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6 the first oppo
powers of his eloquence, for which he afterwards became celebrated.
In 1764, a year memorable for the origination of that great question, which led finally to the independence of the United States, it is asserted, on the authority of President Jefferson, that " he gave the first impulse to the ball of the revolotion."
In the following year, 1765, he introduced his celebrated resolutions against the scheme of taxing America, which passed the house of burgesses in May following.
“ They formed,” says Mr. Henry, sition to the stamp act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from influence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a burgess, a few days before, was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the house, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture, and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law book, wrote the within (resolutions.) Upon offering them to the house, violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me, by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest, the resolutions passed by a small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the ministerial party were overwhelmed.
“ The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war which finally separated the two countries, and gave independence to ours.
From this period he became the idol of the people of Virginia; nor was his name confined to his native state. His light and heat were seen and felt through
out the continent; and he was every where regarded as the great champion of colonial liberty. The impulse thus given by Virginia, was caught by the other colonies. His resolutions were every where adopted, with progressive variations.
The spirit of resistance became bolder and bolder, until the whole continent was in a flame; and by the first of November, when the stamp act was, according to its provisions, to have taken effect, its execution had become utterly impracticable.
The house of burgesses of Virginia, which had led the opposition to the stamp act, kept their high ground during the whole of the contest, and he continued a member of the public councils till the close of the revolution : and there could be no want of boldness in any body, of which he was a member.
The elements of his character were most happily mingled for the great struggle which was now coming
His views were not less steady than they were bold. His vision pierced deeply into futurity; and long before a whisper of independence had been heard in this land, he had looked through the whole of the approaching contest, and saw with the eye and the rapture of a prophet, his country seated aloft among the nations of the earth.
In 1774, he was elected one of the deputies from Virginia to the first Congress, which met at the Carpenters' Hall, in the city of Philadelphia, on the 4th of September following. The most eminent men of the various colonies were now, for the first time, brought together. The meeting was awfully solemn. The object of which had called them together was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no less than three millions of people, with all of 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, and just when it was beginning to become painfully embarrassing, Mr. Henry arose slowly, as if borne down by the weight of the subject. After a most impressive exordium, 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 him in all his glory, in the house of burgesses of Virginia, were astonished at the manner in which his talents seemed to swell ard expand themselves, to fill the vaster theatre in which he was now placed. At length, he closed his eloquent harangue, and 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.
In October, he returned home, and was elected in March, 1775, a member of the convention which assembled for a second time at Richmond, to consult the welfare of the colony. In this body, in his usual style of eloquence, he urged the necessity of embodying, arming, and disciplining the militia, and notwithstanding his resolutions were opposed, and resisted by the influence of some of the ablest men and patriots of the convention, he urged them the more, and exclaimed, “ 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, sirs, we must fight!! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts, is all that is left ns !–Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace-but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! the next gale that sweeps 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,” cried he, with both arms extended aloft, his brows knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and his voice swelled to its boldest note of exclamation, “ give me liberty, or give me death !"
He took his seat. No murmur of applause was heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment, several members started from their seats. The cry, “to arms," seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye! They became impatient of speech-their souls were on fire for action. The resolutions were adopted.
The storm of the revolution now began to thicken. The cloud of war had actually burst on the New Eng. land states. The colonial governors concerted measures to disarm the people, and to deprive them of gun-powder. An attempt was accordingly made to seize at the same moment the powder and arms in the several provincial magazines. Governor Gage first set the example, and was followed by similar attempts in other colonies to the north.
In turn, Governor Dunmore followed, and removed the powder from the magazine at Williamsburg. This act excited universal indignation. In the mean time Mr. Henry assembled the independent companies of Hanover and King William counties, and marched at their head towards Williamsburg, with the avowed design of obtaining payment for the powder, or of compelling its restitution. The object he effected. Thus the same man, whose genius had, in the year 1765, given the first political impulse to the revolution, had now the additional honour of heading the first military movement in Virginia, in support of the same cause. The governor immediately fortified his palace, and issued a proclamation, charging those who had procured payment for the powder, with rebellious practices. This only occasioned a number of county meetings, which applauded the conduct of Mr. Henry, and expressed a determination to protect him.
In August, 1775, when a new choice of deputies to Congress was made, he was not re-elected, for his services were now demanded more exclusively in his own state. After the departure of Lord Dunmore, he was chosen the first governor, in June, 1776, and held this office several succeeding years, bending all his exertions to promote the freedom and independence of his country.
In 1787, he was appointed one of the deputies to meet the grand convention to be held at Philadelphia, for the purpose of revising the federal constitution; the same cause, however, which had constrained his retirement from the executive chair, disabled him now from obeying the calls of his country.
Of the convention, however, which was to decide the fate of this instrument in Virginia, he was chosen a member.
The convention met in Richmond, on the 2d June, 1788, and exhibited such an array of variegated talents, as had never before been collected to one focus in that state.
In this highly respectable body, he, day after day, exerted the powers of his masterly eloquence to prevent its adoption. Though experience has proven, that he was erroneous in his judgment on this occasion, it is nevertheless due to him to state, that he contributed several valuable amendments to the Magna Charta of our representative government and national lory. He continued the practice of the law until the year