Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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of the house of burgesses in Virginia, from the county
of Louisa, whither he had removed. In this assembly
he met a galaxy of great men, but chiefly belonging
to the old aristocracy of the colony.

It was in this assembly that he moved his famous
resolutions, which, Mr. Jefferson said, "gave the
first impulse to the ball of the revolution." Henry
speaks of them himself, in a paper he left for his
executors, in the following words : "They formed the
first opposition 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,

G VI.— 9


inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the
house and the members that composed it. Finding
the men of weight averse to opposition, and the com-
mencement 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."

These resolutions created a violent debate, which
lasted for several days. The leaders of the house —
Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Randolph — those accus-
tomed to exert a despotic sway, resisted them with all
their force. Henry supported them Avith equal ability.
His talents seemed to rise with the occasion, and his
resources to multiply with the force he had to encoun-
ter. It was in the midst of this great debate, that he
uttered a remarkable passage which has come down
to our time. While descanting upon the tyranny of
the ohnoxious act, he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder,
and with a look of great dignity, — " Caesar had his
Brutus — Charles the First his Cromwell — and George
the third — (" Treason ! " cried the speaker — " treason,
treason ! " echoed from every part of the house. It was
one of those trying moments which are decisive of
character. Henry faltered not for an instant ; but
rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the speaker
an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his
sentence with the fiercest emphasis,) — ^nay profit by
their example. If this be treason, make the most of
it." Sustained by such powers, the resolutions were
carried by a majority of two, and Mr. Henry left the
assembly with the reputation of a statesman added to
that of an orator.


He continued to be an active member of the house
of burgesses, and was always a leader in measures
calculated to arouse the country against the march
of British usurpation. In 1774, he was appointed a
delegate to the new congress at Philadelphia, and
took his seat in that body when it came together in
the following September.

The most eminent men of the various colonies
were now for the first time brought together. They
were known to each other by fame ; but they were
personally strangers. The meeting was solemn
indeed. The object which liad called them together
was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no
loss than three millions of people, with that of all
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 immedi-
ately upon their organization ; caused by the anxiety
with v'hich the members looked round upon each
other, and the reluctance which every individual felt
to enter upon a business so momentous.

In the midst of this deep and death-like silence,
Patrick Henry arose. As if oppressed by the occasion,
he began in slow and faltering tones to address the
assembly. In a few moments, however, his manner
changed. He proceeded to speak of the wrongs sus-
tained by the colonies. As he advanced, his counte-
nance glowed, his form dilated, and his words fell
with the mingled power of the thunder and the light-
ning. Even that great assembly was struck with
emotions of amazement and awe. When he sat
down, there was a murmur of applause, and the great


orator of Virginia was now fell to be the orator of a

But here the triumph of Patrick Henry ceased. In
the discussion of general grievances, he took the lead,
but when called down from the heights of declama-
tion to the sober test of practical business, he Avas
entirely at fault. He was now made to feel the fatal
neglect of early study, and the waste of opportuni-
ties which could never return. Several addresses
were proposed by congress — and that to the king was
assigned to him. When reported, every countenance
betrayed disappointment. It was indeed so ill-suited
to the occasion, that it was set aside, and a new
draught, prepared by Mr. Dickinson, was adopted.
Such was the severe penalty paid for youthful follies.
After all, this great orator had but a single gift, and
though one of the most wonderful, he was doubtless
among the least useful members of that great assem-
bly, which he had electrified by his magi<; skill in
touching the sources of human emotion.

Congress rose in October, and Mr. Henry returned
to his native county. In March following, another
convention of delegates from Virginia met at Rich-
mond ; of this, he was also a member. The peti-
tion of congress to the king had been received, and
the reply was smooth and gracious in its terms. The
loyalty of the country, though shaken, was still strong,
and the desire to heal the breach Avhich had been
threatened, was common. Such feelings prevailed
among the leaders of the Virginia convention. Henry
had entirely opposite views. He believed a crisis
had come which it was vain to attempt to avert, and


for which immediate preparation should Lc made.
He therefore introduced a series of resolutions to that

These produced a sudden and painful shock. They
were resisted, as fraught with danger — as rash, im-
politic and unjust. Seldom has any proposition been
assailed with such a weight of argument, eloquence,
and authority, as were directed against these resolves.
But the mover was unabashed. He rose and replied
with a power that was irresistible. After proceeding
for some time in a strain of lofty eloquence, he closed
in these stirring words :

" They tell us, sir, 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 totall}' dis-
armed, 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 indulg-
ing 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
millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty,
and in such a country as that which we possess, are
invincible by any force Avhich our enemy can send
against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our bat-
tles alone. There is a just God, who presides over
the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends
to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to
the strong alone ; it is to the vigilant, the active, the


brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we
were base enough to desire It, it is now too late to
retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in
submission and slavery ! Our chains are forged.
Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Bos-
ton ! The war is inevitable, and let it come ! ! I
repeat it, sir ; let it come ! ! !

" It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gen-
tlemen 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 his arms extended
aloft, his brows knit, and 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 ! " The effect of these burning sen-
tences was overwhelming; the opposition was re-
buked, and the resolutions were adopted.

In the spring of 1775, Henry took his seat in the
second congress, but no opportunity offered for the
display of his peculiar talent. He was deficient as a
writer, and was disgusted with the dry details of bus
iness. His rambling and desultory habits unfitted
him for that close attention, careful deliberation, and
patient investigation, which were the qualifications
then chiefly demanded of the members of congress.


Doubtless, feeling this, he accepted an appointment,
tendered by the Virginia convention, as commander
of the forces raised for the defence of the colony. He
was at his post in September. As he had been pre-
viously engaged in a military enterprise against Lord
Dunmorc, considerable expectations were entertained
from him in his new station. He did nothing, how-
ever, to fulfil their hopes, and it was said of him, as
John Wilkes said of Lord Chatham, " all his power
and efficacy is seated in his tongue." He resigned
his office in March, 1777 — a circumstance greatly
regretted by the troops, with whom he was a favorite.
It is evident that Henry was deficient in military tal-
ents, yet it is probable that the entire barrenness of
his career as a soldier, is to be attributed to adverse
circumstances, which he had not the tact to over-

Immediately after his resignation, he was chosen a
delegate from Hanover to the convention about to
assemble for the purpose of forming a state govern-
ment. In June, a constitution was adopted^ and
Henry was immediately chosen governor of the com-
monwealth, by the convention.

The fall of the year 1776 was one of the darkest
and most dispiriting periods of the revolution. The
disaster at Long Island had occurred, by which a con-
siderable portion of the American army had been cut
off; a garrison of between three and four thousand
men had been taken at Fort Washington, and the
American general, with the small remainder, dis-
heartened and in want of every kind of comfort, was
retreating through the Jerseys before an overwhelm-


mg power, wliicli spread terror, desolation, and death
on every hand. This was llie period of which Tom
Paine, in his Crisis, used that memorahle expression,
• — " These are the times which try the souls of men ! "
For a short time, the courage of the country quailed.
Washington alone remained erect, and surveyed, with
sublime composure, the storm that raged around him.
Even the heroism of the Virginia legislature gave
way, and, .in a season of despair, the mad project of a
dictator was seriously meditated. That Mr. Henry
was thought of for this station, as has been alleged, is
highly probable ; but that the project was suggested
by him, or even received his countenance, is without
evidence or probability.

Mr. Henry was twice elected by the people to the
office of governor. His administration was marked
with no very signal act, yet he retired from the
administration with a confirmed and increased popu-
larity. He continued to represent the county of Han-
over in the legislature of the state, and took an active
part in sustaining the measures connected with the
great contest for independence.

After the close of the war, a question arose whether
the tories who had fled from the country and given
their aid to Britain, should be allowed to return.
The feeling against them was deep and bitter, and
the popular current was strong in opposition to their
being tolerated in the country. The subject was
waimly discussed in the assembly, and but for the
eloquence of Henry in their behalf, it had been de-
cided against them. He took abroad and liberal view
of the subject; he described the ample resources of


the country, and urged the obvious policy of encour-
aging the increase of the population by every proper
means. He closed his speech in these words :

" Sir, I feel no objection to the return of these
deluded people — they, to be sure, have mistaken their
own interests most wofully, and most wofully have
they suffered the punishment due to their offences.
But the relations which we bear to them and to their
native country are now changed — their king hath
acknowledged our independence — the quarrel is over
— peace hath returned and found us a free people.
Let us have the magnanimity, sir, to lay aside our
antipathies and prejudices, and consider the subject in
a political light. These are an enterprising, moneyed
people ; they will be serviceable in taking off the sur-
plus produce of our lands, and supplying us with
necessaries during the infant state of our manufac-
tures. Even if they be inimical to us in point of
feeling and principle, I can see no objection, in a
political view, to making them tributary to our advan-
tage — and, as I have no prejudices to prevent my
making this use of them, so, sir, I have no fear of any
mischief they can do us. Afraid of them ! what, sir,"
said he, rising to one of his loftiest attitudes, and
assuming a look of the most indignant and sovereign
contempt, " shall we, who have laid the proud British
lion at our feet, now be afraid of his whelps ? "

In 17S4, Mr. Henry was again chosen governor of
Virginia, but he resigned his seat, in consequence of
his inability to sustain the expense in which it in-
volved him. He was now encumbered with debt,
and such was his situation, that, although appointed a


delegate to proceed to Philadelphia, and assist in
forming a national constitution, he was forced to
decline the station. He saw, indeed, no escape from
continued embarrassment and poverty, but a return
to the bar, and this course he adopted, in 17SS. He,
however, refused the details of the profession, and was
only engaged in arguing important causes.

In June, of this year, the convention, assembled
to consider the proposed constitution of the United
States, met at Richmond. Henry was a member,
and here, among a host of stars, he met Madison, and
Marshall, and Monroe. It might have been expected,
from the structure of his mind, and his habits of
thought, that he would oppose the constitution, — and
this course he adopted. Bred up in irregular habits,
of a vagrant and excursive fancy — he naturally
thought more of liberty than tranquillity, and was
more solicitous to ensure freedom than security. He
seemed, indeed, to think that liberty involved every
earthly blessing. " Give us that precious jewel," said
he, " and you may take everything else." It was this
constant desire to breathe a free atmosphere which
had given him such power when the purpose was
to obtain deliverance from British bondage ; but now
that this was obtained, and the question came how
we might secure and perpetuate the privileges we
had won, he became jealous even of a government of
our own formation.

He therefore opposed the constitution, denouncing
it as a consolidated, not a federal government. He
especially objected to the terms in which it begins —
we the people. This he said implied a compact of the


whole people, and not a compact of states, which he
contended it should be. He proceeded to express
the utmost apprehensions of the result, if it were
adopted. For twenty days he continued to hurl
against it and its supporters, not argument only, but
wit and ridicule, often attempting to shake the nerves
of his antagonists by his unrivalled powers of fancy.
But his efforts were vain. There were minds in that
convention above his own, whom mere eloquence
could not move from the fixed foundations of a calm
and deliberate judgment. The constitution was finally
approved by a majority of two — and its happy results
have served to lessen our respect for the sagacity of
its opposdrs, and to increase our admiration of its

Mr. Henry continued at the bar, and, in 1791, made
a celebrated plea before the United States Court,
against the power of a British creditor before the
war, to enforce his claim upon an American debtor,
in an American court, after the war. In 1794, how-
ever, he retired from business, and thenceforward was
devoted to retirement. He had now become affluent,
and, in the tranquil enjoyment of home, he spent the
remainder of his days. In 1799, he was elected a
member of the assembly of Virginia, but his health
had been long declining, and on the 6th of June, of
that year, he died.

Patrick Henry was twice married, and had fifteen
children, eleven of whom were living at his death.
In person, he was nearly six feet high, spare, and
stooping. His complexion was dark, his skin sallow,
his countenance grave and thoughtful. His eye was


bluish gray, and being deep-set and overhung with
dark and full eyebrows, had a remarkable look of

In his disposition, he was social and kind-hearted.
His conversation was peculiarly attractive, and his
demeanor such as to win the hearts of those around
him. Of his wonderful eloquence, we have given
several specimens. His humor was as remarkable as
those loftier powers of rhetoric by which he sometimes
electrified his hearers. The following instance illus-
trates his talent for ridicule.

During the distresses of the American army, con-
sequent on the joint invasion of Cornwallis and Phil-
lips, in 17S1, a Mr. Venable, an army commissary,
had taken two steers, belonging to one Hook, for the
troops. The act had not been strictly legal; and, on
the establishment of peace. Hook, under the advice of
Mr. Cowan, a gentleman of some distinction in the
law, thought proper to bring an action of trespass
against Mr. Venable, in the District Court of New
London. Mr. Henry appeared for the defendant, and
is said to have disported himself in this cause to the
infinite enjoyment of his hearers, the unfortunate
Hook always excepted. After jNIr. Henry became
animated in the cause, he appeared to have complete
control over the passions of his audience ; at one time,
he excited their indignation against Hook ; vengeance
was visible in every countenance ; again, when he
chose to relax and ridicule him, the whole audience
was in a roar of laughter. He painted the distresses
of the American army, exposed, almost naked, to the
rigor of a winter's sky, and marking the frozen groun:


over which they marched with the Wood of their unshod
feet. "Where was the man," he said, "who had an
American heart in his bosom, Avho would not throw
open his fields, his barns, his cellars, the door of his
house, the portals of his breast, to have received with
open arms the meanest soldier in that little band of
famished patriots ? Where is the man ? There he
stands— but whether the heart of au American beats
in his bosom, you, gentlemen, are to judge."

He then carried the jury, by the powers of his
imagination, to the plains of Yorktown, the surrender
of which had followed shortly after the act complained
of; he depicted the surrender in the most glowing
and noble colors of his eloquence ; the audience saw
before their eyes the humiliation ajid dejection of the
British as they marched out of their trenches ; they
saw the triumph which lighted up every patriot face,
and heard the shouts of victory, and the cry of Wash-
ington and liberty, as it rung and echoed through the
American ranks, and was reverberated from the hills
and shores of the neighboring river ; but, " hark ! " —
said he — " what tones of discord are these which dis-
turb the general joy, and silence the acclamations of
victory? — they are the notes oiJohn Hook, hoarsely
bawling through the American camp, 'beef! beef!
beef!'" The effect was electrical. The court was
thrown into a paroxysm of laughter, and the poor
plaintiff not only lost his case, but he became a general
object of ridicule and contempt.

The character of Patrick Henry is by no means to
be presented as a model. That he was an orator of
wonderful powers, we cannot deny ; that he benefit-
VI.— 10


ed the cause of the revolution, we may also gratefully
acknowledge. It is due to truth to say, also, that his
external morals were strict, and, as a husband and
father, he was exemplary. He was, however, miserly
in respect to money, sometimes charged excessive
fees in his practice, and was engaged in speculations
which subjected him to merited censure. He was
greedy of fame, and jealous of the reputation of his

In early life, as we have already stated, he affected
the dress and manners of the common people, and
sought to win their favor by adopting their tastes and
habits. We have shown that he even condescended
to copy their corrupt speech. The want of dignity,
as well as honesty, in this, merits reproach. A man
of talent should be the instructor of the people ; he
should seek to elevate them by high example, not to
confirm them in error or vice by imitation. The
people have always reason to distrust the sincerity of
the flatterer — and it appears in the case of Henry, as
it has often appeared before, that beneath a seeming
love of the people, there was a lurking desire to rule
them. That his early rusticity Avas but a cover to
ulterior views, is sufficiently evinced by the fact, that
when he had acquired honors, station, and fortune, he
became ostentatious of his Avealth.

There was, therefore, in the midst of his intellectual
greatness, a humiliating littleness of soul. As his
conduct was never subjected to the discipline of fixed
habits, so his heart seems not to have been regulated
by an ever-present sense of justice. In the exercise


of his talents, he seems to have had but a single
object in view — success. His biographer, Mr. Wirt,
tells us, that even in the legislative halls he always
spoke for victory. He knew all the local iriterests
and prejudices of the members, and upon these he
played with the utmost skill and effect. This was
performed with so much delicacy and adroitness, and
concealed under a countenance of such apostolic
solemnity, that the persons on whom he was oper-
ating, were unconscious of his design. Such is tJie
language of his eulogistic biographer. Yet the tri-
umphs thus obtained, were rather a disgrace than an
honor to the winner ; they displayed a radical defect
in morals, and an insensibility to the claims of holy
truth and manly honor. The only excuse that can be
offered, lies in the fact, that in debate, as well as in
war, all the artifices which the combatants can bring
to their aid, are deemed admissible. This, however,
is but to offer a poor apology for a vile practice ; it is
but to admit that the master spirits of mankind — in the
exercise of the great gift of oratory, whose guide and
goal should be truth alone — are allowed to adopt a code
of morals which would be disgraceful at the gambling
table. It is probable that the loose practice of the
bar, which has done so much to debauch public
morals, carried by the great orator of Virginia to the
legislative halls, was, in part, the source of the error
to which we allude.

Let us not be thought to speak rashly of the mighty
dead! Patrick Henry was one of the master spirits
of the revolution — a patriot and a benefactor. But



lie had great faults ; and while we admit his splendid
gifts, we are bound to point out the defects of his
character, lest even his vices and his foibles become
respectable in our eyes, through their alliance with
genius and renown.

tfid 60 00 a oo's 6 a'i^


Was born at Boston, on the 17th January, 1706, and
was the youngest but two of a family of seventeen chil-
dren, two daughters being born after him. His ances-
tors lived in Northamptonshire, England, and we may
conclude they had originally been of some consequence.
After the Reformation, the immediate progenitors of
Benjamin, continued zealously attached to the church
of England, till towards the close of the reign of
Charles II., when his father, Josias, along with his

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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 7 of 21)