Read CHAPTER XIII - THE WIDENING RIFT of Give Me Liberty The Struggle for Self-Government in Virginia , free online book, by Thomas J. Wertenbaker, on

Francis Fauquier, who succeeded Dinwiddie as Lieutenant Governor, is described as “a gentleman of most amiable disposition, generous, just, and mild, and possessed in an eminent degree of all the social virtues.”  When Thomas Jefferson was a student at the College of William and Mary, he, together with Professor William Small and George Wythe, dined with him frequently.  “At these dinners I have heard more good sense, more rational and philosophical conversations than in all my life besides,” Jefferson said many years later. Fauquier, who was an accomplished musician, delighted in joining with Jefferson and several others in weekly concerts in the lovely ballroom of the Palace.  He was a member of the Royal Society, and, if we may judge from the presence in his library of a set of Palladio, a student of architecture.

When Fauquier arrived, on June 5, 1758, he found the colonists absorbed in preparations to send strong forces to join General Forbes in his expedition against Fort Duquesne.  Ever since the French had established themselves there it had been a nest from which swarms of Indians had made raids on the frontier.  “I found this colony zealous in his Majesty’s service, and very strenuous to support the common cause,” Fauquier wrote the Lords of Trade.

Secretary Pitt and General Abercrombie had written urging the Virginians to exert themselves to the utmost.  John Blair, President of the Council and Acting Governor pending Fauquier’s arrival, had called the Assembly together and asked them to vote funds for a new regiment.  The vote was unanimous.  They were eager to help in any attack on their “cruel neighbors of Fort Duquesne.”  So now the colony resounded to the beat of drums as officers brought in the recruits.  Some ensigns raised ten, some lieutenants twenty, some captains seventy.  To supply the men with arms, Blair stripped the magazine at Williamsburg and even took the muskets from the Governor’s Palace.  Tents and kettles he ordered from Philadelphia, pledging the credit of the colony to pay for them.

This was the situation when Fauquier landed, and it gave him reason to hope that Fort Duquesne would be in English hands early in the autumn.  When long delays made this unlikely, he summoned the Assembly to ask for more funds.  But now he was confronted with a perplexing problem.  It had long been the practice for the House of Burgesses to make their Speaker the Treasurer of the colony.  Dinwiddie, probably because of a grudge against John Robinson, who held these two offices, had recommended their separation.  The Board of Trade approved and directed Fauquier to see that this was done. But the Governor held back.  He was not long in finding that Robinson was the most popular man in Virginia, the idol of the people whether rich or poor.  Had he insisted that someone else be made Treasurer, the Burgesses would not have voted a penny for the expedition.  Fearing that the Board’s instruction might be whispered around and come to Robinson’s ear, he decided to take him into his confidence and place the whole matter before him.  The Speaker was much gratified.  “I am told by those who know his character that I have attached him to me in the strongest manner by the openness of my behavior,” Fauquier wrote the Board. So the supply bill went through with a rush.  But the Board must have realized that their authority in the colony had sunk to a new low when the Governor not only ignored their orders, but thought it necessary to apologize for them in order to curry favor with the Speaker of the House.

In the meanwhile, things were going well in the war.  Under the able leadership of Pitt, Great Britain had poured men and money into the colonies, and replaced the incompetent Loudoun with the able General Jeffrey Amherst.  A blow of great importance for Virginia was struck when a small force captured Fort Frontenac at the outlet of Lake Ontario.  This cut the French line of communication with the west and made Fort Duquesne untenable.  So this key position fell without firing a shot.  As Forbes’ army approached, the garrison blew up the fort, and taking to their canoes fell down the Ohio.

Fauquier congratulated himself for his part in this success.  He had kept the Burgesses in good humor; he had obtained the funds needed to keep the Virginia troops in the field.  If he had been lax in defending the King’s prerogative, surely the end justified the means.  So he was not a little piqued when he received a reprimand from the Board of Trade.

The trouble stemmed from the fact that tobacco provided a very poor standard of value.  When the crop was bountiful its purchasing power fell, if the summer were dry and the leaves withered in the field, it doubled or tripled.  In the first case debts and taxes could be paid at a low value, in the other the value might be so great as to threaten widespread injustice and suffering.

In 1748 by an act of Assembly the salary of the clergy had been fixed at 16,000 pounds of tobacco.  This law had received the King’s assent, and according to the “ancient constitution,” could not be repealed without his approval.  Yet, seven years later, when there had been a severe drought, the Assembly passed an act permitting payment of all obligations in money at the rate of two pence a pound.  The law was to continue in force for ten months only, and there was no clause suspending its operation until the King had given his assent.

The clergy were bitter.  They thought it hard that when the price of tobacco was low they were forced to accept it, but when it was high they were to be paid in money at one third the market price of tobacco.  In a petition to the House of Burgesses they pointed out that their average income was so inadequate that they found it difficult to support their families.  It was this which explained why so few graduates of Oxford and Cambridge entered the ministry in Virginia, and why so few in the colony thought it worth while to study divinity.

A delegation of four ministers called on Governor Dinwiddie to urge him to veto the bill.  But Dinwiddie, who was begging for funds and troops, had no stomach for a conflict with the Assembly over this affair.  “What can I do?” he told them.  “If I refuse to approve the act, I shall have the people on my back.”  So he signed the bill.

Unwilling to let the matter rest here, ten of the ministers, among them the Reverend Patrick Henry, uncle of the statesman, appealed to the Bishop of London.  The unjust Two-penny Act would lower them in the eyes of the people, it would discourage them in the discharge of their duty.  And, to clinch their argument, they pointed out that their cause was also the cause of the King.  “Our salaries have had the royal assent and cannot be taken from us or diminished in any respect by any law made here without trampling upon the royal prerogative."

Three years later, when again there was a “prodigious dimunition” in the tobacco crop, the Assembly acted to give relief to debtors and taxpayers by again making obligations payable in money at tuppence a pound.  This time the clergy made no appeal to the Burgesses, but Commissary Dawson, John Camm, and Thomas Robinson went to the Palace to urge Fauquier to veto the bill.  Note that it has no suspending clause, they said.  Note that it alters a bill to which the King gave his assent.  If you let it pass, will you not be ignoring your instructions?

But Fauquier was as much in need of funds as Dinwiddie had been.  He answered that that was not the point to be considered.  What was important was what would please the people.  So he gave the act his approval.  “The bill was a temporary law to ease the people from a burden which the country thought too great for them to bear,” he wrote the Lords of Trade.  “A suspending clause would have been to all intents and purposes the same as rejecting it....  The country were intent upon it ... and I conceived it would be a very strong step for me to take ... to set my face against the whole colony....  I am persuaded that if I had refused it, I must have despaired of our gaining any influence either in the Council or the House of Burgesses."

But the clergy were determined to bring the matter to an issue.  Commissary Dawson advised caution, but pressure from other ministers forced him to call a convention.  When they met they not only vented their indignation in many denunciations of the Two-penny Act, but drew up an address to the King entitled “The Representation of the Clergy.”  In it they hammered on the point that their cause was his cause.  The act was as injurious to the royal prerogative as to the rights of the Church.  “It gives us great concern that an ancient, standing law of this dominion, confirmed by the sanction of the royal assent, is no security to our livings."

This appeal they entrusted to the Reverend John Camm with instructions to place it in the King’s hands.  Camm, who later became Commissary, President of the College of William and Mary, and a member of the Council, was a man of great ability, but according to Fauquier, turbulent and delighting “to live in a flame.”  On his arrival in England he obtained an interview with the King and delivered the “Representation.”  His Majesty referred it to the Privy Council, who, in turn, handed it on to the Board of Trade.

This suited Camm exactly, for his trump card was the Bishop of London, and the Bishop’s influence with the Board was great.  His Lordship was exasperated at the presumption of the Virginia Assembly.  “To make an act to suspend the operations of the royal act is an attempt which in some times would have been called treason, and I do not know any other name for it in our law,” he told the Board.  “To assume a power to bind the King’s hands, and to say how far his power shall go and where it shall stop, is such an act of supremacy as is inconsistent with the dignity of the Crown of England.”  It manifestly tended to draw the colonists from their allegiance to the King for them to find that they had a higher power to protect them.  “Surely it is time for us to look about us, and to consider the several steps lately taken in the diminution of the prerogative and influence of the Crown.”

The Bishop denounced Governor Fauquier for signing the Two-penny bill.  “What made him so zealous in this cause I pretend not to judge, but surely the great change which manifestly appears in the temper and disposition of the people of this colony in the compass of a few years deserves highly to be considered, and the more so as the Deputy Governors and the Council seemed to act in concert with the people."

The Board was duly impressed.  They denounced the Two-penny Act as a usurpation and advised the King to declare it null and void.  Not only did the King do so, but he gave Fauquier a stunning rebuke.  “We do ... strictly command and require you for the future, upon pain of our highest displeasure, and of being recalled from the government of our said colony, punctually to observe and obey the several directions contained in the 16th article of our said instructions, relative to the passing of laws...."

Camm sent copies of these papers to Virginia, and when they were handed around among his friends the clergy rejoiced.  The King was on their side, all would be well.  Camm wrote to his attorney in Virginia to bring suit in the General Court against the vestry of his parish for his salary in tobacco.  On the other hand, the people of the colony were highly resentful against the clergy, and especially against the Bishop of London.  Colonel Landon Carter and Colonel Richard Bland wrote pamphlets defending the Two-penny Act and denouncing his Lordship.  To the Bishop’s contention that the act tended to draw the people from their allegiance, it was answered that nothing was more apt to estrange them than to deny them the right to protect themselves from distress.  His Lordship had called the act treason.  “But were the Assembly to do nothing?  This would have been treason indeed.”  In case of an eventuality which the Governor’s instructions could not provide for, which could bring ruin before relief could come from the throne, it was the duty of the Assembly to deviate from the fixed rules of the constitution.  The preservation of the people could not possibly be treason.

In the meanwhile Fauquier had been waiting impatiently for his copies of the King’s veto and his instructions in the matter.  Month after month passed and nothing came.  Finally, late in June, ten months after they had been written, Camm appeared with them at the door of the Palace.  Fauquier took them, and then denounced him for slandering him in England.  Then he called out in a loud voice for his Negro servants, and when they had assembled, pointed his finger at Camm.  “Look at that gentleman and be sure to know him again, and under no circumstances permit him to revisit the Palace,” he said.

As time passed the war of pamphlets was renewed.  In 1763 Camm wrote assailing Carter and Bland and trying to answer their arguments.  But so unpopular was the cause of the clergy that no one in Virginia would publish what he wrote, and he had to have it done in Maryland.  Bland retorted in a letter in the Virginia Gazette, and Camm came back in a letter which he called “Observations."

Interest now centered on a test case in which the Reverend James Maury brought suit for his salary in tobacco in the Hanover County court, in November, 1763.  The court declared the Two-penny Act no law, since it had been vetoed by the Crown, and ordered that at the next court the jury should determine how much damages, if any, should be paid.  Maury’s case seemed as good as won, and the attorney for the defendants, Mr. John Lewis, retired from the case.  In his place they engaged a young, little-known lawyer, named Patrick Henry.

It was on December 1, 1763, that a great crowd assembled at the Hanover courthouse, filling the little room and overflowing into the yard.  Among them were twenty clergymen.  But when Henry saw his uncle there, he persuaded him to leave.  John Henry, Patrick’s father, presided.  When several gentlemen refused to serve on the jury, the sheriff was forced to fill their places with men of the small farmer class.  Several were dissenters.

The case was opened by Mr. Peter Lyons, attorney for the plaintiff.  When he had concluded, Henry rose to reply.  At first he seemed hesitant and awkward.  But soon he warmed up to his subject.  His eyes kindled, his gestures were bolder, he seemed to grow more erect, his voice resounded through the room.  His audience were spellbound, and on every bench, at the door, in every window people leaned forward, their eyes fixed on the youthful orator.

Henry contended that there was a contract between King and people.  The King owed the people protection; the people owed the King obedience and support.  But should either violate the contract, it released the other from the obligation.  The Two-penny Act was good and essential, and its disallowance was a breach of the contract.  It was an instance of misrule, a neglect of the interests of the colony.  The King, from being the father of his people, became a tyrant who had forfeited the obedience of the subjects.  At this point Mr. Lyons cried out:  “The gentleman has spoken treason.”  And from various parts of the room arose a murmur of “treason! treason!”

But Henry turned to the ministers seated before him and denounced them and the rest of the clergy in blazing words for trying to triple their salaries at the expense of the people.  “Do they manifest their zeal in the cause of religion and humanity by practicing the mild and benevolent precepts of the Gospel of Jesus?...  Oh no!  Gentlemen.  Instead of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked these rapacious harpies would ... snatch from the hearth of their honest parishioner his last hoe-cake, from the widow and her orphaned child their last milch-cow." At this the ministers got up and left the room.  When the jury brought in a verdict of one penny damages, the throng shouted their approval.  Strong arms lifted Henry aloft and bore him out of the courthouse.

Henry’s contention in essence was that the people of the colonies had a right to govern themselves.  And in this he was but finding legal arguments for the existing state of affairs.  The Assembly, after a century and a half of battling with Kings and Governors, had made itself to all intents and purposes supreme.  In annulling the Two-penny Act the King crossed lances with the representatives of the people and had come off second best.  The jury, sitting in the little country courthouse, under the urging of an obscure lawyer, had defied him.  Thus, two years before the Stamp Act, Virginia inaugurated the policy of resistance.  Most of Henry’s arguments were borrowed from the Carter and Bland pamphlets, but whereas they pleaded, he secured positive action.  In so far as the Two-penny Act was concerned, the King’s veto power was annulled.

Bland summed up the constitutional argument behind this action in a pamphlet written at the time of the trial but published only eight months later.  “Under an English government all men are born free, are only subject to laws made by their own consent....  If then the people of this colony are free born, and have a right to the liberties and privileges of English subjects, they must necessarily have a legal constitution, that is a legislature, composed in part of the representatives of the people, who may enact laws for the INTERNAL government of the colony, ... and without such a representative I am bold to say no law can be made."

But the stubborn Mr. Camm was determined not to give up.  In April, 1764, his cause came up in the General Court after a delay of five years.  The case against him was argued by Robert Carter Nicholas, who claimed that when the Governor had approved a law it was legal, even though in so doing he broke his instructions.  A majority of the court were convinced and voted that the Two-penny Act of 1758 was valid despite the King’s veto. Camm appealed the case to the Privy Council.  It came up in 1767, and was thrown out on a technicality.  In this way they avoided giving further offense to the colony without admitting the validity of their claims.

The controversy over the Two-penny Act came at a time when the Board of Trade was at odds with the Virginia Assembly over the repeated issues of paper money.  Had Dinwiddie and Fauquier not assured them that without these issues there would have been no funds with which to carry on the war, they would certainly have put a stop to them.  As it was, all they could do was to urge that steps be taken to prevent the paper from declining in value and to protect the interests of the British merchants.

Prior to 1757 each issue had borne five per cent interest, and taxes had been voted for their redemption.  But in April of that year the notes were all called in and new ones issued in their place bearing no interest.  This, with a new issue of L80,000 brought the total to L179,962.10.0.  This was more than was needed to carry on the business of the colony, and the value of the notes began to sink. In 1748 an act had been passed declaring that debts contracted in sterling could be paid in Virginia currency at a twenty-five per cent advance, or one pound five shillings for one pound sterling.  But as the rate of exchange was not long in rising above this figure, the merchants feared large losses.

The London merchants, speaking not only for themselves, but for those of Bristol, Liverpool, and Glasgow, laid their complaint before the Board of Trade.  The issuing of large amounts of paper money could be most injurious to trade by putting it upon an uncertain basis, they said.  And to pay debts contracted in sterling in depreciated colonial currency was as unjust as it was unwise.  So they asked the King to instruct the Governor to urge the Assembly to amend the act of 1748 to make all debts due to persons in Great Britain payable according to the real difference in exchange.

It seems strange that the merchants and the Board of Trade did not know that what they asked for had already been done.  In 1755 the act of 1748 had been amended so as to direct the courts in cases where contracts had been made in sterling, to order payment in Virginia money at the rate of exchange they thought just. “The merchants do not know the law,” Fauquier wrote the Board.  “Let the value of paper currency fall as much as they please ... exchange will rise as fast, and they will obtain for a sterling debt just as much of the paper currency as will purchase a good sterling bill of exchange.  And what injury is done them unless ... the whole court combine in a barefaced villainy to defraud them?” At the last court the exchange had been fixed at 35 per cent.

The amendment to the law of 1748 had had no clause suspending its operation until the King had given his assent, and, like the Two-penny Act, was a clear infringement on the royal prerogative.  But since it had merely anticipated the King’s wishes, it drew no rebuke from him.  None the less, it was one more step toward autonomy, one more demonstration that in internal affairs the Virginians were a self-governing people.

The fixing of the rate of exchange quieted the merchants for the time being, even though they looked on uneasily as Fauquier assented to further emissions, for L57,000 in September, 1758; L52,000 in February, 1759; L10,000 in November, 1759; L20,000 in March, 1760; L32,000 in May, 1760; and L30,000 in March, 1762.  The whole totalled nearly L413,000, and William Hunter’s printing press at Williamsburg was kept busy stamping out notes of L10, L15, L3, 10 shillings, 3 shillings, etc.  In the meanwhile, only L51,156.10.0. had been retired and burnt, leaving L362,000 in circulation.

Long before this figure had been reached, opposition to paper money had grown within the colony itself.  The law which protected the British merchants did not apply to Virginia creditors, since their contracts usually had been made in the local currency.  So, as the flood of paper continued to mount, the small farmer or shopkeeper who had borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, could pay him back in depreciated notes.  And as they were legal tender, he had to accept them.  “Debtors pursued their creditors relentlessly and paid them without mercy.”

In 1762, though a bill to issue L30,000 in paper money passed the House by a vote of 66 to 3, it hung fire in the Council.  At the time there were only six members in attendance, three of whom opposed any further emissions, so Fauquier got the Speaker to hold back the bill while he sent out a hurry call for the others.  In the end the bill passed by a vote of five to four.  “On this occasion I have stretched my influence to the utmost pitch,” the Governor wrote the Board. The four dissenting Councillors William Nelson, Thomas Nelson, Richard Corbin, and Philip Ludwell Lee all of them rich men, made a vigorous protest, which was entered upon the Journal.

Not satisfied with this, Corbin took the step, unusual for a member of the Upper House, of complaining to the Board of Trade against an act of Assembly.  He was astute enough to base his case, not on his personal losses, but on the losses to the revenue and to the merchants.  Taxes had been paid in the depreciated currency.  In turn this had made it impossible to meet the needs of the government and at the same time sink the outstanding notes.  As for the merchants, though it was true that sterling contracts were to be paid at the current rate of exchange, and though the judges who determined it seemed to be impartial, the rate might rise from five to fifteen per cent between the date of their decision and the date of settlement, to their great loss.

When the British merchants heard that some of the most prominent men in Virginia had sided with them in urging that an end be put to currency inflation, they were encouraged to renew their complaints to the Board of Trade.  The Board, in turn, wrote Fauquier to urge the Assembly to give them satisfaction.  So the Governor, on May 19, 1763, addressed the House, pointing out that common justice required that every man should receive full payment for debts due him.  And the support of the public credit, so vital for a trading country like Virginia, made it absolutely necessary to redeem the paper in circulation at the dates fixed by law.

The Burgesses responded by adding to the fund for sinking the paper money by laying additional taxes on slaves, wheel carriages, licenses, etc. But they would not budge from their determination to keep all the notes legal tender.  And they made a long and able reply to the Governor, drawn up by Charles Carter, Edmund Pendleton, Wythe, and Richard Henry Lee, justifying their proceedings and claiming that the merchants had no just grounds for complaint.  In it they inserted a declaration of American rights which the British Ministry would have been wise to take to heart.  Their dependence upon Great Britain they acknowledged as their greatest happiness and only security.  But this was not the dependence of a conquered people, but of sons sent out to explore and settle a new world for the mutual benefit of themselves and their common parent.  It was the dependence of the part upon the whole, which, by its admirable constitution, diffused a spirit of patriotism which made every citizen, however remote from the mother kingdom, zealous for the King and the public good.

But the merchants were far from being satisfied, and a group in Glasgow sent another appeal to the Board of Trade.  They thought that part of the trouble came from the ease with which paper money could be counterfeited.  And they were sure that the hundreds of counterfeit notes, passing from hand to hand in Virginia, partly accounted for the enormous heights of exchange.  But they supported the Assembly in continuing the legal tender clause.  To take it off might make the currency debts “more fluctuating, uncertain, and less valuable.”  The only effectual remedy was to forbid further issues of paper money, to see that notes as they were brought into the treasury were duly burnt, to order that circulating notes bear five per cent interest, and to remedy any deficiency in the taxes. When Parliament passed an act to prohibit future emissions in the colonies, they seemed satisfied.

But there was a strong underlying sentiment in the colony against burning the notes.  The soil of tidewater Virginia, after a century and a half of cultivation, was beginning to wear out, and thousands of acres were gradually reverting to forest land.  This, with war taxes and an occasional drought, had brought hard times.  But the planters, instead of tightening their belts, continued the old extravagant mode of living by borrowing money.  “I fear they are not prudent enough to quit any article of luxury till smart obliges them,” observed Fauquier. So for many cheap money meant salvation from ruin.

These men made their influence felt in the House when a scheme for borrowing L240,000 from the British merchants was passed in May, 1765.  Of this sum L100,000 was to be used for a new currency to replace old notes, and L140,000 to be lent out at five per cent interest.  But when the bill came up to the Council it was bitterly opposed by Corbin and finally defeated.

In the meanwhile, people were wondering why the rate of exchange did not drop.  They were not ignorant of the quantative law of currency, and they knew that the amount of paper in circulation ought to have been reduced each year.  So they were surprised to find it remaining between sixty and sixty-five per cent.  Behind this apparent contradiction of economic law there must be some mystery.

The mystery was explained in May, 1766, when a bomb exploded which shook the colony from the capes to the Alleghenies.  That month the beloved John Robinson, Speaker and Treasurer, died.  Fauquier had called him “the darling of the country.”  The Gazette lamented his loss and praised “the many amiable virtues which adorned his private station.”

So there was universal astonishment when the examiners of his accounts found a deficit of L100,000.  Robinson had not taken the money for his own use.  Even had he been dishonorable enough to do so, there would have been no need for it, since he was one of the richest men in the colony.  What he had done was to lend his friends thousands of pounds from the public funds. In this he was guilty of two serious breaches of his duty.  Since the Assembly had refused to establish a public loan office, he must have known that he had no right to do so on his own responsibility.  And there could be no excuse for his disregard of the law which required that he burn the paper money as it came in.

But when his friends came to him in distress begging loans to save them from ruin, he did not have the strength of character to refuse them.  Thousands of pounds went out to men in all parts of the colony, among them members of some of the oldest and most distinguished families William Byrd III, Charles Carter, Jr., George Braxton, Henry Fitzhugh, Lewis Burwell, etc.  Robinson’s estate was large enough to cover all these loans, but it took many years for his executors to recover even part of what was due him.

Robert Carter Nicholas, Robinson’s successor as Treasurer, was bitter in condemnation of what he had done.  “The seeming mysteries of our exchange now begin to unfold themselves,” he wrote in a letter to the Gazette.  “It comes out that a great part of the money squeezed from the people for their taxes, instead of being sunk ... was thrown back into circulation.”  The Assembly had given their word that they would protect the interests of the British merchants by burning the paper promptly on the dates of their retirement.  What must the world think when these good intentions had been in part defeated by a strange kind of misconduct?  What made it worse was the need the colony had for the friendship of the merchants at a time when the great men in England had their eyes fixed upon all the Assemblies.  “The consequences are as glaring as the sun in the meridian."

Nicholas saw to it that the law was obeyed.  As the notes came in they were burnt.  As a result the exchange began to drop until in a few months it became normal.  The day of easy money was over, and the host of debtors faced ruin.  For many months the pages of the Gazette were crowded with notices of slaves and plantations for sale.

In the meanwhile, the century and a half old struggle between mother country and colonies was rapidly approaching a crisis.  The issue had long been postponed because of the inactivity of the King’s ministers, who were content to close their eyes to what was going on across the Atlantic.  But the time was at hand when the question of whether the Americans should be governed from London or should govern themselves had to be settled.

This was in part due to the fact that as time passed Parliament had grown less and less representative of the people.  In Great Britain there was no provision, as there is in the Constitution of the United States, for periodic reapportionments of the people’s representatives to keep step with changes in population.  For centuries most of the Commons had been elected under a very restricted franchise by certain old boroughs.  Though with the passing of the decades many of these boroughs, once centers of population and wealth, had fallen into decay, they still sent their representatives to the House of Commons.  Perhaps the most notorious was Old Sarum, a city of Norman times, whose castle and cathedral and crowded houses overlooked the Salisbury plain, but which for centuries had been deserted.  Unless the ghosts of men long dead were to have a voice in running the nation, it was absurd for these old ruins to be represented in the Commons.  In practice the rotten borough system, as it was called, tended to perpetuate the ascendency of the landed proprietors.

And the country squires wanted no change.  They thought the British Government the best in the world, and were determined to defend their privileges.  It never occurred to them that duty required that they should try to alleviate the miseries of the poor people; they were too intent on enjoying their great manor houses, their formal gardens, their stately dinners, their fox hunts, to heed the voices which were pleading for social and political reform.

But it would be a mistake to assume that Great Britain had become static in intellectual, social, and institutional matters.  On the contrary, the first seven decades of the eighteenth century was a period of tremendous activity.  It was the period of Richardson and Fielding in literature, of the great religious revival led by Wesley and Whitefield, of renewed interest in Shakespeare, of the birth of industrial Britain, of the bold defiance of authority by John Wilkes.  Had Parliament truly reflected the spirit of the age, had it not revered the old system of government as the best attainable by man, it would have attuned itself to these changes.

If the Commons were out of step with the march of events in Great Britain, they were far more so with developments in the colonies.  They knew nothing of the influence of the vast natural resources and the limited supply of labor in lifting the level of the common man and giving him a sense of self-respect, nothing of the democratizing power of the frontier.  And what little they saw they disliked.  No doubt some would have applauded Samuel Johnson when he said of the Americans:  “Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.”

With such irreconcilable differences between the ruling group in Great Britain and the people of the colonies the conflict was inevitable.  The King, the Privy Council, the Board of Trade, the Commons construed the many instances of colonial disobedience as attacks on the foundations of the established order, as revolutionary innovations.  To Americans they seemed no more than the assertion of rights inherent in all free men.  And though many of their claims had no precedent in English experience, they began to speak of them as ancient and necessary for the existence of representative government.

That the clash came when it did was in part due to the passing of the laissez-faire period in the British Government.  New figures had made their appearance at Whitehall, who had no patience with the old slipshod way of doing things.  They wanted a consolidated empire, ruled from London, rather than a loose federation of semi-independent states.  To them it seemed intolerable that the colonial Assemblies should defy the King at will.  “Must we and America be two distinct kingdoms, and that now immediately?” asked George Grenville.

The French and Indian War revealed much concerning conditions in the colonies which surprised and alarmed the Ministry.  They had found it impossible to get the colonies to act in unison, they had defied the King’s wishes repeatedly, the Governors were kept busy explaining why they had to disregard one instruction after another, they were disgusted at the pouring out of paper money, and they must have been influenced by the warnings that the Americans were too much of a republican way of thinking.  The advice to have Parliament lay a general tax on the colonies had come, not only from Dinwiddie, but from various parts of America.

The determination of the Ministry to follow this advice was based ostensibly on the reasonableness of requiring the colonies to bear their share of the burden of the expense of the war.  It may be argued that Virginia and some of the others, because of the disruption of trade, the very heavy taxes, the devastation on the frontiers, and their heavy losses in men, had already paid more than their share.  But that there was something deeper, more vital, behind the resolve to tax than a mere matter of finance, is obvious.  It was a demonstration of policy, a manifesto that Great Britain was determined to govern her colonies.

When word reached America that the Ministry planned to tax the colonies by a stamp Act, there was general dismay.  There were many grave faces among the Burgesses as they took their seats in November, 1764.  Some of the ablest men in Virginia, among them Peyton Randolph, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, and Richard Henry Lee, drew up a protest to the King and Parliament.  They begged the King to protect the people of the colony in the enjoyment of their ancient right of being governed in internal affairs by laws derived from their own consent, with the approbation of their sovereign or his substitute.  This right, as men and descendants of Britons, they had possessed ever since they left the mother kingdom to extend its commerce and dominion.

To the House of Lords they pointed out that, as their ancestors had brought with them to America every right and privilege they could claim in the mother kingdom, their descendants could not justly be deprived of them.  It was a fundamental principle of the British Constitution, without which freedom could nowhere exist, that the people are not subject to any taxes except by their own consent or by those who were legally appointed to represent them.

They reminded the Commons that this principle had been recognized ever since the founding of the colony.  During the reign of Charles II, when the British Government sought a revenue to support the government of Virginia, they had tacitly admitted that Parliament had no right to levy the tax.  Instead they drew up a bill in England and sent it over to be acted on by the Assembly.

As they penned this protest the thoughts of Wythe and the others must have reverted to the part played by the control of taxation in winning self-government for the colony.  They spoke of their rights as ancient, yet they must have known that the Virginia of their day was far freer than it had been under the Stuarts.  And there could be no doubt as to how this great change had come about.  They and their fathers and their great-grandfathers had used the control of the purse to whittle the royal prerogative until little was left.  For Parliament to strike this weapon from their hands would be to nullify the gains of many decades and leave them defenseless.

When the bill to tax the Americans came before the Commons, on February 7, 1765, a lengthy debate followed.  It was on this occasion that Colonel Isaac Barre retorted to Charles Townshend’s assertion that the Americans had been “planted by our care, nourished by our indulgence.”  “Your oppressions planted them in America,” he shouted.  “They grew up by your neglect of them....  They protected by your arms!  They have taken up arms in your defence." But when the Virginia memorial was presented it was rejected by an overwhelming majority. The bill passed the Commons by 205 votes to 49, and the House of Lords without a division.  The measure required the colonists to use stamps, purchased from the British Government through royal agents, on newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, advertisements, and various kinds of legal documents.

It was with heavy hearts that the Assembly met in May, 1765.  Edmund Pendleton, when news of the passage of the Stamp Act reached him, had exclaimed, “Poor America!” As he, George Wythe, Richard Bland, Robert Carter Nicholas, Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph, and other leading statesmen took their seats, they had no thought of resistance.  They proceeded with routine business the authorizing of a ferry over the Potomac, giving rewards for killing wolves, opening a road through the Swift Run Gap, preventing escapes from debtors’ prisons, etc.  Probably none of the aristocrats from the tidewater paid any attention to young Patrick Henry when he joined the House late in the session.  When most of the bills had passed the third reading many of the members left, and mounting their horses rode out of town, leaving only thirty-nine to wind up business.

This was Henry’s opportunity.  Opening an old law book he wrote down seven resolutions.  Then, rising, he introduced them in the House.  In substance the first four declared that Virginians from the first settlement had possessed all the privileges of the people of Great Britain, that these privileges had been confirmed to them by two royal charters, that the taxation of the people by themselves was the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and that the people of the colony had never forfeited the right to be governed by their own Assembly in the articles of taxation and internal policy.

When Henry came to the fifth resolution there must have been a gasp of surprise.  It held that any attempt to vest the power to tax the colonies in any other body than the Assembly was illegal, unjust, and unconstitutional, and tended to destroy British as well as American liberty.  Henry did not introduce the other two resolutions, probably because of the uproar which the reading of the fifth occasioned.

A violent debate ensued.  George Wythe, John Robinson, Peyton Randolph, and others thought the language too extreme.  But what Fauquier described as “the young, hot, and giddy members,” were carried along by Henry’s eloquence.  “Tarquin and Cæsar each had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III....”  At this point he was interrupted by the Speaker who declared that he had spoken treason.  Henry denied that he advocated treason.  If he had said anything wrong, it should be attributed to his concern over his country’s dying liberty.

The first four resolutions passed by safe margins, but the fifth barely got by, by a vote of twenty to nineteen.  In alarm the more conservative members sent out a hurry call for such absent Burgesses as were still in or near Williamsburg.  When several had come in an attempt was made to have the resolutions struck off the journal.  They succeeded with the fifth, Fauquier reported, “which was thought the most offensive,” but failed with the other four.

Perhaps Henry, himself, as he left Williamsburg, wearing a pair of leather breeches and leading his bony nag by the bridle, did not realize that his resolutions would be the alarm bell of revolution.  The Maryland Gazette, the Newport Gazette, the Boston Gazette, and other papers published them, not only the four which passed in the House, but the other three as well.  And the sixth and seventh were radical indeed.  They declared that the people of the colony were not bound to obey any laws to tax them other than those passed by the Assembly, and that any person who should uphold such laws “by speaking or writing” should be deemed an enemy of the colony.  It was the policy of resistance.

Virginia was now aflame.  It was rumored that groups of men from all parts of the colony were preparing to march on Williamsburg to seize and destroy the stamps as soon as they arrived.  Many justices declared that they would resign rather than use the stamps in the processes of their courts, and it seemed certain that others would follow their example.  From Westmoreland came word that a mob had burned in effigy the stamp distributor for Virginia, Colonel George Mercer, a native Virginian who had served in the French and Indian War. Fauquier waited anxiously for his arrival with the stamps, praying that adverse winds would delay him until the session of the General Court was over and the crowds of merchants, persons involved in suits, debtors, witnesses, and others had left town.

But the Fates were against him.  Mercer arrived on October 30, and at once went to his father’s house.  Having word of this, a crowd of men, some of them leading citizens in their home counties, started off to find him.  As they approached the Capitol they met him and asked him whether he intended to retain his office as stamp distributor.  To this he gave an evasive answer, and continued to the coffee house nearby where Governor Fauquier, Speaker Robinson, and several members of the Council were seated on the porch.  The crowd, which had followed him, pressed toward them and a cry was heard, “Let us rush in.”  But when Fauquier and the others advanced to repel them, someone called out, “See the Governor, take care of him.”  Upon this they fell back.  And when Mercer promised that he would give his answer at the Capitol the next day at five, they seemed satisfied and permitted him to walk through them side by side with the Governor to the Palace.

In the meanwhile, word of Mercer’s arrival had spread through the countryside, so that the next day hundreds of persons poured into town.  As five o’clock approached a vast crowd assembled in the Capitol yard.  There Mercer spoke to them.  His appointment had been unsolicited, he said.  He had not, as had been rumored, urged the passage of the Stamp Act.  “And now,” he added, “I will not, directly by myself or deputies proceed in the execution of the act ... without the assent of the General Assembly of this colony.”  At this there was a great shout of approval, and those near him raised him aloft and bore him out through the gate to a nearby tavern.  As they entered, the huzzas were redoubled, while drums rattled, and horns blared.  That night the town was illuminated and bells rang out.  The following night the occasion was climaxed by “a splendid ball."

As for the stamps, they never touched land.  They were transferred to a warship, “it being the place of the greatest, if not the only security for them.”  If the mob could have laid their hands on them they would certainly have gone up in flames.

Now in various parts of the colony men met to organize what they called Sons of Liberty.  The merchants of Norfolk, native-born Scotsmen many of them, had a double grievance, since the Sugar Act threatened their trade and the Stamp Act their liberty.  In March about thirty leading citizens met at the house of Mayor Calvert, where “they brought daylight on” debating the best way to resist both acts.  At their call the people crowded into the courthouse to protest.  “We will ... defend ourselves in the full enjoyment of ... those inestimable privileges of freeborn British subjects of being taxed only by representatives of their own choosing....  If we quietly submit to the execution of the said Stamp Act, all our claims of civil liberty will be lost, and we and our posterity become absolute slaves."

A few days later, when word went round that a certain Captain William Smith had been responsible for the seizure of several vessels in the Elizabeth River, he was arrested by a group of leading citizens.  Hurrying him to the County Wharf, they tarred and feathered him, set him in the ducking stool, and pelted him with stones and rotten eggs.  They next marched him through the town with drums beating, ducked him again, and at last threw him headlong into the water.  Had not a passing boat pulled him out, more dead than alive, he would have been drowned.

At Hobb’s Hole, Essex County, a merchant named Ritchie barely escaped similar treatment.  A number of men, hearing that he had boasted that he could secure stamps and was determined to clear his ship with them, marched on the town and drew up along the main street.  They brought Ritchie out and threatened to strip him to the waist, tie him to the tail of a cart, and then fix him in the pillory.  This was too much for him.  Reluctantly he swore on “the holy Evangels” that no vessel of his would clear “on stamped paper.”  Thereupon most of the crowd dispersed, and those living nearby went to the tavern “where they spent the evening with great sobriety."

The people of the colony were encouraged in their resistance to the Stamp Act by articles in British gazettes and magazines, which were reprinted in the Virginia Gazette.  A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine contended that the act violated the British constitution, which “declared that no Englishman is to be taxed without his own consent.”  “I know very well I shall be told that though the Americans are not immediately represented in the English Parliament, they are nevertheless represented virtually....  But why, in the name of common sense, if the mother country judged herself the virtual representative of all her various dependencies, did she grant a provincial legislature to her colonies, and from the time of their first existence invest this legislature with the sole power of internal taxation?” For the colonists to yield, he thought, would be to confess themselves slaves.

And when the Virginians read the Gazette they noted with satisfaction that the disruption of trade was causing great distress in England.  A dispatch from Birmingham stated that unless the Stamp Act were repealed twenty thousand persons would be out of work. The merchants of London petitioned the Commons for relief.  Their trade with the colonies, which was of such great importance to the nation, faced utter ruin, they said.  They could not collect debts due them in America, because the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act had thrown the colonies into confusion and brought on many bankruptcies.  Unless these acts were repealed a multitude of workers would become a burden on the community or else seek their bread in other countries.

It was late in May, 1766, that a vessel arrived in Virginia waters bearing the news that the Stamp Act had been repealed.  As horsemen galloped along the roads and boatsmen in their shallops ascended the great rivers, the word was passed from mouth to mouth.  Everywhere there was joyous celebration.  At Great Bridge the people listened to a patriotic sermon in St. Giles Church, and then went to the Banqueting Room, where they raised their glasses in a series of toasts to the King and Queen, Colonel Barre, and others.  At Hampton there was a banquet at the Bunch of Grapes, followed by a ball at the King’s Arms Tavern, while outside there was a great bonfire. The people of Williamsburg waited for their celebration until the convening of the court when the town was crowded.  Then every house was illuminated, and there was “a ball and elegant entertainment at the Capitol,” marked by “much mirth” and the drinking of toasts.

With the French and Indian War brought to a successful conclusion, with the problem of currency inflation settled, with the Stamp Act repealed, it seemed that Fauquier might look forward to a period of harmony and prosperity.  But fate soon struck a cruel blow.  In the summer of 1767 the Governor became ill with a very painful disorder.  And though, under the care of Dr. Matthew Pope, of York, he became better, he never fully recovered his health. He died in the early hours of March 3, 1768.  In his will he directed that if the nature of his illness should not be understood by his physicians, an autopsy be held on his body, so that he might become more useful to his fellow creatures in death than he had been in life.  He desired, also, that he be buried “without any vain funeral pomp."

Francis Fauquier was an able, just, tactful Governor, who tried to do his duty both to the King and to the colony.  His was an extremely difficult task.  His sympathies seem to have been with the people.  Living among them, knowing their views, he must have deplored the policy of the Ministry in trying to deprive them of the cherished right of self-government.  Great Britain’s strongest link with America was not the link of government, not even the economic link, but the link of affection.  And nothing tended more to strengthen it than the appointment of such a man as Fauquier to be Lieutenant Governor of the largest of the colonies.  It would have been a lasting grief to Fauquier had he lived to see the final separation of mother country and colonies.