Jacob Smith's Three Known Legislative Petitions
Three legislative petitions to the State Assembly bearing Jacob's signature have survived the dust of time. They provide a window into the times and into the lives of citizens of East Rockingham – and those of German descent.
The first of the existing petitions signed by Jacob was received by the Assembly on December 11, 1791 and was in response to the Assembly’s consideration of calling a convention to amend its constitution:
A memorial of the free men of Rockingham.
To the honorable the Speaker and Gentlemen of both Houses of Assembly. The memorial of the freeman of Rockingham County respectfully showeth that in obedience to a resolution of your honorable body to ascertain the opinion of the good people of this Commonwealth respecting a reform in their state constitution, your memorialists humbly represent that in their opinion, experience hath pointed out many defects in the system, and that a reform is highly necessary. That these defects are too obvious to require enumeration of criticism, that as it is improper to persist in known errors of any kind. It is more so to persist in those which may effect not only the interests but most sacred rights of the people. Your memorialists are aware that while the defects of the Government are acknowledged by all, some will be hardy enough to express fears that an alteration will be fore the worse – in other words they are afraid to trust the People. If as all profess, we believe that all power originates from the People, it is absurd to say they cannot be trusted in the exercise of it. It is to deny the first principals of a free Government. In all governments where abuses exist, some are interested in perpetuating those abuses and on this (illegible) we fear the supporters of the present state of things contemplate private of local objects at the expense of the general welfare. We hold it important to show to the world that the rights of nations to alter, abolish, or amend their governments is not merely speculative – that it ought not to be the work of convulsions or violence, but reducible to practice in times of tranquility and order, and from the wisdom and virtue of our countrymen. We entertain sanguine hopes of success. Your memoralists therefor trust that a majority of the free men of this Commonwealth will be disposed to exercise this right at present, and that your Honorable body, in conformity to the public opinion, will be pleased to pass a law providing for the election, meeting and support for a Convention for the purpose aforesaid, and you Memorialists are in duty bound.
Jacob also joined his Rockingham neighbors in the Swift Run community in petitioning the Virginia State Legislature in 1794 to maintain a road for commerce over the Swift Run Gap (Legislative Petitions, Rockingham County, Library of Virginia, Box 224, Folder 34, 19 November 1794.) (Note: spelling and punctuation has been changed for the ease of reading.):
To the Honorable Speaker and Members composing the House of Assembly of Virginia; your petitioners from the County of Rockingham, having but one public merchant road over the blew ridge none by the name of Swift Gun Gap to which shares of their produce is carried to Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and the city of Richmond; your petitions prayer is that you pass an Act to Empower the Court of Rockingham to levy on the tithable persons of said County not exceeding the sum of (blank) to repair and keep in repair the road over swift run gap from Peter Hershman in said County Daniel Wolferd in Orange County; and that the Court of Rockingham shall appoint commissioners to agree with some person to say that the money is laid out to the best advantage for the said road, and your petitioners shall ever pray.
The final petition bearing Jacob’s signature was received in the Capitol on December 11, 1797 and requested that the State Assembly provide German translations of laws. It is particularly poignant in that Jacob was one of those Germans who had "fought and bled" in the service of America:
To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia:
The Petition of the Subscribers humbly show,
That, together with many other Citizens of this commonwealth, they are incapable of acquiring a knowledge of the Laws by which their conduct is to be regulated these Laws being printed in the English Language, of which they are ignorant, that members of them emigrated from Germany previous to the contest between Britain and America, and in the service of America have fought and bled: law being the only protector of Liberty, the means of attaining a knowledge thereof should be placed within the reach of each individual: when a contrary idea prevails, the liberty of the citizen exists in name only. Your petitions respectfully add, that they uniformly discharge their quotas of the Public Taxes, are orderly in their conduct, and firm supporters of the Government under which they live; is it not then reasonable, that they should participate in the benefits resulting from that Government? And when their request hath for its object, a complete obedience to the Laws, can it be deemed improper to solicit that the rule of conduct prescribed in the revisal of 1792, may no longer be locked as to them, in an unknown Language, and that a certain number of copies thereof in the German Language, (the number to be fixed by your Honorable Body), may be printed for the use of the Germans in Virginia? The subscribers impressed with the justice and propriety of a request of this nature, now submit it to the General Assembly, and they, in duty bound, will pray.
The 1794 Swift Run Gap Petition