Today in 1776, Patrick Henry was inaugurated as Virginia’s first governor. The event marked the first time in history where a republican governor took office under a constitution written and ratified by representatives of the people.
By June of the same year, civil strife had been brewing for some time. Virginia had kicked out its royal governor, Lord Dunmore. In the midst of conflict with Britain, the colony sent delegates to Philadelphia, in a convention that became known as the Second Continental Congress. As his country’s most persuasive orator and most popular politician, Henry’s selection to the office seemed like an obvious move.
When it came time to institute a republican constitution, George Mason took the leading role in drafting the document. Thomas Jefferson, who was deeply interested in this issue, wrote desperately from Philadelphia, requesting that the government find someone to relieve him in time so that he could contribute to the framework.
Virginia, which had already declared independence and drafted a Declaration of Rights (also the handiwork of George Mason), sent instructions to its delegates to declare independence in concert with the other colonies. As a Virginian, Richard Henry Lee proposed a resolution that made the former colonies “free and independent States,” declaring “that they 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.” Jefferson was then added to a committee of five to draft the Declaration of Independence.