Appeal For Manhood Suffrage - by T. E. Burch

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Appeal For Manhood Suffrage

by T. E. Burch



In comparing the Constitution of Virginia with others in the Union, we can not be insensible of the oppressive restraints, that a large majority of the citizens of Virginia is laid under: we can easily discover that our constitution is repugnant to the principle of universal freedom. * * * * * We will suppose that a part of the citizens of Virginia are proprietors of the soil; that they are, generally speaking, those whom the physical effects of age have rendered unfit to defend their property; or they have arrived at that age which exempts them from military service. That the other part are renters, mechanics, manufacturers, laboring men, and professional men; that these men should be compelled by our Constitution at the age of eighteen years (when they ought to be learning a trade or acquiring an education) to defend the freeholders of the state from invasion or insurrection, and that these defenders should be forever excluded from the rights of suffrage. They are told imperatively by the constitution as follows:

Military Service Without Suffrage

"You are a land-less citizen, you shall be dragged from all that you hold dear on earth, and be compelled to fight for the property and safety of the land holders, from the pillage of the invader, and from the insurrection of his slaves, you shall pay taxes for your head, your horses, your stills, your servants and your licenses. Let your personal property be to the amount of thousands, and though you pay tax upon tax; personal property talents, merit and usefulness shall avail you nothing; if you possess not land, the iron hand of restraint shall compel you to be subservient to such laws as the land holders only shall impose on you, and you shall defend those laws which you have had no hand in making."

Would the title to 100 acres of barren mountain ameliorate our judgment The quatour jugera or two and one-half acre field of Cincinnatus was of little estimation to the citizens of Rome; it was the virtues and abilities of the man that they admired. Does not the reflection at once strike us, that instead of encouraging mechanics and manufacturers in our own state by allowing such the right of suffrage (which is their only grievance) that the withholding of that birthright from them; will in a few years drain the State of many of her most useful citizens? For proof of this, let us make the following comparisons: In the year 1800 the population of New York was 586,000. That of Virginia was 886,000. In the year 1810 the population of New York was 959,220. That of Virginia 965,079 ; the increase of New York from 586,000 in ten years was 373,220. In 1800 Virginia had 886,000 ; in 1810 she had 965,079 ; she gained only 79,079. Pennsylvania, Mass., and all the other states are as rapidly gaining on Virginia in proportion to their magnitude. 6,000 more and the population of New York will exceed that of Virginia.

Ignorant and Abject

To whatever advantage our constitution may appear to our landholders, they ought to know that our state is a body which hath equal need of all its members; all of which cooperate in different ways for the general benefit. The strength of this state would be soon exhausted if it existed only in the proprietors of the soil. The instrument of the lowest mechanic, the machine of the manufacturer, and the patriotism of their young ladies, Virginians conspire in an eminent degree to give her that preponderance in the scale of politics, which we see her at the present have; retrench these and the scale will soon come to an equilibrium and in a few years her monopoly must cease, she will instead of being styled "the ancient Dominion" and most popular state in the Union hide her distinguished head under the umbrage of some of her most populous sister states. The best epithet that the author of the American Geography could bestow on our poor landless Virginians were "Ignorant and abject." What has brought them into that state but the abject condition to which the constitution has reduced them? An effort was once made in this state to establish public schools and what prevented the institution? The answer is obvious: patrician haughtiness could not descend to the level of plebian humility. Virginia has had some Virgils, Horaces, and Ciceros, but she has never had a Maecenas. While public schools, academies and colleges have been pouring out their treasures in other states, Governor Tyler's letter to the legislature of Virginia will exhibit a deplorable, though very true picture of Virginia literature. It will also inform posterity in whom the fault lay, who have been the authors of this prevailing ignorance, and who it is that merits the popular contempt for their scandalous inactivity. When the voice of the citizens is called for to election, the poor landless Virginian must be silent; but when the clangor of invasion of insurrection pervades the land, this ignorant, abject creature, as he is most ungratefully termed, must move at 'a moment's warning, while the lordly patrician reclines at his ease. If the safety of the people be the first law, I contend that the satisfaction of the safeguard ought to be the second. It is said that, if the right of suffrage be once admitted to landless citizens, bribery will be the consequence. If this objection were made by the legislative members, "I could wish not to turn the attention of that honorable body to that subject", it would perhaps be coming too near home, feelings might be excited which would perhaps be unfavorable to the calm investigation of our grievances.

Barbecue and Grog

I say that Mr. ___________ , is out on an electioneering excursion, he most respectfully invites all his freehold friends to partake of a "barbecue and grog with him on Saturday next." Can the citizens tell me the motive for such generosity? Why if Similis, simili, gaudet, he is sure of their suffrages in return. If our legislative body has so unfavorable an opinion of each other, that they suspect them of bribery, it will be easy to quiet their apprehensions by compelling every candidate to make oath that he is not directly or indirectly offered, promised, or given anything in order to provoke his election; this will be similar to the law against duelling to qualify the candidate for office, and will most probably put an end to that clandestine traffic of giving treats to obtain votes. Should the landless Virginians be called on asudden, to oppose the invader's bayonet, the idea of their little weight in the constitution would dampen their patriotic ardor; and though impelled by the sacred momentum of national honor, yet the embittering idea of their vassalage, would no doubt rouse the same reflection then as it does now.

Monopoly of Legislative Authority

Were we citizens of those states where no danger was to be apprehended from within, where harmony, the sure consequence of equality, beams forth in every countenance, and whose liberal constitution inspire all their citizens with a patriotic ardor, we could like Cincinnatus cheerfully leave all to serve the commonwealth, but in our native state

"Oppression, the companion of our way,
Still o'er her victims holds her iron sway".

The constitution of our state requires of us what it would be impossible for us to obtain in order to obtain the right of suffrage. "One hundred acres of cultivated land, or fifty with improvement." Is there, fellow citizens, as much tillable land in our state, as for every man who pays a tax to occupy? Would our land holders so abridge their landed property by sales at a reasonable rate, to enable us to purchase? Surely not. Instead of abridging they are clear for argumenting; they wish to add field to field and join house to house. The affluence of our great landholders enables them to purchase what the necessities of their neighbors oblige them to sell. The monopoly of legislative authority will soon be in the hands of the rich only, and the government will be no better than an aristocracy. The gentleman who possesses his thousands of acres, wills it to one, two or three sons; the daughters are provided for in cash or negroes; the sons in imitation of their deceased parent, are clear for holding for what they have, and adding more by studiously watching an opportunity to buy out their poorer neighbor. There are opulent landholders in Virginia who in the space of ten years have accumulated thousands of acres to their patrimonial stock. There are foreign merchants and opulent foreigners who are rapidly gaining ground in our country; I ask what chance has the landless mechanic or manufacturer to obtain a sufficient quantity of arable land in Virginia to entitle him to the right of suffrage when opposed by the heavy purses of opulent speculating competitors.

Need of Militia

Our country is likely to be engaged in a war, and as attempts have been made in Congress, so to construe our constitution as to put it in the power of the President to send the militia where he pleases provided he has the consent of the state government to which they belong. Will the state sovereignties ever listen to such dangerous innovations, interpolations, and misconstructions? What, Sir, to be told that from Maryland to Georgia thirteen-fourteenths of all the slaves in the United States are concentrated and for these states to give up their militia, their palladium, their ark; the only bulwark of their safety. Compare the number of blacks in the southern states with the whites, and then say whether Virginia or the southern states will ever acquiesce in such political preachment. In case of a war, it need not be the spirit of prophecy to foretell that our enemy will leave nothing undone to work our destruction. If during the revolutionary conflict the famous Lieut.-Gen. Burgoyne should hire the savages of America to scalp the descendants of Europeans, and to pay a price for each scalp so barbarously taken, what better may we expect? May we not be certain that the emissaries and spies of our enemy will by holding out the promise of freedom incite to insurrection, massacre, rapine and devastation? If Virginia and the southern states should once part with their militia, may not the horrid scenes which were exhibited in the saccharine fields of St. Domingo be again exhibited in the corn fields, tobacco ground and rice patches of the southern states ?

The true policy of the large slave-holding states is to keep as many militia as they can, and instead of diminishing their patriotic ardor by restrictions on their liberties, they ought to encourage them, by admitting them like many of the sister states to the right of suffrage.

Land Ownership a Prerequisite for Suffrage

At every annual election there is one continued murmur, the landless citizens who pay taxes are heaping curses on that part of the constitution which prohibits them from voting, and instead of mingling their tears with the dust of those who framed it, they are pouring forth execrations on that part of their policy; and it will ever be the case until an alteration in the constitution takes place, for every revolving year will add thousands to the already too long a catalogue of complaints. But it must not be hid from you, to cast the least reproach on the fathers of our constitution is highly reprehensible. They never imagined that what they did was to be unalterable as "the law of the Medes and Persians"; they no doubt saw with the ken of perspective that a time would arrive when their successors might see a necessity to amend or alter what they had done; and they knew that they would have the same right to alter as they did to form. Thousands and tens of thousands of Immigrants since our revolution have become freehold citizens of these United States.

And what do my fellow citizens think of our newly made French Republicans? Do you think, fellow citizens, that I have given too deep a colouring to the character of some of these gentry; if you do, harken to the illustrious Jefferson: "Immigrants to this country will bring with them the principle of that government they leave, imbibed in their early youth, or if able to throw it off, it will be an exchange for unbounded licentiousness." (Jefferson's Notes on Virginia). In the republic of ancient Greece, before their degeneracy, death was the sentence of the law upon foreigners who meddled with public affairs. Jealousy is termed a "ghastly, green-eyed monster that makes the meat it feeds upon"; but there are instances in which it may be ranked among the virtues. Gamaliel's pupil was jealous over some with a godly jealousy, and the young landless Virginian is equally as jealous with a patriotic jealousy.

Native Americans Should Dominate Government

"O, (say they) if we had but a voice, to shut out these foreigners from our political councils." If the greater part of our citizens who from their situations and habit are not capable of political discussion, require to be guided in their principles, let them be guided by native Americans whose principles are a guarantee that they have no sinister views. It is a maxim drawn from a principle which cleaves closely to the heart of man, that foreigners who bore no part in that struggle which achieved our independence cannot feel that love of country, that warm interest in its welfare, that a native American, or a foreigner who fought for it as his adopted country, feels. Will a subject of Napoleon draw well in Republican gears? They once tried the experiment; but they found that the smooth sea of pure republicanism was an element too uncongenial to their ideas. The Goddess of liberty was soon banished from "The vine covered hills and gay regions of France", as a baneful exotic. The overthrowing of Republics, the sacking of cities, the depopulating of nations, the pillaging of altars and the overthrowing of all monarchies but their own became their idol. The object of Britain was to rule the waves and the object of France was to rule the land. Is there a man who calls himself a pure American republican that cherishes one spark of predilection for either of these powers? If there is, he is ready to adopt Issachar as his father and to say unto "Monarchy", despotism, and slavery -"ye are our brethren and sisters". Is there a man in American who would prefer a native of either of these countries who had never aided in procuring our independence to a native of these U. States, if there is, let him speak, for him have I offended.

Foreigners of every description may here find an asylum from the storms of despotism; they ought, however, to feel a peculiar delicacy in interfering with the citizens, and to leave it to the native Americans, whose fathers obtained the high bequest of liberty, to regulate their political concerns. Can there be a doubt but that the young landless Virginian feels a greater love for his native soil than the most exalted foreign land-holder feels?

Right of General Suffrage

The indulgence of voting at elections has often been granted to the citizens at large. A good citizen will not profit by an indulgence which is in itself a breach of the constitution. He considers that state constitutions, and civil laws, like the law of Moses, have a negative as well as an affirmative meaning for,

"Expression unius est exclusio alteri us."

The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.

We wish to do nothing but what we can do constitutionally; we ask for nothing but what is granted by many of the sister states; if we could see that any bad effects have been the result of their liberal constitutions, we would bow in silence; but we see the reverse; we see them flourishing infinitely; we see the glow of satisfaction, diffusing joy in their countenances; we see their mechanics and manufacturers, their professional men and laborers, all employed within their native states, whilst their legislators are granting everything that can create the perspiring drop on the brow of industry; we see schools, academies, and colleges richly endowed; we see churches building, rivers clearing, canals opening, vineyards planted, premium societies for rewarding ingenuity and industry; and what crowns the whole is, universal harmony prevailing. Happy, happy states. We can admire with approbation what we could wish to imitate by a hearty co-operation; grant us, then, 0 thou effulgent genius of the Virginia Constitution, grant us that right of suffrage and we ask no more; place us on the same footing and every murmur dies.

My peroration shall be an appeal to my fellow citizens of the militia in Virginia, and more especially to those who dwell in the large slave-holding counties. Should you obtain the right of suffrage and a war takes place; the militia must be forever on its guard against invasion and insurrection. To oppose or prevent either, the safest policy would be for the whole body of the militia to attend the elections with their arms in their hands; to vote by company and be under the same martial subordination on that day as though they were in the camp and momently expected the on-set of the enemy. Never suffer any kind of firearms to be left at home on election days. It is much easier and better to prevent than to quell when once began. To be too secure is to be most exposed to danger. A supine indifference in the one party will always create activity in the other. A spark extinguished at its first appearance may prevent a conflagration. A prompt and cheerful regard to discipline may save the nation, while disorder and want of subordination may involve millions in the consequence.

Domestic Tranquillity Endangered

We can now ramble unmolested along the vale of civil life; and taste all the innocent satisfaction that flows from domestic tranquillity. Should insurrection take place, instead of walking with security and complacency in this happy land, we should meet the sable butchers of Ethiopia with their weapons and be obliged to abandon our habitations, and embrace a rock for shelter.

Instead of being amused with the sweet society of the snowy bosomed partners of our cares and the delightful prattle of our babes, we should be alarmed with the piteous and heartrending screams, we should be shocked with the frightful images of garments rolled in blood and with a ruffian's blade reeking from a brother's heart. Instead of internal peace with her cheering olives sheltering our abodes; instead of justice with her impartial scales securing our goods; murder and devastation would shake their "gory locks".

To prevent all these calamities must be the care of our young warriors. What an important charge is imposed on you. In ancient Rome, the man who saved the life of a single citizen was entitled to the city wreath; and shall not those who are to defend the lives of millions be entitled to so much consideration of a single vote.

A far greater and more anxious care is imposed on the militia of Virginia and the southern states, than on the northern. The New England states have nothing to fear from within, whilst we have everything to guard against. We appeal to the magnanimity, dignity and justice of our legislature; to the feelings of the respectable and patriotic freeholders in our own respective counties and of the state in general. We invoke the genius of the constitution. We do most earnestly invite all our landless fellow citizens, in every county, city and town, in Virginia, to join their hearts and hands with ours, to petition the General Assembly of Virginia, at the next session, so to alter our state constitution as to allow us who pay our annual taxes, and have taken the oath of allegiance to the commonwealth the right of suffrage, and most earnestly entreat their representatives to use every effort in their power to insure success to the humble petitions with which they may be entrusted; and we do most solemnly declare that when this grievance shall be redressed, we shall consider ourselves bound by the sacred ties of gratitude and honor, to hold ourselves ready to march at a moment's warning to defend the land, constitution and laws against external and internal enemies, at the risk of our lives, fortunes and sacred honor.