« ПредишнаНапред »
race. I have seen it observed by a great writer, that Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us, who profess the same religion, practise its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty, convince the world that we know and practise our true interests, and that we pay a proper regard to the dictates of justice and humanity.”
· What effect this measure might have had on the prosperity of Virginia, it is impossible to conjecture; it is probable, however, that the pleasure of having done his duty, was the only result of the speech to the orator who delivered it.
The love of power is so exclusive in its nature that it perverts the judgment, and would limit the competency to share in government to those with whom timidity makes it participate. Presenting in a mass the evils which reason has traced or declamation imputed to republican principles, it brands as visionary or condemns as false, the maxim“ that the people are the legitimate source of power.” In the house of burgesses of Virginia, there was a party which seemed to be actuated by this exclusive principle, and willing to believe that the capacity of a people to manage their own concerns was contradicted by history. These were they, who covering their ignorance with the veil of pride, and their vices with the trappings of wealth, affected to look down with contempt upon what they were pleased to call, the lower orders of
the community. They voted with the administration on every subject, and imitated in all that was worthless, hereditary nobility. Lavish, dissolute, and haughty,' their income did not always meet their expenses, and their pride was not so unbending, as to resist the pressure of their other vices ; hence they came under pecuniary obligations to Mr. Robinson, the then treasurer of the colony, and leader of the aristocratic party in the house of burgesses.
When his private funds failed, facility of temper, weakness of judgment, or depravity of intention, prompted bim to lend to his friends, the redeemed treasury bills, which honesty of purpose in the duties of his office, required him to destroy, least at any time, the colony by them might sustain some loss.
The odium of malignant motive, too frequently rests on a prosecutor, who fails, to prove the delinquency of one high in official station and in the estimation of the public. There was a great risk, therefore, in the attempt to bring to light the secret and éorrupt practises of the treasurer. An inquiry into his conduct was likely to be vigorously resisted by the faction, whose consciences could anticipate the result, and it was entered on with reluctance by all to whom his suavity of manners, his frankness and liberality, had much endeared him. With a conviction of the necessity, men shrunk nevertheless from the responsibility, of calling for and conducting an investigation into the state of the treasury. But Richard Henry Lee, regardless of all selfish considera
tions, fearlessly undertook the task, nor desisted, till he had finished the work which imperious public duty required at his hands. With candour in his countenance, and persuasion on his tongue, his eloquence brought conviction to all, even to those whose sophistry attempted to obscure the truth, while, by threatening looks, they impotently endeavoured to check its development. To the colony, the result of the inquiry was security from heavy losses and pecuniary embarrasment, while Mr. Lee gained for himself the gratitude of a people, a high place amid the republican party, and the approbation of his own conscience.
To mark the course of events, which rendered it necessary to sever the bonds that had connected us with England, would be to presume ignorance in the reader of what has been told in other parts of this work. A far more grateful task is ours—to show the successful opposition of Mr. Lee to the arbitrary measures of the British ministry, and his able support of all that was, by the laws of nature and of nature's God, the right of an American.
The termination of the war with France was glarious to the arms of England, but her treasury was exhausted, her resources anticipated, and her people restless under their burdens. To remedy these evils, and at the same time maintain a large standing army, the mind of Charles Townshend conceived the design of taxing the colonies; and in a brilliant speech on the subject, he dazzled the
liament, by playing before them the image of a revenue to be raised in this country. Then was the theory
laid down in Mr. Grenville's act, that it was just and necessary to raise a revenue in America, and the attempt to carry this system into practice by the stamp duty bill, -sounded an alarm that awoke all the colonies. But to Mr. Lee the consequences were evident, from the first glimmering of that new light system of taxation, which was to be independent of the consent of those from whom the taxes were to be levied. Then every feeling of his mind merged in the love of his country, and this he exhibited in his domestic arrangements, in his private conversation, in his familiar correspondence and in his public conduct. Arguments from reason, justice, and the spirit of the British constitution, were sufficient to overturn the assumption in the declaratory act, and these Mr. Lee furnished to his friends in London and in the colonies, one month after the passage of that odious
Would any rational being risk his life, and renounce his liberty, to obtain the unenviable state of an oppressed slave? Yet such would be the purchase and such the price paid by the first settlers in America, if the principle of Mr. Grenville's act has a foundation in reason. Was it just to repay those who, by many sacrifices and great dangers, had enlarged the territory and increased the wealth of Britain, by rendering their property insecure, putting it all or in part into the hands of men, over whom they had no con
trol and by depriving them of their most valuable birth-right? The right to be governed by laws made by their representatives, and the consequent illegality of taxation without consent, are essential principles of the British constitution ; is it not then matter of wonder that such a declaratory act could be made by men professing to maintain such principles? The conclusion of Mr. Lee's letter, written on the thirty-first of May, 1764, contains a sentence which may serve to show his thorough acquaintance with the spirit of his fellow countrymen, and to fix the point to which all his patriotic exertions were to tend. “Possibly this step (speaking of the declaratory act) though intended to oppress and keep us low, in order to secure our dependance, may be subversive of this end. Poverty and oppression, among those whose minds are filled with ideas of British liberty, may introduce a virtuous industry, with a train of generous and manly sentiments, which, when in future they become supported by numbers, may produce a fatal resentment of
parental care converted into tyrannical usurpation. I hope you will pardon so much on this subject; my mind has been warmed and I hardly know when to
Even absolute princes seldom hazard the assertion of a bare abstract principle, offensive to their slaves; hence it would have been blindness not to perceive, that the declaratory act of the British parliament would only present an alternative of evils, humiliation or resistance. But the address to the king, the memorial