« ZurückWeiter »
came clamorous, duns showered in upon him, and in a short time Patrick Henry was reduced to misery and want. At last he was driven to his books, and resolved on the study of law. He now felt most keenly the misspent time of his childhood and youth, and saw many of his age who had already ascended high on the ladder of fame, whose native powers of mind he knew to be inferior to his. He accordingly commenced the study he had chosen, and in six weeks after, at the age of twenty-four, he was admitted to the bar, more as a compliment to his respectable connexions and his destitute situation, than from the knowledge he had obtained of this lucid but laborious science during the brief period he had been engaged in its investigation. The ensuing three years, folded in the coil of extreme want, he made but slow advances in his profession, and obtained the necessaries of life by assisting his father-in-law at a tavern bar, instead of shining at the bar of the court. He was still ardently attached to his gun, and often carried his knapsack of provisions and remained several days and nights in the woods. On his return, he would enter the court in his coarse and blood-stained hunting dress, when he would take up his causes, carry them through with astonishing adroitness and skill, and finally succeeded in gaining a popular reputation as an ad
In 1764, he was employed as counsel in a case of contested election to be tried at the seat of the government of his native state, which introduced him among the fashionable and gay, whose exterior appearance and manners formed a great contrast with his. He made no preparation for meeting his learned and polished adversaries, and as he moved awkwardly around among them, was looked upon by some who were gazing at his coarse habiliments and his eccentric actions, as non compos mentis. When the case came up for trial, the astonished audience and the court were completely electrified by his bursts of native eloquence and the cogency of his logic. Judges Tyler and Winston who tried the case, declared they had never before witnessed so happy and triumphant an effort, in point of sublime rhetoric and conclusive argument, by any man. From that time forward the fame of Patrick Henry spread its expansive wings, and he was enabled to banish want and misery from his door by a lucrative and increasing practice. From his childhood he had been a close observer of human nature; the only remarkable trait in favour of his juvenile character. He had always cultivated and improved this advantageous propensity, which was of great use to him in after life. So well versed had he become with the nature, propensities, and operations of the human mind, that he seemed to comprehend and divine, at a single glance, all its intricacies, impulses and variations. This gave him a great advantage over many of his professional brethren, who had studied Latin and Greek more, but human nature less, than this self-made man. He took a deep and comprehensive view of the causes that impel men to action, and of the results produced by the multifarious influences that control and direct them. He investigated the designs of creation, the duty of man to his fellow and his God, the laws of nature, reason and revelation, and became a bold advocate for liberty of conscience, equal rights and universal freedom. Nor did he bury
these principles of philanthropy in his own bosom. In the expansive view he had taken of the rights of man, of the different modes of government, of the oppression of kings, of the policy pursued by the mother country towards the American colonies, he came to the conclusion, that any nation to be great and happy, must be free and independent.
He ad viewed, with a statesman's eye, the growing oppressions of the crown; they had reached his very soul, and roused that soul to action. In Virginia, Patrick Henry first charged the revolutionary ball with patriotic fire, and gave it an impetus that increased and gathered new force as it rolled along. Had not the mighty theme of freedom engaged the mind of this bold and elevated patriot, he might have closed his career with its gigantic powers half unspent, and left his noblest qualities of soul to expire in embryo. Nature had so moulded him, that the ordinary concerns of life never roused him to vigorous action. It required occasions of deep and thrilling interest to awaken and put in motion his stronger energies. The exciting cause of the revolution was exactly calculated to bring him out in all the majesty of his native greatness.
In 1765, he was chosen a member of the Virginia Assembly, and at once took a bold and decisive stand against British oppression. He introduced resolutions against the stamp act that were so bold and independent as to alarm the older members, who, although they approved and applauded the principles and liberal views of this young champion of liberty, wanted his moral courage to design and execute. To impart this to them, and stamp the impress of his own upon their trembling hearts, was now the great business of Patrick Henry. In this he succeeded, and his resolutions were passed. Each resolution was drawn from the translucent fountain of eternal justice, equity and law, and was based upon the principles of Magna Charta, which had been the polar star of England for centuries. The following is a correct copy:
"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.
"Resolved, That by two royal charters granted by King James I., 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.
"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.
"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 in any other way given up, but hath been constantly recognised by the King and people of Great Britain.
"Resolved therefore, that the general assembly of this colony has the sole 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 whosoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom!"
The justice of these resolutions, based as they were upon the well known principles of the English constitution, confined within the limits of the ancient landmarks of that sacred instrument, could not be denied by the cringing sycophants of a corrupt and corrupting ministry, and were hailed by every patriot as the firm pillars of the temple of American liberty. They were enforced by the overwhelming eloquence and logic of the mover, and seconded by Mr. Johnston, sustained them by arguments and conclusions that imparted new strength and courage to many a bosom that was, a few moments before, poising on the agonizing pivot of hesitation. They were strongly opposed by several members, who subsequently espoused the cause of equal rights, and affixed their names to the great charter of our independence. This opposition brought forth, for the first time, the gigantic powers of Patrick Henry. In all the sublimity of his towering genius, he stood among the great, the acknowledged champion of that legislative hall which he had but recently entered. Astonishment and admiration held his electrified audience in deep suspense as he painted, in bold and glowing colours, the increasing infringements of the hirelings of the crown upon the chartered rights and privileges of the colonists, who had waded through torrents of blood and seas of trouble and toil, to plant themselves in the new world. He pointed to the chains forged by the hands of tyranny, already clanking, with terrific sound, upon every ear. To be free or slaves, was the great, the momentous question. He, for one, was prepared and determined to unfurl the banner of freedom, drive from his native soil the task masters of oppression, or perish in the glorious attempt. His opponents were completely astounded, and found it impossible to stem the strong current of popular feeling put in motion by the proceedings of that eventful crisis. Seconded and supported by the cool and deep calculating Johnston, the resolutions passed amidst the cry of "treason," from the tories, and “liberty or death," from the patriots.
The seeds of freedom were deeply planted on that glorious day, and old Virginia proved a congenial soil for the promotion of their future growth. From that time forward, Patrick Henry was hailed as the great advocate of human rights and rational liberty. He stood on the loftiest pinnacle fame could rear, unmoved and unscathed by the fire of persecution, calmly surveying the raging elements of the revolutionary storm, already in commotion around him.
In August, 1774, the Virginia convention met at Williamsburg, and passed a series of resolutions, pledging themselves to sustain their eastern brethren in the common cause of their common country. As delegates to the first colonial Congress they appointed Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Richard Bland, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison and Edmund Pendleton.
On the 4th of September following, this august assembly of patriotic sages and heroes met in Carpenters' Hall, at the city of Philadelphia. The object for which they had convened was one of imposing and thrilling interest, big with events, absorbing in character and full of importance. The eyes of gazing millions were turned upon them, the kindling wrath of the crown was flashing before them, the anathemas of tyranny were pronounced against them. But they still resolved to go on. Liberty or death had become the watchword-the hallowed fire of freedom had warmed their bosoms and impelled them to action. After an address to the throne of grace, they commenced their proceedings by appointing Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, president of their body. A deep and solemn silence ensued, as if each member was appealing to Heaven for aid and direction. At length Patrick Henry rose, as echo lingered to catch a sound. With the eloquence of a Demosthenes, the philosophy of a Socrates, the justice of an Aristides, and the wisdom of a Solon, he took a broad, impartial and expansive view of the past, the present and the future; exhibited, in their true light, the relations between the mother country and her distant colonies; unveiled the designs of the base and unprincipled ministry that claimed the high and unwarranted prerogative of wielding an iron sceptre over America, and of reducing her sons to unconditional submission, and painted, in the most vivid and lively colours, a nation's rights and a nation's wrongs. The dignity and calmness of his manner, the clearness of his logic, the force of his eloquence and the solemnity of his voice and countenance combined to inspire an admiration and awe until then unknown to the astonished audience. On that occasion his powers of thought seemed supernatural; he seemed commissioned by Heaven to rouse his countrymen to a sense of approaching danger. He sat down amidst repeated bursts of applause, the acknowledged Demosthenes of the new world, the most powerful orator of his day and generation.
The succeeding year he was a member of the convention of Virginia that convened at Richmond, where he proposed immediate measures of defence, sufficient to repel any invasion from the mother country. In this he was strenuously opposed by several of the most influential members, who still felt a disposition to cringe to royal power.
That power, based as it was upon wrongs and injury, Patrick Henry held in utter contempt. His dauntleas soul soared above the trappings of a crown, backed by military pomp and show, and looked for rest only in the goal of liberty.
The following extract from his speech in that convention will best convey a correct idea of his feelings and emotions, deeply felt and strongly told..
"Mr. President, it is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that syren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty! Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who, having eyes see not, and having ears hear not the things that so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth-to know the worst and provide for it.
“I have but one lamp to guide my feet, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past. Judging from the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen are pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has lately been received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed by a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations that cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation—the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir; she has none. They are meant for us-they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we any thing new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable, but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not already been exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done every thing that could be done to avert the storm that is coming on. We have petitioned-we have remonstrated-we have supplicated-we have prostrated ourselves before the throne and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted, our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult, our supplications have been disregarded, and we have been spurned with contempt from the foot of the throne.
"In vain after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free; if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending; if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so