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The Making of the 50 States: Virginia


Part 2: The Rest of the Story

The English government wasn't too happy with the representative nature of the House of Burgesses and revoked the Virginia Company's royal charter in 1624. In its place was a royal colony, one ruled from afar.

The colony continued to expand, with the introduction of plantations and a large cattle range. Another Native American attack, in 1644, resulted in nearly 500 deaths. But Virginia soldiered on, determined to make a stand of it in the New World. By this time, of course, other English colonies were thriving on the Eastern Seaboard as well.

One of the major settlements, Middle Plantation, became the capital of the colony in 1699, changing its name to Williamsburg in honor of the English king William I.

During the next 100 years, colonists alternated between sympathetic and unsympathetic governors. The taxes resulting from the French and Indian War (in which Virginians played a significant role) were none too popular in Virginia, and the colonists tooks measures to oppose them.

The most famous of these was the Stamp Act Congress, organized to protest the passage of the famed British tax on paper and other goods. Through the efforts of Patrick Henry and others, the Americans got the Stamp Act repealed. Virginians also began the boycott of British goods that resulted in the repeal of the Townshend Acts.

Henry was not the only famous member of the House of Burgesses. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, served as a Burgess as well, as did George Washington, leader of the Revolutionary Army.

Virginians called a convention in Williamsburg to discuss the struggle for independence. They began meeting on May 6, 1776, two months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One thing they decided was that Virginia was to be a commonwealth, a colony independent of Great Britain.

Fighting came to Virginia relatively late in the Revolutionary War. Virginia sent men, money, and ammunition north to Washington's forces. In 1778, George Rogers Clark had led a force of militiamen in a daring campaign to secure the Northwest Territory. The turncoat General Benedict Arnold arrived in Virginia in 1780, capturing Portsmouth and Richmond. But it was in Virginia that the war effectively ended, as American and French armies, assisted by French ships, trapped British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown and accepted his surrender, on Oct. 19, 1781.

With the experiment of the Articles of Confederation proved a failure, Virginians took the lead in the formation of the Constitution. James Madison, in particular, played a prominent role by keeping records of the Constitutional Convention. Madison was also the author of what came to be called the Virginia Plan, which formed much of the basis of the Constitution. He was also the author of 20 of the 85 Federalist Papers, which helped convince New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution. Virginian George Washington was president of the Convention, presiding over events and helping maintain a civil tone during what became at times a very spirited debate.

One of the main debates was over a Bill of Rights (again, mainly written by James Madison). Virginians eventually ratified the Constitution on June 26, 1788, with the full understanding that a Bill of Rights to protect Americans' most cherished freedoms would soon follow.

First page > In the Beginning > Page 1, 2

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