Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1765–1787
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 1765–1787
 
Of the Return of the Refugees
By Patrick Henry (1736–1799)
 
[Speech in the Virginia Legislature. Quoted by Wirt.]

WE have, sir, an extensive country, without population—what can be a more obvious policy than that this country ought to be peopled?—people, sir, form the strength and constitute the wealth of a nation. I want to see our vast forests filled up by some process a little more speedy than the ordinary course of nature. I wish to see these States rapidly ascending to that rank which their natural advantages authorize them to hold among the nations of the earth. Cast your eyes, sir, over this extensive country—observe the salubrity of your climate; the variety and fertility of your soil—and see that soil intersected in every quarter by bold, navigable streams, flowing to the east and to the west, as if the finger of Heaven were marking out the course of your settlements, inviting you to enterprise, and pointing the way to wealth. Sir, you are destined, at some time or other, to become a great agricultural and commercial people; the only question is, whether you choose to reach this point by slow gradations, and at some distant period—lingering on through a long and sickly minority—subjected, meanwhile, to the machinations, insults, and oppressions of enemies foreign and domestic, without sufficient strength to resist and chastise them—or whether you choose rather to rush at once, as it were, to the full enjoyment of those high destinies, and be able to cope, single-handed, with the proudest oppressor of the old world. If you prefer the latter course, as I trust you do, encourage emigration—encourage the husbandmen, the mechanics, the merchants of the old world, to come and settle in this land of promise—make it the home of the skilful, the industrious, the fortunate and happy, as well as the asylum of the distressed—fill up the measure of your population as speedily as you can, by the means which Heaven hath placed in your power—and I venture to prophesy there are those now living who will see this favored land amongst the most powerful on earth—able, sir, to take care of herself, without resorting to that policy which is always so dangerous, though sometimes unavoidable, of calling in foreign aid. Yes, sir—they will see her great in arts and in arms—her golden harvests waving over fields of immeasurable extent—her commerce penetrating the most distant seas, and her cannon silencing the vain boasts of those who now proudly affect to rule the waves.
  1
  But, sir, you must have men—you cannot get along without them—those heavy forests of valuable timber, under which your lands are groaning, must be cleared away—those vast riches which cover the face of your soil, as well as those which lie hid in its bosom, are to be developed and gathered only by the skill and enterprise of men—your timber, sir, must be worked up into ships, to transport the productions of the soil from which it has been cleared—then, you must have commercial men and commercial capital, to take off your productions, and find the best markets for them abroad—your great want, sir, is the want of men; and these you must have, and will have speedily, if you are wise. Do you ask how you are to get them?—Open your doors, sir, and they will come in—the population of the old world is full to overflowing—that population is ground, too, by the oppressions of the governments under which they live. Sir, they are already standing on tiptoe upon their native shores, and looking to your coasts with a wishful and longing eye. They see here a land blessed with natural and political advantages which are not equalled by those of any other country upon earth—a land on which a gracious Providence hath emptied the horn of abundance—a land over which Peace hath now stretched forth her white wings, and where Content and Plenty lie down at every door! Sir, they see something still more attractive than all this—they see a land in which Liberty hath taken up her abode—that Liberty whom they had considered as a fabled goddess, existing only in the fancies of poets—they see her here a real divinity—her altars rising on every hand throughout these happy States—her glories chanted by three millions of tongues—and the whole region smiling under her blessed influence. Sir, let but this our celestial goddess, Liberty, stretch forth her fair hand toward the people of the old world—tell them to come, and bid them welcome—and you will see them pouring in from the north, from the south, from the east, and from the west; your wildernesses will be cleared and settled—your deserts will smile—your ranks will be filled—and you will soon be in a condition to defy the powers of any adversary.  2
  But gentlemen object to any accession from Great Britain—and particularly to the return of the British refugees. Sir, I feel no objection to the return of those deluded people; they have, to be sure, mistaken their own interests most wofully, and most wofully have they suffered the punishment due to their offences. But the relations which we bear to them and to their native country are now changed; their king hath acknowledged our independence—the quarrel is over—peace hath returned, and found us a free people. Let us have the magnanimity, sir, to lay aside our antipathies and prejudices, and consider the subject in a political light; those are an enterprising, moneyed people; they will be serviceable in taking off the surplus produce of our lands, and supplying us with necessaries, during the infant state of our manufactures. Even if they be inimical to us in point of feeling and principle, I can see no objection, in a political view, in making them tributary to our advantage. And as I have no prejudices to prevent my making this use of them, so, sir, I have no fear of any mischief that they can do us. Afraid of them!—what, sir, shall we, who have laid the proud British lion at our feet, now be afraid of his whelps?  3
 
 
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