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It seems to me,' with diffidence and defference, that it would be well for us to attend to our duties in the light of our best understanding and anscience, and give full credit to others for the same high motives. It would be equally well for us to remember, that however high our position or great our influence, we do not in ourselves constitute the Government. Soch was purposely not the intention of the framers of our Constitutional Republican form of government. By this division of power they proposed to perfect freedom. And it is only by preserving their design that we can see the beautiful working of parts in one entire system, and the attainment of what I believe we have so much at heart.
With these great principles in hand, the truth and importance of which I am sure will not be disputed, there is not only no necessity for distraction and discord, but every reason for concord and harmony. Angry words on one side or another do not make unity ; nor are they ever followed by conviction. The public welfare is too towering to allow private feeling to long interfere with its triumph. It is impossible that there should not be some common ground upon which the departments of the government may time together and stand, giving up differences for permanent sterling results, and showing how the wisdom of our sires has not and will not be falsifieri in the experience of their sons, and how these lately confiicting departments, insteal of being cause of hopeless dissension, have been the means of bringing into peace diverse interests and opinions, thereby securing uniform and sure justice. This has been the case more than once in the history of this Republic. I feel in my heart that it will be the case now in this trouble of Virginia.
It might have been well could the departments have agreed upon the course to be pursued, to ensure a final and just conclusion of this troublesome subject. That, it seems, could not be; and because it could not be, should we despair and pronounce legislation futile, and demand some other arena and champions upon and by which to decide it? I think not; especially as the arena will be no broader, and the champions no more powerful than those who have the matter now in hand.
I do not believe that there is any Gordian knot which cannot be cut, or any problem so intricate that it cannot be solved by calm and quiet legislation. However much the different views may seem to conflict between the different departments, or between members of the same department, I will not surrender my faith in the wisdom with which the government has leen framedi, and which I believe is equal to the solution of any problem that is likely to arise in our State's experience; indeed, I will go further, and assert, that is not more likely to be solved rightly by reason of the diverse views resulting from the various sources from which the judgment
enlightened, each gathering knowledge and wisdom from a different stand, and each under the same heavy weight of responsibility.
These are the lessons which are taught by the history of governments' like ours on this continent and beyond the sea, and which are the outgrowth of many experiments and many failures. I think the rise, progress and present status of this State Debt question is another evidence of its truth.
It presents a very different aspect from what it did twelve months ago. Jlen were angry then and attributed difficulties to the subject, which really sprang from their own erroneous or uncertain views, or misapprehensions of the views of others. The General Assembly met after a heated canvass, and the subject went before them in chaotic form, and weeks and months
were spent in discussing points that were, under broader light, regarded and treated as irrelevant or false.
Upon the General Assembly fell the duty of investigation in all its bearings; and diligently and energetically it did its work. I believe it took in and covered the whole field, and left nothing, as far as lay in its power, undecided. And though the main question remained unsettled with the creditor, it would be a mistake to say that nothing was accomplished. The arena was cleared of irrelevancies and the subject stripped of matters which had caused bitter controversy, and but one single issue left with which any subsequent legislative body would have to deal.
It will be easily recalled what those matters were and how much trouble and controversy they caused on the hustings and in the halls of legislation.
It was decided that the debt was just, and that the State ought to pay it; and no doubt was left in the conclusion that it was founded in considerations that demanded its recognition. Its assumption by the Federal Government, upon the ground of our being a conquered province, was not insisted on, and I am sure never will be, especially when the correlative is admitted as equally true—if we be a conquered province, our property is mortgaged for the payment of the debt. The resumption of our sovereignty and our recognition by the Federal Government disposed of that point, and the Legislature so treated it.
The back, including the war interest, was also fully discussed and acted on, and decided according to law and justice, and as it had been several times before decided by previous Legislatures.
But, probably most important, the amount of the State Debt was thoroughly investigated and strictly ascertained, no longer to be an element of inaccurate representation, or wilful misrepresention. Nothing caused more trouble than these misrepresentations or inaccuracies. The ignorant, though honest and patriotic citizen, was struck dumb and felt powerless, when it looked mountain-high right in the path of the State's growth and prosperity, and utterly hopeless of removal by any strength she had or was likely in the future to acquire. The amount happily was ascertained, fixed and clearly acknowledged, thus closing the door upon the charge of any wilful or attempted repudiation of the principal of the debt.
This was important work, but it did not embrace everything the General Assembly did. It passed bills of retrenchment and reform, which became and are now laws. It used freely, and perhaps to the drawing of blood, the pruning knife, and spared no department of the government, thus showing an earnest desire to come to some effective conclusion, and reducing expenditures to merely living rates, apply the surplus to its just obligations under the Constitution.
The first finance bill that passed both houses of the General .ssembly failed to become a law, because, on constitutional objections, it did not receive the approval of the Executive. And the public free school bill failed for similar reasons. These acts of the Executive have since been approved by the establishment of similar principles by both the Court of Appeals of this State and the Supreme Court of the United States.
At a subsequent period of the session the General Assembly passed a bill, by an almost unanimous vote, which became a law, and which was simply in the nature of a proposition to the creditors, and contained no element of force.
Thus out of confusion, by the comparing and friction of opinion, came order. Personal bitterness, prejudice and excitement gave way before the consuming demand of the State's weal. Whatever may have been the riews of departments or their individual members, the Government of the State of Virginia stood firm to her ancient faith and renown. There was no man and no body of men among them, as far as I know, who was secretly or openly in favor of repudiation, and who did not spurn it as he would a stigma upon his private reputation. Whilst there were in the beginning differences of opinion with regard to points of greater or less importance, arising in the Debt question, growing out of profound principles of law and policy, no one ever intimated that for any reason Virginia would or ought to repudiate a just debt. And finally the Government decided that the debt was just, and its obligation unimpaired. No excuse for its non-payment was or ever can be urged save inability, resulting from causes which the State could not control and in the destruction of assets on which the debt was contracted and its future discharge was based.
Just here arose another vast difficulty. After the contraction of the debt, after, indeed, the destruction of the assets, the State, by and under a new organic law, assumed an additional burden, which required, and migl continue to require, immense expenditure. The destruction of the property was a grievous blow to the State's prosperity. The accumulations of centuries were swept away, and often not one stone left upon another to tell the story of a spot where wealth and refinement had flourished. The soil, often all that remained to the owner, and which had been in cultivation for many generations, was brought in competition with the virgin soil of a new country by continental lines of railway. But, far more serious than these, society was disorganized, and chaos prevailed in the whole industrial and labor system ; and the most far-sighted and sagacious conld find no clue with which to guide us out of a darkness that could almost be felt. By the supreme power of the Federal arms, those who had hitherto directed the destinies of the State were disfranchised, and those who had been slaves, and their ancestors for centuries, were exalted into citizenship. The like of this had never before occurred in history..
When the Convention met to frame the Constitution under which we DOW live, they saw that the public free school system prevailed in one form or another in almost every civilized country in the world, and they, I doubt not, thought, a fortiori, it ought to be established in Virginia. Where so many enlightened men had been forbid to vote, and so many ignorant men, lately serfs, had been clothed with the responsible trusts of freemen, they regarded, and properly, intelligence and honesty as the sine qui non of the success of republican forms of government, as they have ever been regarded and urgently inculcated by those who have reflected profoundly, or have observed or experienced their working. They thereforc inade the public free school system a part of the organic law, notwithstanding the impoverished condition of the people, thinking, I have no doubt, that it would be easier for them to rise clad with its armor, than to fight unarmed the many foes that beset the paths of ignorance and dishonesty. And whilst they provided thus, according to their best judgment, for the future intelligence of the citizen, they over and over again provided for the payment of the lawful indebtedness of the State, believe ing that with these provisions tending to secure knowledge and integrity to the citizen, he could overcome the waste of the war, and restore and preserve the ancient power and glory of the Commonwealth.
It is not my business to discuss the merits or demerits of the general puplic free school system. Those who framed the Constitution, and the people by whom it was adopted, determined that it should prevail in Virginia; those who hold office are bound to support it, as they are bound to support every other provision of that Constitution. Not that the Constitution of the State of Virginia is supreme, and by its fiat disposes of all rights. It is not supreme in morals, over justice, to a man who recognizes his obligations to God; it is not supreme in law, as long as we are under the Constitution of the United States:--and in the assumption of office, whilst we take no formal oath to support the former, we do the latter. But office is not obligatory on any one. I am not a believer in “higher law," to a man clothed with the responsibilities of office; nor have I any faith in oaths taken with a mental reservation. And were I of opinion that I could not conscientiously carry out the provisions of the instrument I was sworn to support, I would resign my office, so that it might be filled by one who could.
Entertaining these views, there has been no time since I assumed the duties of the Executive, that I have faltered or hesitated to do whatever lay in my power to make the public free school system what the Constitution and the laws intended it to be. As ex-officio the President of the Board of Education, I have given my best efforts to crown it with success, and to make the system render to the present and future of the Commons wealth everything that its most enthusiastic admirers and supporters claim for it or could desire. My acts in that connection speak louder than words.
Notwithstanding this, which can in the nature of things be only or best known to the members of the Board, and by their records, my official utterances have been ignorantly or wilfully tortured into assaults upon the public free school system-as if I could be guilty of the folly of attacking formally and publicly what I had just taken an oath to support, in the same formal and public manner.
The further accusation has been brought that I have arraye: the creditors and the free school system against each other, thus engendering antagonism of interest and bitterness of feeling. With respect and deference, this is just what I have not done. The bill of the General Assembly, which I felt called upon, in the discharge of my duty and under official obligations, to decline to approve, drew a distinction and made an array of one against the other, for which I could find no warrant in the Constitution, that instrument declaring in language not to be mistaken that both should be faithfully and fully provided for.
I said, and it gives me pleasure to repeat, that the public free school system in Virginia is the greatest benefaction of which we have any record in history. Though she came out of the war lacerated and torn as I have de. scribed her, she, in her poverty, not only provided for the support of her government and the payment of her debts, but she provided for the educa. tion of her poor of both races. This was done by common consent, not by force of arms, or the more subtle but none less dangerous force of the ballot. It was done by the approval of every class, educated and ignorant, rich and poor, as an offering to the present and rising generation, and a promise of the future greatness of the Commonwealth. Its warmest advocates and most enthusiastic admirers will claim for it no more than this. If education be a great boon, if its advantages inure to the benefit of the State, they will not deny that to secure them the system must not be founded in
wrong. It would be no honor to a State, and consequently no benefit, to be decorated by spoils wrested from the weak and innocent, especially if those weak and innocent had befriended the State in the time of her need, and those evidences of friendship constituted the very elements of the State's strength. Granting the friends of public free schools everything they wish or claim for them; granting that the State ought to provide them, and that they ought to be thrown open freely without money and without price; that they are absolutely in theory above any and every public or private objection; that their blessings permeating every class of life and pursuit, will invigorate, elevate, and beautify the Commonwealth ; even then it does not follow that we ought to violate established law and plighted faith to uphold them. Because we know, that without the recog. nition of these latter, their friends cannot by any possibility long preserve the benefits which they seem so abundantly to promise themselves.
When I think of these things, there is nothing I have ever said that I need wish to retract. I would not, because I would not detract anything from the credit and honor of my State, whatever might be my views of the expediency of her course or policy. So when I find this great benefaction lying in the path of her history, I will not stultify her conduct and diminish her fame by saying that the means for the benefaction were to be provided at another's expense. She did not so intend, and she has so expressly declared in the writing of endowment.
I place no value upon intellectual education without the moral accompaniment. Indeed I would much prefer ignorance ; for such an education does not make good men or good citizens, but puts weapons in the hands of the wicked to accomplish evil purposes. Mephistopheles is none the less wicked, only the more so, because he is simply intellectually cultivated. Education, mental and moral, must go together, hand in hand, and then will both its power and goodness work for the common welfare. When free schools are established, they ought be the best that culture and the means at hand can devise and perfect; but above everything there ought to breathe through them in their different departments and grades the purest morality, and their foundations and superstructure ought to be proof against the charge that they were built of money which should properly have gone to others. What sort of citizens would youths educated in such a way make, or wherein is any benefit to result to the individual or the State? I therefore repeat, that if the people of Virginia want public free schools, they must pay for them out of their own means. And it is no relief to say, that the Constitution provides for them ; it also provides for their support by taxation, the only way in which they can be provided for, and at the same time provides for other things of equal dignity and of equal obligation, to say the least.
But under the Constitution and law as now interpreted, and the inadequacy of the revenues, the public creditors wlio have not tax-receivable cou. pons have disappeared from the scene altogether, for they get nothing; and those holding tax-receivable coupons, getting their dues, leaves the issue no longer between the creditors and the public free school system, but between the public free school system and the State. One-thiril in amount of the public creditors get nothing, so that as matters now stand, after the support of the Government, the revenues are divided between them as a mass, and the public free schools, not being sufficient to pay both. The public creditors and their friends say theirs is first in point of time and dignity; the friends of the public free schools insist with equal force that just the