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5th Va. Convention Motion for Independence

  • Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
On May 15, 1776, the fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention resolved to instruct the Virginia delegates to Congress to motion for independence.
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Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776

Virginia held five Revolutionary Conventions between August 1774 and July 1776. The conventions selected and instructed the Virginia delegates to Congress, organized military preparation, arranged economic embargoes of British goods, and formed the Virginia Committee of Safety that between August 1775 and July 1776 governed Virginia in the absence of the royal governor.

The last of the Revolutionary Conventions met in the Capitol in Williamsburg from May 6 through July 5, 1776. On the morning of May 6, a few members of the House of Burgesses met there for the last time and let that body die. The members of the fifth Convention then began their meetings in the Capitol.

Many of the delegates brought instructions from their localities to declare Virginia independent of Great Britain. As their first order of business, they elected Edmund Pendleton president of the convention. On May 14, the debate on independence began. There was no question that the ties between Virginia and Great Britain would be dissolved (Robert Nicolas Carter voiced the only opposition), but there were varying opinions on how best to preserve liberty and win the clash with British forces. Some of the delegates preferred to wait until foreign alliances could be negotiated, but on May 15 the delegates voted unanimously to instruct the colony's representatives in Congress to introduce a motion for independence.

On June 7, 1776, the senior Virginia member of Congress, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution stating, "That these United Colonies are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." Congress adopted his motion on July 2, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

When the Virginia Convention instructed the delegates in Congress on May 15 to propose a resolution of independence, it also created a committee to prepare a Declaration of Rights and a form, or constitution, of government for Virginia. On June 12, 1776, the convention unanimously adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and on June 29, 1776, it unanimously adopted the first Constitution of Virginia. On the latter day it also elected Patrick Henry governor. He took office as the first governor of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia on July 6, 1776.

For Educators


1. What did the convention members state were their reasons for wanting independence?

2. What did the convention resolve to do in addition to instructing the congressional delegates to enter a motion for independence?

Further Discussion

1. Compare the list of grievances the Virginia convention detailed in their resolution with the indictment of George III in the Declaration of Independence. How are they similar, how are they different?

2. How did Virginia declare its independence even before the Declaration of Independence was created?


The convention journal was recorded during the session in Williamsburg from May 6 through July 5, 1776. A governmental record, it stayed in the Commonwealth's records when the capital was moved to Richmond. In April 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, a Union soldier removed the journal from the state archives in the Capitol in Richmond and took it home with him. His descendants sold the manuscript journal in 1942 to a Philadelphia dealer in rare books and manuscripts. When the dealer, in turn, attempted to sell the volume to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the state librarian and the attorney general of Virginia intervened to ensure the document's safe return to the archives, by then part of the Virginia State Library. Virginia reimbursed the dealer in the amount of his original purchase price. The transaction was one of several made during the same period that established the precedents by which the Commonwealth of Virginia has been able to recover a large number of lost public documents.


This Day in Virginia: May 15

Suggested Reading

Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission. Revolutionary Virginia: the Road to Independence, a Documentary Record, Vol 7: Independence and the Fifth Convention, 1776. Compiled and edited by Robert L. Scribner and Brent Tarter. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 1983.

Smith, Hampden, III. "The Virginia Resolutions for Independence." Virginia Cavalcade 25 (Spring 1976): 148–157.

Wednesday May the 15th 1776
 Mr Cary from the Committee of Privileges and Elections reported that the Committee had according to order had under their Consideration the Petition of Ralph Wormeley junr and had come to the following resolution thereupon which he read in his place and afterwards delivered, in at the Clerk's Table where the same was again twice read and agreed to.
 Resolved that the said Ralph Wormeley having discovered in his letter to John Grymes a disposition unfriendly and dangerous to the rights of this Country ought to be confined to the County of Berkeley and that part of his fathers Estate which lies in the County of Fredrick that he be allowed twenty days from this time to remove himself to the said place and that he give Bond and Security in the sum of ten thousand Pounds not to depart without those limits until he shall be permitted so to do on his sincere contrition and future good behavior by the Convention or others having executive powers of Government during their recess* nor give intelligence to or in any manner aid or assist the Enemy and in all things conduct himself conformable to the measures and Ordinances of the Convention and that Brigadier General Lewis be requested to send a Subaltern Officer with the said Wormeley to the County of Berkeley at his expence and the Committee are induced to agree to this Resolution because the said Wormeley hath asked pardon and shewn great contrition for his unworthy Conduct. Ordered that the said Ralph Wormeley be discharged from his confinement on entering into Bond aforesaid.
 Ordered that all publick Claims be delivered of course to the Clerk of the Committee of Claims who are to report the same together with their opinion thereupon to the Convention.
 Resolved that it be recommended to the commanding officer of the Troops to seize and Secure any Slaves which may be sent by Lord Dunmore or any of the Navy with flags of Truce and that he make them acquainted with his determination on this subject.
 The Convention then according to the Order of the day resolved itself into a Committee on the State of the Colony and after some time spent therein Mr. President resumed the Chair and Mr. Cary reported that the Committee had according to order had under their Consideration the State of the Colony and had come to several Resolutions thereupon which he read in his place and afterwards delivered in at the Clerks Table where the same were again twice read and unanimously agreed to one hundred and twelve Members being present.
 Foreasmuch as all endeavours of the United Colonies by the most decent representations and petitions to the king and parliament of Great Britain to restore peace and Security to America under the British government and a re-union with that people upon just and liberal terms instead of a Redress of grievances have produced from an impervious and vindictive administration increased insult oppression and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction. By a late act all these colonies are declared to be in rebellion and out of the protection of the British crown our properties subjected to confiscation our people when captivated compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countrymen and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just. Fleets and armies are raised and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes: The kings representative in this Colony hath not only withheld all the powers of government from operating for our safety but having retired on board an armed ship is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us tempting our Slaves by every artifice to resort to him and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those over-bearing tyrants, or a total separation from the crown and government of Great Britain uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence and forming alliances with foreign powers for commerce and aid in War: Wherefore appealing to the Searcher of Hearts for the sincerity of former declarations, expressing our desire to preserve the connection with that nation and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils and the eternal laws of self-preservation.
 Resolved unanimously that the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states absolved from all allegiance to or dependence upon the crown or parliament of Great Britain and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances and a confederation of the Colonies at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided that the power of forming government for and the regulations of the internal concerns of each colony be left to the respective colonial legislatures.
 Resolved unanimously that a Committee ought to prepare a DECLARATION OF RIGHTS and such a plan of government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this colony and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.
 And a Committee was appointed of the following gentlemen Mr Archibald Cary, Mr Meriwether Smith Mr Mercer Mr Henry Lee Mr Treasurer Mr Henry Mr Dandridge Mr Randolph Mr. Gilmer Mr Bland Mr Digges Mr Carrington Mr. Thomas Ludwell Lee Mr Cabell Mr Jones Mr. Blair Mr Fleming Mr Tazewell Mr Richard Cary Mr Bullitt Mr Watts Mr Banister Mr Page Mr. Starke Mr David Mason Mr Adams Mr. Reade Mr Thomas Lewis.
 Ordered that Mr Williams and Mr Goode have leave to be absent from the service of this Convention for the remainder of this Session.
 Resolved that this Convention will tomorrow again resolve itself into a committee to take into their further Consideration the state of the Colony.
Adjourned till Tomorrow ten oClock.

* The writer of this document used the long or leading s, a character that looks similar to an "f" but is used as an "s."