Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/71

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The Virginia Convention of 1788.


Whilst Henry was par excellence the orator of the Convention of 1788, Colonel Nicholas was, for his wonderful ability in debate, termed the Ulysses and the Ajax Telamon of the host which upheld the Constitution. His logic was clear, his reasoning sound, his illustrations apt, his arguments forceful and convincing. He bore the brunt of the contest of debate. There was a prestige in the name of Nicholas, which placed him in the front rank of the members of this august body and of those who had attained distinction during the Revolution. He was the son of the venerable patriot who was the watch dog of the Treasury during the war. He was born in Williamsburg and matriculated at William and Mary. Leaving college he entered the army and soon won the highest honors, having been promoted from captain to colonel. He was elected to the General Assembly, in which he held a prominent position. His stature was low, ungainly and deformed with fat, his brows shaggy. His voice unpleasant, but with all these deformities his address was polished. He was thoroughly acquainted with local legislation, was well versed in history, and, withal, entirely self-possessed. Without fancy or rhetoric, without action or gestures, save the use of his right hand and forefinger, yet so forceful were his arguments, so sound his reasonings, analytical his debates, so consumate his conclusions that he held the Convention in rapt attention for hours. His arguments could not be met by his opponents and they sometimes resorted to carricature. He was once pictured as a plum pudding with legs to it. He was also pictured as broad as he was long. He was said to be the fattest lawyer since the days of his namesake, Sir Nicholas Bacon, of rotund memory. Of all the friends to the Constitution he was the most formidable to Henry. His perfect acquaintance with the whole system of legislation; his connection by descent and affinity with the old aristocratic families; his physical qualities, which were entirely fearless; his civic and military career; his great powers of minute and sustained argumentation, made it difficult to evade or repel his attacks.

Neither oratory or sarcasm or ridicule availed in a contest