The State of Affairs
February 6, 1868
In a more optimistic sense the Dispatch illustrates what the bright future of a restored and prosperous Virginia may hold. All that prevents progression to a restored South is the political transition into the Union.
The State of Affairs. In looking over Virginia just now, there is not much to cheer one. But to understand the situation, we must look back a little ; and upon the circumstances growing out of events past and now happening, is well as upon our knowledge of the natural course of things, form our opinions and our hopes of the future. The war left Virginia utterly prostrate. She had been the theatre of that war, and her substance was eaten up, her forests destroyed, her houses and fences burned, her arable land seamed and ditched by the armies, and stock and cattle stolen and consumed. The main event of the war disorganized her labor; and this was the crowning injury. For a people to recuperate from such a condition even with a reliable and well-regulated industry would have been a slow work; but to do so with a disorganized labor, whoso efficiency was curtailed at least two-thirds, was an undertaking infinitely more arduous. Since the war, then, the productions of agriculture have been exceedingly small for the population in Virginia-so large a portion has been idle, and so irregular has been the labor of the greater portion who worked at all. The surplus for market has probably not been more than sufficient to pay for the labor employed. As the only sources of wealth are the products of the farms and the mines, and what of enhancement in their value may result from converting them into manufactures, it is very clear that very little wealth has been accumulated since the war. Here in Richmond we have the illustration. The accumulation here has been exceedingly small-fortunes have certainly not been made here; for there has been nothing out of which to make them. So, when we see how dull is the aspect of things, and hear of a failure, we should calmly consider that they are not only natural but inevitable results of the war and the measures of Congress now in process of accomplishment. But having come to this point, let us consider the prospects. We know that Virginia is more bountifully endowed with mineral riches and water-power than any other State in the Union-that she occupies the most favorable latitude for human comfort and the achievements of human industry on the globe. And we know that advantages such as her's will invite immigration and attract the investments of capitalists. We know that slavery, which was unfavorable to manufactures, is abolished, and will no longer obstruct enterprise in that direction. And we should have unwavering faith in the future of such a State: a State whose sources of immigration are in all directions, and whose fields of occupation for industry and enterprise of all kinds are inexhaustible. Now, nothing stands between the present and this glorious future but the political transition-state in which we are rather helplessly placed. But this must soon pass away, and society must be left free to employ the agencies within it for its own protection and the promotion of its own welfare. When that time comes, we all know what sort of people we have here in Virginia, and the man who feels a want of reliance in them is indeed a man of "little faith," and can put but small trust even in himself. Imagine an earthquake in a country which has thrown down houses and very much changed the face of the earth. Disorder and confusion would of course ensue. Men would be deprived of shelter, rogues would swarm through the land, wild animals would venture out from the fens and forests, and make their dens amidst the ruins; even gorillas and monkeys would disport themselves in halls once sacred to the most solemn purposes of civilization. A community visited by such a calamity would be not unlike our own hapless population. They would have to go to work patiently and clear away the debris of the earthquake, and patiently restore their family mansions-laboring the while to produce the necessaries of life. Gradually would they replace their shelters and restore their lands; and as they grew in strength and means they would once more rear the temples which are the marks of their civilization, virtue, and religion. In the meantime order would have been steadily improving, rogues decreasing with the diminishing plunder and the increased security of property, and the monsters who had ventured into the heart of civilization when the land was in ruins would have crept back to their native haunts until the last had disappeared. So we shall emerge from trouble and prostration into a condition of peace, order, and prosperity. And with the aids of the mighty engineries of the age in which we live this will be the work of an exceedingly brief period of time.
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“The State of Affairs,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed November 28, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/828.