That office he held, and the duties of it he discharged, with strict justice and impartiality to the end of his life. He was called early by his fellow citizens, to a seat in the house of burgesses; in which he continued by periodical re-elections till near the commencement of the American revolution. In the legislative hall he was associated with some of the first men and most ardent patriots of Virginia.
It will be sufficient to name Messrs. He was of a kindred spirit in politics with them; and he enjoyed, as he fully deserved, their confidence and esteem.
That system of oppressive measures, which the British ministry intended to pursue relative to the American colonies, of which the "Stamp act" was the leader, found a decided and resolute opposer in George "Wythe, in connection with his no less resolute and decided associate fellow patriots in Virginia. With them he continued a stedfast and uniform opposition in the legislature of Virginia, to the encroachments of the British parliament on the rights and liberty of the American colonists, until their perseverance brought forth the great crisis, when the people of the provinces, finding their oppression no longer to be endured, began to resort to arms in their own defence.
At that memorable juncture, Mr. Wythe joined a volunteer corps, and girded on his armor, prepared to meet in the field the hostile invaders of his country. In he was remanded to the duties of legislation, by his confiding countrymen, and was appointed a delegate to the general congress; of which he continued a member in the year following, when the great question of declaring the American colonies free and independent of the government of Great Britain, was introduced, and decided in the affirmative.
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This object, which had been contemplated by him, received his. After Virginia had formed a government for herself, it became necessary to adapt her code of laws to the new political condition in which she was now placed, as an independent state. A revision of the laws became necessary; and for this important purpose a committee was appointed; one of which was Mr. His acting colleagues were Jefferson and Pendleton.
At that time, when the country demanded the active employment of all the best talents it contained, Mr. Wythe was kept constantly employed in some public business of importance. In , he was chosen speaker of the house of burgesses; and the same year, he was elevated to a high judiciary station, one of the three judges of the high court of chancery And when that court was organized anew, he was constituted sole judge. In that character he occupied the bench more than twenty years, with the full approbation of the community.
While in that station he was called to give the first decision on the great question, whether debts contracted by persons in the United States, to men in Great Britain, previously to the revolution, were recoverable at law.
Popular feeling was strong against it; and the excitement was extensive in America. But Chancellor Wythe, acting with uprightness, having, after a thorough investigation, satisfied his mind that they were recoverable, decided the question, with an independence which is highly creditable to his firmness and integrity.
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In addition to his judicial office, he held for a season the office of professor of law in the college of William and Mary; but on his removal to Richmond, he resigned it, finding it incompatible with his other duties. In , he was chosen a delegate to the convention for forming the new constitution of the United States. In , he was chosen a member of the state convention, assembled to consider the question of adopting or rejecting that constitution. After its adoption, and the government had gone into operation, he was twice chosen an elector of a president of the United States.
His was the singular honor of having been the law instructor of two presidents and one chief justice of the United States. Notwithstanding all his public occupations, he instituted a private school, which he instructed personally, free for those who attended it; as he demanded no compensation for.
He took also a favorite young negro boy, and instructed him.
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Wythe, like several of his fellow laborers in the cause of his country, and of civil liberty, rose from obscurity to high literary, political, and professional eminence, by his own resolute and persevering exertions, with but little collateral assistance. And this he effected by adopting and pursuing, with untiring perseverance, a course of application to study, of integrity, and impartiality in business, of virtuous moral deportment among men, and an undeviating and inflexible adherence to what he believed was right.
His death occurred on the 8th day of June, , and was undoubtedly occasioned by poison, administered by some person in a portion of his food. Suspicion fell strongly on a person nearly related to him; but he was acquitted by a jury.
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He was in his eighty-first year when this melancholy event took place. During his life he gave freedom to his slaves, and furnished them with the necessary means of support until they could provide for themselves; and in his will, he made provision for the support of a man, woman, and child, whom he had manumitted during their lives.
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For Busby, the Declaration was an opportunity to reassert himself at the expense of McDonnell. The rangatira who signed He Whakaputanga were continuing a tradition of safeguarding their people in the face of rapid change. In contrast to Busby, the signatories saw He Whakaputanga as a way to address the challenges posed by European contact, to strengthen an alliance with Great Britain, and to assert their authority to the wider world.
No Western-style, New Zealand-wide government came into existence as a result of the Declaration. The significance of He Whakaputanga has been widely debated by historians in recent years. Submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal have challenged this perspective. He Whakaputanga became a foundation for the assertion of indigenous rights and was another step towards a formal constitutional relationship with Britain.
Some historians suggest that the Declaration was only taken seriously by the British in , when it proved to be an impediment to the annexation of New Zealand. Before sovereignty could be transferred to the British crown via the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration had to be revoked. This is why the chiefs who had signed the Declaration, or their successors, were the first men to be called up to sign the Treaty. Skip to main content. Coat of Arms by Charles Philippe de Thierry. Next: Page 2. Further information.
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