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title:“Fairfax County Petition Protesting Delays in Selecting a Courthouse Site”
authors:George Mason
date written:1790-11-11

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:49 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 6, 2023, 11:23 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Fairfax County Petition Protesting Delays in Selecting a Courthouse Site." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 3. Ed. A Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 1211-15. Print.
Printed petition, Legislative Papers, 1790, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Va.

Fairfax County Petition Protesting Delays in Selecting a Courthouse Site (November 11, 1790)

[11 November 1790]
To the Honourable the SPEAKERS and MEMBERS of both HOUSES of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
The Petition of the Subscribers, in behalf of themselves, and other Inhabitants of the County of Fairfax,
That upon the petition of a great number of the inhabitants of the said County to the last Session of Assembly, setting forth the inconvenience and hardships they laboured under, by having the County Court held in the town of Alexandria, and praying that the same might be removed to some place near the center of the County, (a copy of which petition is hereunto annexed, to shew the reasons upon which the application was founded; and which, therefore, your petitioners pray may be taken as a part of this their present petition) an Act of Assembly was passed for their relief; altering the place of holding the County Courts from the town of Alexandria to such place as should be found most convenient, near the center of the County, within one mile of the Cross Roads at Price's Ordinary; and expressly directing the Justices of the said County, before the first day of June then next ensuing, to levy on the titheable persons within their County, a sum sufficient to erect the necessary buildings, and to purchase two acres of ground, whereon to place them, &c. as by the said act (to which your petitioners refer) will more fully appear. But the Justices (great part of them having been originally nominated by, and still continuing in the town interest) have now changed the nature of the subject, from a dispute between the people of the Town and the County, into a contest between themselves and the General Assembly of Virginia; and by refusing or neglecting to execute the abovementioned act, have deprived your petitioners of the justice and benefits intended them by a Law of the Land, and compelled them to repeat their application, for relief, to the present session of Assembly; not only against the former grievance of holding the County Court in the Town of Alexandria, but also against the dangerous innovation of assuming a power of controuling or suspending Laws—A power, for the exercise of which, Kings have justly forfeited their Crowns—A power which strikes directly at the fundamental principles of liberty and the constitution, and is more peculiarly alarming at a time, when too many among us affect to reprobate and set at defiance the authority of the state legislatures.
That instead of proceeding to carry into effectual execution the "Act for altering the place of holding Courts in the County of Fairfax," an instrument of writing, called a remonstrance to the County Court, was fabricated and circulated through the County, in effect—Praying the Court to exercise legislative power, in controuling or suspending the abovementioned Act of Assembly; hoping by this manoeuvre to acquire some pretext or excuse for disobeying the Law. And in direct contrast to the Act of the General Assembly, an Act of the Corporation of Alexandria (as if their authority too was paramount to the Laws of the State) was passed on the 20th day of January, 1790, for making some additions or improvements to their market house, and appropriating the same to the purpose of holding the County Courts; a copy of which remonstrance, and Act of the Corporation of Alexandria are hereto annexed, to shew that they were manufactured out of the same materials with the petition, since set on foot to the General Assembly, for repealing the said "Act for altering the place of holding Courts in the County of Fairfax."
These were the preparatory steps taken to frustrate and defeat a positive Law—And the arguments used in the progress of the business, viz. "That the Act requiring the Justices of the County to levy the charge, &c." by which was meant all the Justices, "could not be executed, unless every Justice in the County was present upon the bench; and that a Law wherein no penalty is inflicted, was not obligatory, nor the Court bound to execute it," are too frivolous and futile to be worth mentioning, were they not explanatory of the party-spirit by which they were dictated, and of a pre-concerted plan to disregard the Law. But upon some other circumstances turning up, and the abovementioned Remonstrance to the Court being treated in the County with the contempt it deserved, the same was withdrawn, or never presented; and the ostensible and avowed cause for not executing the Law now is, that there is no place fit for the purpose, within one mile of the Cross Roads at Price's Ordinary, except on the land of William Fitzhugh Esq; who is averse to selling; and on the land belonging to the heirs of the late Col. Henry Fitzhugh, some of whom are under age, and their lands undivided: A tract of land belonging to the heirs of the late Mr. Terrett having proved, upon measurement of the meanders of the road, to be a few yards more than a mile from the Cross Roads at Price's Ordinary, although upon a straight line, considerably within that distance.
The circumstance, mentioned in the Town petition, of the great number of suits lately instituted in the District Court, (if the fact be true) is owing, not to an apprehension of the dealys which will be occasioned by the removal of the County Court to the center of the County, but to the procrastination and delay which the suitors have already experienced, by the County Court's sitting in the Town of Alexandria, and to the incompetence and partiality of the Town Juries. Some of your petitioners well remember the removal of the County Court into the Town of Alexandria, near forty years ago, and know that it was done by the then Governor of Virginia, in virtue of the Crown's prerogative, very contrary to the interest and inclination of the people.
The argument respecting the great loss which the people of the County will sustain, by the forfeiture of their right to the Townlots, on which the Court-House now stands, is a curious one; because, as the people have no kind of title or property in the said lots, but for the sole purpose of holding the County Courts, which they have experienced to be very inconvenient and injurious to them, they will not be losers, but gainers, by such forfeiture.
Your petitioners beg leave to observe, that the reasons contained in the petition to the last Session of Assembly, and which then induced the Legislature to pass the abovementioned Act, still continue in full force, and they trust are sufficient to refute the allegations contained in the petition for repealing it. They humbly conceive that the fixing of the County Court as near the center of the County as the roads and other circumstances will admit, is a matter of right and justice, which will hardly be refused them, even though their petition should not appear to be signed by a majority of the people within the County; when it is considered how easily the citizens of Alexandria can affix to the petition for repealing the said act, the names of sailors and other itinerant people, or even fictitious names; and when they themselves declare in their petition, "That the Town of Alexandria contains about one-third of the inhabitants of the whole County," who having the benefit of a Court in their own Corporation, with complete jurisdiction, have little more real concern or interest in the County Court, than the inhabitants of any adjacent County; unless for the purpose of continuing their undue influence in the County Elections, and the power of oppressing the people, already too long exercised.
Your petitioners lament, that in a late Act of Assembly, prescribing the mode of trying complaints against the Justices of the County Courts, there were some circumstances inconsistent with the Declaration of Rights and Constitution of Government, which occasioned it's repeal—and that the Legislature has not since had leisure to take up the subject; they humbly submit to the consideration of the General Assembly, whether it is safe or proper that any set of men, in an office of high trust and power, should remain unamenable to the public for their conduct; especially a set of men, who by the power of increasing their own number, and of filling up their own vacancies, are a self-continued body—A power tending to engender and perpetuate parties and factions, to the hinderance and perversion of Law and Justice—Effects experience hath already proved in many Counties, especially in those where there are large Towns, of which some instances have been laid before the General Assembly; and your petitioners beg leave to remark; that there may be many acts of partiality, or other pieces of mal-conduct, which, not amounting to palpable corruption or bribery, would not justify an indictment, and yet be extremely oppressive and injurious to the good people of this Commonwealth.
Your petitioners, therefore, most humbly beseech the General Assembly, that some legal mode may be instituted for the trial of complaints against the Justices of the County Courts; and a proper tribunal established for punishing partiality, oppression, wilful neglect, or breach of duty, or other mal-conduct, by removal from office, public censure, fine, or other punishment, according to the nature and degree of offence. And that an Act of Assembly may pass, amending the Act of the last session, entitled, "An Act for altering the place of holding Courts in the County of Fairfax," by prolonging the time, and compelling the Justices, under a sufficient penalty, to carry the Act into effectual execution; and appointing certain Commissioners (to be therein named) to lay off and purchase two acres of ground, whereon to erect the public buildings, upon the land belonging to the heirs of the late Col. Henry Fitzhugh, or to any other person, within one mile and one half of the Cross Roads at Price's Ordinary, and to make report of their proceedings to the County Court; and if they cannot contract with the proprietor thereof for the purchase, directing the Justices of the said Court to cause a writ to be issued, in the nature of a writ of ad quod damnum, for ascertaining the value by a Jury, and thereupon to vest the title of the said two acres of ground in the Justices of the said County forever, for the purpose of holding the County Courts: Or (which your petitioners think preferable) directing such Commissioners to lay off two acres of ground on the most convenient part of the muster-field, upon the land belonging to the heirs of the late Col. Henry Fitzhugh, near the Cross Roads at Price's Ordinary, and upon payment of the value thereof, to be ascertained by a Jury as aforesaid, to vest the same in the Justices of the County forever, as abovementioned: Or to grant your petitioners such further or other relief in the premises as the honourable the General Assembly in their wisdom and justice shall judge proper. And your petitioners will every pray,
[A list of 199 names follows.]

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