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Page 137 text:
modifications were suggested by the committee. The names of the Virginia signers were George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton. Thus Virginia again came to the front and headed the rest of the colonies in their decision for independe nce. Now Virginia and the colonies were thrown into certain conflict with Great Britain, the outcome of which would in all probability decide whether an independent nation should be formed or whether we should remain the subjects of England’s king. Washington now began an active campaign, which, during the first year, however, was filled with many trying disappointments. The incapacity of General Charles Lee, who disregarded Washing- ton’s commands, and the desertion of his soldiers were his greatest discouragements. The year 1 777 ended rather successfully for the patriots, however, with the surrender of General Burgoyne at Sara- toga. Winter came on and Washington led his troops into winter quar- ters at Valley Forge. That winter, 1777-8, was one of the darkest periods in the history of the war. The soldiers were poorly clothed and fed and therefore suffered untold hardships and privations. Washington, however, with his superb leadership and trust in God put heart into his discouraged army and with the aid of Baron Von Steuben reorganized and drilled his troops so that henceforth his movements showed superior discipline and staff organization. What a wonderful man the noble Washington must have been! A trusting people were behind him, expecting him to deliver them from their foes and make it possible for peace to again reign supreme throughout the land. Other men would have failed, and there are very few who could possibly have approached the success lie accom- plished. It is little wonder that this noble Virginian is described as being, “First in war, first in peace anti first in the hearts of his country- men.” From that time on the situation seemed to be in favor of the colonists from a general point of view, and the British, under the com- mand of Cornwallis, were in very bad fighting condition and dis- couraged after their defeat at King’s Mountain. About this time two other noteworthy Virginians entered the conflict: Lighthorse Harry Lee and Colonel William Washington, both superb cavalry commanders. The American army thus strengthened drove Cornwallis into Virginia where the final scenes of the war were enacted. Due to the strategy of Washington and Ml
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cordial response from the other colonies and as a result, on September 5, 1774, the first Continental Congress convened at Philadelphia. As time went on conditions grew worse, and by the time the second Continental Congress convened, on that May morning in 1775, the call of the bugle and the roll of the war drums sounded throughout the land. Already the first blood had been shed on the green slopes of Massachusetts and there was nothing for the loyal patriots to do now but declare war. Congress, after assuming res- ponsibility for the army before Boston, appointed as commander- in-chief one ot Virginia’s noblest sons, Colonel George Washington. Thus we enter into the most prolonged conflict our people have ever known, the Revolutionary War, the war where a liberty loving people uttered the battle cry against the cruel hand of a tyrant. Again Virginia came to the front and one of her sons, Patrick Henry, called his beloved State to arms with this time honored speech : “Gentlemen may cry peace, peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale which sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? For- bid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me give me liberty or give me death.” 1 think that this speech of that great Virginian thrills the heart of any true Virginian today as it must have thrilled that little gather- ing in St. John’s Church, Richmond, over a century and a half ago. As a reply to that plea Virginia’s sons took up arms and went forth to battle for their country and their beloved State with faith and trust in the principles of right written on their honest countenances. On May 15th, 1776, according to the account in Latane’s History of the United States, the Virginia Convention adopted a resolution directing its delegates in Congress to propose that the colonies declare themselves free and independent states, and on June 7th another prominent Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, made the motion in Con- gress “that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British cro.vn and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” This resolution was seconded by John Adams. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted. This document was drawn up by that great Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, and was written with such perfection that only slight 130
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Lafayette, Cornwallis was finally forced to retire to Yorktown in August 1781. Here he was quickly surrounded and on October 19th, 1781, Cornwallis, commander-in-chief of the armies of the vast British Empire, handed his sword to one of Washington’s generals. Again we see the great part Virginians played in bringing the Revolution to a successful conclusion by outgeneraling and outfight- ing the British. The States had at last won their independence, but the all-im- portant question now came up as to how they were to be governed. At first the only centralized governing body was the Continental Congress, which held its authority under the Articles of Confedera- tion. These Articles of Confederation provided for a very weak confederation of States and were considered insufficient for the con- trol of the colonies. Virginians from the first saw the needs for closer union, and finally after the meeting of five states at Annapolis it was suggested that a constitutional convention meet at Philadelphia in the spring of 1787. Present at this convention were certain illustrious Virginians including Washington, Madison, Randolph, Mason, and George Wythe. These men with a few from the other states took the most active part in the formation of the constitution of the United States, a constitution considered to be one of the most perfect and concise in the world today. Two plans of government were suggested, namely, the Virginia plan providing for a bicameral government with one executive, and the New Jersey plan providing for a monocameral system with plural executives. After due consideration the convention decided on the Virginia plan as being the most practical. Thus a Virginian, Edmund Randolph, suggested the plan which forms the fundamen- tal basis of our government today. After the adoption of the constitution it was decided by some of the most influential men in the country that the constitution was limited and could not be interpreted broadly enough nor meet all the demands required of it. In fact this was the reason most of the states were slow in ratifying the measure until certain amendments were made. Here we again find Virginia taking the initiative. Both Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee had opposed the whole plan of the federal convention from the first, even refusing to go to the meetings as delegates. As a result, when Virginia was called upon to ratify the constitution a fiery debate ensued, Patrick Henry de- nouncing the measure with all of his fiery eloquence. James Madi- son, another Virginian, afterward termed the “Father of the Consti- tution,’’ defended the instrument, but he too believed that it should 13.2
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