« AnteriorContinuar »
the father, such was his surprise, such his amazement, such his raptures that, forgetting where he was, and the character which he was filling, tears of ecstacy streamed down his cheeks, without the power or inclina. tion to repress them.
“ The jury seem to have been so completely bewildered, that they lost sight not only of the act of 1748, but that of 1758 also; for thought. less even of the admitted right of the plaintiff, they had scarcely left the bar when they returned with a verdict of one penny damages.
A motion was made for a new trial; but the court too, had now lost the equipoise of their judgment, and overruled the motion by an unanimous vote. The verdict and judgment overruling the motion, were followed by redoubled acclamation, from within and without the house. The people, who had with difficulty kept their hands off their champion, from the moment of closing his harangue, no sooner saw the fate of the cause finally sealed, than they seized him at the bar, and in spite of his own exertions, and the continued cry of “order" from the sheriffs and the court, they bore him out of the court-house, and raising him on their shoulders, carried him about the yard, in a kind of electioneering triumph.
“Oh! what a scene was this for a father's heart! so sudden, so unlooked for; so delightfully overwhelming! At the time, he was not able to give utterance to any sentiment; but a few days after, when speaking of it to Mr. Winston," he said, with the most engaging mos desty, and with a tremor of voice, which showed how much more he felt than he expressed; “ Patrick spoke in this cause, near an hour and in a manner, that surprised me! and showed himself well informed on a subject, of which I did not think he had any knowledge!"
“I have tried much to procure a sketch of this celebrated speech. But those of Mr. Henry's hearers who survive, seem to have been be. rest of their senses. They can only tell you in general, that they were taken captive; and so delighted with their captivity, that they followed implicitly, whithersoever he led them. That, at his bidding, their tears flowed from pity, and their cheeks flushed with indignation. That when it was over, they felt as if they had just awaked from some ecstatic dream, of which they were unable to recall or connect the particulars. It was such a speech as they believe had never before fallen from the lips of man; and to this day, the old people of that county cannot con ceive that a higher compliment can be paid to a speaker, than to say
of him, in their own homely phrase, he is almost equal 10 Patrick, when he plead against the parsons.'' P. 19-23.
From this successful opposition to the parson's cause, Mr. Her« ry acquired a taste for professional fame; and was introduced, at once, into extensive practice. But no love of distinction, na necessity however severe, were strong enough to bind him down to a regular course of reading. He could not brook the confine
· Hence he was never profound in the learning of the law. On a question merely legal, his inferiors, in point of talents, frequently embarrassed and foiled him; and it required all the resources of his extraordinary mind, to support the distinction which he had now gained. In 1764, he pursued his favourite amuse
* The present judge Winston.
ment of hunting with increased ardour; and has been known to hunt deer, frequently for several days together, carrying his provisions with him, and at night encamping in the woods.'
“ After the hunt was over, he would go from the ground to Lousia court, clad in a coarse cloth coat stained with all the trophies of the chase, greasy leather breeches ornamented in the same way, leggings for boots, and a pair of saddle-bags on his arm. Thus accoutred, he would enter the court house, take up the first of his causes that chanced to be called; and if there was any scope for his peculiar talent, throw bis adversary into the back ground, and astonish both court and jury by the powerful effusions of his natural eloquence." P. 38.
In the same year he was introduced to the gay and fashionable circle at Williamsburg, then the seat of government for the state, that he might be counsel in case of a contested election: but he made no preparation for pleading; and, as we might naturally suppose, none for appearing in a suitable costume. "He moved awkwardly about, in his coarse and threadbare dress;' and while some thought him a prodigy, others concluded him to be an ideot: nevertheless, before the committee of elections he delivered an argument which judge Tyler, judge Winston, and others, pronounced the best they ever heard. In the same year, it is asserted on the authority of Mr. Jefferson, that Mr. Henry gave the first impulse to the ball of the revolution. He originated the spirit of the revolution in Virginia, unquestionably; and possessed a dauntless soul, exactly suited to the important work he was destined to perform.
To show his hero in the proper light, Mr. Wirt has delineated his cotemporaries; and particularly those who were celebrated for fine speaking. He speaks of John Robinson, Peyton Randolph, Richard Bland, Edward Pendleton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and then of Patrick Henry, in such strains of eulogy, that we were ready to exclaim, never were seven such luminaries collected in one constellation before! Upon mature reflection, however, we became persuaded that some allowance must be made for the high colouring of Mr. Wirt, who makes his portraits as beautiful as Mr. Sully would the most ugly maiden lady that should sit before him. Of Mr. Lee he says,
" The note of his voice was deeper and more melodious than that of Mr. Pendleton. It was the canorous voice* of Cicero. He had lost the use of one of his hands, which he kept constantly covered with a black silk bandage neatly fitted to the palm of his hand, but leaving his thumb free; yet, notwithstanding this disadvantage, his gesture was so graceful and so highly finished, that it was said he had acquired it by practising before a mirror. Such was his promptitude, that he required no preparation for debate. He was ready for any subject, as soon as it was announced; and his speech was so copious, so rich, so mellifluous, set off with such bewitching cadence of voice, and such capti
* Vox canora, see the Brutus, passim. † Edmund Randolph.
vating grace of action, that, while you listened to him, you desired to hear nothing superior, and indeed thought him perfect. He had a quick sensibility and a fervid imagination, which Mr. Pendleton wanted. Hence his orations were warmer and more delightfully interesting; yet still, to him those keys were not consigned, which coule unlock the sources either of the strong or tender passions. His defect was, that he was too smooth and too sweet. His style bore a striking resemblance to that of Herodotus, as described by the Roman orator: he flowed on, like a quiet and placid river, without a ripple. He flowed, too, through banks covered with all the fresh verdure and variegated bloom of the spring; but his course was too subdued, and too beautifully regular. A cataract, like that of Niagara, crowned with overhanging rocks and mountains, in all the rude and awful grandeur of nature, would have brought him nearer to the standard of Homer and of Henry." P. 50.
By his first speech in the house of burgesses, in 1765, Mr. Henry defeated Mr. Robinson in a favourite measure, and prevented the establishment of a loan office, for the relief of the dissipated and extravagant young nobility of the colony. It was during this same session of the legislature of Virginia, in 1765, that Mr. Henry introduced his celebrated resolutions,' against the stamp act,' which proved the germ of our glorious revolution in that commonwealth.
“ After his death, there was found among his papers one sealed, and thus endorsed: - Inclosed are the resolutions of the Virginia assembly in 1765, concerning the stamp act. Let my exécutors open this paper.' Within was found the following copy of the resolutions, in Mr. Henry's hand-writing
* Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this, his majesty's colony and dominion, brought with them, and transmitted to their posterity, and all other his majesty's subjects, since inhabiting in this, his majesty's said colony, all the privileges, franchises, and immunities, that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed, by the people of Great Britain.
Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by king James the first, the colonists, aforesaid, are declared entitled to all the privileges, liberties, and immunities, of denizens and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England. • Resolved,
that the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, and the easiest mode of raising them, and are equally affected by such taxes themselves, is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution cannot subsist.
• Resolved, That his majesty's liege people of this most ancient colony, have uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being thus governed by their own assembly in the article of their taxes and internal police, and that the same hath never been forfeited, or any other way given up, but hath been constantly recognized by the king and people of Great Britain.
* Sine ullis salebris, quasi sedatus amnis, fluit. Orat. XII, 39.
• Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.'
“On the back of the paper containing those resolutions, is the following endorsement, which is also in the hand-writing of Mr. Henry himself. • The within resolutions passed the house of burgesses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the stamp act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from infuence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a burgess, a few days before, was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forins of the house, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture, and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law book* wrote the within. Upon offering them to the house, violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me, by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest, the resolutions passed by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the ministerial party were overwhelmed. The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war, which finally separated the two countries, and gave independence 10 ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. 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 short, plain and modest account which Mr. Henry has left of this transaction." P. 56-58.
Every American realized the truth expressed in Mr. Henry's resolutions; but no man beside himself boldly dared to utter it. All wished for independence; and all hitherto trembled at the thought of asserting it. Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, and Wythe, with all the old members whose influence in the house had, till then, been unbroken,' opposed the resolutions, and had not Henry's unrivalled eloquence supported them, they would have been strangled in their birth. “The last and strongest resolution was carried by a single vote;' and Peyton Randolph said, immediately after, ‘I would have given 500 guineas for a single vote! From this we may easily imagine how spirited was the opposition, and how energetic the eloquence exerted against him. Something we attribute to the popularity of the cause which Henry advocated; while we give full credit to those who testify, that his speech was like an overwhelming flood which carries all before it. His suc
Judge Tyler says, an old Coke upon Littleton.”
cess in this case not more strongly attested his wonderful command of human minds, than did the reconsideration and expung ing of the most important of these resolutions on the succeeding day, when the mover of them was absent. While present he gave the timid, who sighed for liberty, but dared not assert it unless powerfully stimulated, the requisite courage: when he had left them to their own reflections, when they had lost the soul which his eye and tongue inspired in them, they became as dead men.
“ It was, indeed, an alpine passage, under circumstances even more unpropitious than those of Hanibal; for he had not only to fight, hand to hand, the powerful party who were already in possession of the heights, but at the same instant, to cheer and animate the timid band of follow. ers, that were trembling, fainting, and drawing back, below him. It was an occasion that called upon him to put forth all his strength, and he did put it forth, in such a manner, as man never did before. The cords of argument, with which his adversaries frequently flattered themselves they had bound him fast, became packthreads in his hands. He burst them, with as much ease, as the unshorn Sampson did the bands of the Philistines. He seized the pillars of the temple, shook them terribly, and seemed to threaten his opponents with ruin. It was an incessant storm of lightning and thunder, which struck them aghast. The faint-hearted gathered courage from his countenance, and cowards became heroes, while they gazed upon his exploits.
“ It was in the midst of this magnificent debate, while he was descanting on the tyranny of the obnoxious act, that he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, and with the look of a god, Cæsar had his Brutus-Charles the first, his Cromwell--and George the third-(Treason,' cried the speaker-treason, treason,' echoed from every part of the house. It was one of those trying moments which is decisive of character.—Henry faultered not for an instant; but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.'*" P. 64, 65.
To say, that one lash from his scourge was infamy for life; his look of anger or contempt, was almost death, is rather cal. culated to excite a smile, than to provoke censure. We are pleased, we are charmed with Mr. Wirt; we are persuaded that he designed to write sober history; but really, he writes so handsomely, and flourishes with such magnificence, that we must be indulged in a partial infidelity. In one thing, however, we are firm believers, that Patrick Henry was never guilty of the ri. diculous and common error amongst young members (of the bar
* “ I had frequently heard the above anecdote of the cry of treason, but with such variations of the concluding words, that I began to doubt whether the whole might not be fiction. With a view to ascertain the truth, therefore, I submitted it to Mr. Jefferson, as it had been given to me by judge Tyler, and this is his an. swer. 'I well remember the cry of treason, the pause of Mr. Henry at the paine of George the III, and the presence of mind with which he closed his sentence, and baffled the charge vociferated.' The incident, therefore, becomes authentic history.”