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The liberality of our institutions, and especially the generous and truly wise policy which throws open our vacant territory, at a merely nominal price, to all who choose to occupy it, are working out the results predicted by Henry with a rapidity, which even his ardent imagination could hardly have anticipated.
In the same liberal spirit, he supported and carried, against a vigorous opposition, a proposal for removing the restraints on British commerce. It was apprehended by some, that a free admission of British ships would exclude the trade of all other nations, and deprive us of the advantage of competition in reducing the price of our supplies from abroad. Henry repelled this objection with splendid eloquence; enlarged on the distress which the people had suffered by the interruption of foreign commerce, and concluded with proclaiming, in emphatic language, the doctrine of the liberty of trade, less familiar to the public ear at that time than it is now.
“ Why should we fetter commerce ? was his concluding remark; "a man in chains droops and bows to the earth ; his spirits are broken ; but let him twist the fetters from his legs, and he will stand upright. Fetter not Commerce, Sir; let her be as free as air. She will range the whole crea'tion, and return on the wings of the four winds of heaven to bless the land with plenty."
During the session of 1784, Henry proposed in the Assembly a measure marked by the same originality of thought, and humanity of feeling, which dictated the others, but somewhat questionable, perhaps, on the score of practicability and expediency. The inconvenience which had been suffered, during the last and preceding wars, from the aggressions of the neighboring Indians, appeared to render it a matter of high importance to inspire them in some way with more amicable sentiments. Formal treaties of peace and alliance were known to be wholly ineffectual. Henry proposed to effect the object by a law to encourage intermarriage between the two races, and brought in a bill holding out strong inducements to the formation of connections of this kind, such as a pecuniary bounty, to be repeated at the birth of every child, exemption from taxes, and the free use of an institution for education, to be established for the purpose at the expense of the state.
The bill had its first and second reading, and was engrossed for its final passage, apparently under the influence of Henry's support; for no sooner was he withdrawn from the House, by his election as Governor for a second term, which took place at this time, than the bill, on coming up for a third reading, was rejected. Had the relative numbers and positions of the two races been destined to remain as they were at this time, such a measure might have had a good effect, although the popular feeling, which has always been opposed to a mixture of races, would have probably rendered it ineffectual. But the overwhelming and constantly increasing preponderance of the whites, in power and numbers, pretty soon settled the question in a different way, by compelling the red men to retire from the frontiers of Virginia, and seek for new hunting grounds in the far west.
Among the measures supported, though not proposed, by Henry, was a resolution for the incorporation of all Christian societies which might make application to that effect, and another imposing a general assessment for the support of public worship, but leaving it to the discretion of the individual to appropriate the tax levied upon him to any church which he might prefer. The bills founded upon these resolutions were reported after Henry had ceased to be a member of the House ; but the principles imbodied in them had received his warm support in the introductory stage. The bill founded on the first of the two resolutions became a law; the other was rejected by a small majority, on the third reading.
On the 4th of December, 1786, soon after his final retirement from the chief magistracy of his
state, Henry was elected by the legislature one of the delegates to the Convention for revising the Articles of Confederation among the states. His name stood upon the list, as recorded in the journal, next after that of Washington. The same imperious consideration, which had compelled him to decline reëlection as Governor, the urgent necessity of attending to his private affairs, also imposed it upon him as a duty to refrain from the acceptance of this high and honorable commission, the full importance of which was not, however, so distinctly perceived at the
time as it is now. After the national Convention, which met the following year at Philadelphia, had terminated their labors, and submitted the result to the people, a state Convention was called in Virginia, to take the proposed constitution into consideration. Henry was elected by the county of Prince Edward, where he then resided, a member of this body, which met at Richmond on the 2d of June, 1788.
Virginia Convention for considering the Plan of
the Federal Constitution. -Henry opposes its Adoption.
In following the progress of Henry through his long political career up to the point which we have now reached, we have more than once seen him acting upon his own views, in direct opposition to those of the most distinguished and patriotic of his fellow-laborers, in the common cause of independence and liberty. On all these occasions he had the satisfaction of finding his course sanctioned, after a short interval, by the almost unanimous approbation of his fellowcitizens; and the public opinion of the country seems to have settled down in the conviction that the bold, vigorous, and, as it may have appeared to some at the time, violent policy, which he recommended and acted on, was the one best fitted to effect the common purpose.
In regard to the course which he pursued in the Convention for considering the plan of the federal constitution, he did not enjoy the same good fortune. He appeared in that Assembly as a determined opponent of the adoption of the plan, and maintained his views throughout the