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[110] earnest collision was on the White Basis, so called — that is, on the proposition that representation and political power should be apportioned to the several counties on the basis of their White population alone. The Committee on the Legislative department decided in favor of the White Basis by 13 to 11--James Madison's vote giving that side the majority; but he voted also against the White Basis for the Senate, making a tie on that point. A strong excitement having arisen on this question, General Robert B. Taylor, of Norfolk, an advocate of the White Basis, resigned, and his seat was filled by Hugh B. Grigsby, of opposite views. At length,1 the Convention came to a vote, on the proposition of a Mr. Green, of Culpepper, that the White Basis be stricken out, and the Federal Basis (the white inhabitants with “three-fifths of all other persons” ) be substituted. This was defeated — Yeas 47 (including Grigsby aforesaid); Nays 49--every delegate voting. Among the Yeas were ex-President Madison, Chief Justice Marshall, Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Philip P. Barbour, John Randolph of Roanoke, William B. Giles, John Tyler, etc. Among the Nays (for the White Basis) were ex-President Monroe, Philip Doddridge, Charles F. Mercer, Chapman Johnson, Lewis Summers, etc. As a rule, Western (comparatively Free) Virginia voted for the White Basis, with some help from the East; and it was computed that the majority represented 402,631 of Free Population, and the minority but 280,000. But the minority was strong in intellect, in numbers, and in resolution, and it fought desperately through weeks of earnest debate and skillful maneuvering. President Monroe, in December, resigned the chair, and his seat, and his constituents offered the latter to General R. B. Taylor aforesaid, who declined, when it was given to a Mr. Osborne. Finally, a proposition by Mr. Upshur (afterward Secretary of State) was so amended, on motion of Mr. Gordon, as to prescribe, arbitrarily, that thirteen Senators should be apportioned to counties west of the Blue Ridge, and nineteen to those east of it, with a corresponding allotment of Delegates in four parcels to the various natural divisions of the State, and was carried by 55 Yeas to 41 Nays — a motion that the Senate apportionment be based on Federal numbers, and that for the House on the White population, having first been voted down--48 to 48. So the effort of the West, and of the relatively nonslaveholding sections of Virginia, to wrest political power from the slaveholding oligarchy of the tide-water counties, was defeated, despite the sanguine promise at the outset; and the Old Dominion sunk again into the arms of the negro-breeders.2

1 November 16th.

2 Hezekiah Niles, in his Weekly Register of October 31, 1829, thus forcibly depicted the momentous issues for Virginia and the country, then hinging on the struggle in Richmond:

Virginia Convention.--The committees having chiefly reported, “the tug of war” between the ‘old lights’ and the new has commenced; and the question is to be settled whether trees and stones, and arbitrary divisions of land, with almost as senseless herds of black slaves, or the free, tax-paying inhabitants of the State, shall have political power. Very important events will grow out of this convention, and their effect will not be confined to Virginia. We hope and believe, that the free white population of the State will be adopted as the basis of representation in the popular branch of the Legislature — indeed, it cannot be popular without it; but perhaps the Senate may be apportioned according to “ federal numbers,” in which three-fifths of the slaves are counted. If the latter may stand as a peace-offering to the departing power of the old lights, we would let them have it — in a few years, under a liberal Constitution, the free population of middle and western Virginia will be so increased, that the power in the Senate, derived from slaves, will not be injuriously felt. And then will the tacticians, who have kept Virginia back half a century, compared with New York and Pennsylvania, disappear, and give place to practical men-then will roads and canals be made, domestic manufactures encouraged, and a free and virtuous and laborious people give wealth and power and security to the commonwealth — the “old families,” as they are called — persons much partaking of the character of the old nobility of France, imbecile and incorrigible — pass away, and a healthful and happy, bold and intelligent middle class rise up to sweeten and invigorate society, by rendering labor honorable; and Richmond will not any longer be all Virginia, as a distinguished gentleman used to proclaim, in matters of politics or policy. The moral effects of these things over the slave population of Virginia, and in the adjacent States, are hardly to be calculated. The presence of numerous slaves is incompatible with that of a numerous free population; and it is shown that the labor of the latter, in all the important operations of agriculture or the arts, except the cultivation of cotton, sugar, tobacco, and rice (as at present carried on), is the cheapest and the best. And in truth, it would not perhaps be straining the facts too far, to express an opinion, that the greatest question before the Virginia convention is, the perpetual duration of negro slavery, or the increase of a generous and free white population.

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