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the colonial convention in a military point of view, and accordingly "he was elected colonel of the first regiment, and commander of all the forces raised and to be raised for the defence of the colony." Having resigned his commission, he was elected a delegate to the convention which met on the 6th of May, 1776, at Williamsburg. On the 1st of July, he was elected the first republican governor of Virginia, and was continued in that station by an unanimous vote, until 1778. A wish having been expressed to reëlect him for the fourth term, he declined being a candidate, on the ground that the constitution had declared the governor to be ineligible after the third year, although an impression existed on the minds of some of the members of the legislature, that his appointment for the first year having been made prior to the adoption of that instrument, should not be counted in his term of service under it. Mr. HENRY entertaining a different opinion, communicated his views to the assembly, “that they might have the earliest opportunity of deliberating upon the choice of his successor." Few opportunities occurred for distinction during his gubernatorial career, but he appears to have performed all the duties of the station, to the satisfaction of the country, and to have retired with an increase of reputation and popularity. During the gloomiest period of the conflict for independence, a project was twice started to create a dictation, and whilst the most satisfactory evidence exists that Mr. HENRY had no participation in it, it is highly honorable to him, that the drooping spirits of his countrymen were turned to him as the safest depository of uncontrolled authority. After retiring from the executive department, Mr. Henry became once more a representative in the assembly, and continued to enlighten the public councils by the splendor of his eloquence, and his liberal views of public policy. Among the measures which he advocated after the close of the war, the return of the British refugees, the removal of restraints on British commerce, even before the treaty by which that object was accomplished, and the improvement of the condition of the Indians, were conspicuous. On the 17th of November, 1784, he was again elected governor of Virginia. His circumstances, owing to the smallness of the salaries which he had received, and the sacrifices he had made in the public service, had become embarrassed, which induced him to retire from that station in the fall of 1786, whilst yet a year remained of his constitutional term, and also to decline accepting the appointment which was tendered to him by the legislature, of a seat in the convention to revise the constitution of the United States.
"On his resigning the government,” says his accomplished biographer, Mr. Wirt, “he retired to Prince Edward county, and endeavored to cast about for the means of extricating himself from his debts. At the age of fifty years, worn down by more than twenty years of arduous service in the cause of his country, eighteen of which had been occupied by the toils and tempests of the revolution, it was natural for him to wish for rest, and to seek some secure and placid port in which he might repose himself from the fatigues of the storm. This, however, was denied him; and after having devoted the bloom of youth and the maturity of manhood to the good of his country, he had now in his old age to provide for his family.” He accordingly resumed the practice of the law, in which the powers of his eloquence secured him constant employment. But it was difficult for him to abstract himself entirely from public affairs, and the formation of the constitution of the United States, respecting which he entertained most erroneous views, enlisted his feelings once more in political struggle as a member of the convention, assembled for its adoption, at Richmond, on June 2d, 1788.
Professing to be alarmed at the character and extent of the powers conferred on the federal government. Mr. HENRY exerted all his great abilities to produce its defeat. Fortunately for the country, Virginia possessed, and was enabled to bring in opposition to his constitutional views, an array of great men, who, although inferior to him in eloquence, surpassed him in knowledge, and by their combined exertions, were able to counterbalance the influence which his skill in debate, unquestionable patriotism, and long continued services, enabled him to wield. Madison, Marshall, Pendleton, Wythe, Nicholas, Randolph, Innis, and Lee,were the bulwarks of that sacred shield of liberty, the constitution of the United States, against which our patriotic orator, with his wonted vigor and matured skill, week after week, cast the darts of his stupendous eloquence. Ridicule, sarcasm, pathos, and argument were resorted to, to accomplish his object, and with untiring energy, he assailed it as a system and in detail, as the one plan or the other seemed best calculated for the purposes of the veteran tactician. He denounced it as a consolidated, instead of a confederated, government, and charged the convention by which it was framed, with an assumption of power, when, by the preamble they declared the instrument to emanate from the people of the United States, instead of the states by which they were appointed. The powers conferred on the government, were, in his opinion, dangerous to freedom, and he condemned the whole system as pregnant with
hazard, and ruinous to liberty. Mr. HENRY was combated with admirable skill, and triumphantly defeated.
His failure in the convention did not however affect his influence, and in the subsequent fall, he possessed in the assembly the confidence and popularity which had so long clung to him. He succeeded in procuring the election of candidates for the senate of the United States in opposition to those nominated by his antagonists; and also in procuring the adoption of a series of resolutions favorable to a convention of the states to alter the constitution, which had been so recently adopted. In the spring of 1791, he declined a reëlection to the assembly, with the view of retiring altogether from public life. Necessity compelled him to continue the practice of the law, and in the fall of that year, he argued before the circuit court of the United States the celebrated case of the British debts, with an eloquence and professional ability which extorted the admiration of the bench, and the crowded audience which his great reputation had assembled. Such was the curiosity to hear him, that a quorum of the legislature could not be obtained, and a large concourse were subjected to disappointment by the multitude which thronged the court room. For three days he riveted the attention of a promiscuous audience, whilst discussing the usually uninteresting details of complicated law points. His success in the practice of the law was eminently distinguished, and being relieved by the assistance of other counsel from the necessity of turning his attention to such branches of the practice as were unsuitable to him, his genius had ample scope to range in the direction most congenial to it.
In the year 1796, he was once more elected governor of Virginia, which he declined. He also refused to accept the embassy to Spain, which was offered to him during the administration of Washington, and that to France, to which he was appointed by Mr. Adams. His declining health and advanced age, rendered retirement more desirable to him than ever ; but prior to the close of his earthly career, he was induced to forego the comforts and peace of domestic life, to embark in the stormy conflicts of political controversy. Believing that the democratic party in Virginia were yielding to passion, and advocating principles hostile to the safety of the country, and opposed to the constitution of the United States, Mr. HENRY espoused the cause of that instrument, the adoption of which he had so strenuously resisted. The Virginia resolutions of 1798 filled him with alarm, and although subsequent events have shown that the authors of them did not harbor intentions hostile to the union, Mr. Henry firmly believed that he
heir train the most ruinous consequences. le presented himself at the spring election of 1799, at the county of Charlotte, as a candidate for the house of delegates, and in an eloquent address to the people, expressed his alarm at the conduct of the party opposed to the national administration, his belief that their measures were not in accordance with the constitution, and his determination to support that instrument. He reminded them of his opposition to it on the very grounds that the powers which they were then condemning, were conferred, denied the right of a state to decide on the validity of federal laws, and declared his firm belief, that the destruction of the constitution would be followed by the total loss of liberty.
His usual success attended him, and he was elected. His health, however, yielded to the disease with which he had been afflicted for two years, and he expired on the 6th of June, 1799.
Mr. HENRY was twice married, and was the parent of fifteen children, eleven of whom survived him. In domestic life, he was conspicuous for his simplicity, frankness, and morality. Without ostentation, his retirement was enlivened by the cheerfulness of his disposition, and the stores of practical knowledge which a long career in public life had enabled him to accumulate. He was a firm Christian, and devoted much of his time in the concluding years of his life to reading works on religion. Temperate in his habits, indulgent to his children, and rigid in his morals, there was but little in his conduct for detraction to act upon. The charge of apostacy was made against him on account of his determination to sustain the constitution of the United States, which he had so strongly opposed; but when we reflect upon the incalculable blessings which it has showered upon the country, and how triumphantly it has refuted, by its practical operations, the objections which were made to it, we cannot but admire the frank and honorable conduct of the patriotic orator, who did not hesitate to sustain a system which experience must have convinced him he had erroneously opposed. The eloquence of Mr. HENRY has been attested by evidence to which every American will yield conviction. Unrivalled in its influence, it was one of the causes of the independence of the country: the remembrance of it deserves to be perpetuated to after ages, as one of the most striking characteristics of the contest for freedom. In recurring to the events of that struggle, with the virtues, patriotism, and heroism for which it was conspicuous, will ever be associated in grateful remembrance, the impetuous, patriotic, and irresistible eloquence of PATRICK HENRY.