This tirade against the State of Virginia was written one month after the American Civil War began. At the end of the article there is the assertion that for the previous 20 years Virginians had been plotting to overthrow the Union and the Retrocession of Alexandria was one step in the process. By obtaining Arlington Heights, present-day Rosslyn, Virginia, the State of Virginia was able to obtain a militarily important piece of land where cannons could fire upon Washington. As I noted before, later in 1861 Abraham Lincoln mentioned this liability in his first State of Union delivered to Congress.
A Shower of Proclamations.; Arlington Heights.
The New York Times, May 9, 1861
Gov. LETCHER has issued a proclamation full of lofty sentences and abounding in big words, calling upon Virginians to “rally in defence of the State,” to “uphold the flag of the Commonwealth,” and “maintain the rights of the South.” All this means a call upon the traitors and disloyal men, of whom he is the chief, in the once patriotic and true old State of Virginia, to arm against the Republic of which her own WASHINGTON was the founder, and against a Constitution which her JEFFERSON, her MADISON and MONROE — names so dear to the American people — aided so largely in framing,
Of all the treason against the Constitution and Union, that of Virginia is the rankest, the most inexcusable and the meanest. The noble and true patriots of her past history are dishonored, and the graves of her wise and true men polluted by it. Of all the States, there is not one so linked to the Union by hallowed memories, by ties which all mankind in all ages have regarded as sacred, as Virginia. Her history bears the names dearest to the American heart — of patriots who labored most, fought most, sacrificed most and suffered most for that Union which her degenerate sons would shiver to-day. Of all the States, she has least cause of complaint. She has enjoyed more of the patronage, more of the offices, and exercised a greater influence in shaping the policy of the Government, than any other State. She has asked nothing that has not been granted — demanded nothing that has not been conceded. And yet hers is the heart that is foulest with treason, the hand that threatens to be reddest with the blood of loyal and true men!
The Governor of South Carolina has issued his proclamation, and though representing the smallest save one of all the seceding States, his tone is the loudest, his boast the largest, and his words the biggest of them all. We can respect Georgia for her real strength, while we execrate her treason. She was among the strong States of the Union, and is strongest among those that have seceded, and might, therefore, speak with something of power; but for little South Carolina, the verriest bantam of the secession brood, to flap its puny wings and crow so defiantly, is one of the jokes of the age. Virginia could put South Carolina in its breeches pocket, and yet South Carolina speaks so patronizingly, so condescendingly, so full of motherly regard for the Old Dominion, that were it not for the census and the map, one would suppose that Virginia was some helpless and oppressed little community, too weak to think even of defending itself. And, then, to see how meekly and humbly Virginia receives her proffers of aid — to see the once proud and haughty Virginia — the mother of Presidents and nursery of heroes — the once chivalrous, self-reliant, noble Virginia, submissively and gratefully receiving nursery pap from a spoon in the hands of South Carolina, is a tableau worth a day’s journey to see.
JEFFERSON DAVIS, too, has issued his proclamation, tendering his aid, and forwarding his starving troops to Virginia. Virginia food is to feed them — Virginia money is to pay them — Virginia soil is to be desecrated, and her social life demoralized by them. The war is transferred to her valleys, and her cities are to be made a camp. And yet Virginia submits. She forgets her former chivalry — her boasted strength. Three months ago she assumed to be the arbiter of the destinies of the nation; to-day she is the protege and follower of South Carolina, and the tool of JEFFERSON DAVIS. She yields a craven deference to the one, and bears submissively the burdens of the other.
And last, though not least. Brig. Gen. COCKE has issued his proclamation. He is in command of the Potomac Border of Virginia. Whether he is a Virginian he does not inform us, and history is silent on the subject. It may be that he is, or it may be that he holds the border as one of the myrmidons of JEFFERSON DAVIS. He, too, like his illustrious compeers, the trio of Governors, uses the language of grandiloquence. Hear him:
“The Capital has never been threatened by us. It is not now threatened. It is beyond and outside the limits of the free and sovereign State of Virginia. The North has not openly, and according to the usage of civilized nations, declared war on us. We make no war on them — but should the soil of Virginia, or the grave of WASHINGTON, be polluted by the tread of a single man in arms from north of the Potomac, it will cause open war.”
According to Brig. Gen. COCKE, we shall have open “war,” then, for, just as sure as that the sun shall rise and set, thousands of men in arms from the north of the Potomac will be in Virginia within a week.
It can hardly have escaped notice, that the Virginia authorities lay very great stress on the inviolability of Virginia soil. Gov. LETCHER and Gen. COCKE both state that Virginia wages no war against the Federal Government, but the moment any United States soldier steps in arms upon the soil of the State, that act will be regarded as a declaration and the actual commencement of war.
This undoubtedly has more than a general meaning. It is intended to prevent the Government from taking possession of Arlington Heights, which command Washington, and which must be held if the Capital is to he saved. These heights are in Alexandria, which used to form part of the District of Columbia, but was ceded back to the State of Virginia by Congress in 1846. Now, these heights are part of the soil of that State, and the occupation of them by the Government will be regarded and resented, as an act of invasion.
It is scarcely necessary to say that it ought to be done, and beyond all question will be done the moment it is necessary, in spite of this menace. The fact that the menace is made proves that Virginia only seeks a pretext for assuming an openly hostile attitude to the Government, — and if she does not get one here, she will find one somewhere else. Loyalty or forbearance that rests on so flimsy a foundation as this, should not have a feather’s weight on the action of the Government. Whenever Gen. SCOTT deems it necessary, as a military precaution, to take possession of those heights, it will undoubtedly be done. The Government has a right to occupy and hold, for military reasons, any part of any State under its jurisdiction.
It is altogether probable that some such contingency as the present was in view, when the leading Virginia politicians urged the secession of that portion of the District of Columbia. They have been plotting the violent overthrow of the Government for twenty years, — and written records remain to show that the leaders of this treasonable plot made provision for every possible contingency. The whole State of Virginia was carefully studied with a view to military operations against the United States Government, more than twenty-five years ago. Nothing is more probable than that reasons of this sort were among the motives for seeking renewed possession by the State of that portion of the District which commands the Capital. The retrocession was granted out of pure good nature, and with that utter blindness to future contingencies which has characterized the action of Northern public men for many years. Not a thought was given to the military importance of the position, because nobody then believed it possible that the State of Virginia would ever be at war with the Federal Government, — while the members of Congress from that State were at that very moment plotting its overthrow, and using the good nature of the North as the means for accomplishing that object.
It was held by many at the time that the retrocession was unconstitutional, and therefore void. Whether this be so or not, we presume the Government will have very little hesitation about making it practically a nullity, whenever the safety of the Capital may render its military possession necessary.
This newspaper article was obtained from the New York Times archives. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.