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Patrick Henry's Resolutions Against the Stamp Act
May 29-30, 1765

Although celebrated for his "Liberty or Death" speech at St. John's Church in Richmond on March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry probably regarded his Stamp Act Resolutions as a greater contribution to American independence. In the Parson's Cause of 1763, Henry's address to the jury had foreshadowed his emergence as a popular defender of the rights of colonial Americans. Two years later, by his vigorous opposition to the Stamp Act, Henry had extended his influence beyond Virginia as a powerful voice against Britain's attempt to impose taxation on the American colonies. Attacking the Stamp Act in the heated debates of the House of Burgesses in 1765, Henry hurled defiance at Parliament. Timid souls blanched as he compared George III to Julius Caesar and Charles I, but Henry responded that the king might "profit by their example."

Patrick Henry had written seven resolutions, each more radical than the next. He introduced five resolutions during the debate in the House of Burgesses. The fifth was adopted by a margin of only one vote. The next day, under pressure from governor and the Council, the House rescinded Henry's fifth resolution and had it erased from the official journal. Virginia's royal governor, Francis Fauquier, even prevented the publication of the four resolutions in the Virginia Gazette. Despite the attempt to suppress news of the legislature's denunciation of the Stamp Act, within a few weeks versions of all seven of Henry's resolutions were published in other colonies. As printed in Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other colonies, Henry's resolves articulated the principles of American rejection of Parliamentary authority. As a result, Henry's contemporaries in recognized him as "the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution." The importance that Henry attached to his Stamp Act Resolutions is evident from the message he left for posterity along with his last will and testament: "The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and . . . the great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies," Henry wrote. "This brought on the war which finally separated the two countries and gave independence to ours."

One: Patrick Henry's Resolutions Against the Stamp Act
From the Journals of the House of Burgesses

Resolved, That the first Adventurers and Settlers of this his Majesties 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, Priviledges, 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 the First, the Colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all the Liberties, Priviledges, and Immunities of Denizens and natural Subjects, 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 Mode 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 Characteristick of British Freedom, without which the ancient Constitution cannot exist.

Resolved, That his Majesty's liege People of this most ancient and loyal Colony have without interruption enjoyed the inestimable Right of being governed by such Laws, respecting their internal Polity and Taxation, as are derived from their own Consent, with the Approbation of their Sovereign, or his Substitute; and that the same hath never been forfeited or yielded up, but hath been constantly recognized by the Kings and People of Great Britain.

Two: Patrick Henry's Resolutions Against the Stamp Act
Printed in the Newport Mercury (Rhode Island), June 24, 1765 and reprinted in Boston and New York newspapers.

Resolved, That the first Adventurers, Settlers of this 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 Priviledges 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 the First, the Colonists aforesaid are declared and intitled to all the Priviledges and Immunities of natural born Subjects, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the Realm of England.

Resolved, That his Majesty's liege People of this his antient Colony have enjoy'd the Right of being thus govern'd, by their own Assembly, in the Article of Taxes and internal Police; and that the same have never been forfeited, or any other Way given up, but have been constantly recogniz'd by the King and People of Britain.

Resolved, therefore, That the General Assembly of this Colony, together with his Majesty or his Substitutes, have, in their Representative Capacity, the only exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Imposts upon the Inhabitants of this Colony: And that every Attempt to vest such Power in any other Person or Persons whatever, than the General Assembly aforesaid, is illegal, unconstitutional and unjust, and have a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Liberty.

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 this his Majesty's Colony.

Three: Patrick Henry's Resolutions Against the Stamp Act
Printed in the Maryland Gazette, July 4, 1765

That the first Adventurers and Settlers of this 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, Priviledges, Franchises, and Immunities, that have at any Time been held, enjoyed, and possessed, by the People of Great Britain.

That by Two Royal Charters, granted by King James the First, the Colonies aforesaid are Declared Entitled, to all the Liberties, Priviledges 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.

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 upon the People, is the only Security against a Burthensome Taxation; and the Distinguishing Characteristic of British Freedom; and, without which, the antient Constitution cannot exist.

That his Majesty's liege People of this his most Ancient and Loyal Colony, have [enjoyed], without Interruption, the inestimable Right of being governed by such Laws respecting their internal Polity and Taxation, as are derived from their own consent, with the Approbation of the Sovereign, or his Substitute; which Right hath never been Forfeited, or Yielded up, but hath been constantly recognized by the Kings and People of Great Britain.

Resolved, therefore, That the General Assembly of this Colony, with the Consent of his Majesty, or his Substitute, HAVE the Sole Right and Authority to lay Taxes and Impositions upon It's Inhabitants: And, That every Attempt to vest such Authority in any other Person or Persons whatsoever, has a Manifest Tendency to Destroy AMERICAN FREEDOM.

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, with such Consent as aforesaid, have any Right or Authority to lay or impose any Tax whatever on the Inhabitants thereof, shall be Deemed, AN ENEMY TO THIS HIS MAJESTY'S COLONY.

Four: Patrick Henry's Resolutions Against the Stamp Act
From Henry's manuscript owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Inc.

Resolved, That the first Adventurers and Settlers of this his Majesties Colony and Dominion brought with them and transmitted to their Posterity and all other his Majesties Subjects since inhabiting in this his Majestie's said Colony all the Priviledges, Franchise 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 the first the Colonists aforesaid are declared intituled to all the Priviledges, Liberties and Immunities of Denizens and natural born 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 and the easiest Mode of raising them and are equally affected by such Taxes Themselves is the distinguishing Characteristick of British Freedom and without which the ancient Constitution cannot subsist.

Resolved, That his Majestie's liege People of this most ancient Colony have uninterruptedly enjoyed the Right of being thus governed by their own assembly in the Article of their Taxes and internal Police and that the same hath never been forfeited or any other Way given up but hath been constantly recognized by the Kings and People of Great Britain.

Resolved, Therefore that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and sole 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.

Patrick Henry's final thoughts about the Stamp Act
Written on the back of Henry's copy of the Stamp Act Resolutions was a message to posterity (as printed by William Wirt Henry from the manuscript then in his possession).

The within resolutions passed the House of Burgesses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the Stamp Act and the scheme of taxing America by the British Parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from influence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a Burgess a few days before, was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the House, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture, and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law-book, wrote the within. Upon offering them to the House violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest the resolutions passed by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the Ministerial party were overwhelmed. The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war which finally separated the two countries and gave independence to ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

- P. HENRY