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mercantile pursuits. Unsuccessful in every thing he had attempted to procure himself and his family subsistence, he, as a last effort, determined to make a trial of the law. To the study of that profession, “which is said to require the lucubrations of twenty years, Mr. Henry devoted not more than six weeks;” and at the age of twenty-four he was admitted to the bar. His practice for the first three or four years yielded him but a very scanty return, during which time he performed the duties of an assistant to his father-in-law at a country inn.
The celebrated controversy,* in 1763, between the clergy and the legislature of Virginia, touching the stipend of the former, was the occasion on which Mr. Henry's genius first broke forth. "On this first trial of his strength," says Mr. Wirt, “he rose very awkwardly, and faltered much in his exordium. The people hung their heads at so unpromising a commencement; the ciergy were observed to exchange sly looks with each other; and his father is described as having almost sunk with confusion from his seat. But these feelings were of short duration, and soon gave place to others, of a very different character. For, now were these wonderful faculties which he possessed for the first time developed; and now was first witnessed that mysterious and almost supernatural transformation of appearance, which the fire of his own eloçuence never failed to work in him. For, as his mind rolled along and began to glow from its own action, all the exuvio of the clown seemed to shed themselves spontaneously. His attitude, by degrees, became erect and lofty. The spirit of his genius awakened all his features. His countenance shone with a nobleness and grandeur which it had never before exhibited. There was a lightning in his eyes which seemed to rive the spectator. His action became graceful, bold, and commanding; and in the tones of his voice, but more especially in his emphasis, there was a peculiar charm, a magic, of which any one who ever heard him will speak as soon as he is named, but of which no one can give any adequate description. They can only say that it struck upon the ear and upon the heart, in a manner which language cannot tell. Add to all these his wonder-working fancy, and the peculiar phraseology in which he clothed its images; for he painted to the heart with a force that almost petrified it. In the language of those who heard him on this occasion, ‘he made their blood run cold, and their hair to rise on end.'
"It will not be difficult for any one who ever heard this most extraordinary man, to believe the whole account of this transaction which is given by his surviving hearers; and from their account, the court-house of Hanover County must have exhibited, on this occasion, a scene as picturesque as has ever been witnessed in real life. They say that the people, whose countenance had fallen as he arose, had heard but a very few sentences before they began to look up; then to look at each other with surprise, as if doubting the evidence of their own senses; then, attracted by some strong gesture, struck by some majestic attitude, fascinated by the spell of his eye, the charm of his emphasis, and the varied and commanding expression of his countenance, they could look away no more. In less than twenty minutes they might be seen in every part of the house, on every bench, in every window, stooping forward from their stands, in deathlike silence; their features fixed in amazement and awe; all their senses listening and riveted upon the speaker, as if to catch the last strain of some heavenly visitant. The mockery of the clergy was soon turned into alarm; their triumph into confusion and despair; and at one burst of his rapid and overwhelming invective, they fled from the bench in precipitation and terror. As for the father, such was his surprise, such his amazement, such his rapture, that, forgetting where he was, and the character which he was filling, tears of ecstasy streamed down his cheeks, without the power or inclination to repress them. The jury seem to have been completely bewildered; for, thoughtless even of the admitted right of the plaintiff, they had scarcely left the bar when they returned with a verdict of one penny damages. A motion was made for a new trial; but the court, too, had now lost the equipoise of their judgment, and overruled the motion by a unanimous vote. The verdict and judgment overruling the motion, were followed by redoubled acclamations from within and without the house. The people, who had with difficulty kept their hands off their champion, from the moment of closing his harangue, no sooner saw the fate of the cause finally sealed, than they seized him at the bar, and in spite of his own exertions, and the continued cry of 'order' from the sheriffs and the court, they bore him out of
* The points in this controversy are lucidly laid down in Wirt's Life of Henry.
the court-house, and raising him on their shoulders, carried him about the yard, in a kind of electioneering triumph.”.
His success in the parson's cause” introduced him at once to an extensive practice; but he never could confine himself to the arduous studies necessary for a thorough knowledge of the law: the consequence was, on questions merely legal his inferiors in talents frequently embarrassed him, and he was required to use all the resources of his master-mind to maintain the position he had reached. In 1765, as a member of the House of Burgesses, Mr. Henry introduced his resolutions against the Stamp Act, which proved the opening of the American Revolution in the colony of Virginia. It was in the midst of the debate upon those resolutions, that he “exclaimed, in a voice of thunder and with the look of a god, 'Cæsar 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. Henry faltered not for an instant, but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the Speaker an eye of the most determined fire, finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis)—may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."* After passing several years successfully upon the legislative floor, Mr. Henry returned to the practice of his profession.
On the 4th of September, 1774, the first Congress met in Carpenter's Hall, at Philadelphia. This assembly was composed of the most eminent men of the several colonies, on the wisdom of whose councils was staked the liberties of the colonists and their posterity. The first meeting is described as “awfully solemn. The object which had called them together was of incalculable magnitude." After the organization, in the midst of a deep and death-like silence, every member reluctant to open a business so fearfully momentous, “Mr. Henry rose slowly, as if borne down by the weight of the subject, and, after faltering, according to his habit, through 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. There was no rant, no rhapscdy, no labor of the understanding, no straining of the voice, no confusion of the utterance. His countenance was erect, his eye steady, his action noble, his enunciation clear and firm, his mind poised on its centre, his views of his subject comprehensive and great, and his imagination corruscating with a magnificence and a variety which struck even that assembly with amazement and awe. He sat down amid 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." No report of this speech has been preserved. That Congress adjourned in October, and Mr. Henry returned to his home. On the 20th of March following (1775), the Virginia Convention, which had met the previous year at Williams- . burgh, then the capital of the State, convened at Richmond. Of this body Mr. Henry was a member. Although the colonies were then laboring under severe grievances, and at the same time were insisting with great firmness upon their constitutional rights, yet they gave the most explicit and solemn pledge of their faith and true allegiance to Ilis Majesty King George the Third, avowed to support him with their lives and fortunes, and were ardent in their wishes for a return of that friendly intercourse from which the colonies had derived so much benefit. These were the sentiments held by those eminent statesmen and patriots on the opening of that convention; but with Mr. Henry it was different. In his judgment, all hopes of a reconciliation were gone. Firm in this opinion, he introduced his celebrated resolutions advocating preparation for a military defence of the colony. Those resolutions he sustained in a powerful speech, and they were adopted; after which a committee, of which Mr. Henry and George Washington were members, was appointed to prepare and report a plan to carry into effect the meaning of the resolutions. After the report was made and the plan adopted, the convention adjourned.
On the 20th of April, 1775, in the dead of the night, Lord Dunmore sent one of his naval captains, with a body of marines, into the town of Williamsburgh, carried off twenty barrels of
* A very curious parallel to this sceno occurred in the Legislature of Massachusetts, three years prior to this, on the occasion of the presentation of Otis's remonstrance against the governor and council's making or increasing establishments without the consent of the House A thrilling account of those proceedings is given in Tudor's Life of James Otis.
powder from the public magazine, and placed them on board the armed schooner Magdalen, lying at anchor in James River. The people of the town on learning of the affair early the next morning, became highly exasperated; a considerable body of them taking up arms, determined to compel a restoration of the powder. The council convened, and addressed a letter to Lord Dunmore, asking for its return; but it was not until the 2d day of May, when Mr. Henry, having convened the Independent company of Hanover, by request, addressed them, and being appointed their leader, marched against his lordship, and obtained three hundred and thirty pounds," the estimated value of the powder. “Thus, the same man, whose genius had in the year 1765 given the first political impulse to the Revolution, had now the additional honor of heading the first military movement in Virginia, in support of the same cause.” On the meeting of the Virginia convention in 1776, after the declaration of rights was published, and a plan of government established, Mr. Henry was elected governor of the colony. His career in this office is not marked by any extraordinary operations of his own. Lord Dunmore had evacuated the territory of the colony, and the military operations against the British Crown, which had been carried on during the previous year, were brought to a close. In 1777, and again in 1778, Mr. Henry was re-elected to the office of governor; declining a third re-election in 1779, which had been tendered him by the Assembly.
The first wife of Mr. Henry having died in the year 1775, he sold the farm on which he had been residing in Hanover county, and purchased several thousand acres of valuable land in the county of Henry; a county which had been erected during his administration as governor; and which had taken its name from him, as did afterwards its neighboring county of Patrick. In 1777 he married Dorothea, the daughter of Mr. Nathaniel W. Dandridge, with whom he retired to his new estate; and there resumed the practice of the law, confining himself mainly to the duties of counsellor and advocate, and leaving the technical duties to the care of his junior associates. Shortly after the termination of Mr. Henry's office as governor, he was elected to the State Assembly, in which body he remained until the close of his active life; taking a prominent part in its proceedings, and distinguishing himself by his liberality of feeling and soundness of judgment, not less than by the superiority of his powers in debate. On the close of the Revolution, he proposed in the Assembly, that the loyalists who had left the State during the war, should be permitted to return. This proposition was resisted, but through the influence of Mr. Henry's “overwhelming eloquence," was finally adopted. In the same high-toned spirit he supported and carried, although vigorously opposed, a proposal for removing the restraints upon British commerce. “Why should we fetter commerce ?" said he; "a man in chains droops and bows to the earth; his spirits are broken; but let him twist the fetters from his legs and he will stand upright. Fetter not Commerce, Sir; let her be as free as air. She will range the whole creation, and return on the wings of the four winds of heaven to bless the land with plenty.”
In the year 1784, Mr. Henry introduced into the Assembly, a “bill for the encouragement of marriages with the Indians." The frontier settlements had been subject to the continual depredations of the Indians. Treaties were of no avail; and in this bill, Mr. Henry suggested, as a means to prevent these troubles, intermarriages of the whites and Indians; and held out pecuniary bounty, to be repeated at the birth of every child of such marriages ; exemption from taxes, and the free use of an educational institution, to be established at the expense of the State. This bill was rejected. In November of the same year, Mr. Henry was again elected Governor of Virginia; in which office he remained until 1786, when he was compelled by poverty to resign his office, and again return to the practice of the law. However, he did not remain long out of public life. In 1788 he was a member of the convention of Virginia, which adopted the new federal constitution. In this Assembly he opposed the adoption; because, he contended, it consolidated the States into one government, thereby destroying their individual sovereignty. His speeches on this occasion surpassed all his former efforts; and they operated so powerfully that but a small majority voted for the new constitution.
Declining a re-election to the Assembly in 1791, Mr. Henry retired from public life. Four years after President Washington offered him the important station of Secretary of State. This he declined, preferring to remain in retirement. Again, in 1796, he was elected Governor of