Author: Jon Kukla

former director of historical research and publishing at the Library of Virginia, curator of collections and director of the Historic New Orleans Collection, and director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation. He is the author of A Wilderness So Immense (2003) and Mr. Jefferson's Women (2007), among other titles. His biography of Patrick Henry is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster

Two Penny Acts (1755, 1758)

The General Assembly adopted the Two Penny Acts of 1755 and 1758 as temporary relief measures in response to the failure of the Virginia colony‘s tobacco crops. Tobacco was Virginia’s principal export, but it also backed the colony’s currency, and these crop failures threatened Virginia’s system of taxation for support of local and provincial government, including the parishes and clergy of the Church of England. The Two Penny Acts allowed vestries and county courts to collect taxes and pay salaries in money calculated at the usual market price for tobacco rather than in tobacco at windfall rates. Although it reduced their annual salaries, relatively few Virginia clergymen objected to the 1755 act, which expired after ten months. They were less amenable to the second act, however. Reverend Jacob Rowe spoke so vehemently against it that he was forced to apologize to the House of Burgesses. Reverend John Camm, meanwhile, took the protest to London and succeeded in having the act revoked, which set up a conflict between Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier and the power of the Crown. When clergymen sued for their back wages, the controversy known as the Parsons’ Cause erupted and became a precedent for resistance to English authority.


Patrick Henry (1736–1799)

Patrick Henry was a lawyer, orator, and statesman whose career spanned the founding of the United States. An early critic of British authority and leader in the movement toward independence, Henry dedicated most of his life to Virginia politics. He served as a member of the House of Burgesses (1765–1774), as the first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia (1776–1779), as a member of the House of Delegates (1779–1784; 1788–1791), and again as governor (1784–1786). He was a founding member of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence (1773) and a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses (1774–1776). He also attended the Virginia Conventions of 1774, March 1775, July–August 1775, May 1776, and 1788. He is best remembered, however, for the speech he delivered during the Virginia Convention of 1775 that famously ended with the words, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Henry’s Virginia contemporaries recognized him as “the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution.” Henry retired from public life in 1791 and declined invitations to serve on the Supreme Court, as secretary of state, and as a vice presidential candidate. Only a request from George Washington, made during the divisive conflict over the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, brought him back into the public arena. Henry won election to the General Assembly in the spring of 1799, but died before the House of Delegates convened that autumn.