Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The King and his Province

It was in 1760 when Patrick Henry got permission to be a lawyer. At that time Virginia, like most of the other colonies in America, was still a province belonging to England.

The king of England sent over a governor to rule in his stead. The governor chose a few men to advise him about the affairs of the province, and when they met together they were called the council.

The people elected delegates, called burgesses, who met every year in Williamsburg with the council. And when the burgesses and the council agreed on any measure for the public good, it became the law of the land.

Sometimes the king himself made laws for his provinces, without asking the consent of anybody. This did not please the people very well. Yet they had always been loyal to their king, whatever he did.

It was said that Virginia was the most loyal of all the colonies. But when young George the Third came to the throne, the Virginians had hardly stopped shouting over his coronation before they saw that he would make them a great deal of trouble.

The first complaint was about the salaries of the clergymen. Because there was so little coin in the country, the people paid their debts in paper money, or in tobacco.

The clergy had always been paid in tobacco; but one year, when the tobacco crop was poor, the law was passed that clergymen should be paid in paper money instead of tobacco. This made their salaries much smaller than ever before.

Now, some of the clergy in Virginia were noble men, and did a great deal of good, and among them was Patrick Henry's own uncle. But there were many who were not worthy of the name of clergymen.

They lived in fine houses. They went hunting with their hounds across country. They loved horse-racing, dice-playing, and wine. They courted the rich, and neglected the poor.

You can guess that such kind of men would not like to have their salaries made any less. They sent a petition to the king against it.

The king declared the law void; and then the clergymen went into court and sued the tax-collectors for the full amount of their pay.

Very few lawyers were willing to oppose the clergymen. The king was on their side, and the governor favored them, too.

But when some of the planters in Hanover County asked young Patrick Henry to take a case against the clergymen, he said he would do the best that he could.