pines, and a "good state
house going to ruin" at the old capitol of Williamsburg.
18
Ibid., 39
19
Ibid., 40
20
Ibid., 43
21
Ibid., 44
22
Ibid,, 47
22
Today the capitol has been restored, but the lands are
still covered with pines.
Moreover, on the narrow penin­
sula lying between the Rappahannock and York Rivers, the
land was comparatively poorer; little wheat was grown
while seven-eighths of the land under cultivation was
planted in corn.
Besides, there was "no attention paid
to farm yards, much land left fallow."
On the south bank of the Rappahannock, Vaughan
found the farms poorly managed, and the land worn out.
In
Caroline County, on the way to Fredericksburg from Port
Royal, he found "poor land, part wood, part worn out, five
24
miserable farms."
Further north, from Aquia to Dumfries,
from Dumfries to Colchester, all important points of
shipment for earlier Tidewater tobacco, Vaughan was likewise
impressed with the general neglect of farms, poor land, and
the scarcity of tobacco culture.In this region
werecheap, and:.sales of property were
waste lands
frequently advertised.
Several Virginia planters saw the need of abandon25
ing old methods of farming.
Perhaps the most energetic
was Washington.
Travellers of the period, as well as history
23
Ibid., 54
24
Ibid., 53
25
An excellent treatment is found In Craven, Soil
Exhaustion, op. cit., who tells of efforts by
agricultural societies and the "gentlemen farmers”—
Washington, Jefferson, Madison. See pp. 86-89
^4f»,
77
have given him a high place of recognition as the most
Buccessful farmer of revolutionary Virginia.
Vaughan
regarded him as "indisputably the best, if not the only
26
good farmer in the State."
Haworth points out that
most of his wealth came from the increment on land rather
27
than from inheritance or marriage.
Craven also praises
the merits of Washington as a farmer in his hook on soil
exhaustion in Maryland and Virginia.
The unproductivity of tobacco from exhausted
soils partly forced farmers to turn to substitutes,
particularly corn and wheat, which, like tobacco, were
used freely as articles of exchange.
At the store in Aquia,
which lay in the corn belt of the northeastern region,
merchants accepted corn as payments for debts.
George
Brent, Peter Knight, and Henry Chandler discharged their
28
debts in corn.
In the account books of Hanover Town and
Colchester similar evidence is found.
Moreover, almost
any commodity wa.s accepted by merchants despite the
presence of either tobacco, corn, or wheat.
When William
French and Company landed their cargo at Fredericksburg in
March 1788, they posted a notice in the local newspaper
that their commodities could be exchanged for ready money,
29
tobacco, hemp, beeswax:, tallow, furs, and country produce.
26
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 56
27
Haworth, op. cit., 281-82
28
Aquia Account Book, May, June 1785
29
Virginia Herald, March 27, 1788
78
Washington turned almost all of his farm land
into the production of wheat.
The amount of tobacco he
raised after 1773 was negligible^ whereas ten years
earlier he raised 89,079 pounds of tobacco.
The yield of
his farms during a good harvest would bring in about
31
10,000 bushels of wheat and about the same amount of corn.
Washington estimated that the yield of his wheat crop per
32
acre amounted to about ei&ht or ten bushels in 1791.
Moreover, Colonel Francis Taylor, a typical planter of the
Piedmont, also showed a determination to increase the
33
culture of wheat.
The average amount of wheat produced, as well as
exported, following the war was considerably larger than
34
the amount for the pre-War years.
There was a demand
for wheat that tended to increase the value of lands in
the Tidewater, a fact which, however, was insufficient to
counter balance the decrease of Tidewater land values
occasioned by the opening of western lands.
The average yield of tobacco from an acre of
good land amounted to about one and one-half hogsheads, or
as little as one-third of this amount on the poorest land.
30
Haworth, op. cit., 68
31
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 56
32
Haworth, pp. cit., 51
33
Diary of Col. Francis Taylor, pa,ssim.
34
Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 174, estimates that
800,000 bushels were exported between 1760-1775.
79
Near Fredericksburg, on the eastern edge of the Piedmont,
Luigi Castiglioni
estimated that the yield was one hogshead
■7 C
per acre.
east"
Farther to the west and southwest the yield
was higher but not greater than the yield per acre three
quarters of a century earlier.
The tobacco crop was frequently the chief means
of discharging debtor obligations.
This fact sometimes
led to overproduction and a subsequent reduction of prices.
During the critical period hundreds of hogsheads of
tobacco were left as surpluses at the warehouses— a fact
not generally true ten years before the Revolution.
Even
during the boom years of 1784-1785 there was no sale for
surpluses of tobacco.
James Ritchie, a prominent merchant
of G-lasgow, wrote to Allason that there were three to four
thousand hogsheads of tobacco on the market in G-lasgow for
36
which there was no sale.
He expressed the feafc that a
great deal of money would be lost in tobacco since common
Maryland and Virginia tobacco would not bring 2-§d. per
37
pound
which was an exceptionally low price compared to
the price of the preceedij^g year.
55
Morrison, Travels in Virginia, 63. The average
yield in 1938 was about .8 hogsheads per acre.
36
Allason Papers, May 10, 1785
37
Ibid., This amount is equivalent to 25s. per 100
lbs.
80
As in colonial times, overproduction of tobacco
was also stimulated by the fact that the prices of different
kinds of tobacco generally fluctuated within the average
of a few shillings.
Thus, there was little inducement
for the planter to improve the quality of the staple.
Quantity seemed to have been more desirable; if it were
difficult to suit the taste of the merchant buyer, it was
less difficult to supply his demand.
Generally, however,
the sweet-scented, stemmed tobacco, produced chiefly on
the James and York rivers, was valued more highly than the
unstemmed Oronoko, as it was called, produced in the
38
Chesapeake Bay and Potomac regions.
Unlike colonial times, however, during the
critical period most of the tobacco exported was of the
former kind and was produced principally on the south bank
of the James or its tributaries.
Warehouses handling the
39
largest volume of tobacco were located in this region.
Nearly three-fourths of the tobacco exported came from the
James River region.
This fact did not escape the observation
of Samuel Vaughan who recorded the following figures on
38
’’Description of Virginia Commerce,” William and Mary
College Quarterly, XIV(
), 87-93
39
See next page
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40
tobacco export in his diary in July 1787:
Petersburg . . .
Richmond . . , .
Manchester . . .
0 s b u r n .......
Warwick .....
Cabin Point . .
Smith’s . . .
Hood *s .......
G-ray ’s Creek , ,
25,000 hogsheads
9,000
6,000
1,500
1,000
800
400
400
200
The total number of hogsheads exported from Virginia, as
well as shipments from the thirteen principal warehouses,
are shown on graphs in the Appendix.
However, some tobacco
from the northern part of North Carolina was shipped to
Petersburg and there sold as James River tobacco.
This
amount was negligible in comparison with the total amount
of Virginia export, and does not figure prominently in the
estimates of the James River export.
Furthermore, migrations to the west helped to
bring on overproduction in tobacco.
Migrants to the west
immediately took advantage of the more fertile soil, and
began to cultivate tobacco.
The amount cultivated in the
west increased the volume of production despite
the fact
that the output of the old tobacco fields of the east was
declining.
From time to time throughout the period/
western counties sent in petitions to the legislature asking
for new and closer points for
tobacco inspection and
shipment.
40
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 45-46
Yet, despite the old heritage in methods of
farming and the relative decline of tobacco culture in
Tidewater, the Virginia farmer, particularly in western
Piedmont and the Valley, received better prices for his
products during the critical period than during the years
immediately preceding the Revolution.
This fact may be
illustrated by a comparison of prices received for the
principal commodities of tobacco, wheat, and corn.
The farmer received several shillings more per
hundred weight for his tobacco during the critical period
than during the pre-war years.
Potomac River tobacco at
Colchester warehouse brought 15s. in January 1767 whereas
22s. was the average price received for the period 178341
1790.
The average at Falmouth, a port opposite
Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock, was also higher by a
42
few shillings,
while the average at the principal ware­
houses on the James River almost doubled this average in­
crease.
Corn was selling at warehouses on the Rappahannock
and Potomac in 1774 and 1775 from 10s. to 10s. 6d. per
barrel while during the critical period the average was
about five to seven shillings higher. The average increase
«s
.
,
.
m wheat prices, however,
not as great as gams xn
tobacco and corn.
Between 1769 and 1775 the average wheat
price fluctuated between 4s. and 4s. 6d. per bushel while
the average for 1783-1789 was about 5s. per bushel.
41
Martin Cockburn Account Book, Library of Congress
42
Allason Ledger, Virginia State Library
84
However, during the critical period prices received
for wheat were comparatively increasing while those received
for tobacco were on the decline*
Fluctuations in wheat
prices were not as severe as those in tobacco, and the slumps
that occurred were not nearly as precipitous as those in
tobacco.
As the period ended and the turn of the century
approached, the demand for wheat grew.
In 1800 wheat was
selling at Colchester for twice the price it brought in
43
1786 , while the price of tobacco remained constant.
It
appeared that Virginia!s opportunity lay in the production
of wheat rather than of tobacco.
A further analysis of price movements for the
critical period reveals that the high years of prosperity
for the farmer came in 1784-85 after which there was a sharp
44
slump and general downward trend until 1788 .
The general
average of all commodities reached its highest peak during
the last half of 1784 and continued into the next year
with a decline in 1785; a slight rise in 1786 and a more
pronounced drop in 1787 which, in the case of tobacco, went
below the levels of 1774 and 1775.
Toward the beginning of
1788, however, there was a slight swing In the upward
direction.
During the peak of post-war prosperity the
poorest tobaccos were selling from five to eight shillings
43
The price of wheat in 1800 was 10s. per bushel.
Tobacco was selling for 20s. in both 1786 and 1800.
See Martin Cockburn Account Book.
44
See graphs in the Appendix
85
higher than the best tobaccos of 1774 or 1775.
Corn was
selling at 18 s. to 20s. per barrel, or double the price
in 1774 or 1775; and wheat brought 6s. per bushel, or 2s.
more than the pre-war years.
However, despite the average increase in Virginia
farm prices over the pre-war years, the Virginia farmer
received lower prices for his produce than was received at
other markets for similar products.
It is interesting to
note that the farmer in Pennsylvania in December 1784
could get 4s. 5d. per bushel for his corn on the Philadel45
phia market,
while the Virginian received about 4s.; in
June of 1788 the price at Philadelphia was down to 2s. 8d.
while in Virginia
it had fallen off to about 2s. 5d.
Likewise, wheat was selling in Philadelphia in December
1784 at 8s. 7d. per bushel; at 7s. 5d. in Boston, while in
Virginia it sold from 5s. 6d. to 6s.
Moreover, prices for Virginia grown tobacco were
lower at home markets than at some markets outside the state.
Whereas James River tobacco brought 70s. and 57s. 5d. per
hundred weight at Philadelphia In June and December, 1784
respectively, the most it sold for on Virginia warehouses
was 40s. or 42s.
It was selling at 45s. 9d. at Liverpool
46
in August of the same year.
45
Arthhr^H. Gole, Wholesale Commodity Prices in the
United States, 1700-1861, Cambridge, 1938, 75-78;
8 7 89
-
"
------------------- ------------------------------------
46
Allason Papers, Clay and Parry to William Allason,
August 10, 1784
8 6
CHAPTER IV
PLANTER AND MERCHANT
The differences that existed In tohacco prices
at Philadelphia and at warehouses on Virginia rivers may
he explained in part by the structure of the Virginia
commercial system in which farmer and merchant, particularly
planter and merchant, were the chief actors on a stage set
partly by nature, partly by the history of the eighteenth
century, and partly by the Revolution.
Virginia of the critical period fell heir to an
old commercial system.
Throughout the eighteenth century
Virginia*s commerce remained a river commerce, extremely
costly to the planter.
Such markets as there were grew
along the rivers or their tributaries.
Sea-going vessels
manned by British seamen had long ploughed their way far
Into the inland shores of the Potomac, Rappahannock, York,
and James in search of hogsheads of tobacco from the
plantations.
Numerous warehouses were built along these
rivers or creeks flowing Into them, and many took their
names from the creek or the owner.
Gonsequently, there was always in Virginia the
demand for adequate markets conveniently located in order
to meet the conditions brought on by the changes in areas
of tobacco production.
This phenomenon was more clearly
true of the eighteenth century than of the seventeenth,
and applied more particularly to the tobacco grower of* the
revolutionary period than to the planter of any other period
of the eighteenth century.
Moreover, there was the need for
an entrepot of trade; Norfolk courted the idea with a large
measure of successes during the colonial period, but it was
unable to command the flow of trade of the Chesapeake and
\r
Virginia fivers because of its geographical position and
the impact of the Revolution.
Without adequate markets the trade of Virginia
suffered handicaps.
Part of her trade was drawn into the
orbit of Philadelphia or Baltimore which, ordinarily, were
less expensive to reach, either by land or water, than many
of the home ports.
Merchants took advantage of Virginia's
decentralized river commerce by evading custom collectors
who themselves constituted an extra expense to the state;
to some extent they regulated charges on freight and
prices on tobacco, and extended credit to the planter on
generous but devastating terms.
In the Whole system of tobacco culture, so
closely interwoven with problems of land and slaves, trade
and merchants, the Virginia planter was constantly burdened
with financial obligations almost impossible to overcome.
He was constantly steering his plantation between the Scylla
of exhausted, unproductive lands and the Charybdis of heavy
debts.
The Revolution gave him the right to handle his
own trade "but he was utterly unprepared to do so in as
much as he lacked ships, seamen, and knowledge of mercantile
enterprise.
It was not until the revolutionary period,
particularly the critical period, that the planter was
aroused from his apathy regarding ruinous methods of
farming and an inefficient commercial system.
It was not
until this period, when it was too late, that the planter
saw the every existence of his institutions was made
precarious by an eighteenth century heritage.
The Revolution
made the problem more crucial and imminent, but it was inevit­
able that the critical period was the most unlikely of all
times to remove the Incubus of the old commercial system,
or the bane of tobacco culture.
Both before and after the Revolution British
merchants carried Virginia exports and imports in British
bottoms.
Virginia exported corn, beef, pork, wheat, and
timber staves to the West Indies in return for rum, sugar,
molasses, and specie.
Tobacco was sent to Britain in
exchange for manufactured commodities.
This cycle of
trade was colonial in origin but was not destroyed by the
Revolution despite the fact that Virginians deplored the
English laws as discriminatory toytheir interests in the
West IndieS trade.
The tobacco trade remained a monopoly
of British mercantile firms.
There were more than fifty
89
British firms with which Virginians did business.
Factors
of these firms, as well as local merchants, rejoiced at
the cessation of hostilities and the subsequent
resumption
of trade; for the Revolution had deprived them of the
opportunity to handle the lucrative trade of Virginia and
had threatened to cancel their balances against the planter.
The trade of Virginia had been more profitable to the
merchant than it had to the planter.
One colonial observer
estimated that Virginians lost the better part of their
income to the British merchants; that the planter lost
200,000 currency annually in the regulation of prices on
Virginia imports by the British merchant; that two thousand
factors spent their earnings abroad that amounted to
1
870,000; that the net profits of the merchants totaled
2
one-half the gross profits of the tobacco planter.
However, the war cut short the profits of the
merchants when commercial connections with Britain were
broken.
Merchants 1®ho had engaged in the Virginia trade
became idle during the war.
Nothing is more indicative
of this fact than the meagre war-year accounts recorded
in the ledger books.
Thus, merchants lost money because
of the disruption of trade; but contrary to expectations,
1
Virginia Gazette, April 13, 1776, quoted in A. M.
Schlesinger , Colonial Merchants and the American
Revolution, New York, 1918, 601
2
Ibid., 602
90
the effect of the war upon English mercantile interests
was less disastrous than they anticipated.
Indeed, many
merchants increased their fortunes by purchasing tobacco
at the beginning of the war and holding it for theorise
in prices which was sure to come in the immediate post­
war years.
In September 1784, William Allason, a prominent
Virginia merchant of Falmouth, was credited with tobacco
4
shipped to Efistol in 1775 for which he received a shipment
of goods to the extent of his balance, amounting to a few
hundred pounds, against Thomas Evans.
Evidence of similar
nature may be found elsewhere In his papers.
However, profiteering of this sort was not
sufficient to counter balance losses incurred by the
disruption of trade.
Thus, at theeehd of the war merchants
5
were a solid group for peace.
Allason called the restora-
6
tion of peace a "blessed" event.
But the revival of
trade foreshadowed the renewal of British commercial
supremacy.
A British merchant wrote: "The stop of inter­
course between Britain and Virginia has been for now so
many years . . . time is now approaching for reestablishing
3
Dora Mae Clark, British Public Opinion and the
American Revolution, New Haven, 1930, 109
4
Allason Letter Books , 1780-89, 471
5
Clark, ojD. cit. , 118
6
Allason Letter Books, 1780-89, 483
91
a connection."
7
Merchants began to return to Virginia or
8
sought to reestablish relations by correspondence.
Robert Bbyd is also soon expected from Jamaica . . .
to transact some of the old Companiers Business.
The revival of trade following the war was rapid
despite the fact that prospects were dark in 1782.
By
1784 trade was flourishing as it had never before.
In a
letter to Henry Ritchie, merchant of G-lasgow, Allason
observed, "you have again entered largely into trade."
9
He enclosed two bills of exchange to Ritchie and asked for
more shipments of goods in Ritchie*s vessels.
Most of the
major firms reentered the Virginia trade with striking
success.
They extended credit generously— contrary to
10
what Allason had expected at the conclusion of the war.
Merchants asked for the repeal of the Virginia act "to
11
restrain excessive credits."
Capital was sought for
12
business enterprise, and retail stores spread in Virginia,
particularly In the west, while old stores of the east
reopened their unbalanced accounts.
Laws against the
return of British merchants were repealed, and vessels
were permitted to land their merchandise in 1783.
Ships
7
Allason Papers, 1783, James G-ibson to William Allason
8
Ibid., June 1783, David to William Allason
9
Allason Letter Books, Dec. 22, 1784, 476
10
Ibid., Allason to John Likly, merchant of G-reenock,
May 24, 1788, 514
11
Joumal of the House of Delegates, June 1784, 43
12 Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 162
92
again appeared in the harbors of Alexandria, Fredericksburg,
Falmouth, Norfolk, and other Virginia ports.
Nevertheless, the revival of trade on the basis
of a British monopoly encountered opposition.
Whereas
Virginians were eager to accept the post-war prosperity,
many were jealous of the profiteering methods of the
merchants which also accompanied the revival.
The Virginia
planter, acting through his legislature, constantly sought
to retaliate against theedomination of Britain in his
commercial system.
His efforts, however, were hardly
fruitful; the blows intended for Britain merely reverberated
to his own disadvantage, for while the Revolution had given
Virginians the theoretical right to exercise sovereignty
in their own commercial affairs, in practice this right was
ineffective.
As in the colonial period, the legislature
sought to destroy the powerful position of the merchant,
but there were numerous loopholes through which the merchant
continued to escape.
When the planter increased duties on
tobacco exports, the mercantile firms increased their
13
commissions for carrying the trade.
Duties levied by
Virginia on imports were met by British discriminations
against Virginia exports.
If the Virginia planter sought
to cripple the economic power of the merchant by the
regulation of credit or the rate of exchange, the merchants
could retaliate by the regulation of tobacco prices.
13
Allason Papers, Olay and Parry to Allason, Aug. 10, 1785
93
British merchants employed two general methods
of trade.
Factors of British establishments ordered
manufactured goods from England and the continent and
remitted payment in tobacco which was sold on commission
at warehouses in Britain.
Three-fourths of the tobacco
14
trade was hahdled in this way.
The other fourth was
shipped by the process of consignment, mostly to London
and G-lasgow, and paid for in bills of exchange.
The merchant who sold imported articles on the
local market received high profits.
William Allason spoke
of making profits as high as two hundred per cent in 1765.
In charging that the monopoly by the British merchants was
ruinous to the planter, Madison pointed out that the planter
15
lost fifty per cent in the marketing of his goods.
Imported commodities could be purchased at Philadelphia
or Baltimore cheaper than similar commodities at Alexandria
or Fredericksburg.
The larger variety of articles sold from Tidewater
stores, as compared with articles sold in thejwest, was a
factor that increased the possibility of fraud In accounts
and price regulation.
For example, the store in Aquia kept
nearly every article needed by planters, and their families,
14
"Description of Virginia Commerce," William and Mary
College Quarterly, XIV(
), 88
15
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 146-48, 151
94
by traders, sailors, and mechanics.
Some of the planters
who traded there were Thomas Lee, Sr., Thomas Ludwell Lee,
and Bailey Washington.
The store was frequented by ladies
since the nearest rivaling towns of the Northern Neck were
too distant to be reached conveniently.
As the pages of
its account book are turned, it is found that its stock
consisted of threads, silks, gloves, hats, ribbons,
stockings, dresses, feathers, china and crockery ware,
common glass and pewter ware, plated and glass ware for
domestic use, Irish and plain Drogheda linens, sheetings,
calicoes, book muslins, needles, oznaburgs, fustian,
velvets, taffeta, pins, brushes, "Irish soap,” combs,
buttons.
Here men bought leather boots, shoes, felts,
breeches, fishing hooks, knee buckles, hammers, axes,
powder, ink, nails, rum, wines, brandies, and ciders.
Brown,
16
loaf, and Hyson sugars were sold; coffee, tea, and snuff.
A similar stock of goods was also found at other stores in
Tidewater and older sections of the Piedmont.
But as the
back country was approached, the articles of luxury
became less impressive as variety gave place to a fewer
articles of necessity.
16
Aquia Account Book, passim.
95
The method of profiteering used by the merchant
was to give good prices and credit terms to the planter
until he was involved in a debt that could not be paid
unless he sold some of his land or slaves*
The next move
of the merchant would be to lower prices so that the
planter’s shipments of tobacco nbe ever so great, and his
demand of necessaries ever so economical” the merchant
17
never permitted him to pay off the debt.
Thus the
planter was caught in a vicious circle that, although
not perceptible in the critical period, had left a huge
hereditary debt to be discharged, and a stigma attached
to the reputation of the British merchant.
For more than
a quarter of a century Col. William Byrd had struggled to
pay off his indebtedness to a London firm.
In 1736 he
sold land and slaves to pay his debts; at the same time
his merchant-cred!tors allowed him twenty-five per cent
less for tobacco than they gave to other planters, thereby
18
keeping him as a customer until the debt was discharged.
However, these practices on the part of the merchant were
not common and were more characteristic of the pre­
revolutionary era than of the critical period.
17
Ford, Writings of Jefferson, IV, 155
18
Schlesinger, Colonial Merchants, 36
96
It
wqs
difficult for planters of the critical
period to forget that factors of pre-war mercantile firms
were regarded as being shrewd business men or Shylocks.
With the passing of the great tobacco planters of an
earlier day, such as the Byrds, and Garters, tobacco
shipments were made more from public warehouses rather
than from the planter’s private wharf.
Thus, price fixing
of tobacco by the merchant had its limits, as clearly shown
during the critical period.
The merchant was restrained by
the demands of foreign markets.
The correspondence between
local merchant and commercial firms In Britain show that
merchants were informed as to the state of the/tobacco
market.
For example, the firm of Clay and Parry of
Liverpool wrote to Allason, June 10, 1784, that old crop
19
tobacco was bringing better prices than new tobacco.
It is clearly shown that, although tobacco sold higher on
British markets than at Virginia warehouses, the percentage
difference in fluctuations did not vary greatly, showing
that prices were not set arbitrarily at the whim of a
mercantile dlique.
The heaviest loss to the planter, however, came
not from arbitrary price-fixing but from heavy shipping
charges and custom duties.
Though the planter appeared
rich and prosperous, his balances with the merchants
remained heavily on the debit side of the ledger.
19
Allason Letter Books
In the
97
final analysis the planter was forced to sell his tobacco
to some local merchant or factor or a public warehouse.
In either case, directly or indirectly, his chief source
of income was in the hands of the British merchant who
extracted profits for the services of middlemen.
Whereas
six per cent of the total sale price of tobacco went to pay
20
freight expenses alone prior to the Revolution,
the
average after the Revolution was higher— sometimes as high
as fourteen per cent.
Duties on tobacco export also
increased after the Revolution, consuming nearly fourfifths of the sale price.
Thus, only a small profit was
left for the planter to purchase imported articles
essential for plantation management and maintenance.
In fact, the profit was so small that the planter was
continually seeking credits from the merchant in order to
pay the high prices on imported goods on which freight
21
charges exceeded charges on tobacco freightage.
20
Craven, Soil Exhaustion, 54
21
On a shipment of goods valued at L 170.19.9i-,
Thomas and John Backhouse charged Allason eight
per cent for freightage and commission, Aug. 12,
1784-; on a cargo valued at L 55*17.6 sent by
John Tommes of Bristol, March 17&5, the charges
totaled £ 9.4.0 or sixteen per cent:
Entry, wharfage, shipping . . . . .
9.5
2.2
Lading.........................
Freight and primage............. 3*9.9
2.19.10, 6.6
Commissions ..................
Insuranc ....................
1.16.3
See Allason Papers
98
In this way the planter remained perpetually
indebted to the merchant who, however, had great difficulty
in securing payments.
Joseph Jones estimated that three
million pounds sterling was owed by America to merchants
at the close of the Revolution.
sum at fc 2,000,000.
debts.
Jefferson put the Virginia
The leading Virginians owed heavy
Archibald Cary of Ampthill, the "wheelhorseeof
22
the Revolution,” owed &bout L 10,000;
Benjamin Harrison
owed L 2,000; and bonds held against Jefferson by Kippen
23
and Company of G-lasgow amounted to approximately L 10,000.
The larger amount of the debt had been contracted before
the Revolution and passed on to the critical period in the
form of bonds, mortgages, interest, or simple contract as
a source of severe friction between planter and merchant.
The war had served more than any other previous
event to foment and agitate the issue of the collection of
debts.
The great question of whether the Revolution had
relieved planters of their debtor obligations to British
merchants was warmly debated throughout the critical
period.
No other issue was more frequently discussed by
the planter who realized that the time had finally arrived
for a solution of the hereditary problem.
In no previous
time in the history of Virginia, save perhaps the early
22
Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, 27
23
Ibid.,
99
pre-war years, was the merchant so severely attacked and so
openly denounced*
The sting of the Revolution was still
evident, and was invariably aimed at the merchant.
English
merchants who sought to collect old debts were repeatedly
rebuffed.
The following excerpt from the letter of a
Tidewater planter explains why one debtor refused to pay
interest on his old debt to the establishment of John
24
Norton and Sons:
. ... So motives . . . towards my family & Self
have resolved me against paying . . . .& for the
following among other Reasons— Because by the
Agression of G-reat Britain there was a long &
almost total Stagnation of Commerce , , * because
during that Period, the State of Property was so
precarious that a bare Subsistence was the most
that People in general could expect . . .because
in all Accounts transmitted from England, where
the Money has been lying in the Merchants Hands
ever since 1775 & 1776, I see no Allowance for
Interest on their Part— because, when I applied
to you in the Time of War(& I beg you to recollect
that it was in the Portico of the Raleigh Tavern)
& desired you to let me know what you w.d allow
for Tobo. in Discharge of this Debt, you hastily
replied, either you knew Nothing of those Matters
then, or that you w.d have Nothing to do with them-because, Lastly, your Letter from Winchester is the
only Application or Information concerning the
State of the Debt that I have received since the
year of 1775 . . . Your claim must abide the Fate
of all others of the same class.
Merchants continued to ask debtors for payments.
They appealed to the courts as well as to the "honor" of
24
John Norton and Sons, John Norton and Sons, Merchants
of London and Virginia, Richmond, 1937, Letter from
Samuel Shields, Caroline, Aug. 23, 1784, 465-66
100
25
their debtors
with little success at either, while at
the same time commercial houses in Britain threatened to
bring suit against the Virginia merchants who themselves
26
were not free of debtor obligations.
On September 2,
1782, a list of Allason*s debtors for Culpeper County
contained one hundred and two names; eight of this number
were law suits, and the average amount owed was about L15
27
per person.
Lawyers were kept busy prosecuting suits
against debtors while sheriffs, though given a commission
of five per cent, had no easy task bringing debtors to
court.
Law suits appear to have become frequent by 1790.
Some of the ablest lawyers were in the employ of merchants.
George Wythe preferred that his services to John Norton
28
and Sons be used to discharge his balance.
John Taylor
of Caroline prosecuted several suits for Allason, among which
were cases against Landon Carter, John Dixon, and John
Bidius.
Alexander White, a prominent federalist lawyer,
was prosecuting twelve suits for Allason in Frederick
29
County alone in March of 1787*
25
Ibid., 490
26
Allason Letter Books, 1780-1789, 483
27
Allason Papers
28
John Norton and Sons, 473
29
Allason Papers
101
The difficulty of collecting old debts, however,
was increased by several factors, many of which lay beyond
the control of either planter or merchant*
Debtors some­
times died, disappeared, moved away, or became insolvent.
Particularly, the difficulty of collecting debts was
increased by the fact that the Mobility of population was
exceptionally high during the revolutionary period.
Merchants had dark doubts of ever being paid by persons
who moved away and left no address.
Allason made out a
list of persons, March 27, 1790, who moved from F&uquier,
Stafford, and Fredericksburg owing him money.
There
were forty-two persons who owed about h 601; they constitu­
ted about one-fifth of th^kotal number of debtors listed.
The earliest debt listed was dated back to 1761; the latest
to 1775*
In a letter to his brother David, Allason stated
that "in the course of the War, many people were either
killed or died in the service and numbers in order to
avoid being soldiers, removed themselves and Families into
the back counties, also to avoid the payment of their
30
debts. . .11
Furthermore, the scarcity of specie, a perennial
occurrence in Virginia life, tended to encourage planters
to defer the payment of debts.
Payment in corn, tobacco,
or other commodities was conditioned by crop production.
30
Allason Letter Books. May 18, 1785, 485
102
Thus, whenever harvests were poor or prices of farm products
were low, the merchant could expect complaints from the
planter.
G-eorge Cordell, a planter of Culpeper, claiming
he had not "been brought to court often as a debtor, complained
31
to Allason about the effects of his poor crop of corn:
. . . the Scarcity of Corn puts it out of the
Peoples Power to pay off their Debts. Notwithstanding
the willingness of Many of them, I have sued some of
them, but Our Justices knowing the Scarcity of Crain,
will not go far enough in the Dockett to do me any
good . . .
An examination of the Allason material reveals
that during and after 1785 many debtors made payments
despite the continuous complaints of merchants.
The
balances due David Allason, brother and partner of William
Allason, amounted to h 540.15*8i on July 22, 1787, whereas
in March of 1788 the amount had been reduced to L 272.0.63:.
He had reduced his own obligations from L 259.7*ll? in
32
July 1787 to only h 83.8.0J- in October of 1788.
The protest against the payment of debts was
enlarged into a pattern of dissatisfaction with the evils
of the entire commercial system and the policy of the state*
Sentiment against the return of merchants, generally accused,
of Tory sympathies, soon abated, despite individual cases
of resentment.
There was little waving of the "bloody shirt"
against loyalists in Virginia during the critical period;
31
Allason Papers, May 27, 1784
32
Allason Papers, passim.
and though the stigma of Toryism remained justly attached
to the mercantile classes, dislike of the merchant hardly
exceeded its traditional level.
In may 1783 a hill to
repeal old revolutionary measures against the entrance of
British subjects, intended to permit the return of merchants
was defeated and postponed until the October session of
the legislature.
During this session a compromise was
reached, and an act was passed repealing all former acts
that prevented the entrance of British subjects into the
33
state and the acquisition of citizenship.
Laws prohibiting the recovery of British debts
expired on December 1, 1783, but were extended by the
legislature until the May session of the Assembly, 1784.
Upon the meeting of the Assembly, Madison proposed that
all Virginia laws in conflict with the treaty should be
repealed, but the opposition, led by Henry, defeated the
proposal by a vote of 56 to 36.
Here was a third defeat
of an attempt to permit the recovery of British debts.
A fourth attempt was made in the following session of
October 1784.
33
A bill Introduced by Joseph Jones provided
The law prohibited the entrance of all persons
who were residents in any of the states on April
19, 1775, and later joining the enemy, and all
persons who acted with, or under the authority
of the Board of Refugees1 Commission in New York.
All others who were resident on April 19, 1775
were given the right to return, but were denied
political rights. Those who had borne arms were
not mentioned.
for payment of debts in seven annual installments excluding
interest accrued during the period from April 19, 1775 to
March 3, 1783.
The bill passed the House but was defeated
by the Senate.
In the joint session that followed, there
was no quorum present.
Consideration of the measure was
34
set for another day, but still there was no quorum present.
Thus, the measure providing for the recovery of Bfitish
debts was defeated a fourth time.
Yet, two other attempts
were made to pass a debtor’s bill--in 1785 and 1787.
In
these Instances the bill was amended so that It should not
go into effect until Great Britain complied with the treaty
in the return of slave property.
In the latter session,
the opposition, still led by Henry, won a victory of 80
to 31 in the second reading, 35 and a final victory the
following day.
An analysis of the v&te on the act prohibiting
the recovery of British debts reveals that there was a
similarity between federalism and the willingness of
planters to grant merchants the right and means to collect
Virginia debts.
Of the thirty-one men who voted to grant
merchants the right to collect their debts, twenty came
from counties that favored ratification of the Constitution,
34
Madison believed the absence of the members was a
trick to defeat the measure. Hunt, Writings of
Madison, II, 114, 116. Henry disagreed; W. W.
Henry, Life of Patrick Henry, II, 266
35
Journal of the House of Delegates, Dec. 4, 1787, 80
105
and twelve of the/twenty actually voted for the Constitution
in the ratifying convention of 1?88.
On the other hand,
only ten of the thirty-one men in opposition to the
recovery of British debts camefrom anti-federal counties,
and four were anti-federalists in the ratifying convention;
one came from a county dividedon ratification.
Moreover,
only four of the twenty-seven counties in opposition voted
solidly for recovery; all except one of these four were
western counties where the small farmer element was
dominant.
Nevertheless, prominent federalists and anti-
federalists were found in the ranks of the opposition.
Among the federalists were John Marshall, Archibald Stuart,
David Stuart, and Paul Carrington.
Among the anti-federal­
ists were George Mason, James Monroe, and William Fitzhugh.
Thus, the planter had evaded payment of his old
debts to British merchants with the consent of his own
legislature— and it may be shown, with the consent of his
courts.
Yet, his last successful attempt had been made
after the formation of the federal Constitution at Phila­
delphia.
Many Virginians anticipated that the Constitution
would effect the transfer of litigation over British debts
and property from the hands of Virginia to federal courts.
One of the most objectionable features of the Constitution
was the threat that federal instead of Virginia courts would
36
permit the British merchant to recover his debts to the
36
Conway, Life of Randolph, 96
106
detriment of the Virginia planter.
The leading anti­
federalists made an issue of this fact in order to win
Tidewater support in the campaign for ratification.
Edmund Randolph, though he voted for the Gonstitution, was
aware of the impending danger to the planter if British
merchants were allowed to collect old debts without
restraint, but he thought a strong federal government
would better protect Virginia s debtor interests. 3 7
The fea^s that British debts would be collected
in the new federal courts were soon justified.
Four days
after Virginia ratified the Gonstitution, St. George Tucker,
a prominent legal scholar, wrote to his step-sons, one of
38
whom was John Randolph of Roanoke:
You will have heard that the Gonstitution has been
adopted in this State. That event, my dear children,
affects your interest more nearly than that of many
others. The recovery of British debts can no longer
be postponed, and there now seems to b& a moral
certainty that your patrimony will all go to satisfy
the unjust debt from your papa to the Hanburys.
The consequence, my dear boys, must be obvious to
you. Your sole dependence must be on your own
personal abilities and exertions.
After Virginia had reluctantly ratified the Constitution,
scarcely a British mercantile firm failed to rush its
claims to federal courts
37
39
because the Virginia Supreme
Elli©t, Debated, III:,
*
38
QUO ted,in^Gonway, Life of Randolph, 106
39
Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, 162
107
Court, in the case of Jones vs. Walker, called November 2 3 ,
1791, had ruled that payment by the planter was not
40
obligatory.
Five years later the federal Supreme Court
reversed the decision, ruling that, though Virginia was a
sovereign state in 1777 and capable of sequestering British
property, the Treaty of 1783 bound her to pay bona fide
British debts.
Thus, legally there came to a close the long
conflict between Virginia planter and British merchant,
between debtor and creditor.
British merchants claimed
that Virginia owed & 2,305,408 sterling, or scarcely less
than one-half of the total American debt.
The settlement
was a disability that aided further the financial collapse
of the planters.
Some sought credit^ in France, some paid
what they were able, some migrated westward, some were
left completely bankrupt.
Moreover, the decision imposed upon the planter
by the federal courts was a fitting postlude to the
transfer of property accelerated by the Revolution.
The
sale of property during the period is equally as evident
as the presence of British debts; the latter phenomenon
was invariably an antecedent of the former, while both
were common appearances in the older sections of the state.
40The case was a fight against Marshall and Henry,
federalist and anti-federalist, and was really
one of the last great political triumphs of the
orator and the ex-governor.
108
In newspapers and papers of merchants there is evidence
of advertisement of property sales, such as the one helow,
typical of the lot, given out “by Thomas Keith, sheriff of
41
Fauquier County:
Adverti sement
To he sold for ready money on friday the thirteenth
day of July at Knoxes Quarter, near Field!s ford on
the Rappahannock River in the County of Fauquier,
Fourteen Negroes, thirty-six head of Cattle, eight
Horses, twenty-five sheep, forty Hoggs and all the
plantation tools, taken to satisfy an execution,
obtained by William Knox against the executrix of
Robert Knox Dec rd.
A good portion of every newspaper was devoted to
advertisements of property sales#
It was not unusual for
Of
one and a-half out of twelve columns to be devoted to
such advertisements.
The estate of Robert Beverly, contain­
ing 1,300 acres on the Rappahannock, was advertised for
42
sale in March of 1786 In the Virginia Herald, while in
the same issue Edmund Pendleton served notice of the auction
of twenty-five slaves of which, however, only five were
43
sold.
Charles Carter of Ludlow, a large planter of the
Carter clan, advertised his willingness to sell a total
of 4,000 acres of land, furniture, farm equipment, and
44
slaves "for the payment of his debts."
In the same
41
Taken from Allason Papers
42
March 27, 1788
43
Diary of Francis Taylor, April 14, 1788
44
Virginia Herald, March 27, 1788
109
advertisement Garter asked his creditors to stop filing
suits against him because he was already hard pressed for
money.
The plantation of Gol. Thaddeus McCarthy, on the
45
west branch of the Gorotoman River, was advertised for sale.
John Page and Thomas Nelson, both of aristocratic families,
lost their property.
The latter was so bankrupt that he
spent the closing years of his life in hospitable poverty;
he died in 1789 without a tombstone to mark his grave.
(Ether property holders, less known to either
contemporaries or history, suffered a similar fate as
illustrated below in a letter from William Reynolds, himself
46
a debtor, in the employ of John Norton and Sons.
John Wilkins Estate I am told is all gone and the
extent sued out ag.a his Land. In respect to yr.
affair and Mr. Savages as I inform'd you before
was I call'd on Oath I do not recollect sufficiently
to give testimony. My own losses & affairs have
distress'd my mind so much for some years past that
I have thought of nothing else. In regard to my
debt due J.N. & Sons, it has not been in my power
to get money. I intend to sell my property in the
Spring on Credit for Bonds wth. approv'd Security,
wch. if you will take I will assign over to you
wth. thanks or let you have property at a valuation,
but was I to attempt to sell for Gash I am satisfied
it wou'd not fetch i enough to pay you.
45
Virginia Gazette, Nov. 22, 1787. McCarthy owned the
second highest number of slaves in Westmoreland In
1782
46
John Norton and Sons, to John Hately Norton from
York, Dec. 7, 1790, 497
CHAPTER V
STATE FINANCES
The conflict between planter and merchant
appeared as an overtone in the entire financial system
of the state.
Virginians not only complained against
exploitation by the merchant, but they also complained
generally against paying taxes and the scarcity of specie.
And though the scarcity of hard money was nothing new in
Virginia's history, the financial, as well as the
commercial system, worked against the planter.
Generally,
the merchant, and not the planter was in possession of
what specie there was in the state.
It was one of the
aims of the^planter of the post-revolutionary period to
adjust this uneven situation, to strike again at the old
sores of the^ommercial system so intimately connected with
the state of finances.
The colonial financial system underwent some
modification during the critical period, though many aspects
of the old system remained In operation.
The old export
tax of 4s* per hogshead of tobacco was maintained through­
out the Revolution.
In 1779, however, a prohibitive tax
of 30 s* per hogshead was placed upon tobacco export in an
attempt to encourage culture of wheat and other products.
This tax was reduced to 8s. in 1781, and in 1783 there
was a return to the old colonial tax of 4s.
Thus,
Ill
Virginians officially admitted that tobacco production was
no longer greatly desired; they understood that tobacco
culture offered relatively low returns.
However, as before the Revolution, the chief
source of revenue was internal.
persons and property.
Tithes fell upon both
One contemporary estimated that
1
there were 73,000 tithable persons in Virginia in 1785.
Taxes were levied chiefly upon carriages, cattle, money,
land and slaves.
The land tax was the greatest single
source of internal revenue as might be expected in a
society where land was found in an abundance.
Before the
Revolution the land tax was levied indiscriminately
regardless of the location or value of land; after the
war, it was replaced by a property tax based upon a scale
of value.
An added feature of the post-revolutionary
fiscal system was the Certificate Tax, first levied in
1782 but discontinued in 1787.
the
This tax was imposed for
purpose of redeeming outstanding certificates of
indebtedness held against the state/ among which military
certificated held a primary position.
rather than created new taxables.
It increased t^xes
Taxes upon lands and
1
"Virginia in 1785 ,” ojd . cit. , 410. Internaltaxes
were referred to as the revenue tax.
lota were Increased five per cent; an additional 10s. was
placed upon free males twenty-one years old and over,
bringing the total to 20s.
An additional 2s. was levied
upon mares, colts, and horses bringing the total to 4s.;
taxes upon billiard tables were doubled, increasing the
old amount from t 15 to t 30.
Moreover, Is*: was levied
upon slaves over sixteen years of age— the only new tax
created by the certificate program.
The greatest changes, however, were made in the
external sources of revenue on both exports and imports.
An act of 1782 increased duties on imports and tonnage,
and continued in force until 1787.
Preferential rates
were given to French imports while a discriminatory duty
of two per cent ad valorem was levied on all English
imports.
More specifically, an additional duty of 4d.
was levied on every gallon of wine, except French wines,
while French brandies went duty free.
John Jay thought
such discriminations against Britain were in violation
2
of the treaty.
Madison later complained:
The present rage seems to be to draw all our income
from trade . . . duties . . . shall drive away our
trade instead of making it tributary to our treasury
Export duties on tobacco increased.
While the
colonial duty of 6s. per hogfehead for tobacco inspection
was still retained, an additional 4s. was imposed in 1783
2
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 302, Madison to
Washington, Dec. 24” 17^5
113
and 6 s# more in 1786 for the purpose of filling
al requisitions*
congression­
Such duties on tobacco, together with
tonnage duties of six per cent,made up the largest single
source of external revenue.
Between 1785 and 1789 the
percentage revenue derived from this source increased as
follows:
1785-86 .......
19.71
1786-87 ......... 21.40
1787-88 .......
32.25
1788-89 ........ 37.59
The accompanying table shows the amount of taxes received
from 1785-1789.5
During the war several acts of the Assembly
authorized the treasurer to borrow money at six per cent
interest to be redeemed at certain periods.
Though some
public records were destroyed or lost, a committee of the
House later estimated that the amount borrowed exceeded
considerably the sum of £ 100,000.
When scaled by a table
of depreciation— always necessary for calculations of the
post-war years— the aggregate loan to the state amounted
to t 33*488 and carried an interest charge of fc 11,062.
At the close of the war, the state also owed debts to
individuals who made loans at the urgent behest of the
3
Taken from W. F. Dodd, "Virginia Finances, 1776-1790,"
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, X(1903),
114
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115
government during the time of the invasion of Arnold and
Phillips and subsequent campaigns.
This debt amounted to
i 10,525 of which L 4,009 were loans made in tobacco; no
part had been paid by 1785 . Another state debt, owed to
merchants in account with the Virginia commercial agent
abroad, amounted to L 27,000; the fund assigned to pay
this debt was the tepc arrears of 1782 which, of course,
was inadequate. Other debts were owed to Congress and to
the militia.
The total amount of the state debt, whether
from loans or otherwise, was computed at & 4,231,283 in
4
1784.
Nevertheless, under the fiscal system designed
to remove this indebtedness, the state debt was gradually
reduced, and the treasury soon recovered from its depleted
condition.
The prosperity of 1784-85 increased the surplus
in the treasury.
The surplus continued to increase through­
out the period and was no doubt a cause for the repeal of
the Certificate Tax in 1787.
The balances in the treasury
amounted to the following:
1784-85 .
.............fe 22,542
1785-86 ...............
25,905
1786-87 ...............
54,178
1787-88 ...............
122,342
1788-89 ...............
43,577
4
Journal of the House of Delegates, Dec. 28, 1784,89
116
Despite the presence of this surplus, there
5
were arrears in taxes owed to the treasury. Tax collection
was exceedingly difficult during the period, particularly
after 1784.
One is inclined to believe that there was
more difficulty in collecting taxes after the Revolution
than before.
The percentage of delinquent tax payers,
either because of insolvency, or mobility of population,
was greater during the critical period.
The insolvent and delinquent tax returns reveal
numerous delinquencies.
found at all.
Many of the delinquents were not
But on a great number of the returns county
sheriffs made comments of "backswoods," ’’not found,11 "not
in county," "no effects," "over Alleghany," "moved away,"
"run away," "gone to G-eorgia," "gone to Kentucky," "moved
6
to Carolina,"
The latter comments seem to have appeared
most frequently--an observation that caught the observing
7
eye of Madison.
The greatest number and percentage of
delinquents were found in the Piedmont counties; the
greatest ratio per capita of delinquents was likewise
found in the Piedmont.
In the. Calendar of Virginia State
Papers the principal amount of delinquent taxes reported
for 1785 is given as follows; Albemarle, fc 2,304;
5
Ibid., Jan. 6, 1787, 143-44
6
Insolvent and Delinquent Tax Returns
7
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 135
117
Augusta, L 1,253; Bedford, L 2,489; Gloucester, L 3,752;
Henry, L 3,245; Lunenburg, L 1,627; Northumberland, L 1,349;
Powhatan, L 1,121; Rockingham, L 2,638; Spotsylvania, LI,353*
Of these counties seven were in Piedmont, two in Tidewater,
and one in the Valley.
G-enerally, anti-federal counties had the highest
percentage of delinquents.
The table below, though not
wholly accurate in as much as some returns are inaccurate
or missing, indicates thisttrerid.
COUNTY AND
LOCATION
RATIO
DELINQUENT
PER CAPITA
VOTE ON
CONSTITU­
TION
% SLAVE
IN 1790
Accomac
T
50
D
30
Amherst
P
35
No
38
Buckingham
P
12
No
42
Franklin
*
46
No
15
Goochland
P
141
No
51
Henrico
T
Yes
48
34
D
55
P
12
D
21
^Northampton T
13
Yes
47
Northumber­
T
land
10
Yes
48
Pittsylvania P
67
No
52
Spotsylvania P
59
No
25
King & Queen T
Loudoun
13 ?
* Calculated from returns for 1789; other counties for
1788.
8
Calendar of State Papers, IV, 10
In addition to Pittsylvania, Franklin, Spotsylvania, and
G-oochland, shown on the table above, there were high
percentages of delinquents for other years in such antifederal strongholds as Prince Edward and Henry Counties*
Like the merchant seeking to collect old debts,
the sheriff experienced difficulty in the collection of
tepees.
There was universal complaint of the inability to
pay taxes, particularly after 1785*
Hardly a county failed
to send in petitions expressing inability to pay taxes, and
the need for relief.
The reasons usually given were the
scarcity of specie and the high prices of imported articles.
A petition from Ohio Oounty considered by the House, June
3, 1783, asked for tax exemption because of the scarcity
o
of specie. ' Similar petitions were heard from Amelia,
November 5* 1783; from Rockingham, June 5, 1784-; from
10
Augusta, June 8, 1784.
A petition from Greenbrier stated
inability to pay taxes because of scarcity of money, weather
conditions, and "the expense of clearing a wagon road."
Moreover, petitions from the following coupties stated
inability to pay taxes because of the scarcity of specie
and high prices: Accomac, Albemarle, Amherst, Augusta,
Berkeley, Buckingham, Caroline, Charles City, Culpeper,
9
Journal of the House of Delegates, 32
10
Ibid.
See dates cited.
11
Ibid., Nov. 22, 1784, 33
119
Fairfax, Henry, Louisa, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, Nansemond,
12
Princess Anne, Pittsylvania, Rockingham, and York.
Complaints were made to the local sheriff who
oftimes wets unpopular if he tried to collect taxes.
This
fa.ct seemed particularly pronounced in the back counties.
However, sheriffs were aware of the problem and frequently
reminded the legislature of the inability of the people
to pay taxes in money.
In response, the policy of the
government, in the first half of the period, was to be
lenient with sheriffs who were unsuccessful with tax
collections, or who were many times accused of fraud in
their collections.
The governor's Council frequently
dismissed charges against sheriffs who failed to bring in
taxes.
One-half of the damages brought against Thomas Row,
sheriff of King and Queen, for revenue taxes of 1785 were
directed to be remitted; whole damages were advised to be
remitted December 6, 1787 because of "further proofs as
13
to the unavoidable delay in collection"
Five per cent
of the damages brought against William Richards of the
14
same county for the Certificate tax of 1785 were remitted;
fourteen per cent for Waddy Thompson, sheriff of Louisa,
12
Calendar of State Papers, IV,222
13
Journal of the Council, 91
14
Ibid., Oct. 26, 1787, 41
120
were remitted Nov, 12 , 1787*
Likewise, fourteen per cent
of damages against Clifton Rhodes, sheriff of Albemarle,
15
and Thomas Higard, sheriff of Augusta, were remitted.
There were also remittances in part for damages against
16
Thomas Cocke of Greensville for the revenue tax of 1786.
Nevertheless, at the close of the period, more
severe measures were taken to insure the collection of
taxes, and to deal more stringent punishment to sheriffs
17
accused of graft in the process of collection.
The old
act for granting relief to sheriffs and custom collectors
18
was now being interpreted more closely than before.
The property of George Stubblefield, formerly sheriff of
Spotsylvania, was ordered to be sold in order to pay off
the balance the state held against him for the revenue tax
19
of 1784. ' The Council went so far as to suggest that, if
his property could not be sold in Spotsylvania, it should
20
be sold in the neighboring county of Culpeper.
Similarly,
the property of William Nall, sheriff of Rockingham, was
put up for sale in Shenandoah in order to pay for delin21
quent revenue taxes of 1784.
15
Ibid., Aug. 4, 1788 , 296; Sept. 14, 1788, 31Q
16
Ibid., Nov. 7, 1788 , 376
Journal of the House of Delegates, Oct. 1785* 74
18
Journal of the Council, 1789, 604
19
Ibid., Feb. 23, 1789, 593
20
Ibid., 593-94
21
Ibid.. Mar. 20, 1789, 618
121
Therefore, relief from tax collection became a
problem of the critical period, apparently more severe than
pre-war years.
Since a great number of the complaints came
from the western counties, where vqiheat and hemp were grown
in largest quantities and where relatively little tobacco
was grown to serve the purpose of discharging taxes, a bill
passed the House accepting hemp and flour as commodities
22
payable in taxes.
The bill became a law the following
year which, among other provisions, permitted Rockbridge and
counties west of the Blue Ridge to discharge tax arrears
of 1732,1783 in hemp at the rate of 30s. per one hundred
pounds, payable before December 20, 1783.
Moreover, postponement of tax collection became
a political issue during the less prosperous years after
1785.
After a bitter struggle, the October Assembly of
1785 postponed the collection of taxes for one year.
The
measure was intended to give the planters a better opportuni23
ty to deal with the merchants in the marketing of tobacco.
It was argued that postponement would relieve the planter
from the necessity of selling immediately and would thus
enable him to secure better bargains from the merchant.
Whether specie, currency, or commodity, the circu­
lating medium, as before the war, was exchanged on the basis
22
Journal of the Rouse of Delegates, Dec. 9, 1783
23
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 199
122
of the English sterling pound#
The hard money used in
Virginia, as in other parts of the continent, was of
Spanish, French, and Portuguese coins; it came through the
West India trade which, however, was curtailed by the
operation of English Orders in Council against American
shipping.
Thus, here was a factor that accounted, in part,
for the abnormal scarcity of specie in Virginia after the
Revolution.
Chiefly gold and'silver coins were used in
Virginia#
The gold coins were the Doubloon, Johannes,
Louis d for, and Pistole.
However, the famous Spanish
silver dollar, ’’pieces of eight,” still remained the most
commonly used coin and was later to become the basis of
the American dollar.
The rate of exchange between Virginia currency
and the Spanish silver dollar was generally the same as
that for the normal rate of exchange at Boston from 1750-1788;
more than one shilling higher than normal rates at Charles­
ton; and Is. 6d. below normal rates at Philadelphia. One
24
Spanish dollar exchanged for 6s.
Other exchanges in
Virginia currency were as follows:
48 s......... i Johanne s
6s* 8d.
90s.
. . .1 Louis d ’or
I . . .1 Doubloon
Allason Papers, April 1786; Alexander Balmain
Account Book, Virginia State Library, Dec. 5, 1783,
Jan. 7, 17B5
123
However, with restrictions upon the West India
trade, the rate of exchange was higher than during the
immediate pre-war years.
In 1773 the London rate of
exchange on the Virginia market was thirty per cent below
par; that is, t 100 sterling had the exchange value of
L 130 in Virginia.
In 1775 the market exchange on
25
Falmouth was twenty-five per cent below par#
On the other
hand, the market exchange on Falmouth was thirty-six per
26
cent below par; on Dumfries In August of 1787, at thirty27
three and one-third per cent.
Tobacco notes in Virginia served as the most
common form of Virginia currency.
In colonial times the
legislature persisted in its right to regulate the rates
of exchange between the shilling ancyiobacco--a principle
underlying the conflict of Grown and colony in the famous
"Parson's Cause."
Immediately preceeding the outbreak of
the war, seven pounds of tobacco exchanged for one shilling
currency; after the war five pounds of tobacco had the
money value of one shilling.
Tobacco notes did not have
to be endorsed in the process of exchange.
They were
generally of two kinds— crop and transfer.
A crop note
was given to planters upon the receipt of tobacco at
25
Allason ^aPers
26
Allason Letter Books, April 1785
27
Smith, Huie, and Alexander Account Book,Aug.13, 1787
124
warehouses after the inspection and storage of hogsheads.
The overplus tobacco, too small in quantities to be crated
into hogsheads for shipment, was represented as transfer
tobacco for which receipts were likewise given.
Another aspect of the financial system appeared
in the relations of Virginia to Congress.
Since requisi­
tions to Congress were scaled proportionally according to
the population of tne separate states, Virginia was
expected to pay more than any member of the Confederation.
The quota was fixed annually by Congress; but only about
half of Virginia*s quota was ever paid at any given time
after the Revolution.
For example, Congress fixed
Virginia*s quota for 1784 at $538,993 (fel6l,696), a sum
the Assembly agreed to pay in May of the same year.
However, only $268,493 were paid, leaving a deficiency of
$270,200 (£, 81,060).
A Committee of the House reported
that in 1787 , t 237,206 was due to Congress for indents
...o
28
(Continental interest certificates) and t 193,510 in specie.
However, the Virginia government was strongly
disposed to pay congressional requisitions and expressed
its willingness to do so on many occasions.
Yet deficiencies
in tax collection and the actual postponement of tax
collection were serious obstacles preventing payment of
continental quotas.
28
Journal of the House of Delegates, Dec. 2, 1786
125
Nevertheless, Virginia struggled to pay Congress
from her delinquent tax collections.
In the spring
session of 1784- the legislature decided that one per cent
of the land tax, beginning in the fall of 1784, should be
set aside for Congress; one and one-half per cent duty
was added on imports in order to pay congressional
requisitions.
The additional duty of 6s, levied on each
hogshead of tobacco exported for 1786 and 1787 was set
aside for a special requisition for Congress.,
From indents
and paper of every kind, reduced to specie value at the
ratio of 40 to 1, Virginia paid $1,963,811 into the
congressional treasury from the beginning of the Revolu29
tion to 1790. This sum was four times the amount Virginia
received in like payments from Congress, but was superceded
by payments from Massachusetts.
On the other hand, of the
seven states that paid out more than they received from
Congress, Virginia was second only to Massachusetts in
30
both amount and proportion.
American State Papers: Financei Washington, 1832-61,
I, 53
30
Ibid.
CHAPTER VI
VIRGINIA AND THE CONGRESS
Although Virginia struggled to pay her continental
requisitions, her failure to do so not only reflected her
financial inability but alsb her reluctance to support a
weak congress.
Whereas Virginia had begun the Revolution
with a spirit of exuberance and vigor, toward the end of
the War this spirit began to wane.
While there had existed
the danger from a common enemy there was sharp interest in
the common cause.
With the ddfeat of the British armies,
however, and the consequent removal of the armed threat,
affairs at home became increasingly more important while,
on the other hand, Congress became less popular.
It is
not altogether fancy when it is stated that, had the
congresses of the critical period been as spirited and as
talented as the first assemblies, the Articles of Confeder­
ation might have been amended so as to place the regulation
of commerce into the hands of the central government.
But Congress after 1783 was composed largely of second rate
talents.
Delegates attended less frequently and resigned
more often than ever before.
State politicians became
1
11thirsty for power, . . . the MONSTER— Sovereignty.”
1
Washington to John Jay, H. P. Johnston, Correspondence
and Public Papers of John Jay, New York, 1890-93,
III, 239
127
While many Virginians held leadership in the
Congress, at the same time others feared the growth of
congressional powers.
Virginians were Inclined to regard
their own legislature as the best organ through which they
could express adequately their desires.
They regarded their
legislature with pride and respect, and guarded with
jealousy the historic role it kept alive In Virginia life.
It was difficult for Virginians to abandon the idea of local
autonomy, or to delegate powers willingly to a federal
agency after having rebelled against centralized control
by a distant England.
Richard Bland had upheld the merits
of the sovereignty of the Virginia Assembly in the famous
"Parson's Cause” and the Stamp Act affair; Henry had given
expression to his ideas, which, although not new, had denied
any right of arbitrary taxation by a distant legislature.
Now that the War had been won, there remained an
old problem of administration.
Should the local assembly
rule? or should twelve distant assemblies rule?
When these
questions were related to western lands, the navigation of
the Mississippi River, and the congressional regulations of
commerce, they became vital problems and live issues in
both Virginia and continental politics.
But whatever course
Virginia adopted, she never lost sight of the importance
and preeminence of her own legislature.
Speculation by Virginians in western lands,
particularly south of the Ohio River, continued after the
Revolution.
As the west grew in population lands increased
128
In value, and speculators sought to take advantage of the
situation.
On a visit to the Shenandoah country in 1791,
a French officer observed, "There is not a tavern at
2
Winchester where land merchants may not be found."
Washington admitted that the purpose of his western tour
of 1734 was to determine the effects of speculation upon
3
his western lands.
In Kentucky alone, as land office
records show, there were 9,564 land grants made between
4
1732-1792.
Among those having claims in Kentucky were
Washington, Henry, G-eorge Rogers Clark,Benjamin Harrison,
Joseph Jones, John Marshall, and G-eorge Mason.
Virginians were jealous of their claims to
western lands and resented interference either by Britain
or Congress.
The Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act
of 1774 had threatened the success of speculation in western
lands and were held in disfavor by Virginia planters.
As
a newly formed commonwealth, Virginia likewise disapproved
of congressional a.ction favorable to the Indiana and
Vandalia companies whose members resided outside of the
state.
Prior to the outbreak of the War, these companies
FrcmklT*
were represented In London by Benjamin^and William Trent.
However, when the Revolution came the proprietors of the
companies sent a memorial to the Assembly of Virginia,
2
Captain Bayard in Morrison, Travels in Virginia, 89
3
Fitzpatrick, Diaries of Washington, II, 317
4
Willard R. Jillson, The Kentucky Land Grants,
Louisville, 1925, ch. 2
129
October 1, 1776, which immediately rejected their claims.
From this time onward it was thought that the Indiana and
5
Vandalia companies would bring the matter to Congress:
and as expected, the companies sent their agents to
Congress very much in the same wise that they had been sent
to England.
Petitions were presented before Congress on
September 13, 1779.
By this time, however, the Virginia
delegates had received instructions to oppose any
congressional action favorable to the petitioners.
On the
day the petitions were considered, John Fell, a congressman,
6
noted in his diary:
” . . . After long debate on the part of Virginia
to oppose it, the question was put and passed in
the affirmative. Then the Delegates from Virginia
made a motion that Congress had no right to interfere
in the affair at all, and had no Jurisdiction nor
right to appoint a committee . . . ”
Although the Virginia delegates contested their
point vigorously, they only succeeded in delaying the
action of Congress until the next month, October,8, when
5
The delegates wrote to Governor Henry, May 17, 1779:
“There is some reason to suppose that these Purchasers
wish to have their right of so doing submitted to the
judgment of Congress . . . we have suspended an appli­
cation to Congress upon the subject, until we can get
further sense of our constituents thereupon. Lands
that are clearly within the chartered limits of a
State have been heretofore understood to be, at least,
in the preemption of that state; and certainly such
purchases would contravene our whole system of laws
respecting the mode of acquiring ungranted lands in
Virginia.
Edmund C. Burnett, Letters of the Members
of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921-36,
IV, 216
6
Ibid., 418
a committee was appointed to act upon the petitions.
Before the congressional committee reported, however, the
Virginia delegates frequently reminded Congress of their
point.
No one needed to convince the Virginia delegation
that the Congress was over stepping its bounds, that it
was meddling into the affairs of a ”sovereign state.”
Was not Virginia capable of handling her own affairs?
Had
it not once before rejected the petitions of these companies
Certainly, Virginia, the oldest and largest member of the
Congress, knew her own interests.
Since the earliest days
of colonial history, Virginians never lost sight of the
principle of self-government; the legislature was a timehonored institution, venerated and respected, which
Virginians chose to follow rather than the new untried
decisions of the Congress of the Confederation.
Congress sanctioned the petitions of the land
companies on October 30.
At this time, however, the
Virginia Assembly was not in session; but when it convened
in December, one of its first.acts was a sharp indignation
addressed to Congress.
The Assembly was ’’surprised” upon
learning that Congress had audaciously ’’received and
countenanced” petitions from the Indiana and Vandalia
companies: the speculators were mostly British subjects;
Congress was intruding in a state's internal affairs by
defying the civil authority of Virginia and by offering to
erect a separate government with the bounds of a sovereign
state; it was "a violation of public faith” and a most
’’dangerous precedent.”
131
Throughout the period the Indiana and Vandalia
proprietors pressed their claims which in all amounted to
about three million acres.
After the adoption of the
Constitution, the companies brought suit in the federal
7
courts against Virginia, as Mason had feared, and the
Assembly of 1792 pronounced upon the illegality of the
proceeding.
The claims of the company were finally denied
after having been prosecuted for twenty-nine years.
Meanwhile the disputes among the states over
boundary claims to the western lands were the most bitter,
yet most habitual, in the history of the Confederation.
Seven of the thirteen states made claim to the Northwest
Territory; and Virginia’s claim, being the largest of all,
was more hotly contested than any of the six others.
So
intense was the contest over these lands that Interstate
8
war threatened in the midst of the Revolution.
Yet in the
settlement of the disputes, Congress was practically power­
less; it only temporized, was diplomatic, but consistently
refused to take measures that smacked at sovereignty.
Even In the earliest congresses the boundary
question ca,me up.
When Congress attempted to limit the
bounds of the larger states in order to placate the fears
of the smaller ones, heated protests arose.
Samuel
7
Elliot, Debates, III, 529
8
Ford, Journals of the Continental Congress, III, 321
132
Huntington of Connecticut said that Congress did not have
the right to limit the boundaries of Virginia, and asserted
that the results would be Virginia’s failure to entbr the
9
Confederation:
Admit there is danger from Virginia (taking land),
does it follow that Congress has a right to limit
her bounds? The consequence is, not to enter into
Confederation. . . I doubt not the wisdom of
Virginia will limit themselves. A man’s right does
not cease to be a right because it is a large one.
On the^same day, Jefferson, then a delegate to Congress,
said, "I protest against the right of Congress to decide
10
upon the right of Virginia.”
11
Virginia’s claim, the most valid of all,
assailed chiefly by Pennsylvania and Maryland.
was
Maryland
and the other smaller states made repeated efforts between
1777-1779 to have the back lands placed under the control
of! Gongress.
Maryland stubbornly refused to ratify the
Articles of Confederation until the claims to the western
lands were ceded.
Congress realized the seriousness of the
threat and pleaded to have the obstacle removed.
On
September 6, 1780, Congress resolved,"That it be earnestly
recommended to those states who have claim to the western
country, to pass such laws and give their delegates such
powers, as may effectually remove the only obstacle
final ratification of the articles of confederation."
Notes on the debate by John Adams in Ford, Journals
of the Continental Congress, VI, 1083, Aug. 2 ~ 1776
10
Ibid.
11
Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American
Revolution, New York, 1937
12
Ford, Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 807
133
Two years prior to this resolution, December,
1778, Virginia took steps to effect a confederation without
Maryland*
The Virginia Assembly adopted instructions to
its delegates to propose to Congress that a confederation
be formed without the consent of thirteen states. Richard
13
Henry Lee wrote to John Adams on April 24, 1779:
The Assembly of Virginia have directed their
delegates to propose to Congress to fix a day
for closing this Great Compact between such of
the States as have consented. . .
However,
the instructions were not laid before Congress
until one month later.
Yet, neither this act on the part
of Virginia, nor a similar act on the part of Connecticut,
had little effect upon Maryland which instructed its
delegates to adhere to their former position.
In the following year New York yielded a shadowy
claim to her disputed lands.
motion.
Thisact set the ball into
Virginians did not want to lag behind the forefront
of leadership in the Congress.
Joseph Jones, then a
delegate to Congress, wrote to Jefferson that the example of
New York was "worthy of imitation.’1 Madison was also then
a delegate to Congress and held similar views.
Even
Richard Henry Lee, later an anti-federalist, argued for
Virginia's cession of claims to the Northwest Territory
in order to provide the central government with land out
of which future states could be carved.
13
In a letter to
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, op. cit.,
134
Samuel Mams, his life long friend, he stated that the
cession of western lands was the only means of "perfecting
our unity."
Connecticut passed its act of cession in the
fall of 1780.
However, this act was not laid before
Congress until January 31, 1781*
Meanwhile, on January 2
of the same year the Virginia Assembly passed resolutions
ceding claims to the Northwest Territory.
The resolutions
were not "precisely conformable to the recommendation of
Congress on the Subject" but they showed the "liberal
14
Spirit which dictated them."
They were enclosed in a letter
15
to the President of the Congress on January 17; but they
were not read in Congress until January 29.
Together with
similar resolutions from New York and Connecticut, they
were referred to a committee on January 31.
This committee
also had charge of the Indiana and Vandalia petitions, and
made its report on June 26, 1781.
The matter does not
appear to have been considered again until October 2.
In making her cession of western lands, Virginia
thought herself to be playing the role of a big sister,
"having thus for the sake of the general good, proposed to
cede a great extent of valuable territory to the Continent,
it is expected in return, that every other State in the
14
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, V, 554
Virginia delegates to Governor Jefferson, January 30,
1781
15
Ford,Writings of Jefferson, II, 564
135
U$ion, under similar circumstances as to vacant territory,
will make similar concessions . . . .
16
emolument."
for the general
However, a further examination will disclose that
the cession by Virginia was designed to be a sober-minded
business deal as well as a patriotic gesture.
As outlined
in the resolutions of 1781, the cession was made under the
following provisions: Clark and his men be given bounty
lands; Virginia be guaranteed her Kentucky lands;
congressional promises of bounty lands for Virginians in
the Continental Army be met; in due time the region be laid
off into states, and that the inhabitants be protected,
and that unappropriated lands be used for the national
debt.
These provisions did not comply with the conditions
that Congress had previously stipulated.
Congress rejected the terms of the cession in
October, 1781, largely because the stipulations relative
to the Clark bounty lands aroused the opposition of
17
lobbyist speculators.
Nevertheless, Virginia's final
deed of cession, which passed the Assembly in the fall of
1783 and signed by a congressional committee in March of
the next year, contained practically all the provisions
as set forth in the Virginia resolutions of January, 1781.
16
Hening, X, 564
17
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, IV, 424;
VI, 7
136
Virginia’s attitude on the cession of western
lands had led Maryland to instruct its delegates to sign
the Articles of Confederation.
Maryland’s ratification
marked a distinct event int the struggle for national
unity.
As long as the states squabbled over land boundaries,
little unity could be achieved, little authority expected
of Congress.
Now the discord that had emanated from the
disputed territory abated, and the wounds of discontent
18
began to heal.
The toasts, the booming of cannon, and
the handshaking that followed the final ratification of
the Articles were rejoicings indicative of a triumph of
the federal principle--at least a momentary triumph.
Virginians had reason to be proud of the event; by ceding
their claims to Congress they had appeased Maryland, the
one state that had refused to ratify the Articles.
Even after the cession of western lands, Virginia
may be regarded as being the largest and most influential
state of two sections— the Old South and the growing west.
What guided the attitude of her western territory more
than anything else were internal improvements and frontier
defense.
Means of adequate transportation were needed
since shipment on the larger rivers could not extend
beyond the uplands, and since wagon transportation was
made impossible because of the lack of roads.
18
Therefore,
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, VI, 7
137
the Mississippi provided an outlet of trade for the TransAlleghany regions; it was the "indispensable highway of
19
commerce for the western lands."
Thus, any effort to impede commerce on the
Mississippi would be resented by the west.
But Spain
controlled the mouth of the river and the territory north
to the thirty-first parallel.
Spain insisted that naviga­
tion of the river should be closed to the United States.
Virginia had claims to the navigation of the river, but t
these claims had little basis.
Nevertheless, negotiations
to prevent Spain from keeping the river closed were under­
taken by Oongress under the strong patronage of Virginia.
Congress selected Jo&n Jay as its diplomat who was
principally engaged in negotiating for a treaty of commerce
and amity.
As long as Jay insisted on the free navigation
of the Mississippi for the United States, Spain refused
to ally with the states.
What was to be done?
Would not
an alliance with Spain prove more advantageous to America
than free navigation of the Mississippi?
Moreover, what
benefit could the North derive from trade on the Mississippi?
With a Spanish alliance loans could be secured from Spain;
independence could be recognized.
On the other hand, what
could Virginia offer— particularly western Virginia? Before
19
Frederick J. Turner, "Western State-Making in the
Revolutionary Era," American Historical Review,
I, (1895), 75
138
the war ended, Jay personally felt that it would be better
for America to choose an alliance with Spain than to insist
on free navigation of the Mississippi.
However, Jay was first instructed to negotiate
for free navigation of the river, to promise Spain the
Floridas in return.
But Spain found that the preliminaries
to the treaty of peace had promised the Floridas to
England.
Therefore, Spain remained obdurate.
Upon a move
by G-eorgia, Congress reconsidered Jayfs first instructions,
authorizing him to yield to Spain if Spain "inalterably
20
insisted."
Virginians resented any change in Jay's first
instruetidnB.
Jefferson insisted now as he did in later
years, that the "navigation of the Mississippi we must
21
have."
Theodorick Bland said: "It (navigation of the
Mississippi) is a right which nature has given us.
It is
22
a right which nature will claim."
Edmund Pendleton had
heard that the change in Jay's instructions was "one of
the fruits of the cabal against Virginia," and/said he would
'
23
do bodily harm to Jay whom he believed was behind the plot.
Joseph Jones and Madison likewise opposed changing Jay's
instructions.
20
Johnston, Correspondence and Public Papers of John
Jay, I, 461
21
Ford, Writings of Jefferson, IV, 188
22
Richard H. Lee, The Life of Arthur Lee, Boston, 1829,
II, 334
23
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, VI, 243n
139
Congress was prevailed upon to consult the
Virginia Assembly before yielding to Spain, since "the
powers of Congress depended so much on the individual wills
of the States.*1 And Virginia, recognized as an influential
member of Congress, deserved considerable respect.
James
Duane of New York voted against settling the matter a
taimable with Spain, and doubted whether it was not of
24
more consequence "to offend Virginia than Spain."
Thus, thoughtful Virginians never lost sight of
the importance of the Mississippi to their commercial
prosperity.
Virginia acceded to the wishes of Congress
because circumstances forced her to do so; fear had driven
her into an agreement which she had no intention of keeping.
25
As soon as the crisis of British occupation had blown over,
24
Ibid., 486n
25
While the British troops occupied the Carolinas,
the delegates of bouth Carolina and Georgia feared
that a peace would be signed on the principle of
uti possidetis, and sought to counteract the
Invasion by trying to draw Spain into an alliance
which was unattainable unless Virginia yielded her
claim to the navigation of the Mississippi. "The
efforts of these delegates did not fail to make
proselytes, till at length it was ascertained that
a number(of members of Congress) was disposed to
vote for the measure without the vote of Virginia;
and it happened that one of the delegates(Jones)
from that State concurred in the policy of what
was proposed.1' I^adIson in Nile *s Weekly Register,
January 8, 1822, quoted in Burnett, Letters of
Members of Congress, V, 578n. Faced with such
conditions, on February 15, 1781, the Virginia
legislature empowered its delegates not to Insist
on free navigation of the lower Mississippi if
insisting would be an "Impediment to a treaty with
Spain." Hening, X, 538
140
Virginia reiterated her claim against Spain.
Both Congress
and Virginia were to continue to insist on free navigation
for twenty years— even to the point of war with Spain.
Jefferson wrote in 1790: "Were we to give up our territory
rather than engage in a just war to preserve it, we should
26
not keep the other half long."
The question carried its sectional implications.
Some Virginians maintained that the west was being sacri­
ficed for the benefit of the older sections of the country.
Madison wrote to Jefferson concerning the free navigation
of the Mississippi: "Figure to yourself the effect(of the
affair) . . .
on the Assembly of Virginia * . . which will
be composed of about thirty members from the western waters,
of a majority of others attached to the western country
from interest of their own, of their own friends, their
constituents, and of many others who, though indifferent
to the Mississippi, will zealously play off the dispute of
its friends against Federal measures, . . . who will consider
27
themselves sold by their Atlantic brethren."
Jefferson
agreed with Madison*s contention: "I will venture to say,
that the act which abandons the navigation of the
Mississippi is an act of separation between the* eastern
28
and western country."
26
Ford, Writings of Jefferson, V, 225
27
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 263, Aug. 12, 1786
28
Ford, Writings of Jefferson, IV, 363
141
The 'scuffle" for the western vote
29
in the
Virginia ratifying convention 1788 was greatest over the
Mississippi question.
Led by Patrick Henry, the anti­
federalists maneuvered their attack so as to place the
federalists on theybide of the North and Congress; the
anti-federalists made the accusation, which had no great
basis, that Congress and the North had planned to cede the
right of navigation to Spain to the detriment of the west,
particularly of Kentucky.
After brilliant speeches by
Monroe, G-rayson, and Madison, Henry pointed out how the
Mississippi would be lost to the west if the Constitution
was adopted.
50
Edmund Pendleton is said to have felt Henry s
spell on this occasion more keenly than in the memorable
31
speeches of 1765 and 1775 The accusation by the anti-federalists irritated
the Kentucky delegation which at this juncture of the
debate was lost to the federalists.
It was.-a storpy
Friday, June 13.
It wqs through the Mississippi River that the
Old Dominion, the South and the Southwest would enrich their
industry and commerce.
John Sevier of the "State of Franklin,"
later governor of Tennessee, Robertson and Blount of the
29
Elliot, Debates. Ill, 502
30
Elliot, Debates, III, 351-6
31
H&gh Blair G-rigsby, The History of the Virginia
Federal Convention of 1788, Richmond, 1890-91, 246
Southwest territory, were "willing to accept the rule of
another nation than to see the navigation of the Mississipi
32
yielded by the United States*'1
Henry Clay s "American
System," James Monroe's policy of internal improvements,
and John Calhoun's struggle to ally the South and west
depended upon free navigation of the Mississippi*
No wonder
thoughtful Virginians became hostile to those who wanted
to close the river.
33
exclaimed:
No wonder a prominent historian once
The history of the Mississippi Valley is the history
of the United States.
After Yorktown and the ratification of the
Articles, Congress vras confronted with the problem of
putting its finances in order.
Congress had never had much
success in securing money from the states.
Thus, in 1781
it made a valiant effort to have the states consent to a
federal duty of five per cent ad valorem
on imports in
order to discharge the principal and interest on the
national debt.
this power.
Seven of the thirteen states gave Congress
Virginia was one of the seven that acceded
34
to the wishes of Congress— in May, 1781.
32
Frederick J. Turner, The Frontier in American
History, New York, 1921, 1&7
Albert Bushnell Hart in Harper s Magazine, February,
1900, 413, quoted in Turner, Ibid., 177
34
Hening, Statutes, X, 409
However, when Virginia realized that the six other states
did not intend to grant Congress the power to levy the
Impost requisition, she suspended the operation of the
aot of May, 1781 until the other states had come into a
mutual agreement by passing similar laws.
However, two years later, April 18, 1783, upon
the resolution of nine states Congress again recommended
an impost plan only slightly at variance with the suggestion
of 1781.
The congressional resolution provided for a five
per cent duty on all imported goods except wines, sugars,
spirits, molasses, and teas on which specific rates were
placed.
It provided further that the collectors were to
be appointed by the respective states; the act was to be
in force for twenty-five years; to be annulled only by
Congress; to go into effect when agreed upon unanimously
by the states.
The Virginia delegates supported the plan
while Rhode Island was the chief dissenting state.
Back in Richmond a House committee, composed
of Carter Braxton, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Mann
^age, John Taylor of Caroline, William Cabell, French
Strother, John Dandridge, G-eorge Nicholas, Benjamin
Harrison, Charles Carter, and Carter Henry Harrison,
resolved favorably toward the congressional plan on
35
May 14, 1783 .
Some of these men later became the
leading opponents of the federal donstitution.
Patrick
35
Journal of the House of Delegates, May 14, 1783, 7
144
Henry, French Strother, Benjamin Harrison, and William
Cabell voted against the Constitution in the ratifying
convention while Lee and Carter Harrison held anti-federal
views though they did not attend the convention.
All of
these men were in favor of some measure of congressional
regulation of trade, though for various reasons, some of
which were political, they turned against the drift toward
§. stronger federal control when the fact became apparent
that the states simply could not agree on a common plan.
Perhaps had the states accepted the plan of Congress
there would have been no great cause for the Constitution
36
of 1787.
The failure of the impost plan provided further
atmosphere for the drift toward the Constitution,
Criticism
of the Articles, already well under way before they were
ratified, served as a common and more frequent subject
for discussion.
Scarcely a half year after the Articles
37
had been ratified, Congress considered changing them.
Prominent men in Virginia and other states wrote despair­
ingly of the Confederation and were apprehensive that only
ruin and destruction would be the fruits of the Revolution.
36
Spaulding, New York in the Critical Period, 170,
says: "The failure of Congress to receive this
concession was the tragedy of the critical period;
yet this failure probably spelled the doom of the
Articles of Confederation and so gave America the
Constitutioh of 1787*"
37
Andrew McLaughlin, The Confederation and the
Constitution, New York, 1905, 171-2
145
Most prominent of all was Washington who, as Commander
and Chief, had experienced the weakness of the Articles
in securing supplies for his armies.
He wrote to James
38
Duane in 1780:
I share with you the pleasure you feel from
the measures taken to strengthen the hands
of Congress. I am convinced it is essential
to our safety, that Congress should have an
efficient power, the want of which must ruin
us.
38
Ford, Writings of Washington, VIII, 464
146
CHAPTER VII
TIDEWATER COMMERCE
While Congress was asking for an impost, and
while the question of British debts was being warmly
debated, Virginians were busy in trying to patch up chronic
aspects of their commercial system.
Consciously, Virginians
entered a movement at home that gave birth to a solution
of the problem of an ineffective, weakened Congress.
The Port Bill was an outstanding attempt to
improve the state of trade.
It was designed to curtail
illicit trade on the part of the merchant who was
frequently accused, and oftimes justly so, of evading
custom collectors.
Virginia’s commerce was a river commerce,
extending to more than twenty-five navigable rivers.
Thus,
numerous points of shipment, together with lax custom
regulations, invited illicit trade.
On a journey along
the Potomac River in 1784, Madison was told of ”several
flagrant evasions” by foreign vessels loading at
1
Alexandria.
The ^ort Bill would curtail evasions by restrict­
ing foreign trade to the enumerated ports of Norfolk,
Portsmouth, Tappahannock, Yorktown, and Alexandria under
1
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 41. In the process of
loading, tobacco hogsheads went unregistered. Cargo
entries were likewise incomplete and therefore
11productive of fraud.” Council Journal MSS*,
Additional, 1787, 44
.147
penalty of double cargo duty.
The Bill passed the final
reading of the House by a vote of 64 to 58, June 17, 1784,
but it did not go into effect until June 10, 1786.
In the meantime, however, opposition to the act
was strong.
Local Interests took an advantageous position
as the public showed great concern in the matter.
Arthur
Lee, in the anti-federal county of Prince William, won his
election to the Assembly In 1785 by announcing that, among
other things, he would defeat the ^ort Bill.
As shown
on Map VI, sections favoring the measure fell chiefly in
trade orbits of the designated ports.
However, several
vital trade centers--Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and
Richmond— which handled by far the bulk of the tobacco
trade and favored a more centralized commercial system,
were excluded and consequently opposed the bill.
Let us
JL
compare the vote on the Port
Bill, which was partly a
>•*
measure for centralization in trade, with the vote on the
Constitution, likewise a measure for centralization.
Of
the seventeen counties voting solidly for the bill, eleven
were federalist, five anti-federalist, and one divided.
Nevertheless, this relationship may be attributed more to
the economics of geography and sectional interests than
to any conscious alignment in behalf of the centralization
of trade.
Both of the leading anti-federalists, Patrick
Henry and George Mason, voted for the measure.
2
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 138, 148
In defense
148
of the bill, Mason "began to thunder to the gfeat terror
of all its friends," when a petition for its repeal was
3
presented to the Assembly, November 1, 178?. Despite the
efforts of the opposition, however, the measure remained
in force.
At the same time more grandiose schemes were
planned in order to infuse new blood into the old commercial
structure of the Tidewater and older sections of the Piedmont.
Attempts were made to preserve the old institutions of the
east by winning over the rising commercial prosperity of
the west through meejjis of internal improvements in roads
and rivers.
Virginians turned their attention chiefly to
the improvement of commerce on the Potomac and James Rivers.
Madison enthusiastically claimed that the improvement of
these rivers "will double the value of lands within the
Commonwealth, will extend its commerce, link with its
interests those of the Western States, and lessen the
emigration of its Citizens by enhancing the profitableness
4
of situations which they now desert in search of better."
Likewise, Washington desired to extend inland navigation
as far as convenient and bring the produce of western lands
"to our markets, and see how astonishingly our exports will
5
be increased."
3
Madison MSS.
4
Hunt,Writings of Madison, II, 109, Madison td
Jefferson, January 9, 1785.
5
Fitzpatrick, Diaries of Washington, II, 325
149
The basic reason underlying the desire to improve
eastern commerce is related to the growth of the west.
In
one respect, the Virginia commercial system, though costly
to the planter of the east, was advantageous to the farmer
of the west.
And paradoxically, despite its bane, the
system bestowed some blessings upon the small farmer of
the west by denying to him the use of adequate marketing
facilities in eastern Virginia.
A large volume of the trade
of the Virginia backcountry was drawn northward and eastward
into the orbit of Philadelphia and Baltimore rather than
to eastern Virginia markets just as trade of the North
Carolina backcountry flowed northward into Virginia.
Better
prices could be obtained in Philadelphia and Baltimore
since eastern Virginia was practically inaccessible by
roads.
Wheat grown in the interior of Virginia was
painfully shipped to the mills at Richmond and Norfolk.
Like so many other things in the backcountry, roads were
new and in constant need of repair; travellers described
them as being muddy, marshy, rocky, and often full of
roots and tree stumps.
Farmers of the west were
constantly "groaning tinder the Inconveniences" of land
6
transportation.
6
Ibid.
150
Winchester in Frederick County, the oldest town
in the Shenandoah Valley, served as a trading center for
the backcountry.
Even Kentucky was drawn into its orbit.
7
However, the growth of retail stores in the west was to
prevent Winchester, in part, from 'becoming aft important
trade center.
Yet, the inaccessibility of Winchester to
eastern Virginia was no doubt a factor that drew the town
into the trade orbit of Philadelphia.
There was no direct
route to Richmond; the route by way of Fredericksburg was
twenty-five miles out of theway, hilly, sandy, and with
8
poor bridges. Baltimore likewise drew trade from the
Valley, and entered competition for such with the markets
9
of Philadelphia.
European goods imported from Philadelphia and
Baltimore to Winchester--and thence to other western and
southwestern parts of Virglnia--could be retailed cheaper
than similar goods sold on Virginia Tidewater directly
10
from Europe.
The backcountry farmer could also sell
his tobacco for a higher price in Philadelphia.
These
factors contributed to the rise of the west and the real
prosperity of the small western farmer as compared to the
apparent wealth of the eastern planter.
Thus, a great
deal of the profits accruing from commodities imported to
7
Frederick Morton, The Story of Winchester, Strasburg,
Va., 1925, 97
8
Ibidi
9
W. R. Smith, "Sectionalism in Pennsylvania during
the Revolution,11 Political Science Quarterly, XXIV
(1919), 222
10
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 66
151
the backcountry went northward as a loss to the eastern
Virginia planter.
Furthermore, since a large volume of wheat
came from the northern counties o^irglnia, Baltimore and
Philadelphia became milling centers for both western
11
Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
Arid though Virginia produced "a charming wheat,'1
as Samuel Vaughan observed in Berkeley, the finest milled
Virginia flour was coarser than the products of mills of
either Philadelphia, New York, or Baltimore, and thus
could not command a price as high.
Philadelphia super­
fine flour, as contrasted with unspecified flour, brought
the highest price.
Consequently, Virginia farmers, even
in Tidewater, began to have their wheat milled in Philadel­
phia, Baltimore, or New York, and sold there in exchange
12
for manufactured goods.
In the exchange, however, prices
in Virginia were generally double the market price in
13
Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York.
On the other hand, Richmond struggled as a milling
center to keep pace with the increasing flow of wheat from
the backcountry.
The number of mills increased in both
the interior and Tidewater.
The typical farmer, small or
11
Craven, Soil Exhaustion, 78
12
Allason Papers, July 22, 1788; Aquia Account Book,
June 17, 1785.
15
Ford, Letters of Joseph Jones, 88
152
large, devoted much of his time to the repair or building
14
of mills, or to the improvement of roads leading to a
nearby mill.
Richmond grew in importance as a trading
center as southwestern Virginia grew in population.
The effects of the northern flow of Virginia
produce were visible in the relative decline or stagnation
of markets in eastern Virginia. Gfeorgetown rather than
ha4
AlexandriaAbecome the great tobacco market for counties
bordering on the Potomac; yet, its star fell rapidly due
to the decrease of tobacco culture in this region.
The
city also failed to capture the Potomac grain market, a
great part of which went to Baltimore.
Likewise, the
trade of Orange and neighboring counties, which formerly
went to Fredericksburg, began to shift to Richmond.
Moreover, as the chief centers of tobacco production shifted
from the Northern Neck and Peninsular to the region south
of the James, Petersburg and Richmond grew while Dumfries,
Alexandria, Quantico, Port Royal, and Aquia were on the
wane.
A petition from Petersburg, Blanford, and Pocahontas—
large tobacco markets south of the James— asked for
incorporation into towns because of the rapid increase
15
of commerce and population.
14
The Diary of Col. Francis Taylor, passim.
15
Journal of the House of Delegates, May 27, 17S4, 24.
The petition was granted by a vote of 56-27 on June
25 of thefeame year.
153
While eastern markets were relatively decadent,
a fact brought into clearer view by the Revolution, the
west was growing as an opportunity for commercial as well
as land ventures.
Consequently, the first real interest
in linking the east and west came during the critical
period even though the idea was courted by Governor
Spotswood three-quarters of a century earlier.
In this
connection, no Virginian was more prominent than Washington,
who considered the Potomac route the best of all in which
to bind east with west.
In 1774, when the tobacco he
raised was negligible, Washington submitted a project to
the Burgesses for the improvement of navigation on the
Potomac.
However, the measure was received unfavorably
because it was considered too inexpensive and impractical
for public use.
The measure provided for improvement of
the Potomac one hundred and fifty miles beyond Tidewater.
But central and southern Virginia opposed the plan on
grounds that the bill would prove beneficial only to
16
the northern section of the colony.
Thus, it happened
that Improvement of the James River was suggested as an
amendment in order to win southern support.
However, within the next decade many changes had
appeared in the life of Virginians, east, west, or south,
that made river improvement almost imperative.
Therefore,
16
Wayland F. Dunaway, History of the James River and
Kanawha Company, New York, 1922, 12
154
in 1784 the Assembly was enthusiastic in support of measures
17
to improve the Potomac and James Rivers.
As suggested in
the plan of Washington, navigation of the Potomac involved
a three-point program: to clear and extend navigation of
the Potomac from Tidewater upwards as far as practical; to
open a convenient road from the navigable headwaters of
the.i Bbtamac to the Ohio; to encourage the use of the
system with as least tolls as possible.
A similar program
was also designed for navigation of the James.
The act for extending navigation of the Potomac
passed the Assembly without opposition.
Washington made
a special trip to Richmond to confer with members of the
legislature, and thus gave his great influence to the
measure even as he had done in a famous letter written to
18
Governor Harrison.
The act provided that subscribers
to the project should be incorporated into a company;
there should be five hundred shares amounting to $220,000;
tolls to be collected at the three principal falls; work
to begin within one year and completed within ten under
penalty of entire forfeiture.
navigation on the James
wq s
A similar act for extending
also passed.
Under this act
subscriptions were to be taken and appropriated by a board
of trustees as a loan to the state bearing ten per cent
interest.
Also ten years was allowed for the completion
of the project.
17
Ibid., 18
18
Worthington C. Ford, editor, The Writings of George
Washington, New york and London, 1891, X, 47)2-14,
Washington to Benjamin Harrison, Oct. 10, 1784
155
Washington was elected active president of the
Fotomac Company in which he was primarily Interested.
He
declined an opportunity to become president of the James
Company, because he was unable to assume active duties.
The Assembly also voted him shares in both companies
which, however, he promptly refused, designating that the
19
shares be used for the completion of the project.
A year later subscriptions of the Potomac
Company were complete within a few shares, and work was
begun on lesser obstructions in the Potomac.
On a trip
to Philadelphia in August, 1786, Madison observed that
about fifty men were employed on the project at the rapids,
20
and one hundred men at the principal falls.
In the follow­
ing year Samuel Vaughan observed that at the Oreat Falls,
the principal obstruction, a canal had been built three and
one-half feet deep and twenty-five feet wide, running
21
parallel with the river for three-quarters of a mile.
But commerce on the Potomac also involved Maryland
and Pennsylvania, two states that would benefit from the
project for improvement.
Navigation of the river had long
been a source of conflict between Virginia and these states,
but after the Revolution their rivalry was mitigated.
Before the incorporation of the Potomac Company, Ms,rch 1784,
19
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 109
20
Ibid., 258
21
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 59
156
Madison suggested in a letter to Jefferson that Maryland
was in a receptive mood for a settlement of difficulties
arising out of trade on the Potomac in as much as Virginia
22
had ceded her western land claims to Congress.
Madison's
suggestion was approved "by the Assembly on June 30 of the
same year.
In the following October, joint resolutions
passed the Assemblies of Maryland and Virginia for clearing
a road from the head streams of the Potomac to the Cheat
River, or if necessary, to the Monongahelia; more than
three thousand dollars were appropriated by each state,
and permission was asked of Pennsylvania to clear the
road through land within her jurisdiction.
In this
project, Pennsylvania cooperated readily with Maryland
23
and Virginia.
A'year later commissioners were appointed by
Maryland and Virginia to meet at Alexandria in order to
confer on Potomac navigation, to settle difficulties
arising out of jurisdiction of the Chesapeake Bay, the
Poltomoke and Potomac Rivers.
By some mistake as to the
time and place of meeting, the Virginia commissioners
not attend.
did
Washington invited the delegates in Alexandria
to hold their meetings at his home.
The report of the
22
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 42
23
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 107* Virginia also
appointed commissioners to make surveys for a canal
in the region between the Elizabeth River and North
Carolina— a bid for the commerce of North Carolina;
to make surveys for a road across the watershed of
the James River to the Ohio waters. JTburnal of the
House of Delegates. June 1785
157
commissioners was dated March. 28, 1785*
The commissioners
were of the opinion that duties on imports and exports,
if levied, "should he same in each state," and that
commissioners from each state should meet annually and
"communicate the regulations of commerce and duties
proposed hy each State, and to confer on such subjects as
24
may concern the commercial interests of both states."
Another move to improve commerce on the Potpmac
came the following year and was enlarged to include all
states concerned with the matter of interstate trade.
On the last day of October session, 1786, James Madison,
who had been appointed to the Mount Vernon conference,
made the suggestion, proposed earlier by John Taylor of
Caroline but ignored, that a commercial interstate
convention be held.
Annapolis was suggested as the
meeting place in order to avoid accusations that influences
for the movement had come from Congress and the commercial
25
cities.
But Congress did not approve of calling the
convention, believing that nothing "decisive" would come
of it.
Many congressmen thought that the motives behind
calling of the convention amounted to a political
26
matteeuura
,
, .
■fflgmouver on the part of Virginia.
24
Quoted from Rowland, Life of George Mason,Appendix,
II, 380
25
Hunt, Writings of Madison, II, 227
26
Burnett, Letters of Members of Congress, VIII,
355, 390
158
However, Madison!s resolution passed the House
with only two dissenting votes.
Little did the House
realize what the future had in store, or what would he the
fruits of the proposed convention.
The commissioners of
the various states met at Anapolis and were unanimous in
their report "that speedy measures may he taken to effect
a general meeting of the states, in a future convention . •
. . as the situation of public affairs may he found to
require . . .
at Philadelphia on the second Monday in
May next."
The time was ripe for such a move.
Both planter
and local merchant were dissatisfied with the state of
commerce.
Prices of Virginia produce were falling; in
fact, there was a general downward movement of prices
throughout the country.
Petitions from mercantile centers
27
asked for retaliation against British restrictions
while planters continued to register familiar complaints
against the merchant.
But how was there to he relief?
Gould some of the problems facing Virginia he solved without
the cooperation of other states?
The men who later became
strong anti-federalists had favored Virginia*s retaliation
against the merchant; yet, they had been largely unsueeeSsl
ful.
Those who later became federalists were convineed
that the solution depended upon concerted action by the
states; they turned toward the Constitution.
27
Journal of the House of Delegates, Nov. 4, 5, 1785,
2 2 , 24"
Thus from conscious attempts to improve Tidewater
commerce, many planters realized the necessity, the logical
implication, to improve interstate commerce.
When this
stage had been reached a conscious movement developed with
the purpose of reorganizing the Old Confederation to meet
new demands.
The movement that began with the intention
to improve Virginia commerce, particularly Tidewater
commerce, had no conscious background on the part of its
leaders for the creation of a new federal system, and less
still for the adoption of theCConstitution of 1787.
Rather,
federalism was an incidental growth which in its conscious
identity with Virginia interests became a powerful means
in the estimates of most planters to curtail any further
relapses in the strength of Tidewater institutions, whether
in commerce, politics, land, or labor.
CHAPTER VIII
FEDERALISM AND THE PEOPLE
Delegates to the Philadelphia convention were
appointed hy the same assembly that sent representatives
to Annapolis.
A joint session of the legislature, on
December 4, 1786, appointed George Washington, Patrick
Henry, Edmund Randolph, George Mason, James Madison,
George Wythe, and John Blair to "devise and discuss . . .
to render the Federal Constitution adequate."
Patrick
Henry refused to accept the appointment and remained at
1
home in Virginia. James McClurg, an eminent physician,
was elected to fill the vacancy, but like several others
did not sign the Constitution.
In fact, only two Virginia
delegates, excluding Washington, together with thirty-eight
other members, signed the document at Philadelphia.
There
is evidence to support the belief that Washington signed
willingly as presiding officer of the convention.
But
Randolph and Mason, who participated vigorously in the
debates, found enough objections to the Constitution to
withhold their signatures.
Wythe left the Convention to
hurry to the bedside of his ailing wife, while McClurg
left the convention sometime before its adjournment.
Thus,
only Madison and Blair remained to sign.
1
Moreover, John Pickering and Benjamin West of New
Hampshire, Francis Dana of Massachusetts, John Nelson
and Abraham Clark of New Jersey, Richard Caswell and
Willie Jones of North Carolina, George Walton and
Nathaniel Pendleton of Georgia also refused to attend.
While the convention was in session, there was
practically no speculation on the part of Virginians hack
home as to the nature of the business being held behind
closed doors at Philadelphia.
Such speculation as there
was is found to be negligible even in thessa&ll circles
of men high in public life.
However, when the Constitution was brought to
Virginia there was a quickening of interest, among men in
public life, that penetrated public opinion.
Federalism
became the great political issue and solvent by which
contemporary and traditional problems were sharply
reflected.
In no previous period of Virginia history did
the discussion of state sovereignty serve as an adequate
common denominator, a modus operandi, for the consideration
of problems involving slave ownership, tax collection,
internal and external trade, and British debts.
Immediately after Philadelphia enthusiasm for
the Constitution ran high, contrary to the opinion of Hugh
Blair G-rigsby in his excellent treatise, The History of the
2
Virginia Federal Convention of 1788. Edmund Randolph
wrote to Madison shortly after the Philadelphia convention,
September 30, 1787, that people in Alexandria were
2
G*rigsby says that "it is certain that upon an
immediate direct vote upon it(Constitution) by
the people, it would have been rejected by an
overwhelming majority." See p. 31. Cf. Conway,
Life of Randolph. 95-97
enthusiastic for the Constitution; and on October 23, he
wrote that the ’'first raptures in favor of the Constitution
3
were excessive."
Similarly, McClurg wrote to Madison that
the reception of the Constitution in Richmond and other
4
cities was enthusiastic.
However, sentiment soon began to swing in the
opposite direction.
Political alignment began to take a
more distinctive form, and the objections to the Constitu­
tion, as foreshadowed in the Philadelphia convention,
extended to Virginia.
Patrick Henry soon became the
torchbearer, and his ideas gained ground rapidly.
From
the very outset of the campaign the federalists gave
vigorous support to their cause; yet, when a strong oppo­
sition began to develop, they increased their efforts to
regain converts.
But despite the counter attack by the
federalists, their cause lost more and more popularity
as the time for ratification drew nearer.
On the eve of
the rectifying convention the strength of thettwo parties
was more evenly balanced than ever before.
The drift toward anti-federalism may be w&ll
illustrated in the attitude of the Assembly which at first
was overwhelmingly in favor of theJConstitution, but appeared
almost evenly divided on the eve of ratification.
Thus, the
3
Madison MSS, vol. 8 . The complete letter is^^lso
copied in Conway, Life of Randolph, 95, without
citation.
4
Ibid., McClurg to Madison, October 31, 1787
163
Assembly was
Important organniin reflecting the possible
outcome of the campaign.
Although the House resolved that
the choice of delegates to the ratifying convention should
not be confined to members of the legislature only, twothirds of the delegates to the ratifying convention had
seen previous service in the Assembly, and nearly one-half
were members of the October Assembly of 1787 that
unanimously favored an "investigation, discussion, and
decision" of the Constitution.
Moreover, qualifications
for delegates to th^issembly also applied to delegates to
the convention.
Every free hold citizen was eligible for
a seat in the Convention; each legislative constituency
sent two representatives; elections were held at the usual
places, conducted by the customary officials.
The elections
were to be held in March of 1788 on the first day of the
meeting of the/30urt in each legislative district.
The
delegates were to meet at the State House in Richmond on
the first Monday in June.
The campaign was a heated one, ably conducted
by both federalist and anti-federalists.
Yet, on the whole,
5
it remained dignified and free of "acrimonious principles."
Unlike the case in Massachusetts, New York, or Delaware,
there were no disorder or riots, a fact Henry brought to
6
the attention of the convention in his second speech.
Madison MSS, February 9, 1788
6
Elliot, Debates, III, 4-8
164
No duels were fought; no fraud occurred at the polls.
The
campaign was conducted in the traditional manner of speech
making at court house or public gathering.
Letter writing played a less important role, and
the newspapers still less, though neither is not to he
overlooked as significant factors.
Pamphlet literature
circulated less frequently than in the Northern states, and
hardly reached the backcountry at all either in the form
of printed copies or reprints in the newspapers.
No doubt
this poor circulation in the backcountry explains the
relative lack of interest the west showed in the campaign.
Prominent men in the backcountry were less frequently
contacted than those in the east.
Humphrey Marshall, a
federalist delegate from Fayette Gounty, Kentucky, saw a
copy of the Federalist for the first time when on his way
7
to the Convention.
However, letters were written to the
backcountry, principally to Kentucky, by James Madison.
Of the literature in circulation, the federalists
had the larger quantity.
Some of the leading newspapers,
though enjoying only a limited circulation in the older
sections of the state, increased their circulation, and
were favorably inclined toward the Constitution.
Their
arguments in behalf of theCConstitution, in accord with
the order of the day, were reprints from popular
ist pamphlets.
7
federal­
The Virginia Gazette carried federalist
Grigsby, History of the Federal Convention. 3In
arguments; the Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal answered Mason
Objections to the Constitution in an article running in
three of its numbers.
The Virginia Herald and Richmond
Advertiser reprinted the federalist arguments of the
"American,” in the issues for June 5, and June 12, 1788.
The Virginia Independent Chronicle likewise carried
jELrguments from the "American" as well as from the Federalist,
Since Virginia cities were federalist in temper, it is
therefore not surprising that most of the newspapers
reflected this sentiment.
Federalist pamphlets also enjoyed a wider
circulation.
Federalists saw to it that delegates to the
ratifying convention received a copy of the Federalist;
that copies were distributed to prominent and influential
persons.
From New York, November 18, 1787, Madison sent
Washington the first numbers of the Federalist and asked
him to place the papers in the hands of his "confidential
correspondents at Richmond who would have them reprinted
8
there."
On November 20, the seven following numbers were
sent, and still more on December 7.
Archibald Stuart, a
federalist and prominent lawyer, wrote to Madison from
Richmond, November 9, 1787, that the articles written by
an "American" had good effects "and with some other pieces
of merit have been printed in a small pamphlet for the
8
Writings of Madison, Hunt, V, 55
166
9
information of the people*”
On January 14, 1788 Stuart
wrote that 11Publius is in general estimation, his greatness
10
is acknowledged universally.”
And on April 8 of the same
year Q-eorge Nicholas, an outstanding federalist and judge
of Charlottesville, asked Madison to send thirty or forty
11
copies of Publius for distribution*
The campaign strategy of the federalists was to
plead for union.
When Edward Carrington, in February 1788
mad£ aocircuit through Cumberland, Powhatan, and Chester­
field, largely anti-federal areas, he pleaded strongly for'
union so as to alienate Henry s followers.
The federalist
"American’
,' writing in the Virginia Herald, pointed out the
13
evils of disunion.
Moreover, the letters of Washington
and Madison are filled with numerous statements and fears
of disunity, of the danger that would befall America in
disunion.
So strong was Madison's plea that he considered
14
Henry*s opposition as driving toward a Southern confederacy.
On the other hand, the anti-federalists were so
divided on their points of view that they were unable to
follow a single line of attack.
In fact, opposition to the
9
Madison MSS,, vol. 8
10
Ibid.
11
Ibid.
12
Ibid., Carrington to Madison, February 10, 1788
13
Virginia Herald, June 12, 1788
14
Hunt, Writings of Madison, V, 80
167
Constitution ran from violent rejection by Henry through
the mild attacks of Randolph.
So thin was the line of
demarcation in Randolph that he finally was led to vote
for the Constitution over the provoking attacks of Henry.
Generally, Randolph belonged to the small but influential
men who favored adoption with limitations.
Together with
Mason and Richard Henry Lee, he sought to attach amendments
to the Constitution; he differed from them in as much as
he believed that a second convention, in expectancy of
securing amendments, would spell the complete defeat of
the Constitution.
The left wing anti-federalists pleaded that union
had already been accomplished by the Revolution, and that
union under the Constitution as it remained would be
dangerous to Virginia and America.
In the ratifying
convention, as in the campaign, their most efrective
strategy was to urge amendments prior to adoption— a
15
strategy already anticipated by tbejfederalists.
The
federalists believed that a second convention would be
injurious to their cause and they were determined not
to accept this challenge.
Randolph feared that the left
wing anti-federalists merely sought amendments for the
15
Madison MSS., vol. 9, Madison to Washington,
June 23 , 1?88
168
sake of political expediency.
16
17,
He wrote to Madison, April
1788:
Two objections have always struck me as deserving
consideration on the subject of previous amendments:
one, that under their cover a higher game might be
played; the other, that the hope of obtaining them
might be frustrated by the assent of too many states*
The former I fear more Ahd more, daily; not knowing
how far the scheme of those who externally patronize
them, may internally extend.
While the campaign was in progress, there was
much speculation in Virginia as to the future course of
events under the new federal system.
Such speculation
oftimes brought fears in its wake, and was undoubtedly an
important factor in explaining the uncertainty as the day
of the convention approached*
The anti-federalists never
failed to take advantage of this uncertainty; they
emphasized over and over again the harm that would come
to Virginia under the Constitution.
One of Mason!s
objections was based on the belief that the Constitution
imperiled Southern agricultural interests:
By requiring only a majority to make all commercial
and navigation laws, the five southern states will
be ruined: for such rigid and premature regulations
may be made, as will enable the merchants of the
northern and eastern states not only to demand an
exorbitant freight, but to monopolize the purchase
of commodities, at their own price . . . to the
great injury of the landed interest.
16
Conway, Life of Randolph. 102
169
Of course, federalists retaliated that the landed
interests of the South would not he destroyed.
The
”American” pointed out that the agricultural states of
South Carolina and Maryland had already ratified, and that
if Virginia refused to ratify, a tariff would he placed
upon her products; she would suffer isolation in the new
17
federal order.
Thus, it was intimated that any attempt
at a Southern confederacy under Virginia leadership would
he doomed to fail.
On the other hahd, speculation then
arose as to whether other states were not depending upon
Virginia to suggest the leadership for a course of action;
this fact did not escape the attention of either federalists
or anti-federalists.
The position other states took toward the
Constitution was discussed enormously in political circles.
There can he no douht that as other states ratified--only
one short of the required number by the time the Virginia
conventioh met— Virginia began to develop an awareness that
she must either conform to the existing t£end or make
provisions ifor another alternative.
The latter course lay
more in the realm of improbability since the program of the
anti-federalists constituted no organized system; rather,
it was critically destructive of the Constitution.
In
the plea of the federalists for union, which was substituted
for that of the Constitution, there was also a moral
17
Virginia Herald, June 12, 1788
170
implication.
The word "union’1 carried a positive
psychological charge in 1788 just as the word 11liberty”
had been a rallying symbol in 1776.
With half of the states
having given more force to this implication by actually
assenting to the Constitution, the position of the anti­
federalists became more untenable as the country drifted
toward final ratification.
This phenomenon did not escape the attention
of the federalists, either in the campaign or in the
convention.
From Warrenton in Faquier County, Benjamin
Hawkins wrote to Madison that the fate of the Constitution
in Virginia depended in a "great measure" on the decision
18
of Massachusetts.
Similarly, G-eorge Nicholas thought
19
adoption by Virginia depended upon other states. Madison
himself thought the difference between a postponement and
adoption by Maryland would give an advantage to the
Virginia anti-federalists.
Federalists believed that
persons lukewarm toward the Constitution could be won over
provided other states set the pace.
Therefore, the
vigilance of the federalists was concerted; the correspon­
dence of Washington and Madison with the leading federalists
of New York and Massachusetts is preserved as a testimony
of this fact.
18
Madison MSS., February 18, 1788
19
Ibid. , G-eorge Nicholas to Madison, April 5» 1788
171
Furthermore, there were fears excited that the
adoption of the Constitution would place Virginia*s titles
to western lands in jeopardy; that the old claims of
Indiana and Vandalia would be validated.
There was
uncertainty and fear that monarchy or dictatorship would
result; that British debts would be collected; that the
Mississippi would be lost; that slaves would be liberated.
The federalists, however, simply denied that such would
be the case— so it remained for history to supply the
answers.
Approximately 20,000 persons voted in the
election for delegates to the convention— a number consider­
ably higher than ordinary election returns.
About fifty-
three per cent of this number were federalist votes which,
when translated into actual numbers, gave the federalists
a slim majority of 1,200 or only six hundred more than
half of the number of votes cast.
The northern and eastern parts of the state
favored adoption whereas the southern and southwestern
sections were principally in opposition.
The Valley was
strongly inclined toward adoption while Kentucky was
anti-federal.
Orin Grant Libby in his The Geographical
Distribution of the Vote of the Thirteen States on the
Federal ConstltutIon estimates the percentage distribution
20
as follows:
Section
^For
Against
Tidewater
80
20
Piedmont
26
74
97
3
10
90
Valley and
West Virginia
Kentucky
/
These estimates were evidently based upon an analysis of
the convention vote rather than upon an examination of
election returns which, however, have not been preserved*
They are acceptable only as rough estimates in as much as
they make no provision for discrepancies existing in the
opinion of delegates and the attitude of the constituents.
However, one fact is indisputable: that a slight majority
of the voters, as well as a slight majority of the delegates
favored the Constitution, and that the general trend of the
sectional alignment, ascertained from contemporary
21
estimates, correlates closely with the convention vote.
The upper and lower middle sections of the state,
where anti-federalism was strongest, were also the great
tobacco growing region, Baptist strongholds and tax
20
Orin Grant Libby, The Geographical Distribution of
the V&te of the Thirteen States on the Federal
Constitution, 1787-7&, Madison, 1594,34-35
21
Cf. Map VII in Appendix with map by Libby.
delinquent areas.
Here was also the region of greatest
22
economic distress and discontent.
No doubt the agrarian
discontent in this region may be attributed to the fall in
farm prices and the poor harvests of the preceeding year.
In this region were also found the largest number of small
farmers.
On the other hand, save for the shipping centers,
federal areas were generally more prosperous; certainly,
the Valley and the north central counties were the most
thriving sections of the state.
Moreover, the belief that critical times in
Virginia formed an atmosphere for ratification have no
great basis.
The surplus of the treasury in 17B8 was greater
than the amount of any other year during the period.
Prices
of tobacco were still low, as compared with the high years
of prosperity, but showed a slight upward trend; yet, on
their low level they were on a par with the level of 1774or 1775.
Besides, prices for corn were good. Trade wqs
beginning to show a revival: Philadelphia probably received
23
more ships in 1788 than in the prosperous year of 1785Trade in Virginia also showed a revival despite handicaps.
Samuel Vaughan observed that commerce in Alexandria was
thriving; that the city had recently constructed additional
24
wharves.
22
Madison MSS.f John Dawson to Madison, June 12, 1787
23
Robert East, Business Enterprise in the American
Revolutionary Era, New York, 1938, 25*9
24
Diary of Samuel Vaughan, 58
174
Although there were no sharp divisions of class
lines represented in the attitude on the Constitution, it
may be pointed out that most of the men of wealth, public
influence, and education were found in the federalist
ranks.
Most of the officers of the army were federalists
as were the presidents of William and Mary and HampdenSidney colleges.
Of the nine Phi Beta Kappa members of
the ratifying convention, six voted for the Constitution
and three against.
As in other states, prominent lawyers,
judges, and physicians seem to have been favorably inclined
toward theConstitution.
pronounced.
The religious cleavage was most
The alignment of sections reveals that
Baptists and Methodists, the chief dissenting sects,
generally opposed the Constitution, while Episcopalians
and Presbyterians favored it.
G-enerally, the large planter and merchant favored
the Constitution, but in the case of the former, numerous
exceptions forbid any Inclusive statement.
The planter
l&Oked to the Constitution as an Instrument to protect
the best features of his social Institutions in which
slavery played an important role.
The local merchant
thought that trade would be more prosperous under the
Constitution; that old debts from the planters could be
25
collected. The shipping interests of the lower southeastern
counties, all of which fell in the trade orbit of Norfolk
and Portsmouth, were solid for the constitution.
25
Allason Letter Books, 523-4
175
There is no evidence that the planter and merchant
allied consciously to restrain the aggressive small farmer,
impatient of control by the propertied classes, and more
radical in politics and religion.
Their similarity of
position was no mere incident, however; both considered
the Constitution in the light of their own interests and
made their decision on the basis that healthful Tidewater
institutions would be more beneficial to their cause.
On the whole, the dominant slave interests
supported the Constitution.
Although the total number of
slaves in counties voting against the Constitution was
greater than the number in counties favoring ratification,
an analysis of the ratio of slaveholders in each county
to the free population, as well as to the percentage of
slaves in each county, reveals that slaveholding interests
were mainly federal in sentiment.
While on one hand the
counties with the largest slave populations— Amelia,
Culpeper, Dinwiddie, Hanover—
voted anti-federal, on the
other hand, even though the slave percentages were high
in these counties, on the wh&le counties with the highest
slave percentages were overwhelmingly in tihe^ranks of the
federalists.
Slaves made up more than one-half of the
26
population of twenty-nine counties.
Twelve of these
counties voted for theConstitution, twelve against, and
26
See table In Appendix
176
five were divided.
Twenty out of the twenty-nine were
Tidewater counties, twelve of which voted for the Consti­
tution, while only six were against: the remaining nine
counties were in the Piedmont, of which not a single one
voted for the Constitution, while six voted against
ratification and three were divided.
If the slave percentages
of these twenty-nine counties were arranged in descending
order, the results would show that nine of the first
fifteen counties voted for the Constitution while only
four voted against ratification and two were divided.
All
except two of the fifteen counties--Powhatan and AmeliaTwere in Tidewater, and were among the oldest counties of
the state.
When it is considered that the percentage of
slaveholders was also highest in these counties and that
a slaveholder in these counties generally held more slaves
as compared with other counties, that the balance in
political power in these counties was tremendously on the
side of the heavy, slaveholding planters, there Is much
evidence in support of theecontention that large slave
interests lined up in favor of the Constitution.
Moreover,
in as much as the planter was the dominant figure in
politics, it followed that as he was inclined so were a
large number of judges, lawyers, legislators and clergymen.
'the election of delegates to the ratifying
convention brought together one of the most august assemblies
177
of the period.
Although many of the figures who had
participated in the revolutionary movements of 1776 had
passed from the scene, including Richard Bland and Peyton
Randolph, many men of great talent and wide political
experience were found among both federalist and anti­
federalists.
It is
eminent group.
difficult to Bay which was the more
On the federalist side were James Madison,
John Marshall, Edmund Randolph, G-eorge Nicholas, Edmund
Pendleton, and John Blair; on the other side were Patrick
Henry, George Mason, William Grayson, James Monroe,
Benjamin Harrison, and John Tyler.
Though not in attendance
at the convention, the influence of Washington was counted
on the federalist side, while that of Richard Henry Lee
went to the anti-federalists.
Grigsby has this comment
27
on the relative merits of the parties:
Great as were the merits of Washington and Mftdlson,
and none rejoices in them more than I do, it is
simply stating an historical fact in saying that
in 1788 neither of them stood in the estimation of
the Virginia of that day on the same platform with
Patrick Henry and George Mason.
Spectators to the convention first sought to get a glimpse
of Henry and Mason of the anti-federalists, and Pendleton
and Wythe of the federalists.
The convention was the last great stage on which
the personalities of the revolutionary era clashed in
debate.
It exceeded by fifty-two the number that attended
27
Cited in Rowland, Life of Mason, II
178
the Virginia constitutional convention of 1776, and was
four times larger than the body that met at Philadelphia.
Twenty of its one hundred and seventy members had attended
the convention of 1776 while two others, Benjamin Harrison
and George Wythe had been elected to the convention of 1776
but were in attendance at the Continental Congress.
It is
safe to say that the nucleus of leadership in the ratifying
convention came from these twenty-two men, among whom were
Patrick Henry, George Mason, Edmund Randolph, James Madison,
Edmund Pendleton, John Blair, and Merrlwether Smith.
Conspicuously absent, however, was Thomas Jefferson of
Albemarle.
Thus, the convention was the finale to a great
drama.
Not many years after its close many of the old
revolutionary leaders died, retired from active political
life, or entered national politics.
Though Madison, Monroe,
and Marshall were to live to attend the Virginia convention
of 1829, Wythe lived until 1806 but withdrew to his private
law school in 1790.
Randolph became Attorney General and
Secretary of State in Washington1s cabinet; Henry also
took a position in Washington’s administration but died In
1799; Blair was appointed to the Supreme Court by Washington
and died in 1800.
Theodorick Bland and William Grayson,
the lesser known of the anti-federalists, died in 1790.
Benjamin Harrison, a descendant of "King Carter," died
the following year, and in 1792 George Mason was buried at
±79
his "beloved Guns ton Hall.
Truly, the end of an era had
come; the revolutionary leaders were passing, though the
principles they had agitated lived on.
The debates of the convention have been best
described by Hugh Blair Grigsby, once the president of the
Virginia Historical Society and Chancellor of William and
Mary.
His descriptions of personalities, floor strategy,
and the methods of debate are fascinating and gratifying
to the student; and though at times he lapses into eulogies
of the members, later historians have substantiated his
position; for the manner of presentation and quality of
debates, originally recorded by James Robertson in short­
hand and later published by Johathan Elliot, are indicative
of the political acumen of Virginia statesmen which gave
them a high place of recognition among their contemporaries.
On the convention floor Virginia leaders made some of the
ablest speeches of their careers.
Beard says in his
Economic Interpretation of the Constitution
that in no
other state was there a higher order of debate, 11In no
other state were the forces for and against the Constitution
28
more ably marshalled and led."
The biographer of Edmund
Randolph calls thediscussion "the ablest forensic display
'
29
that ever occurred in this country." William Wirt, the
28
Beard, op. cit., 235
29
Conway, Life of Randolph, 106
180
biographer of Patrick Henry, together with Grigsby, is more
exuberant in his praises, at times flamboyant and rhetori­
cal, while the biographer of George Mason adds her adoration
by citing from both Wirt and Grigsby.
Members of families of long-standing reputation
lawyers, judges, military men, legislators, physicians,
college professors, and planters were sent to the convention.
The number of lawyers, judges, and military men constituted
by far the largest groups.
More than one-fourth of the
members of the convention had seen service in some form
of military capacity; twice this number were in politics
or the legal profession.
The convention attracted a great deal of attention
In the state and throughout the country, chiefly in
political circles.
However, the assembly hall was not
filled with spectators until the third day, June 4, when
every available seat was occupied while hundreds remained
30
standing.
From this day onward, despite warm weather
and rain, attendance remained lively.
William Heth, a
recently elected member of thefcouncil, attended frequently,
7
31
usually in company with the elite of society.
Though
he made no comments in his diary as to what went on in
the convention, he does make entries--sometimes bare
statements— that he attended the sessions and afterwards
dined with persons who were also in attendance at the
convention.
30
Grigsby, op. cit., 73
31
Diary of William Heth, Library of Congress, passim.
181
Perhaps in New York, more than in any other state,
the action of Virginia was given most consideration.
The
New York convention was being held at Poughkeepsie from
June IT to June 26; thus, it convened two weeks later than
the Virginia convention.
Here the federalists carried on
a strong crusade in order to overthrow the anti-federalist
majority.
The two great protagonists were Governor Clinton
and Alexander Hamilton; each was actively engaged in the
support of his respective cause, and wrote letters to
Virginia with the view in mind that the decision of
Virginia would be a factor in the outcome of New York.
Alexander Hamilton wrote to Madison that a "happy issue"
in Virginia would have considerable influence in behalf
32
of the New York federalists.
Three days later, when New
York was nearing its decision, Hamilton wrote urgently
that he awaited a federal victory in Virginia as New York's
33
only chance to ratify.
Most significant was the correspondence of Clinton
with Randolph.
In the fall session of 1787* the Virginia
legislature passed an act, under the influence of Henry,
that required the governor to transmit acts of Virginia
to other states, expressing the hope that other states
would do likewise.
It was a gesture intended to supply
an occasion for the exchange of opinions on the Constitution.
32
Madison MSS.. June 19, 1788
33
Ibid., June 21, 1788
On December 27, 1787, Randolph, sent the act to each
governor.
However, the circular did not reach the Governor
of New York until March, 1788--a delay just sufficient to
prevent the letter from being acted upon by the New York
legislature.
Not only did the circular reach Clinton too
late to influence the legislature, but the Virginia legis­
lature had adjourned so that Clinton*s answer was necessarily
delayed.
Thus, It was not until May 8 that Clinton answered,
so timing his letter that it would reach the Virginia
convention in order to prevent the adoption of the Consti­
tution by "small majorities in the large states."
But the
convention knew nothing of the letter until the day after
it had ratified the Constitution by a small majority of ten.
An extra session of the legislature had been called
for June 23.
On this day Randolph informed the Assembly
that he had received correspondence from the Governor of
New York.
But there was no quorum present since most of
the delegates were in the ratifying convention.
However,
there was a quorum present the next day, but the letter
was laid over until the following day, June 25, when again,
as on June 23, there was no quorum since it was the day
the final vote was taken on the Constitution over the
eloquent protest of Henry. Moncure D. Conway, who first
uncovered the affair,34-says that the "voice which might
34Conway, Life of Randolph, 109-16
have saved H^nry^s cause was not in the heavens, or in the
tempest, nor in his own flame, but lay small and still on
35
a table of a neighboring room made vacant by his eloquence*
Conway exonerates Randolph of accusations of foul
play hurled at him by the anti-federalists on grounds that
Randolph as governor of the state was responsible only to
the legislature since the Clinton letter was written to
him in that capacity, and not in the capacity as a member
36
of the convention*
However, it is difficult to accept
the biographer's explanation without first questioning
the motives Randolph, as a man and thinker, had in mind
relative to the adoption of the Constitution.
It may be
pointed out that whether as a citizen of the convention
or Governor of the state, Randolph was inclined to act in
the direction of his inner convictions.
The strategy of the federalists on the convention
floor, as it had been in the campaign, was to emphasize
the necessity of union.
This was the trump card they held
37
to the very last speech of the convention.
They reiterated
that eight states had already ratified, and since nine were
only necessary to complete the compact, the question was
either union or disunion.
Ironically, however, New
Hampshire also in session at the same time of New York and
35
Ibid., 113
36
Ibid., 116
37
Elliot, Debated, III, 652
184
Virginia, had ratified on June 21 — too late to reach
Virginia before the final vote was taken.
When the vote
was taken on the resolution for amendments to be considered
at another convention prior to the adoption of theCConstitution , the anti-federalists lost by 88 to 80; on the
main question they lost 89 to 79.
A movement that began
to improve Tidewater commerce had now been curiously
modified into a consideration of political functions and
a philosophy of government.
The anti-federalists accepted their defeat
bitterly.
After the convention they sought revenge on the
stage of national politics.
Like Massachusetts, Virginia
adopted a pure district system for the election of
congressmen.
The anti-federalists held control of the
38
legislature after ratification, bs*t they were weaker in
the separate sections.
They divided the state into ten
districts, and grouped th^jounties so as to give any
possible benefit to themselves.
However, only three
anti-federal candidates were successful in the elections
to the House— Isaac Coles, Josiah Parker, and Theodorlck
Bland.
On the other hand, there was a short delay in
putting certain aspects of the Constitution Into operation.
It is true that Virginia admiralty jurisdiction ceased by
38
Madison was decisively defeated by the Assembly in
his nomination for the senatorship.
185
39
an act of December 22, 1788,
but the act was not enforced
until well into the following year.
On March 20, 1789, the
Council took the same position that it had on November 3
40
of the previous year;
As doubt being suggested whether the Naval Officers
of this state have authority to enforce the payment
of Duties after the new federal G-overnment goes into
operation--it is advised that the Governor
immediately direct the Naval Officers at the different
Forts to insist on the payment of all Duties as
heretofore until they shall receive Instructions
from the Executive to the contrary.
It was not until July 21, 1789, that the Governor, Beverly
Randolph, issued a proclamation commanding revenue officers
to cease to exercise their power after the first day of
August.
39
Hening, Statutes, XII, 769
40
Journal of the Council, 620
186
CHAPTER IX
REVOLUTION AND TRADITION; AFTERWORD
The Revolution against England was a conservative
movement; it was an aggressive counter stroke on the part
of the planter regime to maintain Tidewater institutions
at home.
This counter stroke was not only aimed at England
hut also at the discontented elements at home: at the
spirit of 1776 as embodied in the ideals of Jefferson, at
the implications of a rising west, and the movement for
social reform at home, whether in land, politics, labor,
or religion.
Whereas the planter regime was able to
present a solid front against England, the revolutionary
atmosphere tended to drive a wedge into its ranks and to
provide a solution for many of the century-old problems
that had become chronic during the period.
While the war
with England was being fought, there was little time for
other measures to be considered.
But at the close of the
war reform at home became an issue more so than during any
previous period.
old ones.
The war created new problems and agitated
At the same time migrations from the old sections
of the state reflected changes in the social structure,
many of which, though given impetus by the war, would
have occurred in spite of the Revolution.
The critical period accepted the challenge
implied in the heritage of the Revolution which, in its most
important and essential nature, was a heritage of the age.
Many Virginians realized that Tidewater institutions,
inseparable from the plantation system and the role of
leadership Virginia enjoyed in the Confederation, could
be maintained by improving methods of farming and by
adding vitality to a relatively decadent Tidewater commerce
so closely related to the entire commercial system of the
state*
The immediate attempts to achieve the latter,
which was also a continuation of the traditional plantermerchant conflict, resulted indirectly in the constitution­
al movement of 1787-1788.
But the problems were deep rooted.
Under the
conditions Imposed by the culture of tobacco, linked with
the rise of the west, it was inevitable that planters
could not retain the old way of life and the regime in
which this life had been nurtured.
Despite attempts to
remedy the system of economy In agriculture and commerce,
to muster cooperative action against Britain, or to seek
for a solution in the federal Gonstitution, the Revolution
had aggravated many of the century-old problems facing
Virginia— problems which could be exposed but unlikely
to be solved by
Thus,
the undoing of history.
the ratification of theConstitution, a
product of the movement to revise the commercial system,
and an instrument supported by remnants of the planter
regime of 1776,
was a counter stroke to conserve the old
way of life at home against dynamic elements even as there
188
had been a counter stroke against a dynamic British policy
after 1765.
But a political tradition in Virginia life,
never lost sight of by thesopponents of the Constitution,
stood at crossroads with the movement to safeguard
Tidewater institutions at the expense of political local
autonomy.
It was a tradition of self-government and
individual freedom inherited partly from colonial experi­
ence and given expression by force of conviction.
It was
a tradition greatly esteemed by the anti-federalists, but
to which federalists gave less deference out of regard
for expediency in the hour of national disunity.
To the
anti-federalists, union on an objectionable basis was a
"trivial consolation," and should be secondary to the
great end of liberty and happiness.
1
the ratifying convention:
G-eorge Mason told
I have never, in my whole life, heard one single man
deny the necessity and propriety of union. This
necessity is deeply impressed on every American mind.
There can be no danger of any object being lost when
the mind of every man in the country is strongly
attached to it. Hut I hope it is not to the name,
but to the blessings of uhion, that we are attached.
Those gentlemen who are loudest in their praises of
the name, are not more attached to the reality than
I am. The security of our liberty and happiness is
the object we ought to have in view in wishing to
establish the union. If, instead of securing these,
1
Elliot, Debates, III, 269-70. Henry also said:
"The first thing I have at heart is American liberty;
the second thing Is American union; and I hope the
people of Virginia will endeavor to preserve that
union." Elliot, Debates, III, 57
189
we endanger them, the name of uhion will he hut a
trivial consolation. If the objections he removed,
if those parts which are clearly subversive to our
rights be altered, no man will go farther than I
will to advance the union. We are told, in strong
language, of dangers to which we will he exposed
unless we adopt this Constitution. Among the rest,
domestic safety is said to he in danger. Thiis
government does not intend our domestic safety.
It authorizes the importation of slaves for twentyodd years, andthus continues upon us that nefarious
trade. Instead of securing and protecting us, the
continuation of this detestable trade adds daily to
our weakness. Though this evil Is increasing, there
is no clause in the Constitution that will prevent
the Northern andEastern Sta,tes frbm meddling with
our whole property of that kind. There is a clause
to prohibit the importation of slaves after twenty
years;
but there is no provision made for securing
to the
Southern States those they now
possess.It
is far from being a desirable property; but it will
involve us in great difficulties and infelicity to
be now deprived of them. There ought to be a clause
in the
Constitution to secure us that
property,which
we have acquired under our former laws, and theloss
of which would bring ruin on a great many people.
Essentially what the anti-federalists had expressed
in their opposition to the federalists, and what Madison
lived to concede, was that the federal Constitution was
dangerous to local autonomy, and its relationship to
Virginia interests, in as much as it placed unwarranted
powers in the hands of the central administration.
Only a
week before Mason's death, Jefferson stopped at G-unston
Hall where he heard with respect Mason's last recorded
2
words, "the mantle of the prophet."
Jefferson reported
2
Rowland, Life of George Mason, II, 363
190
that Mason resented strongly the simple majority rule
by Congress enacted by the Philadelphia Convention
3
of 1787:
With respect to the importation of slaves, it was
left to Congress. This disturbed the two Southern­
most states who knew that Congress would immediately
suppress the importation of slaves. Those two
states, therefore, struck up a bargain with the
three New England States, that if they should join
to admit slaves for some years, the two Southernmost
States would join in changing the clause which
required two-thirds of the legislature in any vote.
It was done . . , Under this condition, the great
principles of the Constitution were changed.
Later Jefferson became President and the idol for a
generation of active statesmen, while his principles were
preserved as a heritage for American thought.
When the
Virginia dynasty entered the White House, the anti-federal
idea of 1788 was given forceful expression.
During
Jefferson’s first administration, ’’Virginia ruled the
A*
United States and the Republicans of 1798 ruled Virginia.”
At least in one period,
here was the revenge of a
tradition.
Yet, there remained the possibility that at
some future period this tradition would have to be
sacrificed, at least in pa,rt, as it had been in the triumph
3
Ibid., Ill, 590-91
4
Henry Adams, History of the United States, 1801-1805,
New York, 1909, II, 95
191
of the Constitution in 1788 .
At the very outset of the
ratifying convention, when the Preamble was being
considered, in characteristic eloquence Patrick Henry
5
questioned the nature of the Constitution:
And here I would make this Inquiry of those worthy
characters who composed a part of the late federal
Convention . . .What right had they to say, We the
people? . .- . instead of We, the states? States
are the characteristics and the soul of a confeder­
ation. If the states be not the agents of this
compact, it must be one great, consolidated,
national government of the people of all the states.
Here was a prelude for later history.
Henry's answer was
essentially an antithesis to Marshall's decision in
McCulloch vs. Maryland, to Jackson's response to South
Carolina's "nullification," to Webster's famous reply to
Kayne, and to the closing line of Lincoln's G-ettysburg
Address.
But Henry1s eloquence also turned to prophecy.
In his appeal to Southern fears of congressional control,
6
he reminded the convention:
The majority of Congress is to the north, and the
slaves are to the south. In this situation, I see
a great deal of the property of the people of
Virginia in jeopardy, andfcheir peace and tranquility
gone. I repeat it again, that it would rejoice my
very soul that every one of my fellow-beings was
5
Elliot, Debates, III, 22
6
Ibid., III, 590-91
192
emancipated. . . . But is it practicable, by any
human means, to liberate them without producing
the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?
One anti-federalist member who was listening to Henry
was Edmund Ruffin, whose grandson, bearing the same name
as well as that "fire eater," delighted to fire upon
Fort Sumpter In i860.
Another member was the father
of Robert E. Lee, who received his commission to lead
the armies of the Confederacy not far from the spot
where Henry delivered his speech--a spot eighty-five
miles east of Appomattox and sixty-five miles west of
Yorktown.
Thus, the tradition of one century became
the Lost Cause of another.
193
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203
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205
APPENDIX
DISTRIBUTION OF SLAVE POPULATION
GROUP AND
NUMBER
COUNTY
LOCATION
POFULA- % POFUTION 1790 LATION
VOTE ON
CONST
GROUP I
Amelia
Caroline
Culpeper
Hanover
Chesterfield
Gloucester
P
T
P
T
P
T
11,307
10,292
8,226
8,223
7,487
7,063
62
58
37
55
52
52
no
yes
no
no
d
yes
GROUP II
Brunswi ck
Mecklenburg
Fauquier
Southampton
Spotsylvania
Henrico
Albemarle
Halifax
Essex
King and Queen
Sussex
Norfolk
Amherst
King William
P
P
P
T
P
T
P
P
T
T
T
T
P
T
6,776
6,762
6,642
5,993
5,993
5,819
5,579
5,565
5,440
5,413
5,387
5,345
5,296
5,151
52
46
37
46
52
48
44
31
59
55
51
36
38
63
no
no
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
no
no
d
no
yes
no
no
Charlotte
Prince William
Goochland
Fairfax
Louisa
Prince George
Northumberland
Westmoreland
Orange
Cumberland
Lunenburg
Powhatan
GROUP III Frederick
Ac comae
Buckingham
King George
Stafford
Loudoun
Prince Edward
Ri chmond
Isle of Wight
Nansemond
New Kent
Greensville
Lancaster
Northampton
P
P
P
P
P
T
T
T
P
P
P
P
V
T
P
T
P
P
P
T
T
T
T
T
T
T
4,816
4,704
4,656
4,574
4,573
4,519
4,460
4,425
4,421
4,434
4,332
4,321
4,250
4,262
4,168
4,157
4,036
4,030
3,986
3,984
3,867
3,817
3,700
3,620
3,226
3,224
47
40
51
37
54
55
48
57
44
54
48
63
21
30
42
56
42
21
49
57
42
42
59
56
57
47
d
no
no
yes
d
no
yes
yes
y«?s
no
no
d
yes
d
no
yes
no
no
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
206
Princesse Anne
Charles City
Surry
T
T
T
3,202
3,141
3,097
41
56
49
yes
no
yes
GROUP IV
Pittsylvani a
Berkeley
York
Bedford
Middlesex
James City
Campbell
Elizabeth City
Augusta
Henry
Fluvanna
Botetourt
Franklin
P
V
T
P
T
T
P
T
V
P
P
V
P
2,979
2,932
2,760
2,754
2,558
2,495
2,488
1*876
1,567
1,551
1,466
1,259
1,073
25
14
52
26
61
61
32
54
14
18
38
12
15
no
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
no
no
yes
no
GROUP V
Warwi ck
Montgomery
Rockingham
Rockbridge
Shenandoah
Hampshire
Washington
Hardy
Greenbrier
Ohio
Russell
Monongaheli a
Harrison
Randolph
T
TA
V
V
V
TA
V
TA
TA
TA
TA
TA
TA
TA
990
828
772
682
512
454
450
369
319
281
190
154
67
19
58
6
10
10
4
6
8
6
5
5
2
3
3
1
d
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
no
d
yes
yes
P- Piedmont
T- Tidewater
TA- Trans-Alleghany
V- Valley
(Kentucky counties not shown)
207
M06S//£ADS
70
65
60
55
50
SO
Z$
Z0
95
DAT£
06
97
208
HOGrSHBAOS
27
23
2/
SB
B7
DAT&
SB
3$
90
9/
SHflUNQS
DAT
209
4-
w
I
191/
I
991/
,
591/
,
ir9l/
,
£91/
SHlLLtHGS
991/
211
212
*
MAPm
rl
SLAVE AND FREE POPULATION
IN 1790
213
'■yS
214
215
216
I
a
217
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