Fifth Virginia Convention

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Edmund Pendleton
Presiding officer Edmund Pendleton 1872 crop.jpg
Edmund Pendleton
Presiding officer

The Fifth Virginia Convention was a meeting of the Patriot legislature of Virginia held in Williamsburg from May 6 to July 5, 1776. This Convention declared Virginia an independent state and produced its first constitution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government.

Colony of Virginia English/British possession in North America (1607-1776)

The Colony of Virginia, chartered in 1606 and settled in 1607, was the first enduring English colony in North America, following failed proprietary attempts at settlement on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, and the subsequent further south Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s.


Background and composition

History of Virginia
Flag of Virginia.svg Virginiaportal

The previous Fourth Virginia Convention had also taken place in Williamsburg, in December 1775. George Washington had been appointed in Philadelphia from the First Continental Congress as commander of Continental troops surrounding Boston, and Virginia patriots defeated an advancing British expeditionary force at the Battle of Great Bridge southeast of Norfolk.

Fourth Virginia Convention

The Fourth Virginia Convention was a meeting of the Patriot legislature of Virginia held in Williamsburg in December 1775.

George Washington 1st president of the United States

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who also served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War of Independence, and he presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the new federal government. He has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

First Continental Congress 1774 meeting of delegates from twelve British colonies of what would become the United States

The First Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies who met from September 5 to October 26, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament, which the British referred to as the Coercive Acts, with which the British intended to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party.

The newly elected delegates to the Fifth Virginia Convention re-elected Edmund Pendleton as its president on his return from Philadelphia as presiding officer of the First Continental Congress. The membership could be thought of as belonging to one of three groups: radicals from western Virginia, who had agitated for independence from Britain even before 1775; philosophers of the American Enlightenment; and wealthy planters, largely from the east. A malapportionment of delegates granted disproportionate influence to this latter group. [1]

Edmund Pendleton American judge

Edmund Pendleton was a Virginia planter, politician, lawyer and judge. He served in the Virginia legislature before and during the American Revolutionary War, rising to the position of Speaker. Pendleton attended the First Continental Congress as one of Virginia's delegates alongside George Washington and Patrick Henry, and led the conventions both wherein Virginia declared independence (1776) and adopted the U.S. Constitution (1788). Unlike his sometime political rival Henry, Pendleton was a moderate who initially hoped for reconciliation, rather than revolt. With Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, Pendleton revised Virginia's legal code after the break with Britain. To contemporaries, Pendleton may have distinguished himself most as a judge, particularly in the appellate roles in which he spent his final 25 years, including leadership of what is now known as the Supreme Court of Virginia. On hearing of his death, Congress agreed to wear badges of mourning for 30 days and expressed "their regret that another star is fallen from the splendid constellation of virtue and talents which guided the people of the United States, in their struggle for independence".

Kingdom of Great Britain constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707–1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called simply Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". After the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

American Enlightenment intellectual thriving period in the United States

The American Enlightenment was a period of intellectual ferment in the thirteen American colonies in the 17th to 18th century, which led to the American Revolution, and the creation of the United States of America. The American Enlightenment was influenced by the 17th-century European Enlightenment and its own native American philosophy. According to James MacGregor Burns, the spirit of the American Enlightenment was to give Enlightenment ideals a practical, useful form in the life of the nation and its people.


George Wythe first American law professor, a noted classics scholar and Virginia judge, as well as a prominent opponent of slavery

George Wythe was the first American law professor, a noted classics scholar, and a Virginia judge. The first of the seven Virginia signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence, Wythe served as one of Virginia's representatives to the Continental Congress and the Philadelphia Convention. Wythe taught and was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Henry Clay and other men who became American leaders.

George Mason American delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention

George Mason IV was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government (1787) in opposition to ratification, have exercised a significant influence on American political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason principally authored, served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father.

Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of the United States

Thomas Jefferson was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Previously, he had served as the second vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights motivating American colonists to break from the Kingdom of Great Britain and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level.

The Convention sat from May 6 to July 5, 1776, meeting at the Capitol in Williamsburg. It elected Edmund Pendleton its presiding officer after his return as president of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. There were three parties in the Fifth Convention. The first was mainly made up of wealthy planters, who sought to continue their hold on local government as it had grown up during colonial Virginia's history. These included Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. who opposed the Declaration of Independence from King George. It dominated the convention by a malapportionment that lent an advantage to the slaveholding east. One historian maintained that this party ensured the continuation of slavery at a time when other states began gradual emancipation. [2] It ensured the continued self-perpetuating gentry rule of county government with a franchise limited by property requirements underpinning the republican form of state government. [3] The second party was made up of the intellectuals of the Enlightenment: lawyers, physicians and "aspiring young men". These included the older generation of George Mason, George Wythe, Edmund Pendleton, and the younger Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. [4] The third party was a minority of young men mainly from western Virginia. This party was led by Patrick Henry and included "radicals" who had supported independence earlier than 1775. [5]

Williamsburg, Virginia Independent city in Virginia

Williamsburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia, United States. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 14,068. In 2014, the population was estimated to be 14,691. Located on the Virginia Peninsula, Williamsburg is in the northern part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. It is bordered by James City County and York County.

Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. American judge

Robert Carter Nicholas was an American lawyer and political figure. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the General Assembly, and the Court of Appeals, predecessor of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Patrick Henry 18th-century American attorney, planter, and politician

Patrick Henry was an American attorney, planter, and orator best known for his declaration to the Second Virginia Convention (1775): "Give me liberty, or give me death!" A Founding Father, he served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia, from 1776 to 1779 and from 1784 to 1786.

On May 15, the Convention declared that the government of Virginia as "formerly exercised" by King George in Parliament was "totally dissolved" in light of the King's repeated injuries and his "abandoning the helm of government and declaring us out of his allegiance and protection". [6] The Convention adopted a set of three resolutions: one calling for a declaration of rights for Virginia, one calling for the establishment of a republican constitution, and a third calling for federal relations with whichever other colonies would have them and alliances with whichever foreign countries would have them. It also instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to declare independence. Virginia's congressional delegation was thus the only one under unconditional positive instructions to declare independence; Virginia was already independent of Parliament as the "fourth realm" of British Empire, but its convention did not want their state, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, to "hang separately." According to James Madison's correspondence for that day, Williamsburg residents marked the occasion by taking down the Union Jack from over the colonial capitol and running up a continental union flag, keeping the Union Jack of the British Empire in the canton and adding the thirteen red and white stripes of the self-governing British East India Company. [7]

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, sometimes known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2017 census-estimated population of 1,580,863. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

James Madison 4th president of the United States

James Madison Jr. was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. He also co-wrote The Federalist Papers, co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, and served as the fifth United States Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809.


Virginia Capitol, Williamsburg VA
where the Fifth Convention of 1776 met Colonial Williamsburg Capitol 2.jpg
Virginia Capitol, Williamsburg VA
where the Fifth Convention of 1776 met

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, one of Virginia's delegates to Congress, carried out the instructions to propose independence in the language the convention had commanded him to use: that "these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." The resolution was followed in Congress by the adoption of the American Declaration of Independence, which reflected its ideas. [8]

The convention amended, and on June 12 adopted, George Mason's Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. On June 29, the convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia. The convention chose Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and he was inaugurated on June 29, 1776. Thus, Virginia had a functioning republican constitution before July 4, 1776. [9]

Notable attendees and chart of delegates

The delegates to the Virginia Convention of 1776 – elected in 1776 (One hundred and thirty-two members, two from each county, and one each from the Boroughs of Jamestown, Williamsburg, Norfolk, and the College of William and Mary) [10]

Accomac Southey Simpson
Accomac Isaac Smith
Albemarle Charles Lewis
Albemarle George Gilmerfor Thomas Jefferson
Amelia John Tabb
Amelia John Winn
Amherst William Cabell
Amherst Gabriel Penn
Augusta Thomas Lewis
Augusta Samuel McDowell
West Augusta John Harvie
West Augusta Charles Simms
Bedford John Talbot
Bedford Charles Lynch
Berkeley Robert Rutherford
Berkeley William Drew
Botetourt John Bowyer
Botetourt Patrick Lockhart
Brunswick Frederick Maclin
Brunswick Henry Tazewell
Buckingham Charles Patteson
Buckingham John Cabell
Caroline Hon. Edmund Pendleton Presiding officer
Caroline James Taylor
Charlotte Archibald Cary
Charlotte Benjamin Watkins
Charles City William Acrill
Charles City Samuel Harwood for Benjamin Harrison
Chesterfield Hon. Paul Carrington
Chesterfield Thomas Read
Culpeper French Strother
Culpeper Henry Field
Cumberland John Mayo
Cumberland William Fleming
Dinwiddie John Banister
Dinwiddie Bolling Starke
Dunmore Abraham Bird
Dunmore John Tipton
Elizabeth City Wilson Miles Cary
Elizabeth City Henry King
Essex Meriwether Smith
Essex James Edmundson
Fairfax John West, Jr.
Fairfax George Mason Bill of Rights
Fauquier Martin Pickett
Fauquier James Scott
Frederick James Wood
Frederick Isaac Zane
Fincastle Arthur Campbell
Fincastle William Russell
Gloucester Thomas Whiting
Gloucester Lewis Burwell
Goochland John Woodson
Goochland Thomas M. Randolph
Halifax Nathaniel Terry
Halifax Micajah Watkins
Hampshire James Mercer
Hampshire Abraham Hite
Hanover Patrick Henry
Hanover John Syme
Henrico Nathaniel Watkinson
Henrico Richard Adams
Isle of Wight John S. Wills
Isle of Wight Charles Fulgham
James City Robert C. Nicholas
James City William Norvell
King and Queen George Brook
King and Queen William Lyne
King George William Fitzhugh
King George Joseph Jones
King William William Aylett
King William Richard Squire Taylor
Lancaster James Seldon
Lancaster James Gordon
Loudoun Francis Peyton
Loudoun Josias Clapman
Louisa George Meriwether
Louisa Thomas Johnson
Lunenburg David Garland
Lunenburg Lodowick Farmer
Mecklenburg Joseph Speed
Mecklenburg Bennett Goode
Middlesex Edmund Berkeley
Middlesex James Montague
Nansemond Willis Riddick
Nansemond William Cowper
New Kent William Clayton
New Kent Bartholomew Dandridge
Norfolk James Holt
Norfolk Thomas Newton
Northampton Nathaniel L. Savage
Northampton George Savage
Northumberland Rodham Kenner
Northumberland John Cralle
Orange James Madison, Jr.
Orange William Moore
Pittsylvania Benjamin Lankford
Pittsylvania Robert Williams
Prince Edward William Watts
Prince Edward William Booker
Prince George Richard Bland
Prince George Peter Poythress
Prince William Henry Lee
Prince William Cuthbert Bullitt
Princess Anne William Robinson
Princess Anne John Thoroughgood
Richmond Hudson Muse
Richmond Charles McCarty
Southampton Edwin Gray
Southampton Henry Taylor
Spotsylvania Mann Page
Spotsylvania George Thornton
Stafford Thomas Ludwell Lee
Stafford William Brent
Surry Allen Cocke
Surry Nicholas Faulcon
Sussex David Mason
Sussex Henry Gee
Warwick William Harwood
Warwick Hon. Richard Cary
Westmoreland Richard Lee
Westmoreland John A. Washington for Richard Henry Lee
York Dudley Digges
York Thomas Nelson, Jr. William Digges
Jamestown Champion Travis
Williamsburg Edmund Randolph for George Wythe
Norfolk Borough William Roscow Wilson Curle
College of William and Mary John Blair

See also

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  1. Grigsby 1855, p.110, 67
  2. Grigsby 1855, p.110, 67
  3. Tartar 2013, p. 115
  4. Grigsby 1855, p.110, 6
  5. Grigsby 1855, p.110, 148
  6. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, "Constitution of Virginia; June 29, 1776" viewed April 14, 2016.
  7. Andrews 1937, p. 327. The flag for the perpetual union of the United States would feature a circle constellation of thirteen stars fixed in the heavens of a blue canton along with thirteen red and white stripes.
  8. Heinemann 2008, p. 124, 126
  9. Heinemann 2008, p. 124, 126
  10. Pulliam 1901, p. 18-19