Sunday, August 9, 2009

If this be treason, make the most of it!

Sunny - Hi 112 Lo 87 for Baghdad, Iraq
Sunny - Hi 110 Lo 75 for Qandahar, Afghanistan
Sunny - Hi 91 Lo 72 for Northern KY, USA

Song of the week: Ain't That A Shame, Cheap Trick

Too Funny... One of my first albums I ever purchased was Cheap Trick at Budokan. Rick Nielsen- lead guitar, Robin Zander- vocals and rhythm, Tom Petersson- bass and Mister Bun E. Carlos on the drums! I always had a crush on Tom... Dream Police album cover--- oh yeah. I was convinced at one point that Bun E. Carlos was actually Mr. Cassidy, my sixth grade math teacher. Watch the video and then look at the picture below and tell me they aren't one in the same... Why did I select this song to go with today's ramble? It has to do with the connection to tobacco... Bun E. always had a butt hanging out of his mouth...


This is long-- but this is really compelling history... and I think you will find the similarities to our struggles today... uncanny.

The painting that is now the front page of Sunday Morning Coffee is titled, Patrick Henry Arguing the Parson's Cause at the Hanover County Courthouse by George Cooke, 1834.

“Tobacco was the issue in the Parson’s Cause, which no doubt accounted for the historian’s remarks that ‘a true history of tobacco would be the history of English and American Liberty’. It was the high value of tobacco that first brought settlers to Virginia. Columbus first made mention of the weed in his diary of November 20, 1492. Some years after that, the cultivation of tobacco was commenced in Spain, and by 1525 the Spaniards were operating tobacco plantations in Mexico and the West Indies. From Spain, tobacco was shipped to England and became the cause of much controversy. Tobacco was later carried into France by a Portuguese ambassador, Jean Nicot, whence derives the word nicotine. Tobacco cultivation was first started by the English settlers in Virginia in 1612. Its increase was rapid, and by the year 1619, 20,000 pounds were shipped to England. Thirty years later the cultivation of tobacco increased to fifty million pounds. Tobacco in gold-leaf became the standard of value, as the colonies had not yet been permitted to coin money. Tobacco became accepted as legal tender. Tobacco was money. In 1621, 120 pounds of best leaf tobacco was ordered as payment for a maiden brought to Virginia to become the wife of a bachelor of the colony. In 1620, every planter and tradesman sixteen years and older was ordered to pay ten pounds of tobacco and one bushel of corn to the Rev. Francis Bolton for his services, the first rector from the Church of England on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The enforcement of navigation laws was the cause of widespread distress and discontent, however the colonists remained loyal to the old country. The first navigation act was passed in 1651. It forbade the bringing of goods into England except in English ships or in ships built by the owners of the goods. To the American colonists this meant they could only trade with England and could only use English ships. In 1664 the tobacco crop of Virginia was worth less than three pounds and fifteen shillings to each person. In 1667 the price of tobacco fell to one halfpenny per pound. In 1696, the salaries of the clergy of the Established Church were fixed by statute of 16,000 pounds of tobacco annually to be levied to the vestries on the parishes. In 1755 a long drought made a shortage in the tobacco crop. The House of Burgesses, observing that it would be impossible for planters to pay their debts, passed an act which for ten months made it lawful for debtors to pay all tobacco debts in money, at the rate of sixteen shillings and eight pence for every hundred pounds of tobacco. Because of the two pence per pound rate, the act became known as the ‘two penny act’. In 1758, bad weather again cut the production of tobacco, which caused the Assembly to pass an act similar to that of 1755 to be continued in force for one year. The Governor had given his nod, but without permission from the King. The Burgesses had asked permission of his Majesty to act on their own initiative in certain emergencies, but their requests were disallowed.

The clergy of the Anglican (Episcopal) Church, whose salaries had been paid in tobacco fumed over the new act. The clergy held a convention, petitions were signed and sent to the Bishop of London. Rev. John Camm led the attack on the Virginia Assembly for its actions and was elected to go to London with a petition and have the act vetoed. He succeeded. Shortly after, several clergymen brought suit in the country courts to recover the difference due them in the value of tobacco."

By the time Patrick Henry was twenty he had been a storekeeper and a farmer. Thomas Jefferson met Patrick Henry and wrote the following, "My acquaintance with Mr. Henry commenced in the winter of 1759-1760. On my way to the college I passed the Christmas holidays at Colonel Dandridge's to whom Mr. Henry was a near neighbor. During the festivity of the season I met him in society every day, and we became well acquainted, although I was much his junior, being then in my seventeenth year and he a married man. His manners had something of coarseness in them; his passion was music, dancing, and pleasantry. He excelled in the last, and it attracted every one to him."

At seventeen, Thomas Jefferson recognized the natural gift Patrick Henry had. At the age of twenty-three, Patrick Henry decided he would practice law. Different accounts of history show Henry to be a failure at owning a shop and being a farmer, but there was also a drought and he extended credit to folks in his community that were less fortunate which subsequently ended his days in business. Yes... global warming... err uh...climate change and bad business decisions even in the eighteenth century. Where was Henry's bailout? So, Patrick Henry studied law and quickly became a lawyer. It is well documented that he was a good attorney. He had a ledger filled with clients and his fee was fair.

On December 1, 1763 the case of Maury (clergy) against Johnson (collector) took place. Mr. Henry represented the defense. The trial drew an enormous crowd, the room was packed, people were peering in all the windows and doors (That's what happens when you don't have cable tv). The plaintiff and King's attorney, Peter Lyons, argued the clergy only received a third of the amount owed them based on market price of tobacco. It was then time for Patrick Henry to stand and provide an argument for the defense.

"Initially, he appeared awkward and his words came slowly. Finally, the words came to him and he became lofty and challenging and his faced lighted up. In 'a voice and emphasis peculiarly charming' he discussed the mutual relationship and the reciprocal duties of the King and his subjects, declaring that government was an arbitrary agreement composed of mutual and dependent covenants, whereby the King is sworn to protect and the people to support and obey. He reminded the jury that in Colonial Virginia, the Burgesses was House of Commons; the Council the House of Lords; the Governor the King. That the King had given province of Virginia the right to make its own laws of taxation, therefore the Act of 1758, which provided for the necessities of the people, having the approval of the Burgesses, the Council and the Governor, was a good law- a valid law; and if disallowed by the King, it proved misrule and neglect, and even a King had no right to declare void a law made by the people...In so doing, he was no longer worthy to rule them.

Patrick Henry cried, "When a King degenerates into a tyrant, he forfeits all right to obedience!"

Immediately the King's attorney accused Patrick Henry. "Treason! Treason!" But my guy, Patrick kept on going. He discussed all the struggles incurred by the hardworking people...drought ruined not only tobacco crops, but grain as well and this was compounded by high taxation caused by the French War. The average citizen could only afford bare necessities. Henry discussed the purpose of the Established Church and clergy in society was to enforce obedience to civil sanctions and the observance of those duties of imperfect obligations; that when a clergy cease to answer these ends, the Community have no further need of the ministry and may justly strip them of the appointments.

Henry said, "We have heard a great deal about the benevolence and holy zeal of our reverend clergy, but how is this manifested? Do they manifest their zeal in the cause of religion and humanity by practicing the mild and benevolent precepts of the Gospel of Jesus? Do they feed the hungry and clothe the naked? Oh no, gentlemen! Instead of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked these rapacious harpies would were their powers equal to the will, snatch from the hearth of their honest parishioner his last hoe-cake, from the widow and her orphan children their last milch cow! the last bed, nay, the last blanket from lying-in woman!"

The room was captivated...he spoke for another hour. He told the jury that they must find for the plaintiff, since it was the ruling of the court, but only one farthing... one farthing would be sufficient. In less than five minutes the jury returned with a verdict siding with the plaintiff and awarded one penny.

Patrick Henry was the first to denounce tyranny of church and state. There would be others...the spark of revolution had been struck and the desire for liberty and freedom had been established.

A decade later Patrick Henry would say these very famous words,

"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace! The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

Patrick Henry is one of my heroes. I hope you heard the passion and conviction of this Founding Father. He was only 27 when he argued the Parson's Cause. He was 39 when he gave his Liberty or Death speech.

There is a new tyranny and a new religion... it is one that takes from you and imposes their beliefs on you. I ask you, who will be our Patrick Henry?

Excerpts from the book, Patrick Henry: Patriot and Statesman by Norine Dickson Campbell, 1969 Emphasis added.

Learn more about Patrick Henry's Parsons' Cause Speech here, here and here.

Have a great week everyone!


  1. Wow, that was amazing... For some reason, whenever I read something historical, I get super excited, as if I was the first to discover the information - especially if that something is as interesting as this.

    Great blog, btw! I'm adding you to my blog roll, if you don't mind!

  2. Who will be our Patrick Henry indeed! Wonderful post.