The Declaration of Independence
When in the course of human events . . .
The Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions — 1765
Patrick Henry, who was a new member to the House of Burgesses undertook a radical move against the authority of Parliament. In coalition with George Johnston, a representative from Fairfax county, Henry took the floor in May of 1765. The Burgesses, a very aristocratic company of wealthy plantation owners and gentlemen, had long operated under a relaxed rule that allowed 24 percent of the body to constitute a quorum. That day, only 39 members in attendance, Johnson moved that the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole, Henry seconded the motion, and proceeded to offer a shocking series of resolutions. In the absence of the normal, conservative, leadership, all five of the offered resolutions were adopted. The first four were merely strident. The fifth required several hours of heated debate and even then passed by only one vote. Ultimately, it would be retracted (see text following the resolves, below.)
The following five resolves were passed by the House of Burgesses on May 30, 1765:
Resolved, that the first adventurers and settlers of His Majesty's colony and dominion of Virginia 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 liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.
Resolved, that by two royal charters, granted by King James I, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens and natural subjects to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within the Realm of England.
Resolved, 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, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burdensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.
Resolved, that His Majesty's liege people of this his most ancient and loyal colony have without interruption enjoyed the inestimable right of being governed by such laws, respecting their internal policy and taxation, as are derived from their own consent, with the approbation of their sovereign, or his substitute; and that the same has never been forfeited or yielded up, but has been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain.
The fifth item, following, was rescinded the next day. Henry, perhaps believing that the matter would stand, had departed. The conservative members re-formed on May 31st for the purpose of removing all five resolutions, but succeeded only in removing this one. The text of it was found with Patrick Henry's will:
Resolved, therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and 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 person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.
Two more resolutions were widely reprinted throughout the colonies. Henry did not actually offer them, probably on account of the difficulty of passing the fifth. Lieutenant Governor Fauquir later reported that "they had two more in their pockets." Somehow these two appeared in the Rhode Island Newport Mercury on June 24 of 1765*. The Burgesses considered the language exclusive Right and Power in the fifth item to be treacherous. The resolutions that follow were outright treason.
Resolved, That His Majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws or ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.
Resolved, That any person who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any person or persons other than the General Assembly of this Colony, have any right or power to impose or lay any taxation on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to His Majesty's Colony.
How these items made their way north is not known. There is no record anywhere of them, except in the newspapers where they were printed. It is plausible that Henry, George Johnson, or another colleague sent them on before the battle on the floor. Perhaps it was wise that Henry departed when he did, despite the loss of the fifth resolution. He would have expected the House to be dissolved as a result of his resolutions. Had news reached the governor about the seven resolutions, he might have been arrested for treason as well. The seven resolutions, reprinted everywhere, were a wildly effective propaganda tool. The idea that the stuffy old House of Burgesses had produced such a challenge to Great Britain's authority did much to incite similar resolutions in other legislatures. Establishing a Committee of Intercolonial Correspondence.
Extracts from the Journal of the Proceeding of the House of Burgesses, of Virginia
Friday, the 12th March,
13th George III., 1773
Upon a motion made —
The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, upon the state of the colony.
Mr. Speaker left the chair.
Mr. Bland took the chair of the committee.
Mr. Speaker resumed the chair.
Mr. Bland reported from the committee that they had directed him to make the following report to the House, viz.:
Whereas, the minds of His Majesty's faithful subjects, in this colony, have been much disturbed by various rumors and reports of proceedings, tending to deprive them of their ancient, legal and constitutional rights;
AND whereas, the affairs of this colony are frequently connected with those of Great Britain, as well as of the neighboring colonies, which renders a communication of sentiments necessary; in order, therefore, to remove the uneasiness, and to quiet the minds of the people, as well as for the other good purposes above mentioned, —
Be it resolved, that a standing committee of correspondence and inquiry, be appointed, to consist of eleven persons, to wit: the Hon. Peyton Randolph, Esq., Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Carey [Cary], and Thomas Jefferson, Esqs., any six of whom, to be a committee, whose business it shall be, to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to, or affect the British colonies in America; and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies respecting these important considerations; and the result of such proceedings, from time to time to lay before this House.
Resolved, that it be an instruction to said committee, that they do, without delay, inform themselves particularly of the principles and authority, on which was constituted a court of inquiry, said to have been lately held in Rhode Island, with powers to transport persons accused of offences committed in America, to places beyond the seas, to be tried.
The said resolutions being severally read a second time, were, upon the questions severally put thereupon, agreed to, by the House, nemine contradicente.
Resolved, that the speaker of this House do transmit to the speakers of the different Assemblies of the British colonies on this continent, copies of the said resolutions, and desire that they will lay them before their respective Assemblies; and request them to appoint some person or persons of their respective bodies, to communicate from time to time, with the said committee.
By the House of Burgesses of the Colony of Virginia.
Extracted from the journal.
C[lerk]. H. B.
Tuesday, the 24th of May,
14 Geo. III. 1774
Resolutions of the House of Burgesses
Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer.
Extracts from the Journal of the Proceeding of the House of Burgesses, of Virginia
This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next, to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.
Ordered, therefore, that the Members of this House do attend their Places at the Hour of ten in the Forenoon, on the said 1st Day of June next, in Order to proceed with the Speaker and the Mace to the Church in this City for the Purposes aforesaid; and that the Reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read Prayers, and the Reverend Mr. Gwatkin to preach a Sermon suitable to the Occasion.
Ordered, that this Order be forthwith printed and published.
By the HOUSE of BURGESSES.
GEORGE WYTHE, C. H. B.
AN ASSOCIATION, SIGNED BY 89 MEMBERS
OF THE LATE HOUSE OF BURGESSES.
[27 May, 1774]
WE his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the late representatives of the good people of this country, having been deprived by the sudden interposition of the executive part of this government from giving our countrymen the advice we wished to convey to them in a legislative capacity, find ourselves under the hard necessity of adopting this, the only method we have left, of pointing out to our countrymen such measures as in our opinion are best fitted to secure our dearest rights and liberty from destruction, by the heavy hand of power now lifted against North America: With much grief we find that our dutiful applications to Great Britain for security of our just, ancient, and constitutional rights, have been not only disregarded, but that a determined system is formed and pressed for reducing the inhabitants of British America to slavery, by subjecting them to the payment of taxes, imposed without the consent of the people or their representatives; and that in pursuit of this system, we find an act of the British parliament, lately passed, for stopping the harbour and commerce of the town of Boston, in our sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, until the people there submit to the payment of such unconstitutional taxes, and which act most violently and arbitrarily deprives them of their property, in wharfs erected by private persons, at their own great and proper expence, which act is, in our opinion, a most dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North America. It is further our opinion, that as TEA, on its importation into America, is charged with a duty, imposed by parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue, without the consent of the people, it ought not to be used by any person who wishes well to the constitutional rights and liberty of British America. And whereas the India company have ungenerously attempted the ruin of America, by sending many ships loaded with tea into the colonies, thereby intending to fix a precedent in favour of arbitrary taxation, we deem it highly proper and do accordingly recommend it strongly to our countrymen, not to purchase or use any kind of East India commodity whatsoever, except saltpetre and spices, until the grievances of America are redressed. We are further clearly of opinion, that an attack, made on one of our sister colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack made on all British America, and threatens ruin to the rights of all, unless the united wisdom of the whole be applied. And for this purpose it is recommended to the committee of correspondence, that they communicate, with their several corresponding committees, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the several colonies of British America, to meet in general congress, at such place annually as shall be thought most convenient; there to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may from time to time require. A tender regard for the interest of our fellow subjects, the merchants, and manufacturers of Great Britain, prevents us from going further at this time; most earnestly hoping, that the unconstitutional principle of taxing the colonies without their consent will not be persisted in, thereby to compel us against our will, to avoid all commercial intercourse with Britain. Wishing them and our people free and happy, we are their affectionate friends, the late representatives of Virginia.
The 27th day of May, 1774
Peyton Randolph, Ro. C. Nicholas, Richard Bland, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, Archibald Cary, Benjamin Harrison, George Washington, William Harwood, Robert Wormeley Carter, Robert Munford, Thomas Jefferson, John West, Mann Page, junior, John Syme, Peter Le Grand, Joseph Hutchings, Francis Peyton, Richard Adams, B. Dandridge, Henry Pendleton, Patrick Henry, junior, Richard Mitchell, James Holt, Charles Carter, James Scott, Burwell Bassett, Henry Lee, John Burton, Thomas Whiting, Peter Poythress, John Winn, James Wood, William Cabell, David Mason, Joseph Cabell, John Bowyer, Charles Linch, William Aylett, Isaac Zane, Francis Slaughter, William Langhorne, Henry Taylor, James Montague, William Fleming, Rodham Kenner, William Acril, Charles Carter, of Stafford, John Woodson, Nathaniel Terry, Richard Lee, Henry Field, Matthew Marable, Thomas Pettus, Robert Rutherford, Samuel M'Dowell, John Bowdoin, James Edmondson, Southy Simpson, John Walker, Hugh Innes, Henry Bell, Nicholas Faulcon, junior, James Taylor, junior, Lewis Burwell, of Gloucester, W. Roane, Joseph Nevil, Richard Hardy, Edwin Gray. H. King, Samuel Du Val, John Hite, junior, John Banister, Worlich Westwood, John Donelson, Thomas Newton, junior, P. Carrington, James Speed, James Henry, Champion Travis, Isaac Coles, Edmund Berkeley, Charles May, Thomas Johnson, Benjamin Watkins, Francis Lightfoot Lee, John Talbot, Thomas Nelson, junior, Lewis Burwell.
We the subscribers, clergymen and other inhabitants of the colony and dominion of Virginia, having maturely considered the contents of the above association, do most cordially approve and accede thereto.
William Harrison, William Hubard, Benjamin Blagrove, William Bland, H. J. Burges, Samuel Smith M'Croskey, Joseph Davenport, Thomas Price, David Griffith, William Leigh, Robert Andrews, Samuel Klug, Ichabod Camp, William Clayton, Richard Cary, Thomas Adams, Hinde Russell, William Holt, Arthur Dickenson, Thomas Stuart, James Innes.
To the Counties of Virginia,
Concerning non-Importation and a General Convention.
30th May, 1774
At a Meeting of 25 of the late Representatives legally assembled by the Moderator, it was agreed
That Letters be wrote to all our Sister Colonies, acknowledging the Receipt of the Letters and Resolves from Boston &c. informing them, that before the same came to hand, the Virginia Assembly had been unexpectedly dissolved, and most of the Members returned to their respective Counties.
That it is the Opinion of all the late House of Burgesses who could be convened on the present Occasion, that the Colony of Virginia will concur with the other Colonies in such Measures as shall be judged most effectual for the Preservation of the Common Rights and Liberty of British America that they are of Opinion particularly that an Association against Importation will probably be entered into, as soon as the late Representatives can be collected, and perhaps against Exportations also after a certain Time. But that this must not be considered as an Engagement on the part of this Colony, which it would be presumption in us to enter into, and that we are sending Dispatches to call together the late Representatives to meet at Williamsburg on the first Day of August next to conclude finally on these important Questions.
Peyton Randolph, Moderator.
Ro. C. Nicholas
Mann Page Junr.
Charles Carter Senr.
R Wormeley Carter
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Thos Nelson jr.
Edmd Berkeley Jno.
Donelson P. Carrington
Lewis Burwell (Gloster)