Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/58

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Southern Historical Society Papers.

and the public appeal to the world, in the form of a declaration of independence, was drawn by another Virginian.

It was in the Convention of 1776 that the first written constitution ever framed by an independent political society was adopted. In importance to the world it far exceeded the significance of Magna Charta granted by King John at Runnymede. The delegates in the general convention from Virginia were George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, George Wythe. Henry declined the appointment and Richard Henry Lee was appointed in his stead, but he also declined, and Dr. James McClurg, who lies buried in St. John's churchyard, was then appointed. This constitution was signed and recommended only by Washington, Blair and Madison, a minority of the delegation. During the debates in the Convention, when Henry was twitted for shirking this responsibility, he made the undignified reply that "He smelt a rat." Pendleton was a man of pure and benevolent character, was known and honored throughout the Commonwealth, had been in the public councils for years. He subsequently filled the chair of Speaker of the House of Delegates and presided for a quarter of a century on the bench of the Court of Appeals. Jefferson, in his Memoirs, says: "Taken all in all, he was the ablest man in debate I have ever met; he was cool, smooth and persuasive; his language flowing, chaste and embellished ; his conceptions quick, acute and full of resource. Added to this he was one of the most virtuous of men, the kindest friend, the most amiable of companions." Notwithstanding his inability to stand, except upon his crutches, he presided with an ease and dignity rarely surpassed. Owing to his infirmity he was allowed to preside by sitting, not rising in addressing or putting the question to the house.

He met the objection of Henry to the words in the preamble of the Constitution, "We, the people," in this wise: 'An objection is made to the form. The expression, 'We, the people.' Permit me to ask the gentleman who made this objection, who but the people can delegate powers? Who but the people have a right to form government?" He further said: "On the subject of government, the worthy member (Henry) and myself differ on the threshold. I think government necessary to protect