Today in history, on June 29 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 1776, 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 as 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. Jefferson, who ironically wanted to leave Philadelphia and return to Virginia to contribute to his country’s republican constitution, was added to a five-member committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.