Act for Appointing Deputies to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, November 23, 1786
In September 1786 a convention of commissioners from several states met in Annapolis, Maryland, to address the issues regarding commerce in the young nation. Under the Articles of Confederation, the national government did not have the power to regulate commerce and trade between and among the states. The meeting was called by Virginia. Nine states appointed commissioners to the convention, but commissioners from five states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia), met and adjourned before all the commissioners had arrived.
Before leaving Annapolis, the delegates prepared a report to the state governors and to Congress that detailed the need for another convention to revise the federal system of government. They recommended that the states appoint deputies to meet in Philadelphia the following May. The delegates proposed a convention rather than a debate in the existing Congress because as the Virginia Act for Appointing Deputies would later note, Congress would be too busy with ordinary business to give the matter proper attention and a separate convention could also include delegates who would were not congressmen. The Annapolis report stated, in addition, that because of the lack of power allowed to the current government, significant alterations were required to make the government work well enough to fulfill all the requirements of the Union.
On November 23, 1786, the General Assembly of Virginia passed an act for the appointment of seven deputies. Virginia was the first to pass such an act (three months before Congress agreed to call a convention), and forwarded this call to the other States. The act, written by James Madison, stated that
the general assembly of this commonwealth . . . can no longer doubt that the crisis is arrived at which the good people of America are to decide the solemn question, whether they will by wise and magnanimous efforts reap the just fruits of that Independence, which they have so gloriously required, and of that Union which they have cemented with so much of their common blood; or whether by giving way to unmanly jealousies and prejudices, or to partial and transitory interests, they will renounce the auspicious blessings prepared for them by the Revolution, and furnish to its enemies an eventual triumph over those by whose virtue and valour it has been accomplished.
Several prominent Virginians declined to serve as delegates to the proposed Philadelphia convention. On December 4, 1786, the Virginia legislature appointed George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, and George Wythe as delegates. Patrick Henry wrote to Governor Randolph the following February declining the appointment without a specific reason. Thomas Nelson Jr. was named in Henry's place, but he too declined. Nelson was replaced by Richard Henry Lee, who also refused the appointment. Ultimately, James McClurg, a member of the Virginia Council of State was appointed as the final delegate.
The seat originally planned for Henry was not the only one nearly vacated. Washington also wrote a letter to Governor Randolph declining the appointment. This news was not made public, as Randolph, Madison, and other prominent Virginians hoped to persuade Washington to change his mind. Since Virginia was a driving force behind the convention, it was important that they arrive with an impressive delegation. They were successful, and as a result, Virginia had the most prestigious delegation at the Philadelphia convention.
1. According to this broadside, what was the purpose of the convention in Philadelphia in May 1787?
2. When did this act pass the Virginia House of Delegates?
3. According to the Act, what is the least number of deputies that Virginia could send to Philadelphia? What is the highest?
1. Why was it important for Virginia to pass this act before other states passed similar acts? Why was it important the Virginia delegates be prominent leaders and politicians?
2. What was the significance of the Annapolis Convention? What role did Virginians play in that meeting?
Kaminski, John P., and Gaspare J. Saladino, eds. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. 8: Ratification of the Constitution by the States: Virginia, Vol. 1. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1988. xxxv–xxxvi.
Briceland, Alan V., “Virginia: The Cement of the Union.” In The Constitution and the States: The Role of the Original Thirteen in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Edited by Patrick T. Conley and John P. Kaminski, 201–337. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1988.