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The House of Burgesses of Virginia was in session, when the intelligence was received from England. They had, in consequence, the distinguished honor of being the first public body to proclaim the rights of America against the despotic doctrines of the stamp act. To their bold attitude, and firm. language, is undoubtedly due much of the consistency of action which marked the proceedings of the Colonies during the ensuing year; and they accordingly occupy a large space among the immediate events preceding the revolution.
In estimating the value of these measures, and the reputation of the distinguished patriots who acted in them, the first place in honor is due to Patrick Henry, who moved, defended, and carried them, with an overpowering eloquence, of which tradition speaks in language of the loftiest enthusiasm. Mr. Jefferson bore his testimony to this fact, in the emphatic declaration, that "Henry gave the first impulse to the ball of the revolution."
His résolutions were offered near the close of the session, in the latter part of the month of May, without consultation with more than two members. After a vehement, and
what Mr. Jefferson termed a 'bloody' debate, they 1765, May 29.
were carried by a small majority. We transcribe them below, as they were found sealed up in the handwriting of Mr. Henry, by his executors. Other copies, varying from these, have been published, but they are believed to be the resolutions as afterwards revised and modified by the timid party in the House of Burgesses on the second day, after Mr. Henry had gone home. The original resolutions, as moved and carried, were these the fifth of which, it may be noted, was that which, by its fearless denunciation of an act of parliament, formally passed with all the sanctions of law, most alarmed the irresolute, and the adherents to Britain.
“ 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 of his majesty's (subjects, since inhabiting in this his majesty's-said colony, rall the privileges, franchises, and immunities, that have been at any time helds enjoyed, and possessed by the people of
Great Britain.. men H. 4 Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by King James the First, the colonists aforesaid, are declared entitled e to all the privileges,i 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 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.
"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 whatsoerer, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom."
Two other resolutions were offered by Mr. Henry, and rejected as of too audacious a character, in the then estimate of the Americans, to be admitted. They asserted that the people of the colony were “not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatsoever," designed to impose taxation upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the general assembly; and that any person who “by writing or speaking" should maintain the contrary, should be deemed "an enemy” to the colonies. Though these were disagreed to by the House of Burgesses, they were circulated in manuscript copies, and published in the papers of other colonies, as part of the resolutions adopted.
It was in the heat of the discussion in the House of Burgesses, while denouncing in unmeasured terms the tyranny of the British government, that Henry showed that celebrated example of presence of mind and promptitude in debate. Transported by the fervor of his zeal beyond the bounds of prudence, he exclaimed, “Cæsar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third”_" Treason, treason,"' resounded from all parts of the house ;-but, without pausing or quailing for a moment, he continued," may profit by their example. If this be treason, make your most of it.”
if On the next day, in the absence of Henry, the vote was re-considered, and the fifth resolution rescinded—but the whole went abroad together to stimulate the spirits, and rally the resolution of the people, everywhere throughout America. Other legislatures followed the example. That of Massachusetts in particular, had moved with a kindred spirit, before they received intelligence of the Virginia resolutions, and had taken the further decisive step of proposing a consultation of all the colonies, in a congress of deputies, to meet in the ensuing October, a few weeks previous to the day appointed for the stamp act to go into operation. A circular let ter was agreed upon, and addressed to the several speakers of
the legislatures of all the other colonies, and a com
mittee to represent Massachusetts selected forthwith. South Carolina was the first to assent to the measure. Commissioners were successively appointed from Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Each of these provinces passed resolutions, and gave instruc tions to their commissioners, avowing and insisting upon the same doctrines, which were afterwards incorporated in the proceedings of the illustrious stamp act congress. The assemblies of Virginia and North Carolina had been prorogued, and had, in consequence, no opportunity to act before the time of meeting. Georgia and New Hampshire declined sending agents, but gave assurances of their willingness to join in the proposed petitions and remonstrances. The NewYork legislature had been prorogued; but the committee of correspondence, appointed the preceding year on the stamp act resolutions, assumed the responsibility of attending on behalf of the province and their authority was confirmed by the next legislature. In Delaware, the assembly met before the regular period, and unanimously selected three of their own number to represent the colony.
While these proceedings were going on, under the sanction of the colonial legislatures, the popular feeling against the stamp act was continually growing more violent, and was manifested in their primary meetings in the strongest terms, and sometimes with disorderly acts. Town and county meetings were summoned in every colony; at which infiammatory speeches were made, and angry resolutions adopted. Committees of correspondence were established. Associations and clubs, for political discussion and mutual aid, were formed and, in some cases, still more active means were taken to manifest hostility to the act, and all that favored it; the authorities were insulted, and hanged and burnt in effigy: the persons and houses of the adherents to the act, molested; social relations with them, were in many places suspended totally, or in part; and in all directionsevery measure was taken to keep up and aggravate the popular discontent. The new. papers that at first had spoken cautiously and despondingly, took up by degrees a bolder tone, and became zealous, daring, and efficient; urging the strongest measures with most spirited language. Placards, handbills, pasquinades, and caricatures, abounded ; and in a few months the effervescence was universal-pervading, with few exceptions, the whole continent. A few of the popular movements, selected from thousands with which the annals of those times abound, will serve to show the temper of the colonies. The instructions of the town of Plymouth to their representative in the general court, deserve, in an especial manner, to be recorded. Plymouth was the first landing-place of the pilgrim settlers of New England; and speaking almost from the very rock on which they first trod, when they brought the image of liberty from enslaved Europe to set it up for worship in the wilderness, their descendants, assembled in town meeting, thus addressed their agent, in a language of becoming dignity and lofty independence. " This place, sir, was at first the . asylum of liberty, and we hope, will ever be preserved sacred to it, though it was then no more than a barren wilder
ness, inhabited only by savage men and beasts. To this c place our fathers, (whose memories be revered,) possessed
of the principles of liberty in their purity, and disdaining slavery, fled to enjoy those privileges, which they had an undoubted right to, but were deprived of by the hands of violence and oppression, in their native country. We, sir, their posterity, the freeholders, and other inhabitants of this town, legally
assembled for that purpose ; possessed of the same sentiĆ Inents, and retaining the same ardor for liberty, think it our
indispensable duty, on this occasion, to express to you these our sentiments of the stamp act, and its fatal consequences to this country, and to enjoin upon you, as you regard not only the welfare, but the very being of this people, that you, (consistent with our allegiance to the King, and relation to the government of Great Britain) disregarding all proposals for that purpose, exert all your power and influence in opposition to the stamp act, at least till, we hear the success of
our petitions for relief. We likewise, to avoid disgracing the memories of our ancestors, as well as the reproaches of our own consciences, and the curses of posterity, recommend it to you, to obtain, if possible, in the honourable house of representatives of this Province, a full and explicit assertion of our rights, and to have the same entered on their public records, that all generations yet to come, may be convinced, that we have not only a just sense of our rights and liberties, but that we never, with submission to Divine Providence, will be slaves to any power on earth.”
The resolutions of the people of Providence, were in like tone of energy and determination. They adopted all the Virginia resolutions, except the last; for which they substituted the stronger declarations, that had been considered three months before, by the Virginia assembly, too bold for them to assent to. They pronounced the stamp act not only to be "unconstitutional, and to have a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American liberty," but that they " were not bound to yield to any law or ordinance, designed to impose any internal taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the general assembly.” The assembly adopted the whole of these popular resolutions, and added another still more energetic, directing all officers to proceed in the execution of their offices as usual, notwithstanding the stamp act; and pledging the assembly to "indemnify them, and keep them harmless," in such a course of conduct.
One instance of the acrimony to which hostility against the domestic favorers of Great Britain was carried, may be furnished as an example of the rest. Many such may be found in the records of the day. The people of Talbot county, in Maryland, resolved, in addition to a general expression of hatred to the stamp act, that they would "detest, abhor, and hold in contempt, all and every person and persons, who shall merely accept of any employment or office relating to the stamp act, or shall take any shelter or advantage of the same, and all and every stamp-pimp, informer, and encourager of the execution of the said act;" and would have “no communication with any such persons, unless it be - to inform them of their vileness."
In some places the disaffection and excitement broke out into tumultuous violence. In August, several riots occurred in the town of Boston, in which much valuable property