Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry/Chapter 4

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Philadelphia: James Webster, pages 108–129


It is due however to historic truth, to record, that the superior powers of these great men were manifested only in debate. On the floor of the house, and during the first days of the session, while general grievances were the topic, they took the undisputed lead in the assembly, and were confessedly, primi inter pares. But when called down from the heights of declamation, to that severer test of intellectual excellence, the details of business, they found themselves in a body of cool-headed, reflecting, and most able men, by whom, they were in their turn, completely thrown into the shade.

A petition to the king, an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the people of British America, were agreed to be drawn. Mr. Lee, Mr. Henry and others, were appointed for the first; Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston and Mr. Jay, for the two last. The splendour of their debut, occasioned Mr. Henry to be designated by his committee, to draw the petition to the kmg, with which they were charged; and Mr. Lee was charged with the address to the people of England. The last was first reported. On reading it, great disappomtment was expressed in every countenance, and a dead silence ensued for some minutes. At length it was laid on the table, for perusal and consideration, till the next day: when first one member and then another arose, and paying some faint compliment to the composition, observed that there were still certain considerations not expressed, which should properly find a place in it. The address was, therefore, committed for amendment; and one prepared by Mr. Jay, and offered by governor Livingston, was reported and adopted, with scarcely an alteration. These facts are stated by a gentleman to whom they were communicated by Mr. Pendleton and Mr. Harrison, of the Virginia delegation, (except that Mr. Harrison erroneously ascribed the draught to governor Livingston,) and to whom they were afterwards confirmed by governor Livingston himself. Mr. Henry’s draught of a petition to the king was equally unsuccessful, and was recommitted for amendment. Mr. John Dickinson (the author of the Farmer’s letters) was added to the committee, and a new draught prepared by him was adopted.[1]

This is one of those incidents in the life of Mr. Henry to which an allusion was made in a former page, when it was observed, that notwithstanding the wonderful gifts which he had derived from nature, he lived himself, to deplore his early neglect of literature. But for this neglect, that imperishable trophy won by the pen of Mr. John Dickinson would have been his; and the fame of his genius, instead of resting on tradition, or the short-lived report of his present biographer, would have flourished on the immortal page of the American history.

It is a trite remark, that the talents for speaking and for writing eminently, are very rarely found united in the same individual; and the rarity of the occurrence has led to an opinion, that those talents depend on constitutions of mind so widely different, as to render their union almost wholly unattainable. This was not the opinion, however, it is believed, at Athens and at Rome: it cannot I apprehend, be the opinion, either, in the united kingdom of Great Britain. There have been, indeed, in these countries distinguished orators, who have not left behind them any proofs of their emmence in composition; but neither have they left behind them any proofs of their failure in this respect; so that the conclusion of their incompetency is rather assumed than established. On the other hand, there have been, in all those countries, too many illustrious examples of the union of those talents, to justify the belief of their incongruity by any general law of nature.

That there have been many eminent writers who, from physical defects, could never have become orators, is very certain: but is the converse of the proposition equally true? Was there ever an eminent orator who might not, by proper discipline, have become, also, a very eminent writer? What are the essential qualities of the orator? Are they not judgment, invention, imagination, sensibility, taste and expression, or the command of strong and appropriate language? If these be the qualities of the orator, it is very easy to understand how they may be improved by the discipline of the closet;[2] but not so easy to comprehend how they can possibly be injured by it. Is there any danger that this discipline will tame too much the fiery spirit, the enchanting wildness and magnificent irregularity of the orator’s genius? The example of Demosthenes alone, is a sufficient answer to this question; and the reader will, at once, recal numerous other examples, corroborative of the same truth, both in ancient and modern times. The truth seems to be, that this rare union of talents results not from any incongruity in their nature, but from defective education, taking this word in its larger, Roman sense. If the genius of the orator, has been properly trained in his youth to both pursuits, instead of being injured, it will, I apprehend, be found to derive additional grace, beauty, and even sublimity, from the discipline. His flights will be at least as bold—they will be better sustained—and whether he chooses to descend in majestic circles, or to stoop on headlong wing, his performance will not be the worse for having been taught to fly.

For Mr. Henry and for the world, it happened unfortunately, that instead of the advantage of this Roman education, of which we have spoken, the years of his youth had been wasted in idleness. He had become celebrated as an orator before he had learned to compose; and it is not therefore wonderful, that when withdrawn from the kindling presence of the crowd, he was called upon for the first time to take the pen, all the spirit and flame of his genius were extinguished.[3]

But while, with reference to his own fame and the lasting benefits which he might have conferred on the world, we lament his want of literary discipline, it is not impossible that, for the times in which he lived, and for the more immediate purpose of the American revolution, the popular opmion may be correct. The people seem to have admired him the more for his want of discipline. “His genius,” they say, “was unbroken, and too full of fire to bear the curb of composition. He delighted to swim the flood, to breast the torrent, and to scale the mountain: and supported as he was, in all public bodies, by masters of the pen, they insist, that it was even fortunate for the revolution, that his genius was left at large, to revel in all the wildness and boldness of nature; that it enabled him to infuse, more successfully, his own intrepid spirit into the measures of the revolution; that it rendered his courage more contagious, and enabled him to achieve, by a kind of happy rashness, what perhaps, had been lost by a better regulated mind.”

But, to resume our narrative: congress rose in October, and Mr. Henry returned to his native county. Here, as was natural, he was surrounded by his neighbours, who were eager to hear not only what had been done, but what kind of men had composed that illustrious body. He answered their enquiries with all his wonted kindness and candour; and havmg been asked by one of them, “whom he thought the greatest man in congress,” he replied—“If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, is by far the greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment, colonel Washington, is unquestionably, the greatest man on that floor.” Such was the penetration which, at that early period of Mr. Washington’s life, could pierce through his retiring modesty and habitual reserve; and estimate so correctly, the unrivalled worth of his character.

On Monday, the 20th of March, 1775, the convention of delegates from the several counties and corporations of Virginia, met for the second time. This assembly was held in the old church in the town of Richmond. Mr. Henry was a member of that body also. The reader will bear in mind the tone of the instructions given by the convention of the preceding year to their deputies in congress. He will remember, that while they recite with great feeling, the series of grievances under which the colonies had laboured, and insist with firmness on their constitutional rights, they give nevertheless, the most explicit and solemn pledge of their faith and true allegiance to his majesty king George the III. and avow their determmation to support him with their lives and fortunes, in the legal exercise of all his just rights and prerogatives. He will remember, that these instructions contain, also, an expression of their sincere approbation of a connexion with Great Britain, and of their ardent wishes for a return of that friendly intercourse, from which this country had derived so much prosperity and happiness. These sentiments still influenced many of the leading members of the convention of 1775. They could not part with the fond hope, that those peaceful days would again return, which had shed so much light and warmth over the land; and the report of the king’s gracious reception of the petition from congress, tended to cherish and foster that hope, and to render them averse to any measure of violence. But Mr. Henry saw things with a steadier eye and a deeper insight. His judgment was too solid to be duped by appearances; and his heart too firm and manly to be amused by false and flattering hopes. He had long since read the true character of the British court; and saw that no alternative remained for his country but abject submission or heroic resistance. It was not for a soul like Henry’s to hesitate between these courses. He had offered upon the altar of liberty no divided heart. The gulf of war which yawned before him, was indeed fiery and fearful; but he saw that the awful plunge was inevitable. The body of the convention however, hesitated. They cast around “a longing lingering look” on those flowery fields, on which peace, and ease, and joy, were still sporting; and it required all the energies of a Mentor like Henry, to push them from the precipice, and conduct them over the stormy sea of the revolution, to liberty and glory.

The convention being formed and organized for business, proceeded, in the first place, to express their unqualified approbation of the measures of congress, and to declare, that they considered “this whole continent as under the highest obligations to that respectable body, for the wisdom of their counsels, and their unremitted endeavours to maintain and preserve inviolate the just rights and liberties of his majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects in America.”

They next resolve, that “the warmest thanks of the convention, and of all the inhabitants of this colony, were due, and that this just tribute of applause be presented to the worthy delegates, deputed by a former convention, to represent this colony in general congress, for their cheerful undertaking and faithful discharge of the very important trust reposed in them.”

The morning of the 23d March was opened, by reading a petition and memorial from the assembly of Jamaica to the king’s most excellent majesty: whereupon it was “resolved, that the unfeigned thanks and most grateful acknowledgments of the convention be presented to that very respectable assembly, for the exceeding generous and affectionate part they have so nobly taken, in the unhappy contest between Great Britain and her colonies; and for their truly patriotic endeavours to fix the just claims of the colonists upon the most permanent constitutional principles:—that the assembly be assured, that it is the most ardent wish of this colony (and they were persuaded of the whole continent of North America) to see a speedy return of those halcyon days, when we lived a free and happy people.”

These proceedings were not adapted to the taste of Mr. Henry; on the contrary, they were “gall and wormwood” to him. The house required to be wrought up to a bolder tone. He rose, therefore, and moved the following manly resolutions:

“Resolved, That a well regulated militia, composed of gentlemen and yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free government; that such a militia in this colony, would for ever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us for the purpose of our defence, any standing army of mercenary soldiers, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, and would obviate the pretext of taxing us for their support.

“That the establishment of such a militia is, at this time, peculiarly necessary, by the state of our laws, for the protection and defence of the country, some of which are already expired, and others will shortly be so; and that the known remissness of government in calling us together in legislative capacity, renders it too insecure, in this time of danger and distress, to rely that opportunity will be given of renewing them, in general assembly, or making any provision to secure our inestimable rights and liberties, from those further violations with which they are threatened.

“Resolved, therefore, That this colony be immediately put into a state of defence, and that be a committee to prepare a plan for embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men, as may be sufficient for that purpose.

The alarm which such a proposition must have given to those who had contemplated no resistance of a character more serious than petition, non-importation, and passive fortitude, and who still hung with suppliant tenderness on the skirts of Britain, will be readily conceived by the reflecting reader. The shock was painful. It was almost general. The resolutions were opposed as not only rash in policy, but as harsh and well nigh impious in point of feeling. Some of the warmest patriots of the convention opposed them. Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, who had so lately drunk of the fountain of patriotism in the continental congress, and Robert C. Nicholas, one of the best as well as ablest men and patriots in the state, resisted them with all their influence and abilities.

They urged the late gracious reception of the consressional petition by the throne. They insisted that national comity, and much more filial respect, demanded the exercise of a more dignified patience. That the sympathies of the parent country were now on our side. That the friends of American liberty in parliament, were still with us, and had, as yet, had no cause to blush for our indiscretion. That the manufacturing interests of Great Britain, already smarting under the effects of our non-importation, co-operated powerfully towards our relief. That the sovereign himself had relented, and showed that he looked upon our sufferings with an eye of pity. “Was this a moment,” they asked, “to disgust our friends, to extinguish all the conspiring sympathies which were working in our favour, to turn their friendship into hatred, their pity into revenge? And what was there, they asked, in the situation of the colony, to tempt us to this? Were we a great military people? Were we ready for war? Where were our stores—where were our arms—where our soldiers—where our generals—where our money, the sinews of war? They were no where to be found. In truth, we were poor—we were naked—we were defenceless. And yet we talk of assuming the front of war! of assuming it too, against a nation, one of the most formidable in the world! A nation ready and armed at all points! Her navies riding triumphant in every sea; her armies never marching but to certain victory! What was to be the issue of the struggle we were called upon to court? What could be the issue, in the comparative circumstances of the two countries, but to yield up this country an easy prey to Great Britain, and to convert the illegitimate right which the British parliament now claimed, into a firm and indubitable right, by conquest? The measure might be brave; but it was the bravery of madmen. It had no pretension to the character of prudence; and as little to the grace of genuine courage. It would be time enough to resort to measures of despair, when every well founded hope had entirely vanished.”

To this strong view of the subject, supported as it was, by the stubborn fact of the well known helpless condition of the colony, the opponents of those resolutions superadded every topic of persuasion, which belonged to the cause.

“The strength and lustre which we derived from our connexion with Great Britain—the domestic comforts which we had drawn from the same source, and whose value we were now able to estimate by their loss—that ray of reconciliation which was dawning upon us from the east, and which promised so fair and happy a day:—with this they contrasted the clouds and storms which the measure now proposed, was so well calculated to raise—and in which, we should not have even the poor consolation of being pitied by the world, since we should have so needlessly and rashly, drawn them upon ourselves.”

These arguments and topics of persuasion, were so well justified by the appearance of things, and were moreover so entirely in unison with that love of ease and quiet which is natural to man, and that disposition to hope for happier times, even under the most forbidding circumstances, that an ordinary man, in Mr. Henry’s situation, would have been glad to compound with the displeasure of the house, by being permitted to withdraw his resolutions in silence.

Not so, Mr. Henry. His was a spirit fitted to raise the whirlwind, as well as to ride in it. His was that comprehensive view, that unerring prescience, that perfect command over the actions of men, which qualified him not merely to guide, but almost to create the destinies of nations.

He rose at this time with a majesty unusual to him in an exordium, and with all that self-possession by which he was so invariably distinguished. “No man,” he said, “thought more highly than he did, of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who had just addressed the house. But different men often saw the same subject in different lights; and therefore, he hoped it would not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as he did, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, he should speak forth his sentiments freely, and without reserve. This,” he said, “was no time for ceremony. The question before the house was one of awful moment to this country. For his own part, he considered it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery. And in proportion to the magnitude of the subject, ought to be the freedom of the debate. It was only in this way that they could hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which they held to God and their country. Should he keep back his opinions, at such a time, through fear of giving offence, he should consider himself as guilty of treason towards his country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of Heaven, which he revered above all earthly kings.”

“Mr. President,” said he, “it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth—and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is it,” he asked, “the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Were we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For his part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, he was willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”

“He had,” he said, “but one lamp by which his feet were guided: and that was the lamp of experience. He knew of no way of judging of the future, but by the past. And judging by the past, he wished to know what there had been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen had been pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition, comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land? Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation—the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir: she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains, which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we any thing new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find, which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done every thing that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned—we have remonstrated—we have supplicated—we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon, until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained—we must fight!—I repeat it, sir, we must fight!! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us!”[4]

“They tell us, sir,” continued Mr. Henry, “that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed; and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us, hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come!! I repeat it, sir, let it come!!!

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north, will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains, and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!—I know not what course others may take; but as for me,” cried he, with both his arms extended aloft, his brows knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and his voice swelled to its boldest note of exclamation—“give me liberty, or give me death!”

He took his seat. No murmur of applause was heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment, several members started from their seats. The cry, “to arms,” seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye! Richard H. Lee arose and supported Mr. Henry, with his usual spirit and elegance. But his melody was lost amidst the agitations of that ocean, which the master spirit of the storm had lifted up on high. That supernatural voice still sounded in their ears, and shivered along their arteries. They heard, in every pause, the cry of liberty or death. They became impatient of speech—their souls were on fire for action.[5]

The resolutions were adopted; and Patrick Henry, Richard H. Lee, Robert C. Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, Lemuel Riddick, George Washington, Adam Stevens, Andrew Lewis, William Christian, Edmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson, and Isaac Zane, esquires, were appointed a committee to prepare the plan called for by the last resolution.[6]

The constitution of this committee proves, that in those days of genuine patriotism, there existed a mutual and noble confidence, which deemed the opponents of a measure no less worthy than its friends, to assist in its execution. A correspondent,[7] who bore himself a most distinguished part in our revolution, in speaking of the gentlemen whom I have just named as having opposed Mr. Henry’s resolutions, and of Mr. Wythe who acted with them, says—“these were honest and able men, who had begun the opposition on the same grounds, but with a moderation more adapted to their age and experience. Subsequent events favoured the bolder spirits of Henry, the Lees, Pages, Mason, &c. with whom I went in all points. Sensible, however, of the importance of unanimity among our constituents, although we often wished to have gone on faster, we slackened our pace, that our less ardent colleagues might Keep up with us; and they on their part. differing nothing from us in principle, quickened their gait somewhat beyond that which their prudence might, of itself, have advised, and thus consolidated the phalanx which breasted the power of Britain. By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advanced, with our constituents, in undivided mass, and with fewer examples of separation than, perhaps, existed in any other part of the union.”

The plan for embodying, arming, and disciplining the militia, proposed by the committee which has just been mentioned, was received and adopted, and is in the following terms:

“The committee propose that it be strongly recommended to the colony, diligently to put in execution the militia law passed in the year 1738, entitled, ‘An act for the better regulating of the militia,’ which has become in force by the expiration of all subsequent militia laws.

“The committee are further of opinion, that as, from the expiration of the above-mentioned laws, and various other causes, the legal and necessary disciplining the militia has been much neglected, and a proper provision of arms and ammunition has not been made, to the evident danger of the community, in case of invasion or insurrection: that it be recommended to the inhabitants of the several counties of this colony, that they form one or more volunteer companies of infantry and troops of horse in each county, and to be in constant training and readiness to act on any emergency.

“That it be recommended particularly to the counties of Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Spotsylvania, King George, and Stafford, and to all counties below these, that, out of such their volunteers, they form, each of them, one or more troops of horse; and to all the counties above these, it is recommended that they pay a more particular attention to the forming a good infantry.

“That each company of infantry consist of sixty-eight, rank and file, to be commanded by one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, four sergeants, and four corporals; and that they have a drummer, and be furnished with a drum and colours; that every man be provided with a good rifle, if to be had, or otherwise with a common firelock, bayonet, and cartouch-box, and also with a tomahawk, one pound of gunpowder, and four pounds of ball at least, fitted to the bore of his gun; that he be clothed in a hunting shirt, by way of uniform; and that he use all endeavour, as soon as possible, to become acquainted with the military exercise for infantry, appointed to be used by his majesty in the year 1764.

“That each troop of horse consist of thirty, exclusive of officers; that every horseman be provided with a good horse, bridle, saddle, with pistols and holsters, a carbine, or other short firelock, with a bucket, a cutting sword, or tomahawk, one pound of gunpowder, and four pounds of ball, at the least; and use the utmost diligence in training and accustoming his horse to stand the discharge of fire-arms, and in making himself acquainted with the military exercise for cavalry.

“That in order to make a further and more ample provision of ammunition, it be recommended to the committees of the several counties, that they collect from their constituents, in such manner as shall be most agreeable to them, so much money as will be sufficient to purchase half a pound of gunpowder, one pound of lead, necessary flints and cartridge-paper, for every titheable person in their county; that they immediately take effectual measures, for the procuring such gunpowder, lead, flints, and cartridge-paper, and dispose thereof, when procured, in such place or places of safety as they may think best: and it is earnestly recommended to each individual, to pay such proportion of the money necessary for these purposes, as by the respective committees shall be judged requisite.

“That as it may happen that some counties, from their situation, may not be apprized of the most certain and speedy method of procurmg the articles before mentioned, one general committee should be appointed, whose business it should be, to procure for such counties as may make application to them, such articles, and so much thereof, as the monies wherewith they shall furnish the said committee, will purchase, after deducting the charges of transportation, and other necessary expenses.”

At the same session of the convention, I find that the alert and enquiring spirit of Mr. Henry laid hold of another instance of royal misrule. Governor Dunmore it seems, by a recent proclamation, had declared, that his majesty had given orders, for all vacant lands within this colony to be put up in lots at public sale; and that the highest bidder for such lots should be the purchaser thereof, and should hold the same, subject to a reservation of one halfpenny per acre, by way of annual quit-rent, and of all mines of gold, silver, and precious stones. These terms were deemed an innovation on the established usage of granting lands in this colony; and this sagacious politician saw in the proceeding, not only an usurpation of power, but a great subduction of the natural wealth of the colony, and the creation, moreover, of a separate band of tenants and retainers, devoted to the vilest measures of the crown. With a view therefore, to defeat this measure, he moved the following resolution, which was adopted:

“Resolved, That a committee be appointed to enquire, whether his majesty may of right advance the terms of granting lands in this colony, and make report thereof to the next general assembly or convention; and that in the mean time it be recommended to all persons whatever, to forbear purchasing or accepting lands, on the conditions before mentioned.” Of this committee he was of course the chairman; and the other members were Richard Bland, Thomas Jefferson, Robert C. Nicholas, and Edmund Pendleton, esquires.

The convention having adopted a plan for the encouragement of arts and manufactures in this colony, and reappointed their former deputies to the continental congress, with the substitution of Mr. Jefferson for Mr. Peyton Randolph, in case of the non-attendance of the latter;[8] and having also provided for a re-election of delegates to the next convention, came to an adjournment.[9]


  1. The late governor Tyler, a warm friend of Mr. Henry’s, used to relate an anecdote in strict accordance with this statement: it was, that after these two gentlemen had made their first speeches, Mr. Chase, a delegate from Maryland, walked across the house to the seat of his colleague, and said to him, in an under voice—“We might as well go home; we are not able to legislate with these men.” But that after the house came to descend to details, the same Mr. Chase was heard to remark, “Well, after all, I find these are but men—and in mere matters of business, but very common men.”
  2. Nulla enim res tantum ad dicendum proficit, quantum scriptio—Cic. Brut. xxiv. 92.
  3. On this subject, of the rare union of the talents of speaking and writing in the same man, Cicero has a parallel between Galba and Lælius, which is not less just than it is beautiful. After having spoken of Galba, as one of those men of great but less cultivated natural powers, who were afraid of lowering the fame of their eloquence by subinitting their writings to the world, he proceeds thus:—“Quem (Galbam) fortasse vis non ingeni solum, sed etiam animi, et naturalis quidam dolor dicentem incendebat, effeciebatque, ut et incitata, et gravis, et vehemens esset oratio: dein, cum otiosus stihum prehenderat, motusque omnis animi, taruquam ventus, hominem defecerat, flacessebat orativ: quod iis, qui imatius dicendi consectantur genus, accidere non solet, propterea quod prudenta nunguam deficit oratorem, qua ille utens, eodem modo possit et dicere et scribere; ardor animi non semper adest, isque cum consedit, omnis illa vis et quasi flamma oratoris extinguitur. Hanc igitur ob causam, videtur Lælii mens spirare etium in scriptis, Galbæ autem, vis occidisse.Brutus, xxiv.93. There seems to have been a strong resemblance between the structure of Galba’s eloquence and character, and those of Mr. Henry. In their habits however, there was this striking difference; that Galba’s preparation for speaking was always most elaborate; Mr. Henry’s, generally, none at all. On this head, of Galba’s anxious preparation, Cicero gives us a very interesting anecdote. Lælius, it seems, was engaged in a great cause, in which he spoke with the peculiar elegance which always distinguished him; but not having succeeded in convincing his judges, the case was adjourned to another day, and a new argument was called for. Lælius again appeared, and surpassed his former exertions, but with the same result, of another adjournment and a call for re-argument. His clients attended him to his house on the rising of the court, expressed their gratitude in the strongest terms, and begged that he would not permit himself to be wearied into a desertion of them. To this Lælius answered, that what he had done for the support of the cause, had, indeed, been diligently and accurately performed; but he was satisfied that that cause could be better defended by the more bold and vehement eloquence of Galba. Galba was accordingly applied to; but was, at first, startled at the idea of succeeding such an orator as Lælius, in any cause: more especially, on the short time for preparation that was then allowed him. He yielded, however, to their importunities; and employed the whole of the intermediate day and the morning of that in which the court was to sit, in studying and annotating, with the help of his amanuenses. When the hour of court arrived, his clients called for him, and Galba came out, “with that complexion and those eyes,” says Cicero, “which would have led you to suppose that he had been engaged in pleading a cause, and not in studying it.” Whence it appears that Galba was not less vehement and inflamed in meditating, than in the act of delivering a speech. His success was proportioned to his preparation. “In the midst of the greatest expectation, surrounded by a vast concourse of hearers, before Lælius himself, he plead the cause with so much force and so much power, that no part of his speech passed without applause, and his clients were discharged, with the approbation of every one.” What an impression does this give us of the magnanimity of Lælius, as well as the abilities of Galba! Mr. Henry would not have taken the trouble of Galba’s preparation; but he would have gained the cause, if human abilties could have gained it.
  4. “Imagine to yourself,” says my correspondent, (judge Tucker,) “this sentence delivered with all the calm dignity of Cato, of Utica; imagine to yourself the Roman senate, assembled in the capitol, when it was entered by the profane Gauls, who, at first, were awed by their presence, as if they had entered an assembly of the gods! Imagine that you heard that Cato addressing such a senate—imagine that you saw the hand-writing on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace—imagine you heard a voice as from heaven uttering the words, ‘We must fight,’ as the doom of fate, and you may have some idea of the speaker, the assembly to whom he addressed himself, and the auditory, of which I was one.”
  5. Mr. Randolph in his manuscript history, has given a most eloquent and impressive account of this debate. Since these sheets were prepared for the press, and at the moment of their departure from the hands of the author, he has received from chief justice Marshall, a note in relation to the same debate, which he thinks too interesting to suppress. It is the substance of a statement made to the chief justice (then an ardent youth, feeling a most enthusiastic admiration of eloquence, and panting for war) by his father, who was a member of this convention. Mr. Marshall, (the father,) after speaking of Mr. Henry’s speech “as one of the most bold, vehement, and animated pieces of eloquence that had ever been delivered,” proceeded to state, that “he was followed by Mr. Richard H. Lee, who took a most interesting view of our real situation. He stated the force which Britain could probably bring to bear upon us, and reviewed our resources and means of resistance. He stated the advantages and disadvantages of both parties, and drew from this statement, auspicious inferences. But he concluded with saying, admitting the probable calculations to be against us, ‘we are assured in holy writ that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; and if the language of genius may be added to inspiration, I will say with our immortal bard:
    Thrice, is he armed, who hath his quarrel just!
    And he, but naked, though lock’d up in steel,
    Whose conscience, with injustice is oppress’d!’”

  6. Colonel Robert Carter Nicholas (although opposed like all the older patriots, from the considerations which have been stated in the text, to resistance, at this particular point of time) was, nevertheless, one of the firmest supporters of the principles of the revolution. As soon, therefore, as the measure of resistance was carried, in order to give to it the greatest effect, he rose and moved to change the system; and, instead of arming the militia, to raise ten thousand regulars for the war; but the motion was overruled. Chief justice Marshall says—“I have frequently heard my father speak of colonel Nicholas’ motion, to raise ten thousand men for the war.”
  7. Mr. Jefferson.
  8. He was speaker of the house of burgesses, a call of which was expected, and did accordingly take place.
  9. It is curious to read in the file of papers from which the foregoing proceedings are extracted, and immediately following them, this proclamation of his excellency lord Dunmore:—
    “Whereas, certain persons, styling themselves delegates of several of his majesty’s colonies in America, have presumed, without his majesty’s authority or consent, to assemble together at Philadelphia, in the months of September and October last, and have thought fit, among other unwarrantable proceedings, to resolve that it will be necessary that another congress should be held at the same place on the 10th of May next, unless redress of certain pretended grievances be obtained before that time; and to recommend that all the colonies of North America should choose deputies to attend such congress: I am commanded by the king, and I do accordingly issue this my proclamation, to require all magistrates and other officers, to use their utmost endeavours to prevent any such appointment of deputies, and to exhort all persons whatever within this government, to desist from such an unjustifiable proceeding, so highly displeasing to his majesty.”

    This proclamation was published while the convention was in session, and was obviously designed to have an effect on their proceedings. It passed by them, however, “as the idle wind which they regarded not.” The age of proclamations was gone, and the glory of regal governors pretty nearly extinguished forever.

    It ought not to be omitted, however, that this very convention passed resolutions complimentary to lord Dunmore, and the troops which he had commanded in an expedition of the preceding year against the Indians: a compliment which, as we shall see, was afterwards found to be unmerited. As the resolution in regard to lord Dunmore does honour to the candour of the convention, and shows also how little personality there was in the contest, I take leave to subjoin it.

    “Resolved, unanimously, That the most cordial thanks of the people of this colony, are a tribute justly due to our worthy governor, lord Dunmore, for his truly noble, wise and spirited conduct, on the late expedition against our Indian enemy—a conduct which at once evinces his excellency’s attention to the true interests of this colony, and a zeal in the executive department which no dangers can divert, or difficulties hinder, from achieving the most important services to the people who have the happiness to live under his administration.”

    Lord Dunmore was not a man of popular manners; he had nothing of the mildness, the purity, the benevolence and suavity of his predecessor. On the contrary, he is represented as having been rude and offensive: coarse in his figure, his countenance and his manners. Yet he received from the house of burgesses, the most marked respect. Thus in 1774, while the liberties of the colonies were bleeding at every pore, and while the house was smarting severely, under the recent news of the occlusion of the port of Boston, they paid to lady Dunmore, who had just arrived at Williamsburg, the most cordial and elegant attentions, congratulated his lordship on this increase to his domestic felicity; and even, after their abrupt dissolution, complimented the inhabitants of the palace with a splendid ball and entertainment, in honour of the arrival of the countess Dunmore and her family.