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no small degree by his own exertions. The indolent youth, who, at five and twenty, seemed to have lost every chance for success and distinction, had assumed, before forty, an eminent position among those whom Bacon describes as the first class of great men, the founders of nations. The most difficult and important objects of his earthly mission were accomplished. We are now to follow him through the highly honorable but comparatively easy routine of political and professional duty, where we shall find him 'exhibiting the same talents and virtues which had carried him, with so much brilliancy and success, through the stormy struggles of the revolution.
Administration as Governor.— Return to private
Life. Reëlected Governor. Resigns.
THE office of Governor of a state, however honorable as a mark of public esteem, is one, in general, of mere routine, and affords but little opportunity for the display of superior talents ; especially in the line in which Henry was particularly distinguished, that of forensic and parliamentary eloquence. His term of service in this capacity is accordingly the portion of his life, which furnishes the most scanty supply of materials for the biographer. Soon after his entrance into office, Lord Dunmore evacuated the territory of the state. The military operations, , which had been going on during the preceding year, were, in consequence, brought to a close, and were not renewed, to any considerable extent, while Henry was Governor. He had, therefore, no occasion for the exercise of the powers of commander-in-chief, which, as an appendage to the chief magistracy, had now been restored to him by the suffrages of the legislature. In his civil capacity his administration is represented as having been efficient and successful, but undistinguished by any event of extraordinary importance.
At the first session of the legislature after his election, an incident occurred of a singular, rather than very important, character, which seems to require some notice in an account of his life, although, from the means of information now extant and accessible, it is difficult to form a very satisfactory idea of it.
The Assembly met in the autumn of the year 1776, perhaps the most gloomy period of the
The occupation of New York by the British troops, and the losses sustained by Washington, in two or three actions in the neighborhood of that city, had, in a great measure, obliterated the recollection of the successes of the preceding year. The extreme difficulty of providing the resources necessary for keeping up even the appearance of opposition to the numerous well-disciplined and well-appointed armies of England began to be apparent. There was no assurance yet of any aid from abroad. Under these disastrous circumstances, a vague imagination seems to have crossed the minds of a portion of the members of the Virginia legislature, that something might be gained by a recourse to the expedient so often adopted by the Romans in cases of great emergency, the concentration of the whole civil and military power of the republic in the hands of a single person, with the title of dictator.
The inutility, in reference to the general situation of the country, of constituting a state dictator, who would have had, as such, no right to exercise his unbounded powers out of the narrow limits of his own dominion, or for any other than state objects, was sufficiently obvious, one would have thought, to satisfy the least judicious person that such a project, if not dangerous, was wholly destitute of plausibility. It is certain, however, that the plan was contemplated, for it became
the subject of warm and acrimonious discussion among the members of the Assembly. It is also known that Henry was the person, whom the projectors of this scheme intended to create dictator. There is no proof that he had himself any share in the plan, which was even distinctly disavowed at the time, and ever since, by himself and his friends. It appears, however, that he did not escape suspicion. While the project was in agitation, Colonel Archibald Cary, then speaker of the Assembly, a patriot of great consideration, but of a somewhat violent temper, met, in the lobby of the house, Colonel Syme, the brother-inlaw of Henry, and addressed him as follows; “I am told, that
brother wishes to be dictator ; tell him, from me, that the day of his appointment shall be the day of his death; for he shall feel my dagger in his heart before the sunset of that day.” Colonel Syme replied, in great agitation, that, if such a project existed, his brother would certainly never lend himself to it, or to any other plan which would endanger the liberty of the country.
Whatever apprehensions may have been entertained at the time by individuals, it is certain that no unfavorable impression was produced upon the general feeling of the Assembly, for, at the next annual election, on the 30th of May, 1777, Henry was unanimously reëlected Governor, the members of the legislature being mostly the same as those of the preceding year, and Colonel Cary being again the presiding officer of the House. It does not appear from the account, that the project was at this time formally proposed to the Assembly ; but four years afterwards, at another period of general alarm, when the territory of Virginia had become again the theatre of actual hostilities, and when the session of the legislature had been interrupted by an inroad of British troops, the project was again started, and not only made the subject of consideration in private, but actually proposed in the Assembly, and lost by only a very few votes.
Mr. Jefferson, who was then Governor of the state, and had, of course, the strongest motives for informing himself, as far as possible, of the real character of this singular scheme, denounces it, in strong terms, in his Notes on Virginia, but acquits the persons implicated in it, whom he does not name, of anything worse than an error of judgment. Henry was now, as before, the intended dictator; and, as the plan must have been within his knowledge, it seems hardly possible that it could have been entertained for years in succession, and finally proposed in the legislature, without his concurrence. Supposing that he suggested or favored it, there is, of course, no reason to suspect that he had any other ob