Correspondence

New Politics in Old Virginia

It took 114 years, but by 2000, Virginia had become a Republican state. What brought about such a great change in the Old Dominion? Let's take a look back.

Reconstruction was the low point of Virginia history. In 1865, a defeated and gutted state lost not only its cities, towns, farms, and one third of its territory (when West Virginia was cut off in 1863), but even its name. Virginia became Military District Number One. Collapse, humiliation, bankruptcy, revolution—all are proper words when describing Reconstruction Virginia.

How could this happen in the Mother of States and Presidents—the acknowledged leader of a nation, which had produced the author of the Declaration of Independence, the leader of the successful Revolutionary Army, major voices in the Constitutional Convention, and four of our first five presidents?

Virginians were marooned in what Lewis Mumford has called The Brown Decades. There were browns everywhere: mediocre drabs, scorched brown earth, sober autumnal colors. Brown became the color of renounced ambition and defeated hopes. General Lee retreated to a tiny village (Lexington) to become president of a barely functioning Washington College. Matthew Fontaine Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas," wanted to set up a Confederacy-in-exile south of the border; indeed, a number of Virginians moved to Mexico. Others favored guerrilla war, joining the Invisible Empire...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here

X