May 30, 2019
Patrick paused as shouts of "treason" filled the room. While the charge might have startled most, Patrick was not discouraged. Without changing his tone or inflection, Patrick calmly finished his speech. His passion hit home to many colonists as his words became the first shots fired in the American Revolution.
The guns were barely cold from the French and Indian War when King George III decided to force the colonists to pay his war debt. Providing food and supplies, as well as soldiers to the conflict, the colonists concluded they already fulfilled their portion of the debt. While the king contended the war defended the colonists’ safety from their enemies, they knew it was more about protecting Britain’s trading abilities. (see ) Regardless, under the king's prodding, Parliament passed taxes to collect funds from the British subjects only in the New World. (see )
Colonists believed Parliament went too far when they passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The tax applied to all paper products, including those produced in America, such as pamphlets, brochures, newspapers, advertisements, law documents, mortgages, and even playing cards. Because the tax affected items used to promote political discord, some colonists believed the king would use the tax to stifle speech against him.
In addition to the Stamp Act (see ), the king also ordered Red Coats to the New World under the excuse of protecting the people due to the recent war. However, many colonists rightfully suspected the military presence was more for protecting the king against his subjects and enforcing the king's laws than safeguarding his subjects from an enemy threat. (see )
Born on May 29, 1736, Patrick Henry tried and failed at several occupations, such as farming and storeowner, before passing the bar exam in his mid-20’s. It proved to be his calling. His first major legal case, known as Parson’s Cause, set the stage for his crucial involvement in the American Revolution.
A salary dispute erupted between the ministers in Virginia’s state-sponsored church, the Church of England, and the colony’s council in the late 1750’s. Ministers' salaries were paid by the taxpayers and distributed in tobacco. Yet recent droughts drove the price up, causing the council to pass the one-year effective Two Penny Act, allowing ministers’ tobacco to be reimbursed with paper money at a fixed price. Imploring to the king for help, he repealed the law and encouraged them to sue for backpay, which they did.
During Reverend James Maury’s trial, Judge Colonel John Henry declared the Two Penny Act nullified and the defense requested his son, Patrick, deliver their argument regarding damages. During his speech in December of 1763, Henry set the groundwork for the colonists’ long journey to independence. Accusing the king of overreaching in colonial affairs, Henry declared, “that a King by annulling or disallowing acts of so salutary a nature, from being Father of his people degenerated into a Tyrant, and forfeits all rights to his subjects’ obedience.” The following year, Parliament began drafting the Stamp Act. (see )
Newly elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, Henry took his seat on May 20, 1765. The youngest of a body of seasoned members, Henry waited for the more experienced delegates to initiate the discussion against Parliament. With many being wealthy farmers, they hesitated opposing the king. After a week of sitting silently, Henry grabbed an old law book and ripped out a blank page. He quickly jotted down seven grounds for rejecting the king’s new tax. On his 29th birthday, the inexperienced politician stood to address the chamber, boldly presenting five of his resolutions as Colonel George Washington and a young college student named Thomas Jefferson listened.
Henry’s resolutions reaffirmed the colonists, from the very first settlers (see and ), who were granted land rights per King James, to those living there now, were British subjects and deserved the same freedom, liberties, and representation those subjects living in the motherland enjoyed. In fact, two Virginia royal charters confirmed this right, yet distant nobility ignoring their complaints were not fulfilling this requirement. Therefore, logic dictated officials located in the New World and elected by the colonists better understood their plight and best represented them in Colonial Assemblies. Henry’s fifth resolution aggressively questioned the king’s authority, proposing these assemblies were more suitable than Parliament to determine what should be taxed and how much. Benjamin Franklin made an equal argument at the Albany Congress on the eve of the French and Indian War, which was rejected by the king reluctant to give up even one ounce of power. (See ) It was this last resolution that brought the shouts of "treason" as Henry proposed their representatives should belong to a colonial assembly, which held the exclusive right to tax the settlers, not Parliament.
Delegates argued and debated the resolutions as some wished to wait for the king’s response to their declaration of concerns they sent the previous fall. (see ) For Henry, Parliament passing the Act in March in spite of their objections was the king’s answer. With the law going into effect November 1, Henry contended action must be taken by the colonists immediately. The following day, while defending his resolutions, Henry gave an impassioned speech in defense of his proposals. To conclude, Henry declared, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell and George the Third..."
“Treason,” shouted the Speaker as others throughout the chamber joined his chorus. They believed Henry was calling for the king’s assassination. After a slight pause, the young patriot calmly continued his point, "...may profit by their example." As he took his seat, he added, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
Tempers subsided as Henry later apologized to the House and confirmed his loyalty to the crown. The proposals passed with the fifth one maintaining a margin of only one vote. The next morning, Henry departed Williamsburg to return home. Not there to continue his defense of the resolutions, members of the House fell to pressure from higher government officials and repealed the fifth and most controversial resolution, expunging it from the official records. Regardless, papers across the colonies printed versions of all five resolutions, planting the seeds of freedom and independence in the people’s hearts. In August, Boston patriots in the Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams made their first public protest at the Liberty Tree. (see )
Ten years later, Henry took center stage again as he addressed the House once more. As before, Washington and Jefferson were present, as well as several other founding fathers, to hear Henry’s impassioned plea of “Give me liberty, or give me death!" (see) This speech reminded the listeners how long they have been patiently petitioning the king to redress their grievances, only to be repeatedly ignored. Henry’s speeches bookmarked the decade long period of the colonists working diligently to entreat King George III to respect their rights with times of growing protests. (see , , and ) The time for talking was over, now it was time to fight. (see )
Peers characterized Henry as "the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution.” Fellow patriot Edmund Randolph stated, “It was Patrick Henry...awakening the genius of his country, and binding a band of patriots together to hurl defiance at the tyranny of so formidable a nation as Great Britain.” (see ) However, except for his “Give Me Liberty” speech and being Virginia’s first governor, taking office on July 5, 1776, Henry largely faded within the history books. An anti-federalist and fearful of an overpowering, disconnected government, Henry opposed the ratification of the . This put him at odds with Jefferson and James Madison. However, Henry’s resistance resulted in Madison composing the . (see ) Following Henry’s early death at age 60 on June 6, 1799, Jefferson spent the rest of his life condemning Henry, overshadowing his historic contributions to America’s liberty.
In a message to his beloved country, Henry provided personal insight to his fellow Americans on the back of his copy of the Stamp Act Resolutions. Describing the events of the fateful day of his “Treason” speech and the passage of his resolutions, Henry concluded:
“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. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.”
Liberty, Henry provided a fantastic warning, one we have overwhelming ignored. We have allowed God to be kicked out of the government, our schools, and our culture as progressives deceitfully proclaim separation of church and state. (see and ) We continue to elect officials that repeatedly renege on their duties, chasing power and wealth for themselves instead of the well-being of Americans. Our education system has turned our great and happy children into miserable snowflakes, unable to manage any hint of rejection, disappointment, failure, or opposing viewpoint. Our rights, as so brilliantly presented in the , are being systematically erased by politicians bowing to socialist ideologies and political correctness, accusing anyone who rejects their propaganda of “treason”. (see ) Yet, as Henry stated, “If you're not going to use your free speech to criticize your own government, then what the hell is the point of having it?”
Yet all is not lost, Liberty. We can return to righteousness and God gave us the map, “If My people, who are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) Continue to fight for truth, freedom, and liberty, but always remember the ultimate redeemer is Jesus Christ. Accused of blasphemy and treason against Caesar, He bought our freedom with His five resolutions: His two piercings in His hands, two in His feet, and the one in his side. (see )
Henry stood up and took action as the older statesmen remained quiet or left the meeting not wanting to risk their personal capital. Yet sometimes all it takes is one brave soul willing to take a stand that will liberate a population. Be that patriot, Liberty, practicing and promoting virtue and being an example for the world.
That’s my 2 cents.
IF THIS BE TREASON