Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The License to Practice Law

It was just about Christmas time that Patrick failed in business.

There was great merry-making in the neighborhood; and on Christmas eve, the young people were all invited to a party at the house of Colonel Dandridge, a rich planter living near the Henrys. Thomas Jefferson was one of the guests.

He was a fine lad, sixteen years old, and was on his way to attend William and Mary College at Williamsburg.

When Jefferson was introduced to Patrick Henry, he thought him a very rough-looking fellow; but he soon found that he was the best fiddler, the best story-teller, and the jolliest joker in the company.

When he heard about his misfortunes and saw the lonely little shop with its window boarded up and its door closed, he said to himself, "It is too bad that such a merry soul is so idle and shiftless!" He never expected to see the poor merchant again.

A few months later, as Jefferson was sitting in his room in Williamsburg, he heard a knock at the door. Imagine his surprise when, upon opening it, he saw Patrick Henry, of Hanover County.

There he stood, dressed in coarse homespun and covered with the dust of his journey. His hair hung in tangles about his ears. He looked so shabby that the rich young student thought he had come to beg.

When Patrick told him he had come to the city to pass an examination to be a lawyer, Jefferson smiled and thought he must be joking. But the deep-set blue eyes looked very serious under the shaggy brow.

"I am going to try to make a man of myself, Tom," he said, "and if I pass with the judges I shall let you know."

A few days later Patrick called again. He was much elated as he showed his license to practice law in the courts of Virginia.

"I blundered through the questions with two of the judges," he said. "They signed my paper just to get rid of me, I think. When I went to the third judge, he refused at first even to ask me anything. He thought me a greenhorn; I am sure of it by the way he looked at me. But I showed him that the others had signed for me, and then he began to put questions.

"Of course, he asked me a great deal that I knew nothing about. I was just thinking to myself that he would soon quit in disgust, when he made a statement that did not sound like good law. We argued the question a long time. I got quite hot over my side.

"At last Judge Randolph said, 'You defend your opinion well, sir; but now let us look up the law.' He opened one book and then another. His face flushed. After a moment of silence he exclaimed, 'Here are law books which you have never read; yet you are right and I am wrong! Mr. Henry, if your industry is only half equal to your genius, you will prove an ornament to your profession!' "

Jefferson himself expected to be examined some day for the law, and listened eagerly to all that Patrick said. And when he had finished, he gave him his hand, and told him he wished him success, and invited him for a walk through the city.

The two passed down the street together.

Now, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia. Here the governor lived and the House of Burgesses met to make the laws.

Just as the boys were admiring the governor's mansion, with its fine garden of roses, a great coach drawn by six milk-white horses drove out at the gate.

The governor sat inside the coach. He smiled, and waved his hand at young Thomas Jefferson, who doffed his three-cornered hat and bowed most gracefully.

Then many fair ladies smiled upon the rich and elegant college boy. No doubt, they wondered that he walked with such an awkward looking fellow; but Thomas Jefferson was pleased with the wit of his companion.

They walked through the park and then stopped at the famous Raleigh tavern, where Thomas told about the gay times the young folks had in the ball-room. "But nobody in Williamsburg plays the fiddle so well as you, Patrick," he said.

They visited the capitol, and went up the broad portico into the room where the burgesses met. And as they looked down from the lobby upon the empty seats below, Jefferson talked about the Virginia statesmen whom he had seen there at the last session.

He said that his favorite was Colonel George Washington, who had marched with Braddock against the Indians and had afterwards captured the French fort at the head of the Ohio.

It was all very interesting to Patrick. He wondered if he should ever meet the famous men who sat together on those benches and helped the king's officers make laws for the colony of Virginia. He was delighted with everything he saw, for he had never been in a town before.

At last he bade good bye to his courteous friend, and, mounting his horse, he rode away with his lawyer's license safe in the saddle bags beneath him.