To many it probably ranked as the antebellum period's most memorable celebration of florid and utterly stultifying oratory. In the eight and one-half months of its sessions, more than three million words were recorded, as time and again various delegates "sank back exhausted" only to be hauled away while colleagues finished reading their remarks. The Register of Debates ended abruptly when the official reporter unsuccessfully requested higher wages. Such was Virginia's Constitutional Convention of 1850-51. Through it all, with tedium threatening to become a way of life, Wise energized the proceedings and accounted for much of the worth and interest they achieved for participants and observers alike.
He amazed everyone with his stamina. Well rested and in better health than for years past, he occupied the floor more than anyone else. His major speech of late April 1851 consumed nearly five days but was heard by unprecedented crowds. His commitment and attractiveness were compelling. Jabbing a forefinger into the air, Wise imparted the urgency of his conviction that the "crisis of our fate has come." His voice had a lyrical quality, so that he was able to vary the cadence of his remarks and at times lighten their impact. He possessed a perceptive and quick wit and retained the attention of his audience better than most delegates.
Even outside the daily sessions, he drove himself with remarkable tenacity to effect a renewal of the Commonwealth. He importuned fellow delegates when he found them in their rooms or in hotel lobbies to recognize with him that the existing constitution was a "miserable wreck of ideas and the curse of Virginia." 1 He spent long hours in these conversations, preferring to encounter his colleagues one at a time and, after the manner of Calhoun, mesmerize them with an hour or more of intensive monologue.
It was partly a compulsion to fill the void left by the death of his second wife late in 1850 that thrust him into the work of the