Speech On The Stamp Act, House Of Burgesses Quotes

Patrick Henry

"If This Be Treason, Make The Most Of It"

Context: Leader of the frontier settlers in their class struggle against the reactionary aristocrats of Tidewater Virginia, Patrick Henry became famous as a lawyer and orator during the larger controversy over British-American relations preceding the Revolution. As a member of the House of Burgesses, he attacked the Stamp Act on the grounds that taxation of the people by their own representatives was the distinguishing mark of British liberty, and hence that the General Assembly of the Colony of Virginia had the sole prerogative to levy taxes. Of the speech Henry made in support of this position, Thomas Jefferson later wrote that it was "great indeed; such as I have never heard from any other man. He appeared to me to speak as Homer wrote." Tradition has preserved little of the speech except a single passage which William Wirt reports thus:

It was in the midst of this magnificent debate, while he was descanting on the tyranny of the obnoxious act, that he exclaimed in a voice of thunder, and with the look of a god:–"Caesar had his Brutus–Charles the First, his Cromwell, and George the Third"–("Treason," cried the speaker–"Treason, treason!" echoed from every part of the house. It was one of those trying moments which is decisive of character. Henry faltered not for an instant; but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis)–may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."