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The Grandees of Government

The Grandees of Government: The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia

Brent Tarter
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 464
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    The Grandees of Government
    Book Description:

    From the formation of the first institutions of representative government and the use of slavery in the seventeenth century through the American Revolution, the Civil War, the civil rights movement, and into the twenty-first century, Virginia's history has been marked by obstacles to democratic change. In The Grandees of Government, Brent Tarter offers an extended commentary based in primary sources on how these undemocratic institutions and ideas arose, and how they were both perpetuated and challenged.

    Although much literature on American republicanism focuses on the writings of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others, Tarter reveals how their writings were in reality an expression of federalism, not of republican government. Within Virginia, Jefferson, Madison, and others such as John Taylor of Caroline and their contemporaries governed in ways that directly contradicted their statements about representative-and limited- government. Even the democratic rhetoric of the American Revolution worked surprisingly little immediate change in the political practices, institutions, and culture of Virginia. The counterrevolution of the 1880s culminated in the Constitution of 1902 that disfranchised the remainder of African Americans. Virginians who could vote reversed the democratic reforms embodied in the constitutions of 1851, 1864, and 1869, so that the antidemocratic Byrd organization could dominate Virginia's public life for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.

    Offering a thorough reevaluation of the interrelationship between the words and actions of Virginia's political leaders, The Grandees of Government provides an entirely new interpretation of Virginia's political history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3432-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-8)

    En route to the new colony of Maryland in the summer of 1634, Thomas Yong stopped in Virginia to repair his storm-damaged ship. Before resuming his voyage he inquired about affairs in Maryland and learned that the government there was engaged in a dispute with William Claiborne, a member of the governor’s Council of State in Virginia. Claiborne claimed ownership of Kent Island, in Chesapeake Bay, where he had established a profitable fur-trading post. Under the terms of the charter that King Charles I issued to Lord Baltimore that created the colony of Maryland, Kent Island was in Maryland and...

    (pp. 9-32)

    The church and the storehouse in Jamestown were the most substantial buildings that the English settlers erected during their first years in Virginia. From the beginning they served both God and Mammon. On Friday, 30 July 1619, something new and important happened in the church. The governor, the members of his advisory council, the treasurer, the secretary of the colony, and twenty-two other men gathered there to make some regulations for the better management of the colony. They acted under an authorization of the Virginia Company of London, which had just received from the king the new Charter of 1618,...

    (pp. 33-54)

    Protestant christianity got off to an inauspicious start in Virginia. Late in life Captain John Smith set down a short recollection of how in 1607 “we beganne to preach the Gospell in Virginia.” He wrote, “wee did hang an awning (which is an old saile) to three or foure trees to shadow us from the Sunne, our walls were rales of wood, our seats unhewed trees, till we cut plankes, our Pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighbouring trees, in foule weather we shifted into an old rotten tent … this was our Church, till wee built a...

    (pp. 55-82)

    The first of the warships bearing the thousand or more soldiers that King Charles II sent to Virginia to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion and the three commissioners he sent to ascertain its causes arrived at the end of January 1677—January 1676 by the old calendar. By then the rebellion had collapsed, and Nathaniel Bacon, its leader, was dead of dysentery and other loathsome afflictions. Governor Sir William Berkeley and men loyal to his administration had rounded up most of the remaining leaders, and Berkeley had tried them before courts martial and hanged them. He had put down the largest and...

    (pp. 83-110)

    Richard bland began an argument in a case before the General Court in the Capitol in Williamsburg one day in April 1772 by saying that “societies of men could not subsist unless there were a subordination of one to another, and that from the highest to the lowest degree. That this was conformable with the general scheme of the Creator, observable in other parts of his great work, where no chasm was to be discovered, but the several links run imperceptibly into one another. That in this subordination the department of slaves must be filled by some, or there would...

    (pp. 111-136)

    When george mason sat down in a room in Williamsburg during the third week of May 1776 to begin work on the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and when Thomas Jefferson sat down in a room in Philadelphia a few weeks later to begin work on the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, each of them could have begun with extremely memorable words. They could have inked their quills and written, “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers …” They did not, but they could have. Four score and seven years later when Abraham Lincoln...

    (pp. 137-162)

    “Death or liberty.” Enslaved virginians planned to raise a flag with those words over the Capitol of Virginia in Richmond at the end of August 1800 when they began the war against slavery. During the trials of the men who planned to wage the war or to employ the threat of war to negotiate for the end of slavery, one of the conspirators described the flag, which contained in inverted order the critical memorable words of Patrick Henry’s March 1775 speech. The men may have intended the flag to express their determination to gain freedom, or it may have been...

    (pp. 163-194)

    Representative james madison was engaged during the winter months of 1791–92 composing newspaper essays to explain the opposition that he and other members of Congress were mounting to the policies that Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed and that President George Washington endorsed. Madison and his friend and political ally Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson feared that Hamilton’s policies would place Virginia farmers and other Southerners at political and economic disadvantages in the new nation and also enlarge the powers of the national government too much and at the expense of the state governments.

    As Madison often did...

    (pp. 195-228)

    The convention that met in Richmond from 14 February through 1 May 1861 is known in the literature of Virginia’s history as the Secession Convention because on 17 April the delegates voted 88 to 55 to secede from the United States,¹ but for its first two months it was a Union convention.

    The Virginia convention differed in several important ways from the other Southern state conventions that assembled following the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States early in November 1860. Most of the other conventions met and almost immediately voted to secede, but the Virginia convention...

    (pp. 229-252)

    After the confederate armies surrendered in the spring of 1865, a farmer near Winchester plowed up the bones or rotting remains of two Confederate soldiers. Another farmer working nearby did the same thing. What did those farmers then do? They went into town to speak to Mary Dunbar Williams, who four years earlier had organized the ladies of Winchester to provide nursing care for the Confederate men who had been wounded during the first of the many engagements in or near that town. Williams and her sister-in-law and companion in that good work, Eleanor Frances Williams Boyd, organized the ladies...

    (pp. 253-278)

    If wood bouldin went into isaac Edmondson’s barbershop in the town of Halifax, also known as Halifax Court House and as Houston, between the summer of 1901 and the summer of 1902, it is intriguing to speculate about the conversation that they might have had. They were almost the same age: Wood Bouldin was born in the adjacent county of Charlotte in 1838, and Isaac Edmondson was born in Halifax County about 1840. By 1901 they had lived as near neighbors in the same little town for more than twenty years, but they were different in many ways. Bouldin was...

    (pp. 279-304)

    The earliest surviving text of a speech in the Papers of Harry Flood Byrd Sr. in the library of the University of Virginia is an undated typescript prepared during his first campaign for a seat in the Senate of Virginia in 1915. It bears revisions in his characteristic scrawl, and phrases from the speech and its key elements appeared in his hometown newspaper, theWinchester Evening Star,which he owned, on 23 July, 27 September, and 9 and 29 October 1915. The speech is about public education and public highways. Byrd favored allowing voters to elect superintendents of schools rather...

    (pp. 305-332)

    “I got involved in the civil rights movement on June 18, 1913, in Alexandria,” Sam Tucker once said. “I was born black.”¹

    By the legal definition then in force in Virginia, Tucker was actually born “colored.” Three years, three months, and one day before he was born, the all-white, all-male General Assembly of Virginia changed the legal definition of the wordcolored. Prior to that time, as Thomas Jefferson had explained in 1815 when demonstrating by computations that Virginians could simultaneously be biologically white and legally enslaved, the state’s laws defined as “Negro” or “colored” every person with one-quarter or...

    (pp. 333-354)

    If the general assembly at any time during the twentieth century had emulated the House of Representatives and created an Un-Virginian Activities Committee, the members would surely have turned their suspicious eyes toward southwestern Virginia. Ever since the Civil War the inhabitants of the large region of mountains and valleys west of the Blue Ridge and south of the latitude of Roanoke had been well aware of how the political culture of their region differed from that of eastern Virginia. Easterners were also well aware of the differences, much as they had been aware before the Civil War of the...

    (pp. 355-376)

    Marion g. robertson made a speech to the Democratic Party state convention in Williamsburg on 11 June 1978 to urge the nomination of Conley Phillips, a Norfolk city councilman, for the United States Senate. After Phillips lost the nomination, Robertson promised that he and the thousands of people he had inspired and organized to take part in the local mass meetings and in the state convention would be back in the future. Two years after a former governor of Georgia, Democrat Jimmy Carter, won election to the presidency as an openly born-again Christian, Robertson led the campaign to nominate a...

    (pp. 377-396)

    Late in april 1861 the members of the Virginia convention that met in Richmond adopted a state flag. The delegates had just voted to sever the political connection between Virginia and the United States and taken the first steps toward creating a new political connection between Virginia and the Confederate States. Former governor Henry A. Wise and former president John Tyler wanted the convention to adopt a new design for the state flag. Tyler informed the delegates that in fact Virginia had no official state flag. Since the 1830s and without any legal authorization, the state had been using a...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 397-442)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 443-454)