The end of the American Revolution in 1783 brought about the independence of the American people and the need for them to govern themselves. This need to form a government led to the creation of the Articles of Confederation, which proved to be too weak and decentralized for the effective government of the nation. Soon a movement to create a more effective system of government was spurred. For that purpose, fifty-five delegates from twelve of the thirteen states gathered in Philadelphia during the spring and summer of 1787 to improve the Articles of Confederation and ultimately to draft the Constitution of the United States. Once the draft was approved on September 17, 1787, the Constitution could not be put into effect until nine of the thirteen states agreed to its ratification. Ratifying conventions were held in each of the thirteen states at different times in order to determine whether this Constitution should be adopted.
At the time Virginia was one of the largest states of the thirteen in land area, containing what are now the states of West Virginia and Kentucky. It had the largest population and was the largest exporter of tobacco, a very important trade product, when 170 Virginians met in Richmond in June 1788 to consider ratifying the new Constitution. The Virginia Ratifying convention was a debate between the two competing factions—the Federalists, who were in favor of Virginia's ratifying the Constitution; and the Anti-Federalists, who opposed ratification. The latter feared an overly powerful central government. The Federalists on the other hand did not wish to have the nation split if Virginia did not choose ratification.
The convention met on June 2, 1788, in the temporary capitol building, as the current Virginia Capitol at that time was under construction. The 170 delegates found it impossible to fit into the cramped rooms and moved to a nearby academy building. As the first order of business, the convention elected Edmund Pendleton president. The delegates spent six days a week for the next three weeks debating the Constitution's fate. Of the delegates, Patrick Henry was the most distinguished orator. He was a firm Anti-Federalist and used his powerful voice to persuade the delegates to accept his point of view. In opposition to Henry was James Madison, who although not a powerful orator like Henry, utilized logic and intellect in order to counter many of Henry's arguments.
On Wednesday, June 25, 1788, the body narrowly voted in favor of ratifying the constitution, 89 to 79, with suggested amendments (that the opposition had wanted) considered for later addition. This broadside printed part of the journal written by John Beckley, who was secretary to the Virginia ratifying convention. It lists the ayes and noes voiced for each vote and published a list of the proposed amendments discussed at the convention. The decision was made for Virginia to join the other states in the Union, becoming the 10th state to do so, followed by New York.
1. What does it mean to ratify the Constitution?
2. In what year did Virginia ratify the Constitution?
3. What was the Federalist point of view? The Anti-Federalist point of view?
4. Who were two of the key players in the ratifying convention?
1. Consider this document with the creation of the Declaration of Independence. When the thirteen colonies were deciding to become independent from Britain, some people were for and others were against the separation. Similarly there were some were for and others were against Virginia joining the other states in a union. What were the names of these groups and what did they believe?
Briceland, Alan V. “Virginia: The Cement of the Union.” In The Constitution and the States: The Role of the Original Thirteen in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Edited by Patrick T. Conley and John P. Kaminski, 201–337. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1988.
Conley, Patrick T., and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Constitution and the States: The Role of the Original Thirteen in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1988.
Jensen, Merrill, ed. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976– .
Kukla, Jon. "A Spectrum of Sentiments: Virginia's Federalists, Antifederalists, and 'Federalists Who Are for Amendments,' 1787–1788." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 96 (July 1988): 276–296.