Page images

and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony, and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whosoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American freedom !”

The justice of these resolutions, based as they were upon the well-known principles of the English constitution, confined within the limits of the ancient landmarks of that sacred instrument, could not be denied by the cringing sycophants of a corrupt and corrupting ministry, and were hailed by every patriot as the firm pillars of the temple of American liberty. They were enforced by the overwhelming eloquence and logic of the mover, and seconded by Mr. Johnston, who sustained them by arguments and conclusions that imparted new strength and courage to many a bosom that was, a few moments before, poising on the agonizing pivot of hesitation. They were strongly opposed by several members, who subsequently espoused the cause of equal rights, and affixed their names to the great charter of our independence. This opposition brought forth, for the first time, the gigantic powers of Patrick Henry. In all the sublimity of his towering genius, he stood among the great, the acknowledged champion of that legislative hall which he had but recently entered. Astonishment and admiration held his electrified audience in deep suspense as he painted, in bold and glowing colours, the increasing infringements of the hirelings of the crown upon the chartered rights and privileges of the colonists, who had waded through torrents of blood and seas of trouble and toil, to plant themselves in the new world. He pointed to the chains forged by the hands of tyranny, already clanking, with terrific sound, upon every ear. To be free or slaves, was the great, the momentous question. He, for one, was prepared and determined to unfurl the banner of freedom, drive from his native soil the task-masters of oppression, or perish in the glorious attempt. His opponents were completely astounded, and found it impossible to stem the strong current of popular feeling put in motion by the proceedings of that eventful crisis. Seconded and supported by the cool and deep calculating Johnston, the resolutions passed amidst the cry of “ treason," from the tories, and “ liberty or death,from the patriots.

The seeds of freedom were deeply planted on that glorious day, and old Virginia proved a congenial soil for the promotion of their future growth. From that time forward, Patrick Henry was hailed as the great advocate of human rights and rational liberty. He stood on the loftiest pinnacle fame could rear, unmoved and unscathed by the fire of persecution, calmly surveying the raging elements of the revolutionary storm, already in commotion around him.

In August, 1774, the Virginia convention met at Williamsburg, and passed a series of resolutions, pledging themselves to sustain their eastern brethren in the common cause of their common country. As delegates to the first colonial Congress, they appointed Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Richard Bland, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton.

On the 4th of September following, this august assembly of patriotic sages and heroes met in Carpenter's Hall, at the city of Philadelphia. The object for which they had convened was one of imposing and thrilling interest, big with events, absorbing in character, and full of importance. The eyes of gazing

millions were turned upon them, the kindling wrath of the crown was flashing before them, the anathemas of tyranny were pronounced against them. But they still resolved to go on. Liberty or death had become the watchword—the hallowed fire of freedom had warmed their bosoms and impelled them to action. After an address to the throne of grace, they commenced their proceedings by appointing Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, president of their body. A deep and solemn silence ensued, each member appealing to heaven for aid and direction. At length Patrick Henry rose-echo lingered to catch a sound. With the eloquence of a Demosthenes, the philosophy of a Socrates, the justice of an Aristides, and the wisdom of a Solon, he took a broad, impartial, and expansive view of the past, the present, and the future ; exhibited, in their true light, the relations between the mother country and her distant colonies; unveiled the designs of the base and unprincipled ministry that claimed the high and unwarranted prerogative of wielding an iron sceptre over America, and of reducing her sons to unconditional submission, and painted in the most vivid and lively colours, a nation's rights and a nation's wrongs. The dignity and calmness of his manner, the clearness of his logic, the force of his eloquence, and the solemnity of his voice and countenance, combined to inspire an admiration and awe, until then unknown to the astonished audience. On that occasion, his powers of thought seemed supernatural. He seemed commissioned by Heaven to rouse his countrymen to a sense of approaching danger. He sat down amidst repeated bursts of applause, the acknowledged Demosthenes of the new world, the most powerful orator of his day and generation.

The succeeding year he was a member of the convention of Virginia that convened at Richmond, where he proposed immediate measures of defence, sufficient to repel any invasion from the mother country. In this he was strenuously opposed by several of the most influential members, who still felt a disposition to cringe to royal power.

That power, based as it was upon wrongs and injury, Patrick Henry held in utter contempt. His dauntless soul soared above the trappings of a crown, backed by military pomp and show, and looked for rest only in the goal of liberty.

The following extract from his speech in that con-vention, will best convey a correct idea of his feelings and emotions, deeply felt and strongly told :

“Mr. President, It is natural for 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 this the part of wise men engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not the things that so nearly concern their temporal salvation ? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth—to know the worst and provide for it.

“ I have but one lamp to guide my feet, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past. Judging from the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen are pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has lately been receiv


ed? Trust it not, sir ; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed by a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations that 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 already been 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 that is 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

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »