Suffrage in Virginia essay

Probably every historian thinks about his own historical book. And every ambitious writer tries to find something new even in the most explored historical period. Writers try to convince their reader that the real key factors in the history were the adultery of the famous politician or a great personal debt of another one.

What book I’d write if I wanted to create new general survey of the history of Virginia? Probably I’d write something like our textbook, “Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607-2007”. It is a great job of the four respected authors. However sometimes I feel that the authors had no common idea of the book and it tends to fall to the different essays. On the contrary, I have the idea for my future book and I’d like to name it “Suffrage in Virginia”

Chapter 1. My survey of the history of Virginia.

In the light of selected name of my book I’d like to mention that suffrage is the right to vote. Obviously it could be explored at the periods of Democratic ruling. However some historical trends appeared long before the War on Independence, and I have to mention the earliest periods of the history of Virginia to show the roots of some events.

Starting my book, I’d like to mention that people have to study their past to understand their future better. Real history of Virginia started thousands years before English colonists established the Jamestown in 1607. I think the good historical book should have the chapter dedicated to the ancient history of this land. In the subsequent chapters of my book I examined the return of suffrage to Native Americans, and I’d analyze how they lost it.

Then I’d like to describe first visit of Europeans to the land of Virginia. Christopher Columbus is known all over the world as the discoverer of America, AmĂ©rigo Vespucci gave his name to the new world, but they wee not only Europeans who visited America. I’d describe the political and economical situation in the Europe of this period to make clear why Britain and Spain were dominative countries on the sea and why these countries led the intensive colonization of the New World.

It is interesting to tell the story of the name “Virginia”. In 1584 English researches named this land with the name of local king, “Wingina”. Later on Wingina turned to Virginia, in honor of English Queen. This was the example of how the Native names were forced out with Anglo-Saxon names that was the common thing in that period.

I would not pay a lot of attention to these facts, but just mentioned them to be sure I did not miss something important.

1607 was the year of Jamestown establishment. The hard life of first colonists, droughts, wars with Indians, dependence from the English supplies ”“ here are the key words for this period. The attempt to equalize and reconcile colonists and Natives with the marriage of colonist John Rofle and Indian princess Pocahontas had little effect.

White colonists forced Natives from their lands, and there was the origin of race inequality.

In spite of the fact that colonists did not find the gold in Virginia, the region soon became economically developed and wealth, due to plantations. Tobacco industry needed more hands. That is why in 1619 90 women were sent to the colony to increase the population, and later colony acquired 20 Africans as servants. This fact helps to highlight that the position of woman that times was almost equal to the position of servant.  When first colonists suffer privations, they were all equal. However together with the growth of Virginia wealth stratification was more and more obvious.

At the same time the dependence from Britain decreased and colonists established more democratic government ”“ General Assembly (1619). Oliver Cromwell, who dominated in the Commonwealth of England after the execution of English King, replaced the Governor of Virginia. However next governors were selected by the local burgess (elected member of the legislature). Our textbook “Old Dominion, New Commonwealth” divides the history of Virginia from the first settlement to the War on Independence into four periods, mainly based on economical situation. However the highest ranks of society could take part in the governing only. Negro slaves, natives and women could not vote for governor.

As we know, Virginia was among 13 states that declared their Independence from Britain in 1776.  It is interesting to mention, that Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, declared that he would free any slave who was willing to fight for the British. Many slaves escaped from British troops and many slaves moved to the cities. Though they had not been slaves anymore, they could not vote.  And for almost the century the position of slaves changed only for worse.

Plantations needed slaves, and “the ruling hierarchy” rejected modernization as a threat to its authority and to white supremacy (Heineman, 209).

The only progress of the universal suffrage was the statement in the Constitution of the USA that denied religious test for voter. James Madison, lawyer from Virginia, made a lot for religious equality, defending the rights of Baptists in his native state.

Civil War steamrollered Virginia, however a lot of black people have got the hope to get free. In 1896 Virginia ratified the 15 amendment ”“ “voters could not be denied because of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.

Also, women took an active part in the war actions ans were active members of abolitionists movement. Black Americans as well as women hoped of equal civil rights.  Really, during the turbulence period of Reconstruction after was the Readjuster Party (new political formation)  tried to ”break the power of wealth and established privilege”.

That time federal law protected civil rights of African Americans. However at the end of 1880s the Readjuster Party collapsed. The “liberal democratic political culture” was replaced with “a new patriarchal order” (Heinemann, 260).

Virginia Democrats did not miss this opportunity and imposed literacy tests and poll taxes. Thus, thousands African American and poor white lost their suffrage. The disfranchisement, and later on segregation, lasted for almost 80 years. The great role in the life of Virginia of those times played the Byrd organization. In spite of Byrd considered the most constructive ruler of his time, he neglected the civil rights and movement for civil rights ruined his organization. African Americans recover their suffrage only in 1964-1965, when the Federal civil rights legislation was passed. Gender-based voting restrictions were banned by Woodrow Wilson in 1920 on federal and state levels (19 amendment).  And only four years later Indians have got their civil rights and possibility to vote.

The resistance of white population in Southern states appeared soon after World War II and was aimed to prevent the lifting of segregation.

The table of content

History of Virginia from the ancient times till the beginning of European colonization.

The hard life in the far-away colony: raw life ”“ raw democracy.

Slavery as the source of the wealth on independent Virginia state.

The Civil War: Thomas Jefferson and the slavery.

The most successful antiracial coalition in Virginia.

Long eighty years of white supremacy.

Twentieth century: end of segregation and resistance .

Chapter “The Civil War: Thomas Jefferson and the slavery”

Describing the events of Civil war and their influence onto the civil rights of women and black people, I could not go without mentioning Thomas Jefferson and his life. Jefferson was born in Virginia in very rich family, and all the rich families in Virginia were plantators and slaveholders. Jefferson served as the Governor of Virginia for two years: 1779-1781. Then he went to Paris and there he wrote (then published) his only book ”˜Notes on the State of Virginia’.

This book could change the opinion of reader about Jefferson. Jefferson was known as the principal author of “Declaration of Independence”. One of the sentences of Declaration was called “the best sentence in English”:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)/ Jefferson was the well-known  follower of abolitionism.

But only few years later Jefferson wrote in the ”˜Notes on the State of Virginia” about the distinctions between “people of Caucasian descent and people of African descent”(Jefferson,  52). The last chapters of this book are totally racists.

He thought that all Black people have to be deported from the USA for the common good of Blacks and Whites.  His belief was that Whites overhead Blacks with their beauty and intelligence.

Jefferson was 38-40 when he wrote his book. When he was 46 he fell in love with black servant Sally. They have a few children and till the end of his says Jefferson could not free his own children. Some researchers say that Jefferson could not free his slaves because of his debts.

The contradiction of the widely-announced creed and real life is the important characteristic of Thomas Jefferson as the man and as the politician.

Chapter “The most successful antiracial coalition in Virginia”

Readjuster Party was the unique phenomenon of the post-war South. It came to the power after the disappointment in financial politics of Democrats. Senator William Mahone, the head of Readjusters established multiracial political coalition. This was a new alternative to political system.  Mahone planned to defeat segregation broadening his coalition in the region. However the race riot in Danville in 1883 badly influenced on the political reputation of Readjusters.

Chapter “Long eighty years of white supremacy”

In this chapter I’d describe the segregation on Virginia.  The basic principle of segregation was “separate but equal”.

The most prominent people of that time belief in the “a vertical color line that allowed blacks and whites to live parallel lives, equal yet divided, each with their own intraracial hierarchy” (Smith, 13). However the reality was different. Actually there was a “horizontal color line» that kept all whites above all blacks (Smith, 13). Racial purity was the popular idea, inter-raced marriages were forbidden in Virginia. The personality of Harry F. Byrd and his politics is interesting with the facts that he was rather tolerant to the blacks. He allowed them some advancement but banned all the chances to get the equal civil rights. To understand this better I’d like to mention that he supported a strong antilynching bill.   This gentle and condescending racism, which avoided violence as well as amalgamation, was called “the Virginia Way”.

It is the common knowledge that Virginians furiously resisted to the lifting of segregation. It is a pity, but the main reason of resistance was their fear. White people of Virginia was afraid that one day blacks will segregate them from the political, economic, and educational events in their own way. In spite of the absolute majority in some states, particularly Virginia, white people were not sure they would be able to control the situation.

“In February 1950 a group of newcomers to the Virginia legislature noted  that the General Assembly had passed but one law in the twentieth century that conferred “upon the Negro any one of the many attributes of  Virginia citizenship which we possess, and which he does not possess, although they are guaranteed to him by our Constitution.” They referred  to an antilynching law passed in 1928 and trumpeted at the time as the  nation’s most forceful statement against mob law. Newspapers and politicians had lost no time in praising the measure as evidence of Virginia’s long-standing commitment to law and order; for years the state’s boosters proudly emphasized that no lynchings had occurred since the act’s passage.” (Smith, 155)


The history of Virginia needs more books about it.  It needs not only the event’s chronology, but the history of the development if different idea’s in this region. I proposed the plot of the book “Suffrage in Virginia” as my own contribution to analysis of the history of Virginia.

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