« ZurückWeiter »
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.
“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 Eng. land.
Résolved, 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.
"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 king and peo- ple of Great Britain.
“Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such powerin any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, bas a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.”
“On the back of the paper containing those resolutions, is the following endorsement, which is also in the hand-writing of Mr. Henry himself. “The within resolutions passed the house of burges.
ses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the stamp act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British parliament. All the colomies, 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 wembers 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 uitassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law book, wrote the within. 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, practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. P. HENRY.'
Such is the short, plain, and modest account which Mr. Henry has left of this transaction.
Every American realized the truth expressed in Mr. Henry's resolutions; but no man beside himself boldly dare to utter it. All wished for independence; and all hitherto trembled at the thought of asserting it.
Mr. Wirt, in his life of Henry, from which we select this sketch, says, “the following is Mr. Jefferson's account of this transaction:
“Mr. Henry moved and Mr. Johnston seconded these resolutions successively. They were opposed by Messrs. Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the house had, till then, been unbroken. They did it, not from any question of our rights, but on the ground that the same sentiments had been, at their preceding session, expressed in a more conciliatory form, to which the answers were not yet received. But torrents of sublime eloquence from Henry, backed by the solid reasoning of Johnson, prevailed. The last, however, and strongest resolution, was carried but by a single vote. The debate on it was most bloody. I was then but a student, and stood at the door of communication between the house and the lobby (for as yet there was no gallery) during the whole debate and vote; and I well remember that, after the numbers on the division were told and declared from the chair, Peyton Randolph (the attorney general) came out at the door where I was standing, and said as he entered the lobby, by - , I would have given 500 guineas for a single vote;' for one vote would have divided the house, and Robinson was in the chair, who he knew would have negatived the resolution.
"By these resolutions, and his manner of sup. porting them, Mr. Henry took the lead out of the hands of those who had theretofore guided the proceedings of the house; that is to say, of Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Randolph.” It was, indeed, the measure which raised him to the zenith of his glory. He had never before had a subject which entirely matched his genius, and was capable of drawing out all the powers of his mind. It was remarked of him throughout his life, that his talents never failed to rise with the occasion, and in proportion to the resistance which he had to encounter. The nicety of the vote on his last resolution, proves that this was not a time to hold in reserve any part of his forces.
“ It was indeed, an alpine passage, under circumstances even more unpropitious than those of Hanibal, for he bad not only to fight, hand to hand, the powerful party who were already in possession of the heights, but at the same instant, to cheer and animate the timid band of followers, that were trembling, fainting, and drawing back, below him. It was an occasion that called upon him to put forth all his strength, and he did put it forth, in such a manner, as man never did before. The cords of argument with which his adversaries frequently flattered themselves they had bound him fast, became packthreads in his hands. He burst them with as much ease, as the unshorn Sampson did the bands of the Philistines. He seized the pillars of the temple, shook them terribly, and seemed to threaten his opponents with ruin. It was an incessant storm of lightning and thunder, which struck them aghast. The faint-hearted gathered courage from his countenance, and cowards became heroes, while they gazed upon his exploits.
“It was in the midst of this magnificent debate, while he was descanting on the tyranny of the obnoxious act, that he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, and with the look of a god, .Cæsar had his Brutus-Charles the first, his Cromwell-and George the third-(Treason,' cried the speaker"treason, treason,' echoed from every part of the house. It was one of those trying moments which is decisive of character. Henry faltered not for an instant; but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing
on the speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
In August, 1774, the Virginia Convention assembled in Williamsburg, and passed a series of resolutions, whereby they pledged themselves to make common cause with the people of Boston in every extremity. They appointed as deputies to Congress on the part of that colony, Peyton Randolph, Richard H. Lee, George Washington, Richard Bland, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, who were deputed to attend the first meeting of the colonial congress.
On the 4th September, 1774, that venerable body, the old continental congress of the United States, (towards whom every American heart will bow with pious homage, while the name of liberty shall be dear in our land) met for the first time at Carpenter's Hall, in the city of Philadelphia. Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, was chosen president, and the house was organized for busines, with all the solemnities of a regular legislature.
The most eminent men of the various colonies were now, for the first time, brought together. W They were known to each other by fame; but they its were personally strangers. The meeting was aw
fully solemn. The object which had called them together was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no less than three millions of people, with that of all their posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils. No wonder, then, at the long and deep silence which is said to have followed upon their organization; at the anxiety with which the members looked around upon each other; and the reluctance which every individual felt to open a business só fearfully momentous.
In the midst of this deep and death-like silence, in and just when it was beginning to become painful