Notes on the State of Virginia (1853)/Query 16
THE MEASURES TAKEN WITH REGARD OF THE ESTATES AND POSSESSIONS OF THE REBELS, COMMONLY CALLED TORIES?
A Tory has been properly defined to be a traitor in thought, but not in deed. The only description by which the laws have endeavored to come at them, was that of non-jurors, or persons refusing to take the oath of fidelity to the State. Persons of this description were at one time subjected to double taxation, at another to treble, and lastly were allowed retribution, and placed on a level with good citizens. It may be mentioned as a proof both of the lenity of our government and unanimity of its inhabitants, that though this war has now raged near seven years, not a single execution for treason has taken place.
Under this query I will state the measures which have been adopted as to British property, the owners of which stand on a much fairer footing than the Tories. By our laws, the same as the English in this respect, no alien can hold lands, nor alien enemy maintain an action for money or other movable thing. Lands acquired or held by aliens become forfeited to the State; and, on an action by an alien enemy to recover money, or other movable property, the defendant may plead that he is an alien enemy. This extinguishes his right in the hands of the debtor or holder of his movable property. By our separation from Great Britain, British subjects became aliens, and, being at war, they were alien enemies. Their lands were of course forfeited, and their debts irrecoverable. The assembly, however, passed laws, at various times, for saving their property. They first sequestered their lands, slaves, and other property on their farms, in the hands of commissioners, who were mostly the confidential friends or agents of the owners, and directed their clear profits to be paid into the treasury; and they gave leave to all persons owing debts to British subjects to pay them also into the treasury. The moneys so to be brought in were declared to remain the property of the British subject, and, if used by the State, were to be re-paid, unless an improper conduct in Great Britain should render a detention of it reasonable. Depreciation had at that time, though unacknowledged and unperceived by the Whigs, begun in some small degree. Great sums of money were paid in by debtors. At a later period the assembly, adhering to the political principles which forbid an alien to hold lands in the State, ordered all British property to be sold; and become sensible of the real progress of depreciation, and of the losses which would thence occur, if not guarded against, they ordered that the proceeds of the sales should be converted into their then worth in tobacco, subject to the future direction of the Legislature. This act has left the question of retribution more problematical. In May, 1780, another act took away the permission to pay into the public treasury debts due to British subjects.