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1776.]

REVOLUTIONARY CONVENTION.

129

assembled at Williamsburg. It contained many brave hearts and bright minds. Some of the counties in the west were represented by members whose strong common sense was an ample substitute for deep culture, but the eastern counties had selected their greatest ornaments of wisdom and patriotism, to meet the demands of the time. Edmund Pendleton was elected President, and in his opening speech reminded them of the critical state of their affairs of the suspension of all the powers of government, and of their duty to provide for this emergency. Then the members turned with serious eagerness to the questions before them, and in nine days they prepared, approved, and sent forth to the country a paper, which showed with what subject their thoughts were chiefly occupied.

(May 15.) Their declaration recites that they had used all proper efforts to obtain a peaceful redress of their grievances, and to effect reunion and reconciliation with England, on just and liberal terms; that their efforts had produced nothing but increased insult; that by a late Act of Parliament the Colonies had been declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British Crown ; that their property had been confiscated; their people forced to join in the murder of their own friends and relatives; and that the King's Governor was even then waging an inhuman warfare on their coasts. Therefore, making a solemn appeal to the

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Searcher of hearts for their sincerity, they resolve that their representatives in Congress be instructed to propose to that body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, and to give their assent to any measures for forming a Confederation of the Colonies for the defence and welfare of the whole."

Their next resolution was even more important. By a unanimous vote they provided that a committee should be appointed to prepare a declaration of rights, and "Such a plan of government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this Colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people." Thus the Convention entered upon the work, chiefly for which they believed themselves to have been appointed, and if any proof had been needed that the people sanctioned their course, it might have been found in the enthusiasm with which the resolutions were received. Every where through the state joy manifested itself in open festivities. In Williamsburg, military parades, the firing of artillery, and illuminated houses, betokened a national triumph. The "Flag of America," floated over the Capitol, and when it was first unfolded, it was received with shouts by a crowd of citizens drawn together by the interest of the occasion. From the sea-coast to the extreme west, Virginia seemed moved by a feeling of gratitude for the present, and hope for the future.

Twenty-eight members formed the important

a Virginia Gazette, May 17, 1776; Girardin, 140.

143.

Girardin, 140; Wirt's Henry,

1776.]

BILL OF RIGHTS.

131

committee raised under the resolution of the 15th May. We find in this body the ablest men in the Colony selected, and charged with a delicate duty, upon which depended the happiness of Virginia for generations to come. On the 12th of June the "Bill of Rights" was reported to the Convention, and after a brief debate, was unanimously adopted. This well-known declaration still adorns the statutebook of our state, and has the force of the highest law. In simple and perspicuous language, it announces principles which, if steadily acted upon, will secure rational liberty to any country. The natural rights of man are first declared: all power is said to be vested in the people, and magistrates and rulers are merely their responsible trustees. Hereditary emoluments and privileges are condemned; the several branches of government are distinguished; and it is said that law-makers and law-enforcers should descend, from time to time, among the common mass of society, that they may feel their burdens, and sympathize in their calamities. Trial by jury, in criminal cases, is guarantied; excessive bail cannot be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted; the freedom of the press is guarded from restraint; standing armies in time of peace are declared dangerous, and the militia system is commended for public defence; uniform govern

The names are in Wirt's F. Henry, 143, 144.

b Revised Code, i. 31, 32. In the State Library at Richmond, may be

seen the original draft of the Bill of Rights, as it came from the pen of George Mason. The last clause was slightly altered before it was adopted.

ment is provided, and it is said that no government separate from and independent of that of Virginia, ought to be established within her limits. The final clause declares that religion can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and, therefore, all men are entitled to its free exercise, according to the dictates of conscience.

After viewing this bold expression of free principles, we are prepared for the system of government that followed. Men, whose minds had opened to take in the teachings of the "Bill of Rights," would not hesitate to sever the last tie which bound them to England, and to establish independent rule. The CONSTITUTION intended for Virginia had been drawn by George Mason, a member of the committee, famed for his sound learning, his expanded mental powers, his great strength in argument. He was not a graceful orator, but he impressed his hearers by his earnestness, and often entertained them by his keen sarcasm." Mr. Jefferson was in Congress, but, looking with interest upon the progress of his native state, he sent a draught of a form of government, prepared by himself, which he thought suited to the wants of Virginia. Mr. Wythe received this draught after most of the features of George Mason's plan had been approved; but Mr. Jefferson's preamble did so forcibly commend itself by its review of the grievances of Ame

This judicious clause was doubt. less intended to exclude, for ever, the "imperium in imperio," the insinu.

ating dominion of the Popish church. Cl. 14, R. C. i. 32.

b See Tucker's Jefferson, i. 91, in note.

1776.]

CONSTITUTION.

133

rica, that it was adopted, and prefixed to the plan finally received. This preamble is nearly similar in its enumeration of wrongs to that found in the Declaration of Independence, and it would be difficult to read the two without being convinced that they were from the same pen.

b

On the 29th day of June, the New Constitution was submitted to a final vote, and was unanimously adopted by the Convention. Under this instrument Virginia was governed for more than half a century, and to detail with minuteness all its provisions, would be an unnecessary task. The several branches of government are first declared to be separate and distinct, and then each is constituted. The Legislature was composed of two parts: the House of Delegates, consisting of two members from each county, and one representative for each city or borough; and the Senate, containing twenty-four members, sent from the same number of districts over the state. Rotation was provided for the senators, by dividing them into four classes, so that six members must be displaced at the end of each year. The members of both Houses were required to be freeholders, and they were to be elected by voters qualified according to the laws then in existence on this subject. This law of suffrage, as we have heretofore seen, had been often changed, according to the spirit of the age; but it was now regarded as fixed, and the right was con

Girardin, 150, 151; Wirt's P. Henry, 144; Tucker's Jefferson, i. 90, 91.

38.

b It is in the Revised Code, i. 34

c Vol. i. 330, 346.

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