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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Kilpatrick served as Byrd's press voice for Virginia's massive resistance strategy

This is one of many discussions about the interposition debates throughout the interview. Dabney credits the Alien and Sedition Acts as the originating force behind the concept of interposition. <cite>Richmond News Leader</cite> editor, James J. Kilpatrick, used the <cite>Brown</cite> decision to invigorate the idea that states had the right to reject federal law under the Tenth Amendment. Unlike Kilpatrick, Dabney lightheartedly admits he was not Senator Byrd's press mouthpiece.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, the aftermath of the referendum was, of course, a convention and writing into legislation some of the commission's recommendations, but at the same time, a formal massive resistance sentiment is growing and we won't recount all the highlights of that, but Byrd is making statements in Washington, and the Southern Governors' Conference was held in Richmond and there were certain maneuvers beginning in the legislature. Speaker Moore, I believe, wants to move faster than the legislature does in the spring of '56. Then another key element is the notion of interposition and I would like to discuss that a bit. Could you talk about the origins of interposition and then what it was supposed to do?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, as I recall it, interposition originated with the Alien and Sedition Laws just before the turn of the nineteenth century and the theory was advanced that the state had the right to interpose its sovereignty between itself and the federal government, between something that it didn't want to do and the federal government. That theory was forgotten and washed out as far as I know, by the Civil War, and everybody had considered it dead until a lawyer in Chesterfield County named William W. Old exhumed this thing and wrote a pamphlet, I believe, urging that it be adopted again, or resurrected to meet this situation into which the state had been thrown by the Supreme Court decision. Kilpatrick read that pamphlet and he grabbed the ball and ran with it and made a really astonishing campaign in which he convinced a lot of people that this was the answer to the whole problem. He himself did not believe that it was, but he somehow conveyed the impression that he did, at least to me. He was writing people at the time that he knew that this was just a temporary expedient.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He also, I think, wrote in that vein that it was a sort of public relations thing, an attempt to put the whole question in more favorable terms and to buy time, but there was no evidence of that in his editorials, would you say?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I didn't see any. I was surprised to find later that he was that skeptical about it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And it had some influence beyond Virginia, apparently?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Very much. The News Leader reprinted his series of editorials in a pamphlet and sent it all over the South-to governors, I guess, or to other key people, and four or five states adopted interposition resolutions, as did Virginia. There was a great deal of excitement about it and lot of people thought that Kilpatrick was Moses and the whole thing was going to be solved.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did the General Assembly of Virginia adopt a nullification resolution?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, it was introduced with a nullification provision, but then it was taken out, fortunately I think that one or two resolutions adopted in the Deep South were completely for nullification as the best kind of defiance, but Virginia didn't.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
A former associate of Kilpatrick said that during the compaign for interposition, prior to the meeting of the General Assembly in 1956, and prior to the adoption of this resolution, Mr. Kilpatrick was working a little more close than you would expect for an editor with the Democratic party of Virginia. He was, in fact, writing position papers on interposition, the whole concept, for the Democratic party. Have you ever heard that?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I have. I had just forgotten. He was meeting with Byrd and with the leaders.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Did you ever meet with them?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I wasn't in the inner sanctum. (laughter)