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Date of Graduation

Spring 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


This thesis will display the ways in which national security concerns played into the debate over whether Virginia should ratify the United States Constitution. The vast majority of primary sources used in this thesis come from speeches delivered by the representatives from throughout Virginia (which at this time included present-day West Virginia and Kentucky) in the Virginia Ratifying Convention. The three major areas which this thesis explores are the threat of war with other states, the threat of war with foreign nations, and the threat of slave insurrections. The chapter on threat of war with other states examines the possibility of an actual deterioration of the relationships between the states to the possible end of a civil war. It then examines the arguments made by the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over whether ratifying the Constitution would prevent this disaster from befalling the new nation, and if it would possibly remedy other issues which had arisen between the states. The chapter on the threat of war with foreign nations at first looks at the state of relations between the United States and its then-recent adversary, Great Britain, as well as the other European powers France, Spain, and the Netherlands. It will then examine the arguments made by each side of the ratification debate, as to whether ratification is necessary to improving relations with the other nations (especially with regards to the repayment of delinquent debts), as well as the ability of the new government formed under the Constitution to better arm itself against the possibility of foreign invasion. The third chapter covers the threat of slave rebellions, a constant fear for Southerners up until the end of the American Civil War. The Constitution’s twenty-year protection of the existence of the slave trade, as well as the lack of an explicit protection for the right to own slaves already held in the United States, led to extended arguments over whether the Constitution really made Virginia safer from the possibility of slave rebellions. This thesis will conclude that concerns about the security of the nation, and Virginia, were crucially important to the Virginia Ratification Debates.

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