At the Brink of Civl War II, Glad Tidings of Joy

Edward Grimsley

December 04, 1990|By Edward Grimsley

RICHMOND — Richmond.

MY RECENT proposal for the reunification of Virginia and West Virginia to annul an unconstitutional act President Abraham Lincoln committed more than a century ago has evoked good news-bad news reactions. The good news is that the federal government may have to cancel the income tax and refund all the money it has ever collected from that source. The bad news is that we may face a second Civil War.

To review the matter briefly, West Virginia consists of some counties that left Virginia when it seceded from the Union in 1861. In granting West Virginia statehood by proclamation in 1863, Lincoln ignored the constitutional prohibition against the creation of a new state from an existing state without the latter's permission. This means, I suggested, that West Virginia remains legally a part of Virginia.

Now, first, for the bad-news reaction to my reunification proposal. From Maryland came the threat of Civil War II. Joseph R.L. Sterne, editorial-page editor of the The Baltimore Sun, scoffed at Virginia's claim, accused Virginia of having violated Maryland's borders and sovereign rights on numerous occasions and threatened to form an alliance of Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina to resist the aggression of ''East Virginia.''

Incredible. Not only has Joe Sterne insulted West Virginia by suggesting that it needs help in fighting its battles; he has strengthened Virginia's case by dragging Maryland and North Carolina into the fray.

In 1584, when Queen Elizabeth I gave Virginia to Walter Raleigh, the boundaries of this illustrious colony ''reached from present-day Pennsylvania to South Carolina, and extended westward indefinitely.'' King Charles I arbitrarily gave the part of Virginia that now calls itself Maryland to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, in 1632. He schemed to draw the borders of his new entity around most of the Potomac River and a vast area of the Chesapeake Bay, but Virginia has never been happy about that demarcation.

That part of Virginia which is now called North Carolina acquired its separate identity in 1691. But this state's legitimacy has always been clouded because William Byrd's surveying party reportedly got drunk when it was marking part of the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina more than 200 years ago. Researchers have established that the entire border between Virginia and North Carolina is several miles north of the parallel surveyors were supposed to follow.

Given all these boundary disputes, purists could argue that Virginia has claims on Maryland and North Carolina. These states would be wise to stay out of the Virginia-West Virginia dispute and concentrate on preparing for the possibility of having to defend themselves.

The historic connections of Maryland and North Carolina to Virginia explain certain things, including Virginia watermen's alleged encroachment on Maryland's fishing beds. Virginians are like salmon: They never forget their ancestral territory. When the forefathers of today's watermen began fishing in the Bay and the Potomac, they were Virginia waters. And they have the tug of Virginia waters even today, pulling watermen back to fish in areas of the Bay and the river that Maryland claims.

The homing instinct of Virginians also explains North Carolina's peculiar definition of the three R's; ''readin', 'ritin' and the road to Richmond.'' Deep in every North Carolinian is a powerful urge to return to Virginia; many of them do.

Now for the good-news reaction to my plan. From Mirko Bodul in Milwaukee came a note suggesting that Ohio may also be an illegal state, which is why the validity of the federal income tax is in doubt.

Ohio thought it achieved statehood on March 1, 1803. But researchers discovered a few years ago that Congress had never officially admitted Ohio to the Union. Lawmakers attempted to correct the error on August 7, 1953, by adopting a joint resolution declaring Ohio to be a state ''as of March 1, 1803.'' But since the Constitution prohibits the enactment of retroactive laws, this resolution seems not to be worth the paper it was written on.

Ohio's support for the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax, was counted when officials determined it had received the approval of ''three-fourths of the several states'' required by the Constitution. But since Ohio was not legally a state, it had no right to participate in the ratification process, which means officials were wrong when they proclaimed the amendment to be adopted as of February 25, 1913.

Clearly the good-news revelation that the income tax is null and void and that each of us may be entitled to a full refund, plus interest, of all income taxes we have ever paid eclipses the bad-news possibility of a second Civil War. It is worth risking a war to get rid of some evils. Deep in his heart, even Joe Sterne must be delighted that I brought the matter up.

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