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was referred to a committee, of which he was chairman. He draft. ed the ordinance; submitted it to the committee, by whom it was approved; and reported it to the House, where, after passing through the ordinary course, it was adopted with unanimity. The system proposed by Mr. Jefferson, was simple in its organization, and highly republican in its spirit. It is retained, essentially unimpaired, in the existing code of Virginia. It established the model for succeeding Legislatures, in the different States, as they successively proceeded to the same duty; and its main features are observable in the Judiciary Systems of all our State governments, at the present day. It divided the State into counties, and erected three distinct grades of Courts—County, Superior, and Supreme. The quality and extent of jurisdiction, prescribed to each grade, were similar to the prevailing divisions on that subject, in the United States. The trial by jury was guarded with extreme circumspection. In all questions of fact, or of fact and law combined, the reference to a jury was made imperative in the Courts of Law; and the framer of the bill had designed to make it imperative also, in the Court of Chancery; but the provision was defeated in the House, by the introduction of a discretionary clause, on motion of Mr. Pendleton, a gentleman of high English prejudices. The consequence has been, that as no suiter will say to his judge, ‘Sir, I distrust you, give me a jury, juries are rarely, perhaps never, seen in that Court, but when ordered by the Chancellor of his own accord. On the following day, October 12, he brought forward his celebrated Bill for the abolition of the Law of Entails. This was a cardinal measure, and a bold one for the political semi-barbarism of that age. Nor could a body of men have been easily selected, upon whose sensibilities the proposition would have grated with more harshness, than upon the refined aristocracy of a Virginia Assembly. The strong lines of discrimination, which were impressed upon the society of Virginia, during the early stages of the settlement, are celebrated in history; nor has the genius of her republican institutions been successful, as yet, in obliterating those artificial and dissocializing distinctions, or in extinguishing the high aristocratical spirit which they engendered. In the earlier times of the Colony, when lands were to be obtained for little or nothing, certain provident individuals procured large grants; and, desirous of founding great
families for themselves, settled them on their descendants in fee tail. The transmission of these estates from generation to generation, in the same name, raised up a distinct set of families, who, being privi. leged by the law, in the perpetuation of their wealth, were thus formed into a Patrician order, distinguished by the splendor and luxury of their establishments. This order, having in process of time, engulphed the greater part of the landed property, and with it, the political power of the Province, remained stationary, in general, on the grounds of their forefathers; for there was no emigration to the westward in those days. The Irish, who had gotten possession of the valley between the Blue-Ridge and the North Mountain, formed a barrier over which none ventured to leap ; and their manners presented no attractions to the opulent lowlanders to settle among them.
“In such a state of things,” says Mr. Jefferson, “scarcely admitting any change of station, society would settle itself down into several strata, separated by no marked lines, but shading off imperceptibly from top to bottom, nothing disturbing the order of their reThere were, then, first aristocrats, composed of the great landholders who had seated themselves below tide water on the main rivers, and lived in a style of luxury and extravagance, insupportable by the other inhabitants, and which, indeed, ended, in several instances, in the ruin of their own fortunes. Next to these were what may be called half breeds; the descendants of the younger sons and daughters of the aristocrats, who inherited the pride of their ancestors, without their wealth. Then came the pretenders, men who from vanity or the impulse of growing wealth, or from that enterprize which is natural to talents, sought to detach themselves from the plebeian ranks, to which they properly belonged, and imitated, at some distance, the manners and habits of the great. Next to these, were a solid and independent yeomanry, looking askance at those above, yet not venturing to jostle them. And last and lowest, a feculum of beings called overseers, the most abject, degraded, unprincipled race; always cap in hand to the dons who employed them, and furnishing materials for the exercise of their pride, insolence, and spirit of domination.”
By birth and fortune, Mr. Jefferson belonged to the aristocracy; but his intellectual tastes revolted him from the indolent and voluptuous habits which marked the lives of that order; and his political principles attached him, by early and indissoluble sympathies, to the solid and independent yeomanry, whom he represents as ‘looking askance' at those above them.
“Those who labor in the earth,” he early declared, “are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators, is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers. Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. This, the natural progress and consequence of the arts, has sometimes, perhaps, been retarded by accidental circumstances; but, generally speaking, the proportion, which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears, in any State, to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption.”
Impressed with these strong, unsophisticated views, he bewailed, with an incessant desire of redressment, the vitiated and fearfully anti-republican features, which characterized the social state of Virginia. The Law of Entails was the key-stone of this pernicious oligarchy. Besides locking up the lands of the Commonwealth in the hands of a fixed nobility, and thereby discouraging immigration, it legitimated the mastery of might over right, and in the most effectual forms. It was a weapon, which the law itself superadded to the multitude of natural means, to assist the strong in beating down and trampling upon the weak. It enabled the original and opulent proprietaries of the “Ancient Dominion,” or their descendants, to perpetuate the unnatural supremacy of wealth, over talents and virtue, and to entail upon society ad infinitum, the most disastrous corruptions of the regal dynasty. Children became disobedient and dissipated, or relapsed into a state of indolent independence, when they knew they could not be ousted of their estates; creditors were defrauded of their honest debts; and bona fide purchasers were, in many instances, either deprived of their title altogether, or compelled to resort to courts of justice, to substantiate it against innumerable latent entails. The abolition of this prerogative, therefore, was rightly deemed by Mr. Jefferson, a first measure in republicanizing the institutions, manners and customs of his country.
“To annul this privilege,” says he, “and instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, and scattered with equal hand through all its conditions, was deemed essential to a well ordered republic. To effect it, no violence was necessary, no deprivation of natural right, but rather an enlargement of it, by a repeal of the law. For this would authorise the present holder to divide the property among his children, equally, as his affections were divided; and would place them, by natural generation, on the level of their fellow citizens.” The Repeal was resisted, with desperation, by the sturdy and inexorable barons of the Legislature. It would doubtless amuse the modern mind, to have a peep at the arguments which were urged against a measure, so clearly dictated by every principle of justice and sound policy: but unfortunately they have not been preserved. The opposition was headed by Edmund Pendleton, speaker of the House, a gentleman of great capacity, but zealously attached to ancient establishments. He had been the protege of the lordly John Robinson, the acknowledged leader, of the landed aristocracy, for half a century; and the mantle of his patron had fallen upon himself. His personal influence was gigantic, and his powers as a debater, were of a high order. For dexterity of address, fertility of resource, and parliamentary management, he was without a rival. With such a champion, some idea maybe formed, of the character and force of the opposition. But their resistance was unavailing. Finding they could not overthrow the general principle of the bill, they took their stand on an amendment which they proposed,—instead of absolute abolition, to permit the tenant in tail, to convey in fee simple, if he chose it: and they were within a few votes of saving so much of the old law. But after a severe contest, the bill finally passed for entire abolition ; and thus, to use the language of the Author, was “broken up the hereditary and high-handed aristocracy, which, by accumulating immense masses of property in single lines of family, had divided our country into two distinct orders of nobles and plebeians.” The following short preamble introduces the act. “Whereas, the perpetuation of property in certain families, by means of gifts made to them in fee taille, is contrary to good policy, tends to deceive fair traders, who give credit on the visible possession of such estates, discourages the holders thereof from taking care
and improving the same, and sometimes does injury to the morals of youth, by rendering them independent of, and disobedient to
their parents; and whereas, the former method of docking such estates taille, by special act of Assembly, formed for every particular case, employed very much of the time of the Legislature, and the same, as well as the method of defeating such estates, when of small value, was burthensome to the public, and also to individuals: “Be it therefore enacted, &c. The next prominent heresy in the political economy of Virginia, which encountered the keen glance of the Reformer, was her Religious Establishment. This institution, he considered one of the most preposterous and deleterious remnants of the repudiated regency; but his advances upon this subject, in all its breadth and bearings, had left the residue of mankind, with few exceptions, far in the rear of his conclusions. The Church establishment of Virginia was of the Episcopal order, coeval with its first colonization, and, in all respects, a filiation of the parent hierarchy. The first settlers of the Colony were Englishmen, loyal subjects to their King and Church ; and the grant of Sir Walter Raleigh, contained an express proviso, that their laws ‘should not be against the true christian faith, now professed in the Church of England.’ They emigrated from the bosom of the mother church, “just at a point of time, when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions. Possessed, as they became, of the powers of making, administering, and , executing the laws, they showed equal intolerance in this country, with their Presbyterian bretheren, who had emigrated to the northern governments.” As soon as the state of the Colony admitted, it was divided into parishes, in each of which was installed a minister of the Anglican church, endowed with a fixed salary in tobacco, a glebe house and land, with the other necessary appendages. To meet these expenses, all the inhabitants of the parish were assessed, whether they were, or not, members of the established Church. The integrity of the institution was guarded by the severest penalties against schismatics. Besides the Common Law provisions against heresy, making it a capital offence, punishable by burning, their own statuary enactments were scarcely less flagitious. Several acts of the Virginia Assembly, about the middle of the seventeenth century, had made it penal in parents to refuse to have their children baptised; had prohibited the unlawful assembling of Quakers;
* Notes on Virginia, p.216.