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Virginia

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Virginia

The Virginia convention (successor to the convention called in 1774 after the royal governor dissolved the assembly) adopted a declaration of rights, drafted by George Mason, on June 12, 1776, and a constitution, drafted largely by Mason, on June 29, 1776. The declaration of rights asserted that men have certain inherent rights and that all power is derived from the people. It called for the separation of powers in the state government and enumerated essential rights, including trial by a local jury, the ability to confront witnesses, freedom from the compulsion to give evidence, and the prohibition of excessive bails and fines, cruel and unusual punishments, and general search warrants. Declaration of rights also stated that no man should be deprived of his liberty “except by the law of the land, or the judgment of his peers,” that freedom of the press should not be restrained and that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion (draft of clause on religion was revised in convention by James Madison). The constitution established a bicameral general assembly, consisting of a house of delegates, elected annually and possessing the sole power to initiate legislation, and a senate, whose members served four-year terms. (Constitution retained existing property qualification for voting, which required adult males to own 25 acres of settled land or its town equivalent.) The senate had to approve all bills passed by the house and could propose amendments to pending laws, with the exception of money bills, which it was required to accept or reject without alteration. Both chambers annually elected the governor, who served as the executive with the advice of an eight-man council of state, also chosen by the legislature. The governor could serve for only three consecutive terms and had no veto over legislation. State judges were appointed by the general assembly and held their offices during “good behavior” (for life, unless removed for misconduct). State officials were prohibited from being elected to the legislature (prohibition against officials sitting in the legislature was adopted by other states in their constitutions). No provision was made for amending the constitution or distinguishing it from ordinary legislation.