Virginia – Part 1
Of all the states that – even for a fleeting moment – thought that they might be able to go their own way and reject the Constitution, Virginia is probably the only one that really had a chance of success. But Virginia is also the center of The Enlightenment in America; it is her leaders who have the nation’s confidence. So much so, that James Madison almost won’t make it home in time to be elected to the Virginia Convention, because he is busy conducting the Nations business which is entrusted to Virginia.
It is here that the most eloquent Anti-federalist of all, Patrick Henry, will probably join forces with George Mason, a man who attended the Philadelphia Convention but refused to sign the final document. Together, they look to face down the Federalists. If they succeed, Virginia will not ratify and it will be likely that other States remaining to consider the Constitution will follow her example.
Patrick Henry will take the lead. He has a long history of being a defender of the individual, particularly religious conscience, and States rights. He has opposed Madison and Jefferson before; this time he means to pull out all of the stops to prevent what he sees as a usurpation of power from the people. Mason has become surprisingly (one might say, Samuel Adamsish) passive. Madison, having just made the convention, faces the most important task of his life…
As the convention reaches the end of the first week of September, it seems, at least on the surface of things, that all their work is about to come undone. Luther Martin is convinced that the only way the American people will agree to this Constitution is to be hurried into it by surprise. Edmund Randolph of Virginia declares that yet another full convention be held – AFTER the states are given the opportunity to make amendments to the draft.
It seems like there is a movement to undo all that has been done.
What is left to hold the Convention together? Two men. Perhaps the only two men in all of American history to whom every citizen will listen…
When the Delegates return after the Independence Day Holiday, the compromise hammered out on July 3rd is quickly dismembered and left for dead. There seems to be no recourse. Robert Yates gives up and leaves. Insults and arguments fly about the chamber as men who normally hold their passions in check, find themselves at loggerheads and without any obvious way to move forward.
It is hard for us to understand the helplessness of the situation. And anyone who says that they would have done it differently in 1787, is either ignorant of the situation or lying about it.
Gouverneur Morris declares that they must unite. If persuasion will not work, then the sword will. Others are furious that he would think to suggest that Americans would revolt.
At the height of passions, George Mason of Virginia rises to speak. He has as much, if not more than anyone else to lose by being here in Philadelphia. But he speaks calmness and makes a promise to the delegates.