Fredericksburg, Virginia 1608-1908/20
The Declaration of Separation — The Declaration of Independence — Washington Commander-in-Chief — John Paul Jones Raises the First Flag — He was First to Raise the Stars and Stripes — Fredericksburg Furnishes the Head of the Armies and Navy — The Constitution of the United States, &c.
As stated in the last chapter, we continue in this references to the great deeds of the great men of Virginia that should be grouped, as we are here endeavoring to do, in the smallest possible space, and preserved to perpetuate their memory and honor their descendants through all coming time. It was Thomas Jefferson, of Albemarle county, a Virginian, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, that struck the shackles of servitude from the people of this country, and proclaimed the United Colonies a new-born nation, free and independent.
A lineal descendant of Thomas Jefferson, three generations removed. Judge John E. Mason, thus writes on these subjects, for this publication :
"Some years before the Revolutionary war, the colony of Virginia had become restless under British dominion. There had been, here and there, open expressions of discontent, and a growing resentment, if not positive hostility, against the mother country. In fact, nowhere more than in Virginia, and especially in this section, had the spirit of independence more steadily grown; and when the time came for decision and concert of action by the colonies, public opinion here was ripe to break down the old barriers, and to resist, with force, the power of England.
"Among those who had taken a most active part in moulding public sentiment was Thomas Jefferson, who, because of his extreme views in antagonizing every element of English ideas, and its government as based upon an aristocracy, has sometimes been called the 'Great Commoner.' Whether he, more than others, who were upon the stage of action at that time, is entitled to the name, those who know his history must be the judge; but certain it is, he was in advance of many of his contemporaries in developing antagonism to ancient ideas and ancient customs, which were the pride of the British people.
"'On the 6th of May, 1776, the delegates from the counties and cities of the Colony of Virginia, met in convention at its capitol in Williamsburg, Edmund Pendleton presiding. During this convention certain resolutions were reported from committee by Archibald Gary, which were unanimously adopted by the one hundred and twelve members present. The first of these resolutions — said to have been proposed by Thomas Nelson, and drawn as reported by Edmund Pendleton, but no doubt the work of both — after reciting certain grievances against the mother country, declared that the 'delegates appointed to represent the colony in the General Congress, be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to or dependence upon the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain.'
"In Congress, on the 7th day of June, 1776, the gifted Richard Henry Lee, from this section, in obedience to instructions, offered the same resolution, which had been adopted by the Virginia Convention — that Congress should 'declare that the United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.' This resolution was the precursor of the formal declaration. It was offered by a Virginian, acting under instructions given by Virginians, and its answer was the Declaration of Independence.
"The debate began on this resolution on the 8th of June, but on the 10th, it having developed that five colonies north of the Potomac were not ready to vote, the final decision was then postponed until the first day of July. In the meantime a committee had been elected to draft a Declaration of Independence. Mr. Lee, the mover of the above resolution, was unexpectedly called home by the illness of his wife, and was not on the committee. The committee was not appointed by the presiding officer, but was elected by ballot by Congress, and Jefferson, having received the highest number of votes cast, was its chairman. Its work was completed by the 28th of June. The Declaration of Independence was, on that date, reported to the House by Jefferson, and was then read and ordered to lie on the table. The Virginia resolution was carried in the affirmative, in the Committee of the Whole July 1st. On the 2nd day the Declaration of Independence was taken up and debated each day until the fourth, when it was adopted. It will be observed that the Declaration was completed before Congress had adopted the Virginia resolution.
"The committee, elected to draft the Declaration of Independence, consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert E. Livingston. Mr. Jefferson drew the Declaration of Independence at the request of the other members of the committee. Had another been its author, we believe the Declaration would have been different in tone, while, of course, the leading principles would have been the same. Many members were conservative, while Jefferson was radical. They had in view chiefly independence and freedom; Jefferson had the same opinions, but even then contemplated a complete revolution in the existing conditions—for anything which, in the slightest degree, partook of the nature of the government of Great Britain, her customs or traditions, was odious to him. He wished an irrevocable change, so that the new would supersede the old beyond recall.
When, in framing that great document, he wrote these words :
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,' * * * doubtless did not require a prophet to tell what his future course would be, or the principles, considered radical then, for which he would stand, or the wonderful influence 'these truths' would have in forming constitutions and shaping legislation, State and national, provided the British were beaten on the field of battle.
"It is worthy of note that the Declaration of Independence, as it came from his hands, suffered little change, except in two instances.
He inserted in the original draft what might be called an emancipation proclamation—a clause condemning as piratical warfare against human nature itself, the enslaving of Africans—the slave trade being then sanctioned by North and South—the former being carriers and the latter principally buyers—a business which Virginia would, years before, have prohibited had she not been met, in every effort, by royal vetoes. The other change was made by striking out some animadversions upon the English people. This was done by those who yet hoped for reconciliation, or something, they knew not what, which might avert the desperate struggle.
"To those who believe in freedom of thought and action; in the sovereignty of the people ; in the equality of all men before the law, based upon constitutional rights, restrictions and limitations, made by tbe wisdom of the greatest men this world has ever produced; in opening the door to promotion to all men whose talents, integrity and general high characters entitle them to such honors, the Declaration of Independence must forever commend itself; and it seems to the writer that upon the strict adherence to the principles, therein enunciated, rests the vei-y life of the government of the United States.
"There are many other great things which came from the brain of Jefferson besides the Declaration of Independence, though the Declaration may have been the basis of all. The principles of the Declaration having been once established, these followed as a natural sequence. In a limited space only a few can be simply noted. After he retired from Congress, in 1776, to become a member of the Virginia Legislature, he presented, in the session of that year, a bill for the revisal of the laws of the State, which was soon passed, and Jefferson, Pendleton, Wythe, George Mason and Thomas L. Lee were appointed a committee for revision.
"This committee of distinguished men met in Fredericksburg on the 13th day of February, 1777. Here various propositions were submitted and discussed—Mason, Wythe and Jefferson almost always agreeing and voting together, and Pendleton, of all, being the most unwilling to depart from the old conditions, except, to the astonishment of the committee, he proposed a new system, that all common law and equity jurisprudence, which had received the sanction of ages, should be abrogated—a new institute, after the model of Justinian or Bracton, should be reported, thus giving us what is called, in this day, a code law, which would have been set afloat, without a precedent to guide it, and to construe which, would have taken our courts from that time to this.
"After this committee had agreed on measures and propositions, and the general outline of the system to be pursued, Mason and Lee, having given the other members the benefit of their advice, retired from further participation in its labors, because they were not lawyers, and left the work to be done by the other three members, who then divided it, and completed the arduous task in 1779.
"There were four measures proposed by Jefferson before the full committee, then sitting in Fredericksburg, which were his especial pride, and these were the repeal of the laws of entail, the abolition of primogeniture, the establishment of a system of public education, and the act for the establishment of religious freedom. These four bills, he himself afterwards said, he 'considered as forming a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient, or future, aristocracy, and a foundation laid for a government truly republican.'
"To use his own language again, 'the repeal of the laws of entail would prevent the accumulation and perpetuation of wealth in select families and preserve the soil of the country from being more and more absorbed in mortmain.'
"Not only was the abolition of the laws of entail resisted by some of the best talent in Virginia, but when Jefferson proposed to abolish also the law of primogeniture—a relic of feudalism—there was strong opposition from the same sources—men who had risked fortunes and lives in the struggle for independence, but who were unwilling to join Jefferson in his attack upon institutions whose very age commanded veneration. One of the chief opponents of Jefferson was Edmund Pendleton, his friend, whose candor, great ability and benevolence in all these struggles won his admiration.
"It was Pendleton, who, when he found the old law could not prevail, suggested that the Hebrew principle be adopted, by which the eldest son should inherit double the amount of real estate which would descend to the heirs of the ancestor. The reply of Jefferson was characteristic and terse—‘I observed’ he says, 'that if the eldest son could eat twice as much and do double work, it might be a natural evidence of his right to a double portion; but being a part in his powers and wants, with his brothers and sisters, would be on a par also in the partition of the patrimony.'
'The statute of descents in Virginia was drawn by him—a statute which has justice and 'natural right' in every line, and so clear and perspicuous is it, that in all these years only one serious question has been raised regarding it, calling for a decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
"Jefferson an impetus to public education which is felt at this time. He proposed to the General Assembly of Virginia three bills: the first, establishing elementary free schools for all children; the second, for colleges; and the third, for the highest grade of sciences. Only the first of these was passed by the Assembly, and before this was done it was so amended that it could not be operaive unless the county courts so decided. Now, as the justices who presided over these courts, while among the most honorable men in Virginia, were generally of a class who did not care for taxes necessarily entailed upon them by the adoption of them, no free schools were established in any county within a commonwealth under this act, with possibly the exception of one county.
"It was a fact that our ancestors, especially when under the English system of government, did not favor education at public expense, and the royal Governors, as a rule, threw the weight of their influence against it. But after the Revolutionary war had closed, and the government of the States was made a government by the people, Virginians, like Jefferson, proceeded on the theory that to have a good government, the people—the sovereigns—must be educated, so that they would take, not only a deeper interest in the affairs of State, but would do so with intelligence—the more knowledge disseminated the better would be the government, and the less danger there would be of its falling into the hands of a favored and exclusive class.
"The principle of free education, however, so earnestly forced to the front by Jefferson, eventually bore fruit, though the ripening was slow. It was gradually adopted by the people of Virginia, until now a system, backed by a sound public sentiment, is established in every county and city in the State, and the doors of the colleges are open to those who have not been favored with fortune. It may be safely predicted that when the State shall have fully recovered from the wreck and havoc of the Civil war, that a complete and thorough system will be established, such as that which was first proposed by Jefferson, and the people of the State will rejoice to see it done.
"No more important measure was proposed to the committee which met in Fredericksburg, on the 13th of January, 1777, than that of Jefferson's for the establishment of religious freedom, just as it now. appears, with slight modifications in the preamble, in the statute books to-day. The fact that this act was written in Fredericksburg, we have never heard questioned ; and the people of this city have the same right to claim that this 'second declaration' had its birth here, that the people of Philadelphia have to claim that city as the birth-place of the first. It was, however, a long time before its advocates were able to secure its passage by the Legislature. Having been written in 1777, it did not become the law of the land until 1785.
"In making his fight for religious freedom, the courage, the persistence and the power of this statesman shone in all their splendor. We consider this as his most difficult task, but it is his crowning glory. He had arrayed against him the advocates of a long cherished policy, sustained by law; one around which tradition had woven a peculiar sanctity, and he who would lift his hand against it was deemed guilty of sacrilege. There, too, were the clergy, strong in resistance, backed, as they were, by a wealthy and powerful class, Jefferson himself belonging to a family whose members, though loyal in exacting faithful obedience to changes in existing conditions, loved this church and worshipped in its sacred, but State protected walls; yet, in spite of all of this, believing that freedom of conscience was one of the 'inalienable and natural rights.' with a boldness, which all must commend; with a persistence, which all must admire, he headed the forces which took the last citadels of monarchial institutions and leveled them to the ground, thus forever separating church and State and eliminating the combination of political policy and religion, so that henceforth no man could be 'compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry, but all men shall be free to profess, and by argument maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or effect their civil
"In Justice to those who were adherents to the established church, it must be said that some supported Jefferson, and after the change came, none were more devoted in maintaining the statute, and all others of kindred import; many being in positions charged with their proper enforcement, gave them sound judicial interpretation in exact conformity to all theories of the newly formed government.
"This act for the establishment of religious freedom is not only a monument to him, as a liberator of men, but its elegant diction, its easy and smoothly flowing style, show his genius as a writer. It is worthy of note, its preamble contains over five hundred words, yet it is but one sentence; only finished in the body of the act itself, where the first period appears; and, although he says this preamble was somewhat mutilated by others, there is nothing doubtful or uncertain as to its meaning, purpose and scope.
"To do full justice to the subject in hand would require a volume, but we must content ourselves with what has been written to show in part the wonderful and rapid changes then made in old and settled conditions, and the powerful influence this section had in moulding a government based on 'natural rights and justice,' and in shaping its destinies."
It was George Washington, a native of Westmoreland county, raised in Fredericskburg, who led the American armies in the Revolutionary war and gained American independence. He was called the "Great and Good Washington." He was truly great. He was great in the eyes of Americans; he was great in the eyes of his opposing enemies; he was great in the eyes of the world. He was an uncrowned king, because he refused to be crowned. We cannot properly appreciate his greatness, because he was so great we have no one to compare him with.
It is said a famous scholar has written a long essay in which he argued that the "traditional Washington" must give place to the new Washington. Referring to this, Senator Lodge says : "This is true in one sense. A new idea of Washington comes up in the mind of each generation, as it learns the story of the father of this country; but in another sense, the idea of a new Washington is wrong. He cannot be discovered anew, because there never was but one Washington."
As to the esteem in which Washington is held all over the world, Senator Lodge says : "Even Englishmen, the most unsparing critics of us, have done homage to Washington from the time of Byron and Fox to the present day. France has always revered his name.
In distant lands, people who have hardly heard of the United States know the name of Washington. Nothing could better show the regard of the world for this great giver of liberty to the people than the way in which contributions came from all nations to his monument in Washington. There are stones from Greece, fragments of the Parthenon. There are stones from Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Switzerland, Siam and India. In sending her tribute, China said: 'In devising plans, Washington was more decided than Ching Shing or Woo Kwang; in winning a country, he was braver than Tsau Tsau or Ling Po. Wielding his four-footed falchion, he extended the frontiers, and refused to accept the royal dignity. The sentiments of the three dynasties have reappeared in him. Can any man of ancient or modern times fail to pronounce Washington peerless?' These comparisons, which are so strange to our ears, and which sound stranger still when used in comparison with Washington, show that his name has reached further than we can comprehend."
Speaking of the Declaration of Independence, Gen. Dabney Herndon Maury says:
 ' From beginning to end it was the work of Virginia. A Virginia planter (Mason) conceived it; a Virginia lawyer (Jefferson) drafted it; and a Virginia soldier (Washington) defended it and made it a living reality."
It was John Paul Jones, a Fredericksburg man, who raised the first flag over our infant navy, and the first to throw our National flag—the Stars and Stripes—to the breeze of heaven. The National Portrait Gallery, volume 1, giving a short sketch of Jones's life, says : "On the organization of the infant navy of the United States, in 1775, John Paul Jones received the appointment of flrst of the first lieutenants in the service, in which, in his station on the flag-ship Alfred, he claimed the honor of being the foremost on the approach of the Commander-in-Chief, Commodore Hopkins, to raise the new American flag. This was the old device of a rattlesnake coiled on a yellow ground, with the motto, "Don't tread on me,' which is yet partially retained in the seal of the war-office.
By the resolution of June 14, 1777, he was appointed to the Ranger, newly built at Portsmouth—a second instance of the kind—had the honor of hoisting for the first time the new flag of the Stars and Stripes."
It was Fredericksburg that gave to the country the head of the armies of the United States in the great war for independence, in the person of the peerless Washington, and also furnished the greatest naval commander of that war in the person of the dauntless John Paul Jones. In addition to Washington, the small town of Fredericksburg sent to the field during the great Revolution five other generals—Gen. Hugh Mercer, Gen. George Weedon, Gen. Wm. Woodford, Gen. Thomas Posey and Gen. Gustavus B. Wallace, besides many officers of the line of high rank.
It was James Madison, of Orange county, a Virginian, born a few miles below Fredericksburg, at Port Conway, in King George county, who gave that wonderful instrument, the Constitution of the United States, to the country, that has been described as the "grand palladium of our liberty, the golden chain of our union, the broad banner of freemen, a terror to tyrants and a shining light to patriots."
Hon. James D. Richardson, of Tennessee, in his great work of compiling the messages and papers of the Presidents, with short biographical sketches of each, after recounting the labors, works and achievements of Mr. Madison, says: "It was not for these things or any of them his fame is to endure. His act and policy in the framing of the marvellous instrument, the constitution of our country, his matchless advocacy of it with his voice and pen, and his adherence to its provisions at all times and in all exigencies, obtained for him the proudest title ever bestowed upon a man, the title of the 'Father of the Constitution.' It is for this 'act and policy' he will be remembered by posterity."
Hon. A. Wellington Wallace, at one time Judge of the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg, contributes for this work the following paper on the Constitution of the United States :
"No historical sketch of Fredericksburg and its locality would be complete without at least an epitome of the constitutional form of government of the United States; for within a radius of seventy-five miles from Fredericksburg were reared the leading men who inspired the Federal Constitution. There are few, if any, similar areas in magnitude that can furnish, in one epoch of time, such a splendid galaxy of names. George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Blair, George Wythe, Edmund Randolph, and George Mason, the deputies appointed by Virginia to frame the Federal Constitution, were natives of this territory.
"The inspiration given to the men of the age when our constitution was framed, was a wonder to the world. No nation had ever attempted by a written paper to provide a fundamental basis for government to last for all time and to provide for every emergency which might arise. The British Constitution, which had been the maternal chart of government before the Revolutiou, was a collective name for the principles of public policy on which the government of the United Kingdom was based. It was not formulated m any document, but the gradual development of the political intelligence of the English people, resulting from concessions from the Crown, successive revolutions, numerous enactments of Parliament and from the established principles of the common law. But here in this new country, by young men, born in the territory around Fredericksburg, was inaugurated a departure from the traditions of our ancestors to govern by a written fundamental law, a nation, whose progress thereunder has been phenomenal and has been, and will ever be, a continuing cause of astonishment to the civilized world.
"As has been stated in this chapter, the Constitution of Virginia, of 1777, drawn by George Mason, was the first written constitution. Subsequently, the several colonies that revolted against Great Britain, entered into written articles of confederation for the common defense and for government in time of war, but when the independence of the United States had been recognized by Great Britain, these articles of confederation were found totally inadequate for the powers of government.
"The power of making war, peace and treaties, of levying money and regulating commerce and the corresponding judicial and executive authorities, were not fully and effectually vested in the Federal Union ; so it became necessary that the freed colonies should either become weak, independent sovereignties, or should be bound together by stronger obligations, and, that for the general welfare, the separate sovereignties should surrender certain rights and powers to central control. With a view to this object, on the 21st day of January, 1786, a resolution passed the Legislature of Virginia for the appointment of five commissioners, any three of whom might act, to meet similar commissioners from other States of the Union; and, under this resolution, the commissioners appointed fixed the first meeting in September following as the time, and the city of Annapolis, Maryland, as the place of meeting.
"Edmund Randolph, James Madison and Saint George Tucker attended, representing Virginia, and, as a result of this conference a convention was called of all the States, to be held in Philadelphia, on the 25tli day of May, 1787, and to that convention Virginia sent the deputies mentioned before in this paper, and, of these deputies, George Washington was chosen president of the assembled body. An extended account of the proceedings of that convention would be inappropriate in this brief narration. It is sufficient to state that the convention adjourned, having completed its work on the 17th day of September, following its meeting, and that while all the Virginia delegates assisted in the work of the convention, only three of the delegates, George Washington, James Madison and James Blair, signed the Constitution.
"The Constitution went into effect on the 4th day of March, 1789, although George Washington, the first President of the United States under it, was not inaugurated until the 13th day of April — eleven of the thirteen States having ratified it, the others, North Carolina and Rhode Island, not ratifying, the former until November 21, 1789, and the latter until May 29, 1790.
"The Constitution is a document comprised in seven original articles and fifteen amendments. Of the original articles the first deals with the legislative body, prescribing the mode of election to the House of Representatives and the Senate, the qualifications of members, the method by which bills shall be passed, and those subjects on which Congress shall be qualified to act. The second relates to the Executive Department, prescribing the method of election and qualifications and duties of the President. The third relates to the Judicial Department, providing for the Supreme Court and such other inferior courts as Congress may think necessary. The fourth deals with the relations of the Federal Government and the separate States, and provides for the admission of new States. The fifth relates to the power and method of amendments to the Constitution; the sixth to the National Supremacy, and the seventh to the establishment of the government upon the ratification of the Constitution by nine of the States.
"The amendments, according to one of the methods provided. were proposed by Congress and ratified by the States. The first twelve were submitted under acts passed in 1789, 1790, 1793 and 1803, and the last three after the Civil war, under acts of 1865, 1868 and 1870. The most important of the amendments are the twelfth, which changed the method of electing the President and Vice-President to the existing method; the thirteenth, which abolishes slavery; the fourteenth, which disqualifies any one who has been engaged in rebellion against the government from holding office, unless his disqualification has been removed by Congress, and prevents the assumption and payment of any debt incurred in aid of rebellion; and the fifteenth, which prohibits the denial to any one the right to vote because of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
"This is an epitome of the Constitution of the United States, by virtue of which the government has been maintained to the present time; and the principles laid down therein were, to a very large extent, the suggestions of the men we have mentioned from the locality of Fredericksburg. The Republic based upon this Constitution was an experiment, but it has, for more than a century, withstood the most terrific shocks of the most troublous times. It has waged foreign wars successfully; wild party spirit has always been foiled in efforts to undermine it; the bloodiest internecine strife in the world's history, sustained on both sides by unsurpassed valor, has but cemented its strength and prosperity at home and its power and prestige abroad; from thirteen small, feeble colonies, it has become a great nation of nearly eighty millions of people, its domain not only spreading from ocean to ocean, but extending far over the seas, and the protecting ægis of the Constitution, and the laws passed thereunder, guarding every race from every clime.
"No more splendid apostrophe to the Constitution could be added than the tribute of Mr. Gladstone, of England, the ablest advocate of human rights the century just closed has produced, when he said, in substance, that it was the grandest and greatest compendium of principles that had ever emanated from the brain, or been written down by the pen, of man."