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and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. doubt but, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it; can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature.
This great orator was born at Studley, Hanover County, Virginia ; and, while his early education in books was not extensive, he studied man and nature from life very deeply and thoroughly. He attempted farming and merchandising for some years, then read law and at the age of twenty-four was admitted to the bar where his splendid powers had full scope. In 1765 he was elected to the State Legislature, or House of Burgesses, as it was then called.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Mr. Henry certainly gave the first impulse to the ball of the Revolution.” During the war, he served at first in the field, and later in the Legislature, and as governor, being elected three times. He retired from public life in 1791 and devoted himself to his law practice, by which he gained wealth.
His most famous speech was delivered before the Convention sitting in council in the old St. John's Church, Richmond, 1775, after the House of Burgesses had been dissolved by the royal governor.
An extract from this speech, as given in Wirt's “Life of Henry,” follows. No
faithfully exact copy of his speeches is preserved, for he never wrote them out, and his eloquence was so overmastering that no one could listen and report at the same time. He takes his place among the great orators of the world.
Speeches, legal and political, (as they have been gathered from traditionary reports.)
See his Life by Wirt, Tyler, and W. W. Henry, his grandson.
REMARK ON SLAVERY. Slavery is detested. We feel its fatal effects. We deplore it with all the pity of humanity. Not BOUND BY STATE LINES, (from the opening speech of the first Continental Congress,
1774.) I am not a Virginian. I am an American.
IF THIS BE TREASON, (Speech in House of Burgesses, 1765.) Cæsar had his Brutus-Charles the First, his Cromwell, and George the Third-(" Treason!” cried the Speaker) — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.
THE FAMOUS REVOLUTION SPEECH, 1775.
(From Wirt's Life of Henry.) “Mr. President,” said he, “it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth-and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this,” he asked, “the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Were we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes see not, and having ears hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For his part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, he was willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and provide for it."
“He had,” he said, “but one lamp by which his feet were guided ; and that was the lamp of experience. He knew of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, he wished to know what there had been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen had been pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation ? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation,—the last arguments to which kings resort. tlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us ; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we [to] oppose to them?
n? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable ; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to en
I ask gen
treaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find, which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned—we have remonstrated-we have supplicated—we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. 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, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us !"
“They tell us, sir," continued Mr. Henry, “ that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three