Virginia Conventions

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Virginia Conventions

The Virginia Conventions were a series of five meetings that were held after the Boston Tea Party in which representatives from the colonies gathered to decide the future relations between the colonies and England.

The first convention, which opened August 1, 1774, in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the result of a serious conflict with England that had occurred three months earlier. On May 26, the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, had declared a day of prayer and fasting to acknowledge the plight of Bostonians after the English had closed the port of Boston as punishment for the Boston Tea Party. The royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, ordered the House of Burgesses to be closed to discourage any display of sympathy for the rebellious Bostonians. Angered by Lord Dunmore's actions, the Virginia burgesses issued a plan for a meeting of representatives from all the colonies.

In August, the colonists met in Williamsburg and chose Peyton Randolph as their presiding officer. The convention adopted several resolutions including one on the nonimportation of English merchandise and another that said that the colonists should refuse to export colonial goods to England unless the English agreed to come to terms with them. Thomas Jefferson's work A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was introduced at this convention, was used as a guideline at future meetings.

The second convention met in Richmond, Virginia, for a one-week period in 1775, from March 20 to March 27. At this convention, Patrick Henry initiated a program for defensive action and presented his celebrated "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, which inspired the colonists to follow the cause.

The third meeting was held in Richmond on July 17, 1775. There the representatives denounced the actions that the royal governor had taken against Virginia, including disbanding the assembly and mobilizing troops. When the governor fled to the sanctuary of an English ship, the convention became the governing force of Virginia. The delegates enacted legislation and established a Committee of Safety to direct military activities.

Williamsburg was the site of the fourth convention, which was held in December 1775. With Edmund Pendleton as president, the delegates empowered the Committee of Safety to be the source of governmental authority in Virginia.

By May 6, 1776, the date of the final convention, the colonists were moving determinedly toward complete independence from England. In Williamsburg, the delegates declared their desire for freedom in a statement issued to their congressional representatives. Virginia initiated the action, and on June 12, the convention ratified the Virginia Bill of Rights. This bill of rights served as a model for similar documents in the other colonies. Virginia was the first state to have a new constitution, and Patrick Henry served as the first governor under the new government.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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