Following the creation of a federal constitution in 1787, the work was not even halfway completed. The Confederation Congress, the government of the United States, sent the new constitution to the states to be ratified. While Delaware passed it swiftly and unanimously–which is why it calls itself “the First State”–nearly everyone else engaged in vociferous debate. These ratification conventions are some of the most fascinating political events in American history.
Perhaps none excels Virginia’s ratification convention for sheer drama. As Lorri Glover discusses today, all of Virginia’s greatest figures then resident in the commonwealth–the notable exception being George Washington–were present. Leading those opposed to ratification were two of the finest orators in Virginia or in the rest of America, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. Advocating the new constitution was the weak-voiced, 5’4” James Madison, who compared to the two titanic figures opposing him was relatively unknown.
What followed then is the subject of our conversation, and of Lorri Glover’s book The Fate of the Revolution: Virginia Debates the Constitution (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).