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Saturday, May 28, 2011
Patrick Henry's two cents' worth
Although it is now unclear as to whether Patrick Henry actually said “Give me liberty or give me death” – it is quite clear that he regularly put his two cents in on many issues concerning freedom from authoritarianism.
One such issue was aptly named the Two Penny Act. This operatic-sounding title refers to an act that was passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1758.According to Wikipedia, this “one-year measure allowed Anglican ministers’ salaries to be paid at a fixed rate of two cents per pound of tobacco” at a time when tobacco’s value had well-nigh tripled that.(Yes, Virginia clergy were “paid” with tobacco back then.)
The Virginia colony had decided to do this because it would otherwise have been quite a burden to keep up
with rising clergy salaries.Clergy, on the other hand, were not at all happy with receiving only one-third of
the inflated tobacco market value.The dispute wound up reaching all the way back to King George III in
England via Rev. John Camm, an ardent Tory who was president of the College of William and Mary.
King George then vetoed the Two Penny Act - and Rev. James Maury seized the opportunity to sue “for back wages on behalf of all the ministers involved.”This greatly infuriated Patrick Henry and other Virginians.They felt that King George had no right to meddle with their legislative authority.The case ended up in the Hanover County Courthouse with Colonel John Henry (Patrick’s father) presiding – and with Patrick himself “defending Hanover County against Maury’s claims.”
Patrick Henry was relatively unknown at the time - but did such a brilliant job of defending the colonists’ rights that historians consider this Parson’s Cause case to be a precedent-setting forerunner of the American
And Rev. Maury?He didn’t even get his two cents’ worth.The jury ended up awarding him only one penny in “damages.”