Thomas Jefferson


Summary 1775-1776

Whereas the First Virginia Convention had been a relatively open affair held at Williamsburg, the Second Virginia Convention, held just over six months later, was much more serious and surreptitious. Recognizing it to be a dangerously public meeting of rebels, Jefferson urged for the gathering to be moved inland to Richmond, further from the epicenter of imperial and royalist factions. The main purpose of this March 1775 convention was to review the policies and positions of the delegates that would be sent to the Second Continental Congress, to be held in Philadelphia that coming May. But with that mission accomplished, discussion turned to the protection of Virginia itself.

Many at the convention were infuriated by the recently passed Quebec Act, which extended British imperial control into the Great Lakes frontier region, against the competing claims of Virginia and several other colonies. This act of territorial aggression, coupled with continuing strictures in the port of Boston and other northeastern coastal areas, prompted a streak of hostility and militancy among several delegates.

Patrick Henry argued for the raising of a militia to defend Virginias lands, an aggressive measure which the radical Jefferson fully supported. Moderates such as George Washington recognized that such action would be interpreted by the British imperialists as a provocation at best, and an open declaration of war at worst. Nevertheless, the motion passed by a small majority behind Henrys rallying cry, Give me liberty or give me death! While Henry spearheaded the rhetorical charge, it was Jefferson who drew up the plan for Virginias defense.

The call to arms was in keeping with the mood on the continent. Less than three weeks later, on April 18, the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. News of the bloodshed took another three weeks to reach Virginia. In the interim, Jefferson returned to Monticello to prepare for his role in the Virginia militia, and to await word on his status as an alternate to the Second Continental Congress, just then commencing at Philadelphia.

When news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord finally broke, the entire eastern seaboard was thrown into a flurry. The Earl of Dunmore called an emergency session of the House of Burgesses on June 1, where he presented a proposal from Parliament to make peace with colonies. The gist of the reconciliation held that the colonists would thenceforward be at liberty to tax themselves in the interest of imperial fortunes, rather than submit to outside legislation.

But such a halfway house was not tolerable to Jefferson or his fellow Virginians. Speaking on behalf of the Burgesses, Jefferson wrote in reply to Prime Minister Lord North that an American government must be set up by Americans and for Americans, and that any alternate arrangement would simply be oppression of a different kind. This resolution was approved by the House of Burgesses, and eventually signed, sealed, and delivered by the Second Continental Congress.

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