Virginia Apologizes for Slavery and Exploiting Indians

The Commonwealth of Virginia has apologized for slavery and running off the Indians.

Meeting on the grounds of the former Confederate Capitol, the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously Saturday to express “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery. Sponsors of the resolution say they know of no other state that has apologized for slavery, although Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure. The resolution does not carry the weight of law but sends an important symbolic message, supporters said.

How, exactly, would an apology carry the weight of law? Are there going to be reparations or something?

“This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution,” said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored it in the House of Delegates.

The resolution passed the House 96-0 and cleared the 40-member Senate on a unanimous voice vote. It does not require Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s approval.

The measure also expressed regret for “the exploitation of Native Americans.”

Since I was born in Virginia a mere century after the start of the Civil War, then compounded the error by moving back over four years ago, I suppose I am implicated in all this. I hereby reiterate my apology of May 7, 2004.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nick says:

    What a stupid much-to-do-about-nothing. It’s not like their going to implement something that’s retroactive, or are they?

    Then every state should apologize…

  2. The part of this phenomenon I don’t understand is why it seems to be selective. The instances of “man’s inhumanity to man” mentioned in the various public apologies or regrets covers a handful of events in history. Correct me if I’m wrong but American slavery, the Holocaust and WWII Japanese internment are the most common references. Right at the moment I cannot think of another example.

  3. floyd says:

    McEachin is a pathetic incompetent that ought to be unemployed!

  4. Blair says:

    Everyone is apologetic about slavery but everyone likes the results. Civilization, itself, is slaved-based. Slavery was the “shortcut” between primitive tribal society and the modern world. More recently, it funded the industrial revolution, which made slavery non-economical.

    Americans who purchased slaves from African tribes were participating in a global slave market whose existence pre-dated written history. In America, all races, not just whites, owned slaves. The Cherokees, for example, were the last to give up their slaves. After the Civil War, the U.S. government ended slavery on tribal lands by purchasing the slaves and setting them free. Free African-Americans also owned slaves. (One of the biggest southern slave-owners was a black freeman.) Only a small percentage of free blacks owned slaves, of course, but only a small percentage of whites, probably about eight percent owned slaves.

    Everyone alive today is a beneficiary of slavery, including African Americans, who enjoy a much higher standard of living than those left behind in Africa.

  5. Terrence says:

    This story brought about the silly headline of the day: “Assembly expresses ‘regret’ for slavery, passes roads bill

  6. Tano says:

    There certainly seems to be somthing about you Virginians that strikes us Yanks as deeply unserious about your “legacy”.

    Its not about you James. Yes, we know – you have never owned slaves, and no doubt, condemn the very idea. But this was a resolution from the commonwealth of Virginia – an organic body that has a history of hundreds of years. Is it not consistent with conservatism to recognize the value and the legitimacy of long-standing institutions? The commonwealth of Virginia was deeply complicit in slavery, and then in official oppression (segregation) for nearly 90% of its history.

    The current generation of leaders of Virginia are stewards of that institution. They are charged with the responsibility of delivering the institution in good health to future generations, but they also inherit the institution and all its history.

    I think this resolution is a mark of honor and decency and honesty.

  7. James Joyner says:

    The current generation of leaders of Virginia are stewards of that institution. . . . I think this resolution is a mark of honor and decency and honesty.

    An apology is an admission of fault and contrition. To apologize for something that ended nearly two hundred years ago might be decent but it has no moral weight given that no responsibility is taken. It’s merely a cheap publicity stunt: “Look at how enlightened we are.”

    Rather than apologizing, they should demonstrate that they’ve learned something and take action to make Virginians more free, whether by reducing the tax burden,repealing burden some laws and regulations, or the like. That, though, would be hard, so they’re not going to do it.

  8. Blair says:

    Although the United States made the slave trade illegal decades before the Civil War, slavery, itself, was still legal in most northern states–not just the border states–at the time of the Civil War. This is why Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation “freed” only slaves only in states that had withdrawn from the Union. Southerners didn’t purchase slaves directly from Africa; they bought them from Yankee merchants operating slave ships out of northern ports.

  9. Joe Buz says:

    I wonder how much of my tax$ were spent crafting this language…? Now that our reps feel better about themselves….>less guilt

  10. Randall says:

    Dear Neanderthal Man, er… Person,

    I am very sorry that the people that bear a vague resemblance to me hastened your extinction about 200,000 year ago.

    I would work ceaselessly on behalf of reparations for your people if you still existed, but you don’t so I think I will get a home theater system instead.

    A home theater system is kind of like a play or a theater type thing except that the little people on the screen aren’t really there.

    They’re just images.

    An image is a thing that you look at but it isn’t really there.

    OK, it’s there, but the thing you’re looking at – that’s not there. The home theater system is there, but…oh, nevermind.

    Just sorry.


    A really, very, very, guilty and sorry member of the species Homo Sapiens Sapiens

  11. Maniakes says:

    Dear Neanderthal Person,

    What Randall said goes for me, too. I’m also sorry about those GEICO commercials.

  12. Tano says:


    I really am puzzled by many of your comments the past few days. I always thought of you as a reasonable person – though not in agreement with me on many issues. But lately I am finding your opinions to be downright nutty.

    “An apology is an admission of fault and contrition.”

    Yeah, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as an enduring institution, has a hell of a lot to apologize for.

    “To apologize for something that ended nearly two hundred years ago might be decent”

    Not might, is.

    “but it has no moral weight given that no responsibility is taken.”

    It certainly does have “moral weight”. It is the official pronouncment of the Commonwealth of Virginia as to what is proper for an American government to do, and an admission it failed horribly in doing that.

    “It’s merely a cheap publicity stunt: “Look at how enlightened we are.” ”

    And I see the flip side. I see how unenlightened you are.
    Instead of an apology, you think they should give a tax cut. That is not even funny. Its a pretty pathetic example of how you just dont get it.

    I am actually quite impressed that the vote was unanimous. Given the range of people that one finds in a typical state legislature, and given Virginia and its history – I offer my congratulations to you for being more clueless than ANY of the elected representatives of your state.

  13. Randall says:

    Oh yes. The GEICO commercials.

    I don’t know what’s worse. Extinction or the GEICO commercials.

  14. floyd says:

    Tano; don’t be niave, what politician would have the spine to vote AGAINST this nonsense??