« AnteriorContinuar »
represented in passing through the mouths of oral reporters. The object of Henry was to obtain a verdict of nominal damages, by showing that, wherever the legal right might be, substantial justice was on the side of the planters. In this purpose it was not necessary to argue, that the king was bound by the social compact to secure the Virginia planters against the results of a short crop of tobacco, which he could not well be expected to do, or that the order in council, annulling the act of 1758, had no legal validity. The natural course of the argument would be, that the clergy had no claim in justice to triple their salaries, at the expense of the planters, in consequence of an accidental rise in the value of a particular article; that, in founding such a claim upon a circumstance, which was in itself in the nature of a public calamity, the clergy acted inconsistently with their professional character ; that the legislature, in securing the planters by law against such a pretension, proceeded in accordance with the dictates of natural justice ; that, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, it was physically impossible to obtain the king's assent to the law, and that the legislature were consequently justified by necessity in proceeding without it; and that the subsequent declaration of the council, however it might affect the validity of the law, could not affect the equity of the case, nor consequently impair the right of the plaintiff to a verdict of merely nominal damages. This is the argument, which would naturally have been suggested by the aspect under which the case was presented. It is tenable in all its points, and only required to be stated with power and eloquence, in order to carry conviction to the mind of every hearer. The development of it would naturally include a course of severe animadversion on the conduct of the clergy, in seeking to fatten on the public distress; but it would not have been necessary to insist on any views of the law inconsistent with those, which had already been taken by the court. It may therefore be presumed, that it is the outline of the argument adopted by Henry.
Such is the history of the famous Parsons' Cause. The clergy took no steps for carrying the matter before a higher tribunal. Mr. Camm published another pamphlet, in which the obscure advocate of the planters, and the court in which the cause had been tried, were treated with great contempt. But the interest that had been for some time felt in this affair was immediately forgotten, under the stronger excitement produced by the opening scenes of the revolutionary contest, and left no results of consequence, excepting that of having brought before the public view, under the most favorable auspices, at this critical period, an individual better fitted, perhaps, by character and talents, than any other in the colony, to ride on the whirlwind and direct the storm.
Henry was at once retained for the planters in all the cases then in court, depending on the same principles with that of Mr. Maury; but they were all withdrawn by the clergy, and never came to trial. His business increased considerably, but was still for some time hardly adequate to his support; and, for the purpose of obtaining a wider field for his operations, he removed to the county of Louisa, where he resided at a place called the Roundabout. Here he resumed, in connection with his professional occupations, his favorite rural sports, and has been known to hunt the deer for several days together, carrying his provision with him, and at night encamping in the woods. After the hunt was over, he would go from the ground to the Louisa court-house in his hunting apparel, take up the first of his causes that happened to be called, and, if it afforded any scope for display, astonish the court and jury by the effusions of his natural eloquence. His power of enchaining the attention of his hearers is strikingly shown by a remark of Judge Lyons, the same person who had argued the Parsons' Cause against him, and who has been heard to say, that, while practising at the bar, he could always write a letter, or draft a legal paper, in court, with as much freedom of mind as in his own office, under all circumstances, excepting when Patrick rose to speak; but that, whenever this happened, however trifling might be the matter in question, he was obliged to throw aside his pen,
and could not write a word until the speech was finished.
In the autumn of 1764, about a year after his argument in the Parsons' Cause, Henry was employed to appear before a committee of the House of Burgesses, in a case of a contested election, and acquitted himself with great distinction. But the moment had now arrived when he was himself to take his seat in the assembly, and for a time to govern its proceedings on the mighty questions in regard to which the colonies were at issue with the mother country.
Elected a Member of the House of Burgesses. —
Brings forward his celebrated Resolutions on the Stamp Act.
The year in which Patrick Henry argued the Parsons' Cause was distinguished by an event of
high importance to the concerns of this continent, and ultimately, through them,
them, of the whole Christian world. In that year were signed at Paris, by the representatives of the principal European powers, the definitive treaties which brought to a close the war of 1756, commonly called, in this country, the Old French War. By these treaties, France, then in the hands of the corrupt and imbecile administration, which governed in the name of Louis the Fifteenth, threw from her, as if in wantonness, the vast territory which she had previously possessed on this continent, and which, properly administered, might have secured to her the dominion of the whole. Canada was ceded to Great Britain. Louisiana, comprehending, as claimed by France, the entire valley of the Mississippi, from the mouth of that river to its sources, and from the Allegany to the Rocky Mountains, perhaps, on the whole, the richest and most favored region of equal extent on the face of the globe, was given away, as it seems, without any motive whatever, to Spain. By the same treaties, Florida was ceded by Spain to England.
It was doubtless supposed, at the time, that these arrangements had consolidated and established forever the dominion of Great Britain over the whole western continent. Occupying the coast from Davis's Straits Cape Florida, re