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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 account, given by Henry himself, of the passage of these resolutions. It is known, also, from himself, through the channel of his brother-in-law, Judge Winston, that, before they were offered, they were shown to two persons only, John Fleming and George Johnston, members respectively for the counties of Cumberland and Fairfax, by the latter of whom they were seconded. They were opposed, with great earnestness by the prominent members, who generally led the proceedings, and, on most occasions, as a matter of course, commanded a majority. The reader will naturally desire to see the account of the proceedings, as given in the graphic and spirited language of Jefferson, who was present at the debate.
“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 the 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 Johnston, 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, 'I would have given five hundred 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.
“Mr. Henry left town that evening; and the next morning, before the meeting of the House, Colonel Peter Randolph, then of the council, came to the hall of burgesses, and sat at the clerk's table till the house bell rang, thumbing over the volumes of journals, to find a precedent for expunging a vote of the House, which, he said, had taken place while he was a member or clerk of
the House, I do not recollect which. I stood by him, at the end of the table, a considerable part of the time, looking on as he turned the leaves; but I do not recollect whether he found the era
In the mean time, some of the timid members, who had voted for the strongest resolution, had become alarmed; and, as soon as the House met, a motion was made and carried to expunge it from the journals. There being, at that day, but one printer, and he entirely under control of the governor, I do not know that this resolution ever appeared in print. I write this from memory; but the impression made on me, at the time, was such as to fix the facts indelibly in my mind. I suppose the original journal was among those destroyed by the British, or its obliterated face might be appealed to. And here I will state, that Burk’s statement of, Mr. Henry's consenting to withdraw two resolutions, by way of compromise with his opponents, is entirely erroneous.”
Mr. Jefferson's suggestion, that the manuscript journal was probably destroyed by the British during the war, has been ascertained to be erroneous, as the book disappeared very soon after the close of the session of 1765. There are various errors, besides the one mentioned by Mr. Jefferson, in the account of Burk, and some in that of Marshall, in the first volume of the Life
of Washington. Fortunately, the original note of Henry, and the account of Jefferson, enable us to form a perfectly correct, as well as singularly clear and distinct, notion of this thrilling
Jefferson standing as a listener at the door of the House of Burgesses, and imbibing, from the “torrents of Henry's sublime eloquence," the patriotic inspiration, which was destined, only ten years afterwards, to glow in his own draft of the Declaration of Independence, would furnish a noble subject for the historical painter, and one which would open plainly to the eye some of the powerful, but then hidden, springs of the coming revolution.
Of the speech or speeches made by Henry in this debate, there is no satisfactory record. Burk, in his History, gives what purports to be his speech; but it is the mere outline of an argument, resting, probably, on recollection, with the exception of a single passage at the close, the correctness of which is well authenticated, and which contributed greatly, at the time, by giving effect and poignancy to the whole speech, to produce the desired result. According to this outline, Henry considered the pretence of the ministry to raise a revenue in this country as conflicting with the colonial charters, with the rights of the people as British subjects, and with their natural rights as men. At the close, he
dwelt upon the danger to which the king himself would be exposed, in pursuing his present
“ Cæsar," said he, “had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third At this moment, the orator paused, as if in doubt how to finish the sentence. The natural termination seemed, of course, to be, that George the Third would come, like them, to a violent end ; and the members opposed to Henry immediately raised a loud cry of “Treason, treason,” in all parts of the house. Henry, in no way disconcerted, but appearing, on the contrary, to gather new power from the excitement of the scene, assumed a more erect position, and, fastening his eagle eye upon the speaker, the same John Robinson, whose corrupt plans he had so signally baffled a few days before, added, in the most appropriate emphasis, as the closing words of the phrase, “may profit by their example.” He then paused again, for some seconds, and finally subjoined, as a sort of commentary on the outcry that had just occurred, “If this be treason, make the most of it.”
Such was the first appearance of Henry as an orator on purely political topics ; and it is a rather singular circumstance, that, in this department, as in that of legal practice, no subsequent effort seems to have surpassed, or even quite