« PreviousContinue »
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 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 the God of Hosts is all that is left us! It is 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 comes 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, give me liberty or death !”
The effect of this speech was electrical. The cry, “ To arms,” burst from every quarter; “ Liberty or death,” resounded and rang through every ear, and was responded by every patriot. The resolutions were seconded and supported by Richard Henry Lee, and were adopted without further opposition. A committee was immediately appointed to carry them into effect. From that time forward, the Old Dominion was renewed, regenerated, and free. Her richest blood was poured out freely in the cause of liberty and equal rights.
Soon after this convention had adjourned, Lord Dunmore removed a part of the powder from the magazine at Williamsburg on board of one of His Majesty's ships. On being informed of this transaction, Patrick Henry collected a military force in Hanover and King William counties, and repaired to the seat of government, demanding the restoration of the powder, or its equivalent in cash. An order for the amount in money, was received, and no blood shed. A proclamation was issued against these daring rebels, which only seemed to unite the people more strongly in favour of their orator and soldier, whose conduct they highly approved at several public meetings convened on the occasion.
In August, 1775, Mr. Henry was again chosen a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in June of the following year, governor of his native state. He held this important office during that and the ensuing year, but declined serving the third year, although unanimously re-elected. His zeal in the glorious cause he had espoused did not languish or grow cold. In 1780 he took his seat in the assembly of his state, and manifested all the activity and vigour that characterized the commencement of his bold and useful career. In 1788 he was a member of the Virginia convention, convened for the consideration of the constitution of the United States, then submitted for approval or rejection. To that instrument Mr. Henry was then strongly opposed, because, as he contended, it consolidated the states into one government, thereby destroying the sovereignty of each. His eloquence on that occasion was raised to its highest pitch, but could not prevail. His closing speech on that now revered instrument, was said to have surpassed either of his former efforts, and operated so powerfully, that but a small majority voted for the new constitution. During his remarks, an incident occurred which enabled him to almost paralyze his audience. After describing the magnitude of the question, on the determination of which hung the happiness or wo of the present generation, and millions yet unborn, with a voice and countenance solemn as eternity, and his eyes raised upwards, he appealed to the God of heaven, and to angels, then hovering over their heads, to witness the thrilling scene, and invoked their aid in the mighty work before him. At that moment, a sudden thundergust commenced its fury, and shook the very earth. Upon the wings of the tempest his stentorian voice continued to rise--he figuratively seized the artillery of the elements as by supernatural power, hurled the liquid lightning at the heads of his opponents, and seemed commissioned, by the great Jehovah, to execute a deed of vengeance. The scene was awfully sublime, the effect tremendous. The purple current rushed back upon the fountain of life, every countenance was pale, every eye was fixed, every muscle was electrified, every vein was contracted, every heart was agonized
the scene became insupportable—the members rushed from their seats in confusion, and left the house without the formality of an adjournment.
He remained in the assembly of Virginia until 1791, when he declined a re-election, and expressed a strong desire to retire from public life. He had toiled long, faithfully and successfully, and wished for that repose, found only in the bosom of our families.
In 1795, President Washington, for whom he had an
unbounded veneration, offered him the high station of secretary of state. With becoming gratitude to his friend and the father of his country, he declined the proffered honour, and chose to remain in retirement. The following year he was again elected governor of his native state, but declined serving. In 1799 he was appointed, by President Adams, an envoy to France, in conjunction with Messrs. Murray and Ellsworth. His declining health would not permit him to accept of this last appointment with which he was honoured. Disease was fast consummating the work of death, and rapidly destroying the hardy constitution and athletic frame, that had enabled him to perform his duty so nobly during the trying scenes of the revolution. He was aware that the work of dissolution was going on, and awaited his final exit with calm submission and Christian fortitude. On the 6th of June, 1799, he resigned his spirit to Him who gave it, threw off the mortal coil, and was numbered with the dead, aged but 61 years. His loss was deeply mourned by the American nation, and most strongly felt by those who knew him best. The following affectionate tribute is from the pen of one who knew him well :
Mourn, Virginia, mourn! your Henry is gone. Ye friends of liberty in every clime, drop a tear. No more will his social feelings spread delight through his happy house. No more will his edifying example dictate to his nụmerous offspring the sweetness of virtue and the majesty of patriotism. No more will his sage advice, guided by zeal for the common happiness, impart light and utility to his caressing neighbours. No more will he illuminate the public councils with sentiments drawn from the cabinet of his own mind, ever directed to his country's good, and clothed in eloquence