The Revolutionary History of Virginia

Edmund Randolph

[1809 / Part 5 of 5]


Virginia persevered in active military preparations: She raised volunteers for the grand army; a regiment of cavalry; a battalion for garrison-duty; recruits to fill up deficiencies by loss-and pecuniary supplies of public exigencies; and she retouched with force the laws, providing against invasions and insurrections.

But the nerve, which constantly shewed itself against the British enemy, now struck a serious blow at the administration of justice. It was generally believed, that a banditti in the neighborhood of Norfolk, had availed themselves of the cover and aid, which a British squadron and British forces had lately afforded them, for plunder, and revenge by various atrocities on many citizens. One Josiah Philips an alert and audacious leader had eluded every attempt to capture him. Terrible he certainly was, and his arrest would have merited a high reward. But the general assembly, without other evidence, than general rumour of his guilt, or the inefficiency of legal process in taking him into custody, on the motion of a member, attainted him of high treason, unless he should surrender by a given day. In a very august assembly of Virginia, it was contended, that as he deserved to die, it was unimportant, whether he fell, according to the technicality of legal proceeding, or not. Probably he deserved death, although if a judgment can be formed of this by subsequent facts, the prosecution against him, being as against a robber, not a traitor he was an offender less heinous, than he was conceived to be. His apology too, was not perhaps admissible; although it was, that he had never for a moment acquiesced in the revolution, or in the opposition to Great Britain; and that his loyalty was not for a moment concealed, but he received on the first opportunity, and acted under, a military commission from the crown. He did not surrender himself within the time prescribed, and was exposed, on being arrested, to the single question whether he was the person attainted, and upon the establishment of the affirmative to be led to execution. He waived his apology because he would not exasperate his jury in his defence against robbery. What was his peril, while he was roving abroad, devoted by a legislature to death, unless he should surrender himself, ought not to have been withdrawn from the view of those, whose duty it was to fence the constitution against noxious precedents. Nor is it an expiation of this hasty measure of wrath, that the previous alternative was offered to him of submitting to a trial. The denunciation of a government is almost the sure harbinger of condemnation. Let it be conceded as it ought, that virtuous men were the authors of this terror to peace and happiness. But examples are more fatal, when they proceed from respected sources, and the victim selected, will have the more cause to tremble, as the precedent is the act of pure hearts. An attainder may probably exist in the sphere of Virginian legislative power, as an attribute to legislation itself, or from some connection with the character of grand inquest of the commonwealth. But it is a dread attribute at best, to be deprecated as confounding, in defiance of the bill of rights judicial with legislative authority.

October 1778

We have seen, how in the year 1620, an accidental importation of African slaves, began this blot in our population and morals. For many years ships loaded with these wretches had been sent to Virginia by the capitals of British merchants, who favored their friends by high commissions on the sales. The plantations were crowded with them and their descendants. At length, laws were passed by the assembly for discouraging the importation by duties on each slave imported. But the influence of the dealers in human flesh, who resided near the British ministry, baffled the voice of humanity and policy. Hence as soon as Virginia became mistress of herself, she forbade further importations under a penalty of money, and of emancipation of the slave. This law has always found ready advocates for its execution, although the importation to be animadverted on should be from one of our sister states.

Under the regal government, the only final tribunal of judicial sentences rendered in Virginia, was the king in council, for sums not less than 500lbs. sterling. With the renewal of the judicial functions in the year 1777, a court of appeals was not immediately instituted; but at this time (October 1778) it was compounded of the three judges of the high court of Chancery, the five of the general court, and the three of the admiralty; each set of judges, being excluded from sitting in causes, decided in their own courts. The number was too large for adequate expedition, if the cause should be multiplied; and let the talents of the whole, be what they might it would seem, that such a tribunal ought to have been selected from abilities of peculiar fitness for the field of general jurisprudence rather than to be the accommodating result of bringing members from different benches, evidently, in some instances, demanding different and inferior powers of mind. In this court an esprit de corps was in theory, to be apprehended, as well as perhaps an occasional invitation from one class of judges to another.

On the north western side of the river Ohio, within the territory of Virginia, several British posts had been reduced by the militia of Virginia, and the inhabitants had acknowledged themselves, citizens of Virginia, and taken the oath of fidelity to her. This called for the exercise of a new duty in legislation, to provide for the government of a conquered country. It was exercised in a style, not generally observed in the old world. A county appendant to Virginia was erected, with every salutary and convenient arrangement, which the peculiarity of its population could demand.

This was another flattering assay of the military genius of Virginia, to which from the loss of the Virginia records it is impossible at this late day to do justice. This is to be lamented the more, as the nature of the expedition bespoke in George Rogers Clarke the leader of it, energies and skill, for which no military preferment would have been excessive. Our only gratification therefore must be to give an account of it in the words of Chief Justice Marshall's history of it in the 3rd volume of his life of George Washington, page 565.


The assembly met in May. The charter of Virginia had appropriated to her many millions of acres of land from the atlantic ocean on the east to a line dividing the Mississippi, under the treaty of Paris in 1763. But notwithstanding the prohibition contained in the royal proclamation against settlements on waste lands, above the heads of the rivers, multitudes of hardy adventurers had before the revolution defied the law and the savages, and settled on them. It was foreseen, that they could not be disturbed without some convulsion; and indeed as far as men ought to be encouraged, who act deliberately against law, they had laid in a stock of merit, in forming a barrier against the incursions of the Indians.

Virginia discovered that she had hardly a choice between an acquiescence in the rights acquired by the hardihood of occupancy, to the vacant western lands, and the daily diminution of that important fund for her public debt. After satisfying therefore those sturdy claimants and adjusting some legal pretensions, long before existing, a land office was opened upon a scale, which nourished speculation, although it was productive of revenue. In the passage of one of the laws, upon this subject a member of the assembly, who was honorably interested in charter-importation rights, was pursued by another, who hated him with a violence, which nothing could satiate but the expurging of the rights from the list of such as were to be confirmed. The other, sensible that a direct attack upon them would be too gross, assaulted the surveys, by which they had been located upon particular rich lands, for some mistake in form; upon which a vote was obtained declaring them to be void. Elated by this victory, and poorly versed in the subject, this hunter after formal defects, did not see the force of a small amendment in a part of the bill, remote from the clause, which had been defeated. Thus justice was protected by dexterity, from malicious ignorance: thus an impotency of character, cheats itself with a momentary flash of triumph; and teaches us not to confide in a legislator who does not view the whole ground, and persevere to the last; as the same consequence might have followed in a better cause.

No fact had transpired in the conduct of Great Britain, varying the principles, which had been professed in the act of sequestration in the year 1777. Hostility had expended all its horrors, but it had not risen on her part to confiscation, which was the specific condition prescribed by the legislature to itself on that subject. The reasons assigned for not continuing British property longer, in the situation in which it then was, were not without plausibility; but may not a moralist be permitted to ask, whether this confiscation is not better justified by the concessions of the enemy in the negotiation of the peace, than by an observance of uniformity of principle in ourselves. Note on confiscation. See Jay's treaty. Note

James Town, situated about fifty miles above the mouth of James river, was the first metropolis of the colony; but when commissary Blair, who by grants and bounties in England had been able to build the college of William and Mary, at the Middleplantation, now the city of Williamsburg, he inculcated the opinion, that as youth ought to study men, as well as books, this double benefit could not be so effectually attained, as by the removal of the seat of government to the vicinity of the college. The prospect was surely, at Williamsburg a very barren one for a metropolis. Its navigation consisted in two small creeks, one of which emptied into York, and the other into James River at the distance of about four or five miles. In speaking of sites at that day, the capacities, which the subsequent spirit of improvement has suggested, were foreign to our minds. But Williamsburg in its utmost splendor, could be recommended as a position for the seat of government only by the dryness of its soil. During the regal government it was a serious labour to invent arguments for preferring it as the resort for the general business of the colony. As population moved to the westward, the truth spread with it, that it was an unreasonable deference to the lower country for the inhabitants of the upper to haven within a few miles of the bay of Chesapeake, for access to the supreme court, to the legislature, and to the executive. Many considerations of different complexions, had anchored the metropolis at Williamsburg. The two public edifices of the capitol and college had been ingrafted on the public mind by the expensiveness of them, and were considered as ornaments, not to be disregarded, even if the dignity of a metropolis should be consulted. The aristocracy, whose estates and residence were convenient to it, were a little phalanx around it---a superstitious reverence for time was one of its defenders, and its enemies, after they were powerful enough to shake the allegiance to Williamsburg, were at variance as to the spot, to which the metropolitan offices should be transferred. The royal veto was always an asylum to Williamsburg. But the revolution spoiled the metropolis of its false glory, by discovering that there, the public archives were open to plunder from the crews of hostile ships; public business to interruption from similar causes, and that its distance from our western borders, was a grievance to their inhabitants. The town of Richmond at the falls of James River, where free navigation terminated, possessed many beauties and advantages, while it had no other fixed character, than that of being suitable for the reception of tobacco to be inspected. Thither the general business of the commonwealth, legislative, executive and judicial were adjourned by law, to the impoverishment of many industrious and respectable families in Williamsburg, who had been for years raising a home for their declining years, in small portions of land within its limits. This was however a casualty, which conveys no censure on the legislature. It has had one good effect. It has stimulated the youth to wing their way in new fields of enterprize rather than to waste their lives in snatching the contingencies, which might attend the favor of those who frequented a metropolis, enjoying no advantages from commerce or manufactures.

With the tacit assent of Europe to American charters, Virginia has always asserted the nullity of purchases made from the native Indians, within her limits by individuals, not authorized by the crown. At this session an express law was passed, for the abolition of them, not as being then original, but to give more publicity to an old law, which from the early difficulties of diffusing information by printing, was little known; and to a principle, which if it had never been formerly announced, was a plain right of charter.

Some incidents had given birth to suspicions, that the confidential intelligence communicated to congress, had been abused by members engaged in trade. An oath was therefore injoined by law upon every delegate from Virginia present or future, to abstain from all mercantile connection. If an antidote had been desirable at all, a better one would have been not to elect a known merchant, and to displace one who should become so after election. But merchants of real knowledge, experience and integrity could not be expected to renounce the means of livelihood for a seat in congress, and it is notorious, that such as these were among the great authors of revolutionary success, for the accomplishment of which, military supplies must come to us through channels, and by circuits and stratagems unknown to unpractised men. The proceedings of the secret committee appointed by congress for these ends, are a history of unexampled utility. Note on Robert Morris.

The law of citizenship was liberal towards every oppressed nation of the world, and besides, the legislature never hesitated on petition, to receive flagrante bello, into citizenship the subjects of Great Britain, who were really inimical to British tyranny over America. The confiscated estates of several of them, were restored.

For the seal of the commonwealth, the following device was ordained.

Virtus, the genius of the commonwealth, dressed like an Amazon, resting on a spear with one hand, and holding a sword in the other, and treading on tyranny; represented by a man prostrate, a crown fallen from his head, a broken chair in his left hand, and a scourge in his right.

In the exergon the word Virginia over the head of "Virtus", and underneath the words, "Sic semper tyrannis."

On the reverse side a group,

Libertas, with her wand and pileus;

On one side of her Ceres, with the cornucopia in
one hand and an ear of wheat in the other.

On the other side Aeternitas with the globe and

In the exergon these words

Deus nobis hoc otia fecit.

We have seen that the erection of the province of North Carolina curtailed the chartered limits of Virginia, and that the early part of the last century (beginning with the year 1700) Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson as commissioners of Virginia and other commissioners of North Carolina ran a dividing line from the Atlantic ocean in the latitude of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north in the supposed direction of due west. The assembly resolved to continue that line, if it should be formed on that latitude, due west to Tennessee river. Doctor Thomas Walker the commissioner from Virginia, and Richard Henderson the commissioner from North Carolina commenced the work, but differed so widely on principles and execution, that they diverged at every step, and left a tract of country in the shape of a wedge to be a ground of contention, which was not removed for many years afterwards. Virginia had so habitually copied from English Institutions, even upon the topic of ease to scrupulous consciences, that until this session affirmations were not universally substituted in the place of oaths. The apprehensions entertained for an established church, inspired on this occasion, when too late, a vigilance and alertness, not commensurate with reason and right; and thus the solemnity of an oath had not hitherto seemed to be ensured by any form, not connected with the touch of the cover of the printed evangelists.

May 1780.

Under the sequestration law of 1777, large sums of paper money were paid into the treasury in satisfaction of debts due to British subjects. But the stamina of that currency had at this date been exhausted to such a degree, that the assembly, contemplating the possibility of compensation either to the creditor or payer, repealed the right of making such payments.

Congress were now approaching the ultimation of all projects on paper-money, when they passed the resolution of the 18th day of March, 1780.

The legislature being called upon to act in conformity with them, George Mason and Richard Henry Lee advocated them, as being the only expedient remaining for the restoration of public credit. Patrick Henry poured forth all his eloquence in opposition; but proposed nothing in their place. He disseminated, however, the jealousy, which has since been denominated antifederal, and stated some precise objections to the plan, as being incompetent upon its own principles. Had it been finally lost, after having been promulged, as the only means of safety, and as being founded on the ruins of the former currencies, the finances of the United States would have been destitute of the little succour, which the old paper money might still have afforded for a little time. Every day gained to the existence of paper money, was a point gained in the war, for it was foreseen, though not avowed, that at the close of it, its real, not its nominal, value would be the standard of redemption. For a time this scheme of congress was negatived. Omnipotent as Henry was while present and asserting himself in the assembly, he had one defect in his politics: he was apt to be contented with some general vote of success, but his genius did not lead him into detail. For a debate on great general principles, he was never surpassed here; but more laborious men, who seized occasions of modifying propositions, which they had lost on a vote, or of renewing them at more fortunate seasons, often accomplished their purpose, after he had retired from the session. In this instance, the perseverance of Mason and Lee, introduced in Henry's absence the same resolutions, and they were carried into a law.

October 1780.

Until this session, the Church of England has retained by law the exclusive right of celebrating marriages; but law must always be weak, when it confronts reason, as well as passion, and is supported chiefly by considerations, drawn from a preference to a particular religious sect. Hence the right of celebration was extended to ministers of other denominations.

Nor were the assembly unmindful of their duty and gratitude to the officers of Virginia in the army. Provision was made by half pay of seven years, for the widows and children of such of them, as had died, or should die in the service; and half-pay was granted for life to the officers, who should continue in the service to the end of the war.

To Baron Steuben, and others, liberal bounties were allowed in lands. Steuben had been trained in the armies of Prussia, and was a complete master of their discipline. He had arrived very opportunely for the instruction of the American army. He instituted plans of reform, which invigorated our arms, and his talents were recommended not only by the most ample encomiums, but also by immediate experience. Dissatisfaction was afterwards entertained here at the losses of some military stores, which it was supposed, his force would have enabled him to protect, had he enjoyed the past activity of his youth; and he was threatened with a revocation of his grant; but the ebullition spent itself after cool reflection.

It was conceived in the ardor of self-importance and the humility of political knowledge, that Great Britain, whose subjects had been enriched by their trade with Virginia, would be alarmed into some relaxation of hostility, or some favorable overture, by a demonstration that she was in danger of losing the facility of proving book debts, which had enabled her to engross by long and extensive credits the whole of that trade. An act therefore was passed, discouraging extensive credits, and repealing the acts for prescribing the method of proving book debts. It limited the credit to be enforced in courts of law to six months from the delivery of the article sold, and compelled them to take notice of the limitation, whether it was pleaded or not. The real truth was, as to this intercourse, that the British merchants gained by the custom of the planters the preemption of their raw materials and commodities; and the imprudence of those planters often brought ruin upon themselves by their extravagance. But where they were discreet this connection was the foundation of loans of money, which were employed in the purchases of lands and slaves to the great improvement of their fortunes. To foreign nations who should acknowledge our independence, a lure was thrown out of admitting consuls with the usual powers, and with the previlege of being heard in our courts, without waiting the ordinary dilatory routine.

There is no state, which has enacted more wholesome laws against gaming than Virginia or whose courts have been more punctual in their excution. The act to suppress excessive gaming will be an evidence of these assertions. It cannot however, be denied that the vice has not been extirpated; but being one, which depends for correction on the censorship, which the people possess over morals, on religion and on the force of example and character, we are refreshed by a hope of eradicating it, from the practice being now chiefly in the hands of the most worthless part of society, who screen themselves from ignominy, only by the ostentation and allurements of fashionable life.


In a second instance, besides that of independence, a sentiment which had been nurtured with the greatest care, vanished on a sudden. We had clung to paper money with the affection due to an old servant, though impaired in strength. Depreciation was lamented, but we could recount some of the most brilliant exploits of the revolution, atchieved by armies, which depended on paper money, and we were infatuated with a whimsical gratitude for it. But now those were wondered at as short-sighted philisophers, who ever dreamed, that it was to be redeemed dollar for dollar. Revolutions may not be always famous for the purest morality; and it may be that the deception favoring such a redemption was too long deliberately propagated. Notwithstanding the dearth of specie, the administration of justice was returned into its old channel, but a scale of depreciation was formed from the first day of January 1777, until the extinction of paper money at this session. Opinions were contrariant as to the time, when depreciation actually commenced, and the arguments for a somewhat later, and even for a somewhat earlier origin are not destitute of probability. But equity in the settlement of contracts was adhered to; and no system could a priori promise more success, than that, which authorized the courts to depart from the scale, when it would be unjust to obey it. The paper on every passage through the hands of its momentary masters, was clipped of a portion of its value, and furnished no great cause of complaint to any. But in bargains for the conveyance of real property, the judges softened the transactions by considerations of compromise. Still depreciation ruined many estates. It enabled some wicked guardians or executors, to sink them into their own purses at an hundredth part of their value, and debtors to extinguish their obligations with trifles of no import. Rules may seem innocent, during the pressure of a crisis, but morality becomes deeply wounded, when the legislature countenances a pollution of it.

Mr. Jefferson, in his notes on Virginia, speaks with great bitterness against those members of the assembly in the years 1776 and 1781, who espoused the creation of a dictator. Coming from such authority, the invective infects the character of the legislature, notwithstanding he has restricted the charge to less than a majority, and acknowledges the spotlessness of most of them. This would not have been here noticed, did it not militate against that genuine republicanism which has been boasted of in this work, as the attribute of the people. The subject was never before them, except as an article of newspaper intelligence, and even then not in a form, which called for their attention (from instructions). Against this unfettered monster, which deserved all the impassioned reprobation of Mr. Jefferson, their tone, it may be affirmed would have been loud and tremendous. Let the error be traced to the panic, which the novelty of positive war in 1776 produced, and in the year 1781 to the false applications of ancient history to a case, wholly unlike. Let it be understood, that the power, which may have saved Rome, would have made Virginia revolt.

The military transactions in Virginia during this year may be said to have silenced offensive war; and as they bear a strict connection with other movements in the Southern States, and were influenced by causes, anterior in time, a wider range will be here taken, than the author has hitherto allowed himself. He cannot in this place so much fear the intrusion of matter, which though deeply interesting to himself as a Virginian, may not be equally so to others.

The decisive catastrophe in the surrender of York Town in Virginia, is referred by different tempers to different causes. To the sceptical philosopher it appears, as the necessary effect, of the general system and constitution of the world and its affairs. By the enthusiastic christian, the hand of Providence, is seen to lead to that event, by a special interposition. The historian, even while he feels it to be consistent with gratitude to heaven, is bound to investigate those circumstances, which manifestly contributed to its accomplishment.

Of these the number is so great, and arose from points so widely distant in time and place, from such accidents, from such omissions, from such miscarriages in some of the seemingly best connected plans, from such blunders, and misapprehensions, from such acute penetration, and extensive views, that those, who are incredulous of miracles, must yet allow that a parallel example is not registered in the annals of human experience.

1. The labours, precautions, and vigilance of Washington had for many months, secured the eastern states from danger; and the city of New York itself, the focus of the British force was not beyond the reach of alarm. It had long been contemplated by the enemy to direct his activity against the Southern States.

2. Almost all the military movements upon a large and influential scale, had spread a gloom throughout the United States, and flattered the enemy with the hope of general conquest. The siege of Savannah, which had not been raised, notwithstanding the attempt of the combined armies to raise it; and the surrender of Charleston, the extermination of the remaining corps of opposition in the south under the command of Buford, induced Clinton to consider the states of South Carolina and Georgia as reannexed to the British dominions, and to embark for New York, leaving about four thousand British troops under the command of Lord Cornwallis. He too, from the defeat of Gates at Camden believed the British arms to be invincible in the Southern States.

3. It was little expected, until the return of the Marquis La Fayette from France, that he was incessantly occupied while there in soliciting from his monarch, and had finally obtained a promise of a powerful land and naval armament for the campaign of 1780 in the United States. Sir Henry Clinton was compelled by the delay of the assembly of transports, to postpone the attack of the French troops under the command of Rochambeau, and thus lost the prospect of a brilliant coup de main. Embarrassments of every sort had obstructed the execution of a plan, which General Washington had embraced with ardor for an enterprize against New York.

4. Major Ferguson had fatally remained longer near the mountains in North Carolina, than had been originally intended by Cornwallis; and exposed himself to a defeat by the corps of militia who had voluntarily assembled. The intercepting of Ferguson's messenger to Cornwallis, destroyed his expectation of being covered in a retreat by the latter, who was himself thus driven out of North Carolina. Clinton had resolved on a diversion in Virginia, and for that purpose had detached about 3000 men under general Lesslie, with whom Cornwallis was to form a junction for operations in the South, but the defeat of Ferguson occasioned an order from Cornwallis to him to proceed to Wilmington in North Carolina.

5. Tarleton had been defeated by Morgan, at the Cowpens early in January of this year 1781,---the party, which Tarleton had left in his rear with the baggage, immediately upon intelligence of the diseaster, set fire to such of it, as they could not remove, and rejoined Cornwallis's main army. He was thus deprived of a fifth of his numbers; and lost as far as respects infantry, the most active part of his army. Had Morgan's corps been destroyed, Cornwallis would have pressed forward without a check, through North Carolina into Virginia. As it was, he did move with great dispatch, and was disabled from overtaking Morgan, by the sudden rise of the Catawba river.

6. Cornwallis had been victorious at Guilford, but at a great price.

We are now brought to the contemplation of Virginia in a more special manner.

On the 4th of January, the infamous General Arnold, who commanded a detachment of about 1000 men from the army at New York, reached Westover on James River, distant about 140 miles, from the capes, and twenty from the city of Richmond.

General Nelson was active in summoning the militia. But Arnold, as soon as he had landed, marched with the greater part of his army to Richmond. The efforts of the militia could not oppose his advance nor prevent lieutenant Colo. Simcoe, of a British legion, from destroying many buildings, much private property, and many military stores, which had been deposited for safety at Westham, about five miles above it. Arnold proceeding through Smithfield, and by Mackie's Mill, where he destroyed some stores, returned to Portsmouth. It must be confessed, that Arnold received less interruption than he ought among a people, contending for liberty, but it is a well known fact, that the "lower country of Virginia, extending from the ocean to the falls of the rivers, is particularly unfavorable to the promt assembling of militia. The white population is not numerous, and is divided by large navigable rivers not to be passed, unless boats are previously prepared for the purpose; nor then if the smallest vessel should oppose the attempt."

There were other forcible reasons, which detained the militia at home. The helpless wives and children were at the mercy not only of the males among the slaves; but of the very women, who could handle deadly weapons; and these could not have been left in safety, in the absence of all authority of the masters, and of union among neighbors. Indeed the militia was destitute of arms of every sort, and upon so sudden an invasion, had not an opportunity of equipping themselves in an instant even in their imperfect manner; but they shewed afterwards how highly they valued their great stake by exertions of bravery and constancy.

The aids from France conspired so directly to the successes of this year, in Virginia, that the mission of lieutenant Colo. Laurence to Paris from Congress forms naturally a part of this history. He was charged to procure from the French king a supply of money, and a naval superiority in the American seas.

In the year 1777 we have already seen, that upon the first propounding of the articles of confederation to the legislature of Virginia, they were eagerly, and from an affection to the union, adopted by her. She as well as other states, has not fulfilled with punctuality in time quantity and sum, all her obligations, flowing from the league. But most sincere was she in her expectation of performing what she undertook; and that sincerity was the more meritorious, as that instrument from its extensive delegations of powers, clashed with her strongest jealousies, and might invade some of her choicest interests. In February 1781, the ratification was completed by all the states, some of which had been reluctant, until others, possessing large vacant territories, should consent to consider them as the common stock of the United America, wrested from the British King by the united prowess of her arms. The demand was not without an appearance of plausibility, as to Virginia; for according to the colonial relation between that state and her sovereign, in him as lord paramount were vested all vacant lands, and under his grant alone could they be acquired. But a keen pursuit of interest obscured the true aspect of the Virginian title.

Frivolous as charters may appear, in a dialectic or a strictly prudential school, they are established on a conventional law of the European world, and have been confirmed by solemn decisions in the forum of the United States. Their seeming original defect, could raise a question only upon some principle of Indian occupancy, or from some conflict from the occupancy of other nations, but as between the king and Virginia, there could be none. The first adventurers migrated and the colony was settled on his faith, that he as the supreme lord and trustee would hold the lands within the chartered limits for their use. He was conquered; but a sister state could not be spoiled of rights, of which he was the mere fiduciary for her. It was suspected by Virginia, that the great land-companies had contrived to infuse some discontents with her title to her just domains; hoping to operate upon congress, in case they should be ceded to the United States, with specious purchases from the aborigines, which Virginia had always exploded. It is a decisive evidence of the truly federal temper of Virginia that she renounced the difficulty by her liberality.

The instrument of a federal government contained in it the radical absurdity of depending for its full operation upon the harmony and fidelity of thirteen separate sovereignties without a particle of power in the general council to coerce a delinquent state. Upon the fund of the enthusiasm, which animated all at the beginning of the revolution, and from the danger and dreaded consequences of subjugation, the war had hitherto been supported; and it cannot be said that the confederation would, if consummated, have produced any other effect, among the states themselves, than to rivet by a solemn compact the principle of honour, by which each state was obliged to the others, by their declaration intended to inspire mutual confidence, at the first assumption of arms. But impotent as it must always have been in many of the great considerata of war, it furnished at least a standard for ascertaining the universally admitted duties of each; of stamping with irrevocable certainty the fiat of independence, and of assuring to foreign nations, that its unfinished state was not the effect of any disunion, by which those nations might be injured. Perhaps it would not be too great a refinement to add that the habit of looking to this act, as the central impulse of the union, preserved the temper for a calm and accurate revision and improvement of it at a future day.

The naval superiority, by which the enemy had been enabled to block up in the harbour of Newport, the French fleet from its first arrival on the American coast, was now destroyed for a time by a storm on the east end of Long Island. The first glimpse of this advantage kindled the promptitude of Washington to seize the opportunity of detaching twelve hundred men from the lines of New England and New Jersey, under the command of La Fayette, for the head of the Chesapeake, where they were to embark for Virginia under the convoy of a French frigate, which Admiral Destouches was expected to supply.

Flushed with the intelligence that the action between the British and French Fleets, on the 16th of March, off the capes of Virginia, had rendered the transportation of a reinforcement to Arnold at Portsmouth perfectly safe, two thousand troops, under the command of General Philips were detached from New York. The immense superiority which their arrival must give to the enemy, over any military force, which Virginia could assemble, reversed the destination of La Fayette, to whom the defence of this state was now happily committed.

At this session of the assembly, the usual antidote for public distress was resorted to. Two persons were named with acrimony, as delinquent Baron Steuben, for not having succeeded in protecting the stores in the vicinity of the point of Fork; and Thomas Jefferson, the governor, at the time of Arnold's invasion, as not having made some exertions, which he might have made, for the defence of the country. It was even hinted in the course of some debate, that the grant, which had been made to Steuben, of lands, by an act of Assembly, ought to be rescinded. What was the opinion of the commander in Chief upon his conduct, does not appear, nor is it known, that any court of inquiry ever sat upon it. But his bravery had been too well tried to be doubted; and his fidelity was spotless, although his flight might require explanation. Colo. George Nicholas and Mr. Patrick Henry were those who censured Mr. Jefferson. They aimed to express themselves with delicacy towards him, without weakening the ground, on which they supposed, that their suspicions would be found ultimately to stand. But probably without design, they wounded by their measured endeavour, to avoid the infliction of a wound. Colo. Nicholas moved, however, for an inquiry into the conduct of the governor at the succeeding session. The motion was carried with the concurrence of his friends and his foes, of the former, to afford him an opportunity for exculpation; of the latter, who conceived him to be ruined. He appeared at that session, as a delegate from Albemarle, and at the appointed day called for some accusation. Neither of those gentlemen having pledged themselves to become prosecutors, they did not feel it to be a personal duty on either to appear as such. But Mr. Jefferson did not affect to be ignorant of the general imputation, which had been circulated, but was destitute of any precise shape; and in an address to the house, which amounted to a challenge of impeachment; he reviewed his administration so, as to draw forth votes of eulogium, which by some men unambitious of true fame, would have been deemed cheaply purchased by past calumnies. He ought to have been satisfied, because they were the undivided voice of his country, which had been prejudiced against him.

Nelson, who as a brigadier in the militia had been actively employed, was unanimously elected, successor to Mr. Jefferson, whose second year of office had expired, and who declined to be nominated for the third.

Whether ambition, or some nobler motive brought La Fayette to America it is not necessary to ask, before we assign him, that portion of applause, which he deserved, as the commander of the military force in Virginia. He is at this day venerated by every planter who had an interview with him, or by their descendants to whom he has been transmitted by their forefathers. His military praise may be well conceived, though not rightly appreciated by unmilitary men. The materials of an army, which he had to manage, were not to be governed with the discipline of Europe, nor to be contemned with the hauteur of nobility. But he had learnt from Washington, how to conciliate friends among militia, and to place in the registers of public safety, necessity, and justice, every act, which savoured of severity. The trifling circumstance of the fondness with which fathers baptized their children with the name of Fayette, and with which several positions which he look, have been mentioned, since his depression, as the poor Marquis's camp, or field, are utterances from the heart of the benevolence of his character. Deference to the civil authority, and tenderness for civil rights, were his characteristic qualities. His merit as a soldier is appreciated by these inportant facts, that he saved his army, imperfect as it was in the part composed of militia, from the superiority of Cornwallis in numbers, in equipments, in naval cooperations, in the experience of service, and in the impetuosity of attack. What a long chain of events thus led to fix Cornwallis in York Town. What a multitude of links, a charm in very few of which, might perhaps have averted this contingency?

May 1782.

Slavery had been rivetted in Virginia by disabilities of emancipation, except with the approbation of the executive for notorious services. The society of quakers which had never ceased to ply the assembly with the bill of rights, and the topics, arising from human nature, succeeded in a law, permitting the owners to emancipate slaves, under certain limitations. Full of their late triumph over the British at York Town, the assembly seemed to think, that the political sky was so clear from all danger, that they did not anticipate, and therefore did not guard against, the evils, which this indulgence to one of the best feelings of the human heart, may from the conversion of black into free population, from the want of due precautions, occasionally produce.

Members of congress had been eligible to the general assembly, and many of them had availed themselves of the reputation, which the supposition of their being versed in the interest of the Union had given them, to obtain seats in the state legislature, assume a degree of importance, and forward by the influence of Virginia in Congress, their own ideas. This perhaps would not have been so much objected to, had it not been feared that these delegates with double powers, would have aimed at vesting in congress larger authority, than that for which state-jealousy was yet ripe. Indeed their journies from Congress to the state legislatures, commonly issued in the generation of some faction. For at that time, congress was an assemblage of different diplomatic corps, rather than a national senate.

Taxes imposed in coin had never been known in the rudest state of Virginia; tobacco being always a species of currency, which was a substitute for the precious metals. But paper money and the circumstances of the country had banished coin into the most secret recesses, so as to leave too little of it for a circulating medium. Grain and other commodities, were therefore receivable by the collector. The people had the credit of paying large sums in value into the public treasury, when from waste, fraud, spoliation and other diminitions, the defalcations which they underwent before their arrival thither, demonstrated the unfitness of specific articles, to be chosen as the sinews of war.

Kentucky mounted a step nearer to an independent sovereignty, by obtaining a district court, beyond the controul of any Virginian jurisdiction, except the court of appeals. This is the strongest example in the history of a government keeping equal pace with a portion of the people, inclined to dismember it, and even seconding their wishes, sincerely and zealously.

To what a tissue of feebleness and contradiction the old confederation was reduced, was exemplified by the application to the assembly to grant to congress a power, to be without which was a phenomenon, indeed. Below high-water-mark, congress might confiscate hostile property; but they could not oppose.

Introduction * Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4 * Part 5