Cromwell, Lincoln and Virginia.
When Oliver Cromwell was installed Protector of England, the Commonwealth of Virginia refused to acknowledge his authority. The English Commonwealth was then at the height of its power, and, at its head, one who was admirably described by Bossuet as “a man of an incredible depth of thought; as profound a hypocrite as he was a skillful politician; capable alike of concealing and undertaking everything; active and indefatigable equally in peace as war; so vigilant and active that he has never proved himself wanting to any opportunity which presented itself to his elevation; in fine, one of those stirring and audacious spirits which seem born to overturn the world.” Such was the Commonwealth and such the man, triumphant over all other enemies, against which this gallant Commonwealth, then numbering only twenty thousand inhabitants, unfurled the standard of defence.
The Commonwealth of England was disposed to submit to this resistance.–Virginia, from the first, had arrayed itself on the side of the King. During the whole preceding struggle of Charles and the Parliament, Virginia was firm in its adherence to the monarch, and enacted a declaration “that they were born under a monarchy, and would never degenerate from the condition of their birth by being subject to any other government.” After the beheading of Charles I., Virginia acknowledged the authority of his son, and actually continued the provincial government under a commission sent by him from his retreat at Breda to Sir William Berkeley. The wrath of Parliament was intensely roused by this bold and persistent contumacy; an ordinance was issued declaring the inhabitants of Virginia notorious robbers and traitors, and all intercourse prohibited with them, either by the people of England, the inhabitants of the other American settlements, or with foreign nations. Finally, a fleet was sent over to overpower the rebellious colony. But observe the difference between the great intellects that then ruled England and the Government of the United States. Cromwell extended the olive branch as well as the sword, and commissioners accompanied the fleet, who were empowered to try the effect of pacific and conciliatory measures. The result proved the wisdom of the policy.
“It marks,” says Bancroft, a Massachusetts historian, “the character of the Virginians, that they refused to surrender to force, but yielded by a voluntary deed and mutual compact. We copy the articles concluded between the commissioners of the Commonwealth, and the Council of State, and the Grand Assembly of Virginia, that our readers may contrast them with the terms of Lincoln’s so-called amnesty:
“First. That this should be considered a voluntary act, not forced or constrained by a conquest upon the country; and that the colonists should have and enjoy such freedoms and privileges as belong to the free-born people of England.
“Secondly. That the Grand Assembly, as formerly, should convene and transact the affairs of Virginia, doing nothing contrary to the Government of the Commonwealth or laws of England.
“Thirdly. That there should be a full and total remission of all acts, words, or writings against the Parliament.
“Fourthly. That Virginia should have her ancient bounds and limits, granted by the charters of the former kings, and that a new charter was to be sought from Parliament to that effect, against such as had trespassed upon their ancient rights. (This clause would seem to be aimed at some of the neighboring colonies.)
“Fifthly. That all patents of land under the seal of the colony, granted by the Governor, should remain in full force.
“Sixthly. That the privilege of fifty acres of land for every person emigrating to the colony should remain in full force.
“Sevenths. That the people of Virginia have free trade, as the people of England enjoy, with all places and nations, according to the laws of the Commonwealth; and that Virginia should enjoy equal privileges, in every respect, with any other colony in America.
“Eighths. That Virginia should be free from all taxes, customs and impositions whatever; and that none should be imposed upon them without the consent of their Grand Assembly; and no forts or castles be erected, or garrisons maintained, without their consent.
“Ninth. That no charge should be required from the country on account of the expense incurred by the present fleet.
“Tenths. That this agreement should be tendered to all persons, and that such as should refuse to subscribe to it should have a year’s time to remove themselves and effects from Virginia, and in the meantime enjoy equal justice.”
The remaining articles were of less importance. This was followed by a supplemental treaty, for the benefit of the Governor and Council, and such soldiers as had served against the Commonwealth in England—allowing them the most favorable terms.
We need not enumerate the unconditional-surrender terms proposed by Lincoln. Their contrast to the overtures by which Cromwell pacificated the colony is too striking to require comment.
The record of Virginia from the first, warrants the pride and devotion of persons. The correspondence between the rights secured under the articles with the Commonwealth Parliament, and the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, as violated by the British King, will suggest itself to every intelligent reader. That Old Dominion, with all its traditional love of monarchy; would not permit even its born king to trample upon its rights. If it did not lead the way in the American Revolution, it came up in due time; and, like a broad-shouldered and double-jointed giant, carried it through when others tottered and trembled under the burthen. “Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but, being in, bear it that the opposer may beware of thee,” seems to have been always the maxim of this deliberate and plucky old Commonwealth. But for Virginia, and Virginia’s Washington, what would have become of the American Revolution?
It becomes not us to speak of her career in the present war. She arrogates to herself no superiority over her patriotic and heroic sister States. She has been reproached, indeed, for coming so late into the contest. It is true, that in this Revolution, as in that of ’76, she was not in a hurry. She exhausted every effort for peace, conciliation and compromise before she drew the sword. She seemed like her great orator, Patrick Henry, somewhat awkward and hesitating in her first utterances in the grand debate. But she waxes warm as she proceeds, and then the lightnings flash and the thunders roll over the heated sky. Whatever be the result of this struggle, no Virginian will have reason to be ashamed of his State. Let Lincoln, more despotic than Cromwell, deprive her of her liberties and expunge her name from the roll of States, he cannot despoil her of the Past, nor extinguish the lustre with which History will reflect the majestic luminary long after it has descended beneath the horizon.
— The Daily Dispatch: 25 January 1865; Richmond Dispatch.