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equalled, in immediate effect, the first. His speech in the Continental Congress, soon after its organization, called forth the strongest admiration; many of his speeches in the Virginia Convention, on the federal constitution, were received with unbounded enthusiasm, and produced very extraordinary results.
His argument in the British Debt case, which occupied three days, is analyzed at great length by Mr. Wirt, and dwelt upon as a sort of masterpiece. But, even at the present time, a Virginian, who is requested to mention the leading titles of Henry's glory, appeals, without hesitation, to the speeches on the Stamp Act and the Parsons' Cause. The peculiar circumstances attending each of these cases may have contributed something to give them their comparative importance; but, independently of any other cause, there is a certain freshness in the first efforts of a powerful mind, which gives them an advantage over those of later years, that, on careful analysis, may appear, as works of science and art, fully equal, if not superior.
It is remarked by Lord Byron, in one of his private memoranda or letters, that he awoke one morning and found himself famous. Henry had taken his seat in the Assembly, notwithstanding the eclat of the Parsons' Cause, a still comparatively obscure country attorney, at best a rising
lawyer of great promise. He returned to his home, three or four weeks after, by universal acknowledgment, the first statesman and orator in Virginia.
Repeal of the Stamp Act. - Henry elected to the
Continental Congress. Speech in the Virginia Convention.
The unfortunate measure, which had produced such a ferment throughout the colonies, and which exercised so important an influence on their relations with the mother country, was destined itself to be of short duration. Within a year after the passage of the stamp act, a change took place in the administration of the British government. The Grenville cabinet, in which the tory influence predominated, was compelled to retire ; and a new one was formed, on whig principles, under the direction of the Marquis of Rockingham. It was on this occasion that Burke, who had previously been private secretary to the marquis, took his seat in Parliament. It may be proper to remark; that,
although the Grenville administration was ostensibly responsible for the passage of the stamp act, Mr. Grenville himself is said to have been individually averse to it, and to have proposed it very unwillingly, in compliance with the positive command of the king, who was the real author of the measure.
However this may be, the new ministry, who, as members of Parliament, had opposed the adoption of this policy, very naturally evinced a disposition to recede from it.
The speech from the throne, at the opening of the session, breathed a conciliatory spirit in regard to America ; and, in the debate upon it in the House of Commons, Mr. Pitt attacked the policy of the late administration with great power. A bill was introduced, soon after, for the repeal of the stamp act, which, though strongly opposed, passed the two Houses by large majorities, and became a law,
At the same time, another law was passed, declaratory of the right of Parliament to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever.
This prompt and apparently good-humored retreat from the course, which had been so injudiciously entered upon, gave entire satisfaction throughout the colonies, and restored for a moment the cordial feeling towards the mother country, that prevailed at the close of the war. Public rejoicings, including expressions of the warmest gratitude to the friends of the colonies, at home and abroad, took place in all quarters. The Virginia Assembly voted an address of thanks to the King and Parliament, in which they renewed all their former professions of attachment and loyalty. They also resolved to erect a statue of the King, and an obelisk in honor of the British statesmen who had supported the cause of America. A bill was introduced for this purpose; but, in consequence of the less favorable aspect which the affair shortly after assumed in England, it was never acted on.
Had the British government, at this period, persevered, with consistency and good faith, in the policy which apparently dictated the repeal of the stamp act, there can be no doubt, that the good feeling produced by that repeal would have been maintained, and would have prevailed for a long time in the relations between the two parties. But this was not the case ; and the course actually pursued was one which it would be as difficult to reconcile with any consistent scheme of administration, as with a prudent regard to the rights and feelings of the colonies.
Occasional concessions gave an appearance of weakness and indecision to the action of the ministry, while the extreme severity displayed on other occasions irritated the minds of the Americans almost to frenzy. Not content with annexing to the repeal of the stamp act a declaratory law, which was fitted of itself to give an ungracious aspect to the whole proceeding, the ministry seem to have taken particular pains to disavow any intention for which the colonies could properly be grateful, and publicly treated with contempt the demonstrations of satisfaction which had, in fact, been shown in America. Townshend, the new chancellor of the exchequer, remarked, in a speech made the following year, in the debate on the supplies, “ that he had voted for the repeal of the stamp act, not because it was not a good act, but because there appeared to be a propriety in repealing it. He added, that he repeated the sentiment in order that the galleries might hear him; and that, after this, he did not expect to have his statue erected in America.” In accordance with these views, the plan of raising a revenue in the colonies was immediately revived.
A law was passed, the same year, imposing new duties upon various articles, when imported into the colonies, and particularly tea; and, in order to show the settled determination of the ministry to persist, at all hazards, in their pretensions, additional troops were sent to America, and quartered in the principal northern cities.
This headstrong spirit in the cabinet could