Peter Luke’s talk on political history…
Can you name the two Presidents of the United States who, long before they were elected to the highest office in the land, ran against each other for a seat in the Congress?
Would it help you toward the correct answer to learn that the seat they competed for is the Fifth District? The same district that includes Rappahannock County today?
Ponder that while we tell our story and perhaps you will find the answer in one or two of the final paragraphs.
This curiosity arose in the talk delivered by Peter Luke on Sunday, October 9th, at the annual meeting of the Rappahannock Historical Society. The one-time Commonwealth Attorney for the county, an enthusiastic historian, offered an illustrated lecture on the politics and power struggles over some of the first electoral decisions made in what was then the brand-new United States of America.
In those days, Culpeper County included what are now Rappahannock and Madison counties, as well as the lands that later became West Virginia and Kentucky.
As Mr. Luke put it, “Culpeper went all the way to the Ohio River.”
In June of 1788 there were one hundred seventy delegates who convened in Richmond to vote on ratification of the new constitution that had been written in Philadelphia. The central struggle was over proposed amendments to protect the rights of individuals from a government that many worried could become too powerful. “It was,” Mr. Luke explained, “a big deal whether you were for the Bill of Rights or not.”
Mr. Luke, easy to take as a history teacher, pointed out that while there were many Virginia notables at the convention, two were absent but “hovered” over the proceedings: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “Their thoughts and philosophies affected” the deliberations and decisions.
One hundred and sixty-eight of the delegates cast votes. The Constitution was ratified, but not by a landslide. The tally was 89 in favor, and 79 opposed. Thus did Virginia become the tenth former colony to ratify, beaten by just a few days by New Hampshire.
James Madison, an ardent Federalist, wanted to run for the new United States Senate. But his political opponent, anti-Federalist (at least for now) Patrick Henry, did not want Madison in the Senate. Henry was in complete control of the Virginia legislature and ran through a residency-requirement law that was designed to, and effectively did block Madison from running for the Senate.
James Madison then ran for Congress in the 5th District. His opponent? James Monroe. These two distinguished Virginia gentlemen not only conducted a civil, polite campaign, but often travelled together throughout the district to make speeches and debate the new Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
The above is only a brief summary and does not do justice to the effort that Mr. Luke put into the talk and the charts and photographs that accompanied his story.
The president of the Historical Society, John Tole, made a digital video recording of the event and says that, after a while, “CDs or DVRs will be available” through the Society.
The Society’s website is Rappahannockhistsoc.org.
Its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You would be correct if you said that people around here are fortunate to have folks who put on such a Sunday afternoon as this.
by Jed Duvall, Amissville