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Proclamation of Governor Patrick Henry

Calendar of State Papers, Vol. III, pp. 34-36.

1785, June 10th; Washington County

Removing the suspension of the operation of the Act of Assembly “for disciplining and regulating the militia and guarding against invasion and insurrection,” so far as applies to Washington County and the Inhabitants thereof:

To the Freemen of Washington County:

Your Deputies after mature Consideration, have agreed to address you on a subject of your Public affairs, well knowing that there is only wanting an exact and Candid examination into the facts to know whether You have been well served or abused by Your representatives, whither Government has been wisely administered, and wither your rights and Liberties are secure. As members of Civil Society, you will acknowledge that there are duties of importance and lasting obligations which must take place before individual conveniences or private interest, but it must be granted that in free. Communities the Laws are only obligatory when made consonant to the Constitution or original Compact; for it is the only means of the surrender then made, the power therein given, that the Right ariseth to Legislate at all. Hence it is evident that the power of Legislators is in nature of trust to form regulations for the Good of the whole, agreeable to the powers delegated and the Deposite put into the General Stock, and the end proposed is to obtain the greatest Degree of happiness and safety, not for the few, but for the many. To attain these ends, and these only, men are induced to give up a portion of their natural Liberty and property when they- Enter into Society. From this it is plain rulers may exceed their Trust, may invade the remaining portion of natural liberty and property, which would be an usurpation, a breach of a solemn obligation, and ultimately a conspiracy against the majesty of the People, the only treason that can be committed in a commonwealth. A much admired Writer on the side of Liberty, begins his work with the following remark able sentence, which we Transcribe for Your information, and intreate you to read and Ponder it well: ” In every Human Society there is an effort continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and Happiness, and reduce the other to Extreme of weakness and misery. The intent of good laws is to oppose these Efforts, and to defuse their influence universally and equally. But men generally abandon the care of their most important concerns to the uncertain Prudence and Discretion of those whose Interest it is to reject the best and wisest instructions, and it is not till they have been led into a thousand mistakes in matters the most essential to their Lives and Liberties, and are weary of Suffering, that they can be induced to apply a remedy to the evils with which they are oppressed. It is then they begin to conceive and acknowledge the most Palpable Truths, which, from their very Simplicity, commonly escape. Vulgar minds, Incapable of analyzing objects, accustomed to receive impressions without Discretion, and to be determined rather others than by the result of their own Examination.” A few plain Questions you may Honestly put to your selves, ‘irernent, or when your heads are reclined on your pillows: For what end hath the Almighty wrought out such a wonderful revolution in the affairs of Men as that of the Independence of America? What part ought I to act through the remainder part of my life, so as to be most useful to Society? Whether it my head and heart so enlightened and in such a frame as to Attend to and receive Truths, whether it comes from a person I dislike or not? – Are not the duty we owe the Succeeding Generation equal to that I owe the present? Several mediums of Knowledge are open to all diligent inquirers. The productions of the Printing press, Literly Schools, and the meetings of – the people to Debate on public measures. -The Inhabitance of this County have as hitherto been peculiarly circumstanced. They became possessors of a Wilderness at a perilous Era; the Greatest part. of their time since have been necessarily employed merely to provide subsistence, Coarse clothing and cheap Dwellings, to defend their families from the Inclemency of the weather; no time or money to spare to build Elegant and Convenient houses, to erect suitable places for public Worship, to found Seminaries for Classical Learning, to promote the Education of Youth, that most indispensable of all obligations to Children. It’s also a prior duty to any you owe the Estate to provide food and raiment for Your families. Plain, fair and coarse clothing you might be content with if it was necessary to part with all superfluities to answer the real Exigencies of the State; and did you See your fellows in more favourable Situation pursuing the same course, and also could you be persuaded that a Judicious Economy pervades all the – disbursements of all the public money, then, and not till then, ought you freely to part with the produce of Your Industry at the call of rulers. It may be alleged by your enemies that you do not mean to contribute anything to alleviate the burthens of the nation and support government. This charge will vanish on a fair enquiry into the various schemes of Finance and the Present State of the Public funds.

The following Estimate of Taxes, and what has operated as Taxes in the Western country, will prove that you have contributed something–probably your full share.

Treasury and preemption warrants £ 16,000,000
Taxes collected in the years 1778, 1779-’80, 1782 180,000
Bills lost, sunk or funded, Paper money 5,000,000
Cash paid Commissioners in hard money reduced 10,000
Composition money sent with the plots 70,000
One-sixth of the Surveyor’s fees 5,000
Registers’ fees prior to 1784 £ 30,000
Registers’ fees prior to 1784 3,000
Registers’ fees prior to 1785 10,000
Additional Tax of 5s. pr. 100 on Land 25,000
Duty on salt will cost the Western consumption 6s. pr. bushel 1,500
Duties on imports on foreigi goods and enumerated articles 2,500
Loyal Company’s claim in W. & M. Countys 8,000
Taxes on _____, &c., may produce annually 2,000
Assessment subsequent to 1781, an enormous sum, that is impracticable, if not unjust, to collect 172,000


Should the Legislature abolish assessment, and the above not be sufficient, you might endure Taxing a few Luxurous Articles and Some vices, that would increase the sum and make it Equal to your just proportion of Expenditures.

If your Eastern neighbours were generous they would make some allowance for the great losses sustained by the Depredations of the Indians, and for the many valuable lives lost to Keep them safe. The appropriation of your public money ought also to be a subject of serious enquiry. For, if at any time, should it be applied to the purposes Vainality and Corruption, you would then be feeeding your destroyers, and enable them to make further invasions on your remaining rights and liberties, untill you would have nothing left worth Contending for, and you and your posterity would be obliged to stoop to an abject Vaassallge.

All is not lost yet. Therefore beware in future of the Objection of either weak or interested Men, who would persuade you to a passive conduct under all the Measures of Government. Your rulers, as well as those of other nations, are only falable men. When they act well, honour and applaud; when wickedly, impeach and punish them. Disregard their impotent threats and ridiculous falacies, and let them know that the Little selfish cry of an Individual is not tobe heard when the loud sounds of the people’s are publishing their wrongs.

Signed by order.


A copy.

This document is thus, endorsed by the Governor.

Memo.–James Montgomery put this paper into my hands and can prove its authenticity, and that Arthur Campbell personally explained, enforced, and inculcated its Contents on the people, parti’arly the state of Taxes p’d by that County.

P. H.