Patrick Henry - Stamp Act

Stamp Act

In 1765 Henry was elected from Louisa County for the House of Burgesses, the legislative body of the Virginia colony, to fill a vacated seat in the assembly. When he arrived in Williamsburg, the legislature was already in session. Nine days after being sworn in, Henry introduced the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions, "in language so extreme that some Virginians said it smacked of treason".

The new representative waited for an opportunity when the more conservative members of the House were away. As 24% attendance was considered sufficient for a quorum, Henry succeeded, through much debate, in getting his proposal passed.

It was possibly the most anti-British American political action to that point, and some credit the Resolutions with being one of the main catalysts of the Revolution. The proposals were based on principles that were well-established British rights, such as the right to be taxed by one's own representatives. They asserted that the colonial assemblies had the exclusive right to impose taxes on the colonies and could not assign that right.

Many colonists considered his following words inflammatory: "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ....may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!" According to the biographer Richard Beeman, the legend of this speech grew more dramatic over the years. He thinks that Henry probably did not say, "If this be treason, make the most of it." The only account of the speech written down at the time by an eyewitness (which came to light many years later) records that Henry apologized after being accused of uttering treasonable words, and assured the House that he was loyal to the king. Henry's speech was radical enough to gain notice at the time and has achieved mythic status since, even if his exact words are unknown.

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