Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/44

This page has been validated.
Southern Historical Society Papers.

ability to do justice either to the occasion or the subject, fully aware that your partiality and a mistaken conception of my powers caused you to favor me—a mere layman in such matters—to undertake a task that has engaged the ablest minds of those learned in the law, schooled in politics and experienced in statesmanship. Of course, in a paper of this character, I shall be enabled only to touch upon these matters in a cursory and extemporaneous manner.

You are all familiar with the historic events that led up to the assumption of sovereign powers by the thirteen Colonies and caused them to throw off their allegiance to the Mother Country—the casus belli—the last straw that broke the back of the patient camel that had borne many heavy and unjust burdens, imposed by a tyrant King and an inconsiderate Parliament, was taxation without representation. This was the touchstone that consolidated opposition, this the spark that aroused the fires of resentment and kindled the flame of liberty that smouldered in every patriotic breast.

Our ancestors justly regarded the right of local self-government as an inalienable and self-evident right. They looked upon it as a fundamental or constitutional law. just as the principles of Magna Charta were regarded by their forefathers as the fundamental law of England. Our "struggle was for chartered rights, English liberties—for the cause of Algernon Sydney and John Hampden."

The thoughts, opinions, sentiments and determination of the people of Virginia were epitomized in those soul-stirring words uttered by Patrick Henry, almost within the sound of our voice, when, from the hallowed precincts of old St. John's on yonder hill, he exclaimed in impassioned and inspired eloquence. "Give me liberty or give me death." Virginia may be justly called the Cradle of Liberty and Patrick Henry its apotheosis.

It was in Virginia that was first heard the tocsin call that aroused and united the Colonies—"The cause of Boston is the cause of all." Bancroft, the historian, truthfully says, "Virginia rang the alarm bell for the continent." Recognizing the gravity of the situation Virginia was the first to suggest the Convention of all the Colonies that met in Philadelphia in September, 1774.