This Day in the Law
May 15

Virginia Convention Calls for Independence from Great Britain (1776)

On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention unanimously directed the Second Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. This single act began a succession of events that eventually led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and the creation of the "United States."

The Virginia Convention was held from May to July 1776 by a handful of representatives from the state of Virginia. During this two-month period the Virginia delegates passed a number of important measures, including: (i) the Virginia Resolution of Rights, (ii) a new Virginia Constitution, and (iii) elected Patrick Henry as the first governor of Virginia. However, all these events began on May 15, 1776, when the delegates directed the Second Continental Congress to declare the United States free and independent states.

George Mason, a wealthy Virginia farmer and good friend of George Washington, was instrumental in passing and drafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights that followed shortly thereafter. The Virginia Resolution was comprised of 16 sections that protected individual rights, rather than just the rights of members of Congress. The Virginia Resolution acted as a model for the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, certain state constitutions, and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

The acts made by the members of the Virginia Convention placed Virginia at the forefront of American Revolution. Richard Henry Lee, a member of the Virginia Convention, proposed the resolutions for independence to the Continental Congress in early June 1776. Lee was instrumental in promoting the idea of independence from Great Britain and he called for a committee to draw up a U.S. Declaration of Independence. Lee also served a one-year term as the President of the Continental Congress.

On this day, May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention made the historical first step toward American’s independence from Great Britain by asking the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain, and a "United States" was born shortly thereafter.