Virginia has a long history in being first in a number of things, however there is something we wish we were not first. We have three Democrats in the top government positions in the state, Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General so deep in scandal their state and national party is calling for them to step down. This is hardly the sort of thing residents in any state would want to be noted for. It did not begin this way for the Commonwealth and it is a mark of shame after a proud history.
Virginia was the first of the English colonies going back to 1607 and it was a capitalist venture, not government that started it all. The Virginia Company was formed for the purpose of making a profit for investors, hence we had the creation of Jamestown. Settlers thought big in those days and Virginia was not the size it is today. What would become Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia was a part of the new territory.
1619 was what would be considered the “red letter year.” The first democratically elected legislative body came into existence and this is its 400th anniversary, the oldest legislative body in the New World. It was also the year noted for the “coming of the maidens.” There were very few women in the colony and a ship load of young women looking for husbands arrived. It was also the year of the coming of he first African Americans as we would know them. A Portuguese slave ship sunk off the shore of Virginia and the blacks were greeted equally. Laborers were mainly indentured servants, men and women accused of crimes in England who chose servitude in America over prison in England. The trouble was the women would quickly find husbands and gain freedom and the men would escape to another colony and quickly blend in. Slavery of Blacks did not begin until 1660. Another first began that year the good people of Massachusetts do not recognize. The first Thanksgiving was held as a religious banquet which included all settlers White and Black as well as Native Americans.
Virginians had a tradition of independence long before the American Revolution. In 1676 there was Bacon’s Rebellion in which a farmer, Nathaniel Bacon, led other farmers, slaves and Native Americans in a move to unseat the governor. Governors were appointed by the King of England and had power over elected legislatures. The rebellion was a success, however Bacon died and his disheartened followers deserted ending the rebellion.
We are all familiar, or should be, with the Virginians who were leaders in our fight for independence. George Washington who led our continental army, Patrick Henry whose voice represented the American Spirit, Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and James Madison considered the “father of the US Constitution.” Of course there were other great leaders in the other colonies, however these men stood out. They were scholars and they were Christians.
This article will skip the years that followed the American Revolution until the Civil War though several Virginians served as President of the United States. By the Civil War the state was not its original colonial size as it had willingly given up lands for the formation of new states. Virginia was very divided over which side to take at the start of the war and in a vote of the General Assembly the vote for secession was very slim. Sixty six counties objected so strongly that they seceded from Virginia forming West Virginia.
President Abraham Lincoln wanted the Union commander to be Virginian Robert E. Lee, a hero of the Mexican War, but Lee felt his first responsibility was to his state. Many historians believe the war would have been shorter had Lee accepted Lincoln’s offer. One Virginia officer of note did accept a role for the Union, General Winfield Scott, who served important positions in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C..
After Reconstruction and going into the 20th Century some major changes came about Virginia Government. In 1902 a United States senator, E.Carter Glass, spear headed a movement to write a new constitution. It set up what became known as the “Jim Crow Laws” legalizing segregation and setting a poll tax making it hard for the poor, whether White or Black, to vote. The Democratic Party had a stranglehold on government and Virginia was clearly part of the “Solid South.” Republicans were minimized with the majority of the membership being Blacks and poor Whites.
A new look came in 1926 when Harry Byrd became first governor of Virginia and afterward a member of the US Senate. What ran the state until the 1960s was what was known as the Byrd Organization by supporters and the Byrd Machine by opponents. Harry Byrd was concerned about the growth of the cities as here was where the machine would have its greatest opposition. Counties were separated from cities and a short ballot was created meaning that only a few major offices would be elected in the future with the rest appointed by judges. Judges were appointed by the Virginia General Assembly which was dominated by the Democratic Party. Not to be completely negative about Byrd, he did promote state tourism making it the biggest money maker for the state next to Tobacco. For example a deal was struck with the Rockefellers to rebuild the former capital of Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg, which continues to draw millions of tourists every year.
World War Two brought another major change to Virginia. An influx of Northerners because Virginia was a “Right to Work State” limiting the power of unions. New factories were opened and the cities began to boom. Many of these newcomers wanted the best for their schools and became active in PTA which would lead to a demand for more money. In 1948 Virginia ranked at the bottom of the nation in schools though 26th in wealth. At the same time the state led the nation in private schools and it was felt if you wanted an education you paid for it at a private school, most of them for boys. The father of this writer was told this very thing by a school board chairman when he wanted a better education for his son. Others wanted more open government and the Republican Party was receptive of them while the doors were closed to being Democrat Party workers. When the Civil Rights movement began in Virginia the White marchers were for the most part Republicans. The state Democratic Party attempted to keep power through a program titled “Massive Resistance” to prevent integration of schools. The Democratic controlled General Assembly attempted to rewrite history by supervising the writing of state history and government textbooks all to no avail. The newcomers to the state and long time residents in suburban areas created a new tide of voters in Virginia.
By the end of the 1960s it was like a major revolution hit the state. This writer had the pleasure of being involved in the election of a Republican for governor for the first time since Reconstruction. Integration became the law. The poll tax was abolished and local counties and cities were given the option to elect certain local leaders to office like the school board rather than having a judge appoint them.
The state has had quite a political history and today the Virginia General Assembly is under Republican Control and across the state there are an equal number of local offices held by both parties. In a map of the 2016 state presidential election the great portion of the state is red, though President Trump did not carry Virginia. What lost it for him was Northern Virginia often called the “bedroom” of Washington D.C, due to so many Federal government workers living there. The same was true of Eastern Shore Virginia.
It was those same blue areas of the state that gave us Ralph Northam, the late term abortion champion and black face performer as Governor; Justin Fairfax, an alleged rapist as Lieutenant Governor, and Mark Herring, another black face performer as Attorney General. Looking back at our history, which has not been perfect, but still great, we deserve something better. This writer hopes, like many fellow Virginians, that these three men will step down or be removed.