Serial: Southern literary messenger; devoted to every department of literature and the fine arts.
Title: The Social System of Virginia [Volume 14, Issue 2, Feb 1848; pp. 65-81]
Collection: Making of America Journal Articles
Article URL: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moajrnl/acf2679.0014.002/76
The Social System of Virginia. Justices of the peace. Men, in no manner, delegated by the people, but commissioned by governors, who were themselves, in turn, commissioned by the Crown, were authorize], contrary to the first rudiments of American liberty, to fix the amount of the county levies, which are generally much larger than the State tax. to apportion those levies, and control their collection and disbursements. We thus find power of every sort-legislative, executive, judicial and military, uniting in the hands of a class of men who, as descendants of the ancient nobility of England, had been educated in aristocratic habits and feelings, and who, as proprietors of large estates, masters of indented servants, and lords of slaves, controlled the social destinies of the colony. And the influence thus acquired by this order was confirmed and augmiented bv the lamentable state of education among the great mass of the people. Indeed, there seems to have been no provision whatever for general education at that time-common schools were unknown-and each man had to instruct his children at home as best hlie could. The consequence was, of course, that, as a general rule, they grew tip in absolute ignorance. Not only was this so, but it seems to have been the good pleasure of the governnent, that it should continue so. This certainly was the case during the administration of Berkeley, which lasted for about thirty-six years. We quote from Bancroft's history: "The system of common schools was unknown. 'Every man,' said Sir William Berkeley, in 1671, 'instructs his children according to his ability;' a method which left the children of the ignorant to hopeless ignorance. The instinct of aristocracy dreaded the general diffusion of intelligence, and even the enfranchising influence of the preaching of the ministers.'The ministers,' continued Sir William, in the spirit of the aristocracy of the Tud(ors,' should pray oftener and preach less. But I thank God, there are no free schools, nor printing,; and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best governments. God keep us from both."-Vol. 2, p. 192. With this disposition upon the part of the government, and that lamentable ignorance among the masses, of which all the co-temporaneous writers speak. it is easy to see that the administration of affairs must necessarily have fallen into the hands of those wealthy proprietors, who had brought with them into the colony the culture which belonged to the English gentry of that day, or into the hands of their children. who had been sent to England to be educated-as was the fashion of those times. In this connection, we should not omit to mention the laws of Primogeniture and Entails, as they exerted great influence in building up the aristocracy of Virginia, and confirming its power. It can scarcely be necessary to say that these laws were brought into the colony by the first settlers as a part of the laws of the mother country, and that, down to the period of the Revolution, their policy was much favored. Indeed, the principle of entails was carried much further in the colony than it had ever been carried in England. In the first place, nothling but land, or something issuing out of, or appurtenant to, land, could be entailed in England. But, by an Act of Assembly passed in 1727, slaves, as well as land, could be entailed in the colony. There was another most important distinction between the law of entails in Virginia and in England. In England, fines and recoveries, as they were called, were always a part of the law of Entails. This was a provision which put it in the power of the tenant in tail, at any moment, to defeat the estate tail. and vest in himself an absolute fee simple, over which he had complete dominion, to alien, devise, or transmit by descent to his heirs general, as he saw fit. And when the law of entails was received into the colony, fines and recoveries, as a part of that law, were, as a matter of course, received with it. But, as early as October, 1705, it was enacted by the Assembly, that "fines and recoveries, and every other act for the purpose of avoiding and defeating, estates tail," except by act of the General Assembly, "shall be utterly null and void." And, although this restraint was so far removed in 1734, as to allow the entail of lands not exceeding ~200 in value to be defeated on certain conditions, yet all entails of estates over ~200 sterling in value were indestructible. And, if our memory serves us aright, this continued to be the law until 1776, when all entails were abolished. By this course of legislation, restraints upon the alienation of property in the colony became more burthensome than in the mother country, and it was in the power of the owner to bind up his property in a particular line of transmission for an almost indefinite period. All this, of course, favored the growth of wealthy families, and tended to confirm and perpetuate their power. From these elements, and others which it is not necessary to enumerate at this time, sprung the Landed Aristocracy of Virginia, which, for more than a century, controlled her destinies-in many respects, a remarkable race of men, illustrious first in the annals of the colony, and afterwards in the history of the commonwealth and the councils of the nation. We have now pointed out, in an imperfect manner, what we understand to have been the character of the population of Virginia during the colonial period, as also the relations subsisting between the two great classes into which that population was divided. Let us next ascertain, if we can, how the people of Virginia lived in those timeswhat manner of life they led. And here the first thing which attracts our attention is preponderance 72 [FEBRUARY,