George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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moral of the American Revolution, its sole value
and excuse, was the right (supposed to have been
achieved after ages of strife) of self-government, the
remembrance was forced back upon him by con-
tinued assaults upon his character, his property, and
all he held dear, by a horde of enemies ever increas-
ing in numbers and bitterness. Yet it is contended
by those who, pandering to the evil spirit of the
hour, are more unwilling than unable to take in the
full scope of this still important argument, that in
grasping at shadows the Virginian lost the substance
of power, and gave up for metaphysics a prosperity
he might easily have retained. I deny it utterly.

Conceding for the moment that there can be last-
ing prosperity without good government, I point to
the map. The configuration of the American con-
tinent, the northeastward trend of the Atlantic coast,
and the course of the gulf stream, which still carries
the steamship in the very path of the sailing vessel,
were not of the Virginian's making. Climate and
soil, which made manufactures a necessity in New
England, made agriculture a luxury to the Virginian.
Yet he tried manufactures. How exceeding wise
are the sons of to-day who twit their fathers with


not having done this! Over and again the Vir-
ginian tried them, and over again was he crushed by
associated capital. Immigration, determined in part
by latitude and isotherms, but rigorously by prox-
imity, ease and rapidity of access, the Virginian
could no more control than he could control the
motions of the heavenly bodies, yet despite immigra-
tion, dense population and concentrated wealth, de-
spite tariffs and protective laws devised for his ruin,
he and his brethren of the South at the outbreaking
of the late war were richer far, man for man, than
their fellows of the North. Property was more
evenly distributed, crime and pauperism were almost
unknown, jails were empty, poor-houses empty, beg-
gars were wonders, and social elevation, large areas
considered, was incomparably superior. An old
song, this. Yes, but it needs repeating when a Vir-
ginian declares that the Virginians of his own day
lack "public spirit." Masterly as the oration at
Randolph Macon undoubtedly was, and much needed
as was the rebuke then administered to our over-
weening self-esteem, something may be said on the
other side. Indeed, the very highest proof ever
given of the large and generous spirit of Virginians
was the burst of applause that everywhere greeted
an accusation which, coming from a son less tried
and proven by fire of battle, might well have been
accounted abuse and almost slander.

Virginians wanting in public spirit? 'Tis a new
accusation indeed. Why, the cuckoo cry of the
North for half a century has been that the Virginian


devoted his. time to politics, to the utter neglect of
his private afiairs. Well I know, and so does he,
what manner of spirit it was that fired Virginia in
1860, but 'tis not of that he speaks. Perhaps he
means that, engrossed in self-admiration, our nar-
row sympathies would not permit us to love, I will
not say the Yankees, but the American people. In
my soul, I think the Virginian loved them better
than they loved themselves; for he who truly loves
liberty loves truly and to purpose all mankind. Is
it public improvements that he means ? Possibly,
for public spirit and running in debt hastening a
premature and unstable civilization seem to be
synonymous now-a-days. Well, then, I will take the
forty millions, spent much against the old Virginia
gentleman's will, in railroads and canals, that have
brought the State to the verge of bankruptcy and
repudiation, when a tithe of that sum expended, in
maintenance of his faith, upon a well-devised system
of county roads would have made ours the happiest
and most solvent Commonwealth in the South, if not
in all the land. What call you that ? Fealty to the
first great principle of our American form of govern-
ment the minimum of State interference and assis-
tance in order to attain the maximum of individual
development and endeavor that was the Virginian's
conception of public spirit, and, if our system be
right, it is the right conception.

Aye ! but the Virginian made, slavery the touch-
stone and the test in all things whatsoever, State or
Federal. Truly he did, and why ?


This button here upon my cuff is valueless, whether
for use or for ornament, but you shall not tear it
from me and spit in my face besides; no, not if it
cost me my life. And if your time be passed in the
attempt to so take it, then my time and my every
thought shall be spent in preventing such outrage.
Let alone, the Virginian would gladly have made an
end of slavery, but, strange hap ! malevolence and
meddling bound it up with every interest that was
dear to his heart wife, home, honor and by a sad
providence it became the midmost boss, the very
centre of that buckler of State rights which he held
up against the worst of tyrants a sectional ma-

But a darker accusation yet remains. This also is
a discovery made since the war. It is charged that
our fathers threw away a great estate, an empire in
truth, and surrendered constitutional rights of in-
estimable value, not for love of our common country,
for peace and brotherhood, but for what, think you?
Mark it well for the sake of Federal office, and
that alone ! Yes ! this is the accusation brought by
Yirginians against their fathers. No Yankee brings
it. I never heard it 'till a Virginian of 1876 brought
it. Though I may be excused for calling in ques-
tion the motive of him who imputes such motives to
others of his own flesh and blood, I will not do so.
I will summon history to bar, and ask her whether
the Virginians who espoused New England's cause
and perished amid the snows of Canada were office-
seeking when they died ? And I will file in answer


to this charge a single act of our Legislature in 1867,
when Virginia, impoverished and dissevered, as-
sumed the entire indebtedness, principal and in-
terest, of two States. Was that office-seeking ? "Was
that the prompting of self-interest ?

Noble folly! Magnanimous stupidity? Nay, I
reckon it rather the dying murmur, the last true
beat of that great Virginia heart, whose generous
and unselfish pulse kept time to an exalted sense of

This doubtless was the weakness of the Virginia
gentleman of the olden time. It was not the weak-
ness of a mean or grovelling spirit, or one in imita-
tion of which the world will soon destroy itself. He
was not wiser, he was not more learned, he was not
more successful than other men. Wherein, then,
lay his strength, and what was the secret of his in-
fluence over all this land ? I answer in one word
character. And what is meant by character ?
Courage ? Yes ; the courage of his opinions, and
physical courage as well, for he had a Briton's faith
in pluck. Pride of race ? In a limited sense, yes.
Honesty ? The question is almost an insult.
" Madam," said Judge John Robertson, when in
Congress, to his wife, who asked him to frank a letter
for her, " Madam, I am not a thief !" Love of truth ?
Yes; undying love of it. And more what more?
A certain inherited something in the blood and
bodily fibre that fused all these qualities and lifted
them as a steady concentrated light in a Pharos, so
that the simple look of the man, the poise of his


head, his very gait, betrayed the elevation of his
nature. Therein lay his strength, before which
wiser men, as the world runs, and far wealthier men
bowed almost in homage. Character character,
fixed upon the immutable basis of honor, and a love
of liberty unquenchable that was the source of his
power, and the whole of it.

From the pale, defeated lips of Virginians, weak-
ened by poverty, comes the sneer (we hear it too
often now-a-days), " Can honor set a leg ?" No,
truly ; but dishonor can damn to everlasting infamy
a human soul.

But whatever its source, character, or what you
will, the greatness of the Yirginian in times past
cannot be gainsaid ; it is everywhere conceded. And
yet this mediocre age, which sneers at honor, natu-
rally enough decries greatness. Decries ? yea, denies
its very existence. " The individual withers, and the
world is more and more." So much the worse for
the world, were it true. They who looked Lee and
Jackson in the face, and fought under them ; they
who have seen Bismarck and King William make
Germany in the very teeth of its hostile Reichstag,
believe it. How passing strange ! String cyphers
till the crack of doom, they count nothing. Cut out
of the world's book the pages made lustrous by the
words and deeds of great men, and the rest is blank.
Myriads living in Africa for unnumbered centuries
have left no sign. But look at Greece ; at only one
of its States. Galton, in his able work on Hereditary
Genius, calls attention to the " magnificent breed of


human animals " reared in a single century in Attica,
^enumerates fourteen of the greatest of them, and says,
<l We have no men to put by the side of Socrates and
Phidias. The millions of all Europe, breeding for
two thousand years, have never produced their equals.
The population which produced these men amounted
to 135,000 free males, born in the century named,
530-430 B. C."

On the first day of December, 1763, Patrick
Henry made his speech in the Parsons' cause, and
after the Convention of '29-'30 the giants no longer
assembled in Virginia. I will put the breed of human
animals reared in this interval, less than a century, out
of a free male population not exceeding that of Attica,
against any other ever produced in this world. I doubt
if the Roman senate or the Athenian Areopagus ever
at one time contained quite such a body of men as
were gathered in our famous Convention, and I will
say, with Galton, that we have not now, nor are we
likely ever again to have, two such men as Washing-
ton and Jefferson.

But, would you believe it, Jefferson is a plagiarist !
a thief not only of words, but of ideas ! He has no
claim to originality his thoughts, his very language,
everything borrowed or stolen outright ! That has
been deliberately and publicly charged, not by men
of the North, but by a Virginian. Well, let us see.

" This new principle of so constituting a Federal
Republic as to make it { one nation as to foreign con-
cerns, and to keep us distinct as to domestic ones,'
was indicated as early as December, 1786, by Mr.


Jefferson in a letter to Mr. Madison." That is an^
historical fact, testified to by Alex. H. Stephens.

" It is the very greatest refinement in social policy
to which any state of circumstances has ever given
rise, or to which any age has ever given birth."
That is the testimony of Lord Brougham. " It is a
wholly novel thing, which may be considered a great
discovery in modern political science, and for which
there is even yet no specific name." That is the
testimony of De Tocqueville. This will suffice. Jef-
ferson's fame is firm-based as the pyramids ; it can-
not be shaken ; and they who decry him do but be-
little themselves.

A soil is known by its crops, a tree by its fruit..
Materials are tested by the strain they will bear;
flowers give forth their sweets under compression,
but yield their inmost virtues only to the torture of
the crucible. The flowers and the fruitage of a land
are its men. The test of men is the strain of war ;
the supreme test the torture of defeat. Virginians
were tested in the war of the Revolution, again in
1812, again in Mexico, again in the great rebellion,
so-called, and yet again in the long torture of recon-
struction. Where, I ask in the candor of a triumph
so amazing that it almost humiliates, where are all
the honors ? Were these successive honors the re-
sult of chance ? Are the great names and the heroic
deeds associated with these wars of no value ? There
can be but one answer, and it is so complete it sad-
dens me ; for well I know I think I know the
end has come. It has certainly come if, for the sake


of present comfort, the Virginians of to-day are
willing to forfeit these honors and to despise these
names. What neither war nor defeat could effect*
poverty, long continued, has accomplished it has
broken them down at last. I fear so, indeed.

My friends, it is not I who say it ; it is nature, it
is God who says it man, like all other organisms,
is subject to his environment. Change the environ-
ment, he changes with it ; destroy it, and he is de-
stroyed. But 'tis not the earth he treads nor the
air he breathes that constitutes man's true environ-
ment ; it is the social atmosphere that makes the
man or mars him. Great minds, great hearts, noble
spirits, are not fed on base thoughts and low ambi-
tions ; and if the glory of Virginia in the past has
been incontestably greater than that of all her sister
States combined, it must be because her sons inhaled
at home a finer, purer air. Ask yourselves whether
that atmosphere has changed or is changing, and
frankly own all of good or ill that slavery involves.
If it accompanied here, as in Greece, the develop-
ment of a splendid breed of animals, say so ; if it
helped that development, say so f earlessly. For one,.
I say with confidence, that the abolition of slavery
has so changed the environment of the Virginian that
another and wholly different man must take his place.
Will he be a better man ? I do not know ; I hope
he may. Will he be worse ? Time will tell.

But whatever the Virginian may have been, the
coldest envy and the meanest jealousy may look upon
him now with complacency. If he were vain, his-


vanity stands him now in little stead. If he were
proud, his pride need wound you no longer. " No
farther seek his virtues to disclose, or draw his frail-
ties from their dread abode ;" but come


Come listen to another song,

Should make your heart beat high,
Bring crimson to your forehead,
And lustre to your eye.

It is a tale of olden time,

Of days long since gone by,
And of a baron stout and bold
As e'er wore sword on thigh,
Like a brave Virginia gentleman
All of the olden time.


His castle was his country home

Hard by the river James,
Full two hundred servants dwelt around
He called them by their names ;

And life to them no hardship was,

'Twas all things else I ween ;
They were the happiest peasantry

This world has ever seen,
Despite the Abolition chevaliers
All of the Northern clime !


His father drew his trusty sword
In Freedom's righteous cause,
Among the gallant gentlemen
Who made nor stop nor pause

Till they had broken wide apart
The British bolts and bars,


And lifted up to Freedom's sky

The standard of the stars,
Like true rebellious gentlemen
All of that manly time.

He never owned a foreign rule,

A master he would scorn ;
Trained in the Revolution's school,
To Liberty was born !

And when they asked him for his oath,

He touched his war-worn blade,
Aud^pointed to his lapel grey,
That bore the blue cockade !
Like a straight-out States' Rights gentleman,
All of that trying time.


And then the words rang through the land,
" Coercion is to be 1"
" Coercion of the free?"
That night the dreadful news was spread
From mountains to the sea ;

And our old Baron rose in might

Like a lion from his den,
And rode in haste across the hills

To join the fighting men,
Like a staunch Virginia gentleman,
All of the olden time.


He was the first to fire the gun

When Sumter was assailed,
He it was who life disdained

When our Great Cause had failed,
And ever in the van of fight
The, foremost still he trod,


Until on Appomattox' height

He gave his soul to God,
Like a good Virginia gentleman,
All of the olden time.

Ah! never shall we know again

A heart so stout and true ;
The olden times have passed away,
And weary are the new.

The fair white rose has faded

From the garden where it grew,
And no fond tears save those of heaven

The glorious bed bedew
Of the last Virginia gentleman,
All of the olden time !

Oh ! good grey head of Arlington ! when thy great
sore heart, that ever took unto itself all blame, burst
behind the mute lips, and Rockbridge earth received
the stateliest man of all our time, then indeed the
last Virginia gentleman was laid to sleep in his mo-
ther's lap, and the heroic age of Virginia ended.
"The spacious times of great Elizabeth" come not
again ; there is no second age of Pericles.

As were the sons, so was their mother. She gave
them life ; they repaid her with immortality. Many
sons have brought honor to many lands, but it is the
crowning glory of Virginia that her children sought
honor in noble deeds performed more for others than
for herself, and that her fame, like her own Lee's,
is the fame of self-abnegation. The quarrel of 1776
was less her own than that of the North ; the quar-


xel of 18 60-' 61 was that of the South more than
Virginia's ; her career has been a continuous giving,
not a taking ; she owes nothing to conquest, but all
to successive benefactions ; in dwindling from an
empire to a span she obtained glory at every parti-
tion ; and as her body was wasted her soul found im-
mortal expansion. Martyr of States, her baptism
and exaltation have been the evils requited unto her
in return for the good she did for others. She gave
George Washington, and received Canby! As a
recompense for John Marshall, she received Under-
wood !

But why call the bead-roll of her mighty names in
contrast with the pigmies sent to annoy and the ver-
min to defile her ? She gave the five States of the
Northwest, and was rent in twain for it ; and they
who would not allow her to secede tore her in pieces.
Nor was this all. The last possible of indignities,
the cruelest of all thorns in the crown of her martyr-
dom was yet to come. With long and bitter travail
of war and of thought, with lavish flow of blood, and
of money to repair the broken credit of the Union,
.she achieved liberty for herself and her sisters of the
North ; and they, not content with her Poland-like
partition, gave her over to the mercies, anything but
tender, of her former slaves and of adventurers in-
finitely worse than slaves. Well might Barbour of
Orange exclaim, this is " the crime of the*nineteenth
century ! " This was indeed " subj ugation of the soul."
True, it did not succeed, but that was not the fault of
the projectors of the plan compared with which,


had it been successful, the atrocities of Timour and
Genghis were but momentary and trivial evils.

Shame, shame, eternal shame on them who would
inflict such outrage upon her, who never opened her
lips but to bless, nor lifted her hand but in bound-
less generosity.

Cursed! nay, though 'tis not of a people, nor
yet of a party, but of a motive that I speak I will
not curse. " Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and
I will repay."

"Thy will be done."

It is being done. - Mangled as she is, Virginia is
yet too magnanimous to ask or even desire to avenge
her wrongs. "E'en in her ashes live her wonted
fires," and, were she in power, she would heap coal&
of kindness upon the head of her enemies. Just and
impartial laws, an honest government, untainted by
fraud or sectional malice that, and only that, is the
vengeance Virginia seeks, or ever sought.

You may say it may have been often said or
thought, though I have not heard it you may say
that in giving away the Northwest, Virginia gave
what was scarcely her own, or, if it were, gave it at
a time when earth was as cheap almost as air. Be
it so ; count it then as dirt, though that dirt came to
be armed men in 1861; have your will. You may
say, too, that in giving her sons to the North first,,
and afterwards to the South, she gave them to a fame
which they could in no other way have won. I will
admit it. But see you here :

When the long debate on slavery and the rights of


the States was drawing to a close, Virginia called her
sons, her best and wisest, in council. The Conven-
tion of February 13th, 1861, second in dignity and
ability only to that of 1 S29-'30, was overwhelmingly
Union in sentiment. Virginia's heart and her head
were there. She loved the Union. Not for what
she could make out of it, or for the benefits it could
bestow on her, but for what it had made out of her,
for what she had bestowed on it. Her's was a mo-
ther's love; for the body of the Union had been hex-
own body, its soul her soul. And so, not con-
tent with her home convention, she call in Wash-
ington City another convention, a peace convention.
It was all her own her thought, her suggestion en-
tirely. She abhorred strife, she yearned to avert
bloodshed. But her Peace Congress, received with
contempt, was sent back in derision. Still her home
convention sought peace and ensued it, and urged,
as a dying and unresentful man might urge, the
maintenance of the Union. And then it was that a
third convention sat down at the very doors of the
first, clamoring for secession; a fact of which the
world seems ignorant and indifferent. But with the
din of imminent civil war in her ears, Virginia, em-
bodied in her Union convention, calmly pursued her
way, resolute, undaunted, not to be shaken by con-
tempt abroad or by threats of violence at home.
"What say you to that ? What sordid interest ac-

t/ V

tuated Virginia then ? Was she self-seeking at that
time, or moved even by that ambition which the
world counts noble the love of glory ? God in


heaven doth know that, could Yirginia have had her
way, the only glory she would have sought, the only
fame she coveted, would have been the glory of peace,
the fame of union and a common prosperity.

But it was not so to be. Her will was not the will
of the gods ; fate decreed it far otherwise.

At Lincoln's call to arms all was changed in an
instant. She whose heel was wont to rest on the
tyrant's neck, but who late had been a suppliant at
his knees, heard once more in the gale that swept
from the North the clash of arms and the clank
of chains as her own Henry had heard them fourscore
years before. Springing to her feet, Virginia stepped
in front of her daughters, threw up her mighty
shield, and

" shook aloft her Eoman blade,
Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,
Couched the fowl below with his wing's shade."

It was a sublime picture. No wonder a shout of
new-born hope and joyous exultation rang along the
yellow Mississippi to the blue-waved Gulf when that
picture, standing out in bold relief against the
Northern heavens, fascinated every eye. No won-
der the tyrant paused in awe. No wonder he doubled
and quadrupled his call for troops. Such sight
as that no man had ever seen. Such spectacle of a
mother nation's protecting wrath mortal vision had
not beheld. It was as if Liberty herself, incarnate
and aflame with righteous ire, stood up to bar the
tyrant's way.


That figure, outlined dark, terrible and beautiful
against the horizon there, still stands, and in memory
will for ever stand, while beats the human heart re-
sponsive to the thrilling touch of noble deeds. Of
this imperial print there is but one copy. Its fel-
low we shall seek for in vain. Upon the long can-
vass of the ages, all crimson with wars and lustrous
with great and daring achievements, we shall find no
picture like unto this. It is the apotheosis of a na-
tion's self-immola'tion. The obelisk of the Matter-
horn rises sheer 9,000 feet in the air. What knows
the ant, burrowing in the sand at its foot, of its ele-
vation? Virginians, we must step back two cen-
turies ere we can take in the full measure of our
mother's unparalelled self-sacrifice.

For Virginia was a nation, though a small one a
distinct and a peculiar people. And well she knew
that, end how this quarrel (not of her seeking, but of
her deploring) might, she must bear the brunt of it.
And when the tempest came, and the war burst in
thunder on her head, when her sword was broken and
her shield shattered, Virginia, firm as her hills, kept
her place in the fore-front of battle still. Nay,

Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 27)