Edmund Pendleton
Presiding officer

The Virginia Ratifying Convention (also historically referred to as the "Virginia Federal Convention") was a convention of 168 delegates from Virginia who met in 1788 to ratify or reject the United States Constitution, which had been drafted at the Philadelphia Convention the previous year.

The Convention met and deliberated from June 2 through June 27 in Richmond at the Richmond Theatre, presently the site of Monumental Church. Judge Edmund Pendleton, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, served as the convention's president by unanimous consent.

Background and composition

The Convention convened "in the temporary capital at Cary and Fourteenth streets" on June 2, 1788, and elected Edmund Pendleton its presiding officer. The next day the Convention relocated to the Richmond Academy (later the site of the Richmond Theatre and now the site of Monumental Church where it continued to meet until June 27.)[1]

The Virginia Ratifying Convention narrowly approved joining the proposed United States under a Constitution of supreme national law as authorized by "We, the People" of the United States. James Madison led those in favor, Patrick Henry, delegate to the First Continental Convention and Revolutionary wartime governor, led those opposed. Governor Edmund Randolph, who had refused to sign the Constitution in the Philadelphia Convention, chose Virginia's Ratifying Convention to support adoption. George Mason had refused to sign due to the lack of a Bill of Rights in Philadelphia and would continue in his opposition.[2] The Virginia ratification included a recommendation for a Bill of Rights, and Madison subsequently led the First Congress to send the Bill of Rights to the states for ratification.[3]

On receiving the proposed Constitution from the Philadelphia Convention, Congress initiated a ratification procedure for the proposed Constitution which by-passed the sitting state legislatures, going directly to the people of the country, state by state. Four delegates, James Madison with Edmund Randolph for the Federalists and Patrick Henry with George Mason for the Anti-federalists made most of the speeches of the Convention; 149 of the 170 delegates were silent.[4] An early estimate gave the Federalists seeking ratification a slim margin of 86 to Anti-Federalists rejecting at 80, with four unknowns. Federalists came from the Tidewater and Northern Neck, the Shenandoah Valley, and western counties, although the Kentucky counties along the Ohio River feared being abandoned to the Spanish under the new government. The Anti-federalists found strength in the central Piedmont, Southside, and southwest counties.[5]

Meeting and debate

Unlike the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, the Virginia Ratifying Convention was open to the public and crowds filled the galleries along with the press. Delegates changed sides over the debates, demonstrators paraded in the streets, and the press churned out accounts of the proceedings along with commentary pamphlets. The Federalist Papers first became a factor in state ratification conventions outside New York in Virginia.[6] Although a majority of Virginians were said to be against adoption of the Constitution, and the Anti-federalists had the oratorical advantage with Patrick Henry, the Federalists were better organized under the leadership of judges who had been trained by George Wythe, and former Continental Army officers who aligned with George Washington.[7]

Patrick Henry questioned the authority of the Philadelphia Convention to presume to speak for "We, the people" instead of "We, the states". In his view, delegates should have only recommended amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Consolidated government would put an end to Virginia's liberties and state government. Nine states making a new nation without the rest would abrogate treaties and place Virginia in great peril. Edmund Randolph had changed from his opposition in the Philadelphia Convention to now supporting adoption for the sake of preserving the Union. He noted that the Confederation was "totally inadequate" and leading to American downfall. The new Constitution would repair the inadequacies of the Articles. If something were not done, the Union would be lost. The new government should be based on the people who would be governed by it, not the intermediary states. The Constitution should be ratified, along with any "practical" amendments, after the new nation was begun.[8]

George Mason countered that a national, consolidated government would overburden Virginians with direct taxes in addition to state taxes, and that government of an extensive territory must necessarily destroy liberty. Although he conceded that the Confederation government was "inefficient", he wanted a clear line between the jurisdictions of the federal and state governments, including the judiciary, because he feared the shared powers would lead to "the destruction of one or the other."[9] Madison pointed out that the history of Confederations like that provided in the Articles of Confederation government were inadequate in the long run, both with the ancient and with the modern (1700s) Germans, Dutch and Swiss. They brought "anarchy and confusion", disharmony and foreign invasion. Efficient government can only come from direct operation on individuals, it can never flow from negotiations among a confederation's constituent states. The proposed Constitution creates a republic with each branch of government grounded in the people without hereditary offices. Its mixed nature was both federated and consolidated, but in all cases was based on "the superior power of the people". The states would remain important because the House of Representatives were chosen by people in each state, and the Senate was chosen by the state legislatures. The Constitution limited the national government to enumerated powers.[10]

The Virginia Ratification (Federal) Convention made a final vote on George Wythe's motion to ratify, passing it 89 to 79. Virginians reserved the right to withdraw from the new government. The remedy for federal “injury or oppression” included amending the Constitution.[11] Unlike the Pennsylvania Convention where the Federalists railroaded the Anti-federalists in an all or nothing choice, in the Virginia Convention the Federalists had made efforts to reconcile with the Anti-federalists by recommending amendments like that of Virginia's Bill of Rights preamble to its 1776 Constitution. The American experiment was imagined to become one of successive constitutional changes to meet changing circumstances.[12]


"Old Capitol" where the Ratifying (Federal) Convention met in 1788.[13] This is not the building used, as the Richmond Theatre fire of 1811 destroyed the Richmond Theater on Broad St (H St at the time). The "Old Capitol" was at 14th and Cary St.

Virginia was the tenth state to ratify the new Constitution. New York followed a month later on July 26, 1788. The new government began operating with eleven states on March 4, 1789.

The convention recommended the addition of a bill of rights but did not make ratification contingent upon it.[14]

Many of the ideas presented during this convention were later incorporated into the United States Bill of Rights. James Madison, elected to Congress from his home district was a floor leader in the first session of the First Congress. Madison rewrote the various state proposals into twelve proposals from Congress as amended, sent to the States for ratification by three-fourths of them.

Patrick Henry's hostility to the government under the Constitution was so strong that he subsequently refused to join it, turning down offers to serve as United States Secretary of State and as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. His control of the Virginia legislature enabled his partisans to elect the only two Anti-Federalist U.S. Senators in the First Congress.

List of delegates and votes on ratification

The following list is of the delegates to the Virginia ratifying convention and their vote on ratification.[15][16] A total of 170 delegates were elected. Of these, 168 voted on ratification: 89 for, 79 against.[16] The delegates included representatives from modern-day Kentucky and West Virginia, which were part of Virginia at the time.

Plaque marking the site of the Virginia Federal Constitution, Richmond VA[17]
County/City Name Vote on Ratification
Accomac Edmund Curtis No
Accomac George Parker Yes
Albemarle George Nicholas Yes
Albemarle Wilson Cary Nicholas Yes
Amelia John Pride No
Amelia Edmund Booker No
Amherst William Cabell No
Amherst Samuel Jordan Cabell No
Augusta Zachariah Johnston Yes
Augusta Archibald Stuart Yes
Bedford John Trigg No
Bedford Charles Clay No
Berkeley William Darke (or Dark) Yes
Berkeley Adam Stephen Yes
Botetourt William Fleming Yes
Botetourt Martin M'Ferran (or McFerran) Yes
Bourbon Henry Lee (of Bourbon) No
Bourbon Notley Conn Did not vote[18]
Brunswick John Jones No
Brunswick Binns Jones No
Buckingham Charles Patteson No
Buckingham David Bell No
Campbell Robert Alexander No
Campbell Edmund Winston No
Caroline Hon. Edmund Pendleton Yes
Caroline James Taylor (of Caroline) Yes
Charlotte Thomas Read No
Charlotte Hon. Paul Carrington Yes
Charles City Benjamin Harrison V No
Charles City Hon. John Tyler, Sr. No
Chesterfield David Patteson Yes
Chesterfield Stephen Pankey, Jr. No
Cumberland Joseph Michaux No
Cumberland Thomas H. Drew No
Culpeper French Strother No
Culpeper Joel Early No
Dinwiddie Joseph Jones No
Dinwiddie William Watkins No
Elizabeth City Miles King Yes
Elizabeth City Worlich Westwood Yes
Essex James Upshaw (or Upshur) No
Essex Meriwether Smith No
Fairfax David Stuart Yes
Fairfax Charles Simms Yes
Fayette Humphrey Marshall Yes
Fayette John Fowler No
Fauquier Martin Pickett Yes
Fauquier Humphrey Brooke Yes
Fluvanna Samuel Richardson No
Fluvanna Joseph Haden No
Franklin John Early[19] No
Franklin Thomas Arthur[20] No
Frederick John Sheaman Woodcock Yes
Frederick Alexander White Yes
Gloucester Warner Lewis Yes
Gloucester Thomas Smith Yes
Goochland John Guerrant No
Goochland William Sampson No
Greenbrier George Clendenin Yes
Greenbrier John Stuart Yes
Greensville William Mason Yes
Greensville Daniel Fisher Yes
Halifax Isaac Coles No
Halifax George Carrington No
Hampshire Andrew Woodrow Yes
Hampshire Ralph Humphreys Yes
Hanover Parke Goodall No
Hanover John Carter Littlepage No
Hardy Isaac Van Meter Yes
Hardy Abel Seymour Yes
Harrison George Jackson Yes
Harrison John Prunty Yes
Henrico Governor Edmund Randolph Yes
Henrico John Marshall Yes
Henry Thomas Cooper No
Henry John Marr No
Isle of Wight Thomas Pierce
Isle of Wight James Johnson Yes
James City Nathaniel Burwell Yes
James City Robert Andrews Yes
Jefferson Robert Breckenridge Yes
Jefferson Rice Bullock Yes
King and Queen William Fleet Yes
King and Queen John Roane
King George Burdet Ashton Yes
King George William Thornton Yes
King William Holt Richeson No
King William Benjamin Temple No
Lancaster James Gordon Sr. (of Lancaster) Yes
Lancaster Henry Towles Yes
Loudoun Stevens Thomson Mason No
Loudoun Leven Powell Yes
Louisa William Overton Callis Yes
Louisa William White No
Lunenburg Jonathan Patteson No
Lunenburg Christopher Robertson No
Lincoln John Logan No
Lincoln Henry Pawling No
Madison John Miller No
Madison Green Clay No
Mecklenburg Samuel Hopkins, Jr. No
Mecklenburg Richard Kennon No
Mercer Thomas Allen No
Mercer Alexander Robertson No
Middlesex Relph Wormeley, Jr. Yes
Middlesex Francis Corbin Yes
Monongalia John Evans No
Monongalia William McClerry Yes
Montgomery Walter Crockett No
Montgomery Abraham Trigg No
Nansemond Willis Riddick Yes
Nansemond Solomon Shepherd Yes
New Kent William Clayton Yes
New Kent Burwell Bassett Yes
Nelson Matthew Walton No
Nelson John Steele No
Norfolk James Webb Yes
Norfolk James Taylor (of Norfolk) Yes
Northampton John Stringer Yes
Northampton Littleton Eyre Yes
Northumberland Walter Jones Yes
Northumberland Thomas Gaskins Yes
Ohio Archibald Woods Yes
Ohio Ebenezer Zane Yes
Orange James Madison, Jr. Yes
Orange James Gordon, Jr. (of Orange) Yes
Pittsylvania Robert Williams No
Pittsylvania John Wilson No
Powhatan William Ronald (or Roland) Yes
Powhatan Thomas Turpin, Jr. No
Prince Edward Patrick Henry No
Prince Edward Robert Lawson No
Prince George Theodorick Bland (or Theodoric Bland) No
Prince George Edmund Ruffin No
Prince William William Grayson No
Prince William Cuthbert Bullitt No
Princess Anne Anthony Walke Yes
Princess Anne Thomas Walke Yes
Randolph Benjamin Wilson Yes
Randolph John Wilson (of Randolph) Yes
Richmond Walker Tomlin Yes
Richmond William Peachy Yes
Rockbridge William McKee Yes
Rockbridge Andrew Moore Yes
Rockingham Thomas Lewis Yes
Rockingham Gabriel Jones Yes
Russell Thomas Carter No
Russell Henry Dickenson (or Dickinson) No
Shenandoah Jacob Rinker Yes
Shenandoah John Williams Yes
Southampton Benjamin Blout (or Blunt) Yes
Southampton Samuel Killo (or Kello) Yes
Spotsylvania James Monroe No
Spotsylvania John Dawson No
Stafford George Mason No
Stafford Andrew Buchanan No
Surry John Hartwell Cocke Yes
Surry John Allen Yes
Sussex John Howell Briggs No
Sussex Thomas Edmunds No
Warwick Cole Digges Yes
Warwick Hon. Richard Cary No
Washington Samuel Edmison No
Washington James Montgomery No
Westmoreland Henry Lee III (of Westmoreland) Yes
Westmoreland Bushrod Washington Yes
York Hon. John Blair Jr. Yes
York Hon. George Wythe Yes
Williamsburg James Innes Yes
Norfolk Borough Thomas Mathews (or Matthews) Yes

See also


  1. ^ Grigsby, Hugh Blair. The History of the Virginia Federal Convention: 1788. Da Capo Press, New York 1969 p.67.
  2. ^ Grigsby, Hugh Blair (1890). Brock, R.A. (ed.). The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788 With Some Account of the Eminent Virginians of that Era who were Members of the Body. Vol. 1. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society. OCLC 41680515. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help) p. 346
  3. ^ Heinemann, Ronald L., et al. Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: a history of Virginia, 1607–2007, 2008 ISBN 978-0-8139-2769-5, p. 145-147
  4. ^ Dabney, Virginius. Virginia: the New Dominion. 1971. ISBN 978-0-8139-1015-4, p.172
  5. ^ Heinemann, Ronald L., et al. Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: a history of Virginia, 1607–2007, 2008 ISBN 978-0-8139-2769-5, p. 145
  6. ^ Maier, Pauline. Ratification: the people debate the Constitution, 1778–1788, 2010, ISBN 978-0-6848-6855-4, p. 257
  7. ^ Dabney, Virginius. Virginia: the new Dominion. ISBN 978-0-8139-1015-4, 1971 p. 171-2
  8. ^ Maier 2010, p. 260-261
  9. ^ Maier 2010, p. 261-262
  10. ^ Maier 2010, p. 268-270
  11. ^ Maier, 2010, p.306
  12. ^ Maier 2010, p. 308
  13. ^ Grigsby, Hugh Blair. The History of the Virginia Federal Convention: 1788. Da Capo Press, New York 1969 p.67. Initially built as the New Academy by the Chevalier Quesnay, subsequently the Richmond Theater
  14. ^ "Virginia ratification" Avalon Law Project, Yale University. Viewed November 11, 2011.
  15. ^ Delegates Returned to Serve in Convention of March 1788, in Hugh Blair Grigsby, The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788: With Some Account of Eminent Virginians of that Era who Were Members of the Body.
  16. ^ a b David L. Pulliam, The Constitutional Conventions of Virginia from the Foundation of the Commonwealth to the Present Time (1901), pp. 38-39, 46-47.
  17. ^ Chevalier Quesnay's "New Academy" had failed in 1786. It was renamed "The Theatre Square" at the time of the Ratification Convention. The wooden structure was torn down, and a masonry "Richmond Theater" erected in 1810. It burned in 1811, and a memorial Church built in memoriam to the 72 victims. Southern Democrats nominated Breckinridge in 1860 at the 1817 "New Richmond Theatre" at another site. The plaque's location is in Richmond's West Hospital. The original building, a converted theater, is gone.
  18. ^ Lowell H. Harrison & James C. Klotter, A New History of Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky, 1997): "The convention ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788, by a vote of 89-79, with ten of the fourteen Kentucky delegates voting in the negative. Humphrey Marshall, Robert Breckinridge, and Rice Bullock favored acceptance; for some reason, delegate Notley Conn did not vote.)
  19. ^ https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Early_John_1757-1804
  20. ^ Kaminsky, John P. (1988–1993). The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution: Ratification of the Constitution by the States. Vol. 8–10. pp. 9:588, 10:1538–1541, 1557, 1565. Salmon, John S. & Emily J. (1993). Franklin County, Virginia, 1786–1986: A Bicentennial History. pp. 66–68, 78–79, 81–83, 216. (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Arthur_Thomas, accessed 18 Nov 2020.)


Further reading

Primary sources