Read CHAPTER XXI - IN RETIREMENT of Patrick Henry , free online book, by Moses Coit Tyler, on

In the year 1794, being then fifty-eight years old, and possessed at last of a competent fortune, Patrick Henry withdrew from his profession, and resolved to spend in retirement the years that should remain to him on earth. Removing from Prince Edward County, he lived for a short time at Long Island, in Campbell County; but in 1795 he finally established himself in the county of Charlotte, on an estate called Red Hill, an estate which continued to be his home during the rest of his life, which gave to him his burial place, and which still remains in the possession of his descendants.

The rapidity with which he had thus risen out of pecuniary embarrassments was not due alone to the earnings of his profession during those few years; for while his eminence as an advocate commanded the highest fees, probably, that were then paid in Virginia, it is apparent from his account-books that those fees were not at all exorbitant, and for a lawyer of his standing would not now be regarded as even considerable. The truth is that, subsequently to his youthful and futile attempts at business, he had so profited by the experiences of his life as to have become a sagacious and an expert man of business. “He could buy or sell a horse, or a negro, as well as anybody, and was peculiarly a judge of the value and quality of lands." It seems to have been chiefly from his investments in lands, made by him with foresight and judgment, and from which, for a long time, he had reaped only burdens and anxieties, that he derived the wealth that secured for him the repose of his last years. The charge long afterward made by Jefferson, that Patrick Henry’s fortune came either from a mean use of his right to pay his land debts in a depreciated currency “not worth oak-leaves,” or from any connection on his part with the profligate and infamous Yazoo speculation, has been shown, by ample evidence, to be untrue.

The descriptions which have come down to us of the life led by the old statesman in those last five years of retirement make a picture pleasant to look upon. The house at Red Hill, which then became his home, “is beautifully situated on an elevated ridge, the dividing line of Campbell and Charlotte, within a quarter of a mile of the junction of Falling River with the Staunton. From it the valley of the Staunton stretches southward about three miles, varying from a quarter to nearly a mile in width, and of an oval-like form. Through most fertile meadows waving in their golden luxuriance, slowly winds the river, overhung by mossy foliage, while on all sides gently sloping hills, rich in verdure, enclose the whole, and impart to it an air of seclusion and repose. From the brow of the hill, west of the house, is a scene of an entirely different character: the Blue Ridge, with the lofty peaks of Otter, appears in the horizon at a distance of nearly sixty miles.” Under the trees which shaded his lawn, and “in full view of the beautiful valley beneath, the orator was accustomed, in pleasant weather, to sit mornings and evenings, with his chair leaning against one of their trunks, and a can of cool spring-water by his side, from which he took frequent draughts. Occasionally, he walked to and fro in the yard from one clump of trees to the other, buried in revery, at which times he was never interrupted." “His great delight,” says one of his sons-in-law, “was in conversation, in the society of his friends and family, and in the resources of his own mind." Thus beneath his own roof, or under the shadow of his own trees, he loved to sit, like a patriarch, with his family and his guests gathered affectionately around him, and there, free from ceremony as from care, to give himself up to the interchange of congenial thought whether grave or playful, and even to the sports of the children. “His visitors,” writes one of them, “have not unfrequently caught him lying on the floor, with a group of these little ones climbing over him in every direction, or dancing around him with obstreperous mirth, to the tune of his violin, while the only contest seemed to be who should make the most noise."

The evidence of contemporaries respecting the sweetness of his spirit and his great lovableness in private life is most abundant. One who knew him well in his family, and who was also quite willing to be critical upon occasion, has said:

“With respect to the domestic character of Mr. Henry, nothing could be more amiable. In every relation, as a husband, father, master, and neighbor, he was entirely exemplary. As to the disposition of Mr. Henry, it was the best imaginable. I am positive that I never saw him in a passion, nor apparently even out of temper. Circumstances which would have highly irritated other men had no such visible effect on him. He was always calm and collected; and the rude attacks of his adversaries in debate only whetted the poignancy of his satire.... Shortly after the Constitution was adopted, a series of the most abusive and scurrilous pieces came out against him, under the signature of Decius. They were supposed to be written by John Nicholas, ... with the assistance of other more important men. They assailed Mr. Henry’s conduct in the Convention, and slandered his character by various stories hatched up against him. These pieces were extremely hateful to all Mr. Henry’s friends, and, indeed, to a great portion of the community. I was at his house in Prince Edward during the thickest of them.... He evinced no feeling on the occasion, and far less condescended to parry the effects on the public mind. It was too puny a contest for him, and he reposed upon the consciousness of his own integrity.... With many sublime virtues, he had no vice that I knew or ever heard of, and scarcely a foible. I have thought, indeed, that he was too much attached to property, a defect, however, which might be excused when we reflect on the largeness of a beloved family, and the straitened circumstances in which he had been confined during a great part of his life."

Concerning his personal habits, we have, through his grandson, Patrick Henry Fontaine, some testimony which has the merit of placing the great man somewhat more familiarly before us. “He was,” we are told, “very abstemious in his diet, and used no wine or alcoholic stimulants. Distressed and alarmed at the increase of drunkenness after the Revolutionary war, he did everything in his power to arrest the vice. He thought that the introduction of a harmless beverage, as a substitute for distilled spirits, would be beneficial. To effect this object, he ordered from his merchant in Scotland a consignment of barley, and a Scotch brewer and his wife to cultivate the grain, and make small beer. To render the beverage fashionable and popular, he always had it upon his table while he was governor during his last term of office; and he continued its use, but drank nothing stronger, while he lived."

Though he was always a most loyal Virginian, he became, particularly in his later years, very unfriendly to that renowned and consolatory herb so long associated with the fame and fortune of his native State.

“In his old age, the condition of his nervous system made the scent of a tobacco-pipe very disagreeable to him. The old colored house-servants were compelled to hide their pipes, and rid themselves of the scent of tobacco, before they ventured to approach him.... They protested that they had not smoked, or seen a pipe; and he invariably proved the culprit guilty by following the scent, and leading them to the corn-cob pipes hid in some crack or cranny, which he made them take and throw instantly into the kitchen fire, without reforming their habits, or correcting the evil, which is likely to continue as long as tobacco will grow."

Concerning another of his personal habits, during the years thus passed in retirement at Red Hill, there is a charming description, also derived from the grandson to whom we are indebted for the facts just mentioned:

“His residence overlooked a large field in the bottom of Staunton River, the most of which could be seen from his yard. He rose early; and in the mornings of the spring, summer, and fall, before sunrise, while the air was cool and calm, reflecting clearly and distinctly the sounds of the lowing herds and singing birds, he stood upon an eminence, and gave orders and directions to his servants at work a half mile distant from him. The strong, musical voices of the negroes responded to him. During this elocutionary morning exercise, his enunciation was clear and distinct enough to be heard over an area which ten thousand people could not have filled; and the tones of his voice were as melodious as the notes of an Alpine horn."

Of course the house-servants and the field-servants just mentioned were slaves; and, from the beginning to the end of his life, Patrick Henry was a slaveholder. He bought slaves, he sold slaves, and, along with the other property the lands, the houses, the cattle bequeathed by him to his heirs, were numerous human beings of the African race. What, then, was the opinion respecting slavery held by this great champion of the rights of man? “Is it not amazing” thus he wrote in 1773 “that, at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country above all others fond of liberty, in such an age, we find men, professing a religion the most humane, mild, meek, gentle, and generous, adopting a principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to liberty?... Would any one believe that I am master of slaves of my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot, justify it; however culpable my conduct, I will so far pay my ‘devoir’ to virtue as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and to lament my want of conformity to them. I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil: everything we can do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of slavery. We owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants slavery." After the Revolution, and before the adoption of the Constitution, he earnestly advocated, in the Virginia House of Delegates, some method of emancipation; and even in the Convention of 1788, where he argued against the Constitution on the ground that it obviously conferred upon the general government, in an emergency, that power of emancipation which, in his opinion, should be retained by the States, he still avowed his hostility to slavery, and at the same time his inability to see any practicable means of ending it: “Slavery is detested: we feel its fatal effects, we deplore it with all the pity of humanity.... As we ought with gratitude to admire that decree of Heaven which has numbered us among the free, we ought to lament and deplore the necessity of holding our fellow-men in bondage. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?"

During all the years of his retirement, his great fame drew to him many strangers, who came to pay their homage to him, to look upon his face, to listen to his words. Such guests were always received by him with a cordiality that was unmistakable, and so modest and simple as to put them at once at their ease. Of course they desired most of all to hear him talk of his own past life, and of the great events in which he had borne so brilliant a part; but whenever he was persuaded to do so, it was always with the most quiet references to himself. “No man,” says one who knew him well, “ever vaunted less of his achievements than Mr. H. I hardly ever heard him speak of those great achievements which form the prominent part of his biography. As for boasting, he was entirely a stranger to it, unless it be that, in his latter days, he seemed proud of the goodness of his lands, and, I believe, wished to be thought wealthy. It is my opinion that he was better pleased to be flattered as to his wealth than as to his great talents. This I have accounted for by recollecting that he had long been under narrow and difficult circumstances as to property, from which he was at length happily relieved; whereas there never was a time when his talents had not always been conspicuous, though he always seemed unconscious of them."

It should not be supposed that, in his final withdrawal from public and professional labors, he surrendered himself to the enjoyment of domestic happiness, without any positive occupation of the mind. From one of his grandsons, who was much with him in those days, the tradition is derived that, besides “setting a good example of honesty, benevolence, hospitality, and every social virtue,” he assisted “in the education of his younger children,” and especially devoted much time “to earnest efforts to establish true Christianity in our country." He gave himself more than ever to the study of the Bible, as well as of two or three of the great English divines, particularly Tillotson, Butler, and Sherlock. The sermons of the latter, he declared, had removed “all his doubts of the truth of Christianity;” and from a volume which contained them, and which was full of his pencilled notes, he was accustomed to read “every Sunday evening to his family; after which they all joined in sacred music, while he accompanied them on the violin."

There seems to have been no time in his life, after his arrival at manhood, when Patrick Henry was not regarded by his private acquaintances as a positively religious person. Moreover, while he was most tolerant of all forms of religion, and was on peculiarly friendly terms with their ministers, to whose preaching he often listened, it is inaccurate to say, as Wirt has done, that, though he was a Christian, he was so “after a form of his own;” that “he was never attached to any particular religious society, and never ... communed with any church." On the contrary, from a grandson who spent many years in his household comes the tradition that “his parents were members of the Protestant Episcopal Church, of which his uncle, Patrick Henry, was a minister;” that “he was baptized and made a member of it in early life;” and that “he lived and died an exemplary member of it." Furthermore, in 1830, the Rev. Charles Dresser, rector of Antrim Parish, Halifax County, Virginia, wrote that the widow of Patrick Henry told him that her husband used to receive “the communion as often as an opportunity was offered, and on such occasions always fasted until after he had communicated, and spent the day in the greatest retirement. This he did both while governor and afterward." In a letter to one of his daughters, written in 1796, he makes this touching confession:

“Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and, indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast."

While he thus spoke, humbly and sorrowfully, of his religious position as a thing so little known to the public that it could be entirely misunderstood by a portion of them, it is plain that no one who had seen him in the privacy of his life at home could have had any misunderstanding upon that subject. For years before his retirement from the law, it had been his custom, we are told, to spend “one hour every day ... in private devotion. His hour of prayer was the close of the day, including sunset; ... and during that sacred hour, none of his family intruded upon his privacy."

As regards his religious faith, Patrick Henry, while never ostentatious of it, was always ready to avow it, and to defend it. The French alliance during our Revolution, and our close intercourse with France immediately afterward, hastened among us the introduction of certain French writers who were assailants of Christianity, and who soon set up among the younger and perhaps brighter men of the country the fashion of casting off, as parts of an outworn and pitiful superstition, the religious ideas of their childhood, and even the morality which had found its strongest sanctions in those ideas. Upon all this, Patrick Henry looked with grief and alarm. In his opinion, a far deeper, a far wiser and nobler handling of all the immense questions involved in the problem of the truth of Christianity was furnished by such English writers as Sherlock and Bishop Butler, and, for popular use, even Soame Jenyns. Therefore, as French scepticism then had among the Virginia lawyers and politicians its diligent missionaries, so, with the energy and directness that always characterized him, he determined to confront it, if possible, with an equal diligence; and he then deliberately made himself, while still a Virginia lawyer and politician, a missionary also, a missionary on behalf of rational and enlightened Christian faith. Thus during his second term as governor he caused to be printed, on his own account, an edition of Soame Jenyns’s “View of the Internal Evidence of Christianity;” likewise, an edition of Butler’s “Analogy;” and thenceforward, particularly among the young men of Virginia, assailed as they were by the fashionable scepticism, this illustrious colporteur was active in the defence of Christianity, not only by his own sublime and persuasive arguments, but by the distribution, as the fit occasion offered, of one or the other of these two books.

Accordingly when, during the first two years of his retirement, Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” made its appearance, the old statesman was moved to write out a somewhat elaborate treatise in defence of the truth of Christianity. This treatise it was his purpose to have published. “He read the manuscript to his family as he progressed with it, and completed it a short time before his death.” When it was finished, however, being “diffident about his own work,” and impressed, also, by the great ability of the replies to Paine which were then appearing in England, “he directed his wife to destroy” what he had written. She “complied literally with his directions,” and thus put beyond the chance of publication a work which seemed, to some who heard it, to be “the most eloquent and unanswerable argument in the defence of the Bible which was ever written."

Finally, in his last will and testament, bearing the date of November 20, 1798, and written throughout, as he says, “with my own hand,” he chose to insert a touching affirmation of his own deep faith in Christianity. After distributing his estate among his descendants, he thus concludes: “This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed."

It is not to be imagined that this deep seclusion and these eager religious studies implied in Patrick Henry any forgetfulness of the political concerns of his own country, or any indifference to those mighty events which, during those years, were taking place in Europe, and were reacting with tremendous effect upon the thought, the emotion, and even the material interests of America. Neither did he succeed in thus preserving the retirement which he had resolved upon, without having to resist the attempts of both political parties to draw him forth again into official life. All these matters, indeed, are involved in the story of his political attitude from the close of his struggle for amending the Constitution down to the very close of his life, a story which used to be told with angry vituperation on one side, perhaps with some meek apologies on the other. Certainly, the day for such comment is long past. In the disinterestedness which the lapse of time has now made an easy virtue for us, we may see, plainly enough, that such ungentle words as “apostate” and “turncoat,” with which his name used to be plentifully assaulted, were but the missiles of partisan excitement; and that by his act of intellectual readjustment with respect to the new conditions forced upon human society, on both sides of the Atlantic, by the French Revolution, he developed no occasion for apologies, since he therein did nothing that was unusual at that time among honest and thoughtful men everywhere, and nothing that was inconsistent with the professions or the tendencies of his own previous life. It becomes our duty, however, to trace this story over again, as concisely as possible, but in the light of much historical evidence that has never hitherto been presented in connection with it.

Upon the adoption, in 1791, of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, every essential objection which he had formerly urged against that instrument was satisfied; and there then remained no good reason why he should any longer hold himself aloof from the cordial support of the new government, especially as directed, first by Washington, and afterward by John Adams, two men with whom, both personally and politically, he had always been in great harmony, excepting only upon this single matter of the Constitution in its original form. Undoubtedly, the contest which he had waged on that question had been so hot and so bitter that, even after it was ended, some time would be required for his recovery from the soreness of spirit, from the tone of suspicion and even of enmity, which it had occasioned. Accordingly, in the correspondence and other records of the time, we catch some glimpses of him, which show that even after Congress had passed the great amendments, and after their approval by the States had become a thing assured, he still looked askance at the administration, and particularly at some of the financial measures proposed by Hamilton. Nevertheless, as year by year went on, and as Washington and his associates continued to deal fairly, wisely, and, on the whole, successfully, with the enormous problems which they encountered; moreover, as Jefferson and Madison gradually drew off from Washington, and formed a party in opposition, which seemed to connive at the proceedings of Genet, and to encourage the formation among us of political clubs in apparent sympathy with the wildest and most anarchic doctrines which were then flung into words and into deeds in the streets of Paris, it happened that Patrick Henry found himself, like Richard Henry Lee, and many another of his companions in the old struggle against the Constitution, drawn more and more into support of the new government.

In this frame of mind, probably, was he in the spring of 1793, when, during the session of the federal court at Richmond, he had frequent conversations with Chief Justice Jay and with Judge Iredell. The latter, having never before met Henry, had felt great dislike of him on account of the alleged violence of his opinions against the Constitution; but after making his acquaintance, Iredell thus wrote concerning him: “I never was more agreeably disappointed than in my acquaintance with him. I have been much in his company; and his manners are very pleasing, and his mind, I am persuaded, highly liberal. It is a strong additional reason I have, added to many others, to hold in high detestation violent party prejudice."

In the following year, General Henry Lee, then governor of Virginia, appointed Patrick Henry as a senator of the United States, to fill out an unexpired term. This honor he felt compelled to decline.

In the course of the same year, General Lee, finding that Patrick Henry, though in virtual sympathy with the administration, was yet under the impression that Washington had cast off their old friendship, determined to act the part of a peacemaker between them, and, if possible, bring together once more two old friends who had been parted by political differences that no longer existed. On the 17th of August, 1794, Lee, at Richmond, thus wrote to the President:

“When I saw you in Philadelphia, I had many conversations with you respecting Mr. Henry, and since my return I have talked very freely and confidentially with that gentleman. I plainly perceive that he has credited some information, which he has received (from whom I know not), which induces him to believe that you consider him a factious, seditious character.... Assured in my own mind that his opinions are groundless, I have uniformly combated them, and lament that my endeavors have been unavailing. He seems to be deeply and sorely affected. It is very much to be regretted; for he is a man of positive virtue as well as of transcendent talents; and were it not for his feelings above expressed, I verily believe, he would be found among the most active supporters of your administration. Excuse me for mentioning this matter to you. I have long wished to do it, in the hope that it would lead to a refutation of the sentiments entertained by Mr. Henry."

To this letter Washington sent a reply which expressed unabated regard for his old friend; and this reply, having been shown by Lee to Henry, drew from him this noble-minded answer:


RED HILL, 27 June, 1795.

MY DEAR SIR, Your very friendly communication of so much of the President’s letter as relates to me, demands my sincere thanks. Retired as I am from the busy world, it is still grateful to me to know that some portion of regard remains for me amongst my countrymen; especially those of them whose opinions I most value. But the esteem of that personage, who is contemplated in this correspondence, is highly flattering indeed.

The American Revolution was the grand operation, which seemed to be assigned by the Deity to the men of this age in our country, over and above the common duties of life. I ever prized at a high rate the superior privilege of being one in that chosen age, to which Providence intrusted its favorite work. With this impression, it was impossible for me to resist the impulse I felt to contribute my mite towards accomplishing that event, which in future will give a superior aspect to the men of these times. To the man, especially, who led our armies, will that aspect belong; and it is not in nature for one with my feelings to revere the Revolution, without including him who stood foremost in its establishment.

Every insinuation that taught me to believe I had forfeited the good-will of that personage, to whom the world had agreed to ascribe the appellation of good and great, must needs give me pain; particularly as he had opportunities of knowing my character both in public and in private life. The intimation now given me, that there was no ground to believe I had incurred his censure, gives very great pleasure.

Since the adoption of the present Constitution, I have generally moved in a narrow circle. But in that I have never omitted to inculcate a strict adherence to the principles of it. And I have the satisfaction to think, that in no part of the Union have the laws been more pointedly obeyed, than in that where I have resided and spent my time. Projects, indeed, of a contrary tendency have been hinted to me; but the treatment of the projectors has been such as to prevent all intercourse with them for a long time. Although a democrat myself, I like not the late democratic societies. As little do I like their suppression by law. Silly things may amuse for awhile, but in a little time men will perceive their delusions. The way to preserve in men’s minds a value for them, is to enact laws against them.

My present views are to spend my days in privacy. If, however, it shall please God, during my life, so to order the course of events as to render my feeble efforts necessary for the safety of the country, in any, even the smallest degree, that little which I can do shall be done. Whenever you may have an opportunity, I shall be much obliged by your presenting my best respects and duty to the President, assuring him of my gratitude for his favorable sentiments towards me.

Be assured, my dear sir, of the esteem and regard with which
I am yours, etc.,


After seeing this letter, Washington took an opportunity to convey to Patrick Henry a strong practical proof of his confidence in him, and of his cordial friendship. The office of secretary of state having become vacant, Washington thus tendered the place to Patrick Henry:

MOUNT VERNON, 9 October, 1795.

DEAR SIR, Whatever may be the reception of this letter, truth and candor shall mark its steps. You doubtless know that the office of state is vacant; and no one can be more sensible than yourself of the importance of filling it with a person of abilities, and one in whom the public would have confidence.

It would be uncandid not to inform you that this office has been offered to others; but it is as true, that it was from a conviction in my own mind that you would not accept it (until Tuesday last, in a conversation with General Lee, he dropped sentiments which made it less doubtful), that it was not offered first to you.

I need scarcely add, that if this appointment could be made to comport with your own inclination, it would be as pleasing to me, as I believe it would be acceptable to the public. With this assurance, and with this belief, I make you the offer of it. My first wish is that you would accept it; the next is that you would be so good as to give me an answer as soon as you conveniently can, as the public business in that department is now suffering for want of a secretary.

Though Patrick Henry declined this proposal, he declined it for reasons that did not shut the door against further overtures of a similar kind; for, within the next three months, a vacancy having occurred in another great office, that of chief justice of the United States, Washington again employed the friendly services of General Lee, whom he authorized to offer the place to Patrick Henry. This was done by Lee in a letter dated December 26, 1795:

“The Senate have disagreed to the President’s nomination of Mr. Rutledge, and a vacancy in that important office has taken place. For your country’s sake, for your friends’ sake, for your family’s sake, tell me you will obey a call to it. You know my friendship for you; you know my circumspection; and, I trust, you know, too, I would not address you on such a subject without good grounds. Surely no situation better suits you. You continue at home, only [except] when on duty. Change of air and exercise will add to your days. The salary excellent, and the honor very great. Be explicit in your reply."

On the same day on which Lee thus wrote to Henry he likewise wrote to Washington, informing him that he had done so; but, for some cause now unknown, Washington received no further word from Lee for more than two weeks. Accordingly, on the 11th of January, 1796, in his anxiety to know what might be Patrick Henry’s decision concerning the office of chief justice, Washington wrote to Lee as follows:

MY DEAR SIR, Your letter of the 26th ult. has been received, but nothing from you since, which is embarrassing in the extreme; for not only the nomination of chief justice, but an associate judge, and secretary of war, is suspended on the answer you were to receive from Mr. Henry; and what renders the want of it more to be regretted is, that the first Monday of next month (which happens on the first day of it) is the term appointed by law for the meeting of the Superior Court of the United States, in this city; at which, for particular reasons, the bench ought to be full. I will add no more at present than that I am your affectionate,


Although Patrick Henry declined this great compliment also, his friendliness to the administration had become so well understood that, among the Federal leaders, who in the spring of 1796 were planning for the succession to Washington and Adams, there was a strong inclination to nominate Patrick Henry for the vice-presidency, their chief doubt being with reference to his willingness to take the nomination.

All these overtures to Patrick Henry were somewhat jealously watched by Jefferson, who, indeed, in a letter to Monroe, on the 10th of July, 1796, interpreted them with that easy recklessness of statement which so frequently embellished his private correspondence and his private talk. “Most assiduous court,” he says of the Federalists, “is paid to Patrick Henry. He has been offered everything which they knew he would not accept."

A few weeks after Jefferson penned those sneering words, the person thus alluded to wrote to his daughter, Mrs. Aylett, concerning certain troublesome reports which had reached her:

“As to the reports you have heard, of my changing sides in politics, I can only say they are not true. I am too old to exchange my former opinions, which have grown up into fixed habits of thinking. True it is, I have condemned the conduct of our members in Congress, because, in refusing to raise money for the purposes of the British treaty, they, in effect, would have surrendered our country bound, hand and foot, to the power of the British nation.... The treaty is, in my opinion, a very bad one indeed. But what must I think of those men, whom I myself warned of the danger of giving the power of making laws by means of treaty to the President and Senate, when I see these same men denying the existence of that power, which, they insisted in our convention, ought properly to be exercised by the President and Senate, and by none other? The policy of these men, both then and now, appears to me quite void of wisdom and foresight. These sentiments I did mention in conversation in Richmond, and perhaps others which I don’t remember.... It seems that every word was watched which I casually dropped, and wrested to answer party views. Who can have been so meanly employed, I know not, neither do I care; for I no longer consider myself as an actor on the stage of public life. It is time for me to retire; and I shall never more appear in a public character, unless some unlooked-for circumstance shall demand from me a transient effort, not inconsistent with private life in which I have determined to continue."

In the autumn of 1796 the Assembly of Virginia, then under the political control of Jefferson, and apparently eager to compete with the Federalists for the possession of a great name, elected Patrick Henry to the governorship of the State. But the man whose purpose to refuse office had been proof against the attractions of the United States Senate, and of the highest place in Washington’s cabinet, and of the highest judicial position in the country, was not likely to succumb to the opportunity of being governor of Virginia for the sixth time.