Virginia Enterprise

January 2, 1866


The Dispatch outlines Virginia's economic advantages and then proceeds to explain why Virginia needs more access to the global economy.


The fact that Virginia, notwithstanding her real natural advantages, was left behind by other states in that competitions of commerce and trade, can be readily explains without the imputation of her people of the want of energy and enterprise. Causes have been at work from beginning of her history some of them, Indeed geographical causes which have prevented the concentration of capital and population within her limits necessary to produce trade and commerce. Among these may be mentioned the occupation of large tracts of land for the cultivation of tobacco and other staple crops, and the natural division of the eastern part of the state into peninsulas by the many streams intersecting the earliest settled portion of the country, which tended to defuse population and capital by giving almost every estate a landing in his neighborhood. While Eastern Virginia was thus segregated by geographical and other causes into separate communities, similar influences existed to divide the West from the East and to interpose almost insuperable obstacles in their material commercial dependency. The valley of Virginia, separated from us by the Blue Ridge, had no natural outlet but its northern terminus, and became a commercial tributary of Maryland. Then comes the Alleghenies; the people west of these mountains had streams of their own doors leading to the Ohio, which river, of course, became the highway of their commerce. Mountains and rivers combined to divide Virginia into separate communities and to prevent the association of capital and enterprise in commercial and mechanical operations. It may be added that the diversity of our institutions from those of Europe and the North tended also to abstract commercial development by the reluctance of capitalists and merchants In other communities to settle in slaveholding states. It is true we had the finest harbor on the Atlantic coast and the most central geographical location in the Union : but these advantages were neutralized by the fact we have mentioned, and by the necessity, before the introduction of steam that ships sailing from Norfolk for Europe should first get up on a sailing line from New York to Liverpool in order to avoid the floating ice of the North and in baffling wins and currents of the South. Moreover, New York, heading early. By its vast superiority of capital it's commanding of the trade of the west by the Erie Canal, And the maritime taste and aptitude of its population, Had concentrated the commerce of the country in the metropolis, and it is no easy task to remove trade from it's a custom channels. There are facts, however, which shows that Virginia, in spite of all the disadvantages in her material, has not been a laggard in the race of progress, and that, in the construction of artificial communications, she has exhibited great enterprise and made heavy expenditures. She is organized and put into progress the James River and Kanawha Canal, two hundred miles of which have been constructed at an expense of nine millions, and the Dismal Swamp canal, at a cost of more than a million. She has a built the Richmond and Potomac Railroad, seventy-six miles, costing one and three quarter millions ; the Alexandria and Lynchburg Roads, together, one hundred and sixty-eight miles, costing nearly four millions: the Alexandria and Manassas road, one hundred and thirty-nine miles, theres and a half millions ; the Richmond and the Richmond and York River RoadYork River road, thirty-eight miles, costing a million It may be safely averred that, since 1848, Virginia has accomplished more in internal improvements than any state in the Union with her own resources. Not one of them, with its own capital, with the capital provided by taxation upon its own people, the contributions made by its own citizens, has done as much as Virginia. At the same time, weather has been little associated wealth here, there has been much individual wealth, and if her own population was only one million and a half, on sixty-thousand square miles, apse sent more emigrants, than any other old State to people the Western empire. The beginning of the war found Virginia fairly entering her career of development and brightening in the dawn of a new era of prosperity. In five years after the introduction of her public works, the value of her real estate was increased more than a hundred millions of dollars. In 1857 the aggregate wealth of the State was estimated as exceeding eight hundred millions. Besides the permanent value, the state had nearly sixteen millions of acre of unimproved land, and an annual product of seventy-give thousand hogshead of tobacco, forty millions bushels of corn, fifteen millions bushels of wheat, besides large products of rye, oats, wool, peas and beans, Irish and sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, hemp, butter, and the products of mines, forests and fisheries. Facts like these just vindicate the Virginia people from the imputation, so common, of a want of enterprise and energy, and at the same time furnish reason for the brightest hopes of the future. It is believed that an additional expenditure of thirty millions of dollars will complete all those works of our own State which are necessary to connect us with the other great highways of water and iron of the common country, and to bring the valley of Ohio and the Mississippi to the focus of the trade with Europe at the mouth of the Chesapeake. when miss shall be accomplished, then, for the first time, Virginia will accomplish that August destiny which is marked out for her in and varied agricultural and mineral resources, her central position, her land and healthful climate ,her numerous rivers and deep and spacious harbors. Then will there be a New Dominion, more populous and more powerful than old.
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Justin Barlow


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“Virginia Enterprise,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 28, 2023,