At long last, the Virginia Delegates to the States Ratification Convention arrive in Richmond. Unlike other States, the Virginia Convention will be open to the public. It will be raucous and passionate and it will feature some of the biggest names in American history.
The Federalists initially outnumber the Anti-federalists by a slim margin with at least four delegates undecided. Everybody already knows what everybody’s position is on the matter of Ratification. But the debates must go on, and those who oppose ratification, led by the greatest orator in America, Patrick Henry, will state their position with clarity and firmness.
And when it is all over and done, Virginia will become the 10th State to ratify the Constitution. It’s what happens after that which makes Jay Leno’s lament all the more poignant…
As James Madison leaves New York City to stand for election to the Virginia Ratification Convention, he is troubled. Overall, the nation is moving towards Ratification, but major hurdles remain, including New York, Maryland and of course, his home State of Virginia. If Virginia and New York reject ratification, the entire enterprise could be placed in doubt.
In Virginia, he finds the distasteful process of just getting elected to the Convention an annoyance. And if he gets elected, he will face off against the man who many believe is the greatest orator of all time, Patrick Henry.
Henry has made it clear that he will not support ratification. Or maybe he will? This is the real issue in Virginia, the three positions taken by the various partisan sides.
First are the Federalists, led by Madison. They support ratification as is. Next come the slightly-anti-Federalists, led by such men as Randolph and Mason, who will support ratification IF, and that is a big IF, they can get amendments included which they believe will safeguard individual rights.
Thirdly, there is Kentucky. Currently, it is part of Virginia. Madison has been fighting a losing battle in Congress for the last two years to make her a State in her own right, but the inertial resistance has led many in Kentucky and around the South, in general, to believe that the proposed Constitution is little more than a Northern power grab.
And overarching it all is Patrick Henry. There are rumors that he has his own ideas about what Virginia should do. Nobody is certain, but the evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that he would not be displeased if Virginia fails to ratify. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and Madison has to find a way to extinguish Henry’s opposition…
As the ratification process turns to South Carolina, it is clear that the Federalists who run the State favor ratification. It was South Carolina, after all, that teamed up with James Wilson to cement the 3/5th’s compromise and stuck to the deal as the tides of anti-slavery climbed against it.
But it won’t be as simple as that. First, the State Legislature will do something that no other legislature has done – it will openly debate the Constitution “for the sake of informing the country’s members” of the reasons why the Constitution should be ratified.
Then there is a second issue. South Carolina. like Massachusetts, is concerned about the lack of religious tests for holding offices. As it turns out, South Carolina has an official religion, one that is traditional but quickly becoming an anachronism.
Lastly, Mr. Rawlins Lowndes rises in opposition to ratification. A Charleston lawyer, he takes upon himself the mantle of speaking for those “less accustomed to public speaking,” and he outlines the problems that many in South Carolina have with the overall tone of the Constitution. Which is, of course, the one thing that all of the Southern States, South Carolina most of all, fears the Constitution will do – end slavery.
There is a strong majority anti-Federalist sentiment in the State, and indeed, there are many in South Carolina who believe that the State should “go it alone” rather than remain joined to the Union. It is Charles Cotesworth Pickney who puts a final rest to that political heresy.
When South Carolina votes to ratify, it is over the objections and the will of the people of the State. but it is the eighth pillar to be raised in the new government…