Saturday, May 21, 2016

Constitution Series Part 30: Signatures (Virginia)

Let's continue exploring the lives of the people who signed the Constitution! Today we're tackling Virginia, the most populous state at the time of the Constitutional Convention, which curiously only had two delegates sign the Constitution, not including George Washington...


John Blair, Jr. was a lifelong lawyer and politician, serving actively in the Virginian government leading up to, during, and after the Revolutionary War. His family was prominent in Virginia, and he dutifully followed the lead of fellow Virginians James Madison and George Washington during the Constitutional Convention, taking their side in the debates while not contributing much to the discussion himself. Instead, most of Blair's influence was in his interpretation of the Constitution as an Associate Justice of the original Supreme Court. He retired from the Supreme Court in 1795 and died in the year 1800.
James Madison's impact on the Constitution and the United States at large can not be understated. Truly delving into his life and works would be a series of blogs all on their own, but I'll try to sum up the major points. Madison was a sickly child who grew to be a sickly man. Nonetheless, he was from a prominent family and extremely studious, graduating from Princeton in only a couple of years.

He continued to study public policy and law, eventually becoming Thomas Jefferson's protege. After becoming frustrated with the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation, he showed up to the Constitutional Convention with the blueprints for a new Constitution, which eventually became our current Constitution.

At the convention, Madison was one of the most vocal speakers, and he fought hard for a strong central government. I can imagine his frustration as the convention tore his plan apart and edited it almost beyond recognition, but in the end he was clearly happy with the result: he teamed up with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the influential Federalist Papers, writing 26 of the 81 articles.

After the Constitution was ratified, Madison proceeded to write the Bill of Rights (which were quickly adopted), served as a Congressman, then as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, and finally as the 4th President of the United States. James Madison was one of only two Presidents of the United States (including George Washington) to sign the Constitution. He oversaw the Louisiana Purchase and led the country through the War of 1812. Despite his famed frail health, James Madison was the last of the Founding Fathers to die, in 1836. He was 85 years old.

Madison's signature is the smallest, most reserved-looking signature on the Constitution.
Naturally there were many other delegates from Virginia at the Constitutional Convention, as Virginia was a politically potent state. The other delegates did not end up signing the Constitution, though: George Mason, James McClurg, Edmund Randolph, and George Wythe. As with all non-signing delegates, I'll just briefly touch upon why they didn't sign the Constitution instead of exploring their lives, though George Mason is particularly fascinating.

McClurg and Wythe both simply left the Convention before the end, which prevented them from signing the document, though they ended up supporting it during Ratification. Mason and Randolph both stayed to the end of the convention, though each refused to sign the Constitution for different reasons.

Randolph felt a single-man executive was dangerous and that the Constitution in general was too flawed. In the end, though, Randolph supported ratification, since by that point several other states had ratified, and the choice became more about national unity than the Constitution itself.

Mason was one of the most influential members of the convention, speaking more often than even James Madison. He declined to sign the Constitution due to its lack of a Bill of Rights, which was written and adopted almost immediately after the Constitution, in part due to Mason's influence.

Continue to Part 31: Signatures (North Carolina)

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