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   Chapter 1 THE BOTETOURT RESOLUTIONS

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 12748

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


On this wintry day, cold and sunny, the small town breathed hard in its excitement. It might have climbed rapidly from a lower land, so heightened now were its pulses, so light and rare the air it drank, so raised its mood, so wide, so very wide the opening prospect. Old red-brick houses, old box-planted gardens, old high, leafless trees, out it looked from its place between the mountain ranges. Its point of view, its position in space, had each its value-whether a lesser value or a greater value than other points and positions only the Judge of all can determine. The little town tried to see clearly and to act rightly. If, in this time so troubled, so obscured by mounting clouds, so tossed by winds of passion and of prejudice, it felt the proudest assurance that it was doing both, at least that self-infatuation was shared all around the compass.

The town was the county-seat. Red brick and white pillars, set on rising ground and encircled by trees, the court house rose like a guidon, planted there by English stock. Around it gathered a great crowd, breathlessly listening. It listened to the reading of the Botetourt Resolutions, offered by the President of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and now delivered in a solemn and a ringing voice. The season was December and the year, 1860.

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The people of Botetourt County, in general meeting assembled, believe it to be the duty of all the citizens of the Commonwealth, in the present alarming condition of our country, to give some expression of their opinion upon the threatening aspect of public affairs....

In the controversies with the mother country, growing out of the effortof the latter to tax the Colonies without their consent, it was Virginia who, by the resolution against the Stamp Act, gave the example of the first authoritative resistance by a legislative body to the British Government, and so imparted the first impulse to the Revolution.

Virginia declared her Independence before any of the Colonies, and gave the first written Constitution to mankind.

By her instructions her representatives in the General Congress introduced a resolution to declare the Colonies independent States, and the Declaration itself was written by one of her sons.

She furnished to the Confederate States the father of his country, under whose guidance Independence was achieved, and the rights and liberties of each State, it was hoped, perpetually established.

She stood undismayed through the long night of the Revolution, breasting the storm of war and pouring out the blood of her sons like water on every battlefield, from the ramparts of Quebec to the sands of Georgia.

A cheer broke from the throng. "That she did-that she did! 'Old Virginia never tire.'"

By her unaided efforts the Northwestern Territory was conquered, whereby the Mississippi, instead of the Ohio River, was recognized as the boundary of the United States by the treaty of peace.

To secure harmony, and as an evidence of her estimate of the value of the Union of the States, she ceded to all for their common benefit this magnificent region-an empire in itself.

When the Articles of Confederation were shown to be inadequate to secure peace and tranquillity at home and respect abroad, Virginia first moved to bring about a more perfect Union.

At her instance the first assemblage of commissioners took place at Annapolis, which ultimately led to a meeting of the Convention which formed the present Constitution.

The instrument itself was in a great measure the production of one of her sons, who has been justly styled the Father of the Constitution.

The government created by it was put into operation, with her Washington, the father of his country, at its head; her Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, in his cabinet; her Madison, the great advocate of the Constitution, in the legislative hall.

"And each of the three," cried a voice, "left on record his judgment as to the integral rights of the federating States."

Under the leading of Virginia statesmen the Revolution of 1798 was brought about, Louisiana was acquired, and the second war of independence was waged.

Throughout the whole progress of the Republic she has never infringed on the rights of any State, or asked or received an exclusive benefit.

On the contrary, she has been the first to vindicate the equality of all the States, the smallest as well as the greatest.

But, claiming no exclusive benefit for her efforts and sacrifices in the common cause, she had a right to look for feelings of fraternity and kindness for her citizens from the citizens of other States.... And that the common government, to the promotion of which she contributed so largely, for the purpose of establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquillity, would not, whilst the forms of the Constitution were observed, be so perverted in spirit as to inflict wrong and injustice and produce universal insecurity.

These reasonable expectations have been grievously disappointed-

There arose a roar of assent. "That's the truth!-that's the plain truth! North and South, we're leagues asunder!-We don't think alike, we don't feel alike, and we don't interpret the Constitution alike! I'll tell you how the North interprets it!-Government by the North, for the North, and over the South! Go on, Judge Allen, go on!"

In view of this state of things, we are not inclined to rebuke or censure the people of any of our sister States in the South, suffering from injury, goaded by insults, and threatened with such outrages and wrongs, for their bold determination to relieve themselves from such injustice and oppression by resorting to their ultimate and sovereign right to dissolve the compact which they had formed and to provide new guards for their future security.

"South Carolina!-Georgia, too, will be out in January.-Alabama as well, Mississippi and Louisiana.-Go on!"

Nor have we any doubt of the right of any State, there being no common umpire between coequal sovereign States, to judge for itself on its own responsibility, as to the mode and manner of redress.

The States, each for itself, exercised this sovereign power when they dissolved their connection with the British Empire.

They exercised the same power when nine of the States seceded from the Confederation and a

dopted the present Constitution, though two States at first rejected it.

The Articles of Confederation stipulated that those articles should be inviolably observed by every State, and that the Union should be perpetual, and that no alteration should be made unless agreed to by Congress and confirmed by every State.

Notwithstanding this solemn compact, a portion of the States did, without the consent of the others, form a new compact; and there is nothing to show, or by which it can be shown, that this right has been, or can be, diminished so long as the States continue sovereign.

"The right's the right of self-government-and it's inherent and inalienable!-We fought for it-when didn't we fight for it? When we cease to fight for it, then chaos and night!-Go on, go on!"

The Confederation was assented to by the Legislature for each State; the Constitution by the people of each State, for such State alone. One is as binding as the other, and no more so.

The Constitution, it is true, established a government, and it operates directly on the individual; the Confederation was a league operating primarily on the States. But each was adopted by the State for itself; in the one case by the Legislature acting for the State; in the other by the people, not as individuals composing one nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong.

The foundation, therefore, on which it was established, was federal, and the State, in the exercise of the same sovereign authority by which she ratified for herself, may for herself abrogate and annul.

The operation of its powers, whilst the State remains in the Confederacy, is national; and consequently a State remaining in the Confederacy and enjoying its benefits cannot, by any mode of procedure, withdraw its citizens from the obligation to obey the Constitution and the laws passed in pursuance thereof.

But when a State does secede, the Constitution and laws of the United States cease to operate therein. No power is conferred on Congress to enforce them. Such authority was denied to the Congress in the convention which framed the Constitution, because it would be an act of war of nation against nation-not the exercise of the legitimate power of a government to enforce its laws on those subject to its jurisdiction.

The assumption of such a power would be the assertion of a prerogative claimed by the British Government to legislate for the Colonies inall cases whatever; it would constitute of itself a dangerous attack on the rights of the States, and should be promptly repelled.

There was a great thunder of assent. "That is our doctrine-bred in the bone-dyed in the weaving! Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, Washington, Henry-further back yet, further back-back to Magna Charta!"

These principles, resulting from the nature of our system of confederate States, cannot admit of question in Virginia.

In 1788 our people in convention, by their act of ratification, declared and made known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whenever they shall be perverted to their injury and oppression.

From what people were these powers derived? Confessedly from the people of each State, acting for themselves. By whom were they to be resumed or taken back? By the people of the State who were then granting them away. Who were to determine whether the powers granted had been perverted to their injury or oppression? Not the whole people of the United States, for there could be no oppression of the whole with their own consent; and it could not have entered into the conception of the Convention that the powers granted could not be resumed until the oppressor himself united in such resumption.

They asserted the right to resume in order to guard the people of Virginia, for whom alone the Convention could act, against the oppression of an irresponsible and sectional majority, the worst form of oppression with which an angry Providence has ever afflicted humanity.

Whilst therefore we regret that any State should, in a matter of common grievance, have determined to act for herself without consulting with her sister States equally aggrieved, we are nevertheless constrained to say that the occasion justifies and loudly calls for action of some kind....

In view therefore of the present condition of our country, and the causes of it, we declare almost in the words of our fathers, contained in an address of the freeholders of Botetourt, in February, 1775, to the delegates from Virginia to the Continental Congress, "That we desire no change in our government whilst left to the free enjoyment of our equal privileges secured by the constitution; but that should a tyrannical sectional majority, under the sanction of the forms of the constitution, persist in acts of injustice and violence toward us, they only must be answerable for the consequences."

That liberty is so strongly impressed upon our hearts that we cannot think of parting with it but with our lives; that our duty to God, our country, ourselves and our posterity forbid it; we stand, therefore, prepared for every contingency.

Resolved therefore, That in view of the facts set out in the foregoing preamble, it is the opinion of this meeting that a convention of the people should be called forthwith; that the State in its sovereign character should consult with the other Southern States, and agree upon such guarantees as in their opinion will secure their equality, tranquillity and rightswithin the Union.

The applause shook the air. "Yes, yes! within the Union! They're not quite mad-not even the black Republicans! We'll save the Union!-We made it, and we'll save it!-Unless the North takes leave of its senses.-Go on!"

And in the event of a failure to obtain such guarantees, to adopt in concert with the other Southern States, or alone, such measures as may seem most expedient to protect the rights and ensure the safety of the people of Virginia.

The reader made an end, and stood with dignity. Silence, then a beginning of sound, like the beginning of wind in the forest. It grew, it became deep and surrounding as the atmosphere, it increased into the general voice of the county, and the voice passed the Botetourt Resolutions.

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