This Day (Back to School Edition)

On this day in 1787, George Mason declared he “would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands.” Although he owned dozens of slaves himself, he nevertheless was appalled that the document would leave the slave trade intact at least until 1800.* One has to have principles …
On this day in 1861, Confederate president Jefferson Davis had the unenviable task of appointing five men to the rank of full general. It wouldn’t work to have five dudes with exactly equal rank, though, so he sorted them out by backdating their promotions in order to give some tenure over others. So, in order of rank, highest to lowest, you had Samuel Cooper, a “desk general” and, even worse, a New Jersey native; Albert Sidney Johnston, who had not yet seen action; Robert E. Lee, who was at the beginning of a series of humiliating defeats in western Virginia; Joseph E. Johnston, who had been the highest-ranking United States officer to resign his commission at the war’s start; and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who was just soooooo much better looking than all of them put together. Thirteen years later, Johnston was still peeved—”This action was altogether illegal, and contrary to all the laws enacted to regulate the rank of the class of officers concerned”—while at least seven years after that, Beauregard wrote of Davis, “Pooh! he stinks in my nostrils.” One has to have pride …
On this day in 1970, meanwhile, after Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton enrolled his children in the majority black inner-city schools to which they were assigned under a federal court–mandated plan to achieve racial desegregation in the Richmond Public Schools, he was famously photographed escorting his daughter Tayloe into the nearly all-black John F. Kennedy High School. One has to have conviction …
Oh, and we mustn’t forget that on this day in 1945, on Hynford Street in Protestant East Belfast, George Ivan Morrison was born. (I imagine that even then he probably turned his back on the room and mumbled a series of complaints about fame.) His relevant connections to Virginia history add up, I think, to exactly zero, but because I was once on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin and heard this particular live version of “Saint Dominic’s Preview” for the first time, which left me happily speechless, I will include it here because I can. Happy birthday, Van!
* One version of the Constitution debated at that time had 1800 has the cutoff date for the slave trade, another had 1808, with the latter being the one ratified.
IMAGE: Governor A. Linwood Holton (left), along with Major A. P. Tucker of the capitol police (right), escorts Holton’s daughter, Tayloe, into John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond on the first day of school, August 31, 1970 (Richmond Times-Dispatch)


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