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and the remonstrance to both houses of parliament, proclaimed to the British ministry the feelings of the colony of Virginia. The whole subject was brought before the house of burgesses by Richard Henry Lee, and he was on the committee to prepare these documents; for the two first his country is indebted to his pen, as the manuscripts in possession of his family prove.
Early in the session of 1765, Patrick Henry proposed his celebrated resolutions against the stamp act, before the arrival of Mr. Lee at the seat of
government. He came however, in time to support them in in the discussion; and it was by their united exertions that these resolutions were carried, in opposition to the timidity of some and the resistance of others, whom corruption or perverted judgment blinded to their country's welfare.
The boldness and enterprising spirit of these great men were equal, their application to business and indefatigable industry were not (as they too often are) the handmaids of ambition, or the result of their lust of power: with equal lustre, these twin brothers of liberty shone amid the darkness of danger, and the horrors of war, cheering and guiding their country through seas of difficulty and peril, to freedom and to glory. Men knew not which most to admire in the debate, the overwhelming might of the one, or the resistless persuasion of the other; nor would it be possible now to fix with precision the amount of the
debt of gratitude, which is due to them, not only from their native state but from the whole union.
In the arduous task which Mr. Lee proposed to himself, of breaking down that wall of proud and perfect separation, which in Virginia had hitherto divided the patricians from the people, and which seemed as lofty and as strong, as that which in the Roman republic prevented these classes from intermarrying, and the latter from aspiring to situations for which in all things, save birth, they might be qualified, means as diversified as the species of opposition were necessary. None more effectual offered, than to unite his fellow citizens in one association, bound together by their hatred of the chain which tyrannical power had cast around them. This he
performed; and men of all parties in Westmoreland county united to oppose the stampact, binding themselves to each other, to God, and their country, to resist that abject and detestable slavery, to reduce them into which attempts foreign and domestic were daily made. To shew what patriotism will dare, when opposed to arbitrary power, the third article of this, the first formed association in the colony, is recorded. “As the stamp act does absolutely direct the property of the people to be taken from them, without their consent expressed by their representatives, and as in many cases it deprives the British American subject of his right to be tried by jury, we do determine, at every hazard, and paying no regard to death, to exert every faculty to prevent the execu
tion of the stamp act, in every instance, within the co
But their opposition was not confined to words, for, soon after the formation of this society, Mr. Lee having heard that one of his fellow citizens was sufficiently abandoned in principle to accept an office under such an act, so offensive to the people, so destructive of their rights, summoned the association, and leading them to the residence of the collector, compelled him to give up the stamped paper in his possession, to destroy his commission, and to swear that thenceforth he would not be instrumental in the distribution of stamps.
Such active and persevering resistance was thus excited against the arbitrary measure, that it was believed there was then but one person who would dare to show his attachment to the British government by the use of stamped paper. He was a man of wealth and influence. The temptation to violate the rules of the association of resistance was strong, as the power was ready to support and reward those who would dare to transgress, and one instance of unpunished violation would be of dangerous tendency. To prevent that, which if done, could not have been remedied, Mr. Lee (under the signature of a Virginia planter) addressed the good people of the colony, holding up to the guilty the terrors of a people's vengeance, and pointing out to the citizens in language, clear and simple as truth, the danger of permitting such an example. This address shows
the great power which the orator possessed of diversifying his style, and of adapting it to the subject and the occasion.
The violence, (although some may think it both indiscreet and intemperate) used to the opposers of the people's will, can be justified by the maxims of policy, but was not the love of glory the motive, or power the reward sought by the active men who were in those days first in the path of liberty? While we approve the measures of Mr. Lee, and acknowledge that he had a mind to conceive and patience to execute the most arduous designs, may it not be thought that the rottenness of blasted ambition, mingling with, may have tainted purer motives, since it is known, that he was an unsuccessful candidate for the situation of collector of stamp duties ? Such a charge was brought by those, who sought to weaken the efficacy by impugning the motives of his
opposition to tyranny, and he found it necessary to state in the Virginia Gazette, that an offer of the situation had been made to him by a friend, which he promised to accept, but a few days deliberation convinced bim of the consequences of the measure to his country, and therefore he forwarded no duplicate of his letter, but pursued such a course before the appointment was made, as effectually prevented his nomination. Should any, from a pretended zeal for justice, or from a false estimate of the devotion to the cause of liberty, which supported and animated those who achieved the independence of our country, think
this defence inadequate and say, “ who can be found guilty, if it be sufficient merely to deny ?” to him, in the words of a Roman emperor, we reply, who can be innocent if it be sufficient to affirm ? and it will be scarce necessary to add, that the affirmation rests on the faith of the bitterest enemies of his country.
The resistance of the colonies made it impossible to execute the stamp act; the failure of the revenue expected from it exposed, even to the English, its illegality, so that when the personal feelings of the king removed its supporters from his councils, the new administration lessened the difficulties of their station, without impairing their popularity by a repeal of the odious measure. Mr. Lee joined in the general joy of his countrymen, but was not satisfied, for the repeal was accompanied with a clause, declaring the power of parliament to bind the colonies.
The domestic politics of Virginia, at this season, were not without difficulty. The dangerous influence of the treasurer in the house of burgesses, did not rise altogether from the causes before stated, his situation of speaker contributed to them; the consequences of the union of these two offices in the same person were apparent to all, but to effect their separation, the combined energies of the patriotic party were necessary, directed by Mr. Lee and supported by Mr. Henry. The motion of Mr. Lee “ that they be now separated and be henceforth filled by different persons,” was advocated by Patrick Henry, and vigor