« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
self boldly dare to utter it. All wished for independence; and all hitherto trembled at the thought of asserting it.
Mr. Wirt, in his life of Henry, from which we select this sketch, says, “the following is Mr. Jefferson's account of this transaction:
"Mr. Henry moved and Mr. Johnston seconded these resolutions successively. They were opposed by Messrs. Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the house had, till then, been unbroken. They did it, not from any question of our rights, but on the ground that the same sentiments had been, at their preceding session, expressed in a more conciliatory form, to which the answers were not yet received. But torrents of sublime eloquence from Henry, backed by the solid reasoning of Johnson, prevailed.--The last, however, and strongest resolution, was carried but by a single vote. The debate on it was most bloody. I was then but a student, and stood at the door of communication between the house and the lobby (for as yet there was no gallery) during the whole debate and vote; and I well remember that, after the numbers on the division were told and declared from the chair, Peyton Randolph (the attorney general) came out at the door where I was standing, and said as he entered the lobby, by —, I would have given 500 guineas for a single vote;? for one vote would have divided the house, and Robinson was in the chair, who he knew would have negatived the resolution. "By these resolutions, and his manner of
supporting them, Mr. Henry took the lead out of the hands of those who had theretofore guided the proceedings of the house; that is to say, of Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Randolph." It was, indeed, the measure which raised him to the zenith of his glory . He had never before had a subject which entirely matched his genius, and was capable of drawing out all the powers of his mind. It was remarked of him throughout his life, that his talents never failed to rise with the occasion, and in proportion to the resistance which he had to encounter. The nicety of the vote on his last resolution, proves that this was not a time to hold in reserve any part of his forces.
“It was indeed, an alpine passage, under cir: cumstances even more unpropitious than those of Hanibal, for he bad 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 followers, 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 bim 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 bis 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 liis 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 faltered 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."
In August, 1774, the Virginia Convention assembled in Williamsburg, and passed a series of resolutions, whereby they pledged themselves to make common cause with the people of Boston in every extremity. They appointed as deputies to Congress on the part of that colony, Peyton Randolph, Richard H. Lee, George Washington, Richard Bland, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, who were deputed to attend the first meeting of the colonial congress.
On the 4th September, 1774, that venerable body, the old continental congress of the United States, (towards whom every American heart will bow with pious homage, while the name of liberty shall be dear in our land) met for the first time at Carpenter's Hall, in the city of Philadelphia. Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, was chosen president, and the house was organized for busines, with all the solemnities of a regular legislature.
The most eminent men of the various colonies were now, for the first time, brought together. They were known to each other by fame; but they were personally strangers. The meeting was awfully solemn. The object which had called them together was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no less than three millions of people, with that of all their posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils. No wonder, then, at the long and deep silence which is said to have followed upon their organization; at the anxiety with which the members looked around upon each other; and the reluctance which every individual felt to open a business so fearfully momentous.
In the midst of this deep and death-like silence, i and just when it was beginning to become painful
fully embarrassing, Mr Henry arose slowly as if borne down by the weight of the subject. After faltering, according to his habit, through a most impressive exordium, in which he merely echoed back the consciousness of every other heart, in deploring his inability to do justice to the occasion, he launched, gradually, into a recital of the colonial wrongs. Rising, as he advanced, with the grandeur of his subject, and glowing at length with all the majesty and expectation of the occasion, his speech seemed more than that of mortal man. Even those who had heard bim in all his glory, in the house of burgesses of Virginia. were astonished at the manner in which his talents seemed to swell and expand themselves, to fill the vaster theatre in which he was now placed. There was no rant; no rhapsody: no labour of the understanding: no straining of the voice; no confusion of the utterance. His countenance was erect; his eye steady; his action noble: his enunciation clear and firm; his mind poised on its centre; his views of his subject comprehensive and great; and his imagination, corruscating with a magnificence and a variety, which struck even that assembly with amazement and awe. He sat down amidst murmurs of astonishment and applause; and as he had been before proclaimed the greatest orator of Virginia, he was now, on every hand, admitted to be the first orator of America.
When Mr. Henry returned from this first congress to his constituents, he was asked • whom he thought the greatest man in congress,' and 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 unqestionably, the greatest man on that floor'.
In March, 1775, Mr. Henry was a member of the convention of delegates from the several counties and, corporations of Virginia, assembled in Richmond. In this body, while all the other leading members were still disposed to pursue only milk-and-water measures, he proposed resolutions for embodying, arming and disciplining such number of men, as should be sufficient to defend the colony against the aggressions of the mother country. 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. Bland, Harrison, Pendleton, &c. resisted them with all their influence and abilities. 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 and direct 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, il, entertaining as he did, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, he should speak forth kis 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.