Patrick Henry
by Moses Coit Tyler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But a subject far greater than John Robinson's project for a loan office was then beginning to weigh on men's minds. Already were visible far off on the edge of the sky, the first filmy threads of a storm-cloud that was to grow big and angry as the years went by, and was to accompany a political tempest under which the British Empire would be torn asunder, and the whole structure of American colonial society wrenched from its foundations. Just one year before the time now reached, news had been received in Virginia that the British ministry had announced in parliament their purpose to introduce, at the next session, an act for laying certain stamp duties on the American colonies. Accordingly, in response to these tidings, the House of Burgesses, in the autumn of 1764, had taken the earliest opportunity to send a respectful message to the government of England, declaring that the proposed act would be deemed by the loyal and affectionate people of Virginia as an alarming violation of their ancient constitutional rights. This message had been elaborately drawn up, in the form of an address to the king, a memorial to the House of Lords, and a remonstrance to the Commons;[64] the writers being a committee composed of gentlemen prominent in the legislature, and of high social standing in the colony, including Landon Carter, Richard Henry Lee, George Wythe, Edmund Pendleton, Benjamin Harrison, Richard Bland, and even Peyton Randolph, the king's attorney-general.

Meantime, to this appeal no direct answer had been returned; instead of which, however, was received by the House of Burgesses, in May, 1765, about the time of Patrick Henry's accession to that body, a copy of the Stamp Act itself. What was to be done about it? What was to be done by Virginia? What was to be done by her sister colonies? Of course, by the passage of the Stamp Act, the whole question of colonial procedure on the subject had been changed. While the act was, even in England, merely a theme for consideration, and while the colonies were virtually under invitation to send thither their views upon the subject, it was perfectly proper for colonial pamphleteers and for colonial legislatures to express, in every civilized form, their objections to it. But all this was now over. The Stamp Act had been discussed; the discussion was ended; the act had been decided on; it had become a law. Criticism upon it now, especially by a legislative body, was a very different matter from what criticism upon it had been, even by the same body, a few months before. Then, the loyal legislature of Virginia had fittingly spoken out, concerning the contemplated act, its manly words of disapproval and of protest; but now that the contemplated act had become an adopted act—had become the law of the land—could that same legislature again speak even those same words, without thereby becoming disloyal,—without venturing a little too near the verge of sedition,—without putting itself into an attitude, at least, of incipient nullification respecting a law of the general government?

It is perfectly evident that by all the old leaders of the House at that moment,—by Peyton Randolph, and Pendleton, and Wythe, and Bland, and the rest of them,—this question was answered in the negative. Indeed, it could be answered in no other way. Such being the case, it followed that, for Virginia and for all her sister colonies, an entirely new state of things had arisen. A most serious problem confronted them,—a problem involving, in fact, incalculable interests. On the subject of immediate concern, they had endeavored, freely and rightfully, to influence legislation, while that legislation was in process; but now that this legislation was accomplished, what were they to do? Were they to submit to it quietly, trusting to further negotiations for ultimate relief, or were they to reject it outright, and try to obstruct its execution? Clearly, here was a very great problem, a problem for statesmanship,—the best statesmanship anywhere to be had. Clearly this was a time, at any rate, for wise and experienced men to come to the front; a time, not for rash counsels, nor for spasmodic and isolated action on the part of any one colony, but for deliberate and united action on the part of all the colonies; a time in which all must move forward, or none. But, thus far, no colony had been heard from: there had not been time. Let Virginia wait a little. Let her make no mistake; let her not push forward into any ill-considered and dangerous measure; let her wait, at least, for some signal of thought or of purpose from her sister colonies. In the meanwhile, let her old and tried leaders continue to lead.

Such, apparently, was the state of opinion in the House of Burgesses when, on the 29th of May, a motion was made and carried, "that the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, immediately to consider the steps necessary to be taken in consequence of the resolutions of the House of Commons of Great Britain, relative to the charging certain stamp duties in the colonies and plantations in America."[65] On thus going into committee of the whole, to deliberate on the most difficult and appalling question that, up to that time, had ever come before an American legislature, the members may very naturally have turned in expectation to those veteran politicians and to those able constitutional lawyers who, for many years, had been accustomed to guide their deliberations, and who, especially in the last session, had taken charge of this very question of the Stamp Act. It will not be hard for us to imagine the disgust, the anger, possibly even the alarm, with which many may have beheld the floor now taken, not by Peyton Randolph, nor Richard Bland, nor George Wythe, nor Edmund Pendleton, but by this new and very unabashed member for the county of Louisa,—this rustic and clownish youth of the terrible tongue,—this eloquent but presumptuous stripling, who was absolutely without training or experience in statesmanship, and was the merest novice even in the forms of the House.

For what precise purpose the new member had thus ventured to take the floor, was known at the moment of his rising by only two other members,—George Johnston, the member for Fairfax, and John Fleming, the member for Cumberland. But the measureless audacity of his purpose, as being nothing less than that of assuming the leadership of the House, and of dictating the policy of Virginia in this stupendous crisis of its fate, was instantly revealed to all, as he moved a series of resolutions, which he proceeded to read from the blank leaf of an old law book, and which, probably, were as follows:—

"Whereas, the honorable House of Commons in England have of late drawn into question how far the General Assembly of this colony hath power to enact laws for laying of taxes and imposing duties, payable by the people of this, his majesty's most ancient colony: for settling and ascertaining the same to all future times, the House of Burgesses of this present General Assembly have come to the following resolves:—

"1. Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this, his majesty's colony and dominion, brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other his majesty's subjects, since inhabiting in this, his majesty's said colony, all the privileges, franchises, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed, by the people of Great Britain.

"2. Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by king James the First, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all the privileges, liberties, and immunities of denizens and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England.

"3. Resolved, That the taxation of the people by themselves or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, and the easiest mode of raising them, and are equally affected by such taxes themselves, is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution cannot subsist.

"4. Resolved, That his majesty's liege people of this most ancient colony have uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being thus governed by their own Assembly in the article of their taxes and internal police, and that the same hath never been forfeited, or any other way given up, but hath been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain.

"5. Resolved, therefore, That the General Assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the General Assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.

"6. Resolved, That his majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws or ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

"7. Resolved, That any person who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any person or persons, other than the General Assembly of this colony, have any right or power to impose or lay any taxation on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to his majesty's colony."[66]

No reader will find it hard to accept Jefferson's statement that the debate on these resolutions was "most bloody." "They were opposed by Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, Nicholas, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the House had till then been unbroken."[67] There was every reason, whether of public policy or of private feeling, why the old party leaders in the House should now bestir themselves, and combine, and put forth all their powers in debate, to check, and if possible to rout and extinguish, this self-conceited but most dangerous young man. "Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me," said Patrick himself, long afterward. Logic, learning, eloquence, denunciation, derision, intimidation, were poured from all sides of the House upon the head of the presumptuous intruder; but alone, or almost alone, he confronted and defeated all his assailants. "Torrents of sublime eloquence from Mr. Henry, backed by the solid reasoning of Johnston, prevailed."[68]

It was sometime in the course of this tremendous fight, extending through the 29th and 30th of May, that the incident occurred which has long been familiar among the anecdotes of the Revolution, and which may be here recalled as a reminiscence not only of his own consummate mastery of the situation, but of a most dramatic scene in an epoch-making debate. Reaching the climax of a passage of fearful invective, on the injustice and the impolicy of the Stamp Act, he said in tones of thrilling solemnity, "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First, his Cromwell; and George the Third ['Treason,' shouted the speaker. 'Treason,' 'treason,' rose from all sides of the room. The orator paused in stately defiance till these rude exclamations were ended, and then, rearing himself with a look and bearing of still prouder and fiercer determination, he so closed the sentence as to baffle his accusers, without in the least flinching from his own position,]—and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."[69]

Of this memorable struggle nearly all other details have perished with the men who took part in it. After the House, in committee of the whole, had, on the 29th of May, spent sufficient time in the discussion, "Mr. Speaker resumed the chair," says the Journal, "and Mr. Attorney reported that the said committee had had the said matter under consideration, and had come to several resolutions thereon, which he was ready to deliver in at the table. Ordered that the said report be received to-morrow." It is probable that on the morrow the battle was renewed with even greater fierceness than before. The Journal proceeds: "May 30. Mr. Attorney, from the committee of the whole House, reported according to order, that the committee had considered the steps necessary to be taken in consequence of the resolutions of the House of Commons of Great Britain, relative to the charging certain stamp duties in the colonies and plantations in America, and that they had come to several resolutions thereon, which he read in his place and then delivered at the table; when they were again twice read, and agreed to by the House, with some amendments." Then were passed by the House, probably, the first five resolutions as offered by Henry in the committee, but "passed," as he himself afterward wrote, "by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only."

Upon this final discomfiture of the old leaders, one of their number, Peyton Randolph, swept angrily out of the house, and brushing past young Thomas Jefferson, who was standing in the door of the lobby, he swore, with a great oath, that he "would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote."[70] On the afternoon of that day, Patrick Henry, knowing that the session was practically ended, and that his own work in it was done, started for his home. He was seen "passing along Duke of Gloucester Street, ... wearing buckskin breeches, his saddle bags on his arm, leading a lean horse, and chatting with Paul Carrington, who walked by his side."[71]

That was on the 30th of May. The next morning, the terrible Patrick being at last quite out of the way, those veteran lawyers and politicians of the House, who had found this young protagonist alone too much for them all put together, made bold to undo the worst part of the work he had done the day before; they expunged the fifth resolution. In that mutilated form, without the preamble, and with the last three of the original resolutions omitted, the first four then remained on the journal of the House as the final expression of its official opinion. Meantime, on the wings of the wind, and on the eager tongues of men, had been borne, past recall, far northward and far southward, the fiery unchastised words of nearly the entire series, to kindle in all the colonies a great flame of dauntless purpose;[72] while Patrick himself, perhaps then only half conscious of the fateful work he had just been doing, travelled homeward along the dusty highway, at once the jolliest, the most popular, and the least pretentious man in all Virginia, certainly its greatest orator, possibly even its greatest statesman.


[57] Wirt, 24.

[58] Meade, Old Families and Churches of Va. i. 220.

[59] Maury, Mem. of a Huguenot Fam. 423.

[60] Wirt, 39-41.

[61] Mem. by Jefferson, in Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91.

[62] Jefferson's Works, vi. 365.

[63] Mem. by Jefferson, in Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91.

[64] These documents are given in full in the Appendix to Wirt's Life of Henry, as Note A.

[65] Jour. Va. House of Burgesses.

[66] Of this famous series of resolutions, the first five are here given precisely as they are given in Patrick Henry's own certified copy still existing in manuscript, and in the possession of Mr. W. W. Henry; but as that copy evidently contains only that portion of the series which was reported from the committee of the whole, and was adopted by the House, I have here printed also what I believe to have been the preamble, and the last two resolutions in the series as first drawn and introduced by Patrick Henry. For this portion of the series, I depend on the copy printed in the Boston Gazette, for July 1, 1765, and reprinted in R. Frothingham, Rise of the Republic, 180 note. In Wirt's Life of Henry, 56-59, is a transcript of the first five resolutions as given in Henry's handwriting: but it is inaccurate in two places.

[67] Mem. by Jefferson, in Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91.

[68] Mem. by Jefferson, in Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91. Henry was aided in this debate by Robert Munford, also, and by John Fleming: W. W. Henry, Life, Corr. and Speeches of P. Henry, i. 82n.

[69] For this splendid anecdote we are indebted to Judge John Tyler, who, then a youth of eighteen, listened to the speech as he stood in the lobby by the side of Jefferson. Edmund Randolph, in his History of Virginia, still in manuscript, has a somewhat different version of the language of the orator, as follows: "'Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First, his Cromwell, and George the Third'—'Treason, Sir,' exclaimed the Speaker; to which Mr. Henry instantly replied, 'and George the Third, may he never have either.'" The version furnished by John Tyler is, of course, the more effective and characteristic; and as Tyler actually heard the speech, and as, moreover, his account is confirmed by Jefferson who also heard it, his account can hardly be set aside by that of Randolph who did not hear it, and was indeed but a boy of twelve at the time it was made. L. G. Tyler, Letters and Times of the Tylers, i. 56; Wirt, 65.

[70] Mem. by Jefferson, Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91.

[71] Campbell, Hist. Va. 542.

[72] The subject of the Virginia resolutions presents several difficulties which I have not thought it best to discuss in the text, where I have given merely the results of my own rather careful and repeated study of the question. In brief, my conclusion is this: That the series as given above, consisting of a preamble and seven resolutions, is the series as originally prepared by Patrick Henry, and introduced by him on Wednesday, May 29, in the committee of the whole, and probably passed by the committee on that day; that at once, without waiting for the action of the House upon the subject, copies of the series got abroad, and were soon published in the newspapers of the several colonies, as though actually adopted by the House; that on Thursday, May 30, the series was cut down in the House by rejection of the preamble and the resolutions 6 and 7, and by the adoption of only the first five as given above; that on the day after that, when Patrick Henry had gone home, the House still further cut down the series by expunging the resolution which is above numbered as 5: and that, many years afterwards, when Patrick Henry came to prepare a copy for transmission to posterity, he gave the resolutions just as they stood when adopted by the House on May 30, and not as they stood when originally introduced by him in committee of the whole on the day before, nor as they stood when mutilated by the cowardly act of the House on the day after. It will be noticed, therefore, that the so-called resolutions of Virginia, which were actually published and known to the colonies in 1765, and which did so much to fire their hearts, were not the resolutions as adopted by the House, but were the resolutions as first introduced, and probably passed, in committee of the whole; and that even this copy of them was inaccurately given, since it lacked the resolution numbered above as 3, probably owing to an error in the first hurried transcription of them. Those who care to study the subject further will find the materials in Prior Documents, 6, 7; Marshall, Life of Washington, i. note iv.; Frothingham, Rise of the Republic, 180 note; Gordon, Hist. Am. Rev., i. 129-139; Works of Jefferson, vi. 366, 367; Wirt, Life of Henry, 56-63; Everett, Life of Henry, 265-273, with important note by Jared Sparks in Appendix, 391-398. It may be mentioned that the narrative given in Burk, Hist. Va., iii. 305-310, is untrustworthy.



Seldom has a celebrated man shown more indifference to the preservation of the records and credentials of his career than did Patrick Henry. While some of his famous associates in the Revolution diligently kept both the letters they received, and copies of the letters they wrote, and made, for the benefit of posterity, careful memoranda concerning the events of their lives, Patrick Henry did none of these things. Whatever letters he wrote, he wrote at a dash, and then parted with them utterly; whatever letters were written to him, were invariably handed over by him to the comfortable custody of luck; and as to the correct historic perpetuation of his doings, he seems almost to have exhausted his interest in each one of them so soon as he had accomplished it, and to have been quite content to leave to other people all responsibility for its being remembered correctly, or even remembered at all.

To this statement, however, a single exception has to be made. It relates to the great affair described in the latter part of the previous chapter.

Of course, it was perceived at the time that the passing of the Virginia resolutions against the Stamp Act was a great affair; but just how great an affair it was, neither Patrick Henry nor any other mortal man could tell until years had gone by, and had unfolded the vast sequence of world-resounding events, in which that affair was proved to be a necessary factor. It deserves to be particularly mentioned that, of all the achievements of his life, the only one which he has taken the pains to give any account of is his authorship of the Virginia resolutions, and his successful championship of them. With reference to this achievement, the account he gave of it was rendered with so much solemnity and impressiveness as to indicate that, in the final survey of his career, he regarded this as the one most important thing he ever did. But before we cite the words in which he thus indicated this judgment, it will be well for us to glance briefly at the train of historic incidents which now set forth the striking connection between that act of Patrick Henry and the early development of that intrepid policy which culminated in American independence.

It was on the 29th of May, 1765, as will be remembered, that Patrick Henry moved in the committee of the whole the adoption of his series of resolutions against the Stamp Act; and before the sun went down that day, the entire series, as is probable, was adopted by the committee. On the following day, the essential portion of the series was adopted, likewise, by the House. But what was the contemporary significance of these resolutions? As the news of them swept from colony to colony, why did they so stir men's hearts to excitement, and even to alarm? It was not that the language of those resolutions was more radical or more trenchant than had been the language already used on the same subject, over and over again, in the discussions of the preceding twelve months. It was that, in the recent change of the political situation, the significance of that language had changed. Prior to the time referred to, whatever had been said on the subject, in any of the colonies, had been said for the purpose of dissuading the government from passing the Stamp Act. But the government had now passed the Stamp Act; and, accordingly, these resolutions must have been meant for a very different purpose. They were a virtual declaration of resistance to the Stamp Act; a declaration of resistance made, not by an individual writer, nor by a newspaper, but by the legislature of a great colony; and, moreover, they were the very first declaration of resistance which was so made.[73]

This it is which gives us the contemporary key to their significance, and to the vast excitement produced by them, and to the enormous influence they had upon the trembling purposes of the colonists at that precise moment. Hence it was, as a sagacious writer of that period has told us, that merely upon the adoption of these resolves by the committee of the whole, men recognized their momentous bearing, and could not be restrained from giving publicity to them, without waiting for their final adoption by the House. "A manuscript of the unrevised resolves," says William Gordon, "soon reached Philadelphia, having been sent off immediately upon their passing, that the earliest information of what had been done might be obtained by the Sons of Liberty.... At New York the resolves were handed about with great privacy: they were accounted so treasonable, that the possessors of them declined printing them in that city." But a copy of them having been procured with much difficulty by an Irish gentleman resident in Connecticut, "he carried them to New England, where they were published and circulated far and wide in the newspapers, without any reserve, and proved eventually the occasion of those disorders which afterward broke out in the colonies.... The Virginia resolutions gave a spring to all the disgusted; and they began to adopt different measures."[74]

But while the tidings of these resolutions were thus moving toward New England, and before they had arrived there, the assembly of the great colony of Massachusetts had begun to take action. Indeed, it had first met on the very day on which Patrick Henry had introduced his resolutions into the committee of the whole at Williamsburg. On the 8th of June, it had resolved upon a circular letter concerning the Stamp Act, addressed to all the sister colonies, and proposing that all should send delegates to a congress to be held at New York, on the first Tuesday of the following October, to deal with the perils and duties of the situation. This circular letter at once started upon its tour.

The first reception of it, however, was discouraging. From the speaker of the New Jersey assembly came the reply that the members of that body were "unanimously against uniting on the present occasion;" and for several weeks thereafter, "no movement appeared in favor of the great and wise measure of convening a congress." At last, however, the project of Massachusetts began to feel the accelerating force of a mighty impetus. The Virginia resolutions, being at last divulged throughout the land, "had a marked effect on public opinion." They were "heralded as the voice of a colony.... The fame of the resolves spread as they were circulated in the journals.... The Virginia action, like an alarum, roused the patriots to pass similar resolves.[75] "On the 8th of July, "The Boston Gazette" uttered this most significant sentence: "The people of Virginia have spoken very sensibly, and the frozen politicians of a more northern government say they have spoken treason."[76] On the same day, in that same town of Boston, an aged lawyer and patriot[77] lay upon his death bed; and in his admiration for the Virginians on account of these resolves, he exclaimed, "They are men; they are noble spirits."[78] On the 13th of August, the people of Providence instructed their representatives in the legislature to vote in favor of the congress, and to procure the passage of a series of resolutions in which were incorporated those of Virginia.[79] On the 15th of August, from Boston, Governor Bernard wrote home to the ministry: "Two or three months ago, I thought that this people would submit to the Stamp Act. Murmurs were indeed continually heard; but they seemed to be such as would die away. But the publishing of the Virginia resolves proved an alarm bell to the disaffected."[80] On the 23d of September, General Gage, the commander of the British forces in America, wrote from New York to Secretary Conway that the Virginia resolves had given "the signal for a general outcry over the continent."[81] And finally, in the autumn of 1774, an able loyalist writer, looking back over the political history of the colonies from the year of the Stamp Act, singled out the Virginia resolves as the baleful cause of all the troubles that had then come upon the land. "After it was known," said he, "that the Stamp Act was passed, some resolves of the House of Burgesses in Virginia, denying the right of Parliament to tax the colonies, made their appearance. We read them with wonder; they savored of independence; they flattered the human passions; the reasoning was specious; we wished it conclusive. The transition to believing it so was easy; and we, and almost all America, followed their example, in resolving that Parliament had no such right."[82]

All these facts, and many more that might be produced, seem to point to the Virginia resolutions of 1765 as having come at a great primary crisis of the Revolution,—a crisis of mental confusion and hesitation,—and as having then uttered, with trumpet voice, the very word that was fitted to the hour, and that gave to men's minds clearness of vision, and to their hearts a settled purpose. It must have been in the light of such facts as these that Patrick Henry, in his old age, reviewing his own wonderful career, determined to make a sort of testamentary statement concerning his relation to that single transaction,—so vitally connected with the greatest epoch in American history.

Among the papers left by him at his death was one significantly placed by the side of his will, carefully sealed, and bearing this superscription: "Inclosed are the resolutions of the Virginia Assembly in 1765, concerning the Stamp Act. Let my executors open this paper." On opening the document, his executors found on one side of the sheet the first five resolutions in the famous series introduced by him; and on the other side, these weighty words:—

The within resolutions passed the House of Burgesses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the Stamp Act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from influence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a Burgess a few days before; was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the House, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture; and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law book, wrote the within.[83] Upon offering them to the House, violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest, the resolutions passed by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the ministerial party were overwhelmed. The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war, which finally separated the two countries, and gave independence to ours.

Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.

Reader! whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

P. HENRY.[84]

But while this renowned act in Patrick Henry's life had consequences so notable in their bearing on great national and international movements, it is interesting to observe, also, its immediate effects on his own personal position in the world, and on the development of his career. We can hardly be surprised to find, on the one hand, that his act gave deep offence to one very considerable class of persons in Virginia,—the official representatives of the English government, and their natural allies, those thoughtful and conscientious colonists who, by temperament and conviction, were inclined to lay a heavy accent on the principle of civil authority and order. Of course, as the official head of this not ignoble class, stood Francis Fauquier, the lieutenant-governor of the colony; and his letter to the lords of trade, written from Williamsburg a few days after the close of the session, contains a striking narrative of this stormy proceeding, and an almost amusing touch of official undervaluation of Patrick Henry: "In the course of the debate, I have heard that very indecent language was used by a Mr. Henry, a young lawyer, who had not been above a month a member of the House, and who carried all the young members with him."[85] But a far more specific and intense expression of antipathy came, a few weeks later, from the Reverend William Robinson, the colonial commissary of the Bishop of London. Writing, on the 12th of August, to his metropolitan, he gave an account of Patrick Henry's very offensive management of the cause against the parsons, before becoming a member of the House of Burgesses; and then added:—

"He has since been chosen a representative for one of the counties, in which character he has lately distinguished himself in the House of Burgesses on occasion of the arrival of an act of Parliament for stamp duties, while the Assembly was sitting. He blazed out in a violent speech against the authority of Parliament and the king, comparing his majesty to a Tarquin, a Caesar, and a Charles the First, and not sparing insinuations that he wished another Cromwell would arise. He made a motion for several outrageous resolves, some of which passed and were again erased as soon as his back was turned.... Mr. Henry, the hero of whom I have been writing, is gone quietly into the upper parts of the country to recommend himself to his constituents by spreading treason and enforcing firm resolutions against the authority of the British Parliament."[86]

Such was Patrick Henry's introduction to the upper spheres of English society,—spheres in which his name was to become still better known as time rolled on, and for conduct not likely to efface the impression of this bitter beginning.

As to his reputation in the colonies outside of Virginia, doubtless the progress of it, during this period, was slow and dim; for the celebrity acquired by the resolutions of 1765 attached to the colony rather than to the person. Moreover, the boundaries of each colony, in those days, were in most cases the boundaries likewise of the personal reputations it cherished. It was not until Patrick Henry came forward, in the Congress of 1774, upon an arena that may be called national, that his name gathered about it the splendor of a national fame. Yet, even before 1774, in the rather dull and ungossiping newspapers of that time, and in the letters and diaries of its public men, may be discovered an occasional allusion showing that already his name had broken over the borders of Virginia, had traveled even so far as to New England, and that in Boston itself he was a person whom people were beginning to talk about. For example, in his Diary for the 22d of July, 1770, John Adams speaks of meeting some gentlemen from Virginia, and of going out to Cambridge with them. One of them is mentioned by name as having this distinction,—that he "is an intimate friend of Mr. Patrick Henry, the first mover of the Virginia resolves in 1765."[87] Thus, even so early, the incipient revolutionist in New England had got his thoughts on his brilliant political kinsman in Virginia.

But it was chiefly within the limits of his own splendid and gallant colony, and among an eager and impressionable people whose habitual hatred of all restraints turned into undying love for this dashing champion of natural liberty, that Patrick Henry was now instantly crowned with his crown of sovereignty. By his resolutions against the Stamp Act, as Jefferson testifies, "Mr. Henry took the lead out of the hands of those who had heretofore guided the proceedings of the House, that is to say, of Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Randolph, and Nicholas."[88] Wirt does not put the case too strongly when he declares, that "after this debate there was no longer a question among the body of the people, as to Mr. Henry's being the first statesman and orator in Virginia. Those, indeed, whose ranks he had scattered, and whom he had thrown into the shade, still tried to brand him with the names of declaimer and demagogue. But this was obviously the effect of envy and mortified pride.... From the period of which we have been speaking, Mr. Henry became the idol of the people of Virginia."[89]


[73] See this view supported by Wirt, in his life by Kennedy, ii. 73.

[74] Gordon, Hist. of Am. Rev. i. 131.

[75] Frothingham, Rise of the Republic, 178-181.

[76] Cited in Frothingham, 181.

[77] Oxenbridge Thacher.

[78] Works of John Adams, x. 287.

[79] Frothingham, 181.

[80] Cited by Sparks, in Everett, Life of Henry, 396.

[81] Frothingham, Rise of the Republic, 181.

[82] Daniel Leonard, in Novanglus and Massachusettensis, 147, 148.

[83] As the historic importance of the Virginia resolutions became more and more apparent, a disposition was manifested to deny to Patrick Henry the honor of having written them. As early as 1790, Madison, between whom and Henry there was nearly always a sharp hostility, significantly asked Edmund Pendleton to tell him "where the resolutions proposed by Mr. Henry really originated." Letters and Other Writings of Madison, i. 515. Edmund Randolph is said to have asserted that they were written by William Fleming; a statement of which Jefferson remarked, "It is to me incomprehensible." Works, vi. 484. But to Jefferson's own testimony on the same subject, I would apply the same remark. In his Memorandum, he says without hesitation that the resolutions "were drawn up by George Johnston, a lawyer of the Northern Neck, a very able, logical, and correct speaker." Hist. Mag. for 1867, 91. But in another paper, written at about the same time, Jefferson said: "I can readily enough believe these resolutions were written by Mr. Henry himself. They bear the stamp of his mind, strong, without precision. That they were written by Johnston, who seconded them, was only the rumor of the day, and very possibly unfounded." Works, vi. 484. In the face of all this tissue of rumor, guesswork, and self-contradiction, the deliberate statement of Patrick Henry himself that he wrote the five resolutions referred to by him, and that he wrote them "alone, unadvised, and unassisted," must close the discussion.

[84] Verified from the original manuscript, now in possession of Mr. W. W. Henry.

[85] Cited by Sparks, in Everett, Life of Henry, 392.

[86] Perry, Hist. Coll. i. 514, 515.

[87] Works of John Adams, ii. 249.

[88] Works of Jefferson, vi. 368.

[89] Life of Henry, 66.



From the close of Patrick Henry's first term in the Virginia House of Burgesses, in the spring of 1765, to the opening of his first term in the Continental Congress, in the fall of 1774, there stretches a period of about nine years, which, for the purposes of our present study, may be rapidly glanced at and passed by.

In general, it may be described as a period during which he had settled down to steady work, both as a lawyer and as a politician. The first five years of his professional life had witnessed his advance, as we have seen, by strides which only genius can make, from great obscurity to great distinction; his advance from a condition of universal failure to one of success so universal that his career may be said to have become within that brief period solidly established. At the bar, upon the hustings, in the legislature, as a master of policies, as a leader of men, he had already proved himself to be, of his kind, without a peer in all the colony of Virginia,—a colony which was then the prolific mother of great men. With him, therefore, the period of training and of tentative struggle had passed: the period now entered upon was one of recognized mastership and of assured performance, along lines certified by victories that came gayly, and apparently at his slightest call.

We note, at the beginning of this period, an event indicating substantial prosperity in his life: he acquires the visible dignity of a country-seat. Down to the end of 1763, and probably even to the summer of 1765, he had continued to live in the neighborhood of Hanover Court House. After coming back from his first term of service in the House of Burgesses, where he had sat as member for the county of Louisa, he removed his residence into that county, and established himself there upon an estate called Roundabout, purchased by him of his father. In 1768 he returned to Hanover, and in 1771 he bought a place in that county called Scotch Town, which continued to be his seat until shortly after the Declaration of Independence, when, having become governor of the new State of Virginia, he took up his residence at Williamsburg, in the palace long occupied by the official representatives of royalty.

For the practice of his profession, the earlier portion of this period was perhaps not altogether unfavorable. The political questions then in debate were, indeed, exciting, but they had not quite reached the ultimate issue, and did not yet demand from him the complete surrender of his life. Those years seem to have been marked by great professional activity on his part, and by considerable growth in his reputation, even for the higher and more difficult work of the law. Of course, as the vast controversy between the colonists and Great Britain grew in violence, all controversies between one colonist and another began to seem petty, and to be postponed; even the courts ceased to meet with much regularity, and finally ceased to meet at all; while Patrick Henry himself, forsaking his private concerns, became entirely absorbed in the concerns of the public.

The fluctuations in his engagements as a lawyer, during all these years, may be traced with some certainty by the entries in his fee-books. For the year 1765, he charges fees in 547 cases; for 1766, in 114 cases; for 1767, in 554 cases; for 1768, in 354 cases. With the next year there begins a great falling off in the number of his cases; and the decline continues till 1774, when, in the convulsions of the time, his practice stops altogether. Thus, for 1769, there are registered 132 cases; for 1770, 94 cases; for 1771, 102 cases; for 1772, 43 cases; for 1773, 7 cases; and for 1774, none.[90]

The character of the professional work done by him during this period deserves a moment's consideration. Prior to 1769, he had limited himself to practice in the courts of the several counties. In that year he began to practice in the general court,—the highest court in the colony,—where of course were tried the most important and difficult causes, and where thenceforward he had constantly to encounter the most learned and acute lawyers at the bar, including such men as Pendleton, Wythe, Blair, Mercer, John Randolph, Thompson Mason, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert C. Nicholas.[91]

There could never have been any doubt of his supreme competency to deal with such criminal causes as he had to manage in that court or in any other; and with respect to the conduct of other than criminal causes, all purely contemporaneous evidence, now to be had, implies that he had not ventured to present himself before the higher tribunals of the land until he had qualified himself to bear his part there with success and honor. Thus, the instance may be mentioned of his appearing in the Court of Admiralty, "in behalf of a Spanish captain, whose vessel and cargo had been libeled. A gentleman who was present, and who was very well qualified to judge, was heard to declare, after the trial was over, that he never heard a more eloquent or argumentative speech in his life; that Mr. Henry was on that occasion greatly superior to Mr. Pendleton, Mr. Mason, or any other counsel who spoke to the subject; and that he was astonished how Mr. Henry could have acquired such a knowledge of the maritime law, to which it was believed he had never before turned his attention."[92] Moreover, in 1771, just two years from the time when Patrick Henry began practice in the General Court, Robert C. Nicholas, then a veteran member of the profession, "who had enjoyed the first practice at the bar," had occasion to retire, and began looking about among the younger men for some competent lawyer to whom he might safely intrust the unfinished business of his clients. He first offered his practice to Thomas Jefferson, who, however, was compelled to decline it. Afterward, he offered it to Patrick Henry, who accepted it; and accordingly, by public advertisement, Nicholas informed his clients that he had committed to Patrick Henry the further protection of their interests,[93]—a perfectly conclusive proof, it should seem, of the real respect in which Patrick Henry's qualifications as a lawyer were then held, not only by the public but by the profession. Certainly such evidence as this can hardly be set aside by the supposed recollections of one old gentleman, of broken memory and unbroken resentment, who long afterward tried to convince Wirt that, even at the period now in question, Patrick Henry was "wofully deficient as a lawyer," was unable to contend with his associates "on a mere question of law," and was "so little acquainted with the fundamental principles of his profession ... as not to be able to see the remote bearings of the reported cases."[94] The expressions here quoted are, apparently, Wirt's own paraphrase of the statements which were made to him by Jefferson, and which, in many of their details, can now be proved, on documentary evidence, to be the work of a hand that had forgot, not indeed its cunning, but at any rate its accuracy.

As to the political history of Patrick Henry during this period, it may be easily described. The doctrine on which he had planted himself by his resolutions in 1765, namely, that the parliamentary taxation of unrepresented colonies is unconstitutional, became the avowed doctrine of Virginia, and of all her sister colonies; and nearly all the men who, in the House of Burgesses, had, for reasons of propriety, or of expediency, or of personal feeling, opposed the passage of his resolutions, soon took pains to make it known to their constituents that their opposition had not been to the principle which those resolutions expressed. Thenceforward, among the leaders in Virginian politics, there was no real disagreement on the fundamental question; only such disagreement touching methods as must always occur between spirits who are cautious and spirits who are bold. Chief among the former were Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Peyton Randolph, and Nicholas. In the van of the latter always stood Patrick Henry, and with him Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, the Pages, and George Mason. But between the two groups, after all, was surprising harmony, which is thus explained by one who in all that business had a great part and who never was a laggard:—

"Sensible, however, of the importance of unanimity among our constituents, although we often wished to have gone faster, we slackened our pace, that our less ardent colleagues might keep up with us; and they, on their part, differing nothing from us in principle, quickened their gait somewhat beyond that which their prudence might of itself have advised, and thus consolidated the phalanx which breasted the power of Britain. By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advanced with our constituents in undivided mass, and with fewer examples of separation than, perhaps, existed in any other part of the union."[95]

All deprecated a quarrel with Great Britain; all deprecated as a boundless calamity the possible issue of independence; all desired to remain in loyal, free, and honorable connection with the British empire; and against the impending danger of an assault upon the freedom, and consequently the honor, of this connection, all stood on guard.

One result, however, of this practical unanimity among the leaders in Virginia was the absence, during all this period, of those impassioned and dramatic conflicts in debate, which would have called forth historic exhibitions of Patrick Henry's eloquence and of his gifts for conduct and command. He had a leading part in all the counsels of the time; he was sent to every session of the House of Burgesses; he was at the front in all local committees and conventions; he was made a member of the first Committee of Correspondence; and all these incidents in this portion of his life culminated in his mission as one of the deputies from Virginia to the first Continental Congress.

Without here going into the familiar story of the occasion and purposes of the Congress of 1774, we may briefly indicate Patrick Henry's relation to the events in Virginia which immediately preceded his appointment to that renowned assemblage. On the 24th of May, 1774, the House of Burgesses, having received the alarming news of the passage of the Boston Port Bill, designated the day on which that bill was to take effect—the first day of June—"as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, devoutly to implore the Divine interposition for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights, and the evils of civil war; to give us one heart and one mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American rights; and that the minds of his majesty and his parliament may be inspired from above with wisdom, moderation, and justice, to remove from the loyal people of America all cause of danger, from a continued pursuit of measures pregnant with their ruin."[96] Two days afterward, the governor, Lord Dunmore, having summoned the House to the council chamber, made to them this little speech:—

"Mr. Speaker and gentlemen of the House of Burgesses, I have in my hand a paper published by order of your House, conceived in such terms as reflect highly upon his majesty and the Parliament of Great Britain, which makes it necessary for me to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly."[97]

At ten o'clock on the following day, May 27, the members of the late House met by agreement at the Raleigh Tavern, and there promptly passed a nobly-worded resolution, deploring the policy pursued by Parliament and suggesting the establishment of an annual congress of all the colonies, "to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may from time to time require."[98]

During the anxious days and nights immediately preceding the dissolution of the House, its prominent members held many private conferences with respect to the course to be pursued by Virginia. In all these conferences, as we are told, "Patrick Henry was the leader;"[99] and a very able man, George Mason, who was just then a visitor at Williamsburg, and was admitted to the consultations of the chiefs, wrote at the time concerning him: "He is by far the most powerful speaker I ever heard.... But his eloquence is the smallest part of his merit. He is, in my opinion, the first man upon this continent, as well in abilities as public virtues."[100]

In response to a recommendation made by leading members of the recent House of Burgesses, a convention of delegates from the several counties of Virginia assembled at Williamsburg, on August 1, 1774, to deal with the needs of the hour, and especially to appoint deputies to the proposed congress at Philadelphia. The spirit in which this convention transacted its business is sufficiently shown in the opening paragraphs of the letter of instructions which it gave to the deputies whom it sent to the congress:—

"The unhappy disputes between Great Britain and her American colonies, which began about the third year of the reign of his present majesty, and since, continually increasing, have proceeded to lengths so dangerous and alarming as to excite just apprehensions in the minds of his majesty's faithful subjects of this colony that they are in danger of being deprived of their natural, ancient, constitutional, and chartered rights, have compelled them to take the same into their most serious consideration; and being deprived of their usual and accustomed mode of making known their grievances, have appointed us their representatives, to consider what is proper to be done in this dangerous crisis of American affairs.

"It being our opinion that the united wisdom of North America should be collected in a general congress of all the colonies, we have appointed the honorable Peyton Randolph, Esquire, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, Esquires, deputies to represent this colony in the said congress, to be held at Philadelphia on the first Monday in September next. And that they may be the better informed of our sentiments touching the conduct we wish them to observe on this important occasion, we desire that they will express, in the first place, our faith and true allegiance to his majesty King George the Third, our lawful and rightful sovereign; and that we are determined, with our lives and fortunes, to support him in the legal exercise of all his just rights and prerogatives; and however misrepresented, we sincerely approve of a constitutional connection with Great Britain, and wish most ardently a return of that intercourse of affection and commercial connection that formerly united both countries; which can only be effected by a removal of those causes of discontent which have of late unhappily divided us.... The power assumed by the British Parliament to bind America by their statutes, in all cases whatsoever, is unconstitutional, and the source of these unhappy differences."[101]

The convention at Williamsburg, of which, of course, Patrick Henry was a member, seems to have adjourned on Saturday, the 6th of August. Between that date and the time for his departure to attend the congress at Philadelphia, we may imagine him as busily engaged in arranging his affairs for a long absence from home, and even then as not getting ready to begin the long journey until many of his associates had nearly reached the end of it.


[90] MS.

[91] Wirt, 70, 71.

[92] Wirt, 71, 72.

[93] Randall, Life of Jefferson, i. 49; Wirt, 77.

[94] Wirt, 71.

[95] Jefferson's Works, vi. 368.

[96] 4 Am. Arch. i. 350.

[97] Campbell, Hist. Va. 573.

[98] 4 Am. Arch. i. 350, 351. The narrative of these events as given by Wirt and by Campbell has several errors. They seem to have been misled by Jefferson, who, in his account of the business (Works, i. 122, 123), is, if possible, rather more inaccurate than usual.

[99] Campbell, Hist. Va. 573.

[100] Mason to Martin Cockburn, Va. Hist. Reg. iii. 27-29.

[101] The full text of this letter of instructions is given in 4 Am. Arch. i. 689, 690. With this should be compared note C. in Jefferson's Works, i. 122-142.



On the morning of Tuesday, the 30th of August, Patrick Henry arrived on horseback at Mt. Vernon, the home of his friend and colleague, George Washington; and having remained there that day and night, he set out for Philadelphia on the following morning, in the company of Washington and of Edmund Pendleton. From the jottings in Washington's diary,[102] we can so far trace the progress of this trio of illustrious horsemen, as to ascertain that on Sunday, the 4th of September, they "breakfasted at Christiana Ferry; dined at Chester;" and reached Philadelphia for supper—thus arriving in town barely in time to be present at the first meeting of the Congress on the morning of the 5th.

John Adams had taken pains to get upon the ground nearly a week earlier; and carefully gathering all possible information concerning his future associates, few of whom he had then ever seen, he wrote in his diary that the Virginians were said to "speak in raptures about Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry, one the Cicero, and the other the Demosthenes, of the age."[103]

Not far from the same time, also, a keen-witted Virginian, Roger Atkinson, at his home near Petersburg, was writing to a friend about the men who had gone to represent Virginia in the great Congress; and this letter of his, though not meant for posterity, has some neat, off-hand portraits which posterity may, nevertheless, be glad to look at. Peyton Randolph is "a venerable man ... an honest man; has knowledge, temper, experience, judgment,—above all, integrity; a true Roman spirit." Richard Bland is "a wary, old, experienced veteran at the bar and in the senate; has something of the look of old musty parchments, which he handleth and studieth much. He formerly wrote a treatise against the Quakers on water-baptism." Washington "is a soldier,—a warrior; he is a modest man; sensible; speaks little; in action cool, like a bishop at his prayers." Pendleton "is an humble and religious man, and must be exalted. He is a smooth-tongued speaker, and, though not so old, may be compared to old Nestor,—

'Experienced Nestor, in persuasion skilled, Words sweet as honey from his lips distilled.'"

But Patrick Henry "is a real half-Quaker,—your brother's man,—moderate and mild, and in religious matters a saint; but the very devil in politics; a son of thunder. He will shake the Senate. Some years ago he had liked to have talked treason into the House."[104]

Few of the members of this Congress had ever met before; and if all had arrived upon the scene as late as did these three members from Virginia, there might have been some difficulty, through a lack of previous consultation and acquaintance, in organizing the Congress on the day appointed, and in entering at once upon its business. In fact, however, more than a week before the time for the first meeting, the delegates had begun to make their appearance in Philadelphia; thenceforward with each day the arrivals continued; by Thursday, the 1st of September, twenty-five delegates, nearly one half of the entire body elected, were in town;[105] and probably, during all that week, no day and no night had passed without many an informal conference respecting the business before them, and the best way of doing it.

Concerning these memorable men of the first Continental Congress, it must be confessed that as the mists of a hundred years of glorifying oratory and of semi-poetic history have settled down upon them, they are now enveloped in a light which seems to distend their forms to proportions almost superhuman, and to cast upon their faces a gravity that hardly belongs to this world; and it may, perhaps, help us to bring them and their work somewhat nearer to the plane of natural human life and motive, and into a light that is as the light of reality, if, turning to the daily memoranda made at the time by one of their number, we can see how merrily, after all, nay, with what flowing feasts, with what convivial communings, passed those days and nights of preparation for the difficult business they were about to take in hand.

For example, on Monday, the 29th of August, when the four members of the Massachusetts delegation had arrived within five miles of the city, they were met by an escort of gentlemen, partly residents of Philadelphia, and partly delegates from other colonies, who had come out in carriages to greet them.

"We were introduced," writes John Adams, "to all these gentlemen, and most cordially welcomed to Philadelphia. We then rode into town, and dirty, dusty, and fatigued as we were, we could not resist the importunity to go to the tavern, the most genteel one in America. There we were introduced to a number of other gentlemen of the city, ... and to Mr. Lynch and Mr. Gadsden, of South Carolina. Here we had a fresh welcome to the city of Philadelphia; and after some time spent in conversation, a curtain was drawn, and in the other half of the chamber a supper appeared as elegant as ever was laid upon a table. About eleven o'clock we retired.

"30, Tuesday. Walked a little about town; visited the market, the State House, the Carpenters' Hall, where the Congress is to sit, etc.; then called at Mr. Mifflin's, a grand, spacious, and elegant house. Here we had much conversation with Mr. Charles Thomson, who is ... the Sam Adams of Philadelphia, the life of the cause of liberty, they say. A Friend, Collins, came to see us, and invited us to dine on Thursday. We returned to our lodgings, and Mr. Lynch, Mr. Gadsden, Mr. Middleton, and young Mr. Rutledge came to visit us.

"31, Wednesday. Breakfasted at Mr. Bayard's, of Philadelphia, with Mr. Sprout, a Presbyterian minister. Made a visit to Governor Ward of Rhode Island, at his lodgings. There we were introduced to several gentlemen. Mr. Dickinson, the Farmer of Pennsylvania, came in his coach with four beautiful horses to Mr. Ward's lodgings, to see us.... We dined with Mr. Lynch, his lady and daughter, at their lodgings, ... and a very agreeable dinner and afternoon we had, notwithstanding the violent heat. We were all vastly pleased with Mr. Lynch. He is a solid, firm, judicious man.

"September 1, Thursday. This day we breakfasted at Mr. Mifflin's. Mr. C. Thomson came in, and soon after Dr. Smith, the famous Dr. Smith, the provost of the college.... We then went to return visits to the gentlemen who had visited us. We visited a Mr. Cadwallader, a gentleman of large fortune, a grand and elegant house and furniture. We then visited Mr. Powell, another splendid seat. We then visited the gentlemen from South Carolina, and, about twelve, were introduced to Mr. Galloway, the speaker of the House in Pennsylvania. We dined at Friend Collins' ... with Governor Hopkins, Governor Ward, Mr. Galloway, Mr. Rhoades, etc. In the evening all the gentlemen of the Congress who were arrived in town, met at Smith's, the new city tavern, and spent the evening together. Twenty-five members were come. Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and the city of New York were not arrived.

"2, Friday. Dined at Mr. Thomas Mifflin's with Mr. Lynch, Mr. Middleton, and the two Rutledges with their ladies.... We were very sociable and happy. After coffee we went to the tavern, where we were introduced to Peyton Randolph, Esquire, speaker of Virginia, Colonel Harrison, Richard Henry Lee, Esquire, and Colonel Bland.... These gentlemen from Virginia appear to be the most spirited and consistent of any. Harrison said he would have come on foot rather than not come. Bland said he would have gone, upon this occasion, if it had been to Jericho.

"3, Saturday. Breakfasted at Dr. Shippen's; Dr. Witherspoon was there. Col. R. H. Lee lodges there; he is a masterly man.... We went with Mr. William Barrell to his store, and drank punch, and ate dried smoked sprats with him; read the papers and our letters from Boston; dined with Mr. Joseph Reed, the lawyer; ... spent the evening at Mr. Mifflin's, with Lee and Harrison from Virginia, the two Rutledges, Dr. Witherspoon, Dr. Shippen, Dr. Steptoe, and another gentleman; an elegant supper, and we drank sentiments till eleven o'clock. Lee and Harrison were very high. Lee had dined with Mr. Dickinson, and drank Burgundy the whole afternoon."[106]

Accordingly, at 10 o'clock on Monday morning, the 5th of September, when the delegates assembled at their rendezvous, the city tavern, and marched together through the streets to Carpenters' Hall, for most of them the stiffness of a first introduction was already broken, and they could greet one another that morning with something of the freedom and good fellowship of boon companions. Moreover, they were then ready to proceed to business under the advantage of having arranged beforehand an outline of what was first to be done. It had been discovered, apparently, that the first serious question which would meet them after their formal organization, was one relating to the method of voting in the Congress, namely, whether each deputy should have a vote, or only each colony; and if the latter, whether the vote of each colony should be proportioned to its population and property.

Having arrived at the hall, and inspected it, and agreed that it would serve the purpose, the delegates helped themselves to seats. Then Mr. Lynch of South Carolina arose, and nominated Mr. Peyton Randolph of Virginia for president. This nomination having been unanimously adopted, Mr. Lynch likewise proposed Mr. Charles Thomson for secretary, which was carried without opposition; but as Mr. Thomson was not a delegate, and of course was not then present, the doorkeeper was instructed to go out and find him, and say to him that his immediate attendance was desired by the Congress.

Next came the production and inspection of credentials. The roll indicated that of the fifty-two delegates appointed, forty-four were already upon the ground,—constituting an assemblage of representative Americans, which, for dignity of character and for intellectual eminence, was undoubtedly the most imposing that the colonies had ever seen. In that room that day were such men as John Sullivan, John and Samuel Adams, Stephen Hopkins, Roger Sherman, James Duane, John Jay, Philip and William Livingston, Joseph Galloway, Thomas Mifflin, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, George Read, Samuel Chase, John and Edward Rutledge, Christopher Gadsden, Henry Middleton, Edmund Pendleton, George Washington, and Patrick Henry.

Having thus got through with the mere routine of organization, which must have taken a considerable time, James Duane, of New York, moved the appointment of a committee "to prepare regulations for this Congress." To this several gentlemen objected; whereupon John Adams, thinking that Duane's purpose might have been misunderstood, "asked leave of the president to request of the gentleman from New York an explanation, and that he would point out some particular regulations which he had in his mind." In reply to this request, Duane "mentioned particularly the method of voting, whether it should be by colonies, or by the poll, or by interests."[107] Thus Duane laid his finger on perhaps the most sensitive nerve in that assemblage; but as he sat down, the discussion of the subject which he had mentioned was interrupted by a rather curious incident. This was the return of the doorkeeper, having under his escort Mr. Charles Thomson. The latter walked up the aisle, and standing opposite to the president, said, with a bow, that he awaited his pleasure. The president replied: "Congress desire the favor of you, sir, to take their minutes." Without a word, only bowing his acquiescence, the secretary took his seat at his desk, and began those modest but invaluable services from which he did not cease until the Congress of the Confederation was merged into that of the Union.

The discussion, into which this incident had fallen as a momentary episode, was then resumed. "After a short silence," says the man who was thus inducted into office, "Patrick Henry arose to speak. I did not then know him. He was dressed in a suit of parson's gray, and from his appearance I took him for a Presbyterian clergyman, used to haranguing the people. He observed that we were here met in a time and on an occasion of great difficulty and distress; that our public circumstances were like those of a man in deep embarrassment and trouble, who had called his friends together to devise what was best to be done for his relief;—one would propose one thing, and another a different one, whilst perhaps a third would think of something better suited to his unhappy circumstances, which he would embrace, and think no more of the rejected schemes with which he would have nothing to do."[108]

Such is the rather meagre account, as given by one ear-witness, of Patrick Henry's first speech in the Congress of 1774. From another ear-witness we have another account, likewise very meagre, but giving, probably, a somewhat more adequate idea of the drift and point of what he said:—

"Mr. Henry then arose, and said this was the first general congress which had ever happened; that no former congress could be a precedent; that we should have occasion for more general congresses, and therefore that a precedent ought to be established now; that it would be a great injustice if a little colony should have the same weight in the councils of America as a great one; and therefore he was for a committee."[109]

The notable thing about both these accounts is that they agree in showing Patrick Henry's first speech in Congress to have been not, as has been represented, an impassioned portrayal of "general grievances," but a plain and quiet handling of a mere "detail of business." In the discussion he was followed by John Sullivan, who merely observed that "a little colony had its all at stake as well as a great one." The floor was then taken by John Adams, who seems to have made a searching and vigorous argument,—exhibiting the great difficulties attending any possible conclusion to which they might come respecting the method of voting. At the end of his speech, apparently, the House adjourned, to resume the consideration of the subject on the following day.[110]

Accordingly, on Tuesday morning the discussion was continued, and at far greater length than on the previous day; the first speaker being Patrick Henry himself, who seems now to have gone into the subject far more broadly, and with much greater intensity of thought, than in his first speech.

"'Government,' said he, 'is dissolved. Fleets and armies and the present state of things show that government is dissolved. Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of colonies? We are in a state of nature, sir. I did propose that a scale should be laid down; that part of North America which was once Massachusetts Bay, and that part which was once Virginia, ought to be considered as having a weight. Will not people complain,—"Ten thousand Virginians have not outweighed one thousand others?"

"'I will submit, however; I am determined to submit, if I am overruled.

"'A worthy gentleman near me [John Adams] seemed to admit the necessity of obtaining a more adequate representation.

"'I hope future ages will quote our proceedings with applause. It is one of the great duties of the democratical part of the constitution to keep itself pure. It is known in my province that some other colonies are not so numerous or rich as they are. I am for giving all the satisfaction in my power.

"'The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.

"'Slaves are to be thrown out of the question; and if the freemen can be represented according to their numbers, I am satisfied.'

"The subject was then debated at length by Lynch, Rutledge, Ward, Richard Henry Lee, Gadsden, Bland, and Pendleton, when Patrick Henry again rose:—

"'I agree that authentic accounts cannot be had, if by authenticity is meant attestations of officers of the crown. I go upon the supposition that government is at an end. All distinctions are thrown down. All America is thrown into one mass. We must aim at the minutiae of rectitude.'"

Patrick Henry was then followed by John Jay, who seems to have closed the debate, and whose allusion to what his immediate predecessor had said gives us some hint of the variations in Revolutionary opinion then prevailing among the members, as well as of the advanced position always taken by Patrick Henry:—

"'Could I suppose that we came to frame an American constitution, instead of endeavoring to correct the faults in an old one, I can't yet think that all government is at an end. The measure of arbitrary power is not full; and I think it must run over, before we undertake to frame a new constitution. To the virtue, spirit, and abilities of Virginia we owe much. I should always, therefore, from inclination as well as justice, be for giving Virginia its full weight. I am not clear that we ought not to be bound by a majority, though ever so small; but I only mentioned it as a matter of danger worthy of consideration.'"[111]

Of this entire debate, the most significant issue is indicated by the following passage from the journal for Tuesday, the 6th of September:—

"Resolved, that in determining questions in this Congress, each colony or province shall have one vote; the Congress not being possessed of, or at present able to procure, proper materials for ascertaining the importance of each colony."[112]

So far as it is now possible to ascertain it, such was Patrick Henry's part in the first discussion held by the first Continental Congress,—a discussion occupying parts of two days, and relating purely to methods of procedure by that body, and not to the matters of grievance between the colonies and Great Britain. We have a right to infer something as to the quality of the first impression made upon his associates by Patrick Henry in consequence of his three speeches in this discussion, from the fact that when, at the close of it, an order was taken for the appointment of two grand committees, one "to state the rights of the colonies," the other "to examine and report the several statutes which affect the trade and manufactures of the colonies," Patrick Henry was chosen to represent Virginia on the latter committee,[113]—a position not likely to have been selected for a man who, however eloquent he may have seemed, had not also shown business-like and lawyer-like qualities.

The Congress kept steadily at work from Monday, the 5th of September, to Wednesday, the 26th of October,—just seven weeks and two days. Though not a legislative body, it resembled all legislative bodies then in existence, in the fact that it sat with closed doors, and that it gave to the public only such results as it chose to give. Upon the difficult and exciting subjects which came before it, there were, very likely, many splendid passages of debate; and we cannot doubt that in all these discussions Patrick Henry took his usually conspicuous and powerful share. Yet no official record was kept of what was said by any member; and it is only from the hurried private memoranda of two of his colleagues that we are able to learn anything more respecting Patrick Henry's participation in the debates of those seven weeks.

For example, just two weeks after the opening of this Congress, one of its most critical members, Silas Deane of Connecticut, in a letter to his wife, gave some capital sketches of his more prominent associates there, especially those from the South,—as Randolph, Harrison, Washington, Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, and Patrick Henry. The latter he describes as "a lawyer, and the completest speaker I ever heard. If his future speeches are equal to the small samples he has hitherto given us, they will be worth preserving; but in a letter I can give you no idea of the music of his voice, or the high-wrought yet natural elegance of his style and manner."[114]

It was on the 28th of September that Joseph Galloway brought forward his celebrated plan for a permanent reconciliation between Great Britain and her colonies. This was simply a scheme for what we should now call home rule, on a basis of colonial confederation, with an American parliament to be elected every three years by the legislatures of the several colonies, and with a governor-general to be appointed by the crown. The plan came very near to adoption.[115] The member who introduced it was a man of great ability and great influence; it was supported by James Duane and John Jay; it was pronounced by Edward Rutledge to be "almost a perfect plan;" and in the final trial it was lost only by a vote of six colonies to five. Could it have been adopted, the disruption of the British empire would certainly have been averted for that epoch, and, as an act of violence and of unkindness, would perhaps have been averted forever; while the thirteen English colonies would have remained English colonies, without ceasing to be free.

The plan, however, was distrusted and resisted, with stern and implacable hostility, by the more radical members of the Congress, particularly by those from Massachusetts and Virginia; and an outline of what Patrick Henry said in his assault upon it, delivered on the very day on which it was introduced, is thus given by John Adams:—

"The original constitution of the colonies was founded on the broadest and most generous base. The regulation of our trade was compensation enough for all the protection we ever experienced from her.

"We shall liberate our constituents from a corrupt House of Commons, but throw them into the arms of an American legislature, that may be bribed by that nation which avows, in the face of the world, that bribery is a part of her system of government.

"Before we are obliged to pay taxes as they do, let us be as free as they; let us have our trade open with all the world.

"We are not to consent by the representatives of representatives.

"I am inclined to think the present measures lead to war."[116]

The only other trace to be discovered of Patrick Henry's activity in the debates of this Congress belongs to the day just before the one on which Galloway's plan was introduced. The subject then under discussion was the measure for non-importation and non-exportation. On considerations of forbearance, Henry tried to have the date for the application of this measure postponed from November to December, saying, characteristically, "We don't mean to hurt even our rascals, if we have any."[117]

Probably the most notable work done by this Congress was its preparation of those masterly state papers in which it interpreted and affirmed the constitutional attitude of the colonies, and which, when laid upon the table of the House of Lords, drew forth the splendid encomium of Chatham.[118] In many respects the most important, and certainly the most difficult, of these state papers, was the address to the king. The motion for such an address was made on the 1st of October. On the same day the preparation of it was entrusted to a very able committee, consisting of Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, Thomas Johnson, Patrick Henry, and John Rutledge; and on the 21st of October the committee was strengthened by the accession of John Dickinson, who had entered the Congress but four days before.[119] Precisely what part Patrick Henry took in the preparation of this address is not now known; but there is no evidence whatever for the assertion[120] that the first draft, which, when submitted to Congress, proved to be unsatisfactory, was the work of Patrick Henry. That draft, as is now abundantly proved, was prepared by the chairman of the committee, Richard Henry Lee, but after full instructions from Congress and from the committee itself.[121] In its final form, the address was largely moulded by the expert and gentle hand of John Dickinson.[122] No one can doubt, however, that even though Patrick Henry may have contributed nothing to the literary execution of this fine address, he was not inactive in its construction,[123] and that he was not likely to have suggested any abatement from its free and manly spirit.

The only other committee on which he is known to have served during this Congress was one to which his name was added on the 19th of September,—"the committee appointed to state the rights of the colonies,"[124] an object, certainly, far better suited to the peculiarities of his talents and of his temper than that of the committee for the conciliation of a king.

Of course, the one gift in which Patrick Henry excelled all other men of his time and neighborhood was the gift of eloquence; and it is not to be doubted that in many other forms of effort, involving, for example, plain sense, practical experience, and knowledge of details, he was often equaled, and perhaps even surpassed, by men who had not a particle of his genius for oratory. This fact, the analogue of which is common in the history of all men of genius, seems to be the basis of an anecdote which, possibly, is authentic, and which, at any rate, has been handed down by one who was always a devoted friend[125] of the great orator. It is said that, after Henry and Lee had made their first speeches, Samuel Chase of Maryland was so impressed by their superiority that he walked over to the seat of one of his colleagues and said: "We might as well go home; we are not able to legislate with these men." But some days afterward, perhaps in the midst of the work of the committee on the statutes affecting trade and commerce, the same member was able to relieve himself by the remark: "Well, after all, I find these are but men, and, in mere matters of business, but very common men."[126]

It seems hardly right to pass from these studies upon the first Continental Congress, and upon Patrick Henry's part in it, without some reference to Wirt's treatment of the subject in a book which has now been, for nearly three quarters of a century, the chief source of public information concerning Patrick Henry. There is perhaps no other portion of this book which is less worthy of respect.[127] It is not only unhistoric in nearly all the very few alleged facts of the narrative, but it does great injustice to Patrick Henry by representing him virtually as a mere declaimer, as an ill-instructed though most impressive rhapsodist in debate, and as without any claim to the character of a serious statesman, or even of a man of affairs; while, by the somewhat grandiose and melodramatic tone of some portion of the narrative, it is singularly out of harmony with the real tone of that famous assemblage,—an assemblage of Anglo-Saxon lawyers, politicians, and men of business, who were probably about as practical and sober-minded a company as had been got together for any manly undertaking since that of Runnymede.

Wirt begins by convening his Congress one day too soon, namely, on the 4th of September, which was Sunday; and he represents the members as "personally strangers" to one another, and as sitting, after their preliminary organization, in a "long and deep silence," the members meanwhile looking around upon each other with a sort of helpless anxiety, "every individual" being reluctant "to open a business so fearfully momentous." But

"in the midst of this deep and death-like silence, and just when it was beginning to become painfully embarrassing, Mr. Henry arose slowly, as if borne down by the weight of the subject. After faltering, according to his habit, through a most impressive exordium, in which he merely echoed back the consciousness of every other heart in deploring his inability to do justice to the occasion, he launched gradually into a recital of the colonial wrongs. Rising, as he advanced, with the grandeur of his subject, and glowing at length with all the majesty and expectation of the occasion, his speech seemed more than that of mortal man. Even those who had heard him in all his glory in the House of Burgesses of Virginia were astonished at the manner in which his talents seemed to swell and expand themselves to fill the vaster theatre in which he was now placed. There was no rant, no rhapsody, no labor of the understanding, no straining of the voice, no confusion of the utterance. His countenance was erect, his eye steady, his action noble, his enunciation clear and firm, his mind poised on its centre, his views of his subject comprehensive and great, and his imagination coruscating with a magnificence and a variety which struck even that assembly with amazement and awe. He sat down amidst murmurs of astonishment and applause; and, as he had been before proclaimed the greatest orator of Virginia, he was now on every hand admitted to be the first orator of America."[128]

This great speech from Patrick Henry, which certainly was not made on that occasion, and probably was never made at all, Wirt causes to be followed by a great speech from Richard Henry Lee, although the journal could have informed him that Lee was not even in the House on that day. Moreover, he makes Patrick Henry to be the author of the unfortunate first draft of the address to the king,—a document which was written by another man; and on this fiction he founds two or three pages of lamentation and of homily with reference to Patrick Henry's inability to express himself in writing, in consequence of "his early neglect of literature." Finally, he thinks it due "to historic truth to record that the superior powers" of Patrick Henry "were manifested only in debate;" and that, although he and Richard Henry Lee "took the undisputed lead in the Assembly," "during the first days of the session, while general grievances were the topic," yet they were both "completely thrown into the shade" "when called down from the heights of declamation to that severer test of intellectual excellence, the details of business,"—the writer here seeming to forget that "general grievances" were not the topic "during the first days of the session," and that the very speeches by which these two men are said to have made their mark there, were speeches on mere rules of the House relating to methods of procedure.[129]

Since the death of Wirt, and the publication of the biography of him by Kennedy, it has been possible for us to ascertain just how the genial author of "The Life and Character of Patrick Henry" came to be so gravely misled in this part of his book. "The whole passage relative to the first Congress" appears to have been composed from data furnished by Jefferson, who, however, was not a member of that Congress; and in the original manuscript the very words of Jefferson were surrounded with quotation marks, and were attributed to him by name. When, however, that great man, who loved not to send out calumnies into the world with his own name attached to them, came to inspect this portion of Wirt's manuscript, he was moved by his usual prudence to write such a letter as drew from Wirt the following consolatory assurance:—

"Your repose shall never be endangered by any act of mine, if I can help it. Immediately on the receipt of your last letter, and before the manuscript had met any other eye, I wrote over again the whole passage relative to the first Congress, omitting the marks of quotation, and removing your name altogether from the communication."[130]

The final adjournment of the first Continental Congress, it will be remembered, did not occur until its members had spent together more than seven weeks of the closest intellectual intimacy. Surely, no mere declaimer however enchanting, no sublime babbler on the rights of man, no political charlatan strutting about for the display of his preternatural gift of articulate wind, could have grappled in keen debate, for all those weeks, on the greatest of earthly subjects, with fifty of the ablest men in America, without exposing to their view all his own intellectual poverty, and without losing the very last shred of their intellectual respect for him. Whatever may have been the impression formed of Patrick Henry as a mere orator by his associates in that Congress, nothing can be plainer than that those men carried with them to their homes that report of him as a man of extraordinary intelligence, integrity, and power, which was the basis of his subsequent fame for many years among the American people. Long afterward, John Adams, who formed his estimate of Patrick Henry chiefly from what he saw of him in that Congress, and who was never much addicted to bestowing eulogiums on any man but John Adams, wrote to Jefferson that "in the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared ... sensible of the precipice, or rather the pinnacle, on which we stood, and had candor and courage enough to acknowledge it."[131] To Wirt likewise, a few years later, the same hard critic of men testified that Patrick Henry always impressed him as a person "of deep reflection, keen sagacity, clear foresight, daring enterprise, inflexible intrepidity, and untainted integrity, with an ardent zeal for the liberties, the honor, and felicity of his country and his species."[132]

Of the parting interview between these two men, at the close of that first period of thorough personal acquaintance, there remains from the hand of one of them a graphic account that reveals to us something of the conscious kinship which seems ever afterward to have bound together their robust and impetuous natures.

"When Congress," says John Adams, "had finished their business, as they thought, in the autumn of 1774, I had with Mr. Henry, before we took leave of each other, some familiar conversation, in which I expressed a full conviction that our resolves, declarations of rights, enumeration of wrongs, petitions, remonstrances, and addresses, associations, and non-importation agreements, however they might be expected by the people in America, and however necessary to cement the union of the colonies, would be but waste paper in England. Mr. Henry said they might make some impression among the people of England, but agreed with me that they would be totally lost upon the government. I had but just received a short and hasty letter, written to me by Major Hawley, of Northampton, containing 'a few broken hints,' as he called them, of what he thought was proper to be done, and concluding[133] with these words: 'After all, we must fight.' This letter I read to Mr. Henry, who listened with great attention; and as soon as I had pronounced the words, 'After all, we must fight,' he raised his head, and with an energy and vehemence that I can never forget, broke out with: 'By God, I am of that man's mind!'"[134]

This anecdote, it may be mentioned, contains the only instance on record, for any period of Patrick Henry's life, implying his use of what at first may seem a profane oath. John Adams, upon whose very fallible memory in old age the story rests, declares that he did not at the time regard Patrick Henry's words as an oath, but rather as a solemn asseveration, affirmed religiously, upon a very great occasion. At any rate, that asseveration proved to be a prophecy; for from it there then leaped a flame that lighted up for an instant the next inevitable stage in the evolution of events,—the tragic and bloody outcome of all these wary lucubrations and devices of the assembled political wizards of America.

It is interesting to note that, at the very time when the Congress at Philadelphia was busy with its stern work, the people of Virginia were grappling with the peril of an Indian war assailing them from beyond their western mountains. There has recently been brought to light a letter written at Hanover, on the 15th of October, 1774, by the aged mother of Patrick Henry, to a friend living far out towards the exposed district; and this letter is a touching memorial both of the general anxiety over the two concurrent events, and of the motherly pride and piety of the writer:—

"My son Patrick has been gone to Philadelphia near seven weeks. The affairs of Congress are kept with great secrecy, nobody being allowed to be present. I assure you we have our lowland troubles and fears with respect to Great Britain. Perhaps our good God may bring good to us out of these many evils which threaten us, not only from the mountains but from the seas."[135]


[102] Washington's Writings, ii. 503.

[103] Works of John Adams, ii. 357.

[104] Meade, Old Churches and Families of Va. i. 220, 221.

[105] Works of John Adams, ii. 361.

[106] Works of John Adams, ii. 357-364.

[107] Works of John Adams, ii. 365.

[108] Am. Quarterly Review, i. 30, whence it is quoted in Works of John Adams, iii. 29, 30, note. As regards the value of this testimony of Charles Thomson, we should note that it is something alleged to have been said by him at the age of ninety, in a conversation with a friend, and by the latter reported to the author of the article above cited in the Am. Quart. Rev.

[109] Works of John Adams, ii. 365.

[110] It seems to me that the second paragraph on page 366 of volume ii. of the Works of John Adams must be taken as his memorandum of his own speech; and that what follows on that page, as well as on page 367, and the first half of page 368, is erroneously understood by the editor as belonging to the first day's debate. It must have been an outline of the second day's debate. This is proved partly by the fact that it mentions Lee as taking part in the debate; but according to the journal, Lee did not appear in Congress until the second day. 4 Am. Arch. i. 898.

[111] Works of John Adams, ii. 366-368.

[112] 4 Am. Arch. i. 898, 899.

[113] 4 Am. Arch. i. 899.

[114] Conn. Hist. Soc. Coll. ii. 181.

[115] The text of Galloway's plan is given in 4 Am. Arch. i. 905, 906.

[116] Works of John Adams, ii. 390.

[117] Works of John Adams, ii. 385.

[118] Hansard, Parl. Hist. xviii. 155, 156 note, 157.

[119] 4 Am. Arch. i. 906, 907, 927.

[120] Wirt, 109.

[121] Works of John Adams, x. 79; ii. 396, note; Lee's Life of R. H. Lee, i. 116-118, 270-272.

[122] Political Writings, ii. 19-29.

[123] Thus John Adams, on 11th October, writes: "Spent the evening with Mr. Henry at his lodgings consulting about a petition to the king." Works, ii. 396.

[124] 4 Am. Arch. i. 904.

[125] Judge John Tyler, in Wirt, 109, note.

[126] For another form of this tradition, see Curtis's Life of Webster, i. 588.

[127] Pages 105-113.

[128] Wirt, 105, 106.

[129] The exact rules under debate during those first two days are given in 4 Am. Arch. i. 898, 899.

[130] Kennedy, Mem. of Wirt, i. 364.

[131] Works of John Adams, x. 78.

[132] Ibid. x. 277.

[133] As a matter of fact, the letter from Hawley began with these words, instead of "concluding" with them.

[134] Works of John Adams, x. 277, 278.

[135] Peyton, History of Augusta County, 345, where will be found the entire letter.



We now approach that brilliant passage in the life of Patrick Henry when, in the presence of the second revolutionary convention of Virginia, he proclaimed the futility of all further efforts for peace, and the instant necessity of preparing for war.

The speech which he is said to have made on that occasion has been committed to memory and declaimed by several generations of American schoolboys, and is now perhaps familiarly known to a larger number of the American people than any other considerable bit of secular prose in our language. The old church at Richmond, in which he made this marvelous speech, is in our time visited every year, as a patriotic shrine, by thousands of pilgrims, who seek curiously the very spot upon the floor where the orator is believed to have stood when he uttered those words of flame. It is chiefly the tradition of that one speech which to-day keeps alive, in millions of American homes, the name of Patrick Henry, and which lifts him, in the popular faith, almost to the rank of some mythical hero of romance.

In reality, that speech, and the resolutions in support of which that speech was made, constituted Patrick Henry's individual declaration of war against Great Britain. But the question is: To what extent, if any, was he therein original, or even in advance of his fellow-countrymen, and particularly of his associates in the Virginia convention?

It is essential to a just understanding of the history of that crisis in revolutionary thought, and it is of very high importance, likewise, to the historic position of Patrick Henry, that no mistake be committed here; especially that he be not made the victim of a disastrous reaction from any overstatement[136] respecting the precise nature and extent of the service then rendered by him to the cause of the Revolution.

We need, therefore, to glance for a moment at the period between October, 1774, and March, 1775, with the purpose of tracing therein the more important tokens of the growth of the popular conviction that a war with Great Britain had become inevitable, and was to be immediately prepared for by the several colonies,—two propositions which form the substance of all that Patrick Henry said on the great occasion now before us.

As early as the 21st of October, 1774, the first Continental Congress, after having suggested all possible methods for averting war, made this solemn declaration to the people of the colonies: "We think ourselves bound in duty to observe to you that the schemes agitated against these colonies have been so conducted as to render it prudent that you should extend your views to mournful events, and be in all respects prepared for every emergency."[137] Just six days later, John Dickinson, a most conservative and peace-loving member of that Congress, wrote to an American friend in England: "I wish for peace ardently; but must say, delightful as it is, it will come more grateful by being unexpected. The first act of violence on the part of administration in America, or the attempt to reinforce General Gage this winter or next year, will put the whole continent in arms, from Nova Scotia to Georgia."[138] On the following day, the same prudent statesman wrote to another American friend, also in England: "The most peaceful provinces are now animated; and a civil war is unavoidable, unless there be a quick change of British measures."[139] On the 29th of October, the eccentric Charles Lee, who was keenly watching the symptoms of colonial discontent and resistance, wrote from Philadelphia to an English nobleman: "Virginia, Rhode Island, and Carolina are forming corps. Massachusetts Bay has long had a sufficient number instructed to become instructive of the rest. Even this Quakering province is following the example.... In short, unless the banditti at Westminster speedily undo everything they have done, their royal paymaster will hear of reviews and manoeuvres not quite so entertaining as those he is presented with in Hyde Park and Wimbledon Common."[140] On the 1st of November, a gentleman in Maryland wrote to a kinsman in Glasgow: "The province of Virginia is raising one company in every county.... This province has taken the hint, and has begun to raise men in every county also; and to the northward they have large bodies, capable of acquitting themselves with honor in the field."[141] At about the same time, the General Assembly of Connecticut ordered that every town should at once supply itself with "double the quantity of powder, balls, and flints" that had been hitherto required by law.[142] On the 5th of November, the officers of the Virginia troops accompanying Lord Dunmore on his campaign against the Indians held a meeting at Fort Gower, on the Ohio River, and passed this resolution: "That we will exert every power within us for the defence of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges, not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen."[143] Not far from the same time, the people of Rhode Island carried off to Providence from the batteries at Newport forty-four pieces of cannon; and the governor frankly told the commander of a British naval force near at hand that they had done this in order to prevent these cannon from falling into his hands, and with the purpose of using them against "any power that might offer to molest the colony."[144] Early in December, the Provincial Convention of Maryland recommended that all persons between sixteen and fifty years of age should form themselves into military companies, and "be in readiness to act on any emergency,"—with a sort of grim humor prefacing their recommendation by this exquisite morsel of argumentative irony:—

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse