Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][ocr errors]

PATRICK

HENRY.

PATRICK HENRY was born of respectable parentage, in the county of Hanover, state of Virginia, on the 29th of May, 1736. He displayed in his youth none of those admirable qualities which, in after life, rendered him the admiration of his country, and the terror of her enemies. Deficient in early education, and deprived of the opportunities of improvement by which the powers of his mind could be developed, his genius, which was at a future period destined to shine so brilliantly, was involved in obscurity until aroused from its dormant condition, by circumstances which brought all its powerful energies into action, and displayed its vigor and splendor to his astonished associates and countrymen. Agriculture and shop keeping were successively pursued and abandoned by him. Failure attended his early career, and in whatever avocations he was engaged, or when struggling to subdue

his undisciplined spirits to the useful employments of life, he seemed . to be doomed to an humble and unprosperous condition. At the

age of eighteen, he married a Miss Shelton. After all other means of subsistence had failed, he determined to exchange manual labor for the practice of the law, and after studying for about six weeks, obtained, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, with great difficulty, a license to practice. It was not, however, until he had reached his twenty-seventh year, that an opportunity.occurred for a trial of his strength at the bar, when the powers of his unrivalled genius were exhibited in full relief, and placed him at once in the highest rank of his profession. The cause in which he first made his appearance before a court and jury, was familiary called the parsons' cause, and involved a question upon which the country was very much excited; the clergy and people being arrayed in opposition. A decision of the court on a demurrer in favor of the claims of the clergy, had left nothing undetermined but the amount of damages in the cause which was pending. The counsel who had been concerned for the defendants having retired from the management of the case, Mr. HENRY was retained, and on a writ of inquiry of damages, he took advantage of the opportunity furnished of addressing the jury, to enter into a discussion of the points which had been previously settled, and although in deviation from regular practice, succeeded by the force of his eloquence in inducing the jury to give but nominal damages. The management of the cause gained for him the most enthusiastic applause, and brought him so prominently before the public, that he became the idol of the people whom he had so efficiently served, and received the most earnest demonstrations of their admiration.

In 1764, he removed to the county of Louisa, and in the fall of that year, appeared before a committee of the house of burgesses, then sitting at Williamsburg, as counsel in the case of a contested election, and amidst the fashion and splendor of the seat of government, the rustic orator commanded attention and respect.

A wider field for the display of his eloquence was soon open to him, and as the controversy with Great Britain began to thicken, the champion of the people's rights was called into the public counsels, to rebuke the spirit of despotism, and sustain the drooping spirits of his countrymen, by an eloquence which springing from the great fountain of nature, no power could control or subdue. The seat of a member of the house of burgesses was vacated to make room for him, and in the month of May, 1765, he was elected a member. He was now destined to act among the most accomplished and distinguished men of the country. Following no other guide than his pure and patriotic spirit, and using no other instrument of action but his own matchless eloquence, he rapidly ascended to the loftiest station in the confidence and affections, both of the legislature and of the people. Taking at once a bold stand, he rallied around him the opposition, and became the envy and the terror of the aristocracy. His plebeian origin and rustic appearance were singularly contrasted with the rich veins of intellectual wealth, which the collisions of debate and party strife brought to the public view. By his almost unaided skill, he defeated the aristocracy in a favorite measure, and acquired an ascendency at the outset of his public career which enabled him to give the impress of his own undaunted spirit to the future counsels of the state. In 1765, " alone, unadvised and unassisted,” he wrote on the blank leaf of an old law book the resolutions of 1765, denouncing the stamp act and asserting the rights of the people. On offering them to the legislature, they met with violent opposition, which drew from Mr. Henry one of the most vivid and powerful efforts of his eloquence. Breasting the storm, and bidding defiance to the cries of treason, by which in vain it was attempted to silence him, he secured their adoption, and thus gave an impulse to public feeling, and a character to the contest, which essentially aided the revolutionary cause. In the year 1767, or 1768, he removed from Louisa to his native county, and continued without intermission in public life, until after the close of the war.

The higher courts engaged his attention, and although a want of familiarity with the common law, and a dislike to the forms of practice obstructed his progress, he found in the trial of criminal causes an extensive sphere for the exercise of his abilities, and the acquisition of a professional reputation.

In the assembly he continued to espouse the cause of the people, and permitted no opportunity to escape, of stimulating them and their representatives to repel the aggressions of the mother country. Prior to the commencement of hostilities, he predicted the dissolution of the connection which subsisted between her and her colonies, and the triumph of the latter.

The house of burgesses having been, in 1774, dissolved by Governor Dunmore, in consequence of their energetic opposition to tyranny, the members recommended a convention of the people to deliberate on the critical posture of affairs, and particularly to appoint delegates to a congress to be convened at Philadelphia. Mr. HENRY was elected a member of the convention, and by that body was appointed with Messrs Randolph, Lee, Washington, Bland, Harrison, and Pendleton, delegates to congress, which assembled at Carpenter's Hall, on the 4th of September. The most illustrious men of America who had been heretofore strangers, or only known to one another by fame, were now brought by the common danger which hung over their country, into the closest intercourse. The organized masses of virtue, intelligence, and genius, formed a body which attracted by its wisdom, firmness and patriotism, the admiration of mankind, and must ever reflect unfading lustre on the country whose destinies they controlled, and whose freedom they achieved. Mr. Henry's magical eloquence first broke the solemn silence which succeeded their organization, and in breasts so lofty and so pure, the undisciplined and untutored voice of patriotism and of native genius found a response, which sustained its boldest exertions. The impartial judgments of the greatest and most accomplished men awarded to him the highest place among orators.

Unfortunately for Mr. Henry, he did not excel in composition, for having been placed on a committee to prepare an address to the king, he did not fulfil the expectations which his eloquence had created, and accordingly his draft was recommitted, and John Dickinson added to the committee, who reported the celebrated address which so much increased his reputation.

The Virginia convention met a second time in March, 1775, at Richmond, when Mr. HENRY brought forward a series of resolutions containing a plan for the organization of the militia. In defiance of the opposition of the ablest and most patriotic members of the convention, they were sustained by a torrent of irresistible eloquence from Mr. HENRY, who inspired the convention with a determined spirit of resistance. An opportunity soon occurred for a trial of his courage, as well as of his influence with the people. The prohibition of the exportation of powder from Great Britain, was followed by attempts to procure the possession of magazines in America, by which the colonists would be deprived of the means of defence. A large quantity of gun-powder was clandestinely removed from the colonial magazine at Williamsburg, and placed on board of armed British vessels. The excitement which it produced, extorted from the governor a promise for its return, by which public feeling was for the time appeased, but subsequent threats and rumors of fresh encroachments on the magazine, together with the irritation produced by the battles of Concord and Lexington, aroused the country to arms. The movements of the military corps was, however, arrested by the exertions of Mr. Randolph. But Mr. Henry, determined not to submit to the aggressions of the British governor, despatched express riders to the members of the Independent Company of Hanover to meet him in arms at Newcastle. Having aroused their patriotism by all the efforts of his eloquence, by the resignation of the captain, he became the commander, and they commenced their march for Williamsburg. The country was electrified. Other companies joined the revolutionary standard of PATRICK HENRY, and at least five thousand men were in arms, rushing to his assistance.

The governor issued a proclamation denouncing the movement. The greatest consternation prevailed at Williamsburg ; even the patriots were alarmed, and despatched messenger after messenger to induce him to abandon the enterprise; but undaunted, he resolutely pursued his march. The governor, after making preparations for his defence, deemed it most prudent to avoid a conflict, and accordingly ordered Mr. HENRY to be met at Newcastle with a compensation in money for the powder. Another proclamation from the governor denouncing him, not only fell harmless before him, but secmed to render him an object of greater public regard. Mr. Henry's journey to congress, which had been interrupted by this event, was now resumed, and became, as far as the borders of Virginia, a triumphant procession.

The affair of the gun-powder brought Mr. HENRY to the notice of

« AnteriorContinuar »