So much of it begins, really, on this day in 1606, when King James I granted the Virginia Company of London a royal charter. “Go west, young men,” he proclaimed, more or less, “and bring me back the loot!” It was a total disaster—at least in the short term.
By this day in 1861, Virginia’s economy had certainly turned around, but other problems loomed. George Tucker lay on his deathbed at the Albemarle County home of his daughter, having been struck three months earlier by a falling cotton bale, and he must have wondered about the closing words of his epic History of the United States, from Their Colonization to the end of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, in 1841. Here he is on page 433 of volume 4:
It is, therefore, most gratifying to believe that the great mass of the American people will ever agree with the solemn warnings of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and of their successors, and, indeed, of every statesman entitled to public confidence, that our welfare and safety, as well as national greatness, are all dependent on the continuance of our political Union.
He is buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery. Meanwhile, four years to the day and 750,000 (!) lives later, Robert E. Lee issued his General Orders No. 9. Serving as his farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia on the occasion of its surrender, the orders praised his troops’ “unsurpassed courage and fortitude.” He also explained that they had been “compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources,” both claims becoming fixtures of the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War.
The Lost Cause, our entry suggests, is “an important example of public memory, one in which nostalgia for the Confederate past is accompanied by a collective forgetting of the horrors of slavery.” That forgetting was helped along by Jim Crow laws that attempted to remove African Americans from sight. One such law prohibited blacks from marrying whites (one of its earliest precursors can be found here)—
—Although on this day in 1967, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Loving v. Virginia, a case that would eventually lead the court to strike down that ugly law and so engage in just the sort of “judicial activism” our first black president (!) now decries.
A version of this post was originally published on April 10, 2012.
ELSEWHERE: Another way to think about the Lost Cause.
IMAGE: Mildred and Richard Loving, April 1965, by Grey Villet for Life magazine