Spirit of Jefferson

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Spirit of Jefferson










Benjamin F. Beall Charlestown, VA November 21, 1865

Topics Government,African Americans,Reconstruction

Our County Officers -- Some of their doings and who they are -- The way people's money goes and the way justice is meted out here, &c. SHEPHERDSTOWN, Nov. 20, 1865 .

The object of all governments is to afford protection to the lives and property of its citizens, but whenever a few men elevated to power and position by accident and through no merit of their own, seek to enrich and aggrandize themselves, by oppressing and denying the right of citizenship, to a large majority of the people of any State, which has been guaranteed them by the Constitution of the country and the public declarations of the Chief Magistrate thereof, the government ceases to be one of consent.

It is known to your readers, that some time during the year 1863 , (I will not say how) this county was transferred to West Virginia, provided Congress consents thereto, which consent has not yet been obtained, and I hope, for the welfare of the county, in every point of view, never will be obtained. However, in the Spring of 1865 , a regular State Government was organized, under the special care of the new State of West Virginia. -- This strange and sudden change in the status of the county, causes a corresponding change in the civil officers of the county, and the question arose, not as to who was the best qualified, but who can be gotten, that is loyal; consequently many men were elevated to high and responsible positions of trust, for which, they were totally unqualified, for want of education, experience, aptness and capacity, solely on the ground of loyalty, which, with them, means, to fill their own pockets with money and abuse honest men, whose only crime is, they clung to their honored old mother Virginia, in her hours of trial; and sorely do the people suffer from their maladministration, ignorance and abuse of power, and were it not for this, I might laugh at the pith of the poetic truth "Pigmies perched upon towers are pigmies still."

In further illustration, I will add, that there is no more responsible office, nor one requiring more experience, capacity and judgment, than Assessor. For the people have to depend upon his knowledge of the law, his accuracy of calculations and judgment, for a just and equitable assessment of their property, but what would they think of a man undertaking this office who cannot even read the law intelligently and cannot add up three columns of figures, and must consequently make errors in his estimates and assessments; as an instance, he charged a certain lady double the tax required, on her watch, and when told about it afterwards, would not refund the money, but told her she need not pay next year. How can he control the tax next year, even if he should remain in office? Another lady thus relates her experience with the Assessor: "I observed he made all little i's, and no capitals and spelled very badly, and I asked why he did not put it down correctly?" Oh! says he I am only making a memorandum and employ a clerk to do my writing. Then said the lady, it must take all your salary to pay the clerk, and why not employ some one at first who knows how to do it?"

By reference to the proceedings of the "Board of Supervisors" it will be observed that our assessor was paid $412 for making off the Land Books," which was so badly done; though, he hired a clerk to do it, but the clerk was better acquainted with the quality of Milch Cows than the value of land, and in this instance the old adage, "two heads, &c.," was reversed; that the Board subsequently repudiated this work and ordered it to be done over again. This is the way the people's money goes. But this is not all. -- There are a great many other expenditures that might be dispensed with. True, it is necessary to have officers to carry on the civil government of the county, but there is no use for sinecures. There are seven Townships and each Township has a clerk who is paid $200, making $1400, per annum for doing nothing at all. There are also, a Recorder, a Deputy Recorder and a Clerk of the Circuit Court, and besides these a Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, with a salary of six hundred ($600) dollars or $50 per day for writing an hour or two. Then there are Supervisors and Inspectors of Elections having standing appointments, at $15 per day, while serving. You fellows over in Jefferson county, do not know what big things are done in "Shepherdstown county." But the truth of the matter is, that nearly all of these extremely loyal men, so loyal that most of them hold two offices each, have either voted for the "ordinance of secession," or Jeff Davis, shouldered muskets "to shoot the yankees that were invading the sacred soil of Virginia," or were engaged in smuggling goods through the blockade, knowing that they were for rebels (so-called), and one of them, holding an important office, was heard to say, "that he lost $40,000 by the surrender of Lee's army, in three months, as he could have made that on the goods we would have sold up the Valley. These things are all well known to be true, and yet all these men have taken the oath, "that they have never voluntarily sustained, supported, aided or abetted, either directly or indirectly, &c., the rebellion." -- They must be gum-elastic. I must mention one case to show how law is interpreted and justice is meted out in this county. A white man brings an action against a negro, (I beg pardon) an American citizen of African (de) scent, for trespass in taking his fence, which was brought before the magistrate for trial. It appears in evidence, that the posts were dug out of the ground and the magistrate decided that this was not stealing, and dismissed the case. Don't laugh, Mr. Editor, it is literally true, and if you have any potatoes buried and get up some morning and find them missing, do not bring your case to "Shepherdstown county" for trial. But from one case learn all. This is the way justice is meted out here, and if one of the parties, should be suspected of having sympathized with, or given a cup of cold water to a poor, thirsty, dusty Confederate soldier, in days that are past, his case is decided ere it is tried. An ex-rebel (so-called) has no chance for equity in this region. The course of President Johnson is repudiated and all law set at defiance by the "loyal" men of this Borough.