RADICALS AND CONSERVATIVES IN VIRGINIA
HAVING arrived at the fateful year during which the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and set up establishments of their own, it is well to turn aside from the discussion of Western land problems and consider the political situation which existed in Virginia in 1776. This is necessary because of the part played by political faction in the settlement of important questions arising at this critical time in connection with the extensive Western land claims of the Old Dominion.
The terms "radical" and "conservative" are commonly used to describe the two groups into which Virginia's leaders were divided during the Revolutionary epoch, and there is good contemporary authority for classifying Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson as the captains of the former and such men as Edmund Pendleton, Robert Carter Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison of Berkeley, and Archibald Cary as the most important of the latter group. Their respective stands on the question of resistance to England is apparently the test by which their affiliation has usually been determined. But this classification, though probably as good as any other that could be made, is not entirely satisfactory as a key to Revolutionary-Virginia politics. In fact, Jefferson himself, who gives such a classification, says that the difference between the factions was one of method rather than of principle. Both radicals and conservatives favored resistance, the distinction being that the radicals were a bit more precipitate in their methods. And this difference in method has received more attention than it really deserves.1
There can be no question that the points of view which underlay the factional divisions in Virginia can be traced back to a period well before the struggle over the Stamp Act. From the political standpoint three of the most powerful families in Virginia, if not the three most powerful, during this period were the Lees, the Randolphs, and the Robinsons. Thomas Lee had served as president of the council, and John Robinson was treasurer of the colony and speaker of the House of Burgesses from 1738 until 1766. Peyton, John, and Edmund Randolph suc-____________________