Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William Wirt to Thomas Jefferson, 24 July 1815

From William Wirt

Richmond. July 24. 1815.

Dear Sir.

Henry’s resolutions, as given by Judge Marshall, were copied from Prior Documents. Your conjecture that the 5th resolution was the 5th as offered by Mr Henry, or at all events that which produced “the bloody debate” derives great strength from the resolutions of Rhode Island of which I enclose you a copy. These were obviously copied with a few slight variations from the Resolutions of Virginia, and retain the 5th resolution which was expunged here. But how did this 5th resolution get to Rhode Island, having been expunged from our Journals?—probably by a letter from George Johnston, or some other patriot in our house. I think you are mistaken in supposing that George Johnston wrote the resolutions. Mr Edmund Randolph has left a history of Virginia in which he says that William Fleming wrote them. And Mr Henry, on the back of the resolutions left by him, of which I sent you a copy, expressly says that he wrote them himself on the blank leaf of an old law book, and shewed them only to George Johnston and William Fleming before they were offered to the house. Judge Tyler says on the parol statement of Mr Henry, that they were written by him on the blank leaf of an old Coke upon Littleton. Nor does it seem to me that the style of the resolutions is at all above Mr Henry, but, on the contrary, very much like him. There remain in the office of the clerk of the House of Delegates several of his original letters fully equal to the Resolutions in point of composition.—

It would form a very interesting back ground to the portrait of Henry in exhibiting his resolutions, to give a sketch of the distinguished members who opposed them. I have been attempting some, of whom I write by information, without the aid of any personal knowledge, save the little which I saw of Mr Pendleton and Mr Wythe after they were in ruins. Will you take the trouble to examine these sketches of character and to correct or to enlarge1 them where they require it.—You have not the journal of ’65—I send you a list of the members, and beg you to give me a sketch of any others who may strike you as deserving it. Landon Carter was a writer. I have seen his pamphlet in support of the Two Penny act, and thought it very well—I have been able to learn nothing more of him. Mr Thomas L. Lee is highly spoken of by Mr E. Randolph; but not as a public speaker. I would be obliged to you to mark off those of the members who were considered as composing the aristocracy of the day. and if you could add a statement of the differences between the classes of society and the lines of demarcation which seperated them, you would oblige me very much.

Will you give me leave to found myself on your statements in the following particulars—1st in regard to the project of the loan office and its defeat—2 In regard to Josiah Philips—and 3rdly as to the addresses from congress prepared by Henry & Lee, and superseded by those from Jay & Dickinson?—You may rely upon it that I shall make no use of your name, except so far as you may permit it.—

I do not perceive that Robert C. Nicholas was a member of the House in ’65—Edmund Randolph says that he came in, on the death of Peyton Randolph, and, in his place, as the delegate for Wms Burg. The interest which you take in every thing that relates to the history and character of Your country, saves me the necessity of those frequent apologies which I should otherwise feel myself bound to make to you for the2 trouble I give you.

It has just occurred to me that as you saw Mr Henry in 59–60 it will be in your power to give me a more distinct picture of his mind, information & manners at that period, than any other person who has described him to me—That was three years before his display in the parson’s cause—before he had studied the law and before his talent for public speaking is said to have been dreamed of—Will you be so good as to tell me how he struck you at that time.

your much obliged friend & servant

Wm Wirt

P.S. The manuscript Journal of ’65 is not to be found.—Philips was indicted, tried convicted & executed3 for Robbery. I have now the original indictment with the names of the witnesses before me and will send you a copy if you desire it.

RC (DLC); addressed: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 July 1815 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (MdHi: Wirt Papers); misdated 21 July 1815.

Patrick Henry’s Stamp Act resolutions were given in John Marshall, The Life of George Washington (Philadelphia, 1804–07; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 496; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends , 4 [no. 133]), vol. 2, backmatter, pp. 25–7, which copied them from A Collection of Interesting, Authentic Papers, relative to the Dispute between Great Britain and America (London, 1777), 6–7. The earlier work was often referred to by its running head, prior documents.

At his death in 1813, Edmund Randolph left a manuscript of his as yet unpublished history of virginia, which Wirt borrowed from the family while writing his biography of Henry (Randolph, History of Virginia, ed. Arthur H. Shaffer [1970]; Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry [Philadelphia, 1817; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 (no. 131)]). Wirt enclosed a copy of Henry’s resolutions in a 27 July 1814 letter to TJ. Henry reputedly wrote the resolutions on the blank leaf of a copy of Edward Coke, The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or A Commentary upon Littleton (4th ed., London, 1639, and other eds.; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1781).

TJ’s 5 Aug. 1815 reply shows that Wirt enclosed draft sketches of character, not found, of Henry’s contemporary burgesses. TJ had relayed anecdotes about the project of the loan office and its defeat and the addresses from congress in his Notes on Patrick Henry, printed above at 12 Apr. 1812. robert c. nicholas served regularly in the Virginia legislature from 1756 to 1778, except for the 1761–65 General Assembly (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ). peyton randolph died on 22 Oct. 1775 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ). Edmund Randolph did not serve as a delegate in the Fourth Virginia Convention, 1 Dec. 1775–20 Jan. 1776, but he did represent Williamsburg in the Fifth Convention, 6 May–5 July 1776 (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Wirt here canceled “frequency.”

3Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • A Collection of Interesting, Authentic Papers, relative to the Dispute between Great Britain and America search
  • attainder; of J. Philips search
  • Carter, Landon; supports Two-Penny Act search
  • Coke, Sir Edward; The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or a Commentary upon Littleton search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; and P. Henry search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; speeches given in search
  • Dickinson, John; and Continental Congress search
  • Fleming, William; and Stamp Act resolutions search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); and bill of attainder against J. Philips search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); and Stamp Act Resolves search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); as delegate to Continental Congress search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); as legislator search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); TJ’s recollections of search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); W. Wirt’s book on search
  • Jay, John; and Continental Congress search
  • Johnston, George; and Stamp Act resolutions search
  • Lee, Richard Henry; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Lee, Thomas Ludwell; biography of proposed search
  • Life of George Washington (J. Marshall); accuracy of search
  • Marshall, John; Life of George Washington search
  • Nicholas, Robert Carter (1729–80); as Va. legislator search
  • Pendleton, Edmund (1721–1803); biography of proposed search
  • Philips, Josiah; bill of attainder against search
  • Randolph, Edmund; as Va. legislator search
  • Randolph, Edmund; manuscript on Va. history by search
  • Randolph, Peyton (ca.1723–75); as Va. legislator search
  • Randolph, Peyton (ca.1723–75); death of search
  • Rhode Island; Stamp Act resolutions of search
  • Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt); and E. Randolph’s manuscript on Va. history search
  • Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt); TJ provides information for search
  • Stamp Act (1765); resolutions opposing search
  • Stamp Act Crisis; authorship of the Virginia Resolves search
  • Stamp Act Crisis; Rhode Island Resolves search
  • The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or a Commentary upon Littleton (E. Coke) search
  • Two-Penny Act (1758) search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); and P. Henry search
  • Virginia; and Stamp Act (1765) search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; House of Burgesses search
  • Virginia; House of Burgesses, journals of search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Wirt, William; and American biographies search
  • Wirt, William; and TJ’s recollections of P. Henry search
  • Wirt, William; letters from search
  • Wirt, William; Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry search
  • Wythe, George; biography of proposed search