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1. James Otis was born at Barnstable, Massachusetts, February 5, 1724. He was graduated with honors at Harvard in 1743. He became a student of literature and law. The speech on the Writs of Assistance brought him into public notice, and he was soon after elected to the Colonial Assembly, to which position he was re-elected every year until nearly the close of his active life. In 1765 he represented Massachusetts in the Colonial Congress. In 1769 his public career came to a close. On account of a newspaper controversy, he was attacked in a darkened room in a public coffee-house by a dozen men, and wounded by a blow upon the head from which he never recovered. His health gave way and he was subject to frequent attacks of insanity. He was killed by lightning, May 23, 1783.
2. Otis' speech on the Writs of Assistance was delivered before the Superior Court of Massachusetts, in February, 1761. As the Seven Years' War, or “ The French and Indian War,” between England and France drew to a close, in 1761 and 1762, the British governnient determined to enforce anew the old commercial laws for the Colonies. These laws had always been obnoxious and had become almost obsolete. John Adams said of them : “ They had been procured from time to time for a century before by a combination of selfish intrigues between West India planters and North American royal governors. They never had been executed as revenue laws, and there never had been a time when they would have been, or could have been, obeyed as such.” The Colonies had developed a profitable trade with the West Indies during the relaxation of these laws. In order to break up this trade and other trade in violation of the old Navigation Acts, the British government sent out an order in council directing the issue of Writs of Assistance, which writs would authorize custom-house officers to enter any man's house on suspicion of the concealment of smuggled goods. The legality of the writs was questioned and the court consented to hear argument. Otis was the colonial Advocate-General, an officer of the crown, whose place it was to defend the writs. But, as he believed them illegal and tyrannical, he refused to make an argument for that side of the case, resigned his lucrative office, and appeared for the people against the Writs.
For our account of this speech and the fragment here presented we are indebted to John Adams, who, while a young man of twenty-four, heard Otis before the court. The full speech was a legal argument of five hours' length, profound in its legal learning, fearless in its assertion of Colonial rights, and so fervid in its eloquence that the orator appeared to the young Adams as a flame of fire.”
“ Then and there,” says Adams, was the first scene in the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.”
It was chiefly on this speech that the fame of Otis rested. This brought him into prominence, and in the same year he was elected to the Colonial Legislature. In 1762 he published his Vindication of Massachusetts Bay, and in 1765 his Vindication of the British Colonies; also, in the latter year, his Consideration on Behalf of the Colonists. These are his principal works and John Adams said that they contained the complete apology for the American Revolution,
3. In the closing parts of John Adams' summary of Otis' speech he says: “He then examined the acts of trade, one by one and demonstrated, -that if they were considered as revenue laws, they destroyed all our security of property, liberty, and life, every right of nature, and the English constitution, and the charter of the province. Here he considered the distinction between 'external and internal taxes,' at that time a popular and commonplace distinction. But he asserted that there was no such distinction in theory, or upon any principle but' necessity.' The necessity that the commerce of the empire should be under one direction, was obvious. The Americans had been so sensible of this necessity, that they had connived at the distinction between external and internal taxes, and had submitted to the acts of trade as regulations of commerce, but never as taxations or revenue laws. Nor had the British government, till now, ever dared to attempt to enforce them as taxations or revenue laws. They had lain dormant in that character for a century almost. The Navigation Act he allowed to be binding upon us, because we had consented to it by our own legislature. Here he gave a history of the Navigation Act of the first of Charles II., a plagiarism from Oliver Cromwell. This act had lain dormant for fifteen years. In 1675, after repeated letters and orders from the king, Governor Leverett very candidly informs his Majesty that the law had not been executed, because it was thought unconstitutional, Parliament not having authority over us.
1. John Adams' Letter to William Tudor, Niles Register, vol. 14, p. 139.
2. Tudor's Life of Otis.
3. Woodburn's Causes of the American Revolution, pp. 24, 25. “Johns Hopkins University Studies,” ioth Series,
4. Encyclopædia Britannica, Art. on “ Otis,"
1. Patrick Henry was born at Studley, Hanover County, Virginia, May 29, 1736. His education was received in a country school and under the tutorship of his father, who conducted a grammar school. He failed both as a planter and as a merchant, but in his days of store-keeping he was a great reader of history and a student of Butler's Analogy and the Bible. He studied law from three to nine months, and was admitted to the bar in 1760. In 1763 he won the celebrated case known as “The Parson's Cause.”* This brought him clients and popularity. In 1765 he was elected to the Burgesses, where he sounded the keynote of independence in his resolutions, one of which was that “ The General Assembly of this Colony has the sole right to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony." These resolutions are said to have been written on the fly-leaf of a law book, and it was during the debate upon them that occurred the dramatic incident which has long been familiar as one of the stories of the Revolution. In denouncing the Stamp Act while speaking on these resolutions, Henry exclaimed in thrilling tones : Cæsar had his Brutus ; Charles the First, his Cromwell ; and George the Third ['Treason !' shouted the Speaker ; ‘Treason !''Treason !'rose from all sides of the room] and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason make the most of it.”
In 1773 Henry became a member of the Committee of Cor. respondence “for the dissemination of intelligence between the colonies.” In 1774 he was a delegate to the Virginia Convention, and later in the same year to the First Continental Congress. On an early resolution in this Congress, “ That in determining questions each Colony shall have one vote,” we have another notable utterance of Henry's : “ Government is
* See chapter iv. Tyler's Life of Patrick Henry.
dissolved. Fleets and armies show that government is dissolved. Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of Colonies ? The distinctions between Virginians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian but an American. All America is thrown into one mass. This shows Henry's radical and revolutionary character, and it is interesting in comparison with his speech against the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. His objections to the Constitution, as is known, rested on the belief that instrument tended too much to nationalize and consolidate the States.
In 1775 Henry was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. From 1777 to 1780 he was Governor of Virginia ; from 1780 to 1784 he was in the Virginia Legislature, being again elected Governor of Virginia in 1784. In 1787 he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention but did not attend. In 1788 he was a member of the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution, which Henry strenuously opposed. In 1794 he retired from public life, declining in that year an appointment to the United States Senate. He declined successively, in 1795, the Secretaryship of State and the Chief-Justiceship under Washington ; in 1796, a re-election to the Governorship of Virginia, having already been elected five times to that office ; in 1797, the mission to France under President Adams. Jefferson insinuated that these appointments were offered to Henry to secure his allegiance to the Federal party.
He allowed himself again to be elected to the Legislature of Virginia in 1799, although he never lived to take his seat, in order to oppose the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of Jefferson and Madison. This would indicate a tendency to a change of political opinions since his speech against ratification in 1788. Henry died on June 6, 1799.
2. This speech was delivered in the Old Church at Richmond, Virginia, March 28, 1775. It has been called Patrick