Category Archives: Virginia history

Thunder in the Pulpits

by Michael Giere

“But this was not always so. In fact, for much of our history, it has been just the opposite. Godly men and women who were fearless, bold, strong, and savvy have been central to the American experience.”

There has never been anything in history like the US Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. It is the crown jewel of human advancement and bids freedom not for some but for all. It stands alone, enshrining and paying homage to the core reality of man’s existence – that the dignity and rights of every person and their personal freedom don’t come from the word or works of an impermanent ruler, a mob, or government but from the permanent promise of the Creator.

The Constitution began with a convention and 55 delegates from the newly-free Colonies called to modify the Articles of Confederation. It became a convention that would reshape history. Influential members such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, among others, were convicted that the Confederation needed a stronger national government, and the Convention settled on Mr. Madison’s Virginia Plan as a starting document to replace the Articles of Confederation. Continue reading

Revisiting the Intellectual Foundations of Conservatism — One Book at a Time

by Suzanne Munson

From time to time, members of every great movement such as American Conservatism need to stop, take a breath, and see where the movement is going. Great movements, founded by great individuals, can sometimes be hijacked by lesser minds.

Many of the founders of modern conservatism were intellectuals. William F. Buckley was able to criticize liberalism articulately from the foundation of a fine education, intellectual curiosity, and deep reading.

While there are knowledgeable thought-leaders in today’s conservative movement, there are others who call themselves conservatives who may be giving the movement an unfortunate image.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines conservatism as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” Much more can be added to this definition, such as limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a belief in traditional, wholesome values.

It is interesting to examine a recent incident in Florida to see where some who term themselves “conservatives” have created an embarrassing situation. Members of a book club, reported to consist of conservative members, rescinded an invitation to a respected author to speak to their group.

The program was a book and author event at $100 a plate, so one would assume some level of education and sophistication. Rachel Beanland, a well-regarded Richmond, Virginia author and teacher, was invited to speak about her new novel, The House Is on Fire.

She had spent hundreds of hours researching the tragic theater fire of 1811 in which some of Virginia’s most prominent citizens perished. The book features individuals, real and imagined, who resided in Richmond at that time–tradesmen, theater workers, politicians, slaves, doctors, widows.

Yes, there are slaves in the book and yes, their lives were difficult, and yes, some white characters in the book treated them poorly. What else is new? There were white characters in the story who also had poor treatment at the hands of other whites. There is always plenty of trouble to go around in an interesting novel. Continue reading

The Enduring Value of Arlington’s Endangered Monument to Reconciliation

The Confederate Memorial in Arlington.
(Arlington National Cemetery; photo by Rachel Larue)

by Donald Smith

Jim Webb, former U.S. Senator from Virginia, former Navy Secretary, and certified badass (Navy Cross, Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from his service as a Marine officer in Vietnam) grabbed quite a bit of attention last week.  On August 18 he called for the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery to be spared.  You can read his commentary here, if you have a Wall Street Journal subscription (or have some free articles left.)  Here’s a link to a no-paywall article on Webb’s piece.  Here’s a link to the most prominent criticism I’ve seen of Webb’s piece, from Civil War historian Kevin Levin. 

Webb’s commentary points out an important and, until now, mostly ignored repercussion of Congress’ blanket approval of the Naming Commission’s recommendations:  it diminishes our nation’s soft power.  That makes it harder for our military and diplomats to achieve our nation’s goals overseas without having to resort to coercion or violence.  Continue reading

Satire: Lexington’s Battle of the Statues

by Thomas Moncure

The Virginia Military Institute removed the statue of former Professor (and Confederate General) Thomas J. Jackson from the front of barracks. In doing so they have meekly emulated the sterling example of the City of Richmond and other places. Cleansing the landscape of offensive historical figures is now the touchstone of our times.

Much remains to be done at VMI. The statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead must come down. The sculptor, Sir Moses Ezekiel, fought for slavery as a member of the Corps of Cadets at the Battle of New Market. His fellow Cadets buried at the base of the statue, who also fought for slavery, must be disinterred and removed. Perhaps they can be reburied wherever Washington & Lee University determines to place the deceased Lees when they are expelled from the University (formerly Lee) Chapel.

But the most offensive statue is that of the avowed segregationist George C. Marshall. Continue reading

Ignorance Erases George Wythe at a Virginia Community College

George Wythe

by Suzanne Munson

Virginia Peninsula Community College recently announced the removal of the names of two historic American leaders from its buildings, George Wythe and Dr. Corbin Griffin, a surgeon for Virginia patriot soldiers, presumably because they once owned slaves. It should be noted that these were heroes of the American Revolution, not the Civil War, individuals who fought for this nation’s freedom from despotic foreign rule.

One wonders how much time school officials spent on their American history homework prior to this decision, particularly with regard to the great Founding Father George Wythe.

Yes, Wythe did inherit slaves and owned them for a while. But he also freed his slaves later in life, when he was legally able to do so, and provided generously for several of them in his will.

Further, as a state judge, he shocked his contemporaries by becoming the first and only judge to rule slavery illegal, based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. (Hudgins v. Wright, 1806). The ruling was overturned by a higher court, but it was a principled stab by Wythe at the evil institution. Continue reading

Webb’s Last Ditch Attempt to Save the Confederate Memorial at Arlington

The Confederate Memorial in Arlington.
(Arlington National Cemetery photo by Rachel Larue)

by Shaun Kenney

Former Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Webb is begging federal officials to save the last remaining Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in a forceful op-ed to The Wall Street Journal. Webb writes:

[President William] McKinley understood the Civil War as one who had lived it, having served four years in the 23rd Ohio Infantry, enlisting as a private and discharged in 1865 as a brevet major. He knew the steps to take to bring the country fully together again. As an initial signal, he selected three Civil War veterans to command the Cuba campaign. Two, William Rufus Shafter, given overall command of the Cuban operation, and H.W. Lawton, who led the Second Infantry Division, the first soldiers to land in the war, had received the Medal of Honor fighting for the Union. The other, “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, the legendary Confederate cavalry general, led the cavalry units in Cuba, after being elected to Congress in 1880 from Alabama and working hard to bring national reconciliation.

Four days after the Spanish-American war ended, McKinley proclaimed in Atlanta: “In the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers.” In that call for national unity the Confederate Memorial was born. It was designed by internationally respected sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran and the first Jewish graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, who asked to be buried at the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. On one face of the memorial is the finest explanation of wartime service perhaps ever written, by a Confederate veteran who later became a Christian minister: “Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank; not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity; but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it; these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died.” Continue reading

You’ve Been to Paris but You’ve Never Been to the Luray Caverns?

by Kerry Dougherty

Today we’re taking a break from politics, woke culture and indictments. It’s Explore Beautiful Virginia time. A midsummer palate cleanser!

But first a question:

Why does every tourist destination sell fudge? More precisely, is there some sort of law that mandates every vacation spot feature a “fudgery”? Is there something about salt air or mountain breezes that creates a sudden craving for a calorie-dense chunk of flavored sugar?

I don’t have the answer, but yes, there is the requisite fudgery just outside the entrance to Luray Caverns. No, we didn’t go in during a family trip to Luray last weekend. The getaway to Virginia’s amazing natural wonder was sweet enough.

Let me just say this: if you’re a Virginian who’s been to Paris but you haven’t been to Luray, shame on you. Continue reading

Ham Cemetery Stands Strong

by Jon Baliles

Over in the woods behind Bandy Field Nature Park in the West End along (and overlapping with) the border of Henrico County near the Village Shopping Center, there is a small African-American cemetery with an enormous history that recently appeared in a feature by Bill Pike in the Henrico Citizen; it is well worth the fascinating read.

Just to set the stage: the cemetery is in an area that was important going back to colonial (and pre-colonial) times as the meeting point of two main roads — Three Notch’d Road (Three Chopt) and Horsepen Road. It was along the path of Dahlgren’s Raid in the Civil War, and it was also home to Huntley Plantation that held members of the Bradford family as slaves who, after emancipation, bought property with other freed slaves, along what is now known as Bandy Road (read a more detailed and absorbing history here). They expanded the formerly secret slave organization, the Sons of Ham, and in 1873 established the Sons and Daughters of Ham Cemetery. In the late 19th Century, Maggie Walker took a leadership role in forging an agreement between the Independent Order of St. Luke, which she ran, and the Ham Council.

More homes were built over the years until the mid-20th Century, when the City of Richmond (which had annexed the area in 1942) announced plans to build a school on the property, cited eminent domain, forced the residents out, and razed the houses and flattened the Civil War era earthworks in the area. After the families dispersed to Bon Air, Henrico, Northside, and the Westwood Neighborhood, the school was never built and the ability of the former residents to maintain the cemetery became a challenge. Continue reading

The Pettiness of Canceling John S. Mosby

by Donald Smith

In April, in Georgia, a correction morphed into an overreaction. As part of the ongoing process to change the names of military bases named for Confederate generals, Fort Benning became Fort Moore. Around the same time, the National Ranger Memorial Foundation (NRMF) responded to a directive from U.S. government officials. The NRMF sent workmen to the Ranger Hall of Fame stone tablet, created and maintained on Fort Moore by the foundation, and covered a single name — John S. Mosby. The workmen also pried up bricks that commemorated Confederates in the foundation’s Ranger Memorial Walk. An exhibit on Mosby at the National Infantry Museum was also removed. With those actions, an understandable effort to modernize Army base names degenerated into pettiness.

The Naming Commission, an investigative body established by Congress, recommended that all Army bases named for Confederate generals be renamed. I am a great-grandson of Confederate cavalrymen — and I freely admit the commission had a point. In 2022 the Army had more major active-duty bases named for Confederate generals who lost the Civil War than Union generals who won it.   

But the Naming Commission went farther than base names. Much, much farther. It looked for every street name, every monument, plaque, and sign on DoD facilities that might be perceived to show Confederates in a positive light. Like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, it relentlessly searched for every last can of Confederate Who-Hash! It then recommended that, with few exceptions, all be removed or changed. Apparently Congress didn’t reject any of the commission’s recommendations; that has caused names to be covered on stone tablets, memorial bricks to be pried up and (soon) campaign streamers that commemorate Confederate service to be removed from Army National Guard colors. Continue reading

RVA History: Quintessential Preservationist

by Jon Baliles

Historic preservation is important for many reasons, like helping us better understand our past and how to improve it for future generations. One great advocate of preserving Richmond’s history to convey stories forward was Mary Winfield Scott, who passed away in 1983, but whose legacy lives on in neighborhoods across Richmond, and who was the subject of a great piece by Greg McQuade at CBS6.

Scott was a preservationist who helped save the 18th Century structure known as Linden Row on Franklin Street across from the city’s main library.

“[She] quickly recognized that we were losing places that made Richmond unique,” said Will Glasco, with Preservation Virginia, a group that was born from Scott’s efforts.
Continue reading

The Document That Inspired the Declaration of Independence

“Give me liberty or give me death!” So proclaimed Patrick Henry in delivering his great speech on the Rights of the Colonies, before the Virginia Assembly, convened in Richmond on March 23, 1775, as re-created in this artwork by Currier and Ives. (Photo: Heritage Images/ Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

by Joseph Postell

It’s common for Americans on July 4th to read and discuss the Declaration of Independence, and to reflect on its principles and ideas. Those principles and ideas are often attributed solely — though wrongly — to Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the draft of the Declaration.

Jefferson’s draft was modified in two stages: first, by a “Committee of Five” composed of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston; and second, by the entire Continental Congress.

The Congress discussed Jefferson’s draft for three days, and made significant changes (according to Jefferson, “depredations”) to his work.

In short, the Declaration was the work not of a single person, but of the representatives of the American people. Jefferson was the author of the draft, but it was an American Declaration.
Continue reading

Old Law Coming Back to Bite Virginia?

Voting booths in Portsmouth. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

On behalf of three Virginia residents, the Virginia ACLU, along with a large D.C. law firm, has filed suit in federal court challenging the provision of Virginia’s constitution that disenfranchises anyone convicted of a felony, providing that their voting rights can be restored only by the governor.

Such a legal challenge is not necessarily new, but the basis for this one is novel and fascinating The plaintiffs claim that the provision of the Virginia constitution is illegal because it violates the provisions of the federal law that allowed for the Commonwealth’s readmission to the Union after the Civil War.  That law included this provision, similar to that included for laws applicable to other member states of the Confederacy:

That the State of Virginia is admitted to representation in Congress as one of the States of the Union upon the following fundamental conditions: First, that the Constitution of Virginia shall never be so amended or changed as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United States of the right to vote who are entitled to vote by the Constitution herein recognized, except as a punishment for such crimes as are now felonies at common law, whereof they shall have been duly convicted under laws equally applicable to all the inhabitants of said State.  [Emphasis added.] Continue reading

Patriotism in Virginia

by Robin Beres

In less than a week, Virginians, like Americans everywhere, will celebrate Independence Day. This year, despite high inflation, high gas prices, a sharply divided electorate, and rising crime rates, there seems to be a growing consensus that we celebrate this occasion with all the gusto we can muster.

Despite the holiday falling on a Tuesday, from Winchester to Norfolk to Abingdon, plans are afoot for a glorious Fourth, complete with fireworks, parades, and hot dogs. Mount Vernon is celebrating the naturalization of hundreds of new American citizens. Colonial Williamsburg is offering free admission to its historic area and art museums on July 4. Virginia Beach is hosting free concerts on 17th Street, 24th Street, and 31st Street. Just about every small town and village is having a parade. With 27 military installations around the state, expect to see lots of marching troops and military static displays.

Audience members hold their hands over their hearts while the U.S. Air Force Band plays the national anthem at Williamsburg, Va., July 4, 2012.

Thankfully, Virginia has so far managed to avoid the oppressive heat dome that sits over much of the United States. But even if the temps do soar above the 90-degree mark, it probably wouldn’t deter many Virginians from celebrating our Independence Day. It’s what we do — and studies show we do it with more pride than any other state in the union. Continue reading

Colleges Falsely Claim Juneteenth Was ‘The Day Slavery Ended in the U.S.’

by Hans Bader

Many colleges and progressives are claiming that Juneteenth — June 19, 1865 — was “the day slavery ended” in the U.S. But slavery actually remained legal in Kentucky and Delaware until December 6, 1865, the day the Thirteenth Amendment’s ban on slavery went into effect.

Yale University has a web site titled, “Juneteenth: Remembering the day slavery ended in the U.S.” Similarly, Bill Nye, the self-proclaimed “science guy,” claimed that “the last” slaves “were not freed (officially) until June 19, 1865.”

These claims are not true. As the London Daily Mail notes, the last slaves were not legally freed until six months later, when “the 13th Amendment fully prohibited the owning of slaves, spurring states such as Kentucky and Delaware – where it had still been legal – to cease the practice.” Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only declared slaves free if they were held in areas that had been controlled by Confederate rebels, not in slave states that remained loyal to the union, such as Delaware and Kentucky.
Continue reading

State Flags are Going Woke. Is Virginia’s Next?

by Anna Jankowski

In the midst of America’s ongoing culture war, it is widely recognized that the left comprehends (and exploits) the profound influence that American history, values and tradition exert on its citizens. Cancel culture has rapidly infiltrated public discourse, leaving state flags as its next target.

From Maine to Utah, left-leaning activists are spearheading efforts to redesign numerous state flags. In 2021, Mississippi removed Confederate imagery from its flag entirely, while Minnesota established an “emblem redesign commission” in May 2023 to eliminate depictions of Native Americans from its seal and flag. Furthermore, Massachusetts is considering a change in its flag to promote gender equality, contemplating replacing one of the two male figures with a female representation.

What charges could the left level against the Virginia state flag? The Virginia flag and seal were created in 1776 in the aftermath of the War for Independence but was not officially adopted as a flag until Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. The seal has gone through minor changes in the 150 years since it was adopted, but the basic form of the flag remains constant.

The seal features an Amazon maiden (representing Virtue) standing triumphant over a fallen king. The motto “sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants) and a decorative border complete the seal.

This imagery was an expression of the revolutionary spirit present during the War for Independence and later the Civil War. Jokingly, it was said that “sic semper tyrannis” could be translated as ‘get your foot off my neck.” Continue reading