Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830

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Philip P. Barbour
Presiding officer

The Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830 was a constitutional convention for the state of Virginia, held in Richmond from October 5, 1829 to January 15, 1830.

Background and composition[edit]

Almost immediately, the Constitution of 1776 was recognized as flawed both for its restriction of the suffrage by property requirements, and for its malapportionment favoring the smaller eastern counties. Between 1801 and 1813, petitioners called on the Assembly to initiate a constitutional convention ten times. The House of Delegates passed a bill twice, but the conservative eastern planter majority in the Virginia Senate killed both measures. Continuing growth in the western parts of the state led to another fifteen years of agitation. Several counties in the Eastern Shore, northern Piedmont and western counties began opening polls for direct expression from the voters for a constitutional convention; eventually there were twenty-eight such counties calling for reform.[1]

The Virginia Constitutional Convention, 1830, by George Catlin

Malapportionment in the Assembly was seen as "an usurpation of the minority over the majority" by the slave owning eastern aristocracy. Partisans argued for apportionment by white population, versus "federal numbers" combining white population with three-fifths slaves, versus the existing system counting whites and slaves equally to favor the slave-holding eastern counties. After several General Assembly sessions with close votes for calling a convention, in 1828 the Assembly allowed for a statewide ballot for "Convention", "Neutral" or "No Convention". It passed by 56.8 percent, with most convention support coming from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains northwest to the Ohio River. But the easterners in the State Senate had stacked the deck in their favor, by apportioning the delegates by four per Senate district, producing a group of men which was more wealthy and more conservative than the House of Delegates.[2]

The last "gathering of giants"[3] from the Revolutionary generation included former presidents James Madison and James Monroe, and sitting Chief Justice John Marshall. But three generations were represented among those who would serve in public office including three presidents, seven U.S. Senators, fifteen U.S. Representatives and four governors. The other delegates to the Convention were sitting judges or members of the Virginia General Assembly.[4]

Meeting and debate[edit]

The Convention met from October 5, 1829 – January 15, 1830, and elected former president James Monroe of Loudoun its presiding officer. On December 8, Monroe withdrew due to failing health, and the Convention elected Philip P. Barbour as its new presiding officer. Barbour was a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, a sitting federal district judge, and a future Justice on the Supreme Court. Conservatives among the Old Republicans such as John Randolph of Roanoke feared any change from the Founders' 1776 Constitution would lead to an ideological anarchy of "wild abstractions" imposed by egalitarian "French Jacobins" through "this maggot of innovation". In answer, John Marshall advanced his view with a petition from the freeholders of Richmond which observed that, "Virtue, intelligence, are not among the products of the soil. Attachment to [slave] property, often a sordid sentiment, is not to be confounded with the sacred flame of patriots." Any white male who had served in the War of 1812 or who would serve in the militia in there future defense of the country deserved the right to vote.[5]

Abel P. Upshur, a judge on the Virginia General Court, spoke for conservatives when he asserted that there "is a majority of interest as well as a majority in number". Because both persons and property were the "elements of society", majority rule by the people alone was not an equitable solution. "Those who have the greatest [property] stake in the Government…[must] have the greatest share of power in the administration of it." Lawyer John R. Cooke, a veteran of the War of 1812 countered that delegates must base the Constitution and legislative representation on the wishes of citizens, "the white population…[looking] to the people" for its authority, not only the wealthy, not to sectional slave-holding interests, and "not to the supposed rights of the [unequally populated] counties."[6]

Reformers' efforts to adopt direct popular election of the Governor were defeated in favor of continuing election by the General Assembly.[7] Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's grandson, proposed gradual emancipation, a suggestion which never made it out of committee onto the Convention floor.[8] The reformers lost on almost every issue. Nevertheless, even with the exaggerated Virginia Senate representation apportioning the delegates in favor of the status quo, the three most important roll calls were close. The "white" population basis of apportioning the General Assembly failed by two votes. The extension of the vote to all free white males failed by two votes. When the popular election of governor passed on its first vote, it failed on reconsideration. The divisions which would lead to West Virginia's split were evident. Regardless of the various ideologies represented or delegate political affiliation, the final vote 55 for the proposed Constitution to 40 against was along an east-west divide. Only one delegate voted yes from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.[9]


Capitol at Richmond VA, where Convention of 1829–30 met

Some malapportionment in the General Assembly was eased relative to the majority of voters and white population in the Valley in the House of Delegates, but nothing for the transmontane west. Some suffrage restrictions were modified to include long term leaseholders and male heads of household.[10] The Constitution of 1830 was a "triumph of traditionalism."[11]

Historical accounts of the convention often relay interpretations of Hugh B. Grigsby that emphasize it as the "last gathering of giants."[12] This approach typically omits names of the western reformers like Philip Doddridge who called for the convention in the first place. The "triumph of traditionalism" largely maintained traditional malapportionment preserving slaveowners’ disproportionate political power. This contributed to western Virginia counties’ later secession and formation of West Virginia led by Doddridge protégé Waitman T. Willey.

Notable attendees[edit]

The delegates to the Virginia Convention of 1829–1830 – elected in May and June, 1829 at the County Courts. (Ninety-six members, four from each Senatorial District[15])

District Name County
Amelia, Chesterfield, Cumberland, Nottoway, Powhatan and Town of Petersburg
future U.S. Congressman
John Winston Jones Chesterfield
future U.S. Senator
Benjamin W. Leigh Chesterfield
Virginia Senator
Samuel Taylor Chesterfield
William B. Giles Amelia
Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg
militia Brigadier General
William Henry Brodnax Dinwiddie
George C. Groomgoole Brunswick
past U.S. Congressman
Mark Alexander Mecklenburg
future U.S. Congressman
William O. Goode Mechlenburg
City of Williamsburg, Charles City, Elizabeth City, James City, City of Richmond,
Henrico, New Kent, Warwick and York
U.S. Chief Justice
John Marshall Richmond City
U.S. Senator, future President
John Tyler Charles City
Justice, Virginia General Court
Philip N. Nicholas Richmond City
Va Senator, Justice
John B. Clopton New Kent
Shenandoah and Rockingham
Virginia Senator
Peachy Harrison Rockingham
Jacob Williamson Rockingham
former Va Delegate
William Anderson Shenandoah
Samuel Coffman Shenandoah
Augusta, Rockbridge, Pendleton
militia Major General, later Va justice
Briscoe G. Baldwin Augusta
Virginia Senator
Chapman Johnson Augusta
U.S. Congressman
William McCoy Pendleton
future U.S. Congressman
Samuel M. Moore Rockbridge
Monroe, Greenbriar, Bath, Botetourt, Alleghany, Pocahontas, Nicholas
future U.S. Congressman
Andrew Beirne Monroe
former U.S. Congressman
William Smith Greenbrier
Virginia Senator
Fleming B. Miller Botetourt
Virginia Senator
John Baxter Pocahontas
Sussex, Surry, Southampton, Isle of Wight, Prince George, Greensville
future U.S. Representative, Federal Judge
John Y. Mason Southampton
U.S. Congressman
James Trezvant Southampton
Virginia Delegate
Augustine Claiborne Greensville
John Urquhart Southampton
Charlotte, Halifax, and Prince Edward
past U.S. Senator; U.S. Congressman
John Randolph Charlotte
Virginia jurist
William Leigh Halifax
Virginia Senator
Richard Logan Halifax
Upper Appomattox Canal Co.
Richard N. Venable Prince Edward
Spotsylvania, Louisa, Orange, and Madison
Former President
James Madison Orange
presiding officer, U.S. Justice
Philip P. Barbour Orange
Assembly Delegate; died without attending
David Watson Louisa
Virginia Justice
Robert Stanard Spotsylvania
Loudoun and Fairfax
Former President
James Monroe Loudoun
U.S. Congressman
Charles F. Mercer Loudoun
Virginia Senator
William H. Fitzhugh Fairfax
Richard H. Henderson Loudoun
Frederick and Jefferson
John R. Cocke Frederick
Former U.S. Congressman
Alfred H. Powell Frederick
Hierome L. Opie Jefferson
Future U.S. Senator
James M. Mason Jefferson
Assembly Delegate
Thomas Griggs, Jr. Jefferson
Hampshire, Hardy, Berkeley and Morgan
Assembly Delegate
William Naylor Hampshire
Virginia Senator
William Donaldson Hampshire
militia Brigadier General, Virginia Senator
Elisha Boyd Berkeley
U.S. Judge
Philip Pendleton Berkeley
Washington, Lee, Scott, Russell and Tazewell
Assembly Delegate
John B. George Tazewell
Assembly Delegate
Andrew McMilian Lee
Edward Campbell Washington
Assembly Delegate
William Byars Washington
King William, King and Queen, Essex, Caroline and Hanover
U.S. Congressman
John Roane King William
U.S. Congressman
William P. Taylor Caroline
Assembly Delegate
Richard Morris Hanover
former U.S. Congressman
James M. Garnett Essex
Wythe, Montgomery, Grayson and Giles
Gordon Cloyd Montgomery
Virginia Senator
Henley Chapman Giles
John P. Mathews Wythe
Assembly Delegate
William Oglesby Grayson
Kanawha, Mason, Cabell, Randolph, Harrison, Lewis, Wood and Logan
Virginia Senator
Edwin S. Duncan Harrison
Assembly Delegate
John Laidley Cabell
Assembly Delegate
Lewis Summers Kanawha
Assembly Delegate
Adam See Randolph
Ohio, Tyler, Brooke, Monongalia and Preston
U.S. Congressman
Philip Doddridge Brooke
Virginia Senator
Charles S. Morgan Monongalia
future Pres., Bethany College
Alexander Campbell Brooke
Eugenius M. Wilson Monongalia
Fauquier and Culpeper
U.S. Congressman
John S. Barbour Culpeper
Virginia Senator
John Scott Fauquier
Assembly Delegate
John Macrae
(1829 session)
Assembly Delegate
Thomas Marshall
(1830 session)
Virginia Justice
John W. Green Culpeper
Norfolk, Princess Anne, Nansemond and Borough of Norfolk
U.S. Senator; future Governor
Littleton W. Tazewell Norfolk Borough
Joseph Prentis Nansemond
Robert B. Taylor Norfolk Borough
Assembly Delegate
Hugh Blair Grigsby[16] Norfolk Borough
U.S. Congressman
George Loyall Norfolk Borough
Campell, Buckingham and Bedford
Virginia Senator
William Campbell Bedford
Samuel Claytor Campbell
Callowhill Mennis Bedford
Virginia Senator
James Saunders Campbell
Franklin, Patrick, Henry and Pittsylvania
Virginia Senator
George Townes Cheserfield
Virginia Senator
Benjamin W. S. Cabell Pittsylvania
Virginia Senator
Joseph Martin Henry
future U.S. Congressman
Archibald Stuart Patrick
Albemarle, Amherst, Nelson, Fluvanna and Goochland
former U.S. Senator, Governor
James Pleasants Goochland
U.S. Congressman
William F. Gordon Albemarle
Virginia jurist
Lucas P. Thompson Amherst
Assembly Delegate
Thomas Massie, Jr. Nelson
King George, Westmoreland, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond,
Stafford and Prince William
Virginia Senator; died
William A. G. Dade Prince William
former Virginia Senator
Ellyson Currie Lancaster
former U.S. Congressman
John Taliaferro King George
Fleming Bates Northumberland
Mattews, Middlesex, Accomack, Northampton and Gloucester
Assembly Delegate
Thomas R. Joynes Accomack
former U.S. Congressman
Thomas M. Bayly Accomack
Assembly Delegate; died
Calvin H. Read Northampton
Virginia jurist, future Sec. Navy, Sec. State
Abel P. Upshur Northampton

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shade 1996, p. 57–61
  2. ^ Shade 1996, p. 62–64
  3. ^ Gutzman 2007, p. 163, 165
  4. ^ Gutzman 2007, p. 163, 165
  5. ^ Shade 1996, pp. 65–66
  6. ^ Shade 1996, pp. 65
  7. ^ Gutzman 2007, p. 188
  8. ^ Andrews 1937, p. 430
  9. ^ Heinemann 2007, p. 173–174
  10. ^ Shade 1996, p. 64
  11. ^ Heinemann 2007, p. 173
  12. ^ Richards, Samuel J. (Fall 2019). "Reclaiming Congressman Philip Doddridge from Tidewater Cultural Imperialism". West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies. 13 (1): 4–5. doi:10.1353/wvh.2019.0019. S2CID 211648744.
  13. ^ Richards, Samuel J. (Fall 2019). "Reclaiming Congressman Philip Doddridge from Tidewater Cultural Imperialism". West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies. 13 (2): 1–26. doi:10.1353/wvh.2019.0019. S2CID 211648744.
  14. ^ Gutzman 2007, p. 163, 165
  15. ^ Pulliam 1901, p. 67, 70–72
  16. ^ Pulliam 1901, p. 77


External links[edit]