The 2nd Virginia Convention of 1775 Reenactment

Liberty Day was established to strengthen our understanding of life and liberty under law, God's law. Though there may be many examples from which to chose, we believe that the 2nd Virginia Convention of 1775, highlighting Patrick Henry's speech, is a glowing example of men who had the courage to do what is right in the face of overwhelming obstacles. In the face of these obstacles many men will abandon their post and take courses that are compromising, comfortable, conforming to the world, and down right cowardly. Patrick Henry's speech exposes the compromise of the opposing arguments and stirs our hearts by his example of unwavering commitment to righteousness and the truth. The more we have examined the principles of law and government expressed in Henry's speech the more we have been able to see the compromises in our own day. Though the Word of God is our starting point, understanding all that is expressed in the 2nd Virginia debate will put us on a good path as we face the challenges of our own day.

The Delegates of the 2nd Virginia Convention of 1775

 Over 120 men assembled in March of 1775 for the Second Virginia Convention - an influential gathering that would primarily be remembered for Patrick Henry's immortal words "I know not what course others may take, but as for me: Give me liberty or give me death!" His compatriots cheered. His opponents argued. But who were they?

Each year we celebrate the anniversary of Henry's speech with a reenactment of the debate. 13 men are featured in it, and we have included brief biographical information on them below in order of their appearance in the debate. Some names are very familiar, others are less so. Still others, we know almost nothing about!

Patrick Henry
acted by Mr. Joshua Erber
Inspired by the Reverend Samuel Davies, young Patrick Henry soon became known for his eloquence and passion in speaking – often called the trumpet of the revolution. Primarily self-taught, he became a respected lawyer, and feared opponent in the House of Burgesses. During the war, he served as the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia, from 1776-79, an office he held again from 1784-86.

After the war, Henry was a critic of the United States Constitution and urged against its adoption, arguing that it gave the federal government too much power. He was instrumental in the adoption of the Bill of Rights to amend the new Constitution.

President Peyton Randolph
acted by Mr. Roger Erber
Peyton Randolph was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1748 were he was subsequently elected to the chair. Originally opposed to the “radical faction” of Burgesses, he became more in favor of independence as friction between Britain and its colonies increased. Randolph was selected to chair both the First and Second Continental Congresses, in large part due to his reputation for leadership while in the House of Burgesses. He did not, however, live to see independence for the nation he led; Randolph died in Philadelphia, in October of 1775.

Rev. Miles Seldon
acted by Mr. Will Carlson
The Reverend Miles Seldon was appointed Rector of St. John’s Church in 1752. He continued to serve the Richmond, Virginia church until the time of his death in 1785.

Richard Bland
Before his election to the House of Burgesses, Richard Bland served both as a justice of the peace and an officer in the militia. After his election to the burgesses in 1742, his thoughtful work made him one of its leaders, although he was never a strong speaker. While others get more credit for the idea of "no taxation without representation," the full argument for this position seems to come from Richard Bland.

Although at the 2nd Virginia convention he was opposed to taking up arms, by the Convention's meeting in July his views had been changed and he voiced strong opposition to the British administration.

Edmund Pendleton
acted by Mr. Brian Webb
Edmund Pendleton received little in the way of formal education, yet began practicing law at age twenty. Although a leading conservative in the House of Burgesses, he became an outstanding opponent of British colonial policies. Following the death of Peyton Randolph, Pendleton was elected to serve as president of the 4th and 5th Virginia Conventions. The Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution also elected Pendleton to chair their assembly.

In 1788 Washington appointed Pendleton to the new Federal Judiciary, a job he declined due to advancing age. He continued to serve as the President of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals until his death in 1803.

Robert Carter Nicholas
acted by Mr. Nathan DeLadurantey
Nicholas was another of Virginia's leading conservative patriots. As a member of the Burgesses he helped draft resolutions against the proposed Stamp Act in 1764. Nicholas was not amongst the group of “radical” members, led by Patrick Henry. He did, however, introduce a resolution setting aside June 1 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer in sympathy with embargoed Boston.

Though Nicholas was never an advocate of independence from Britain, his legal skill and personal integrity earned him the greatest respect from his contemporaries. His allegiances would remain with the Crown, although it appears he grappled with his decision throughout the final two years of colonyhood.

Richard Henry Lee
acted by Mr. Jeremy Erber
In 1761 Richard Henry Lee was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. An early advocate of independence, he became one of the first to create Committees of Correspondence among the many independence-minded Americans in the various colonies. In 1774, Lee was elected to the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and later became an officer in the militia. In “Lee's Resolution,” Lee put forth the motion to create a Declaration of Independence. Due to Lee's absence from the Congress because of his wife's illness, Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write it.

In 1785 Lee served as the sixth President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. He opposed the Constitution as creating too powerful a central government. It was through his urgings that the Tenth Amendment was created. Lee was elected by the state legislature of Virginia to be one of its first two United States Senators, but he was forced to resign in 1792 due to ill health.

Benjamin Harrison
acted by Mr. Dan Weise
Benjamin Harrison was elected to the House of Burgesses at the age of 38. In 1764, when the House defied the Royal Governor and passed the Stamp Act Resolutions, the Governor tried to bribe Harrison with an appointment to the executive council. He refused the appointment. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1774, he was one of a party of representatives who attended General Washington in Cambridge to plan the future of the American Army. Though he voted against Henry’s resolution, after the motion carried he worked towards its success. He was elected Governor of the State of Virginia in 1782, a position he held for 5 years.

His son, William Henry Harrison, and his great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison, served as the 9th and 23rd presidents of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson
acted by Mr. Joseph Erber
One of the more famous members of the second Virginia convention, Thomas Jefferson was a strong, though usually silent, supporter of the cause of the colonies, contributing his pen more often than his voice to the debates.

During the Revolution, Jefferson served as governor of Virginia (1779-1781), and afterwards as minister to France (1785–1789). He did not attend the Constitutional Convention. He did generally support the new Constitution, although he thought the document flawed for lack of a Bill of Rights. After serving in multiple offices at home and abroad, Thomas Jefferson was elected Vice-President under John Adams in 1796. Four years later, was elected as the third president of the United States.

Thomas Nelson, Jr.
acted by Mr. Ethan Webb
Thomas Nelson was first elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1761. In 1774 when Governor Dunmore dismissed the Burgesses, Nelson was a member of the convention that met in response. He was an active voice in reorganizing the militia outside of Tory control. He was named Colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, but resigned the post when elected to the Continental Congress later in 1775. He later succeeded Thomas Jefferson as governor of Virginia.

Respected by his colleagues, Nelson was an honorable merchant, statesman, and soldier. When the British attacked Yorktown in 1781, Nelson was forced to flee his home. During the siege he led the local militia in attacking and destroying his own house, which the British had chosen to use as their headquarters. His home was never rebuilt and the plot remains empty to this day in memory of his personal sacrifice.

Col. George Washington
acted by Mr. Jonathan Erber
Just weeks after lending his voice and volunteering his sword in support of Henry’s resolution, war broke out at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775. When Congress convened in May of that year, Washington arrived in military uniform, and in June he was unanimously selected to serve as commander-in-chief of the colonial forces. He assumed command on July 3, 1775.

His character and accomplishments during the years of the war are well known, and too numerous to mention here. In honor of his service to our nation during his military years, Washington was, by act of congress, posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies, outranking all other generals, and it was declared that no other U.S. military officer could ever outrank Washington.

In 1787, he presided over the Constitutional Convention, and in 1789 was unanimously elected the first President of the United States.

William Riddick
William (or Willis) Riddick was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1756. In 1768, William Riddick worked with George Washington surveying the “Dismal swamp.”

Although he opposed Henry’s resolution in 1775, a year later, in 1776, William Riddick was appointed a lieutenant of the militia – a position he continued to hold until shortly before his death in 1782. In 1779, during the British pillage of Suffolk, Virginia, the redcoats went out of their way to set fire to Mr. Riddick’s home, and barns. Destroying not only the public property of which he was steward, but also his own property, furniture, buildings and crops.

John Tazewell - the Clerk
Not a burgess, John Tazewell was a frequent visitor to the House, a relative of the Randolph family, and an attorney by profession. His appointment as clerk, however, was primarily based on the fact that he lived in Williamsburg and would be readily available when needed.

(Various internet resources were used in gathering most of this information. And there is so much more that could be said about each one here! Happy researching!)

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