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Page 2

George Wythe

1726-1806


   The passage of the celebrated stamp act, in January, 1765, diffused a spirit of discontent and opposition throughout all the American colonies, and was the signal for the commencement of those stronger measures which led on to the great revolutionary struggle.
   In measures of this kind, it is well known that Virginia took the lead. About this time, Patrick Henry, a young man, became a member of the house of burgesses. Although a young man, he was possessed of a most powerful eloquence, and of an intrepidity of character which eminently fitted him to take the lead in the work of opposition.
   Towards the close of the session, in May, 1765, Mr. Henry presented to the house the following resolutions:

 
"Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this, his majesty's colony and dominion, brought with them, and transmitted to their posterity, and all other his majesty's subjects, since inhabiting in this, his majesty's said colony, all the privileges, franchises, and immunities, that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.
   "That by two royal charters granted by King James the First, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all the privileges and immunities of denizens and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England.
   "That the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, and the easiest mode of raising them, is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution cannot subsist.
   "That his majesty's liege people of this most ancient colony have, uninterruptedly, enjoyed the right of being thus governed by their own assembly in the article of their taxes and internal police; and that the same hath never been forfeited, or any other way given up, but hath been constantly recognized by the king and people of Great Britain.
   "Resolved, therefore, that the general assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony: and that any attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom."

 
   The language of these resolutions, so much stronger than the house had been accustomed to hear; at once caused no inconsiderable alarm among many of its members. A powerful opposition arose to their passage, and in this opposition were to be found some of the warmest friends of American independence. Among these was Mr. Wythe; not that he, and many others, did not admit the justice of the sentiments contained in the resolutions; but they remonstrated on the ground of their tending to involve the colony, at a time when it was unprepared, in open hostility with Great Britain. The eloquence of Henry, however, silenced, if it did not convince the opposition, and produced the adoption of the resolutions without any material alteration. As the fifth resolution was carried by a majority of only a single vote, the house, on the following day, in the absence of Henry, rescinded that resolution, and directed it to be erased from the journals.
   The above resolutions spread rapidly through the American colonies, and in every quarter of the country found men, who were ready to justify both their spirit and language. They served to rouse the energies of the American people, and were among the measures which powerfully urged on the revolutionary contest. The bold and decided measure thus adopted in the colony of Virginia, loudly called upon the patriots of other states to follow her in measures of a similar character. This they were not backward in doing. After the temporary revival of the affection of the colonies, consequent upon the repeal of the stamp act, had ceased, their opposition became a principle, and in its operation was strong and lasting. In the history of the opposition of America to Great Britain, the colony of Virginia did themselves immortal honor. In this honor, as an individual, Mr. Wythe largely participates. For many years, during the approach of the great conflict, he held a seat in the house of burgesses; and by his learning, his boldness, his patriotic firmness, powerfully contributed to the ultimate liberty and independence of his country.

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Last modified July 2, 2005