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Virginia Ratifying Convention

Plaque marking the site of the Virginia Federal Constitution, Richmond, Virginia.[1]

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.


  • Division 1
  • Debate 2
  • Outcome 3
  • Footnotes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
    • Primary sources 6.1
  • External links 7


Federalists followed Massachusetts example

Delegates in favor of ratification (Philadelphia Convention, Edmund Randolph refused to sign the proposed constitution, and wrote about his anti-federalist objections but by the time of the Richmond meeting, he argued that the need for union outweighed any defects.[2]

Opposing them were William Grayson, James Monroe, John Taylor of Caroline, Benjamin Harrison V and other "Anti-Federalists", who believed that the Constitution created a central government that was too powerful. Henry, the leader of this faction, opposed allowing the new central government to directly tax citizens of the various states, and he feared that the newly created office of President of the United States would become far too powerful. He pointedly made references to a potential future Oliver Cromwell.


A major issue during the Virginia Ratification Convention was the question of individual rights. Many delegates who were in generally in favor of the Constitution were concerned that it did not contain a list of guaranteed rights akin to the celebrated Virginia Declaration of Rights. George Mason argued for the addition of a bill of rights, among other modifications.

On June 25, the convention ratified the Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79. The difference of ten votes meant that a change of five votes in 168 would have resulted in rejecting the Constitution[3]

Anti's for amendments before adoption

The convention recommended but did not require the addition of a bill of rights.[4]

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.


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.

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.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "Delegates to the Constitutional Convention: Virginia". University of Missouri-Kansas City. Retrieved 06/11/2011. 
  3. ^ A tie in parliamentary vote fails. A majority is one-half plus one.
  4. ^ "Virginia ratification" Avalon Law Project, Yale University. Viewed November 11, 2011.


  • Labunski, Richard E. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Elliot, Jonathan. , vol. 3The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution.... Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1891.

Further reading

  • Grigsby, Hugh Blair. The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788.... Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society, 1891. Has short biographical sketches of five future U.S. office holders J. Marshall, J. Madison, J. Monroe, John Tyler, B. Harrison. Five famous “old men of the Convention” are outlined, P. Henry, G. Mason, G. Wythe, E. Randolph, Henry Lee and E. Pendleton, as well as lesser-knowns.
  • Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010) pp 235–319; the standard scholarly study
  • Shepard, E. Lee, comp. Reluctant Ratifiers: Virginia Considers the Federal Constitution. Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1988. ISBN 0-945015-01-1.
  • Thomas, Robert E. "The Virginia Convention of 1788: A Criticism of Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution", The Journal of Southern History 19, no. 1 (Feb., 1953), pp. 63–72.

Primary sources

  • Kaminski, John P. and Gaspare J. Saladino, eds. Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, vols 8–10. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1988–1993.

External links

  • "Patrick Henry, Virginia Ratifying Convention, 5-16 June 1788"
  • "George Mason and the Constitution"
  • Text of the debates
  • Text of the ratification
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