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A Little over ten years before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, on May 30th, 1765, a significant number of the members of the Virginia House of Burgesses wanted to take a stand against the British Parliament’s assertion of power. Among them, was a radical named Patrick Henry.
A French Traveler who watched with Thomas Jefferson, (he was 22) who considered himself a student at the time, recorded that the Speaker of the House said that Henry had spoken treason for invoking the names of Brutus and Cromwell. Henry backed down and asserted his loyalty to the crown in an avalanche of rhetoric.
When Henry’s rhetorical assertion of his loyalty ended and the the House of Burgesses moved on to resolutions, Henry put forth this Resolution. It was the fifth out of seven Resolutions.
Resolved Therefore that the General Assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has manifest tendency to destroy British as well as AMERICAN FREEDOM.
Jefferson commented, “the struggle on the floor was ‘most bloody’” Others, such as Peyton Randolf wanted to strike a more moderate tone for the moment but the strong language of the resolution passed by the narrow margin of 20-19.
“By God, I would have given 500 guineas for a single vote,” Randolf said afterward. One more vote against the resolution would have tied the count and the Speaker, John Robinson would have voted no, defeating it.
Instead the radicals had beaten the moderates and struck a blow against London. Patrick Henry had taken on the establishment and won. However, after Henry left a Randolf cousin was busy at work to get the 5th resolution stricken. It alone was thought to be the most offensive and was stricken. Henry’s departure from the chamber had given his foes an opportunity they did not fail to exploit.
Although this resolution took place a little over ten years before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, this was close to the beginning of Jefferson’s involvement in politics. The struggle between moderates and “radicals” is nothing new and actually gave birth to our nation.
As we now know, the fiery Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson with many others became much more radical and eventually prevailed.
I attribute this treasure of information to Jon Meacham’s book, “Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power.”