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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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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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he interpreted more conservatively. As a result of this debate in the Virginia Assembly, Madison proposed a bill of rights composed of seventeen articles making amendment to the original constitution. This bill of rights embodied the principles favored by a number of ratifying states and was especially influenced by the Virginia bill of rights which was drawn by George Mason. The Virginia bill of rights, a radical democratic document, has probably had more in- fluence on American political institutions than any other state paper. Another measure of great importance in Virginia’s history was the statute of religious freedom declaring the freedom and protection of all forms of religious belief. This statute was conceived chiefly by George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As a re- sult of the efforts of these three Virginians we find that the first ten amendments in the constitution are but modifications of the Vir- ginia bill of rights and the statute of religious freedom. From these facts we see that the formation of our constitution depended to a very great extent on the efforts of four great Virginians, four of the greatest characters the world has ever known or probably ever will know, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madi- son, and George Mason. After the ratification of the constitution George Washington was elected as first president of the American Republic, and the colonies, now the United States, started on an era of progress which has made our nation probably the most prosperous nation in the world. 1 think tha t the next Virginian to be considered is James Monroe, who was elected president of the United States in 1816. We shall probably remember Monroe more for his world famous doctrine than lor anything else. The Monroe doctrine has been used more than any other instrument as a basis of our international relations and is one of the most noteworthy efforts of any Virginian. This doctrine stated that “the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any Fiuro- pean powers,” and secondly, that “with the governments who have declared their independence we have, on great consideration, and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling, in any other man- ner, their destiny by any tiuropean power, in any other light than as the manif estation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States.” This doctrine has been used in nearly all of our dealings with foreign countries and is used today, although interpreted from a broader and more comprehensive view point. Thus we see that the principles of our international affairs were introduced by a Virginian
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