Virginia Ratifying Convention

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File:West hospital.jpg
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.


Delegates in favor of ratification (Federalists) were led by James Madison, who had been a driving force behind the framing of the new Constitution. Other notable Federalists included Pendleton, George Wythe, chair of the Rules Committee at the Constitutional Convention, William Overton Callis and John Marshall. Though George Washington did not attend the Convention, he was a prolific letter writer during this time, and messengers carried his communications to Richmond. As a delegate from Virginia to the 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 Patrick Henry, George Mason, 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 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 narrow vote of 89 to 79.

The convention recommended the addition of a bill of rights, but did not make ratification contingent upon it.[3]

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.

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.[4][5] A total of 170 delegates were elected. Of these, 168 voted on ratification: 89 for, 79 against.[5] The delegates included representatives from modern-day Kentucky and West Virginia, which were part of Virginia at the time.

County/City Name Vote on Ratification
Accomac Edmund Curtis No
Accomac George Parker Yes
Albemarle George Nicolas Yes
Albemarle Wilson Cary Nicolas 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[6]
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
Frederick John Sheaman Woodcock Yes
Frederick Alexander White Yes
Franklin John Early No
Franklin Thomas Arthur (or Arthurs) No
Gloucester Warner Lewis Yes
Gloucester Thomas Smith Yes
Goochland John Guerrant No
Goochland William Sampson No
Greenbrier George Clendenin Yes
Greenbrier John Stuart (or Stewart) 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 Vanmeter 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 (of Lancaster) Yes
Lancaster Henry Towles Yes
Loudoun Stevens Thomson Mason No
Loudoun Levin 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 Ralph Wormley, 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 (of Orange) Yes
Pittsylvania Robert Williams No
Pittsylvania John Wilson (of Pittsylvania) 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 Yes
York Hon. George Wythe Yes
Williamsburg James Innes Yes
Norfolk Borough Thomas Mathews (or Matthews) Yes


  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 June 11, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Virginia ratification" Avalon Law Project, Yale University. Viewed November 11, 2011.
  4. 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.
  5. 5.0 5.1 David L. Pulliam, The Constitutional Conventions of Virginia from the Foundation of the Commonwealth to the Present Time (1901), pp. 38-39, 46-47.
  6. Lowell H. Harrison & James C. Klotter, A New History of Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky, 1997): "The convention ratified the Constitutuion 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.)


Further reading

  • 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. Collections of the Virginia Historical Society. New Series. Volume IX. 1. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society. OCLC 41680515.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> At Google Books. Contains records of resolutions and individual votes at the ratification convention and 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