Notes on the State of Virginia (1802)/Query 16

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THE meaſures taken with regard to the eſtates and poſſeſſions of the rebels, commonly called tories?

A tory has been properly defined to be a traitor in thought but not in deed. The only deſcription, by which the laws have endeavoroed to come at them, was that of non-jurors, or perſons refuſing to take the oath of fidelity to the ſtate. Perſons of this deſcription were at one time ſubjected to double taxation, at another to treble, and laſtly were allowed retribution, and placed on a level with good citizens. It may be mentioned as a proof both of the lenity of our government, and unanimity of its inhabitants, that though this war has now raged near ſeven years, not a ſingle execution for treaſon has taken place.

Under this query I will ſtate the meaſures which have been adopted as to Britiſh property, the owners of which ſtand on a much fairer footing than the tories. By our laws, the ſame as the Engliſh in this reſpect, no alien can hold lands, nor alien enemy maintain an action for money, or other moveable thing. Lands acquired or held by aliens become forfeited to the ſtate; and, on an action by an alien enemy to recover money, or other moveable property, the defendant may plead that he is an alien enemy. This extinguiſhes his right in the hands of the debtor or holder of his moveable property. By our ſeparation from Great-Britain, Britiſh ſubjects became aliens, and being at war, they were alien enemies. Their lands were of courſe forfeited, and their debts irrecoverable. The aſſembly however paſſed laws, at various times, for ſaving their property. They firſt ſequeſtered their lands, ſlaves, and other property on their farms in the hands of commiſſioners, who were moſtly the confidential friends or agents of the owners, and directed their clear profits to be paid into the treaſury: and they gave leave to all perſons owing debts to Britiſh ſubjects to pay them alſo into the treaſury. The monies ſo to be brought in were declared to remain the property of the Britiſh ſubject, and, if uſed by the ſtate, were to be repaid, unleſs an improper conduct in Great-Britain ſhould render a detention of it reaſonable. Depreciation had at that time, though unacknowledged and unperceived by the whigs, begun in ſome ſmall degree. Great ſums of money were paid in by debtors. At a later period, the aſſembly, adhering to the political principles which forbid an alien to hold lands in the ſtate, ordered all Britiſh property to be ſold: and, become ſenſible of the real progreſs of depreciation, and of the loſſes which would thence occur, if not guarded againſt, they ordered that the proceeds of the ſales ſhould be converted into their then worth in tobacco, ſubject to the future direction of the legiſlature. This act has left the queſtion of retribution more problematical. In May, 1780, another act took away the permiſſion to pay into the public treaſury debts due to Britiſh ſubjects.