Governor Fulwar Skipwith.
"Speech to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of West Florida."
Gentlemen of the Senate,
And of the House of Representatives,
CALLED by your joint and unanimous suffrages, to fill the office of chief magistrate, under the constitution adopted by the people of this commonwealth, I repair with a full sense of my own imperfect qualifications, to that critical and honorable post, beleiving it to be the duty of every citizen at this moment implicitly to obey the call of his country.
Placed like you, but as to day, to carry into effect a new system of government, little more it is presumed, might be expected from me at the moment of my entering into office, than the ordinary professions of a governor, addressing the immediate representatives of the people; yet my solicitude, during these first hours of the convulsive birth of our infant republic, induces me on the present occasion, to ask something more of your attention and indulgence.
The constitution excluding the chief executive officer, from any voice in the legislation of the state, does nevertheless enjoin on him, the duty of recommending to the general assembly, such measures as he shall deem essential to the security and prosperity of the public.
The arduous, and intricate labours of legislation, devolving wholly on you, gentlemen of the senate and house of representatives, it is my intention only on this all important subject, in anticipation doubtless of your own views, to press especially and promptly, the establishment of a more compleat, and applicable system of criminal and civil jurisprudence; some more efficient measures for organizing and disciplining the militia, and other forces necessary to offensive, as well as defensive operations; a more just and equal apportionment of the representation among the several districts of the state; and lastly, a more extensive basis for levying and apportioning taxes and other resources of finance, required for the support of government and the military operations now on foot; and adequate also, to meet other exigencies of the state, likely to intervene between the present and your next session.
The judiciary system devised by the late convention, and sanctioned by the representative of the sovereign, to whom we then held allegiance, does honor to that body, inasmuch, as it secured a better administration of justice than had been practised before, and laid the foundation for a more thorough reform; but the inhabitants of this state, at length emancipated from despotism, will no longer have occasion to compromise on the fundamental principles of justice, and their rights. It is not doubted, therefore, but that system will undergo a revision, and be reformed by you, especially with regard to the powers and attributes of the district courts, whose judgments by the existing ordinances are final, both in civil and criminal cases, to a very considerable amount. Judges of the inferior, no less than of the superior courts, when vested with the power, to give final judgments, ought to be restricted to the exalted and unmixt functions of interpreting and applying the law. If this maxim should appear to you to be founded in justice, you will provide by law for the appointment of proper officers to keep the records, and execute all the judgments of these courts.
The constitution having provided in part, for the organizing the militia, some changes will be necessary, in the existing law on that subject, and it will readily occur to you, that nothing should be omitted, which can give activity and energy to that body, on which we must chiefly depend for our safety, in peace and in war.
To support the station which we have assumed as an independent people, so long as we have enemies to that independence, within our own territory, some extraordinary sacrifices will be necessary; and as we have already commenced preparations for a military enterprise, which if properly supported, will secure our success and future prosperity; it is hoped that you will find no difficulty in obtaining by taxes, operating equally on all classes of our fellow citizens, the necessary funds for this momentous object.
Having been abandoned by a sovereign, whose system and principles of colonization grew up in the past ages of bigotry, and persecution; our rights of self government, will not be contested, wherever the language and doctrines of enlightened civilians, and writers on the laws of nations can be heard; nor can the glorious conflict in which we are now engaged, with the remnant of dismembered and lawless forces, still occupying in hostile array, a part of our country, and pretending to represent the shadow of departed monarchy, prove unsuccessful. Our brave volunteers, conducting themselves with temperance and fortitude, like the patriotic chief who is to lead them, will teach the enemy, that Americans understanding the principles of liberty and a free government, are ever ready to sacrifice their lives in its defence; for our cause is too glorious, to be disgraced by fear or by submission.
When Charles the 4th, late sovereign of Spain, abdicated, his throne, and was followed by the heir apparent, styled Ferdinand the 7th, to prefer an asylum in a foreign country, to defending the sovereign independence of his crown and subjects; the people of the Floridas, in common with the rest of the Spanish colonies, had they consisted of but one family, were restored to the original rights and natural charter of man; that of providing for their own preservation and government.
We are then entitled to independence, and wherever the voice of justice and humanity can be heard, our declaration, and our just rights will be respected. But the blood which flows in our veins, like the tributary streams which form and sustain the father of rivers, encircling our delightful country, will return if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country. The genius of Washington, the immortal founder of the liberties of America, stimulates that return, and would frown upon our cause, should we attempt to change its course.
There is a trait gentlemen, in the character of our emancipation, which must be approved by all who venerate the principles, and supporters of American independence. It was not gold; it was not the address or intrigues of foreign emissaries; it was not, even an aspect of complaisance, or a promise of protection from the country which most of us consider as our parent state, which led us to embark in so perilous an enterprize; but it was the resolution and patriotism of the members individually of our late convention, adhering steadily to their purpose of introducing a necessary reform, seconded by the virtuous military chief and brave citizens who surrounded them, that gave success to our arms, and a reputation to our country, which overwhelms our enemies with despair, and commands the respect of all who are friends to virtuous liberty.
It remains for us, by all the means in our power, to support a character so honorable to ourselves and to our country. By the example, conduct and application, to their respective duties, of all public functionaries, the degraded and licentious, among us, can be best inspired with those precepts of order, decorum and subordination, which distinguish so pre-eminently, civilized from savage man, and which must be among the first, and most cherished laws of Heaven, since we see their divine essence expressed in the face of all animate; and inanimate creation.
I conclude gentlemen, by assuring you of my ready, and cordial co-operation with you, at all times, in such measures as may contribute to the safety and prosperity of our country.
- Secession. The secession of West Florida from being a Spanish colony to form the Republic of West Florida. Three months later the Republic was annexed by the United States.
- Suffrages. Votes.
- Solicitude. Care or concern.
- Arduous. Difficult and tiring.
- Compleat. Highly skilled and accomplished in all aspects.
- Jurisprudence. A body of system and laws.
- Despotism. absolute power or control; tyranny.
- Bigotry. Intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.
- Abdicated. To cast off.
- Licentious. Promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters.
Skipwith, Fulwar. Speech of Governor Fulwar Skipwith to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of West Florida, at St. Francisville, on the 29th of November, 1810. Natchez: Printed by John W. Winn &, . Exploring Florida. University of South Florida, 2005. Web. 10 July 2012. <http:// fcit.usf.edu/ florida/ docs/g/ govspch.htm>.
- Jake Woodard